Tag Archives: Michael J. Klassen

Famous (And Not-So-Famous) Last Words

“You have won, O Galilean”
Emperor Julian, after his failed attempt to reverse the official endorsement of Christianity by the Roman Empire.

“No, you certainly can’t.”
John F. Kennedy to Nellie Connelly, wife of Governor John Connelly, who commented, “You certainly can’t say that the people of Dallas haven’t given you a nice welcome, Mr. President.”

“Thomas Jefferson survives…”
Former U.S, president John Adams, commenting on his former political nemesis (actually, Jefferson had died earlier that same day).

“Is it the Fourth?”
Former president Thomas Jefferson (he and John Adams died on July 4, 1826).

“I am about to—or I am going to—die: either expression is correct.”
Dominique Bouhours, French grammarian, d. 1702

“Go on, get out! Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough.”
Revolutionary Karl Marx to his housekeeper, who urged him to tell her his last words so she could write them down for posterity.

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Jesus Christ (Luke 23:46)

My (Not-So-Famous) Last Words

At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, this blog post is the final post, at least in this format.

January 1, 2010, I launched A Daily Bible Conversation, inviting family, friends, and anyone else who might be interested, into reading through the Bible in a year. Within weeks, readers from all over the world were responding to my invitation.

People like Elna Dreyer became friends, although she lived on the other side of the world in South Africa. Murray Downie from Australia joined in on the conversation. Soon, the blog attracted readers from Saudi Arabia, Bolivia, and England and beyond.

And my world grew smaller.

A Quick And Easy Way To Burn Out

Reading through the Bible together was fascinating, but by June of that year, I was running out of steam. Try writing 800 words a day 150 days in a row. That’s insane!

Fortunately, my co-pastor Eugene Scott came to the rescue. He offered to write two days a week and advised me to combine Saturday and Sunday. Suddenly, writing four days a week became much more manageable.

By the end of the year, I had written around 360,000 words. That’s the equivalent of over seven books! I also wrote a book with an author that year, which brought my total to eight books. Ridiculous.

The next year, Eugene and I decided to rename the blog The Neighborhood Café and write once a week. Then we added other writers who contributed once a week. Thanks Michael Gallup and Brendan Scott!

Two Options For The Future

As this last summer progressed, Eugene and I discussed our dreams for taking the blog into the future. After realizing we wanted to move in different directions, we amicably decided to bring this blog to a close and follow our dreams.

Eugene’s blog is entitled Living Spiritually. If you’d like to subscribe, click here. Thank you, Eugene, for pulling me out of the deep waters when I was drowning in blog posts. You are a valued colleague and friend.

After today, I’m inaugurating a new blog which I’m calling God Meets Culture. The purpose of the blog reflects the title:  discussing the intersection of God and culture. I’ll offer various thoughts on the subject as well as a book, video, quote, or website of the month.

As time progresses, I’ll offer resources for aspiring writers as well.

To subscribe, click here and then click on “Follow blog via email” in the right-hand column. Please bear with me as I pull the website together.

Thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings. Hopefully in some way they made a difference in your life.

Michael J. Klassen

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

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One Easy Way To Put An End To Hate

Last Sunday morning, Milwaukee, Wisconsin experienced a repeat performance of the tragic Aurora shooting from three weeks ago. The gunman, Wade Page, shot six people and wounded four others in a Sikh temple before eventually taking his life.

Since then, news outlets have been reporting that Page had ties to white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups. He also reportedly played in two white power bands.

Seems like the hate quotient in our country has increased exponentially over the last year or two.

So how do we put an end to it?

First of all, I think we need to stop talking about it.

Is it just me, or does it seem that our culture is throwing the word “hate” around like an errant Tim Tebow pass? Seems like our society is fixated on hate. Consider the recent additions to the English lexicon:

  • Hate rock
  • Hate crime
  • Hate groups
  • Hate monger
  • Hate speech

You’ve heard of FaceBook, but you may be surprised to know that there’s a HateBook where people can list their many hates.

Back in the day, the word “hate” was reserved for incorrigibles like Adolf Hitler or more recently Fred Phelps. Wade Page or James Holmes (the Aurora shooter) would surely fit into that category. But today, the word dominates the rhetoric in national news.

Once You Start You Can’t Stop

A few months ago I stopped at a nearby hardware store to pick up some household repair items. I asked a clerk for advice on a certain purchase, and this is what he said,

Actually, I think you’d be better off going with the ¾ bolt, actually. Then, actually, you’ll need to buy this nut. Actually, actually, you’ll find that it holds things together much better. Actually.

During our 2 minute conversation, he employed the word “actually” 14 times (I counted!). When I returned home, I shared my experience with my wife.

“So,” she asked after I finished telling my story, “when do you plan on beginning your project?”

“Actually, I thought I’d start tomorrow morning because, actually, I was planning on answering some emails tonight. Actually.”

I gulped because I knew I had been infected.

The next couple of days, the dreaded word kept appearing in my vocabulary. At times I knew it was coming but I still couldn’t stop it. The guy at the hardware store had given me the virus.

Throwing the word “hate” around works the same way. The more we talk about it, the more it appears in our vocabulary. And the more it appears in our vocabulary, the more common it becomes. Nowadays, a disagreement or debate can be considered
“hate speech.” Ironically, accusing people of hate can be in itself an act of hate.

While Wade Page performed with his white power heavy metal group, the lyrics in his songs assuredly expressed the hate that he already felt. But they also energized his burning hatred inside.

I realize this isn’t the magic pill—but we need to change the way we talk.

Our words are performative. If I stand in front of a mirror every day telling myself, “Mike, I hate you,” I’ll begin to believe it.

But if we change the way we talk to each other, we just might turn back the tide on hate.

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt. Colossians 4:6 (NIV)

 Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. He’s doing his best to recover from his “Actually” virus.

One note: The Daily Bible Conversation blog is shuttering its doors at the end of August…at least for now. The blog has run its course, so Michael, Eugene, and Brendan will direct their energies in other areas. Beginning September 7, Michael will begin a new blog entitled “God Meets Culture” at michaeljklassen.com.

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The Symbols That Define Us

A 4 by 3 inch slice of wood sits on my desk. Fifteen years ago it served as the stump to a Christmas tree that stood in our living room.

That year, I was struck by the fact that my Christmas tree spent  10 years preparing itself to be the family tree for three weeks. In the same way, I realized, God may spend months, even years, preparing me for significant moments.

I keep the tree sample on my desk as a reminder. In many ways, that stump symbolizes  my values–the existence of God, the potentially redemptive nature of pain, the importance of preparing myself for significant moments.

Symbols Are All Around Us

We live in a world of symbols. Photos remind us of past events. Plaques, trophies, and medals take us back to earlier accomplishments. Tattoos on our bodies reveal untold stories. Perhaps you wear a cross to remind you of the steep price Jesus paid to save you from yourself. The symbols we choose to keep nearby say a great deal about our past and our values.

The importance of symbols cannot be understated. A life without them is a life devoid of meaning and memory.

When the children of Israel crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land, they gathered large stones from the bottom of the river and constructed a memorial on the river bank to remind them of the day God parted the waters to bring them home. The stones did more than tell a story—they taught the people about God.

The greatest memorial in the Christian faith is the Lord’s Supper, which reminds us not only of Jesus’ death, but also the forgiveness Jesus purchased for us, our hunger for him, and the importance of community (hence the word “communion”).

What do the symbols in your life communicate about you?

What symbols are missing?

What symbols shouldn’t be there?

As you revisit the memorials in your life, take a moment to listen. What might God be speaking to your heart?

If anything comes to mind, please share it with us!

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. His favorite symbol is a carved, wooden crucifix that hangs on a wall in front of his computer. 

 

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The Truth About Freedom

“I am William Wallace!” the legendary leader shouted to his Scottish brethren in the movie Braveheart. After resisting the repeated attacks of the tyrannical English King Edward the Longshanks, the men were ready to give up.

“And I see a whole army of my countrymen, here in defiance of tyranny. You’ve come to fight as free men…and free men you are. What will you do with that freedom? Will you fight?”

“Fight?” a wearied warrior countered. “Against that? No! We will run. And we will live.”

“Aye, fight and you may die,” their mythical leader replied. “Run, and you’ll live…at least a while.

“And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin’ to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take…OUR FREEDOM!”

Is Freedom Just Another Four Letter Word?

This Wednesday, Americans celebrate Independence Day, the day when our founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776. It’s a day we celebrate freedom from British rule. (Isn’t it ironic that today, the British are our closest allies?)

Freedom is a core value in the Western world. It’s also those most overused, misunderstood word in the English language.

Years ago, a chain of convenience stores posted the word “freedom” in big letters over their soft drink machines. They celebrated the “freedom” customers enjoyed in choosing from a half dozen different soft drinks.

For this William Wallace and the forefathers of countries around the world died? For this our founding American forefathers risked their lives?

Of course not. People in totalitarian countries assuredly enjoy the option of different soft drinks. But it begs the question: What is the purpose of freedom, and how can we attain it?

The True Purpose Of Freedom

“You, my brothers, were called to be free,” Paul wrote in Galatians 5:13, which sounds like something William Wallace would say.

Our freedoms allow us to make choices that people in previous generations didn’t enjoy. We can worship as we choose, marry whomever we choose, pursue any profession that we choose, and voice our dissatisfaction with our government without fear of retribution. But freedom can be a mixed blessing—just ask people from newly freed countries. Since winning their freedom, Russia has become thoroughly entrenched in corruption and overrun by the mafia.

Our freedoms allow us to surf porn, pick up sexually transmitted diseases, and gamble ourselves into bankruptcy and personal ruin. Extreme examples to be sure—but the possibility to live without restraints is definitely one of the pillars of freedom.

Paul though, continues his thought: “But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature.”

Then he compares the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. Sexual immorality, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, appear on the list of vices (see Galatians 5:19-21).

Is freedom the right to indulge in any of these vices? Technically speaking, yes. But what if these “vices” are truly vices? If so, then they really represent bondage–the opposite of freedom.

The Deeper Freedom Is The Freedom To Be Who You Truly Are

Paul was a addressing a deeper freedom. Not a freedom to indulge these practices, but a from them. A freedom to be who we really are. A freedom to be the men and women God had in mind before he created the heavens and the earth.

You see, when we give our lives to Jesus, our sins are forgiven and we become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). The deepest part of us is no longer us but Christ.

Take a look at the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These are all the character traits of Jesus. When he becomes the deepest part of us, they become the deepest part of us as well. But they need to be freed.

Previously, our sinful nature gravitated toward Paul’s list of vices. We couldn’t help ourselves. We may think we’re free, but we’re not. Yet Paul says that the Christian has been unchained. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free,” he wrote in verse 1.

If you have given your life to Jesus, the truest part of you is the fruit of the Spirit, and not the works of the flesh.

Believe it.

Please Join Me In A Conversation!

How does it feel to know that the truest part of you gravitates toward the fruit of the Spirit and not the works of the flesh?

What helps you believe it? What prevents you from believing it?

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. If you or somebody you know is struggling with bondage to a sexual addiction, he highly recommends a book he helped Michael John Cusick write. The newly-released book is entitled “Surfing For God.”

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Why It’s Good that You’re Not God…

“I can’t believe in a God who would send my brother to hell,” the man told me. His brother had died in a car accident at a young age and he still felt the sharp pain of the tragic loss. The brother wasn’t a follower of Christ, so my friend was wrestling with the final destination of his loved one.

If I were God, I wouldn’t want to send my friend’s brother to hell. Heck—if I were God, I’d do away with hell altogether.

If I were God, I’d come after the Assad regime in Syria and punish them for killing innocent men, women, and children.

If I were God, I’d eliminate pain and broken marriages and child abuse.

If I were God, I’d change the world religions so they’d all inevitably lead to me.

If I were God, I’d find a way to reverse the polarity of the food-space continuum so that desserts yielded zero calories and brussel sprouts  yielded the caloric equivalent of a smothered chimichanga.

If you were God, what would you do? More than changing world events, if you were God, how would you change the beliefs of your religion of choice? Would you make it more tolerant or intolerant, loving or judgmental, rational or mysterious? Would you still eat brussel sprouts?

Fact is, all of us play God at some level. Consciously or subconsciously, we tend to tailor our beliefs to what we wish to be true. This can be quite problematic with 6.8 billion people on the planet. At best, 6,799,999,999 people will be wrong. And I doubt that one remaining person has it right, either.

For our Friday study of God’s word, we’re exploring the epistle of 2 Peter. I find this study fascinating because it speaks so clearly into the culture of our day. At the end of the apostle Peter’s life, he sought to address certain trends in the Christian faith that bore little or no resemblance to the Jesus he knew. For a little background, read Searching For the Authentic Jesus  or last week’s post Tryvon Martin, George Zimmerman, and the Prevention of Truth Decay.

At the beginning of chapter 2, Peter warns his readers about destructive teachers who play God and lead their followers astray.

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute. 2 Peter 2:1–2 (NIV)

In this passage, Peter warns about false prophets and false teachers. The terms are literally translated “pseudoprophets” and “pseudoteachers”—people who purport to teach truth but really teach a lie. What they teach sounds good…but it ain’t necessarily so.

Peter also uses a word that has fallen out of the common vernacular: heresy. Ever notice that no one uses the word anymore? The last time I remember hearing the word, I was watching a Monty Python video clip about the Spanish Inquisition. The hapless inquisitors were prodding  an old lady with a seat cushion in order to get her to recant for espousing heresy.

For you, the word “heresy” might conjure up names like Jim Jones or the Hale Bopp Comet kooks who committed suicide in order to reach an alien spacecraft that was following the comet.

Do you want to know what the word “heresy” literally means? The Greek word for heresy, haireseis, means simply “chosen beliefs.”  Heresies are the tailor-made beliefs we choose for ourselves.

True confession: with that definition in mind, I acknowledge myself as a recovering heretic. Just because I want God to conform to my desires doesn’t mean he does. Nor should he. He’s God and I’m not.

And civilization is a better place because of it.

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. If he were God, he’d spend every day water-skiing.

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What Do You Need From God?

“Hello, is this Pastor Mike Klassen?”

“Yes,” I responded.

“My name is Christine and I need help getting out.”

“Getting out of what?” I asked. After an extended pause, she finally answered.

“I’m, uh, uh…I’m a hooker. I live in a house with about a dozen other people. The girls in our house work the streets and the guys in our house sell drugs.”

Then she said something that sent chills down my spine.

“I’m part of a Satanic cult. If they know I’m leaving, they’ll kill me.”

“I’ll do whatever I can,” I replied. “How can I help you?”

“Meet me at the bus station at 11:00 tonight.”

“Okay,” I answered. “One other question, though. How did you get my phone number?”

“Somebody downtown handed me your business card.”

The next week or so was one of the strangest of my life.  At 11:00 that night, my wife, a friend, and I picked her up from the bus station and drove to my church office. I expected to meet someone along the lines of Julia Roberts’ character from the movie Pretty Woman. I quickly learned that the “happy hooker” didn’t exist. The young woman I picked up was obese, unkempt, and smelly. She hadn’t showered in days, if not weeks.

After telling me her story about running away from home as an adolescent, we delved into her involvement with the cult.

“The demons talk to me,” she said matter-of-factly.

“Would you like to make the demons stop talking?” I asked.

While explaining about the power of Jesus, she screamed in pain and jumped on the top of the couch.

“What touched me?” she said.

I looked around the room to see if a bee had flown into the room and stung her. I looked under the coffee table in front of her.

“I don’t see anything,” I explained. “What do you think it was?”

“That’s it!” she cried out, pointing to my right hand. “Keep that away from me. It burned me when it touched my leg.”

Believe me, I’m not making this up.

In my right hand I was holding a Bible.

The next hour or so, we addressed several demons that were harassing her. But we spent a good deal of the time quoting Scripture because we had witnessed its effects on her. That night I learned the true power of the word of God.

It’s no coincidence that God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah, “‘Is not my word like fire,’ declares the Lord, ‘and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?'” (Jeremiah 23:29)

The apostle Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends, also understood this.

Two weeks ago I started a Friday study on the book of 2 Peter. I believe the book has unique relevance on our society today.

At the beginning of his epistle, he writes:

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
2 Peter 1:3-4

Followers of Jesus were suffering persecution at the hands of emperor Nero. They were afraid to depart from the popular emperor-driven cult at that time and acknowledge their faith in Christ. Popular opinion was becoming increasingly intolerant of people who believed in ultimate truth, sin, and salvation through Jesus Christ.

So Peter, who knew Jesus, who had listened to nearly every sermon he had preached during his three year ministry, wrote that we already have everything we need for life and godliness. We don’t need to seek outside help. If we’re following Jesus, then Jesus lives in us.

But how do we access this power?

Through “his very great and precious promises.” And whose promises is Peter referring to? God the father and his son Jesus (the verse immediately preceding this passage says it). The Bible is the record, a testament, of those promises.

I don’t want to offer you a formula, but the word of God is powerful. It gives strength to our souls, encourages us when we’re down, and it burns the powers of darkness.

If you’re discouraged, spiritually hungry, or feeling powerless, I encourage you to feed on the word of God. Don’t just memorize it—meditate on it and let it nourish the deepest place in your soul. Peter writes that through them–God’s promises in his word–we  “participate in the divine nature.” The word “participate” means literally “fellowship,” “partner,” or “commune.” Through the precious promises we connect with God.

And nothing in heaven or on earth that opposes him can stand up to him.

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. He’s still amazed by the power of God’s word.

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What’s So Good About Good Friday?

Have you ever wondered why we call today “Good Friday”? From what I can tell, only English speaking countries call it “Good.” The Germans call it Karfreitag, which means, basically, “Mourning Friday.” Other languages call it “Holy Friday.” Perhaps we chose “good” because “holy” was already taken by Saturday.

But let’s take a closer look at Friday of holy week by reviewing what happened on Maundy Thursday (the subject of discussion for another time):

  • Jesus shared his last supper with his disciples
  • Judas betrayed Jesus to the ruling authorities
  • Jesus cried out to God in the Garden of Gethsemane, asking to bypass the cross, but then relented to the will of his father in heaven. The disciples slept.
  • Jesus was arrested like a criminal and appeared before the High Priest
  • He was mocked and beaten
  • Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends, denied him three times
  • Jesus was delivered to Pilate, then Herod, then back to Pilate, who found Jesus innocent—but then handed him over to be crucified
  • The people who a week earlier were clamoring to crown him king were now shouting “Crucify Him!”
  • Jesus was beaten and mocked.

Doesn’t sound like a good day. But then it gets worse for Jesus. On “Good” Friday:

  • Jesus was forced to carry his cross to Golgotha, walking through crowds that mocked him, spit on him, and hurled stones at him
  • He was then nailed to a cross between two criminals
  • Hanging on the cross, Jesus was mocked by the people he sought to save
  • He experienced abandonment by his father in heaven
  • Jesus carried the sins of the world on his shoulders
  • Then around 3pm, Jesus died

Doesn’t sound like much of a good Friday to me. In fact, if all of the above-mentioned actions were committed against me, I would pretty much consider it a Bad Friday. Or even Sad Friday. Mourning Friday makes more sense. So it doesn’t make sense calling it good.

Depending on how you define “good.”

Oh yes, one other thing occurred on Good Friday:

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
Matthew 27:50–51 (NIV)

The curtain in the temple is a reference to the veil separating the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place. The Holy Place was the room that priests entered regularly to replenish the oil in the Golden Lampstand, supply fresh bread for the Table of Showbread, and  furnish hot coals for the Altar of Incense.

The Holy of Holies contained one item: the Ark of the Covenant. The lid on the ark was called the Mercy Seat, which the Jews considered to be the throne of almighty God. Only one day a year, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies. Usually, a rope was tied around one foot so if he was struck dead, the other priests could pull him outside without endangering themselves by enter God’s presence.

So a veil separated the two rooms. The curtain in Herod’s temple was 30 feet wide, 60 feet high, and 4 inches thick. It was so heavy that three hundred priests were reaquired to hang it from the ceiling.

For over a thousand years, a veil hung between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies, separating a holy God from his sinful people.

When Jesus died, that veil was torn in two. The divide separating God from humanity was torn. Anyone can approach God in prayer without the assistance of a pastor or priest. Through Jesus’ death on the cross, we have been forgiven and granted access into God’s life-giving presence. And we need no longer live in fear of being struck dead when we encounter God!

Is that good news? No, that’s great news!

The reason for calling today “Good” Friday is a mystery. But Jesus’ death on Good Friday is great news for all of us.

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. If you don’t have plans for Easter and you live in the Denver area, please join us at The Neighborhood Church.

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