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To See the Stars: A True Christmas Story of a Son’s Dying Wish

By Eugene C. Scott

The following is a fictionalized version of a true story I read in one of the Denver newspapers when I was a boy.

He was just an electrician, blue-collar, working class. Other men were teachers, doctors, lawyers, important. Making big decisions in the world. He just ran wire in houses, attached outlets, lights, switches. And he fixed things. Toasters, mixers, that kind of stuff. He was good at it.

But he couldn’t fix this. Each night when he returned from work, he kissed his wife and asked, “How is he today?” This night, tears in her eyes, hands on her apron, she shook her head. He wrung his big calloused hands, feeling helpless.

Down the hall in his bedroom their nine-year-old son, now barely a wrinkle under the sheets, had grown too ill to even get out of bed. Cancer. The doctor said he may not even make it to Christmas, two weeks away. The electrician prayed as he entered his son’s room, “God, let me help my boy.”

The room was dark despite the drapes on the lone window being wide open. Outside dusk fell on Denver. The electrician switched on the light. His son started in his bed.

“Don’t, please,” his son whispered. “I want to see the stars.” The boy had always loved the stars and talked of becoming an astronaut and being the first to land on the moon. Not now. The electrician looked at his son’s skelatal face and flicked the light back off. He turned and wiped away his tears. He had moved the boy’s bed to the center of the room facing the window so the boy might catch a glimpse of those stars. It’s all he could do for him and hope shone in the boy’s eyes, when he caught sight of just one star.

Now the boy could not see well enough even for that. The father sat next to his son, helpless, praying.

A few nights later driving down out of the foothills, the lights of Denver, Queen City of the Plains, shown below him like stars. He pulled over and wept. “God, give my son one more glimpse of the stars, please.”

He started his truck and pulled back onto the road. The city lights danced below. Then it came. An idea.

The next day after work he asked his boss if he could take home some of the scraps and leftovers from the job. For his son. That night again his son asked, “Are the stars out?”

“Not yet.” After supper, the father descended into his workshop in the basement.

“Come to bed. What are you doing down there?” his wife called down, late.

“You’ll see. Go to bed,” he answered. Every night Christmas drew closer. And every night he worked harder.

Finally on Christmas Eve, as he prepared for work, there was a new spring in his step and the tiredness that usually fell on his shoulders lifted. He kissed his wife.

“I’ll be home early tonight.”

When he came home he visited his son. Sitting there next to the bed he wiggled in his chair like a child. After the boy fell back to sleep,  he drew the drapes closed on the window. Then he went to the garage and drug out a ladder. And trudging through the snow, he leaned it against the bare tree outside his son’s window. Then he retrieved his project from the basement. As he climbed up and down the ladder his wife looked out the back door but never asked. It took him until after dark but soon all was set–just as he had imagined. He took his wife by the hand and crept into his son’s room. The electrician’s heart beat like a drum in his chest.

“Son, son,” he said , shaking his boy gently. “Look!” And just then he drew open the drapes.

The boy opened his eyes and followed his father’s gaze to the tree outside his window. “The stars,” he gasped. “So close.” A smile lit his gray face. “The stars!”

From that night, Christmas Eve, until his son closed his eyes for the final time, bright, white stars of hope–big enough for the boy to see–shone just outside the boy’s window.

The father, just an electrician, had made the stars come out. And they still shine today. For those stars were lights the electrician father strung together in his basement and hung in the bare branches of a tree to give his son a final Christmas gift. Those stars are the lights we string on houses and trees from coast to coast during the Christmas season.

Christmas lights then are more than decorations; they are advertisements of a father’s love. And of a Father’s love.

Our heavenly Father sent us a Light of hope too. Several thousand years ago a Jewish writer named Isaiah wrote, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” He was writing about the coming of Jesus. The first Christmas Light lifted up on a rugged tree. “I am the light of the world,” Jesus said. May the light and peace and hope of Jesus Christ illuminate your coming and going today, tomorrow and forevermore.

Eugene C. Scott proudly lives in Denver, where this story took place and he hangs lights on his house every year. He loves stories, fictional and non and is writing a novel. But isn’t everyone. He also co-pastors The Neighborhood Church which will celebrate the birth of Jesus with a Christmas Eve service at 5:30pm. Go to tnc3.org for more info.

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Harry Potter and the Church Part I

By Eugene C. Scott


Like J. K. Rowling’s wonderfully weird invention of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Jelly Beans, her Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and God’s equally wonderful and weird church are both humanity flavored hope. Sometimes they’re sweet and sometimes disgusting.

The truth is Rowling gave Hogwarts the same humanity flawed quirkiness that God created the church to reflect.

In chapter six of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” a confused but expectant Harry Potter stands on platform nine and three quarters waiting for the Hogwarts Express–a magical train that will take him–for the first time–to Hogwarts, where he will be schooled in magic. Once there, Harry’s life changes dramatically.

In this magical castle filled with moving staircases, strange rooms, stranger people, talking portraits, and ghosts, Harry, among other things, will cement life-long friendships with Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley while discovering that even the best witchcraft and wizardry school is full of quirks and imperfections and–more-so–quirky and imperfect people.

As I have enjoyed J. K. Rowling’s classic stories as pure fun reading, I also have been challenged by some of her deeper themes. Did she, for instance, intend to draw parallels between the mythical castle called Hogwarts and God’s mysterious community called the church?

Intentional or not, the parallels are there.

Relationships Define the Church and Hogwarts

Contrary to popular belief, the church is not a building nor an institution. It is a community. Yes, most often the church meets in a building and–unfortunately–becomes far too institutional. Hogwarts too is a particular place and has rules–most of which Harry breaks. But this is not what defines Hogwarts.

At Hogwarts, Harry, the orphan, finds his family. Through his friendship with Ron Weasley at Hogwarts, Harry is unofficially adopted into the Weasley clan. It is at Hogwarts also that Harry meets his godfather, Sirius Black and is mentored by a father figure, Albus Dumbledore.

Like Hogwarts, the church, first and foremost, is a community. A family thrown together in a myriad of relationships. Orphans all adopted by Christ.

I grew up in what is commonly called a dysfunctional family. We weren’t completely dysfunctional, however. We did two things very well: fight and meddle in each other’s business. What we did not manage was to foster intimacy. We loved each other to the best of our ability. Still my family was a lonely, chaotic place.

Then I became a follower of Christ and was adopted into this quirky, imperfect family called the church. Like Harry, it was in this completely foreign and unexpected place that I discovered true family. I am who I am because of God speaking and working through the family members I have met in various churches. I have served in six churches over the last 32 years. In each one God has introduced me to people who have become life-long friends. We have, as the great theologian and poet Paul said, “carried one another’s burdens.” We have cried, laughed, fought, feasted (a lot), and lived life together. Rowling was brilliant in drawing Harry as a hero who needed friends to accomplish his mission. And Hogwarts as the place those relationships formed and thrived.

This too is us.

The Church and Hogwarts Are a Mix of Angels and Demons

Much to Harry’s dismay, however, Hogwarts is far from perfect. It is there, under the Sorting Hat, that he discovers his own dark side. It tells Harry, “You could be great, you know, and Slytherin will help you on the way to greatness, no doubt about that.” But Ron warns him, “There’s not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin.” Should Harry join the darker, more prone to evil House of Slytherin, or the more benign House of Gryffindor? Each of us, whether follower of Christ or no, face the same choices.

No wonder so many wars and wonders have been wrought in the name of God. 

In Hogwarts Harry battles his nearest enemy, Draco Malfoy. Hogwarts, like the church, contains not just angels but demons (so to speak). In the church I’ve been and met both. Like Harry, all of us who have spent more than 10 minutes in the church carry and have inflicted wounds.

Rowling invents a fictional school that rings true because it is such a real mix of sinner and saint. Just like the church.

If Harry imagined Hogwarts as utopia, he was sorely disappointed. This may be why so many of us give up on the church. We are drawn to its divinity but are driven away by its humanity. Our unrealistic expectations are as much a part of our disappointment as are the actual flaws thriving in the church. I plummet emotionally each time the church–or more correctly people, including myself, of the church–don’t live up to my lofty ideals.

Though I understand well the pain that the church can inflict (from personal experience as well as theoretically), the load that weighs heaviest on my pastor’s soul is trying to convince people that the church is both more and less than they ever imagined. More in that it is about being human and being in relationships while also being in relationship with God.  Less in that it is about being flawed humans who need each other.

And in that way the church reflects humanity and human community perfectly. Harry could have never become who he was born to be without Hogwarts and all the pain, joy, disappointment and triumph mixed together in one.

Imagine had Harry, as do so many people today in regards to church, refused to board that mysterious train bound for Hogwarts, one of the best stories written in modern times would have never come into being. So too, when any of us refuses to join that infuriating, dangerous, glorious, Christ-community God calls the church. What real story might you be missing?

Eugene C Scott is co-pastor of one of those wonderfully weird places called The Neighborhood Church.

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Can God Heal our Deepest Wounds?

By Eugene C. Scott

In the summer of 1998 we drove home to Tulsa from a bittersweet family vacation in Colorado: Sweet because Dee Dee and I had celebrated our twentieth wedding anniversary with a trip to Vancouver, BC. Bitter because our oldest daughter had recently been diagnosed with an eating disorder, a cancer of the soul, and she was getting worse. My white knuckled grip on the steering wheel exposed the ghostly condition of my soul. I was lost. For the first time as a father I had no answer. The fatherly band-aids–wise words and solutions–I had utilized to fend off so many past crises proved futile against this devastating disease. We had gone to doctors, counselors, friends, and support groups; we had prayed, memorized Scripture, and read books; we had talked, cried, pleaded, and argued; we had blamed ourselves, our culture, gymnastics, and God; we had loved, hugged, and gotten angry. Still her cancer of the soul thrived.

So, we drove east on Interstate 70, in a minivan filled with fear and heartbreak. My every breath became a prayer.

God, heal her. Please don’t let this cancer steal anymore of her. Don’t let it take her life! Tell me what to say; show me what to do.

Miles of empty eastern Colorado rolled by as we played license plate games to kill time and the dread that rode with us.

Why was God so silent?

A couple of hours east of Denver I said, “Look, kids,” and pointed to the words “Trust Jesus” spray-painted on the cement pillar of a highway overpass.

“Do you think anyone is actually convinced of God’s love by that?” I asked sarcastically. “That’s not evangelism; that’s evandalism.”

At each overpass for the next several miles the same lime-green words “Trust Jesus” appeared. What a diversion. Instead of focusing on our pain and worries, we mocked silly Christians.

As we limped into Kansas, my daughter with the wounded soul moved to the shotgun seat. Everyone else was sleeping.

“What can I do, Dad?” she asked.

I shrugged my shoulders. I had no more answers and had to admit that to her. Her eyes teared up with disappointment.

Shortly after that trip, we hit what we thought was bottom: we placed her at Remuda Ranch, a long-term treatment center for eating disorders. In the midst of that dark time, a good friend invited me to a local Promise Keepers meeting. Before Bill McCartney spoke, a local man, one of the organizers of the meeting, was asked to share his testimony. He told a heart-wrenching story about his daughter, who was addicted to drugs, and how everything he did to help her didn’t.

I shuddered. This hit too close to home. Tears pressed, unwanted, from my eyes.

He went on saying he had been at a Promise Keepers planning meeting in Denver just weeks before. During that meeting, his wife called with news his daughter was in serious trouble. He left for Tulsa immediately, east on I70. As he drove, he brainstormed, outlining every solution a father could. His every breath a prayer.

I listened trying to hide my trembling and tears.

Then in the wastes of eastern Colorado, he related, he saw, spray-painted on a concrete pillar, the lime-green words “Trust Jesus.” In a heartbeat he knew God had spoken and instantly he rolled down the window of his van and figuratively threw out all his human plans.

“Jesus, not my plans but yours,” he prayed. “Only you can heal her.”

But in a few miles, he was back planning and problem solving. Then came another pillar. “Trust Jesus,” it shouted. Again he rolled down his window and threw out his human plans. Again he prayed.

I don’t know how long he bounced on this bungee cord of faith. I only know I was broken. I was a puddle. I was unmade.

“Jesus,” I choked, “not only have I not trusted you with my daughter, I ridiculed your attempt to coax me to faith.” I was the fool, not the person evandalizing I70, to believe I was a better father than You, my heavenly Father. I was a fool to think my puny solutions could accomplish anything without Your extravagant love.”

Imagine! To prove nothing is impossible to God, He connected the dots between two hopeless fathers, two broken daughters, two Colorado trips and a crazy person with a spray can.  Right then God poured fresh love into my empty soul and showed me He loved my daughter more that I ever could. In a gentle, firm voice Jesus spoke to my heart, “If I have the power to heal your daughter, and I do, I also have the love and power to carry all of you through this until I do. Trust Me!”

In his potent prayer in Ephesians 3:14-21, Paul reminds us that the best response to those relentless, hopeless situations is to “kneel before the Father . . . to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses all knowledge.”

Only when I recognized the paucity of my problem solving, and let my aching heart drive me to Christ, did I begin to learn that the love of Christ could carry me through anything. In this case there was no instant healing, no five keys to happiness, no easy answer. But there was a deeper knowledge of naked, unadulterated Love. That Love has sustained us on a road longer than a thousand lengths of I70. While we travel, healing, in more things than eating disorders, is coming. And our knowledge of the width, length, height, and depth of Christ’s love grows.

P.S. Our daughter is now 29, happy, healthy, trusting Jesus, married, a mother of a two year-old, with a baby boy on the way. God did exactly as He promised. He did not snap magical fingers and heal her. Instead He walked this long road with us, showing His love is the deepest, widest, most powerful force in existence.

Eugene C. Scott writes the Wednesday Neighborhood Cafe blog.  If you’re reading this on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. www.bibleconversation.com. Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO.

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A Tribute To Mothers

Tributes to mothers date back to the ancient Greeks and Romans who designated a day to celebrate the mothers of their gods.  On those occasions, sons and daughters gave gifts to their mothers. Christian churches then continued this practice until they become a commonly-held holiday among church-goers and non-church-goers alike.

Most countries honor their mothers on the second Sunday in May, which means Mother’s Day is only two days away.

Consider for a moment how our society would be different without our mothers. Unfortunately, fathers can’t boast the consistency in raising their children; absent fathers are much more common than absent mothers. Without those significant women in our lives, society would literally fall apart.

Please join me today as we explore the life of one significant mother.

TODAY’S READING

1 Samuel 1:1-2:21
John 5:1-23
Psalm 105:37-45
Proverbs 14:28-29

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

1 Samuel 1:1-2:21. For the next three months or so, our main Old Testament reading will focus on a span of about 1000 years, beginning with Samuel the prophet (ca. 1100 BC) and ending with Judah’s exile into Babylon (586 BC). We’ll read about the kings who led Israel and the prophets who advised them on God’s behalf. Their successes and failures will provide us with plenty of material to discuss—and apply to our lives. But through it all, we’ll see the fingerprints of God. If you’re interested in timelines (like me), click here or here for two helpful websites.

Originally 1 and 2 Samuel were one book, but the people who translated the Old Testament into Greek (called the Septuagint) broke it into two parts. Proving that people are reluctant to change, later translators followed their example. This two-part series retraces Israel’s history through the lives of Samuel, Saul, and David.

Historians believe Samuel was still an adult when Jephthah and Samson were judges. In fact, Saul probably appeared on the scene only five years after Samson died. But I‘m getting ahead of myself…

Just like Samson, Samuel’s mother made a permanent Nazirite vow for her son. But that was the only thing the two men shared in common because Samuel was a righteous man.

Hannah was a pretty amazing woman. For years she agonized for a son, and then when God answered her request, she gave her son back to God. More on that later. In chapter 2 we read Hannah’s prayer, which resembles Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55.

Then we read about Eli’s evil sons, Hophni and Phinehas, who resemble Aaron’s evil sons Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10:1-7.

The differences between Eli’s sons Hophni and Phinehas, and Samuel are striking. The two brothers treated the things of God with contempt whereas we read that Samuel “ministered before the Lord” and “grew up in the presence of the Lord.” All three men, however, were raised by Eli.

John 5:1-23. The story of Jesus healing the invalid at the pool of Bethesda is quite telling. The man had laid around the pool for 38 years, waiting to get well. Then Jesus walked past all the other blind, lame, and paralyzed people sitting around the pool and asked the invalid, “Do you want to get well?”

All too often we become so accustomed to our infirmities (physical, emotional, physical) that they become our friends. To be healed requires a change.

So the man gives Jesus an excuse for not jumping in the water when it is stirred (assumedly, the first one in would be healed), so Jesus says to him, “Get up, pick up your bedroll and walk!”

And he walked.

Incidentally, archeologists have located this pool in Jerusalem.

Proverbs 14:29. “A patient person shows great understanding, but a quick-tempered one promotes foolishness.” I have proven this proverb true on many occasions—not because I was patient but because I was quick-tempered. James 1:20 says, “Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.”

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THE WORD MADE FRESH

Hannah wanted a child. Desperately. After crying out to God, we read in 1 Samuel 1 that Eli the high priest blessed her request—and within a year, Hannah gave birth to Samuel.

A year later, this unconventional mother gave her son to Eli so he could grow up in the presence of the Lord.

Initially, the story of Hannah bothered me. How could she give away the son she so desperately wanted? I mean, what kind of a mother would do that?

Yet we know Hannah was a praying woman. Look at her words in 1:27-28:

I prayed for this boy, and since the Lord gave me what I asked Him for, I now give the boy to the Lord. For as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord.” Then he bowed and worshiped the Lord there.

Reading these words I realized she intuitively understood who her son belonged to: God. “I now give the boy to the Lord,” she says.

Children are on loan to us from God. He lends them to us for a time, but they ultimately belong to him. Our responsibility as parents is to raise them.

Immediately after giving Samuel to Eli, Hannah breaks into praise. She must have been sad about leaving her son, but she also knew God had a different plan for him that included a voluntary separation. Nevertheless, Hannah demonstrated her love for her son by bringing him a new ephod every year.

Hannah. A praying mother. A loving mother. A woman who understood that her children belonged to God.

Seems a like a pretty good model to all of us parents.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. What can we learn from Hannah?
  3. How do you think Samuel’s unique upbringing affected his ability to lead Israel? How can parents raise up their children in a similar way?
  4. Read John 5:19-23. What does this tell you about the relationship between Jesus and his heavenly Father?

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

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