Tag Archives: miracles

Is God a Tim Tebow Fan?

By Eugene C. Scott

The Author Tebowing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Eugene C. Scott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll be home early tonight.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Harry Potter, Steve Jobs and the Danger of Magical Thinking

By Eugene C. Scott

I was first introduced to J. K. Rowling and the Harry Potter books by a worried mother in my congregation in Tulsa.

“Pastor, what do you think of these Harry Potter books?” This was not a neutral question.

“I haven’t read them,” I answered.

“They’re full of witches, ghosts, and MAGIC! [emphasis mine] Aren’t they Satanic? The Bible’s against magic. I think they’re dangerous for our kids to read.”

Books are always dangerous, I thought but instead I said, “I’d be glad read them and let you know what I think.” I love reading good fiction.

Is the Magic in Harry Potter Dangerous?

What I discovered were books filled with magic. The first three books especially–brimmed with incredible creativity, engaging stories, themes and questions worthy of books on philosophy and theology, and characters that walked off the page and into my heart.

Magic, the kind that makes things appear and disappear, was secondary. Harry and the gang were witches and used magic in the same way Captain Kirk and his crew were space travelers and used not-yet-real technology. Harry Potter never calls on Satanic evil forces for help. Nor does he simply wave his wand and wish his problems gone. This waving of a wand, or a pill, or a prayer to make problems go away is called magical thinking and it is very dangerous.

Magical Thinking is Dangerous

Magical thinking is a way to use the things around us to hide from problems (like Harry Potter’s “invisibility cloak”), while appearing to do something about them. It is a flawed, shallow coping mechanism and may have contributed to Steve Jobs death. Walter Isaacson, biographer of the late Steve Jobs, said, “I think that he [Jobs] kind of felt that if you ignore something, if you don’t want something to exist, you can have magical thinking. We talked about this a lot.” Jobs spurned traditional medical treatment for nine months after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Jobs is not alone. Most of us practice magical thinking.

Years ago, when my daughter was diagnosed with an eating disorder, I leaped into action, found a counselor, and hoped the problem was solved. Sounds like the right thing to do, doesn’t it? But I was guilty of magical thinking. I had waved the counseling wand at my daughter’s pain. But it did not go away. Not without traveling a long, painful road of discovery and healing, that would include the hardest work I’ve ever done including many counselors, doctors, friends, and episodes of heart wrenching arguments with God that showed me how shallow and hidden I was as a man.

We often think of modern medicine in this way. Just pop a pill and all the pain–the disease–will dissolve. Politics too. If we elect my candidate, she will solve all our problems. Religious people use prayer and God and the Bible this way also. Exercise, diet, education all are used as magic wands to banish our troubles.

Magical thinking is dangerous because it is a way to hide from ourselves, our world, and our problems. And it usually makes them worse.

Harry Potter never does this. In every case, his magic is a tool to help him go deeper into danger, closer to the heart of the problem. And his real solutions to his struggles come from the struggle itself. He engages his mind, his heart, his friends, even his enemies in the battle. He never settles for easy, comfortable, known answers.

My daughter is now a mother of two, healthy, honest, deep. She still struggles. But none of us who went through that with her, hide; we don’t wave God, or counseling, or prayer around like a wand hoping all the pain will disappear.

The magic in Harry Potter is indeed dangerous. Because it is the kind that calls us to face ourselves and our problems. It reminds us there are no magic answers.

Eugene C. Scott is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church and would like a magic wand that could solve car problems and maybe clear traffic in front of him during rush hour.

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How Did 9.11 Impact You?

By Eugene C. Scott

Drawing of 8-year-old Kevin Wang

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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God and Grammar, Hurt and Hope: God Ties It All Together

By Eugene C. Scott

God must not have studied grammar under the same crotchety English teachers I did. Over and over, in the beginning chapter of Genesis, God starts sentences with the Hebrew character Waw, or in this context the word and.

I imagine God standing at the blackboard, in a Far Side-like scene, writing one hundred times, “Never begin a sentence with and.”

Too often, however, our rules, of grammar and life, don’t reflect reality.

And so it is with Genesis chapter one. Some may not consider those sentences grammatically correct, but they are theologically correct. Through the repeated use of the conjunction and, we hear the movement of God. Like waves rolling onto the beach, they push us deeper into the reality of God’s continued action in our world. Listen to the rhythm.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . . darkness was over the surface of the deep. . . .

And God said, ‘Let there be light. . . .’

And God said, ‘Let the water teem with living creatures. . . .’

And God said, ‘Let the land produce living creatures. . . .’

“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”

Any other conjunction, butthenso, etc., would not deliver the same seamless message. There is darkness and light, water and life. There is life, and it is very good! Life seems to turn on little things, like the use of a small word. There is pain and there is hope. In other words, hope often comes in conjunction with pain, if we let God finish the sentence.

For example, Dee Dee (my wife) and I lost the last of our parents in the last few years. I’m surprised still how often and deeply the hurt resurfaces. I see my mom’s face in every lovely elderly woman. I hear my father-in-law’s laugh the strangest of times. And–God is walking with us through the long grief. Now we often laugh and cry when we think of our parents.

With one little word and one mighty sweep of his hand, God draws the sting out of even death. God is the conjunction between suffering and hope.

Compare these sentences. Your cancer is progressing but treatment may help. Your cancer is progressing and God is with you and God cares and God holds the keys to life and death. Do you hear the rhythm? For me, this insignificant word and makes all the difference in the world. When I read Genesis one, I don’t see a God of the past. I see a God of the continual present, a God who can take one thing and sculpt it into something new. God grabs today and turns it into tomorrow.

I’m not playing semantics here. God can replace fear with faith, ashes with beauty, brokenness with healing, and scars with strength. I have seen God do just that in my life and the lives of those I work with. But we must allow God to connect the dots. Denying or avoiding either side of the equation (pain or hope) confuses our emotions and inside we bind up like fishing line tangled in on itself. Eventually the whole mess must be cut out and we have to start from scratch. Denying the pain builds scar tissue too deep to penetrate. Ignoring hope drowns us in a pool of hopelessness. Letting God connect the two transforms tough moments in our lives into monuments of faith.

God is the author and finisher of our lives. And that makes God the conjunction between suffering and hope, life and death, today and tomorrow, and heaven andearth. God began writing the prose of your life. Even when suffering over comes you, let God finish the story.

And in God’s words it will be good.

Eugene C. Scott is a husband and father and grandfather and co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church and a writer and a bow hunter but not a grammarian.

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How to Know if You’re a Control Freak

By Eugene C. Scott

Several thousand years ago dung beetles enjoyed god-like status. They earned this high honor by toiling day-long collecting balls of dung between their tiny horns and rolling them across the hot desert floor. Some observant Egyptian noticed this little rolling ball of dung resembled the sun’s movement. Soon the belief was born that the sun was moved across the desert sky by a huge, invisible dung beetle.

The Egyptians–and most other ancient peoples–considered the powerful, life-giving forces, such as the sun, water, fire, fertility, in nature gods–or, at least, directly controlled by a god such as a dung beetle. Thus they developed religious and sacrificial systems that they hoped would please these capricious gods. In Egypt essential crops flourished or failed based on the Nile River.  If the gods were angry it might flood and wash all their food away. Or dry up. If the gods were pleased, the Nile might over-flow its banks just enough to water even the most distant fields.

These ancient religious systems became what people turned to when life got difficult.

But it did little good. Unfortunately, still children died, crops still failed, life–like the Nile–still ebbed and flowed seemingly without respect to religious sacrifices.

Today scientists laugh at such superstitious beliefs. We know the sun is not the god Re but a star, not pushed across the sky, but a point earth orbits. Science replaced superstition. We watch the weather patterns explained and pin-pointed on the nightly news. Science has given us cloud seeding, en-vitro fertilization, the cure for polio, and brilliant inventions and technologies by the thousands. When life gets hard we have doctors, pharmaceuticals, technologies, and governments we can turn to.

A phrase from my childhood embodies this faith in science most of our world holds. “If they can put a man on the moon, they ought to be able to __________(fill in the blank).”

Unfortunately, children still die, crops still fail, tornadoes devastate, new diseases spring to life and confound and kill us while paying little homage to our scientific advancements and prowess.

Christians call such total dependence on science foolish. Christians believe there is one God who created all these things science has discovered and mastered. In line with this belief we have designed sophisticated worship liturgies that give people access to deeper meaning and connection with God. Theologians have developed systematic theologies that attempt to answer the big questions about life and God. Gifted preachers lay out the five keys to life with purpose. The promise is that when life gets hard these liturgies, systems and practices including prayer and other spiritual disciplines bring Christians healing and wholeness.

Unfortunately children still die, crops fail . . . .

Depending on your perspective and belief system you may read the three world views above and sing that sweet song from the children’s show “Sesame Street,” “One of These Things is Not Like the Other?” And each–superstitious, scientific, or spiritual–is a very different way to understand and live in the world.

But they also each have a foundational similarity. Control. Or more accurately a desire to control. The ancient Egyptians lived in a dangerous, unpredictable world. Any thing that promised even a modicum of control over that world was welcome. And their superstitious practices fit the rhythm of the seasons of life just often enough to hold out the promise of control over the mighty Nile like a carrot on a stick.

Science too, especially in its naive early days, flat-out promised to wrest control from nature and lay it in our hands. And the promise has often been fulfilled. At least tentatively. Antibiotics, heat and air-conditioning, cell-phones, air travel all put us above and beyond nature. But just as often, or more so, science has not fulfilled its promise of control. We did put a man on the moon but we often cannot fill in the blank that would give us the cure to this or that disease or the answer to so many questions. Never-the-less, most of us believed and still may.

Christian spirituality also often degenerates into attempts to control God and his world. Systematic theology unwittingly promises that if we understand God we may know how to get him to do our bidding, purpose driven lives are lives we can likewise understand and control, prayers of Jabez seem to bind God to expand our borders, and five keys to a happy life, word of faith theology, pocketbooks of God’s promises, frenzied scripture memory programs all–even, like science, though they contain some truth–appeal to our deep desire to live in a world we can keep under control.

The truth is from ancient Egypt to modern science to today’s  Christian spirituality we are control freaks.

But superstitious behavior nor mighty dams nor words of faith will tame the Nile much less God.

“Vanity, vanity, all is vanity,” wrote King Solomon. By this the great king did not mean that the pursuit of knowledge scientific or spiritual is vanity. But trying to use that information to gain control over things, people, and especially God is foolish.

Fear grows in neat garden rows fertilized with the promise of control. What if I lose control? is the weedy question that grows here. And it strangles faith. Because faith flourishes in the open fields littered with rocks and pot holes and dung. In this field faith is not the thing we use to control God and life but the thing we use to believe God is good and loves us in a life that sometimes is not under control and is not going the way we expected.

How do you know if you’re a control freak. Pinch yourself. Are you human?

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Extreme Encounters

By Eugene C. Scott

Sitting on a rooftop, years ago, a fellow carpenter and I marveled at the wild Colorado sky. Gray, purple, white, and silver clouds mingled on the blue horizon. Distant bolts of lightning spiked out of the clouds grabbing the plains and pulling the storm down out of the Rockies. Pikes Peak shouldered gray storm clouds bravely. The summer storm rolled unchecked out of the mountains quickly swallowing the miles of empty plains separating the housing subdivision we worked in and the coming storm. We sat dumbstruck, our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches half eaten in our laps. Closer and closer the storm crawled on its legs of lightning. Thunder clapped; the mountains disappeared. Black shadows of rain streaked the sky below the clouds. It was an extreme encounter with God’s creation while sitting in the teeth of a lightning storm.

I looked over at my friend to say something profound. My words never found voice. In the still air his red hair stood, dancing like snakes to the rhythm of the thunder. He looked at me and pointed. My hair too stood straight out from my head. The storm had drawn so close the very air surrounding us was charged with electricity and about to turn us into human lightning rods. We wisely waited out the storm and finished lunch in the safety of the basement.

History records a host of people, a cloud of witnesses, scripture calls them, who have encountered Christ. Rich, poor, men, women, children, those seeking, those not. Jesus always knew their need, even when they themselves did not. Peter needed purpose, a blind man sight, Mary Magdalene forgiveness, children compassion, and Martha a spiritual perspective. He never left them unchallenged, though they sometimes left the challenge unanswered.

Having encountered Christ are we also not answering? Surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses do we sit dumbstruck staring at God’s power? Do we run and hide in the basement? Encountering God is risky. Everyone who encountered Christ took a chance. Yet, in a culture dominated by extreme experiences and risky behavior, we insulate ourselves from God. In acts of pseudo risk-taking we bungy jump, watch scary movies, drive fast, or wear edgy clothes. But, for us, taking real risks like trusting God, or reaching out to the homeless, or teaching Sunday school, or sharing Christ at work, or forgiving a friend or family member are far too real an adventure.

Though naive and dangerous, I encountered something in that electrical storm no television weather report could match–extreme reality. I’ll never forget the smell of the air, the pull of the electricity on my skin and hair, the eerie light, the quiet. So too we can read about how others encountered God or we can experience Him.

God fills the very air that surrounds us. Take a risk; stand up, face the storm, and allow God’s grace to strike your soul. Become a lightning rod. The beauty, the clarity of that moment with God will be stunning for now and forever more.

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