Tag Archives: forgiveness

The Fifth Most Important Day in History: Are You a Giver or a Taker?

By Eugene C. Scott

I could hardly breathe the narrow streets were so crowded. This was the fastest way to the temple but it was not a good part of the city. I hated these grabbing people. Not Grandmother. Grandmother hated no one. Nor feared them. She hobbled along using her cane to pry her way through the middle of the crowd as if she owned the city. She moved fast for an old cripple.

“Grandmother, wait,” I called as she turned a corner.

“Grand . . .  ,” I began again but a rough dirty hand crushed my voice back down my throat. I tried to scream but the hand clamped harder. I tasted blood, like metal. The man drug me me backward into a doorway. I kicked and twisted, crying. He forced me to the ground and bent over me, cruel eyes raking me. He grabbed at my body and tore my robe. I screamed. Then I saw Grandmother behind him. She raised her cane and brought it down on his hairy ear. Blood burst from his head and he howled. I jumped up and ran and got stuck again in the crowd. I couldn’t breathe, even to cry. Then there was Grandmother suddenly beside me, smoothing my hair, taking my hand.

“He was an animal,” she spit. “But Yahweh is our strong tower, our protector,” she said shaking her cane. She did not release my hand all the way to the temple. I looked at her thinking she was my protector.

My tears dried by the time we reached the temple. But my heart still quailed. A shabbily dressed, skinny Rabbi was teaching there. We stopped to listen. He looked up and there was peace in his eyes.

“Wait here my child,” Grandmother told me and limped across the court to the temple treasury. A man in purple robes, with a gold phylactery tied on his forehead, pushed in front of her and threw a large purse in, shrugging at the temple guards. He relished their silent praise. I shivered.

Men. Even in purple robes they were animals.

Undeterred Grandmother bowed her head and dropped her coin in on top of the man’s wealth. This is why we had come. To thank Yahweh for all he had done for her.

The Rabbi’s voice came soft but strong from right beside me, “I tell you the truth this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

How did he know Grandmother was a widow? I wondered. That we were poor was obvious.

Then the Rabbi turned and faced me and all my questions faded. This man saw inside me, knew me. But he did not need anything from me. I could see in his face–strong, plain, firm, satisfied–he was not a man like all the others, like that animal. His smile landed on me like a gift not a demand. It covered me like a cloak. He gave it expecting nothing in return.

Grandmother and I returned home by the longer road.

“Did you know that Rabbi?” I asked her.

“No, child.” she said.

Four days later we heard he was killed as punishment with two other thieves. At first I thought it was a mistake. But Grandmother said it was true. He had died on a cross. Still I knew it was a mistake. That man I had seen at the temple was no thief. That man knew about giving, not taking.

This day–the fifth most important in history: Jesus has four days left in what we call life. The Temple courts are full of people from all over the world. Rich people, powerful people. Yet he notices an old woman with no money and no influence. And he admires her. Like him she is a giver not a taker. Does Jesus receive hope from her actions that his gift too will be bigger than it looks?

Read Matthew 21:20-23:39, Mark 11:20-12:44, and Luke 20:1-21:4.

Also, go to tnc3.org for info on how The Neighborhood Church is remembering this week in history.

Two thousand years ago this week one man turned history upside down. I would give anything to have been there, seen him, heard his voice. Instead we can only use our imaginations to re-enter ancient history. Each day this week, called Holy Week, we are going look at this day in ancient history through the eyes of a fictional character who witnessed part of that day as Jesus lived it. Join us as we believe a better story: the greatest, truest story ever told.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

What Happened on the Sixth Most Important Day in History?

By Eugene C. Scott

Two thousand years ago this week one man turned history upside down. I would give anything to have been there, seen him, heard his voice. Instead we can only use our imaginations to re-enter ancient history. Each day this week, called Holy Week, we are going look at this day in ancient history through the eyes of a fictional character who witnessed part of that day as Jesus lived it. Join us as we believe a better story: the greatest, truest story ever told.

“Little David, you need to go to Jerusalem. Maybe there will be something for you there,” my friend Baruch told me.

Baruch was right. One swipe with my blade–it made a small sound, snick–and the fat pouch dropped into my hand. Then I was off to the next contributor. They paid me no mind, a dirty, hungry run-away. Looking at me meant touching me, caring.

Besides they were listening to the Rabbi with death on his face. He was teaching from under a leafy fig tree. The Rabbi gestured toward the tree. Snick, and the next pouch was mine. It was just like shearing sheep. I tucked the money inside my robe and eyed another contributor who had more than he needed.

“Ohhhh,” the crowd moaned. Someone pressed against my back.

I’m caught, I thought.

Then I saw it. The fig tree. It’s leaves were suddenly brown, withered, trembling. One leaf dropped to the ground, lifeless like the sparrow I once hit mid-flight with a stone.

“He killed it with only words,” an old woman in front of me said.

The Rabbi lifted his voice, his eyes grabbed mine, “If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for . . . . . . in prayer.”

I pulled my robe tighter over my stolen money. It felt heavy against my thigh. I slipped behind the old woman. The Rabbi strode away from the dead tree and away from Jerusalem. The mummer of hundreds of Jews singing Psalms rose with the dust from their feet. He–they called him Yeshua–walked with dangerous determination. Enough to finally change things.

Those brave, or foolish enough to follow him, would see him hung on a Roman cross. I was one of the foolish ones. That day the pouches under my robe became even heavier. I took them to the temple and left them. Baruch was right. There was something for me in Jerusalem.

*****

This story illustrates small things, seemingly unimportant things–some call them butterfly effects–often become bigger than we ever imagine they could. A small, insignificant boy saw a poor, homeless man wither a fig tree. And then walk to his death, joining thousands of others killed on Roman crosses in his day. The Roman government barely noticed, the gossips and story-tellers (news media) quickly moved on to bigger stories. Jesus made a choice that would tear the fabric of history. And something changed this day, at the very least millions of lives we have no record of.

Hebrews call this day Yom shenee, the second day. In the modern world we call it Monday, the first day. In whatever language you speak, on this day some two thousand years ago Jesus was terminal. He had five days to live. He made small choices that propelled him toward the cross rather than run away from it. Thus, by the choices Jesus made, and the ripples in time those choices would send out, this is the sixth most important day in history.

Had you been there what would you have seen? Would you have followed? What decisions would you have made? What would Yeshua have seen in you?

Eugene C. Scott was changed because of those choices Jesus made. He also loves to read and write stories. Eugene is currently writing another blog called 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.

Read more about this day in history in Matthew 21:12-19, Mark 11:11-19 and Luke 19:45-46.

Also, go to tnc3.org for info on how The Neighborhood Church is remembering this week in history.

5 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Have You Ever Been Mooned by God?

By Eugene C. Scott

When Moses demanded to see God’s glory, God mooned him. This was not an insult. Nor an accident.

It’s an unusual–irreverent–but accurate translation of Exodus 33:23 where God answers Moses’ request with, “I’ll put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with my hand until I’ve passed by. Then I’ll take my hand away and you’ll see my back.” Literally the text reads, “you’ll see my hinder part” or “backside.”

And some say God has no sense of humor.

Obviously all biblical references to God’s body parts are anthropomorphisms, God using human characteristics to communicate to us something about himself. God–as Spirit–has no hands much less a backside he could moon us with.

So, what’s God’s point in showing Moses his backside?

Like Moses, I too have yearned to see God. Those nights, days, hours, months where the cold, wet drizzle of doubt chills me to the soul, I get lonely–for God. Just a touch, just a glimpse even of his backside would make all the difference in the world.

During Lent our faith community is exploring ways to see God–or at least draw closer to him. We have discussed and practiced confession, making room for God, listening to God, silence and becoming servants. It’s been thrilling and challenging. God may have even mooned us a couple of times.

Today for example. A group of us partnered with a few students and teachers from Dakota Ridge High School (the school The Neighborhood Church meets in for worship) in a service project. Sixteen of us traipsed over to a senior living center and spent some time with several Alzheimer’s patients. All in different stages.

We each paired off with a woman patient in the room. We were to greet them with a smile, clasp their hands, look them in the eye, introduce ourselves, and eventually compliment them. We were to be present to them no matter how present they could be to us. I found myself talking with a woman laying back in a recliner, holding a pink piglet stuffed animal. She was deep in the disease, unable to respond at all. My heart sank.

Still I took her hand, I smiled, I introduced myself, I complimented her on her piglet doll. In return she drooled. Touching her shoulder, I prayed God would fill her and–though she could not hear me–speak to her between her damaged brain cells. That she would see God with the eyes of her soul.

Beyond our awkward silence, the room grew noisy as the students interacted with the other residents. I stroked her hand. Her skin moved under my hand but that was all. I fell silent.

I wonder what her name is, I thought. I turned and asked the woman in a rocking chair behind me. She thought for a moment, looked around and then shrugged. An aide walked by and I asked her.

“Crystal,” the aid answered hurrying by.

I turned back and again took Crystal’s hand. “Crystal,” I called out to her loud and sure.

At that she jolted, opened her eyes and in jerky movements squeezed my hand.

“Crystal, I love your piglet doll. I bet one of your grandchildren gave it to you.”

She jolted again and began chattering, if mumbling can be chatter. Now my smile was real. I understood not a word. But I didn’t need to. Later she held her milky eyes wide, tears filling the wrinkles on her gray face as the kids came by and hugged her saying, “It was good to meet you, Crystal.”

Unexpectedly, I saw God’s shadow there in Crystal’s fading face.

Like Moses–like Crystal–I ache to see God, his glory, his power, his healing: to hear his deep booming voice say, “Peace. All is well.”

If I could see God–I tell myself–then I could believe, live right then I could step out into some crazy God-idea like not worrying, or starting a church from scratch, or loving my enemy, or living by faith not fear, or–some days–getting out of bed.

Instead God moons me, shows me his hinder parts. Funny thing is that God’s hinder part may be all we can handle seeing this side of eternity. Moses didn’t seem to mind. And rather than an insulting high school prank, being mooned by God may be a fantastic privilege. Today he showed up in an Alzheimer’s patient.

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

Beginning on March 13–the Sunday following Ash Wednesday–we will begin a Lenten series titled “Embrace: Discover, Desire . . . Jesus” at The Neighborhood Church.  During worship we will explore those things of God we can embrace and add to our lives as a response of love to Jesus.  These worship gatherings will also include hands-on opportunities to practice these things God asks us to add to our lives.  Join us.  See tnc3.org for worship times.

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Is Believing in the Easter Bunny and Jesus the Same?

By Eugene C. Scott

Easter raises grave questions. Like why did the Easter Bunny stop coming when I turned ten years-old? Did I do something to offend him? And is pink a legitimate color? Really, pink?

But seriously. As bright and cheerful a holiday as Easter is, it can call us to consider deeper issues.

I only remember–well–two Easters from my childhood. One was a typical American Easter. My family owned horses and on this particular Easter Sunday we gathered all the aunts and uncles and cousins–a huge crowd–at the horse pasture for a picnic and Easter egg hunt. Surrounded by towering cottonwood trees, us kids tore up the moist spring earth hunting eggs. A Colorado blue sky soared above us. It was a blast.

Yet to my knowledge none of us asked why we and other entire families–an entire nation–took one spring Sunday to dress up, decorate eggs, eat ham, and celebrate. I knew nothing of going to church. What on earth were we celebrating?

Humans do many strange things. Not the least of which is contrive an entire commercial season/industry around a six-foot tall bunny that lays and delivers candy filled eggs. We are–if nothing else–inventive.

The other Easter I remember was also a typical American Easter, though atypical for me. That chilly spring Sunday in 1973 I joined thousands of others–billions worldwide–at an Easter worship gathering at Red Rocks Amphitheater west of Denver (see Lent: Is Your Life a Feast or Famine?). Unlike my other Easter memory, everyone knew why we rose with the sun and shivered in the cold mountain air.

Humans believe many strange things. At this point some of you may ask: what’s the difference between believing in a six-foot, egg laying bunny and a man who came back to life? No one I know personally has seen either. Both are highly improbable.

Yet there is a difference between believing in a still living Jesus and a big, cute bunny.

First, though no one I know has seen Jesus physically walking around their neighborhood, over 400 people in Jerusalem and its suburbs did see and touch him alive days after he was killed on the cross. No one over age ten–and maybe Jimmy Stewart–has seen a real, living Easter Bunny, however.

I know the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection is a deep pool and many good and intelligent people can argue both for or against it. That argument can take place in the comment section below or in a future blog. My point here is that credible people claimed to see Jesus alive after he died. That truth begs us to debate and discuss it’s veracity and this contention alone raises one reason for celebrating Easter well above the other.

Second, as I mentioned in the first paragraph, I believed in the Easter Bunny for ten long years. Sadly that belief changed nothing in my life, except maybe bestowing on me a life-long love of chocolate and the ensuing cavities and pimples. Believing or not believing in the Easter Bunny meant nothing.

Compare this with what happened to me in the years between that Easter in the horse pasture and the Easter at Red Rocks. In the summer of 1972–in the mountains above Colorado Springs–I met someone who so powerfully impacted me that I eventually gave up my suicidal life of drinking, drug abuse, fighting and failure. This person saved my very life. And though I still quit high school, this person convinced me I had value and worth–and eventually a purpose. Because of this person, I gave up self-loathing and came to understand the power of love. I no longer wallowed in my brokenness and mistakes, wishing I had never been born, but rather began to change from the inside out. Even in pain, I now had hope, sometimes even joy.

Before I met this person, I could not imagine living longer than age thirty. I had no dreams, hopes, plans. Today I am fifty-four (a very, very young fifty-four). Today I have more plans and hopes for the next year than I had for my whole life back then.

Who made such a difference for me? Who was this person?

You may have anticipated the answer–and some don’t want to hear it. Some want to relegate my dramatic change to anything and anyone else: luck, fate, determination, growing up.

But that June day, below the silent pines, my heart was empty and broken.  And I met not an Easter Bunny, not fate or luck, and I can promise you I had no determination and had no intention to grow up.

That day I met a living Person: Jesus. I could not see him nor touch him. And I may not be able to convince you Jesus lives. But I felt him and knew he was real and with me. With Jesus’ power and friendship, a newness began to grow in me as if my very cells were being recreated. I came to life that day because of someone who came back to life 2,000 years ago. We may laugh with children who believe in the Easter Bunny. But believing in Jesus has changed countless lives for thousands of year. The two cannot be compared.

The Easter Bunny and chocolate eggs and picnics are fun. But Easter raises grave questions because it is a celebration of Jesus being raised from the grave.

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

Beginning on March 13–the Sunday following Ash Wednesday–we will begin a Lenten series titled “Embrace: Discover, Desire . . . Jesus” at The Neighborhood Church.  During worship we will explore those things of God we can embrace and add to our lives as a response of love to Jesus.  These worship gatherings will also include hands-on opportunities to practice these things God asks us to add to our lives.  Join us.  See tnc3.org for worship times.

5 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Imagination: God’s Greatest Gift

By Eugene C. Scott

My mom was proof that, though humans were cast out and barred from the Garden, we took a piece of Eden with us, like dirt lodged under our fingernails. For nearly twenty-five years my mother lived in an ugly two-story brick apartment building in a part of the city that no longer had much going for it. No parks, few trees–buggy elms–and only the constant rush of cars going elsewhere surrounded her. Surely no garden.

Yet mom transformed that place. She had a wonderful imagination, an artist specializing in raising rose bushes. Every summer on the canvas of dirt between the apartments and where the cars nosed in to park she created a masterpiece of color and beauty. By mid July, red, yellow, white, burgundy, pink, and multicolored roses splashed their colors against the pale brick and rusted iron railing of that old building. Summer after summer people from all over the neighborhood streamed by to see what mom’s horticultural imagination had wrought.

When mom passed away in 2003, the whole neighborhood groaned in grief. For comfort, my family and I imagined mom, now healed of her emphysema, planting a rose garden in heaven, taking God’s best and giving it her own unique twist. Between tears we laughed and smiled at that picture.

Then at the memorial service, mom’s well-meaning and beloved pastor decided it was time to dispel that notion. We don’t know that there is gardening–or are even roses–in heaven, he said. He read a passage about heaven (I don’t remember which one) and told us heaven is not about continuing what we loved doing here but about being forgiven of our sins. He continued, Only what is true, not what is imagined can bring you comfort.

On one level he was right, of course. Even what we imagine heaven or God–or anything really wonderful–to be like will pale in light of God’s reality. My mom may well have gladly chucked her spade upon entering the Pearly Gates.

But . . .

Imagination is one of God’s greatest gifts. Imagine what life would be like without it (sorry).

Just think. Robert Adler imagined not having to get up from the couch to change the television channel. Viola, the remote control.

But seriously, you name it. If it exists, someone imagined it. Leif Enger’s surprising, glorious novel, “Peace Like a River,” “Star Wars,” the Internet, the artificial heart, my mom’s rose garden in the middle of a concrete jungle.

Imagination is also what infuses faith. As a matter of fact, faith would not be possible without God’s gift of imagination. By imagination I don’t mean only dreaming up Easter Bunnies. That’s only the starting place. I mean seeing something real that is not yet there–or is not there on the surface of things.

For example, some see the cross only as so much misused lumber or–today–mere jewelry. But Jesus imagined it as the ultimate instrument of healing. His death and resurrection made it so. Our God-given imaginations then let us see into the past as Jesus hung on that cross and at the same time gaze into the future as Jesus welcomes us back to the Garden.

This is the kind of imagination that thrilled atheist C. S. Lewis and made him see that “Nearly all that I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real I thought grim and meaningless.” He read books, like George MacDonald’s fantasy, “Phantastes,” and found faith and Christ buried in the poetry and prose. His imagination was the tool God used to dig out those truths. Later, moving from atheism to belief in Christ, Lewis said his new faith came from having his imagination baptized. We know the end of that story. Lewis then used his baptized imagination to write stories that helped thousands believe in a God who came down into a weedy, overgrown garden to bring it back to its original state. Without an imagination Lewis, and you and I, would never believe.

Traditionally Lent is about fasting, giving up for a time what we think we have to help us yearn for and realize what we don’t yet believe we really do have. This Lent let God baptize your imagination. As Crystal Lewis sings, let God give you “beauty for ashes, strength for fear, gladness for mourning, peace for despair.”

God can and will show you the truth that he has planted beautiful roses even among the harsh, concrete reality of day-to-day life. As Paul said, God can do far more than we can hope or imagine.

So, what was that piece of the Garden, stuck under our fingernails, we took with us from Eden that day? Our ability to imagine what it once was and what it one day will be. And no matter what my mom’s pastor said, I can still imagine mom in the Garden–sleeves rolled up, dirt smeared face, smile a mile wide, pruning back a red rose. One day I’ll join her, I imagine.

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

Beginning on March 13–the Sunday following Ash Wednesday–we will begin a Lenten series titled “Embrace: Discover, Desire . . . Jesus” at The Neighborhood Church.  During worship we will explore those things of God we can embrace and add to our lives as a response of love to Jesus.  These worship gatherings will also include hands-on opportunities to practice these things God asks us to add to our lives.  Join us.  See tnc3.org for worship times.

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Lent: Is Your Life a Feast or Famine?

By Eugene C. Scott

Easter Worship at Red Rocks Amphitheater

Several months after God first grabbed me by the heart (I was fifteen years old), I attended an Easter sunrise service at Red Rocks Amphitheater in the foothills west of Denver. Suddenly colored eggs, chocolate bunnies, and new Easter outfits paled as symbols of a holiday that affirms the resurrection and forgiving power of Jesus Christ. I remember–still–how guilt and shame, self hate and fear slid off my heart like a winter crust slides off a blade of spring grass. With Jesus living in me, my life switched from an old, grainy, black and white movie to full living color. Everything–sight, sound, joy, pain–reverberated with an edge, a flavor, that jolted me. As a musician who was popular back then, Phil Keaggy, sings, I felt

 

“Like waking up from the longest dream,

how real it seemed,

Until Your love broke through

I was lost in a fantasy

That blinded me,

Until Your love broke through.”

That Easter in 1973 I realized the reality of God’s love breaking into my life and beginning a revolution. Freedom reigned. My heart danced as my life became a whirlwind of much-needed change. Tragically, my list of sins to abandon was quite impressive for a mere fifteen-year-old, especially since I abandoned the same sins multiple times. Slowly my struggle against sin transformed my Christian life from a joyous explosion of forgiveness into a smoldering list of forbidden actions I never fully managed to avoid. Christianity lost its life and became an oppressive duty.

Don’t get me wrong. The Bible clearly communicates that sin makes us incompatible with God and the banquet he has planned for us. Drug abuse, lying, gossip, skipping school, and the like were good things to give up. But when Christianity degenerates into a constant striving against life, it loses its power for life. My freedom in Christ was swallowed by guilt and fear and dos and don’ts.

There’s a story about a Presbyterian who moved into a Catholic neighborhood. Each Friday he grilled himself a steak. His neighbors were sorely tempted as they dined on their traditional fish. Soon the Catholics took matters into their own hands and converted the Presbyterian to their flavor of Christianity. That following Sunday the Priest sprinkled water on the man saying, “You were born a Presbyterian, raised a Presbyterian, but now you are a Catholic.” His neighbors welcomed him into the fold warmly.

But that next Friday they were drawn to the new convert’s deck by the aroma of a tantalizing steak. As they stepped onto his deck, they saw him sprinkling a slab of meat with A1 saying, “You were born a cow, raised a cow, but now you are a fish.”

That joke betrays an all too common belief among Christians–Presbyterian, Catholic, Independent, whatever–that Christianity is comprised of rites, rituals, traditions, and laws. Therefore our faith becomes that which Jesus died to save it from: outward expressions of inward emptiness: legalism.

Next week millions of Christians worldwide will begin looking toward Easter and remembering the resurrection of Jesus by participating in the season of Lent.  Unfortunately, as beautiful and meaningful as Lent can be, for many it teeters on becoming the modern poster child for an empty legalistic faith. On Ash Wednesday thousands will begin a fast in which they will give up chocolate, soda, TV, or something similar.

The prophet Samuel confronted Israel’s first king, Saul, with these words: “To obey is better than sacrifice.”

What’s the difference between obedience and sacrifice? Obedience stipulates an inward desire to do what God has commanded not outward acquiescence. Jesus said, if we love him we will obey his words. Obedience is a response of love to God’s love. Further, obedience is taking God’s word in and then living it out. Jesus illustrated this with the story of a house that has been swept clean of its demons. But then, because the house remained empty, many more demons rushed back in. Obedience then is an outward expression of an inward fullness. Sacrifice often is an outward expression of an inward emptiness.

Fasting has its purpose: to remind us of our need for God. But be honest. Did giving up sweets last Lent really fill you with a deeper love for our Savior? My daughter once wondered why we don’t instead add something to our lives during Lent. In other words, embrace–take in–the good things God has for each of us. And if you choose to fast, give something up, that is not healthy for you, replace it with something that is. This Easter add the fullness of the Holy Spirit to your life. Instead of fasting, feast. Dine on the simple presence of God. Read the Bible to know God not just to wrest his will from its pages. Give yourself to God in worship. Be with God.

The Apostle Paul said the harvest of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. He did not intend this as a legalistic list, but an illustration of a life with the Holy Spirit permeating the soil of the soul. Like a crop in rich earth, the fruit of the Spirit thrives in a life filled with God. Fruit withers when disconnected from the branch. If your faith is a series of outward responses based on an inward emptiness, hanging fruit on yourself will only weigh you down.

As Lent leads us toward Easter, feast on outward expressions of inward fullness; fast from outward expressions of inward emptiness. Is your life a feast or a famine? God desires it to be a banquet of freedom, forgiveness, and his very presence.

********

Beginning on March 13–the Sunday following Ash Wednesday–we will begin a Lenten series at The Neighborhood Church titled

“Embrace: Discover, Desire . . . Jesus”

During worship we will explore those things of God we can embrace and add to our lives as a response of love to Jesus.  These worship gatherings will also include hands-on opportunities to practice these things God asks us to add to our lives.  Join us.  See tnc3.org for worship times.

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

8 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Why Are So Many Fatherless?

By Eugene C. Scott

Sean Daley (Slug) of the hip-hop group Atmosphere wrote and preformed a song, “Yesterday,” that reflects the struggle many of us have after losing our fathers:

“I thought I saw you yesterday . . .

Was that you? Looked just like you

Strange things my imagination might do

Take a breath, reflect on what we been through

Or am I just goin’ crazy ’cause I miss you?”

I too have been looking–in one way or another–ever since my dad’s heart suddenly stopped beating. I remember the day of his funeral sitting on our living room couch, hoping it was only a nightmare, watching for him to reappear. My uncles kept trooping by and, not knowing what else to do, rubbed the top of my head saying, “You’re the man of the house now.” I think they too were still looking for him. In me.

I was eleven then, the oldest boy. I had two older sisters and a younger brother. I tried to become the man of the house but failed. I was not a man and would not be for a long time. As I wrote last week, fatherlessness was to become a long odyssey. Sean Daley’s song goes on:

“Chip on the shoulder, anger in my veins

Had so much hate, now it brings me shame . . .

I thought I saw you yesterday

But I knew it wasn’t you, ‘cause you passed away, dad”

No matter how we lost them, in many ways we’re a culture in search of fathers.

My uncles seemed like perfect candidates for me. But it wasn’t to be.

“I’ll just keep these until you boys are old enough to take care of them,” they each said loading their cars with my dad’s tools. My dad was an airplane mechanic and owned a tool set that would make Tim Taylor weak in the knees. I never saw the tools–and rarely saw the uncles–again. They were incredible tools. Humor aside, however, I have tried to care for some of the fatherless kids in my family. It’s much easier to take care of tools than someone else’s kids.

Since then I’ve noticed more and more men are having trouble even taking care of their own kids. Fatherlessness is epidemic. As I wrote last week, 24 million kids today are growing up in fatherless homes.

Why? What’s going on?

The reasons may be as many as those without fathers themselves. Fatherlessness is a complex social problem with no easy answers. But there is a common denominator: men. As a group we have fallen asleep at the switch. We have lost our courage and forgotten our purpose.

Yes, we are also the victims (I hate to use that word) of the unintended consequences of a changing culture.

For example, I saw in my own family the truth that welfare programs tend to devalue those depending on them. Because food was laid on the table by Big Brother, the men who begat my nieces and nephews and great-nieces and nephews believed they weren’t needed or wanted and simply walked, or ran away. Yes, these men were often young, uneducated, underemployed, and maybe even fatherless themselves.

But since when do men–or women for that matter–walk or run away from a challenge? When did we men, as a group, lose the courage it takes to look at our own flesh and blood and say, “I will give my all, my life, so that you can live.”

When did we, in such huge numbers, lay down the true courage it takes to father, protect and provide for our offspring and take up the fake bravado it takes to grab a game-stick or gun and mow down those we call enemies?

I remember well the terror and wonder that filled me as I held each of my three naked, vulnerable children. Their every breath depended, in part, on me. What if I turned out to be as much of a failure as a father as I was at being the man of the house? Then God seemed to speak to my heart, “You were made for this. Be strong and courageous. With my help you will do it.”

I have, though far from perfectly.

Another unintended consequence of a social change is that in order to gain God-given equal footing in a patriarchal world, women tore tooth and nail at the definition–not only of womanhood–but manhood too. They said real men aren’t angry, emotionless, distant, driven John Waynes. And they were right. The problem was, in our hurry to demolish straw-men we forgot to replace them with a working definition.

So, I found myself not only growing up without a living, breathing model of what a father was, I struggled to become a man when not many were able to say what purpose real men served. What was my purpose in the world? I wondered.

Again, the answer is forming out of my faith. I was not invented to live for myself, self-discovery, self-fulfillment. These things are crucial signs on the path of becoming who God created me to be. But the end of the journey is not becoming a better me but becoming more like Christ and, like him, to give myself away. First to my family. To show them how to work, live, fail, think, succeed, worship, sacrifice, hunt, fish, and–highest of all–to love God and others.

Men, there may be odds against us, but the root of the problem of fatherlessness is in us and the seed of the solution too.

God is telling us, “Be very strong and courageous.” Father your children; don’t settle for being merely a sperm-donor.

There is no greater gift and purpose in life than to have someone created in your image and then have that Creator say, “Here she is. Show her what it takes to be human. Show him how much I love him.” This takes much more strength and courage than simply being the man of the house.

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

5 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Jennifer Aniston and Eugene Scott Reflect on the Fatherlessness Epidemic

By Eugene C. Scott

In 2010 Jennifer Aniston became the spokeswoman for fatherlessness. In her movie, “The Switch,” Aniston plays Kassie, a self-assured single woman, who Aniston describes as “ready to have a child and she’s not in a place where she feels she needs a man to do it.”

Ms Aniston, I don’t believe, was intentionally promoting fatherlessness. She was simply promoting her movie. I don’t think she gave a second thought to the plight of the 24 million children growing up in homes without fathers in America today, at least until trouble-maker Bill O’Reilly brought it up.

I think about it though–maybe too much. I can’t really help it. Like the kid in “The Switch,” and every other fatherless child, I had no choice in growing up without a dad. My father died of a heart attack when I was 11. I often wonder what life would have been like, both good and bad, if dad had come home that night after welding bumpers in his best friend’s garage. I only know after that summer night in 1968, life got down-right hard. So much so if I had my way, no kid would ever have to grow up without a dad–or with a bad one.

So, Aniston really struck a nerve. “[Kassie] wants a child more than she needs a man,” said Aniston. Want and need are key words here. Kassie may not need a man to become a mother–maybe all she needs is a sperm-donor. But the kid needs a dad. And believe me, no kids wants to grow up playing baseball or dolls with just a sperm-donor.

But my argument against raising kids without good dads is not sentimental and anecdotal. My case is both statistical and personal.

  • Kids in fatherless homes are twice as likely to do time in jail. All of my siblings, including me, found ourselves in jail.
  • 63% of youth suicides happen in fatherless homes. I am alive because my mom–and God–intervened.
  • 71% of high school dropouts live in fatherless homes. Three of four Scott kids failed to earn a diploma.
  • Fatherless children are at greater risk for drug and alcohol abuse and mental disorders. Okay, so this is getting too personal.
  • Single parent families are more likely to live below the poverty line. I had to start working at age 13 and at 16 dropped out of high school in order to work full-time.
  • Children without fathers are more likely to beget kids to fatherless homes. This may be the most painful personal statistic. My sisters’ children grew up without their fathers and now several of their children (a third generation) have kids who don’t know their dads, though one family is motherless (equally painful). And the cycle seems unlikely to stop. How I weep for them.

Unfortunately these are just a few of the obstacles us kids without fathers have to contend with. There are myriad more.

Losing my father left a huge hole in my life. Fatherlessness is leaving a vast canyon in our culture. We gape at the hole and then try to fill it up or deny it’s there.

For many years I blamed my dad for his death, just as if he had flipped me off and walked out the door. After all, he smoked and ate fatty foods. There is always blame enough to go around. But that was simply a way for me to try to deal with the loss. Blaming my dad did zero to alleviate the pain and problem. Sure Hollywood, et. al. have exacerbated or glorified the problem by promoting what they think are funny or unusual stories for the sake of the box office. Or worse they have promoted an ideology that sounds progressive and wise, but is not. As a man, I get the feeling some think life would be better without men, much less fathers. (Responsibility is another issue and I believe men, no matter the contributing cultural factors, need to own their role in this epidemic. More on this next week). But blame. What a waste of time.

Denial is another way we try to fill the gap absent fathers leave in our lives and world.

My family often said we were better off without him. He was strict. Dad would have never let me grow my hair out like I had. Real men didn’t wear long sissy, hippy hair. Sometimes dad got really angry, especially with my oldest sister. Today he may have bordered on what we call abusive. And he made me mow the lawn and sweep out the garage and clean greasy car parts.

But even as we sat around the basement living in denial, my heart ached for my dad to yell down the stairs: “I told you kids to get to bed. Don’t make me come down there.”

If you tell yourself something untrue long enough, maybe that’ll make it so. It didn’t. Listen to pop culture on fatherhood and you will come to believe it is, at best, archaic, and at worst abusive. It’s not.

In his book “To Own a Dragon: Reflections on Growing up Without a Father,” Donald Miller relates how hard he tried to fill his father gap. To no avail. Not even God, the Father of all will fill it. When something crucial to our lives goes missing, God is not capricious enough to replace it with a stand-in, or even stand in the hole Himself. As it should, this is why grief lingers. Forty years after my father’s unexpected death, I look back at all the silly, hurtful, even beautiful things I tried to replace him with. I’m glad I failed. Now–mostly–I live with this hole in my soul willingly. I know now to fill it is to not acknowledge it.

Perhaps that is what we, as a culture,  do too. Like bewildered people watching a fault line grow in the street before us, we deny, blame, anything but say, “Look, a terrifying hole. What are we going to do about that?”

Jennifer, Kassie may not need a man, but we all need a father. And it’s okay.

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.

P.S. See fatherhood.about.com/od/…/a/fatherless_children.htm for more stats and http://www.co.jefferson.co.us/cse/cse_T86_R33.htm for more local Colorado stats.

12 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

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.

6 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Forgive and Forget Me Not

by Michael J Klassen

“Bruce, if I’ve done something to offend you, please let me know. If I’m doing something wrong, I want to correct it,” I pleaded to my supervisor (not his real name). “No, everything’s fine,” he replied nonchalantly.

After working with the man for six months, I began to feel like he was slowly trying to force me to resign. My responsibilities were being taken away without being replaced, which drove me into a deep depression, yet every time I asked my supervisor for some clarity on what I was doing wrong, he denied everything.

For a “man of the cloth,” he didn’t display a great deal of integrity. In fact, he used the same approach with a number of other people whom he forced to resign from the team. And, six months later, our church leadership team gave me no choice but to resign from my church–upon the recommendation of Bruce who conveniently was unable to attend the meeting.

After resigning, I met with him one more time in the sincere attempt to reconcile our relationship. Let’s get everything out in the open, I told myself. Even though our conversation was devoid of emotion or accusation, he still refused to own up to his actions or even apologize for the way he had treated me.

Disappointed, I decided my journey to forgiveness would need to take place without his participation.

Society tells us that the goal of forgiveness is to “forgive and forget.” Let bygones be bygones and act as if the offense never happened. Preachers challenge us with this adage. If I were a good Christian, I would just forgive Bruce and act as if he never hurt me.

But I’m not so sure.

Should we forgive and forget? Is forgiveness defined by our best efforts at pretending the offense never happened?

“You’ll have to bear with me. Please forgive and forget. I’m old and foolish,” King Lear remarked to Cordelia in Shakespeare’s play King Lear.

The maxim we banter around in Christian circles didn’t begin with Scripture, it began with Shakespeare.

Here’s why I believe we need to remember our offenses (committed upon us or by us).

So we can grow. We need to learn from our mistakes and the mistakes of others. Without the memory of our past, we’re destined to repeat it.

So we can be healed. Forgetting the offenses committed against us stops the healing process because all we’re doing is suppressing it. Denial actually halts what we need most.

Forgiveness is a strange animal. I can experience a cathartic cleansing that releases me from the pain of the offense one day—only to find the pain of the offense reawakened the next. Only by acknowledging the offense will I be able to move forward.

“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed,” James 5:16 tells us. I’ve always understood that verse in the context of the sins I’ve committed. But confessing the sins that have been committed against me also helps me heal. Obviously, that doesn’t mean broadcasting the offense to everyone I know. We should talk about the offense with one or two trusted people in private so we avoid gossiping.

So we can understand God’s grace. The offenses people have committed against me remind me of what people can do. Of what I can do. Like Bruce, I’m capable of doing some pretty mean things. Bruce needs the grace of forgiveness…just like me.

I’m still working through my forgiveness issues with Bruce, but even working on this post helps me move forward in releasing him from the offense. And it reminds me that someone out there is probably working through forgiveness issues toward me.

Fortunately, when we confess our sins to God, he forgives us completely and removes from us the stain of sin. But he doesn’t live in a constant state of amnesia. If he did, it would devalue the power of the cross because the cross can only be appreciated by remembering the depth of our offense.

So the next time you’re tempted to forgive and forget, remember that it’s Shakespeare…not Scripture.

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized