Tag Archives: Blue Like Jazz

Are Books About to Become Extinct?

By Eugene C. Scott

I have thousands of good friends. Friends not just acquaintances. People who have spoken into my deepest fears and hopes, people I have shared untold hours with. They have asked and answered questions, frustrated me, left me yearning for more, angered me, comforted me, challenged, and have always been only an arms length away. None of these unusual friends have ever met me, however, nor I them. Still they have walked with me down every path of my life.

I’m not talking about my covey of life-long friends, who are thicker than blood, who also fit the above description. And no, I’m not referring to my Facebook friend count nor people in church, though they are friends too. These are friends some would not count or–possibly–even notice in their own lives. But they are there. And they have so much to say.

One of these friends, one of my best gave me great pleasure–and insight into my own family of origin–by telling me a story about a 1960s tragedy—a murder—that rocked a Minnesota family and brought one brother to his knees and the other to an understanding about the true nature of faith. Through that story, I was transported back to my childhood and warm memories of my family, before it was broken, and how my own loss started me on a journey of faith.

Another less poetic friend shared theology with me that challenged (oh how I prefer avoiding challenges to my beliefs) me and gave me a refreshed relationship with Jesus and a new view of heaven and earth.

An older friend mesmerized me with a series of jokes, puns, and one-liners retelling his life story. I laughed so hard my cheeks hurt and I found myself wishing I didn’t take life so seriously; and for a moment I didn’t.

I also had a young friend who shared with me his struggles and victories while growing up without a father. I saw my own struggle in his–my father died when I was eleven. He too had fantasy father figures. His were Bill Cosby from “The Cosby Show” and an older hippy kid who befriended him. Mine was my older sister’s boyfriend. We arrived at a school father/son event in his souped-up GTO. I knew I was the coolest kid there until I realized this guy was not my dad no matter how hard I wished he was. My friend’s story defined my story. Though many men could influence, help, mentor, and love us fatherless kids, no one could replace our real fathers, except maybe God.

There are many more of these friends I could share with you. Strangely none I have seen face to face, however.

As you may have guessed, these friends are all books. The Minnesota family is Leif Enger’s invention in his outstanding novel, Peace Like a River. Enger’s storytelling and prose were so simple and beautiful I have read this novel half a dozen times.

Dallas Willard wrote one of the freshest, most challenging, accessible theologies called The Divine Conspiracy. It describes God’s desire, God’s conspiracy to let us know him and to live life beyond our human constraints. I go back to it again and again and discover new layers each time.

The next friend mentioned above is I Shouldn’t Even Be Doing This! an autobiography by my favorite comedian, Bob Newhart. I read it in two days and still retell his jokes to whoever will listen.

Next Donald Miller’s delightful books are each funny and light, true, and flawed, real, yet able to slip under the skin and pierce one’s heart. Miller’s fourth book To Own a Dragon: Reflections on Growing Up Without a Father is a slim book—197 pages—each page of which showed me my past and future vistas through viewing Miller’s life.

Some suggest my friends, books, should be placed on the endangered species list. Reading is declining, ebooks may bury books with bindings. Movies and TV have also dug the grave deeper. These good friends of mine are on life support. Or are they?

I look at my library of friends, lined neatly on the shelves, or not, so diverse and beautiful, and full of life and wisdom–and even foolishness–and I grieve. Their loss, if it comes, will be great. To me people who do not read books (or God forbid, cannot!) are like people who have seldom or never tasted chocolate or ice cream. They are missing something delicious.

Or more accurately they are missing a rich interaction no other medium can offer, daily conversations with people from all over the world and all through time that will comfort and challenge while also delivering them on great flights of fancy. I have read a piece of one book or another daily, missing only a few under duress, for nearly twenty-eight years. I can’t imagine life without books.

In 1953 Ray Bradbury wrote a science fiction titled Fahrenheit 451 in which the government begins to burn books because they deem them dangerous. But like most other beautiful, important things in our lives, nothing so drastic or romantic will spell the demise of books. If books die it will be while we are not looking. Their loss will come at the hands of inattention.

There is hope. Brabury’s novel recounts a secret society that covenants to save their favorite books. Each person participates by memorizing a book and in essence becoming the book. The book through its host, so to speak, comes to life. Bradbury’s idea is not far-fetched because story–factual or fictional–is the life blood we readers share with books. Story is a part of most–if not all–of our lives. Our very lives are stories, unbound, living books. Therefore, the soul of a book, story will live on, as it did before books and as it will after.

And I for one–no matter whether others read or what technology comes–will not easily let go of my many friends.

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Eagle-Sightings, God-Sightings, Flash-Mobs and You

Eagle in Waterton Canyon

The three of us bounced down the popular trail in Waterton Canyon on our mountain bikes, racing the South Platte River as it descended out of the mountains. It was a glorious evening with the sun hanging just above the rugged hogback, its last shards of light reflecting on the river. Suddenly a bald eagle, wings spread muscling the wind, swooped down near the surface and glided upstream, hunting.

All three of us clamped on our brakes and skidded to a halt in the middle of the road. The eagle danced on the wind just above the current and then tilted up and came to rest on a rock, where it stood turning its head from side to side surveying its kingdom.

Steve grabbed his camera and began shooting. The eagle preened and stretched its wings as if attending a royal photo shoot. Brendan, my son, and I, holding our breath, loyal peasants that we are, watched his Highness. Time slowed, then stopped. It was one of those magical moments where minutes stretched into hours and heaven seemed to touch earth.

Then other hikers and bikers broke the spell, heedless to the grand show the eagle was putting on just fifty yards away. Not ready for it to end, I stepped out into the dirt road, putting my finger to my lips and pointing to the eagle, hoping they too could see what I was seeing.

Their responses dumbfounded me.

Eugene C. Scott joins Mike in writing A Daily Bible Conversation twice a week.

TODAY’S READING (click here to view today’s reading online)

Ezekiel 47:1-48:35

1 Peter 2:11-3:7

Psalm 119:49-64

Proverbs 28:12-13

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

Ezekiel 47:1-48:35: This is one of the most beautiful sections of Ezekiel. God gives Ezekiel a vision of how God will heal his land and his people in some future time to come. That vision is of a full, powerful, and ever-deepening river that Ezekiel can step in, be healed by, but not be master of.

This passage is one that modern Jews hold tightly to. Their move back to and resettlement of Palestine in the 1940s is based in part on this streams in the desert prophesy. Moreover, it became their motivation to irrigate and plant much of their desert home. The results in many places are fantastic.

Also, there is a large group of Jews, mainly Orthodox, who are waiting for God to give them a signal to rebuild the Temple. Some call it the Third Temple Movement.

Whether these Jews are right or wrong in their literal understanding of this passage, I find it inspiring that they expect God to do what he says he will do. That is not so often true in my life.

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THE WORD MADE FRESH

Maybe I’m a bumpkin, too easily impressed. Maybe they were jaded and calloused adrenaline junkies. Maybe eagles specifically, and nature in general, aren’t all that big of a deal anymore compared to 3D computer generated images. Whatever the reason, as I stopped the people on the road to show them the eagle, I expected them to be, like me, awe-struck. Most weren’t.

One or two stood transfixed. A couple more stopped and looked and then moved on. More yet only slowed down and glanced. Many, too many, followed my finger point, saw the eagle, gave me a puzzled if not angry look and never even slowed down. It made me mad. I wanted to grab them by the ears and shake them. I didn’t.

The eagle must have found us similarly boring because it soon lifted off and soared into the deepening sky.

As I finished my ride, it dawned on me (remember I’m a pastor and I can’t help it that my brain works this way) that my eagle sighting was eerily similar to how many of us respond to actual God-sightings.

Most of us who believe in God want to grab those who don’t believe by the ears and shake them. We get angry when they can’t see God, or do see God but don’t value God. God is so good and so full of grace and so powerful I desperately want others to see God and know God and stand in loving awe of him.

When they don’t respond according to our expectations, however, we do grab them by the ears, turning their heads by force. This seldom works. It’s like shining a bright light in their eyes. They just shut them tighter. They are busy or hurt or distracted. They are breathless from the journey, panting for their lives, little knowing the One who loves them is riding along side. Is it my job to knock them off their bikes?

I think not. Peter tells us not to demand that others see God and believe but simply point him out, with our deeds, “that they may see [our] good deeds and glorify God.” Peter says our lives–our response to authority, our relationships with one another, and even our refusal to return evil for evil–are pictures that are worth a thousand words. And yes, we use words too.

“Look, look at that,” we can say.

But it is not ours to force a response. Maybe we are not so much to debate the truth of God’s existence and love but rather live in front of others as if it is true.

My eagle-sighting made me realize that my job is first to love and enjoy God and while doing so, point God out to others. I recently saw a video (below) that is a living example of this. Instead of making people come to their church and hear about how great God is, they went to the food court in the mall and in flash mob style sang “The Hallelujah Chorus.” They loved God in the mall. Can you imagine?

What if each of us–and our churches–went out into our neighborhoods, and pointed to and loved God in such a way that a few would look and notice and begin to love and enjoy God too? Some would simply ride by. But others might just join us. And Who knows? Maybe all of them would notice something, just enough to pique their attention later.

The bad news is that often it is impossible to love anything, much less God, until you see someone else doing so. The good news is that it is possible to love something, even God, when you see someone else doing so. “To this you were called,” Peter tells us.  That is good news indeed.

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Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO and writes a blog eugenesgodsightings.blogspot.com

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The Secret of the Ooze

Have you ever met someone who exuded a strong resemblance to God? Kind of like something that oozed through their pores? You weren’t concerned about being struck dead if you looked the person in the face, but you did sense a strong attraction to be with them and to be like them.

Today, we’re going to look at that ever-evasive quality…and hopefully discuss it!

Today’s reading

Genesis 5:1-7:24
Matthew 3:7-4:11
Psalm 3:1-8
Proverbs 1:10-19

Notes

Genesis 5. The ages of the people in this genealogy seem awfully exaggerated. Do I believe people really lived this long? I’m not sure. Some scholars believe the ages refer to the length of the clan that the person founded. But other scholars suggest the long lifespan of people millennia ago compared to today are evidence of the effect sin has placed on us over time. One other aside: When I was a kid, I calculated that Methuselah died the same year as Noah’s flood. Either his death was an odd coincidence or he was destroyed in the flood.

Genesis 6:1,4. Different theories exist in theological circles about the identity of the Nephilim. Some believe it refers to angels who intermarried with women, but the argument seems hardly plausible. The two prevailing theories suggest that the Nephilim were either heroic warriors or descendents of Cain (who were banished from the descendents of Seth). My best guess is the latter is true—note the difference in the lineages of Cain (Genesis 4) and Seth (Genesis 5).

Genesis 6-8. Many ancient peoples around the world tell the story of a great flood from which one man and his family escaped by building a boat. But looking deeper, in many ways, the flood was God’s act of re-creation. He returned the earth to a state where waters covered the earth. Then, when God remembered Noah, he sent a wind over the earth (Genesis 8:1—this part of your reading comes tomorrow), much like the hovering Spirit of God blowing across the waters in Genesis 1:2. After the dry land and waters were separated, Noah became the new head of the human race, and, like Adam, was told to “Be fruitful and increase in number” (Genesis 9:1).

Psalm 3. The setting for this psalm is 2 Samuel 15:13–17:24.

Matthew 4:1. This passage tells us that Jesus was “led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” From the initial appearance, it seems wrong, almost cruel. And besides, James 1:13 says, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.” So how can this be? In the Greek language, “temptation” and “test” share the same words. This was Jesus’ testing. So why do the translations use the word “temptation”? I don’t know. However, Craig Blomberg in the New American Commentary explains this dilemma this way:

An important interplay between the work of the Spirit and that of the devil appears here. The same Spirit who has anointed Jesus in [Matthew 3:16] now leads him to the place of temptation but does not himself cause the temptation, which is attributed instead to the devil. By this phrasing, Matthew warns against two common errors—blaming God for temptation and crediting the devil with power to act independently of God. In the New Testament, God is always so dissociated from evil that he is never directly responsible for tempting humans (James 1:13). Yet the devil is never portrayed as an enemy equal with but opposite to God; he always remains bound by what God permits.

Matthew 4:1-11. Here’s an explanation that the New Bible Commentary gives about the three “temptations” that Jesus faced:

The three tests examine aspects of that relationship, and the ways in which a misuse of that status could ruin Jesus’ ministry. He must be ready to accept privation in fulfilling his God-given task without ‘pulling rank’ (2–4); to trust his Father’s care without the need to test it by forcing God’s hand (5–7); and to reject the ‘short cut’ to the fulfilment of his mission which would be achieved at the cost of compromising his loyalty to his Father (8–10).

My response

Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.

-Genesis 5:24

I get easily mesmerized reading the genealogy in Genesis 5, but Enoch’s story takes a sudden and unexpected departure from the norm because we’re told that he didn’t die. That fact catches my attention, but the reason behind it—Enoch walking with God—really challenges me. More than the desire for people to say, “Wow, look at Michael. He walks with God,”—I really want to walk with God. The appearance of walking with God is much different than actually walking with God.

Author Donald Miller wrote a tribute last week on his blog to his youth pastor, David Gentiles, who recently died. Gentiles impacted Miller so deeply that he dedicated his best-selling book Blue Like Jazz to him.

Reading Miller’s tribute, I realized that I performed a wedding with David Gentiles several years ago. At the time we met, he was unassuming, un-flashy…in fact, he forgot to ask the couple to recite their wedding vows, so I gently interrupted the ceremony to remind him.

In the same way, Donald Miller could only recount one youth sermon he remembered Gentile preaching. Yet he commented,

If it’s true a person’s life is a sermon, David Gentiles preached the best sermon I’ve ever heard. I’ll never forget him, or what he did with his life. David was a rock of a man and his sermon was love…It’s hard to imagine a sermon on love has ever been said better. I learned more about Jesus from David than any other person I know.

People like David Gentiles ooze Jesus from their pores. We want to hang out with them in the hopes that some of it will rub off. But there’s only one way to ooze Jesus—and that’s to walk with Jesus.

Walking with Jesus (or God, take your pick) comes with a price. It means inviting him into every aspect of my day, allowing him to shape it, forgetting about myself (which is really hard for me to do), and inviting him to love through me. It’s more than that, to be sure, so I welcome your insights into this.

By the way, if you have time, here are a few other passages that refer to walking with God:

Genesis 6:9 (Noah walked with God, too!)

Genesis 17:1

Deuteronomy 5:33

Deuteronomy 10:12

2 Chronicles 27:6

Nehemiah 5:9

Micah 6:8

You can also learn more about Enoch in Hebrews 11:5 and Jude 1:14-15.

Let me conclude with this: Anyone can ooze Jesus. It requires no education (Jesus didn’t have one), special ability, or charisma.

Conversation starters

What jumped out at you in today’s reading?

Why would God allow his human race to get so messed up so early on, prompting him to destroy them?

What parallels do you see between Jesus’ temptation and the temptation of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3? How does it parallel your experience?

What does “walking with God” look like in your life?

Describe someone you’ve met who oozed Jesus. What did it look like and what did they do to get it?

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