Tag Archives: church

How the Movie The Return of the King Calls Us to Worship

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is one of my all-time favorite movies. Not only because it is one of few movies adapted from an even better book that didn’t slaughter the story (Nerd alert! I’ve read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy a dozen times). And I’m not alone in my assessment. It was a critical and box-office success and won eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

But I loved The Return of the King because it told such a big engrossing story. Like all good epics Peter Jackson’s movie connected the small everyday lives of its characters: Frodo, Sam, Strider, Legolas, Pippin, Faramir, and gang with a struggle much bigger than themselves. Save Middle Earth from slavery and death. The film deftly shows each individual character’s role in that cosmic battle.

Like The Return of the King, Worship is Epic

Epic stories well-told, such as The Return of the King, become classics because they strike a chord deep in our souls. Instinctively we want to be part of the chorus singing about the significance of life, if even singing from the back row. Or to return to a movie metaphor: simply to be even an extra in the army of Gondor might be enough to give our lives meaning.

This is because God created us to be a part of something grand, epic, so to speak. That is what that strange activity called worship is supposed to do: connect our small, everyday lives to something–or more so, Someone–bigger.

What Blocks Worship?

Donald Miller, of Blue Like Jazz fame, calls this living a better story. Worship is the door through which we enter a better story, God’s story. Unfortunately the story conflict often blocking the way is not a malicious ring, or Sauron but daily drudgery. Doing dishes, watching the news, rushing here or there. Forgetfulness.

Maybe we ignore God’s casting call to play even a small role in God’s Grand Story because we think we are miscast, or unable, or we believe there is no such thing as a Grand Story. Yet, as I wrote in my last blog, there are no expendable crew members for God. You are not miscast as a worshiper. It’s the role you and I were made for. Most people, when asked what they would do with large lottery winnings, say pay off debt and then do something big, like help the homeless. Worship. And, as to belief, even non-theistic scientists search for the meaning of life, the answer, the Big Bang. Again worship, just not of God.

We were created to worship God. This is why moutainscapes, brilliant music, the flick of a bird’s wing, or the birth of a baby freeze us mid-breath and leave us seeking more. They tantalize our earth-bound imaginations. Encountering these mysterious moments free our imaginations while at the same time worship of God anchors them to something real, not just fanciful.

Worship is More than Filling our God Tanks on Sunday

Sadly even many who believe in God have forsaken this gorgeous gift from God, unless it be the rare gape at nature.

For many the trappings of religion are what deaden the desire to worship God. Church does not often feel epic. Worship has become a show, or duty, or a time and place to get what we need from God. Worship today is filled with purposes and propositions and practical applications. All the while keeping the true mystery of communicating with God miles from us.

In Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places” Eugene H. Peterson debunks this popular view of worship. He writes, “Fear-of the Lord [his biblical term for a lifestyle of worship] is not studying about God but living in reverence before God. . . is not a technique for acquiring spiritual know-how but a willed not knowing [italics mine]. It is not so much know-how we lack; we lack a simple being there. Fear-of-the-Lord nurtured in worship and prayer, silence and quiet, love and sacrifice, turns everything we do into a life of ‘breathing God’.”

Much church worship is anything but breathing God. Worship is simply “being there.” Where? In the Presence of God.

Add Worship Back into Your Life’s Menu

But just like when some meals are bland and wolfed down only to fill our empty stomaches, we do not stop seeking that one gourmet meal set in an ambiance of laughter and delight, so too we need not give up the wonder of worship simply because we have turned it into fast food.

Next time you see a movie or read a story or view a sunset that makes you yearn for something bigger, give in to the urge and turn your eyes to God. It’s God calling, trying to connect you to something epic, Someone bigger than yourself. Go ahead, worship.

Eugene C. Scott believes the command to love God with all we are is an invitation to worship. 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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Blue Like Jazz: A Movie Review

By Eugene C. Scott

I wouldn’t voluntarily see a “Christian movie.” It’s not that they are cheesy. That’s a cheap shot. I’ve seen my share of cheesy “non-Christian movies.” Rather, it’s that movies produced by the Christian faith community, which supposedly portray faith, and might produce faith, seldom exhibit faith in God’s ability to communicate through a story well told. This usually makes them lousy stories. And it’s ironic because Jesus fearlessly told stories: one comparing God to an unjust judge.

Today’s Christian movie industry would never do such a thing for fear that some poor sap like me might misunderstand the point. Therefore, Christian movies seldom tell authentic, compelling stories because they are overly concerned with not offending popular Christian orthodoxy, with getting Truth right, and with ensuring that the movie gets people to heaven. For an example of this, read here  for a discussion of whether the character “Penny” from “Blue Like Jazz” is Christian enough.

But I wanted to see “Blue Like Jazz” because I read the book several years ago, and found it refreshing, not your typical pastor-of-mega-church-preaches-sermon-and-turns-it-into-a-book book. Donald Miller is an excellent writer: poetic, funny, serious, irreverent, and honest in his prose. Miller trusted me to get the point instead of impaling me with it. I hoped the movie would follow suit. Plus Christianity Today said, it’s hardly Christian cinema as usual.

So, though I had trouble imagining Miller’s series of “nonreligious thoughts on Christian spirituality” being turned into a complete story, I donned my disguise and trooped off to see “Blue Like Jazz” (I always wear a disguise when going to Christian movies or book stores in case someone recognizes me.  Just kidding, sort of).

Eugene heading for his local Christian bookstore

The movie is the story of a fictional 19 year-old Donald Miller, who begins to feel his Bible-belt is cinched a bit too tight. “Don,” played dryly but authentically by Marshall Allman, has been accepted into a Christian college. The scene depicting his “graduation” at church is as intentionally uncomfortable as any I’ve sat through. Exaggerated but too close to home. Unknown to Don, his estranged–and strange–jazz-loving father enrolls him in uber-liberal Reed College in Portland. He rejects the idea as crazy until his mother inadvertently jerks his magic-carpet faith completely out from under him.

The rest of the film shows Don struggling to figure out who he now is, if he is not some caraciture of a flannel-board Christ. Don’s struggle is real and funny. I have not traveled Don’s path, but I did during the movie and I wanted his conflict and disappointment and loneliness to shape him into the person I read about in the book.

The writing is sharp, bouncing from Seinfeld-like irony to true soul searching. The scene where Don is sitting on a bench, alone, writing in his journal was powerful story-telling. More-so, when a friend from Houston unexpectedly shows up at Reed over Christmas break.

Director Steve Taylor filled Miller’s college life with quirky, troubled, and extremely intelligent fellow travelers. The movie claims the average IQ score at Reed College is a couple above genius. I have to admit, for several reasons, I may not have survived at Reed. It looked to me like flypaper for the world’s wildest and weirdest. But Reed made for a perfect setting for Miller’s journey.

Blue Like Jazz was not “Christian” nor cheesy. I enjoyed it. I laughed, cringed, hoped, and was lost in the characters and the story most of the time.

A couple of exceptions:

The animated car scene where Don drives from Texas to Portland is silly, even cheesy (but not “Christian cheesy”). I found myself taken out of the story then and it took me a few minutes to dive back in. I wish Taylor had spent that valuable screen time letting Allman develop Miller more deeply.

Too bad Taylor didn’t have more money so the cinematography and technical aspects would match the writing and over-all story. Even then it is well done on all levels.

Also, despite Taylor’s success in letting the story speak for itself, there were a couple of scenes that seemed built to communicate information rather than show Don’s struggle. But this was not often.

Over-all, however, “Blue Like Jazz” is a well-told, thoughtful, provocative story about a young man digging below his facade of safe, American consumer-driven religion to see if there is a real, living, breathing God buried there. That story is one, according to sociologist Christian Smith, many in fictional Donald Miller’s age group are living.

It’s a movie to be enjoyed and discussed. What did you think?

Eugene C. Scott is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church. He tried to sound a lot like an official movie critic in this review because he grew up reading the reviews in TV Guide and it’s always been a dream of his to become a crusty media critic. Besides after ranting about Christian movies and book stores, he might need a back-up career.

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Moby Dick and How I am Forgiving the Church

By Eugene C Scott

I set Monday aside for practicing forgiveness. Believe me, I need all the practice I can get. Regardless, my thought was that during Holy Week, like Jesus, I would forgive something Big. So, I rummaged around in my past and touched on a particularly putrid wound I had so far bandaged over as “just a flesh wound.” Wiser people call it denial.

Ignorantly I pulled this memory out and laid it on the table. I could’t believe it. This grievance was not that big when I stowed it away for safe keeping, I thought.

But there it lay–a virtual Moby Dick.

I’m supposed to be good at spiritual stuff like forgiveness. I am a pastor, after all. But maybe I should have started this during-Holy-Week-do-one-thing-a-day-that-Jesus-did experiment with something easy like walking on water.

Gaping, I wondered if I could hide Moby away again. But it was too late. I had even told my congregation I was going to work on forgiving something Big on Monday.

“I’m going to forgive the Church,” I said naively.

But it was difficult knowing where to start.

Like many of you, I’ve had several painful experiences in the church.* And yes, I said several. That means I’m like the guy who gets sick from the all-you-can-eat salad bar but keeps going back for more. And I’m not talking a little food poisoning here. I’m talking hemorrhagic colitis or E. coli O157:H7 infection.

But seriously, these three situations crippled me, hurt my family, and if not for God’s tender, firm hand and a few very good friends and counselors, I would have left the pastorate–and the church–and maybe the faith.

Never-the-less, all day Monday, as I went through my work day, I studied my wounds, and prayed, and grieved anew. This new pain piled on old is why we are reluctant to forgive. Mid-day, however, I remembered reading a book on forgiveness by Lewis Smedes. Smedes wrote you have to specifically name the wrong done to you before you can forgive.

I realized it was not mere denial blocking me from forgiving theses churches and moving on in a more free life. Low-grade bitterness stemming from vague forgiveness was keeping me emotionally bedridden. I had told others this truth but never applied it to these wounds of mine. Yes, I knew they hurt me. Yes, I was wronged. But how exactly? I was surprised after the years of moaning and groaning I’d done about this, I could not state the cause of my pain in anything but vague, general terms.

Unlike Aspirin, forgiveness cannot be applied as a general anesthetic.

Monday night I broke out my journals and began pouring over them to find clues as to what the real issues were. First, I recognized I was not hurt by “the church.” But rather I had experienced three separate battle field traumas in churches. Some were inflicted by individuals, some by systems, some by whole groups, some–in part–self-inflicted.

Second, I saw the wrongs ranged from a lack of acceptance resulting in judgement and subsequent isolation to emotional and spiritual manipulation leading to abuse or what is called clergy mobbing.

Suddenly the whale began to break into smaller pieces, pieces I could work on. Something in me floated free. Forgiveness began to feel real and attainable.

Attainable not in one day, however. As I ended Monday writing my newest journal entries on an old story, I adjusted my Holy Week goals. I would still work on my daily list. But forgiving something Big would not be a sprint but rather a marathon.

The next step? I’m not sure. But, as they say in running, I’m just going to put one foot in front of the other. And I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

Eugene C. Scott is not a runner but likes to use running metaphors. Metaphors are not nearly as strenuous. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following his blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

*In saying this I am not claiming to be a victim or innocent. Though I was wronged, I realize my faults and sins added to these situations. **Clergy mobbing is a term researchers have begun using to apply to the abuse of clergy.

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Living Spiritually Equals Giving Up Something Meaningful for Lent

By Eugene C. Scott

My world is the opposite of Paul Simon’s poetic world in his famous song “Sound of Silence,”

“Fools, . . . you do not know

Silence like a cancer grows.”

Like you, I navigate a sound filled, often noisy, world. Airplanes, cars, horns, radios, televisions, iPods, and worse are ubiquitous. The cancer in my world is noise. Maybe that’s why silence unnerves me. Moments of silence are rare, longer interludes downright scarce. I’m not sure what to do with silence. Paul Simon had a point. One never knows what will grow unbidden from silence.

Silence  Grows Accidentally

Like last Thursday morning. On my way to a meeting, I turned off my truck radio during a noisy, irritating commercial and in the ensuing accidental silence discovered something. There’s a lot going on–in and around us–that extraneous noise covers. In the first moments of this accidental silence, I began to listen to some of those things.

Silence Grows Old Memories and New Insights

The thump-a-thump-a-thump-a-thump-a of the seams in the concrete road beneath the tires of my truck struck a chord in me and, as if I had switched on an internal radio, I heard the rhythm of riding in my parents’ old Plymouth through Trinidad, Colorado, a small town with streets paved with bricks. The patter beneath our Plymouth that day told me a story. I remembered imagining workers, dressed in faded over-alls, sweat streaming down their tanned faces, laying paving bricks. Then I pictured carriages drawn by horses bumping over the newly laid bricks. History, though imagined, sprang to life for me.

The brick streets of Trinidad

As I drove radio-less to my meeting that Thursday morning, history sprang to life again, remembering my parents’ native home town, my family,  whole and together, as I had not seen them in years. Then suddenly it dawned on me. I have long been a story teller, even if it’s a story told only in my own head. That silence confirmed who I am today. I realized this love of story that so possesses me now, lived in me back then. And here I was doing it again, retelling myself the story of being packed in that old car, traveling to my grandparents’ house.

That accidental silence allowed me to relive a very sweet memory and add interpretation to it. The noise of my life amplified and symbolized by my radio would have blocked both the memory and the insight silence provided.

Silence Grows Uncomfortable

Despite that I had numerous meetings and several errands to run, I decided to spend the entire day with the radio off. I listened. A delivery truck next to me rattled and rumbled as it started from the light. Cars zipped by. My key chain swung and clicked against the steering column. I sat at the next light and waited in an uncomfortable silence. Bored and without thinking, I reached for the radio power button. It had been maybe five minutes since I swore off noise. But I caught myself.

The rest of the day repeated this pattern: reaching for the radio, stopping, impatiently waiting for another memory or insight to make the silence worth it. None came.

Why am I doing this? I thought in a moment of dead silence.

Because Living Spiritually is about listening. And you can’t listen with all that noise filling your head, I answered.

And having a conversation with yourself is better how? I countered.

I had no one to distract me from my foibles and insecurities. I realized it’s much easier to listen to Rush Limbaugh blame politicians for my life rather than face myself. This may be what Paul Simon referred to in his song. Silence may not grow like cancer but it grows uncomfortable.

Silence Grows Deep

Sometime during the day, however, I became aware that I was noticing people, wondering who they were, what loads they carried, what their stories were. I remembered friends who had once lived in the part of the city I was driving through. I prayed for these people as they came to mind. I recorded several story-lines for my novel on my iPhone at stop lights. Future blog ideas formed. My mind filled up. The boredom I had previously fought off with radio noise disappeared. I was enjoying thinking and interacting with my world. I found my mind racing through a world of ideas and wonders. In that once accidental silence, I had become deeply and fully present to myself and my world.

Silence Grows Longer and Purposeful

I didn’t grow up in religious circles. So I was oblivious to religious holidays beyond the ones that had secular spokesmen like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. But even after Jesus found me lost and alone sitting under a pine tree, the lesser holidays such as Lent rarely registered. Though I do remember a high school girlfriend who gave up coffee for Lent. I teased her and have never to this day given anything up for Lent.

That changed that Thursday of my accidental silence. By the end of the day, the idea of a longer silence had grown on me. I had become comfortable in it.

For Lent, why not give up extraneous noise and add purposeful silence? I asked myself silently.

I still think giving up coffee or chocolate or not wearing socks or not using your garage door opener for Lent is stupid. But I could come up with no good counter argument for this idea.

Today begins the holy season of Lent, a six week period of personal and congregational preparation for Christians to remember the sacrifice and new life Christ offers through it. As part of my experiment in living spiritually, I decided to participate in Lent for the first time by eliminating extraneous noise–radio and television. I am not just shutting off radio and television, however. I am adding, making room for, a purposeful, uncomfortable, deep, long silence.

Maybe, just maybe, I’ll hear something that will do more than mollify me, but change me. Maybe God will even speak in some way.

As a talker, Eugene C. Scott admires people who keep silent. Fortunately, since he is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church, people expect him to talk. And he’d love to hear how you plan to observe Lent or how you are faring with your spiritual living. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following this blog and clicking here and liking the Facebook page.

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What Did You Get Out of Church Today?

When Michala and I first moved out to Denver almost three years ago, we discovered the joy of church-dating. For the uninformed, this is when you attend a handful of churches and ‘try them out.’ When you find the one, you commit, just like dating. And just like dating, there are awkward churches, quirky churches, very attractive churches with no depth, and if you’re lucky, that perfectly imperfect place that just feels right.

Each time we visited a church we would quiz each other following the service, asking all sorts of questions to see if we both agreed in our admiration, apathy, or disgust. We would ask, “what did you get out of that?” This seems like a perfectly valid question, one that no doubt takes place every Sunday after church all over the country. What we implied in this question was how we were served: “was the preaching good?”  “Did we enjoy the music?” “Did they have child care?” These are important questions to ask, but I now see they are also misguided questions to ask.
The core around which Sunday morning gatherings are centered is worship of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Spirit. Nothing more, nothing less. This can look a number of ways, singing, praying, conversation, thanksgiving, thinking deeply, but put simply it is an act of love.

Our worship has zilch to do with “what we get” and everything to do with what we offer. This is not another opportunity to feed our egos bloated by a system of consuming that makes us insatiable. We gather to give our meager lives together to the one who gives every good gift.

The receiving of good gifts comes with our every breath, each meal, each smile, and every child. The trees and the mountains are given to us to enjoy and it is only natural that we respond with praise. This is what Sunday morning is all about. Instead of asking “what did you get?” we can ask “what did you give?”

This giving goes far beyond our finances and demands our minds, hands, and hearts, our very being. And yet this is a free sacrifice, God does not look out at our confused, hap-hazard attempts to say thanks and say, “that’s it?” Instead he joins in the dance of giving and gives us the greatest gift ever, Himself.

Jesus hinted at this mystery of receiving in our giving, when he said that to find our lives, we must first die. When our weekly meetings become another opportunity to consume, we miss everything. Instead, let us have the mind of Christ who being God himself, humbled himself to execution and in the doing found himself seated at the right-hand of the Father and also found us all.

Michala and I did not settle for the “one.” We did not find our home until we found a church that would not let us remain comfortable, that forced us to give of ourselves, and asked a lot of us. We were too busy loving these imperfect people and loving a perfect God together to ask if this was the ‘one?’ It just was. I’ve come to realize there is no perfect church and this forces me to stop critiquing the church and simply commit.

May we seek to be a committed people, not seeking to be filled but to be emptied. To give back our money, time, energy, minds, and hearts and to maybe find a God who gives us everything we need.

Michael is the Pastor of The Church @ Argenta in North Little Rock, AR. He watched the super bowl and still isn’t sure what just happened.

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Dealing with Diabetes: Living Spiritually and Physical Health

Looking for God in all the Right Places

By Eugene C. Scott

My doctor glanced down at my chart. “Did anyone tell you you have type 2 diabetes?”

I thought, What? That would be your job. How can that be? Why didn’t you tell me before? If I hadn’t felt so lousy, I would have yelled at him. Instead I mumbled, “No.”

This was March of 2011 and I had had my blood tested for diabetes by his office in November of 2010. Apparently they forgot to call with the results.

I sat staring at him, feeling anger, confusion, fear, and relief all at once. This was not good. You can lose your feet, go blind, die from this. And I love sugar. It sure answered a lot of questions, though. For a couple of years I had been struggling with growing fatigue, mental sluggishness, mood swings, the inability to concentrate and read, and cuts and abrasions that would not heal.

In the months before that startling diagnosis my health had worsened. I woke up at three in the morning on December 23, 2010 feeling the room and my world spinning as if I were on a merry-go-round.

“Eugene, you have to go back to the doctor,” Dee Dee scolded me. I was scheduled to preach at our Christmas Eve service and I could barely stand up. Preachers are often accused of  making little sense. This dizziness would assure that. The doctor guessed it might be benign paroxysmal positional vertigo, a maddening catch-all label that seemingly has as many causes and treatments as stars in the sky.

The dizziness and other symptoms persisted. Several months, doctors, and specialists later, frustrated, fearful, and feeling sick unto death, I sat in my original doctor’s office (for the last time) hearing my belated diabetes diagnosis. Turns out vertigo plus diabetes equals one sick puppy.

As I learned about type 2 diabetes, the seriousness of my health situation sank in. “Diabetes can cause far-reaching health implications like heart disease, nerve damage and kidney damage. Amputation, blindness and even death can all result from not properly diagnosing or treating diabetes,” says the American Diabetes Association.

I’ve always carried a somewhat cavalier attitude about human mortality. Seems to me every last one of us will die. Why get too worked up about it? But I realized unless I controlled my diabetes, I might die by slowing but surely losing important pieces of myself.

It dawned on me I really liked my feet. And I didn’t want to feel this way until death do us part anyway. Fear settled in–deep.

Fortunately I have a friend who is a Registered Dietitian who has worked with diabetics and also two very good friends who have type 1 diabetes. They coached and counseled me. They talked me off the ledge.

“You have to take control of your own health, Eugene,” my dietician friend chided me. She was right. The doctor had failed to call with my blood test results. But neither did I call to find out my results. Nor had I been eating very well. Did I say I like sugar? A lot.

Too often I simply let life happen. A laze faire life has its costs and I was paying them. But did I have what it takes to change?

In any story there is a character arc. This is how the protagonist changes–or fails to–over the course of the story. Poor stories–ones which we find hard to believe and finish–don’t contain enough conflict for the change the main character experiences. In good stories the conflict is so great not only does it keep us turning pages, but we believe the conflict to be strong enough to produce the transformation the main character goes through.

In tragedies the hero fails to change despite the conflict. They lose their feet and kidneys and often the girl even. And we mourn these characters.

This is how real life happens too. Fictional conflict may be more dramatic than my real life  type 2 diabetes. And you–possibly–have faced more dire circumstances. At others times in life I have too. And that conflict usually changed me. Or rather God did.

Even so I felt weak, vulnerable. I pride myself on my physical and mental capabilities, such as they are. I do not like being sick, especially in public. Not being able to hike and read or converse was devastating. And I hated the way everyone looked at me with their sad, concerned eyes as if I were a kitten, who had already stupidly used up my nine lives.

So, I stepped out of my passivity. I found another–better–doctor. I read the book, The Insulin-Resistance Diet, this doctor recommended. I did what my doctor and the book said. I asked my congregation for prayer. I prayed! I took charge of my health. I lost 25-30lbs. Even the vertigo is now manageable.

What does all this have to do with living spiritually? First, when you are dizzy and muddle-headed and your blood sugars are riding roller-coasters inside your blood veins, it is hard to live, much less live spiritually. Physical health impacts spiritual health and vice versa.

Beyond that, this whole process has been like waking up from a semi-coma, first physically and now spiritually. Sometimes it feels as life is coming at me–full tilt–like water out of a fire hose. I miss more than I swallow but it’s sure fun drinking.

And that’s just it. I’m having fun. I am thankful for my diabetes. Because on December 26, 2011, a year after my vertigo onset and seven months after my diabetes diagnosis, I decided to take the next step and move out of my passivity in my spiritual life as well. That’s what I mean by living spiritually. I am no longer waiting for God to happen to me. I have grabbed his hand with all my might. And I’m holding on for dear life.

Join me in Living Spiritually?

Eugene C Scott has had a few health problems in his short life (he’s only 55!). He doesn’t have many spare parts left. As a kid he never figured to live beyond 35. God and life are full of surprises, which includes co-pastoring The Neighborhood Church.

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Is God a Tim Tebow Fan?

By Eugene C. Scott

The Author Tebowing

It’s a miracle! On January 8, 2012 the underdog Denver Broncos upset the ostensibly better Pittsburgh Steelers in an American Football Conference wildcard playoff game. Those of you reading in South Africa, Britain, Antarctica, and Lizard Lick, North Carolina may be asking, “How is that a miracle?” And it’s a fair question.

You see with only a year before America might elect a new president, the entire nation is embroiled in a huge controversy over whether Broncos’ quarterback Tim Tebow is a very good passer and, even more, whether he should start every interview with, “First, I want to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Those against Tim argue he is a terrible passer and is delusional to think God cares a whit about American football. Those for Tim counter with the fact that because he is winning, even though he is a terrible passer, proves that God is somehow involved. Hmm.

This last Sunday’s win did not help the debate, especially since Tebow passed for exactly 316 yards. His best day yet. And it turns out that Tebow’s favorite Bible verse is–you’ll never guess–John 3:16. Coincidence?

Then to top it all off–literally–a cloud in the form of a halo appeared above the football stadium after the game.

There is no doubt in many Tebowites’ minds that these are God sightings, signs that God cares about Tim Tebow and things as mundane as a Denver Broncos’ game.

As many said after the game, “It’s a miracle!”

If you’ve been reading this blog the last couple of weeks, you may remember we’re running an experiment. We’re spending 2012 trying to find out what it’s like to live every day spiritually: to look for the God-created soul in daily life. We’re looking for God sightings, little miracles, ways in which God becomes apparent in nature, people, music, work, movies, sermons, meals, the Bible, worship, prayer and other apparent mundanities.

But did God don a Broncos jersey after church and show up at the Broncos game? Are the 316 yards and the halo cloud God sightings? Miracles?

Stranger things have happened. Jesus had Peter pay his taxes from money Peter found in a fishes’ mouth. Jesus turned water into wine and later transformed a Roman torture device into a universal symbol of hope and new life. And almost every Sunday people gather–not in a stadium but in a worship community–to experience the sacrament of mere bread and wine mysteriously becoming the body and blood of Christ.

Closer to home Christ fashioned this fatherless boy into a father, this high school drop out into a teacher, this addict into a free man, this carpenter into a counselor, and this self-centered person into a servant. Stranger things indeed. History may not prove God engineered a Bronco win. But is sure shows God puts his mark on things big and little.

Was Tebow’s win a miracle? Maybe, maybe not. But people are talking about God outside of church and Google has had a run on searches for John 3:16. God seems very comfortable using what ever he can to get us to see beyond our own noses. And that in itself may be a miracle.

Personally I doubt God orchestrated Tebow’s big day but God does seem to be in the habit of breaking into our regular programming for a more urgent messages. Our task is to listen up.

Eugene C. Scott learned to love the Broncos from his late mother and has followed them since he was a kid. He actually shed a tear when John Elway was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is not convinced Tim Tebow is the Second Coming of John Elway.  Other than that, football means nothing to him. He’d much rather you join him in watching for God sightings and telling your stories here and on “Living Spiritually” at facebook.com/livingspiritually. Eugene is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church and may wear his Broncos jersey to worship next Sunday.

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How Did 9.11 Impact You?

By Eugene C. Scott

Drawing of 8-year-old Kevin Wang

Vail Mountain rose behind us unmoved. I, however, was trembling. I stood at its base on the ski slope holding a microphone. Beside me stood a friend, an Episcopalian priest. I felt out of place there wearing dress shoes, a dark tie, and a suit. Not the typical dress for a ski resort, even in the fall. But this was not a normal day. It was the afternoon of September 11, 2001.

Vail Resorts had arranged for the clergy of the Vail Interfaith Chapel to hold a prayer service. And word had spread. Below me in the fading grass and dying high mountain wild flowers sat hundreds of people from the world over. Many didn’t even speak English. How would what I had to say make a difference in the face of such evil, such fear and pain? I looked at their upturned faces. Many were tear-stained. All where expectant.

I’m a man of words. As a pastor, I have spoken hundreds of thousands of words preaching and teaching and praying several times a week–almost every week–for the past thirty years in the hope that words would help change the world. As a writer too, I believe words make a difference. Even a picture can’t touch a soul the way a few well spoken or written words can.

But against this? Here I was hoping my words could make a dent against the picture of two towers–filled with thousands of people–smoking and finally disintegrating into a pile of rubble and death. Good luck!

I don’t remember why I was the one chosen from among the outstanding pastors and leaders in the Interfaith Community to speak at this service. I felt empty. I had no words, besides foul, fearful ones.

Yet I knew God spoke the universe, us, into existence. Jesus was born into a broken world to heal it as the living Word. And I knew God just might speak through me. So, I let fly. I don’t remember word for word what I said. I can’t find my notes. I read a Psalm. I know I was honest, saying I had no ultimate answers; but that I believed God had not told anyone to do this; that I had no idea why God allowed such things; that if we stood arm in arm, unified in love, that that would be the more powerful act.

Still I felt as if my words were mere shadows, mountain Chick-a-dees flitting and twittering  among the near-by pines.

After I spoke, my friend led us in prayer. We poured our anguish, fear, hope, anger, silence out to God. The blue, thin airplaneless sky above us seemed to absorb our cries.

A young man from Ireland came up after and thanked us. He had grown up in a terrorist-torn country. He was sad that kind of violence had now visited the US. No one, no country deserved this, he said. Others too, from Spain, Australia, many from New York City stood and talked, listened, cried. Several had friends or family who lived and worked in downtown Manhattan. It turned out several lost loved ones. We hugged, cried some more, prayed again. Thousands of miles from Ground Zero, nestled in the pristine Rockies, an act of unspeakable evil seared us.

But God’s words also steeled us. Hope sprouted and began to grow again even on that evil day. We all went back into our corners of the universe changed. Today I see people, pain, hope, words, life differently. Today, if I look carefully, I still see that change, hear it in words–yes, like small birds–darting around me. I know better now that even small things put in the hands of God can make huge difference. God’s words spoken in truth and love are more powerful than bombs. God did not prevent the evil of 9.11. But I believe, even ten years later, God is still redeeming it, turning it in to something healing and powerful for those of us who let it and then tell the story of that redemption.

So, I will keep speaking words and writing words in the hope that God will take them and make them bigger than they seem. And maybe use them in your life.

How did 9.11 impact or change you and your world? Take a moment and a few small words and let us know.

Eugene is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church. This coming Sunday–on the ten-year anniversary of 9.11–The Neighborhood Church will hold a service remembering those who died, not just that day, but also the One who died on the cross 2000 years ago, and rededicating ourselves to being different because of those deaths.

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Size Matters

By Eugene C. Scott

Size matters. Especially to 12-year-old boys. That’s the year, 1969, I began to believe bigger was better. Every Friday night my best-friend Bruce and I would walk to a mall in our neighborhood to hang out. We always hoped there would be girls there. There usually weren’t and, had there been, we would have been afraid to talk to them anyway. Bored Bruce and I would saunter over to Hodel’s Drug Store to buy a bottle of Dr Pepper each. Since we were scrawny kids, we’d buy the biggest bottle of DP available: 16 oz. Then we’d stroll around acting big and sipping our Dr Peppers.

Not my truck

To us size mattered. Bigger was better, especially where Dr Pepper was concerned. By high school, however, we needed something even bigger. Monster four-wheel drive trucks filled the bill. Most Friday nights you could find a dozen trucks with those huge tires, roll bars, and loud 8 track players parked in front of my house. My mom complained they blocked her view of the mountains.

Does size matter?

According to my high school buddies it does (not to mention the spam email industry that promises a magic pill that can enlarge a body part most high school boys value even over their trucks.).

It seems like many people in the modern world suppose bigger is better.

Though many people complain about them, mega-churches are all the rage. In the new church (church planting) world the going philosophy is, “Launch Large.”

Fast food joints offer to “super-size” already big burgers. Thus our waist lines have grown bigger.

Think too of Walmart, The Home Depot, Google, colleges, public school systems, and–please no–big government.

Since growth is usually good and a sign of life–and bigger often means cheaper prices or more services–most of us haven’t given the bigger is better mantra the scrutiny it needs.

But “big” is not a synonym for “best.”

Think of the trend in education. At one time, students learned one-on-one or in small groups led by one teacher. Then communities formed small schools that could educate all the children there. But as communities grew so did schools. As did the size of the problems. Curricula became uniform, teaching to a median rather than specific needs, leaving many kids treading water in a sea of students. Grades and over-all knowledge dropped. This, in part, developed a mind-set of information dumping rather than mentoring.

Standardized testing ignores diversity. This one-size-fits all mentality lends to a loss of individual achievement. To battle that we award students with a generic “you are special” rather than getting to know them and what they are capable of. We can’t; there are too many of them. In large schools discipline problems have exploded exponentially because there are few real, relational consequences.

Big is not synonymous with bad but is often impersonal, cumbersome, unaccountable, one-size (BIG!) fits all.

Big churches have more money for mission and programs. It’s just that they often lose touch with their people. Likewise big businesses offer better deals but few personal services.

Still big has a dangerous down side. Think of the internet. Its main flaw is its offer of anonymity and lack of accountability. But the internet is not evil. Just the aloneness and distance it fosters. Humans were created to be connected. Big strains or destroys that.

I know I sound idealistic and unrealistic. Maybe so. But I remember the problems my friends in high school and I had with those huge trucks. We each owned one (you were not cool if you didn’t) and all drove alone to the same hangouts. Soon we fought over who had the biggest and coolest truck and our friendships frayed. Then OPEC declared an oil embargo and gas prices shot through the roof. After that we all walked together down to the local park and talked and hung out. Life was good.

Whatever you think, I believe the distance this focus on big creates between us as humans is insidious and dangerous. It eventually forces us to be less than human, less than we were created to be.

God faced this same problem. God was so big we could not really connect with him. So he poured himself into a tiny baby, and lived a small life where those within several hundred miles could touch him, argue with him, love him and be loved by him.

Does size matter? God thought so.

Eugene is a recovering Dr Pepper addict, could not afford a real monster truck–so was not very cool in high school–and is not very large himself, but doesn’t have small-man syndrome. He also is co-pastor of the intentionally small but really relational The Neighborhood Church.

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Harry Potter and the Church Part II

By Eugene C. Scott

It’s true, like the old bumper sticker said, that “God Doesn’t Make Junk.” But after 50 plus years of watching the people around me and daily looking in the mirror, it’s plain God certainly created his share of peculiar, screwy, and eccentric people.

I think that’s one of the reasons I liked J. K Rowling’s main setting for the Harry Potter stories, “Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.” I felt right at home. Rowling peopled and staffed her school with bizarre and broken people.

Outwardly handsome and cool but secretly unsure of himself, Gilderoy Lockhart, one of the many Defense Against the Dark Arts professors, was a fraud.

And let’s not forget half-giant game keeper and failed wizard Hagrid or the sadistic janitor Argus Filch.

Many of the students too are screwy. Luna Lovegood is loony, marching to a drum that may not even exist. Even the trio of Harry, Hermione and Ron are a bit odd.

These people are largely dismissed by the “main stream” wizarding community but not by their Head Master equally strange Albus Dumbledore.

In this Hogwarts reminds me of the church. After 30 some years involvement in the church, it occurs to me God too has peopled his community with peculiar, screwy, unconventional and downright broken people, myself not being the exception.

Luna Lovegood would not have been friendless in most churches I’ve served.

Dr. Bob was a retired PhD in one church I pastored who truly believed he had evidence of extraterrestrials having come to earth. During a Sunday school class I taught, a man asked to do an announcement advocating adopting orphaned baby Chinese girls. He proceeded to put on a Chinese Queue and sing the Elvis song “My Little Teddy Bear.”

I won’t name the broken, bleeding, angry, confused and disillusioned.

Rowling lends humor to her increasingly dark stories through fleshing out these eccentric characters. God, however, seems to attract them. As popular as Jesus is today, he hung out with a pretty unpopular, scraggly group back in the First Century.

I feel at home, just like when I read Harry Potter, then when I read of these early peculiar, broken students in Christ’s school of life, or look around me in today’s church. You’ve met them too–or are one.

The wonderful thing is God created such eccentrics and loves us despite our brokenness and he wants them/us to people his spiritual community called the church.

This is where I find the pervasive philosophy in the modern church focusing on bright-shiny people false. Years ago I had a college professor who taught that because we were followers of Christ, we should be the best of the best, with the whitest smiles, nicest clothes, best grades. “God,” he said quoting the bumper sticker, “doesn’t make junk.” I bought it until I looked in the Bible or in the mirror again.

Not that I equate, as he seemed to, offbeat, broken people with junk. God made no one expendable. Jesus died for every Lockhart and Lovegood among us.

But, somehow, despite the church’s ability to be filled with outcasts and Jesus’ willingness to embrace them, this is not the demographic the church focuses on nor the image we portray. To our shame.

When was the last time you saw a pastor preach or teach from a wheel chair? Or have any kind of visible disability? I recently attended a huge church planter’s conference where all of the speakers I heard were cool looking and pastored mega-churches. There was not a halting, unsure Harry Potter among them.

Or closer to home, when was the last time you shied away from the Luna Lovegood or Gilderoy Lockhart in your life or church?

You see, what I believe Rowling knows is that we’re all Lovegoods and Lockharts. We just don’t want anyone else to know it. So, we think surrounding ourselves with the cool and the smart and the successful will make it so for us too. What we often don’t see is that they too are not really bright-shiny either.

But God knows our fears and failures and forgives them. God knows too our eccentricities and revels in them.

This is where Hogwarts reminds me more of the church than the church does sometimes.

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