Tag Archives: Paul

Lent is Over. Now What?

During the last 60,480 minutes I’ve missed a few things. That’s 1,008 hours for those of you not handy with math. Forty-two days. That’s how long I gave up TV and radio for Lent. Now several days after Easter, the day Lenten fast’s finish, I’m wondering if I really missed anything.

Sure, news happened, even important news. But did I really miss anything?

Rick Santorum suspended his presidential campaign. Newsman Mike Wallace, banjo virtuoso Earl Scruggs, and painter Thomas Kincade all passed. These were great losses. Looming less large, so did Scottish champion darts player, Jocky Wilson and probowler LaVerne Carter.

Also during Lent, Madonna was banned from a talk show, Lindsay Lohan was released from probation and given a warning by a judge, and Ninjas attacked a medical marijuana delivery man.

Depending on your point of view, I may or may not have missed anything.

Sacrifice is always dangerous. It’s an act of release, opening oneself up, vulnerability. When you give something up or away, you always stand the chance of ending up empty-handed or, worse, hurt. That’s also why sacrifice is powerful.

But often in taking a risk, we discover that our sacrifice also makes room in life for something new. That’s why, in my opinion, I don’t think I missed anything in my self-imposed media ban.

I gained.


My daily thoughts have not been held captive by the commercially driven yammering of some talking head or disembodied voice. I’ve not spent one moment worrying about who the next President of the U.S. might be (though I will inform myself and vote), whether it might rain on my parade that day or not, or what the insane governments in Iran and North Korea might do.

My mind has been free to notice life and people near and around me. I’ve taken more pictures, seen spring fight off the blandness of winter, and my voice memo function on my iPhone is full of ideas for sermons, books, articles, and blogs. I’ve rediscovered music. I feel wildly creative. I started writing poetry again.  And I’m partnering with gifted musician, Cliff Hutchison, in writing song lyrics. I’ve prayed for my friends and family more consistently as God brings their names and faces to mind in the absence of media noise.

I gained.


I simply don’t feel as rushed. Standing in my living room as night closes down the day, I’ve often asked myself what I should do next.  It’s a wonderful, languid feeling. Usually I’d be vegging in front of the TV. I’ve taken longer walks with Dee Dee, my wife, and had spontaneous conversations with her. Gone to bed earlier. I have time to write my novel and I’ve read around seven books. Leif Enger’s novel “So Brave, Young, and Handsome” gets better each time I read it. I’ve journaled almost everyday of 2012.

I’m gaining.


It’s not been all sweetness and light, however. This Lenten silence has allowed me to recognize who I am and who I’m not. I, maybe like you, am a pretty flawed person. The noise of TV and radio often allowed me to cover that fact. My journals are just as full of inanities, complaints, and judgements as they are prayers, poems, and pretty prose. And some things have only shifted. Instead of carrying on an imaginary debate with some TV commentator, I now do so with a Facebook friend. Argh.

The ancient but honest theologian and philosopher, Paul of Tarsus, expressed it this way, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” 

Lent’s Over. Now What?

Still I’m not willing to give the reins of even my messy life back to some advertising executive pulling levers behind a curtain. Monday I watched, or rather slept through, the Colorado Rockies’ home opener. But, I’m not going back. Yet. I’ve gained too much to gorge myself on media again. The silence has been exceedingly rich and I’ve seen living spiritually–for me–cannot happen in a world dominated by media noise.

After  60,480 minutes I’ve found I missed nothing. Rather I gained–even if the most disconcerting as well as comforting truth is that I cannot live spiritually, become a better person, on my own. I must agree with Paul again. “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

Eugene C. Scott loves listening to the blues, which has nothing to do with this blog, but is worth saying anyway. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following this blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.


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Surprised by Joy: The Joyous Defeat

by Michael Gallup

There are few things harder than to preach the funeral of a convicted murder who committed suicide. Not just that he was a criminal but that he was a father of an eight-year-old boy I befriended. This young boy with his father in prison latched on to me at camp and I began to find myself filling some of the hole left by an absent dad. I saw the boy come to follow Jesus. He was so full of life despite his difficult circumstances.

But then I received a phone call I will never forget. It was his mom telling me the horrible news and asking me to preach the funeral of a man I never met. There have been few times in my life when I have cried harder than that evening. Not so much over the loss of the man’s life, although tragic, but for the intense suffering my young friend was now in the midst of. I began to become angry and angry at the only one who could handle such rage, God. Hadn’t the boy had enough? Why does he have to suffer so much? Why does one so young have to face such harsh realities? Why, God, why?

While I will never pretend to know the full answer of those questions, God has shown me a part of the why. For joy. It seems ludicrous to insist that joy could possibly come out of such pain, but I am coming to believe that it may be ludicrous to think that joy could come out of anything but pain. One of the most perplexing pieces of scripture is James1:2, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trails of many kinds.” We are to somehow find joy in our suffering? Because it leads to perseverance? Yes, God says.

As I have asked God hard questions, He has kindly revealed to me some answers. Last week I described how He showed me what joy wasn’t: happiness. And I am beginning to see why. Happiness is the product of pleasure. When something happens to us that is pleasant we become happy. But now I am seeing that joy is the product of pain. And rightfully so, the process from pain to joy is much longer and arduous than the one from pleasure to happiness.

One of the biblical authors compares the life of a Christ-follower with that of an athlete, suffering the agony of preparing to run the race. This metaphor still rings true when we watch the Super Bowl winners crying tears of joy at the victory they achieved. And that joy is not birthed in the winning but in the months and years of hard work that led them to this moment, that made it even possible. In that passage in James, the reason to consider it joy to suffer is because our suffering is not the end of us and our stories but a catalyst for change. Our suffering refines us, pushing us forward in the race of redemption in the story of our ultimate victory.

This picture is most clearly seen in the death and thus victory of Jesus Christ. It was only through his defeat that the world could know victory. The biblical book Hebrews says that he was able to endure the sufferings of his murder because of the joy set before him. He knew his death, which at the moment it occurred seemed like the biggest train-wreck in history, was not the end of his story. He knew what only he could know, that his pain was giving birth to the joy of the world. That his defeat brought true victory.

Ultimately, it is a defeat we must each embrace because it is the only path to victory, the only path to joy. Our very lives are found in the death of ourselves.

But what about my young friend? That funeral was not the end of his story. Just as Jesus’ and our funerals are not the end of our stories. God began to redeem that situation that was never his will in the first place and in that redemption I saw that boy’s life changed. He learned to let go, if only a little, of his father and to find acceptance in a new father who was there, not in jail but with him, in a man who also knew defeat but also knew life in Jesus.

Our suffering is not the end of our stories but in some ways the beginning.

Michael is a student at Denver Seminary. This is part three of a four part series.


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Is God a Control Freak?

By Eugene C. Scott

There have been times when life has been completely out of control. And there seemed nothing anyone could do to change it, fix it, or stop it.

Even God.

It was as if my life were a passenger jet first wobbling, then looping and finally plummeting out of control. But before it hits the ground I bust into the cockpit only to discover God chatting it up with the co-pilot (and no, contrary the popular bumper-sticker, I am not God’s co-pilot and neither are you), while He is also texting and updating His status on Facebook. In the meantime my life is heading down nose first.

“Who’s in control here?” I shout. “Don’t You know You’re not supposed to text and drive? Grab the wheel. Get a grip!” God simply smiles and shrugs and goes back to texting.

People who believe in God love to talk about God being in control. By this we usually mean that we believe God can and should keep most–if not all–evil, bad, or even slightly uncomfortable situations from befalling us.

Given life’s raft of tornadoes, cancers, marriage break-ups and daily disappointments, it doesn’t seem that God has the same agenda. Is God is in control of this wildly tilting planet of ours? This discontinuity between believing in a loving God and living in an unpredictable world is the genesis of the question “how could a loving God allow (insert painful, devastating life circumstance here)?”

Most of us–even those who don’t really believe in God–understand that an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent Being should be able to prevent the personal and global problems of the world.

Yet life does not reflect any such controlling God. Not mine anyway. To me God seems to be anything but in control. But it’s not just me–or you. Even the Bible seems confused on the issue of God being in control. God did not stop the first two of us from making a bad choice. Then–like dominoes–character after biblical hero stumbles and falls: Abraham, Jacob, Saul, David, Judas, Peter and Paul to name the biggies.

Consider the story of Joseph. God gives him a big dream and then lets his brothers nearly murder him and finally sell him. Israel ends up in slavery for four hundred years. Moses tries defending some poor Hebrew slave and is cast into the desert for another forty years. Yes, Moses eventually sets his people free. But couldn’t God have prevented those tragedies? Wasn’t there a better way? Not according to God.

Or on a smaller scale, couldn’t God have kept my father or mother in this world just a little longer? In Navy terms, God doesn’t run a very tight ship. This pain and struggle that often permeates our lives leaves us a choice. We must believe God is in control and we have done something for which God has removed his controlling hand and let us swing in the wind, as Job’s friends claimed. Or to cease to believe in God, as C.S Lewis once did and so many others have.

Or to rethink how God and control interact.

Love requires freedom. Control kills love’s response. I have complete power over a toy remote control car. Not so a kitten. I can make the car turn left, right, back up, stop. But I can never win love from it. A kitten, however, listens to me not. It runs free and ignores anything I say or do except the opening of a can of cat food. But I can win love from that . . . well maybe using a cat was a bad example but you get what I mean.

A world in which love exists, much less thrives, must favor love and danger over control and safety. Therefore, God, unlike us, seems to eschew control.

If God is not in control, who is? Or is God simply a wimp?

God is no wimp. And God is indeed sovereign. Surprisingly so. In God’s surprising sovereignty prevention of pain gives way to redemption of pain.

In 1990 I was offered my first ordained pastoral position, associate pastor to families in a large church in Bloomington, IL. Dee Dee, my wife, and I prayed, sought advice, studied, debated and decided to accept the position. We moved, lock stock and two young children. A mere two years later spiritually, physically and emotionally broken I was ready to give up this dream of serving God in the pastorate and strap on my carpenter’s tool belt again. The church we went to serve was a broken, dying place. The senior pastor was on his umpteenth affair and the congregation took its pain and confusion out on anyone new and vulnerable: The Scott family.

What was God thinking? We asked for wisdom. God could have prevented the whole thing.

Instead God redeemed it.

In the middle of this came a phone call out of the blue. “I hear from a mutual friend you’re in a difficult church,” the pastor I had met at a wedding in Denver years ago said. For some reason I told this virtual stranger my story.

“Our senior pastor went through something very similar here as an associate pastor. Can he call you and talk to you about our need for an associate pastor to families?”

Almost two years to the day after we moved to Bloomington, we were on our way to Tulsa, OK. We spent almost nine years serving at Kirk of the Hills. Some with equal pain to Bloomington.

But Dee Dee and I return to Tulsa often. Our youngest daughter, Emmy, was born there.  Our oldest daughter, Katie, son-in-law, Michael and two beautiful grandchildren still live there. You see Katie married Michael, a boy who came to love Jesus and my daughter in the Kirk of the Hills youth group.

Redemption indeed. God could have prevented the pain of Bloomington. But he chose a better story! A story of taking our pain and turning it into something more beautiful than any Van Gough, Remington, sunset or seascape.

God is no control freak. I love Him for that.


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The Domino Effect

When I was a kid, I used to play dominos. Not the game—I used to stack up the dominos one in front of the other and build an elaborate trail leading in numerous directions. Then, with one simple touch, I started a chain reaction affecting hundreds of other dominos.

Think about it: one domino affected hundreds of others. In the video above, you’ll see the power of one domino on over 4 million.

And you can do the same thing.

Please join us and learn how in our daily Bible conversation!


Jeremiah 39:1-41:18
2 Timothy 1:1-18
Psalm 90:1-91:16
Proverbs 26:1-2


Jeremiah 39:1-41:18. We step away from Jeremiah’s prophecies to read about the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., which Jeremiah had prophesied. Apparently, King Nebuchadnezzar had heard about Jeremiah advice to Zedekiah to surrender without a fight, so he treated him well.

2 Timothy 1:1-18. During the reign of Roman Emperor Nero, Paul was thrown in prison. In contrast to his previous imprisonment where he stayed in a rented house (Acts 28:30), this time Paul was stuck in a cold dungeon (2 Timothy 4:13) and chained like a common criminal (2 Timothy 1:16; 2:9). Likely Paul’s last epistle, he wrote this because he was lonely and wanted to ensure that his churches were okay.

Paul also wanted to encourage Timothy to pastor his churches with confidence: “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:6-7).

Notice those last few words, because they apply to us, too. God has already given us a spirit of power, love and self-discipline. How do we know that? Because the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have made a permanent dwelling place in us! Fear doesn’t need to rule us.

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.


With the end of his life close at hand, Paul began reflecting on his life. Quite often as we get older, our deepest values rise to the surface. So while sitting in a dungeon with chains that limited his ability to even get comfortable, Paul wrote to Timothy, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5).

The Domino Effect.

Paul knew Timothy’s grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice well enough to identify the sincere faith that had passed from generation to generation. The word “sincere” is translated literally as “unhypocritical.” The three family members shared a common authenticity. More than a genetic trait, it was character quality that Timothy gained from spending time with his mother who spent time with her mother. This was mentoring in action.

Then at the end of the chapter Paul returns to the theme of mentoring: “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13). This time, Paul wasn’t referring to Timothy’s family, he was referring to himself. Paul was Timothy’s mentor, too. Timothy was the product of numerous people who invested themselves in him.

A key reason why Christianity still exists nearly two thousand years after Paul wrote these words is because men and women like Paul and Lois invested themselves in the lives of the people around them. They passed on their faith, their character, their life to younger men and women. Like a stack of dominos, if you are a follower of Jesus, you are benefitting TODAY from the influence of thousands, if not millions, of Christians who have gone before you.

The greatest investment you could ever make is to invest yourself in other people. You don’t need an instruction manual, you don’t even need an agenda to follow. Just find someone whose heart is open to you, someone with whom you can build a relationship. Then tip the domino: live life together. Meet for coffee. Play tennis. Sit together at church. Ask lots of questions. Talk about your hopes, fears, failures—in other words, be authentic. Just like Lois, Eunice, and Timothy.

Don’t think you have it together enough to be a mentor? Welcome to the club. It’s not about you. It’s about Christ who lives in you. That’s why it’s also good to find someone who can mentor you. Finding a good mentor will make you a a more sincere follow of Jesus.

Imagine what the church would be like if believers in Jesus intentionally invested in one other like Timothy experienced.

It would start a chain reaction that would change the world.

And it begins with the tip of just one domino.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. Who from your past has invested in your life? What difference did those people make? What character qualities did you glean from them?
  3. If you don’t already have one, who could be a mentor to you today?
  4. Who could use a mentor like you?

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

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Did Jesus Have Hair Like a Flock of Goats and Breasts Like Twin Fawns?

The Kiss an 1889 marble sculpture by the French sculptor Auguste Rodin.

No one knows what to do with this book. Why is it in the Bible? What’s Song of Songs about? Bible scholars have asked those questions since before Jesus’ time. Sex, romance, and love? Can’t be. Love, maybe, but a book in the Bible can’t be about sex and romance. Sex is base and romance frivolous. The Bible deals with life and death issues: heaven and hell, eternal salvation, sin, of which sex is usually considered one of the worst.

What is the Song of Solomon?

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)

Song of Songs 1:1-4:16

2 Corinthians 8:16-24

Psalm 50:1-23

Proverbs 22:22-23


2 Corinthians 8:16-24: Paul seems to be taking care of some every day, ordinary business here. Titus is coming to visit with two other men. Treat them well, add to their financial collection for the poor, Paul tells them.

Thus heaven bends down and kisses earth. God enters the mundane and adds to it holiness, meaning and purpose. The Bible is the most far-reaching, powerful, mysterious book in existence. It is God’s word. But the Bible is also practical, earthy, real.

Yet our expectations of the Bible often put it in an untenable place. Each time we crack its covers we expect it to transform our lives, almost magically.

Bible reading, however, may be more like eating. Sometimes the meal is extraordinary, spicy, rare, a feast we remember and tell others about. Sometimes it’s a hamburger and fries. We eat, get up from the table, clean the dishes and go about our business. Both meals nourish, replenish, however.

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.


Origen, a Christian scholar who lived about 200 AD, believed the Song of Solomon was an allegory picturing Christ’s love for us. Like Jewish and Christian scholars before him, he largely ignored the sensual, sexual nature of the book. Unlike Hippolytus, however, he did not restrict its reading to the mature only. These godly, intelligent men could not fathom why God would canonize a provocative love poem from a Hebrew king to his dark, perfumed, busty princess. Nor could they, I imagine, if they were as easily aroused as most other males, read this book without facing their own humanity. Much more simple is it to skim the passionate parts and name the others allegory. But this says more about us than God or the Bible.

Elsewhere God communicates boundaries for our sex lives. We don’t like these restrictive sections–or often obey them–but are more comfortable reading them and tacitly accept them as coming from God. This coincides with our belief that, though we humans enjoy sex, God does not like it, except that it produces children, and probably closes his eyes while any one of us engages in it.

Therefore, this allegorical method of understanding the Song of Solomon provides a distance and safety from one of the more powerful and dangerous (there is no safe sex) drives stirring in the human heart. Reading this poem allegorically allows us to dig a divide between what we see as a very serious and sanitized God and our very earthy, sensual lives. It’s a literary version of safe sex.

The allegorical method has fallen out of favor in modern times, however. What are we moderns to do with the Song of Songs then? Ignore it. Yeah, that’s it! Oh and don’t let our teens read it and our preachers preach on it.

Or. . . .

We can face the truth that, though God recognizes and abhors our sinful mishandling of, and obsession with his beautiful gift of sex, God is not uncomfortable with our sexuality. He made us that way. God made sex fun!

This poem is not an allegory about Jesus, though Jesus’ love for us is every bit as passionate and earthy. Jesus did not have breasts like twin fawns. This poem is about the beauty of human love and passion and romance. It shows even our fallen state cannot completely tarnish God’s greatest gifts.

In our times sex, even between husband and wife, can be twisted, manipulative and ugly. This dirtiness results, in part, from how even Christians have relegated sex to a mere physical act, forgetting that it is one of the most beautiful, intimate spiritual acts a man and woman can engage in. God created sex so that a man and woman could participate in sharing their bodies and souls–and sometimes take part in the creation of a unique, complicated, wonderful new life that also contains the image of God.

God canonized the Song of Songs in order to paint for us a word picture of romance, love, and sex that soars beyond the physical and takes us into the realm of the soul. Seen that way, Solomon’s Song may not be a picture of Jesus on the cross, but it does deal with life and death issues.      

  1. What do these for passages share in common?
  2. How does the Song of Songs’ picture of sex differ from Hollywood’s?
  3. What passage spoke most to you?

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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What It Takes To Make A Difference

Last Monday and Tuesday I spent all day volunteering for a local high school’s back to school registration. Part of my job was to invite the 1600 students and their parents to sign a thank you card (on a poster board) for the teachers. Tuesday night after registration was over, I looked over the four poster boards and began reading the thank yous. Suddenly my eyes welled up with tears as I realized the difference the staff was making in the lives of the students. Suddenly I realized that many of the school staff had chosen their profession to make a difference.

All of us are wired to make a difference. Everyone wants a funeral with lots of people standing up telling stories about the difference we made in their lives. I’m wired that way too.

In today’s reading, you’ll learn about what it takes to make a difference.


Nehemiah 7:73-10:39
1 Corinthians 9:1-10:13
Psalm 33:12-34:10
Proverbs 21:11-13


Nehemiah 7:73-10:39. With the completion of the wall, the people now gather to listen to the reading of the Law (perhaps Leviticus and/or Deuteronomy). The people were religious, but they weren’t acquainted with the sacred book upon which their faith rested.

We still wrestle with the same problem today. People have faith, but they aren’t knowledgeable of the Word of God. That’s the job of the pastor, they assume. But that wasn’t true of Ezra. Read closer what the New Bible Commentary says about Ezra’s approach to the reading of the Law:

Ezra not only responded at once to the people’s request (8:2), but he chose to do so not in the temple courts, but in an easily accessible place (8:3) and in full view (8:4) so that none should be barred from attending. Moreover, he chose to associate lay people with him in the enterprise (8:4). It seems that he was anxious to avoid any impression that the law was the private preserve of the religious professional.

What a great insight!

As the people listened, they began to weep because they understood the extent of their transgressions. Yet Nehemiah tells them to celebrate “for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 9:10). The people grieved their sins, but Nehemiah reminded them that they were forgiven. They should celebrate the love and grace of God.

So should we.

Psalm 33:12-34:10. A theme we read in Scripture over and over again (could God be trying to drive home a point?) is the importance of trusting in God. Trust is just another word for “faith.” In Psalm 33, the psalmist describes the futility of trusting in armies and horses. Instead, he writes, “The eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine” (Psalm 33:18–19).

To say that “The eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him” means that God acutely understands the needs of those who fear him, and is ready to respond. I can’t make a formula out of it, but God responds to our acts of trust in him.

And what did trust in God look like to David? Read Psalm 34. While hiding from Saul may not seem to indicate trust in God, the fact that David kept his heart soft toward God tells us that he trusted that God was in control—in the midst of a very embarrassing season of his life.

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.


Every two years the city of Corinth hosted a series of athletic games similar to the Olympics. In fact, the Isthmian Games in Corinth were second in popularity to the Olympics in Athens. Whereas a wild olive branch was given to the winner in Athens, a pine garland was given to the winner in Corinth.

Paul wrote that everyone competes in the race, presumably in the bi-annual Isthmian Games, but only one person wins the prize. “Run in such a way,” he exhorts his readers, “as to get the prize” (1 Corinthians 9:24).

What is the prize? The crown that will last forever—something that a pine garland can’t offer. It’s eternal life, but the context tells me that the crown is embedded with gems that represent the difference we’ve made in the lives of others, especially for the gospel.

And how are we to run?

Paul uses the word “slave” twice in 1 Corinthians 9. He writes, “I beat my body and make it my slave” (verse 27). In other words, the healthy, disciplined life prevents us from being disqualified. It’s the life of holiness and self-discipline. Keeping our passions under control.

But then he makes another interesting statement: “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible” (1 Corinthians 9:19 italics added).

So Paul makes his body his slave, and makes himself a slave to everyone. He explains further,

To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. 1 Corinthians 9:22–23

Years ago, I enrolled in a video course taught by motivational speaker Zig Ziglar. He said something that I’ll never forget: “In order to get what you want, you need to help everyone else get what they want.” Sounds like making myself a slave.

When we serve people, we earn the right to be heard. It gives us credibility.

If you want to make a difference, serve the people around you. Make yourself a slave to everyone. Help them paint their house. Drive them to the doctor. Volunteer at school events.

Making yourself a slave to everyone also opens their hearts to you. Proverbs 18:16 says, “A gift opens the way for the giver and ushers him into the presence of the great.”

And isn’t that what Jesus did for us?

On the night Jesus was betrayed, John makes an interesting observation: “Having loved his own who were in the world, [Jesus] now showed them the full extent of his love” (John 13:1).

The full extent of his love looked like a cross, but immediately after these words, Jesus washed the disciples feet.

When we make ourselves a slave to everyone, we begin to look like Jesus.

And we also begin to make a difference in our world.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. Describe a time when someone served you. How did it feel? What difference did it make in your life?
  3. How might God be calling you to make yourself a slave to everyone?

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

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The Promise of the Prayer of Jabez and the Failure of Formulaic Faith

The prayer of Jabez is one of the most famous prayers in the Bible. For a time it became the mantra of the entire evangelical Christian world. The book by Dr. Bruce Wilkinson became a bestseller. Pastors world round preached it. Bible studies poured over it. Marketing gurus produced The Prayer of Jabez trinkets that popped up like baby bunnies in every Christian book store.

Of course many of us prayed it. I know I did. But did God plant this gem of a prayer in the dry sands of 1 Chronicles’ endless genealogies so that I could be blessed, have my territory enlarged and my pain reduced? Join me in wrestling with that question as we explore today’s readings.

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 Chronicles 4:5-5:17

Acts 25:1-27

Psalm 5:1-12

Proverbs 18:19


1 Chronicles 4:5-5:17: “The practice of inserting short historical notes into genealogical records,” such as the prayer of Jabez, was common in the ancient world, says the NIV Study Bible. Why? Though we can’t know for sure without asking the author(s), they are usually insights that further or validate the author’s over-all theme. The theme here seems to be showing how God has kept the promise to Abraham by increasing Israel’s territory (verses 10 and 38-43).

Acts 25:1-27: Paul’s trial continues. And God continues to use him to proclaim Christ to everyone from prison guards to kings.

Proverbs 18:19: A popular paraphrase of this proverbial truth may be “Do you want to be right? Or do you want to be in relationship?” Too often proving our arguments are the winning ones drive those we love away. We have to have the last word. And when our version proves true we retort, “I told you so.” In so doing, our ideas and advice have no more chance of influencing our loved ones than a small army attacking a fortified city.

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Can you and I expect God to bless us, expand our territory, protect us, and keep us from pain? Maybe, maybe not.

Though I prayed and preached The Prayer of Jabez, I am profoundly uncomfortable with formulaic faith. I even struggle with rote recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, despite that Jesus told us, “This, then, is how you should pray.”

This aversion to formula comes from both my understanding of and experience with God. Nowhere in Scripture do we find the “Five Keys to Unlocking This or That” or  the “Six Steps to Successful Something or Other” that we preachers so love to enumerate. Few, if any, biblical heros lived what we today call successful lives. Rather we find Paul, a true hero of faith, languishing in prison. Did Paul not know about Jabez’ prayer? If he did pray it, it seems God increased Paul’s territory by blessing him with a prison sentence and also increasing his pain.

No, life, even with God at the helm, is messier than that. And unpredictable.

What God did for Jabez, or even Paul, is not necessarily what God is doing with and through me. As my brother-in-law is prone to say in his slight New England accent, “Gawd is Gawd.” God is not bound by my prayers or my interpretation of Scripture.

In truth formulaic faith is not faith at all. It is a lack thereof. If God is bound by his Word to act in accordance with what I pray or claim to believe, faith plays no part. God’s answer becomes a mechanical must.

Instead Jesus‘ famous prayer reminds us to pray for God’s will to be done in our lives just as it is in heaven. God will answer according to his divine plan and what he knows is best–not just for me in that moment. There is promise in the prayer of Jabez. Not the promise of a formula, but rather the promise of an honest, prayerful conversation with the Creator of the universe that can develop authentic faith.

Can we pray the prayer of Jabez today? Sure. I have many times. God has always answered in his way and in his time. I’m comfortable with that–most of the time.

  1. Which reading spoke to you?
  2. What formulas have you expected God to follow?
  3. How has God answered your prayers?

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


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