Tag Archives: friendship

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ruminations on Reconciliation

By Michael Gallup

Perhaps my favorite name for Christians is found in 2 Corinthians 5; ambassadors of reconciliation. This concept of being reconciled to God is not a prominent doctrine heard in our churches these days, but a reading of several of Paul’s letters, particularly Romans, teaches us that reconciliation may be the “whole” story behind what Christ was doing on the cross.

Those first few chapters of Romans paint a bleak picture. We have done more than just ignore God, we have become His enemies. This is not just some far off deity growing displeased with his play toys, this is Papa we are talking about. In perhaps his proudest moment, from the depths of a bottomless imagination, He spoke His children into being. They were to be His prize, not just His friends but his very own family. However, like the prodigal son we spat in His face and demanded our freedom, only to find ourselves snatching scraps from under the pig’s trough and let’s be honest, we hated Him for it.

When we think of “being saved” the thought is often of our debts being canceled and rightfully so. Yet God offers us more than just forgiveness, He offers us a repaired and renewed relationship; He offers reconciliation. This is no small matter, lest we forget that God was not just mad at us, we were His enemy. And yet this enmity lays the groundwork for one of my favorite passages: “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This is more than some charity case or act of benevolance; this is crazy love. Reconcilation is what makes salvation so radical, its like Hitler and Churchill sharing tea, yet oh so much more. The judge has taken up our defense, paid our penalty and then opened his home for us, adopting us. We who warred against God, now find shelter in His camp.

You can forgive a person and not be reconciled with them. Yet what Jesus has done not only gave us a just status, it gave us a relationship. We were made for this, sitting on Papa’s knee, His hand on our shoulder, teaching us to live. Yet Romans, and our lives, has shown us that this relationship still has some mending to be done. Paul encourages us that “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, how much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” Our reconciled condition is in a sort of “already but not-yet” state. We are an enigma.

The other day I was walking along the Platte River here in Denver and I came to a garbage dump along the way. As I was looking at the dump, I was shocked at the amazing view I had of Mt. Evans and the sun setting behind it. I was floored by this picture of our present state. As I peered through trash, I saw glory. As we look at one another, may we see past the trash and see glory. May we see each other as what we are, a bunch of already-but-not yets. Jesus said that we must forgive to be forgiven, should we not reconcile so that we may be reconciled? So, let us take up our mantle and become ambassadors of reconciliation, bringing not just good news to the lost (and each other) but friendship as well.

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Are Books About to Become Extinct?

By Eugene C. Scott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Is Your FaceBook Friend Really Your Friend?

As of this morning I have 631 FaceBook friends. But whenever I start feeling cocky about the number of people who consider me their friend, I just click on my daughter Anna’s FaceBook page. She has 942 friends. One very outgoing friend’s FaceBook page says she has 1,537!

Oddly enough, some of my FaceBook “friends” really aren’t my friends at all. We never talk, email, or hang out. Some I haven’t seen in 30 years. In fact, sometimes I wonder if FaceBook actually contributes to the disintegration of friendships.

Please join us in today’s conversation as we look at this closer.

A WORD OF CONGRATULATIONS

We recently reached the 2/3 mark in reading through the Bible in a year. Congratulations!

TODAY’S READING

Ecclesiastes 4:1-6:12
2 Corinthians 6:14-7:7
Psalm 47:1-9
Proverbs 22:16

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

Ecclesiastes 4:1-6:12. Solomon must have been feeling  a little morose while writing Ecclesiastes. After exposing the meaninglessness of riches, poverty, and power, he reflects, “Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God” (5:19). Finding contentment with our place in life is truly a gift of God. “Godliness with contentment is great gain,” Paul wrote in 1 Timothy 6:6. Seems to me that learning to enjoy the life God has given is may be a spiritual discipline.

2 Corinthians 6:14-7:7. Paul seems to take a tangent in 6:14-7:1 as he discusses being yoked together with unbelievers. The context tells us he was referring to idol worship. Living this out in our everyday lives, however, is tricky. What does it mean to be unequally yoked? The yoke, obviously, refers to a set of oxen who pull a wagon or plow, but God doesn’t require us to work separately from unbelievers. It seems to me that the greater the level of intimacy, the more we need to be aware that hitching a yoke with an unbeliever may take us in conflicting directions.

If you’ve found A Daily Bible Conversation helpful, share it with your friends! Forward your daily email or send them a link to the website: http://www.bibleconversation.com.

THE WORD MADE FRESH

What constitutes a friend?

In Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, Solomon offers an important argument for friendship and community:

Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! (verses 9-10)

While reading this passage, it struck me that technology seems to work against community and relationships. We sit behind a computer and communicate through FaceBook. We send text messages on our cell phone because we don’t want to get bogged down in conversations. My daughters rarely talk on the phone with their friends because they prefer texting. “Talking on the cell phone is for old people” one of my 13-year-olds told me the other day.

Despite state-of-the-art technology and communications, it seems we’re becoming increasingly isolated. When we sit down to dinner, I’m forced to demand that my daughters set aside their cell phone so they won’t text the whole time. When I stood in line at the grocery store last night, a man in front of me was talking on his cell phone while paying for his items. He seemed oblivious to everyone around him.

Now please understand, I’m not against technology. I love techie gadgets. But texting, emailing, and cell phone calls don’t constitute a relationship. Almost every week, Eugene and I tell our church that “relationships are sacred.” Relationships, though, are best built in person. One-on-one conversations. Doing things together. Sharing our hearts with one another. Only then can we help the other person up.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. How do you find contentment?
  3. To what extent do you enjoy the life God has given you? What prevents you from enjoying it? Why do you allow it to distract you?
  4. How many friends do you really have? What defines it as a friendship?

If you’re reading this blog on FaceBook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here.

www.bibleconversation.com

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

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The Wisdom of Harry Harlow’s Monkeys

How many people can you name whom God has used in your life?

For thirty-some years my wife Dee Dee has modeled grace, honesty, hospitality, and loyalty for me. My children, Katie, Michael (son-in-law), Brendan, and Emmy have each shared with me important individual lessons. But as a group they have shown me the value of hope and trust and–at very important times–childlike faith. My hunting partner Jay has modeled for me balance, strength, and godly manhood.

These are only a few of the many people I could name whom God has used to change me. I am fortunate.

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

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

Job 16:1-19:29

1 Corinthians 16:1-24

Psalm 40:1-10

Proverbs 22:1

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

If you’ve found A Daily Bible Conversation helpful, share it with your friends. Forward your daily email or send them a link to the website: www.bibleconversation.com.

THE WORD MADE FRESH

I find it interesting in the closing, as in the beginning, of his letter that Paul does not address a church by an institutional name: First Christian Church of Corinth for example. In his greeting he speaks to them as people but not an institution. In his closing Paul, waxes even more personal, mentioning six different people, friends, and co-workers.

Several of them we have read of elsewhere. Likely they have travelled many rugged miles and often suffered and triumphed together. We know Paul was instrumental in Timothy joining the family of Christ and Paul considered Timothy as a son. Paul speaks with respect for Apollos. Pricilla and Aquila were close friends. Paul probably often lived in their home. Dietrich Bonhoeffer called this expression of church “Life Together.”

Bonhoeffer was right. These people were not simply people who belonged to the same organization or club. They were Paul’s friends and coworkers, his essential spiritual community. Their hearts were strung together with a cord that ran directly through the heart of Christ and wove them into a community that worked, suffered, traveled, preached, served, and lived together.

Listen to his language: he is collecting funds for “God’s people.” He speaks of “the men” and the personal pronoun “you” is prominent. He talks of staying not just visiting. They greet one another with a “holy kiss.” Never does he refer to the church as an “it.”

How different is this from how we talk about and think about church today? We talk of going to such-and-such church, or learning from so-and-so pastor, or reading this-or-that Christian book. Ours is often an institutional, impersonal expression of faith that was foreign to Paul and his friends. Paul’s idea of the church was highly relational. Later, in what we call his pastoral letters, he sets out organizational principles for the people of the church: how we may best relate to one another. But he never speaks of the body of Christ as an organization alone. Yet that is our primary lens for viewing the Church.

Is this part of the reason so many modern followers of Christ are frustrated and departing the institutional church? I believe so. Organizations can only function as conduits for people to meet (or attempt to meet) one another’s real, flesh and blood needs. Soon the system clogs up and relationships break down or are no longer the primary purpose. Like psychologist Harry Harlow’s famous wire monkeys, a brick and mortar institution can never nurture real living, breathing faith. Many of us are jumping off and looking for softer connections.

Yet most of us, like Paul, can name several people God has used to nurture in us a living, loving faith. What if these people, the ones you work, love, and live with are your church?  Or even the people you sit next to in the pew? How would seeing them as the church make church different? Then what if those you and those people began to worship, fellowship, and serve in relationship together? That is what people in Paul’s time and for hundreds of years after did. And God used them, a people not an institution, to change the world.

Did seeing the church as a people and not a steeple solve all their problems? Hardly. Read the previous fourteen chapters of Paul’s letter. But it did give them a foundation from which to work out their problems. Ultimately it is more difficult to walk away from people–imperfect though they may be–than an impersonal entity.

Pollsters, such as George Gallup, ask people how often they attend church. Paul, if he were around today, might ask how often people were with their church and how those relationships with their church had made a difference.      

  1. What do these for passages share in common?
  2. If you were to give your institutional church a non institutional name, what would it be?

If you’re reading this blog on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. www.bibleconversation.com.

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

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DOES FACEBOOK BEST DEFINE FRIENDSHIPS?

Facebook states the average user has 130 Facebook friends.  I know people who boast of more than 1000 friends on the social networking site.  Some people challenge each other to see who can “friend” the most people. Quantity often trumps quality.

I enjoy and utilize Facebook. Through it I have engaged in theological conversations with people as far away from my native Colorado as Australia. Reconnecting with long lost friends has been rewarding. And social networking sites allow us to keep up-to-date and communicate with many people we would not otherwise be able to.  A Daily Bible Conversation is just such a site.

To name each of the 493 people listed on my Facebook page as friends, however, stretches the definition of friendship out of recognition. Many of them are acquaintances or contacts at best. Can anyone really be friends with 1000 people or even 130?  I suppose it depends on your definition of friendship.

In today’s reading we see that Jonathan and David’s definition of friendship may challenge many of our modern assumptions about relationships.

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

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

1 Samuel 20-21:15

John 9:1-41

Psalm 113:1-114:8

Proverbs 15:15-17

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

1 Samuel 20-21:15: We catch a candid glimpse of the life of the court of Israel’s first king. Saul is grooming Jonathan as heir apparent and has given him much authority. But everyone, including Jonathan, knows that God has decreed the crown will go to David. The tension and intrigue are high. David must hide from a murderous Saul, who is hiding his hatred for David from Jonathan. The issue comes to a head at the New Moon Festival which was a festival the first of each month celebrating God’s constant provision. Jonathan and David meet secretly so that David will not be killed and Jonathan cannot be accused of treason by his father.

Knowing how common it was for those aspiring to a throne to kill anyone who may be in the way, it is remarkable that Jonathan does not betray and kill his friend. Rather he preserves his life and ensures he will not inherit the throne.

John 9:1-41: The religious leaders of Jesus’ day rightly see him as a threat to their power. And he is, though not through Jesus wresting their power from them but rather by transforming what it meant to walk with God. Once again Jesus heals on the Sabbath. This is not coincidence. The Sabbath laws were fiercely debated and enforced. Jesus consistently chose to heal on the Sabbath and “disobey” their pet law to prove who he was and to provoke them. Though Jesus was not political in the way we view it today, he did spend a great deal of time and energy working against established religion. This angered the religious leaders.

Today many Christians are tireless in their critique of governments and political parties they view as wrong. I do not necessarily disagree with this. But following Jesus, I believe, also calls us to evaluate and reform the religious establishment in areas it has lost sight of Jesus‘ mission and where it is as confused and oppressive as any government is and as the Pharisees of old were.

If you’ve found A Daily Bible Conversation helpful, share it with your friends. Forward your daily email or send them a link to the website: www.bibleconversation.com.

THE WORD MADE FRESH

Jonathan and David would have scoffed at what many of us today define as friendship, especially the Facebook kind. We shouldn’t castigate ourselves, however. Because we can learn from them. What made their friendship so exceptional?

Close friends often share common interests.  More than that, David and Jonathan shared a deep, living faith in God. They made at least three covenants to one another that they based on their common Hebrew faith.

This covenant also shows they were both intentional about their friendship. They did not just meet in a bar and “hang out.” They chose to walk with one another through some very difficult times.

Giving not taking was foundational. Both were willing to give up their promised future crowns for one another. Jonathan gave up his relationship with his father. David refused to fight back against Saul and gave up his safety for Jonathan.

They were incredibly loyal to one another. Jonathan kept his promise even though his father threatened to kill him. And David kept his promise to Jonathan’s family long after Jonathan’s death.

They shared their passions and emotions, and even affection.

They were not utilitarian. They did not use one another. Each loved the other as he loved himself.

Several hundred years later Jesus would say this trait–loving others as oneself–was second only to loving God.

In the end what made their friendship uncommon was that they held their relationship sacred. They knew it was from God, holy, living, life-sustaining, worth sacrificing career, standing, and fame for. They weren’t “just” friends.

According to a 2004 Gallup article the average American has nine “close friends.” I probably could count that many myself. But as I look at what these two ancient warriors had, I have some work to do in order to have many of those go as deep as did Jonathan and David.

  1. How do you define friendship?
  2. How many close friends do you have?
  3. Is there anyone in your life with whom you have a friendship similar to Jonathan and David’s?
  4. What issues/practices in modern religious life do you believe Jesus would make a point of resisting

If you’re reading this blog on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. www.bibleconversation.com.

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

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