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Avoiding Shortcuts To Nowhere

Years ago, our family lived in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area. After spending most of my life in Denver, where the streets run north and south in straight lines, Philadelphia threw me for a loop. Literally.

Many of the roads in Philly date back hundreds of years. One of the main roads in an outlying town is called “Cowpath Road.” Obviously, the road was a converted cow path. Cows don’t walk in straight lines. This is just one of many examples of Philadelphia’s meandering roads.

So at times, when the traffic on the two-lane roads backed up, I tried taking side streets to get ahead. On more than one occasion, my “shortcut” brought me back to my starting point. I was literally driving in circles.

That’s often the case when we take shortcuts in our lives.

Shortcuts To God Will Lead You Nowhere

Growing up in the church, I’ve witnessed the good, the bad, and the ugly in church leadership. At various stages in my life as a pastor, I must admit that I’ve done my part in presenting a poor example of leadership as well. So please understand that I’m not casting stones.

Our human nature gravitates toward following charismatic individuals who speak to us on behalf of God. Often, this is the result of our laziness. Relying on someone who will “stand in” for God is like opting for the Cliff’s Notes version of a great novel. Rather than read the Bible for ourselves and seek an intimate relationship with God, we prefer that someone do it for us.

Moses, Israel’s first great leader, was concerned that after he died, they would follow false prophets who would lead them away from God. So Moses warned Israel, “It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere” (Deuteronomy 13:4).

When our walk with God is dependent upon the leaders we follow, we set ourselves up for tremendous disappointment and pain.

Pastors, TV preachers, televangelists, and authors all must be compared with the plumb line of Scripture. Just because they say something that sounds good, or they say something that we want to be true—doesn’t make it true! Many have led well-meaning believers astray. And history continues to repeat itself.

Not long ago, I witnessed a church split that affected thousands of people. Some of the people who were damaged by the fallout were devastated and vowed never again to return to church or trust a church leader. In my judgment, far too many of those people needlessly followed the Senior Pastor rather than God.

My friends, please join me in following Moses’ advice. Let’s follow God and avoid the unnecessary disappointment and pain that inevitably meets people who depend on fallible men and women for their walk with God.

Shortcuts in our walk with God lead us nowhere.

What shortcuts have you tried in your walk with God? Where did they lead you? If you were hurt from the experience, how did you recover? Have you recovered?

Why would God want us to avoid following people instead of him?

What does this tell you about God?

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott.

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Field of Dreams: My All Star Moment

Dreaming is a tricky thing.

I’m not just talking about the kind where you place your head on a pillow and close your eyes, although night time dreams can inspire our waking dreams or desires.  When I was twenty I had a dream I married a girl name Sarah.  When I woke up I believed it was actually going to happen, so for two years I didn’t talk to girls, unless her name was Sarah.  This is a slight exaggeration, but I let that dream hinder how I lived.  Fortunately, that dream died, later than it should have, but only after I made myself awkward around a few too many Sarah’s.

The other night I dreamt that I was back in Guatemala.  Dreaming I’m back in Guatemala is pretty typical.  Most mornings when I wake up I tell myself, “well, guess I didn’t dream about Guatemala last night, must be over it now,” but then ten minutes later my dreams come drifting back through my mind and yep, I was in Guatemala again.  I feel like I dream about Guatemala so consistently because the country and the people there mean so much to me.  I am very grateful for all of my dreams, but unfortunately another aspect of my dreams is most of the time they turn out unresolved.

In my last dream, I was in Guatemala for the graduation of some of my students.  It felt so right to be back.  In my dreams it’s raining, as it is always raining in Guatemala.  I am teaching again, but IAS looks different.  It is more like a castle, which is odd, but not odd enough to tip me to the fact I’m in a dream.  My students are listening to my every word, and who can blame them, my lecture is flawless.  Bam, I know it’s a dream.  Then, in a flash, it’s time for graduation and I want to celebrate each kid, tell them how special they are.  But before I have a chance to tell anyone how great they are I have a light saber battle with Lord Voldemort.  But before I strike the killing blow, I wake up.  Always.  I never see it to the end.  It’s horrible.

Crazy, right?

Waking up from an unresolved dream is annoying, but living life in a dream world is a tragedy, because you never actually live. Like when I was dreaming about a girl named Sarah.  Yet, I would be lost if I didn’t drop off at night and let my mind create.  Sadly, if all I did was sleep, living in my dream world, I would be even more lost.  I believe we must dream in the real world and go after those dreams, because  “If we are afraid to dream grand dreams, then we live empty lives.”

I have many dreams or desires in my life.  I want to write professionally, have a family, become more like the man Jesus created me to be, and maybe go back to Guatemala to teach again, and it would be a shame if I didn’t go after those dreams.  If I live my life just dreaming I’ll never reach my potential.  I must take action.

In Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone Harry comes across a strange mirror.  It’s a mirror that can tell the dreams of a man’s heart.  The mirror is aptly named the Mirror of Erised (desire backwards).  In the mirror Harry sees his parents, who have died.  He spends hours just staring at them, settling for the unreal fulfillment of having his parents with him, instead of living his life and creating actual relationships.  In the book, Dumbledore, Harry’s headmaster, warns Harry away from spending too much time in front of the mirror.  Dumbledore tell’s Harry, “It does not do well to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

Living is part of taking action.  I can spend all day dreaming about life in Guatemala or becoming a writer, but if I never write, I will have never lived.  I will have never reached out and taken a risk.

And so as I have grown up my dreams have changed.  I have let go of my dream to be a rock star (can’t sing), being president (not corrupt enough), or Robin Hood (Don’t like Wearing Tights).  However, it is important to remember our childhood dreams and remember that God can redeem our past hopes and their innocence, but that is a blog that will come later.

When I was little I dreamed of playing in the major league  Unfortunately I didn’t even make it as far as Moonlight Graham, who played one game in the bigs, but didn’t even get to bat.  I retired after the 5th grade.  I’d had a great year at third base, but my team was downright awful.  Most of the kids didn’t have a passion for the game, they were just playing because their moms and dads wanted to watch them pick dandelions out in center field.

I played hard, but struggled with migraines the entire year.  When my school didn’t have baseball in the 6th grade I decided it best not to play, mostly because of my migraines.  My dream ended quietly, but I had school to distract me from the void not playing baseball.

I didn’t let myself stand in front of the mirror, but I moved on, and I’m glad I did.

In fact, I’d completely forgotten how passionately I dreamed of playing in the majors until I had my Field of Dreams moment.  Fortunately, unlike Adam Greenberg who was beaned in the head by the first pitch he faced in the majors, which ended his career, all I did was ride the pine in the Colorado Rockies’ dugout four hours before a game.

I was on a tour of the Coors Field for my job.  I’ve been working as a summer camp councilor with Ken-Caryl here in Littleton, Colorado.  I have a feeling none of the kids at my camp actually grasped how cool it was to sit where the likes of Todd Helton or Troy Tulowitzki have sat.  But as I sat down, as my butt touched the wooden bench, I felt transformed.  It was as if God was saying, “you might not have made it to the majors, but here’s a little taste of what it is like.”  It was awesome.

I didn’t think I would feel such a rush as I sat on the bench, but I did, guess that’s what dreams do to you.  I have been on the bench of a major league baseball team.  And even though I only sat for a couple minutes it was enough for me, I knew I couldn’t sit there for my entire life, holding onto the greatness of that moment.  Life had to move on, nor could I sit their dwelling on what could’ve been.  God has more for me than that.  And so, I stood up feeling fulfilled.

Adam Greenberg knows that life must move on.  After being hit by a pitch to the head, he was plagued by bad eyesight and dizzy spells, which negatively impacted his game.  Sadly he has never made it back to the majors, but he did get to face the pitcher again in a minor league game.  He came away with a hit in the at bat and he knows that’s good enough.  He can move on with his life.

I will never reach my dreams if I keep my head on my pillow.  I left Guatemala because, while I loved living there, God was giving me new dreams, like going back to school and being a part of a healthy church community.  Those things couldn’t happen if I stayed in Guatemala.  And right now, even as I dream about the country every night, my real life dreams can’t happen if I go back at this point of my life.  I have to let go a little, and live my life and trust that God wont let my true dreams end unresolved.

What are you dreaming of?  Are you living your life or are you stuck looking at the Mirror of Erised?

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Freedom with a Twist

By Eugene C. Scott

Oppression is chameleon. Throughout human history it has changed its color and adapted itself to every age and every need or right we humans must have. And it’s disguise is always—at first—beautiful, promising. This chameleon usually first promises us safety in a dangerous world, then maybe protection of beloved values, or true peace, or more food, or better wages, and even—paradoxically—freedom. Then somehow, slowly—maybe even unintentionally at times—it changes its color. The trap slams shut and we are caught.

The ancient Israelites came begging Egypt for safety from a famine and wound up enslaved for over 400 years. That was one expensive meal.

In 1789 the French Revolutionaries began an overthrow of a corrupt and absolute monarchy. Freedom, they cried. They wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Then only four years later the Committee of Public Safety began what is now called the Reign of Terror. Up to 40,00 people were killed. The dictator Napoleon followed.

The Russian Revolution in 1917 turned out worse, with an estimated 30 million killed by Stalin’s government. Communist China and North Korea, so-called democratic nations in Africa, and the theocracies of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran have followed suite. To name a few more recent oppressive chameleons. Even the theological American ideal of “manifest destiny” turned murderous.

What is the common denominator in all this oppression? Some today say religion. Others corporations. Some governments. And these are all elements to be sure. But religions, corporations, and governments are made up of people. You and me. Humans are the root of all this oppression.

We are each capable of wreaking it on others or releasing it in the name of getting something we think we need. When I visited that horrific reminder of human oppression, The Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, I realized it was not Nazis or Germans who killed six million Jews. Yes, the murderers wore Nazi uniforms and were mainly German. But beneath those uniforms they wore human skin. This the Bible calls sin. And on this level it is hard to deny.

The good news is we are also capable of resisting oppression. Freedom also comes in many different varieties. Though true freedom is never deceptive nor makes promises of mere safety. Some varieties of freedom come harder than others. With a cost.

Political, economic, religious, personal freedom are the most common freedoms we cry out for. But maybe the most precious freedom is one we avoid at almost all cost: The freedom to not be safe, to cry, to struggle, to suffer. This is the freedom Jesus chose as an expression of his love for us. He freely gave his life for you and me.

Note the difference? Oppression promises to give but really takes. And leaves us no choice in the matter. Only God gives expecting nothing in return. Because God needs nothing.

If anyone ever could become a demanding dictator it is God. Often our cries to God for safety, mere happiness, contentment, a cessation of pain and worry are just that, invitations for God to declare universal marshall law in the name of public safety. But how much more would God’s mighty fist crush us if mere humans such as Pharaoh, Napoleon, Stalin, and Hitler did such thorough work?

So God continually grants us the freedom to suffer. Knowing this then gives us the freedom to love and live as creatures of love.

The ancient Israelites were mud and brick, hard labor, economic slaves in Egypt for over 400 years. But when God tells Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go,’” their freedom is not escaping human oppression. God goes on to say, “Let my people go . . . so that they may worship me.” Worship is an expression of love. Soon enough, faced with a barren and dangerous desert, however, the people are crying out for the safety of Egypt. Give us the leeks and onions of Egypt they tell Moses.

Finally, as these people then stand on the edge of the “promised land” which contains not only “milk and honey” but suffering too, Joshua says, “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Those gods, like our gods of protective governments and human systems only take because they cannot give us what we truly need. The freedom to receive and give love.

This freedom is costly. But not as costly as choosing safety and other chameleon promises.

Eugene C. Scott is enjoying the freedom he has and is thankful for both the joy and the suffering it brings. He is also trying to see God in daily life, even in tragedy. Join him in the year The Year of Living Spiritually. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following that blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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The Symbols That Define Us

A 4 by 3 inch slice of wood sits on my desk. Fifteen years ago it served as the stump to a Christmas tree that stood in our living room.

That year, I was struck by the fact that my Christmas tree spent  10 years preparing itself to be the family tree for three weeks. In the same way, I realized, God may spend months, even years, preparing me for significant moments.

I keep the tree sample on my desk as a reminder. In many ways, that stump symbolizes  my values–the existence of God, the potentially redemptive nature of pain, the importance of preparing myself for significant moments.

Symbols Are All Around Us

We live in a world of symbols. Photos remind us of past events. Plaques, trophies, and medals take us back to earlier accomplishments. Tattoos on our bodies reveal untold stories. Perhaps you wear a cross to remind you of the steep price Jesus paid to save you from yourself. The symbols we choose to keep nearby say a great deal about our past and our values.

The importance of symbols cannot be understated. A life without them is a life devoid of meaning and memory.

When the children of Israel crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land, they gathered large stones from the bottom of the river and constructed a memorial on the river bank to remind them of the day God parted the waters to bring them home. The stones did more than tell a story—they taught the people about God.

The greatest memorial in the Christian faith is the Lord’s Supper, which reminds us not only of Jesus’ death, but also the forgiveness Jesus purchased for us, our hunger for him, and the importance of community (hence the word “communion”).

What do the symbols in your life communicate about you?

What symbols are missing?

What symbols shouldn’t be there?

As you revisit the memorials in your life, take a moment to listen. What might God be speaking to your heart?

If anything comes to mind, please share it with us!

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. His favorite symbol is a carved, wooden crucifix that hangs on a wall in front of his computer. 

 

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4th of July: What Does Independence And The Flag Mean To You?

I love taking pictures of the American flag.  The flag’s outward beauty is evident, but I think what it represents is even more beautiful; Independence.  Freedom to worship without the government telling me how I need to pray or not to pray.

Personally, I have never known religious oppression, but I know it still exists.  Growing up in the United States, I thought everyone had those same freedoms.  When I moved to Guatemala I found out that I was wrong.  Now, Guatemala is a much different place than it was even twenty years ago, and most people are very free to go to whatever church they like, but throughout Guatemala’s history the country struggled to find the right balance between secularism and religiosity.  Mainly the Catholic and Protestant populations fought for control of the government.

Each group tried to impose it’s will onto the rest of Guatemala.  This is a very simplified view of the centuries long struggle in the country.  To go deeper we would have to consider racism, classism, and greed.  Needless to say, Guatemala struggled because it wasn’t founded on independence and the freedom of religion like we were in the United States.

Maybe the reason why I love taking pictures of the flag is because America allows me to love my God.  America lets me place God first in my life.  I can abstain from saluting the flag if I feel like it is overtaking my allegiance to God.  Just think back to the 1930s, in prewar Germany, people had to give the “Hitler Salute” or face severe punishment.  And Germany was supposed to be a “Christian Nation.”  But then again, that’s the same Nazi Germany that murdered millions of Jews just because they didn’t believe in Christ, which doesn’t sound like religious freedom to me, or very Christlike.  I think it was Christ who said love your neighbor like yourself.

I know America has its flaws, but when I look at that flag, I see some of the things we’ve done right.  I thank God for my country, and I pray that some day everyone will experience true independence, true adventure; a free life with God.

I hope you get a chance to take a look at your flag and think about what it means to you.  Happy Fourth Of July!

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The Colorado Wildfires: “I’ve seen it raining’ fire in the skies.”

By Eugene C. Scott

On the night of June 16, 1965 a police sedan drove down our flooded street, blaring a warning over a loudspeaker telling us to prepare to evacuate. At eight or nine years-old it seemed exciting. But my parents were stern and worried. The street in front of our house looked like a small river. And Bear Creek, a couple of hundred yards behind our house, carried a 12-20 foot crest coming down out of the mountains. We huddled in our living room with our most precious belongings in suitcases and stuffed in pillow cases waiting to evacuate.

From June 12 on, rain had been drenching areas of the Front Range, what we call the eastern slope of the Rockies. We had received as much as 12 inches of rain in one night. Earlier in the evening my dad, my sister, my brother, and I had driven to Ruby Hill (we sledded there in the winter) on the southwest side of Denver and watched the South Platte swell from a small river into what seemed like a raging ocean, growing to over a half mile wide.

We stood in awe, drenched by the continual rain, watching ravaged trailer homes, massive trees, and barges of debris rush down stream. This debris then caught on the bridges and eventually pushed them over into the river. Its power was unstoppable. Most of the bridges on the south side of town connecting west to east were taken out. At one point a police car, its red light flashing feebly in the gray night, raced down a road near the river as the road collapsed behind his car. We watched him as he drove out of sight hoping he could keep ahead of the river.

We were fortunate. Bear Creek never reached our house and I woke on the living room couch in the morning. The flood was abating and now all those who were not so fortunate began picking up the pieces.

The Colorado wildfires

That night came back to me as wildfires ravaged the Front Range these past few weeks. Thank God, we have had no fires near us, though we know people who lost their homes. And we keep all those suffering tragic loss in our prayers.

We do, however, live in what some call a “Red Zone”, an area where a wild-fire is likely.

“Not if there will be another fire, but when,” they say.

I’m asking myself, “If the ‘when’ comes, what will I save?”

Back in 1965 I packed my piggy bank that looked like a miniature safe and my Spiderman comics. I guess I thought those were my most precious possessions. Today I can only see them in my memory.

What would you save?

When it’s rainin’ fire in the sky, you ask what’s most important?

Today I would make sure my own family was safe. Then . . .

  • To wax practical, legal stuff, wills, etc. Yuck.
  • A couple of my hardback books: my own dissertation (just in case someday someone may read it), “Lonesome Dove,” “Peace Like a River,” “The Chronicles of Narnia.” This might be dangerous as I could burn up in my library deciding which books to take or my bag could get too heavy for me to make it out of the house.
  • My journals from the last 30 years.
  • My computer, as it holds all of my writing, and a lot of pictures, and my Bruce Cockburn and Van Morrison collection.
  • More than anything, however, I’d collect things that have people memories connected to them: such as pictures and scrapbooks, my dad’s watches and old miner’s lamp, love letters, poetry, my mom’s John Elway memorabilia. Those kinds of things.

Oh, and . . . . You begin to see the problem.

I have heard several people who lost their homes in the Waldo Canyon Fire say things like, “As long as we are safe.” Or “We can rebuild.” “It can all be replaced.”

I only hope I can be that mature and calm if the day comes.

Moth and Rust Destroy

But the truth is, though Jesus rightly warns us against “storing up treasures here on earth,” the things that have traveled life with us–books, pictures, keepsakes, a home against the storm, the place we spent Christmas and Saturdays working together in the yard–have gathered meaning like moss on the north side of our lives. Their loss is not monetary only. Our things often represent a connection to the past, present, and future. And that connection is often to people–and even sometimes–to God. Losing the small wooden cross I have had since June of 1972 would be like the God chapter being ripped from my story. Maybe Jesus is asking us to ask about the eternal value of the things around us.

Things count. But for what?

As I look around my house for what I would save in an emergency, I see my father’s miners’ lamp (possibly handed down from my grandfather) sitting useless on my bookshelf. What I really want from it is a piece of my dad. I would love to know the story behind it. His story.

Maybe then the best thing to do in these times is not gather things but stories. Talk to each other more. Turn off Facebook, the TV, and ask, “Tell me all about your life. And don’t leave out a single minute.” Then listen. Because pictures will not fill the void. And too often things are not all we lose when we see it “rainin‘ fire in the sky.”

Eugene C. Scott has too much stuff and would like to get rid of some of it. He is also trying to see God in daily life, even in tragedy. Join him in The Year of Living Spiritually. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following that blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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The Truth About Freedom

“I am William Wallace!” the legendary leader shouted to his Scottish brethren in the movie Braveheart. After resisting the repeated attacks of the tyrannical English King Edward the Longshanks, the men were ready to give up.

“And I see a whole army of my countrymen, here in defiance of tyranny. You’ve come to fight as free men…and free men you are. What will you do with that freedom? Will you fight?”

“Fight?” a wearied warrior countered. “Against that? No! We will run. And we will live.”

“Aye, fight and you may die,” their mythical leader replied. “Run, and you’ll live…at least a while.

“And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin’ to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take…OUR FREEDOM!”

Is Freedom Just Another Four Letter Word?

This Wednesday, Americans celebrate Independence Day, the day when our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It’s a day we celebrate freedom from British rule. (Isn’t it ironic that today, the British are our closest allies?)

Freedom is a core value in the Western world. It’s also those most overused, misunderstood word in the English language.

Years ago, a chain of convenience stores posted the word “freedom” in big letters over their soft drink machines. They celebrated the “freedom” customers enjoyed in choosing from a half dozen different soft drinks.

For this William Wallace and the forefathers of countries around the world died? For this our founding American forefathers risked their lives?

Of course not. People in totalitarian countries assuredly enjoy the option of different soft drinks. But it begs the question: What is the purpose of freedom, and how can we attain it?

The True Purpose Of Freedom

“You, my brothers, were called to be free,” Paul wrote in Galatians 5:13, which sounds like something William Wallace would say.

Our freedoms allow us to make choices that people in previous generations didn’t enjoy. We can worship as we choose, marry whomever we choose, pursue any profession that we choose, and voice our dissatisfaction with our government without fear of retribution. But freedom can be a mixed blessing—just ask people from newly freed countries. Since winning their freedom, Russia has become thoroughly entrenched in corruption and overrun by the mafia.

Our freedoms allow us to surf porn, pick up sexually transmitted diseases, and gamble ourselves into bankruptcy and personal ruin. Extreme examples to be sure—but the possibility to live without restraints is definitely one of the pillars of freedom.

Paul though, continues his thought: “But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature.”

Then he compares the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. Sexual immorality, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, appear on the list of vices (see Galatians 5:19-21).

Is freedom the right to indulge in any of these vices? Technically speaking, yes. But what if these “vices” are truly vices? If so, then they really represent bondage–the opposite of freedom.

The Deeper Freedom Is The Freedom To Be Who You Truly Are

Paul was a addressing a deeper freedom. Not a freedom to indulge these practices, but a from them. A freedom to be who we really are. A freedom to be the men and women God had in mind before he created the heavens and the earth.

You see, when we give our lives to Jesus, our sins are forgiven and we become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). The deepest part of us is no longer us but Christ.

Take a look at the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These are all the character traits of Jesus. When he becomes the deepest part of us, they become the deepest part of us as well. But they need to be freed.

Previously, our sinful nature gravitated toward Paul’s list of vices. We couldn’t help ourselves. We may think we’re free, but we’re not. Yet Paul says that the Christian has been unchained. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” he wrote in verse 1.

If you have given your life to Jesus, the truest part of you is the fruit of the Spirit, and not the works of the flesh.

Believe it.

Please Join Me In A Conversation!

How does it feel to know that the truest part of you gravitates toward the fruit of the Spirit and not the works of the flesh?

What helps you believe it? What prevents you from believing it?

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. If you or somebody you know is struggling with bondage to a sexual addiction, he highly recommends a book he helped Michael John Cusick write. The newly-released book is entitled “Surfing For God.”

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The Mountains Win Again

Call me a mountain man, well a mountain man who lives in the city, likes to shower every day, and keep a clean shaven face.  But call me a mountain man anyway.  My heart swells at the sight of the Rocky Mountains.  Maybe it’s because I lived in Vail, Colorado for seven years, or maybe it’s because I’m a Colorado native who grew up in hot, flat, Oklahoma.  My love for the mountains just must be in my blood.

My family has always held the mountains in a special place.  Back in the 90’s when we were still living in flatlander Tulsa, Oklahoma, my family went on a mission trip to Costa Rica.  As we were driving through the cloud forest in the mountains someone mentioned  Psalm 121, you know, the one about mountains and how awesome they are and how our help comes from them.  Ever since then I’ve had a strong connection between God and the mountains.

I came home from Costa Rica with a love for the mountains in my heart and a passion for God in my soul.  That short week is why I eventually moved to Guatemala.  Heck, I even lived in the mountains while in Guatemala.  There’s just something about the mountains.

A couple of weeks ago something major happened for my family in the mountains.  My sister, Emmy, decided to have my dad baptize her in Piny Lake.

Emmy led our family over to Piney Lake as the sun crept over the majestic Gore Range.  The morning was warm, but the water was cold.  My dad spoke confidently, saying:

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all harm —
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

Emmy turned her eyes to the mountains and made a statement that she would always look to the Lord for help.  The Gore Range and Piney Lake will never be the same for me.  When I think of them I will think of how great my God is and how He saves us.

What do you see when you look up to the mountains?  I’m always reminded of how much God loves me.  That is why the mountains always win.

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If God Is Always There, Why Is it So Hard to See Him?

There are two places most people expect to catch a glimpse of God: In church or in nature. The trouble with that is we are neither place often enough to then live as if God is omnipresent. God becomes an add-on rather than a constant companion.

“A primary but often shirked task of the Christian in our society and culture is to notice, to see in detail, the sacredness of creation. The marks of God’s creative works are all around and in us. We live surrounded by cherubim singing, Holy, Holy, Holy.” Eugene H. Peterson, Christ Plays in 10,000 Places.

In the above quote Peterson is not using the word creation as we often do, in the sense of  wilderness and nature untouched by human hands. Peterson rather is using it holistically, meaning all that God has created: humans, and even the good things we have made.

The pictures below are from an evening with a friend on the deck of a trendy place called Tsunami. God was not only in the sunsets, but in our conversation about family, frogs, rootedness, what the future holds, and most of all how we two are simple men who are trying to live authentic lives of faith. Such things are hard to catch in photos. So, the glass of wine reflecting the Cajun sunset will have to also reflect seeing God in the spaces between two people.

The tug toiling in the golden water . . . well what metaphor is that?

Eugene C. Scott doesn’t usually look for God in cityscapes, but maybe he should. Join him in the year The Year of Living Spiritually. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following that blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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Rich, Young…and Spiritual?!?

From 1984 to 1995, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous aired on television stations around the world. The host, Robin Leach, introduced viewers to the opulent lifestyles of wealthy entertainers, athletes, and business moguls. At the conclusion of every program, he left viewers with his signature phrase, “champagne wishes and caviar dreams.”

At times, I imagine what my life would be like to sip from the chalice of wealth. Add a dose of God into the mix, and how could I go wrong, right?

Do You Really Want To Be Rich And Famous?

He was an awful lot like me—minus the wealth. And the humility. And the influence. And the impeccable morals.

A rich, young man approached Jesus and asked him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The man (whom you can read about in Mark 10:17-31 and Luke 18:18-30) was the kind of person every mother wanted for a son-in-law. He would also make a prime candidate for Jesus’ inner circle of disciples:

  • He was obviously spiritual (he asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life—Mark 10:17)
  • He was humble (he fell on his knees before Jesus when he approached him—Mark 10:17)
  • He was moral (he kept the 10 Commandments—Mark 10:19-20)
  • He was influential (he was a ruler—Luke 18:18)
  • And he was RICH (he could support the ministry—Mark 10:22).

He had everything going for him.

“One thing you lack,” Jesus instructed him. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Mark 10:21).

Then we read one of the saddest verses in the gospels: “At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Mark 10:22).

Despite his great resume, it wasn’t enough to inherit eternal life.

What went wrong?

Way, way back, when God prepared the children of Israel to enter the land of promise, he told them, “The [Promised] land is mine and you reside in my land as foreigners and strangers” (Leviticus 25:23). Other versions of the Bible translate “foreigners and strangers” as “aliens and my tenants.” God’s message is clear: the land didn’t belong to them, it belonged to him.

The covenant that God made with his people acknowledged that he was their God and they were his people. He would take care of them as long as they worshipped him. But they were instructed to live as aliens, caretakers of God’s land. The idea that God owns everything is one of the more prominent themes in Scripture (see Psalm 24:1)

It Boils Down To Who Owns Who

The rich, young man, on the other hand, assumed that his stuff belonged to him. He wanted to be in control of his life instead of entrusting the controls to Jesus. So when Jesus told him that to inherit eternal life, he needed to sell everything and give it to the poor, the rich, young man decided the price was too high.

What’s the cost of inheriting eternal life? Everything. If we have much, it will cost us much. If we have little, the cost is little. But it still costs us everything.

So why was this a big deal to Jesus? I think it boils down to matters of the heart. Following Jesus means giving him the top priority in our life. No contingency plans in case this doesn’t work. Learning to rely on Jesus for everything. That’s a scary step–and it still is for me.

So can we own stuff and still follow Jesus? I’m sure we can—but the question boils down to who owns who? Do we own our stuff or does it own us?

The mistake of the rich young man was that he thought his stuff belonged to him.

Who or what owns you?

Please join me in a conversation today!

  1. If God truly owns everything in your possession—which he does—how does it (or should it) affect the way you use them? What does this imply about our relationship with God?
  2. What is hardest for you to give up in order to inherit eternal life?

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. If you’re interested in reading more about this topic, he recommends the book Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream by David Platt.

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