Tag Archives: prayer

How To Have A Relationship: A Biblical Adventure

By Brendan Scott:

God loved me before I was born.  Sometimes I just let that sink in.  When I was inside my mom’s womb my creator loved me.  Maybe that’s why I was born premature.  I was ready to take part in His great creation, ready to experience His love.

A premature birth nearly cost me my life.  Fortunately, a group of loving and skilled doctors worked round the clock to save my life and I joined my family after 13 days in the hospital.

My God loved me as I grew up.  He loved me as I messed up.

Joining my family was the best thing I ever did, not that I had much of a choice, but if I did I would choose them a thousand times over.  My parents taught me love and grace.  They loved me as I grew up.  They loved me as I messed up.  They taught me how to have a relationship with God.

I’ve always known God loved me, but I didn’t start building my relationship with Him until I was a freshman in High School on a mission trip to Costa Rica (This trip probably started my love for Central America as well).  Like any freshman, almost everything I did was meant to impress someone, or more truthfully a girl. This particular girl read her Bible every day, which I found very attractive.  As we walked the beach in Jaco, Costa Rica and shared our hearts I knew my life would never be the same.  But instead of falling in love with a girl.  Instead of finding my “one”, I commited to reading my Bible.  And that is when my real relationship with my creator began.

He loved me before that night and he loved me after that night when I messed up with girls and other relationships.  He used that night to start something beautiful.  A couple  years later I felt Him asking me to be more committed.  At that point I was a Sophomore in College, struggling with self confidence and reading my Bible and spending time with Him most of the time, but if I was too tired or just not in the mood I would decide not to open the Book.

It hit me though, He had always loved me and deserved more than an occasional night committed to him.  At that time I was struggling to fall asleep, constantly worried about my life, what I had done and had not done.  He told me to give him everything, each night.  And so on December 23 2004 I decided to read my Bible and spend time in prayer each night for a year.  Funny enough I hardly have trouble sleeping anymore.  Funny enough I haven’t missed a night in more than seven years.

How can I worry when I know He has always loved me no matter what?

This commitment has been difficult.  Like I said in my blog about running, Living Spiritually takes being attentive, being in position, and being submissive.  I find being attentive and being submissive the hardest out of these three to commit to.  Some nights I am just so tired and then sometimes I just don’t want to hear what God has to tell me.

I have often thought of giving up my nightly time with God, taking a break, but then I think that I might miss what God has to tell me.  And so I continue.

Then this last December as I was reading through the Psalms, I heard God tell me to invite the rest of my family to live spiritually with me.  Nah, it wont work, I thought.  You’ll never know if you don’t try, I heard God say.  And so I tried.  Now, a month in I have noticed a change in my family.  We are sharing our prayers with one another, sharing how God is working in our lives.

I have also noticed a change in my time in the Bible.  The words have come alive again.  This last Thursday as I read Psalm 139 God reminded me that he has always loved me.  He has always known me.  He made me special and strong.  Even as I have lived each day perfectly or gone afoul He has loved me. He has seen my every action and He knew my every move before I even made them, and He still loves me.

He searched me.  And He knows me.  And He loves me.

How can I not live with confidence?  How can I not show grace to those around me?  How can I not live spiritually with this knowledge?

He has filled me with joy and I pray I do not forget this Psalm.

I challenge you, my readers, to open the Bible and start a relationship with your creator.  He has loved you always, and if you join him on this Biblical Adventure His love will change you forever.  It’s a ride worth taking.  He has always given me the strength to continue reading and I know He will do the same for you.

Join me and my family in Living Spiritually.

Psalm 139

For the director of music. Of David. A psalm.

1 You have searched me, LORD,
and you know me.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue
you, LORD, know it completely.
5 You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.

7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.

13 For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
all the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God!
How vast is the sum of them!
18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand—
when I awake, I am still with you.

19 If only you, God, would slay the wicked!
Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent;
your adversaries misuse your name.
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, LORD,
and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them;
I count them my enemies.
23 Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

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Can You Find God at Walmart?

By Eugene C. Scott

My wife Dee Dee delights in sending me on difficult excursions.

“Eugene, would you please run to King Soopers and pick up a gallon of milk? Oh, and I almost forgot, and some Star Anise, Lavender, and Mace?”

Back in the olden days, say 1995, before cell phones were common, that request meant I would wander up and down the grocery aisles for eternity lost and confused. Since the advent of cell phones, I only wander up and down the aisles lost and confused until Dee Dee answers her cell phone.

“Hello. Eugene! Where are you? I was getting worried. You left hours ago. No, not Sesame Street, Sesame Seed. It’s on aisle 9.”

Not me, but could be.

I don’t know what it is about grocery stores but I never know where anything is or what I’m really looking for.

Lost and confused is also how I’ve felt these last few days while on this “The Year of Living Spiritually” excursion. In my last blog I said I was going to spend 2012 on a daily search for the God-created soul–God sightings–in daily life. Finding Star Anise was easier especially since God picks up his cell phone less than Dee Dee does.

“God, what is it exactly I’m looking for?”

The first day, December 26, I was so busy trying to figure it out that I didn’t even read my Bible or pray. As I fell asleep that night, it dawned on me that was akin to being lost in the mountains and never pulling the compass from my pocket.

On the 27th I began the day by reading and praying. The prophet Haggai warned, “Give careful thought to your ways.” That made sense. Then I stumbled on a blog that defined being spiritual mainly as reading the Bible, praying, and going to church. Hmm. I do those things, especially the church deal since I’m a pastor and people would really wonder if I didn’t show up. But I’m not sure that’s all there is to it. I want to live spiritually not just do spiritual things once in a while.

December 28 was a full day. Busy. My daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren left to return home to Tulsa. Later that night, Dee Dee and I went to a 50th birthday party. Listening to the conversations and laughter, I began to notice the fine, golden thread of love for the esteemed 50-year-old that drew us all together.

Writer, pastor Eugene H. Peterson says people are God’s creation too and we can see God in them just as we might a sunset or mountain scape. True enough.

Maybe that’s why . . . wait I’m getting ahead of myself.

On December 30 Dee Dee and I stupidly ventured into Walmart. It was a zoo. People everywhere and we got a squeaky cart.

“I can’t stand this. Let’s come back tomorrow,” I whined.

“We’re here now and the party is tomorrow.”

We split up and met back at the cashier several decades later.

A bright-eyed, smiling woman checked us out. I had a large portable table in the squeaky cart but the bar code was on the opposite side of the perky clerk. I wheeled the squeaky cart around so it faced her.

She smiled at me, blue eyes open wide, scanned the table, and said, “Thank you.” Then she said to Dee Dee, “It’s nice to know you can still find some nice guys out there.” She nodded toward me.

“Oh, I didn’t find him that way. I trained him after I married him,” Dee Dee joked. Many a truth spoken in jest, I guess.

The clerk leaned over to Dee Dee and whispered something. Dee Dee’s smile sobered. Walking out I gave Dee Dee a look that asked, “What’d she say?”

“She told me she was lucky because she didn’t have to train her husband to be nice. ‘He married me even though he knew I had slight brain damage.’”

Both of us and the cart fell silent. Suddenly I was glad we ventured into the zoo and I thought I’d go back as long as the clerk with God’s eyes and God’s smile and “slight brain damage” would be there.

This living spiritually every day is hard. But maybe just heading out into the world with a new attitude and taking the time to look at people and events with new eyes is a good start.

Eugene C. Scott is writing these God sightings down daily in a journal and invites you to see the spiritual even in Walmart and join him in looking for God sightings in 2012. Also tell your stories about what it’s like. Comment here and join our “Living Spiritually” community by visiting and liking facebook.com/livingspiritually. Eugene still gets lost while shopping and is still co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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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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Is Prayer a Waste of Time?

By Eugene C. Scott

Late one night after supper Jesus and his friends stole through the dark, dangerous streets of Jerusalem, talking quietly among themselves. Once out of town, Jesus led them to a safe and silent place to pray. Something wicked loomed on the horizon. And Jesus knew he needed a miracle to face it. They climbed a hill to an ancient olive garden. The gnarled tree trunks, as big around as the massive mill stones which pressed their olives into oil, stood supporting the speckled sky. Their maudlin shadows crisscrossed on the ground and Jesus’ somber mood transformed Gethsemane into a many-pillared temple.

In this shadowy sanctuary Jesus stopped the procession saying, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Peter, James, and John touched their Lord tenderly and nodded their willingness to do anything. But the long day of travel, and the heavy Passover meal, the wine, and the quiet, dark night overwhelmed them and, though Jesus prayed so passionately he sweat blood, they dropped off to sleep. Twice Jesus interrupted his prayers to wake them, but each time they lolled off again.

How could they sleep? Didn’t they suspect what was coming? Couldn’t they stay awake and pray? Those are the questions we ask of this story in Matthew chapter 26. Jesus too asks these questions. He also answers them.

“The spirit is willing, but the body is weak,” he asserts.

So why do we spend so much time chastising the sleepy disciples? They were tired! They were human! They were self-centered! These are not profound observations. Sinful, weak human beings tend to fall asleep–no matter what (just ask any long-winded pastor). We also make promises we can’t keep. Moreover, we lie; we gossip; we kill! This is not new information. These are just a few of the sins Jesus bore on the cross for us. They are why he had to face that torture.

The real question this account stirs up is not why the disciples can’t pray but why Jesus does? Wasn’t he already in tune with the Father?

Not without prayer.

Jesus prayed because he knew facing life alone, in this case death, equals the height of folly. Clement of Alexandria called prayer keeping company with God. Today we would call it “hanging out.” Jesus constantly sought the company and wisdom of his Father. Prayer simply helped Them hang out. Why hang out with God?

Jesus said it this way, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” The Gethsemane story exists not to portray slothful disciples, but to teach us the first function of prayer–keeping company with God. Notice that Jesus’ garden prayer produces no spectacular miracle. No angels rip open the heavens and rescue him. He simply rises from his knees with new strength–strength derived from keeping company with the Father.

“Rise, let us go,” he says calmly. “Here comes my betrayer.”

Is prayer time for you to “hang out” with God? Or is it a tool to manipulate miraculous escapes? Yes, Jesus asked for an escape: “may this cup be taken from me.” But in the end Jesus knows the deepest miracle is the change inside him not a change in his destiny. “Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

In the end, peace comes not from burning bushes, miraculous escapes, or bolts of lightning, but from time spent talking, listening, arguing, sitting in awkward silence, hanging out with God. Prayer activates osmosis, unclogging our poluted hearts and allowing peace to permeate our lives. Are you in need of a miracle? Try what Jesus did. Pray. Keep company with God.

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A Thanksgiving Edition: Family, Friends and the Weber-Wanna-Be

A close proximity of the Weber-Wanna-Be: no picture still exists of this ancient barbecue

 

Five months into our young marriage Dee Dee and I bought our first home. To celebrate this unbelievable occasion, our friends threw us a house-warming party. Several couples chipped in and bought us a kettle grill. You’ve seen the kind, those black porcelain-covered, almost egg-shaped, three-legged barbecuing wonders. They are known as Webers, except, because our crowd was fresh out of college and financially challenged, they bought us an off-brand, what we affectionately called our Webber-Wanna-Be.

Dee Dee and I proudly set our new grill out in the dirt, just to the right of the small concrete block that masqueraded as a back porch, and wasted no time in pressing the Weber-Wanna-Be into service. Our first official grilling fed those very same friends who gave her to us. The guys fired up the coals as the ladies did whatever ladies do during barbecues. Soon smoke rolled out of her vents and streamed into our small window over our kitchen table, where the women were holding court.

A sudden downpour threatened the party. Banished to the muddy backyard, all of us guys gathered round the grill in our rain ponchos and suddenly the Weber-Wanne-Be became a camp fire. We poked the coals, shifted out of the smoke, flipped burgers, and waxed eloquent. I don’t remember exactly the topic, but I’m sure the slim chance of the Denver Broncos making another Super Bowl came up. I know we also discussed our new marriages–what it was like sharing everything with a woman–what our futures held–whether our meager incomes could support us–how our entire worlds had turned upside down–that we were the luckiest guys in the universe. None of us really noticed all of this then. We just thought we were doing what young friends do: sharing a meal and a laugh and a prayer. To us the Weber-Wanna-Be remained a simple grill on which I turned hamburgers to hockey pucks.

No actual Weber was injured in the cooking of this turkey

Later Dee Dee and I read about a special way to roast a turkey on a grill. It sounded like such an easy recipe even I couldn’t ruin it. So on Thanksgiving day we plopped a 16 pounder on the grill. My mother nervously watched her son, who, while growing up, couldn’t fix himself a bowl of cereal, run in and out from the back stoop basting, and probably ruining, the holy bird of Scott family traditions. To my surprise, the turkey turned out so tender that my mother instantly pronounced it a new Scott tradition. Somehow I, and the Weber-Wanna-Be, rose in stature in the sight of my family that day.

Over the next few years, we cooked anything we could on the Weber-Wanna-Be. We laughed and took pictures and ate and planned the next barbecue. We even hauled her to parks for picnics where the same group friends gathered for “Airforce Football,” and offering smoky prayers deeper than the “Good friends, good grub, good God! Let’s eat” type. From barbecue to barbecue, our group nursed premature children, lost jobs, fought cancer, worried over rocky marriages, and grew close. Sometimes it felt like our only hope was that the smoke from our Weber-Wanna-Be would carry our combined prayers higher than we could lift them ourselves.

Soon the Weber-Wanna-Be cooked better than she looked. Once she fell out of the back of my truck coming home from one of our picnics. Everyone said the dent gave the lid character. Then her handle was broken off when some boys from our youth group ran her over. Then we moved, four times in four years, chasing a dream. In Illinois we boasted a bigger deck out back but the Weber-Wanna-Be gathered only rust spots.

In Tulsa, however, we recalled her into service. One night we sat out back with new friends and sizzled brats while God dazzled us with a show of lightning bolts that surpassed any Hollywood special effects. We suddenly ceased wrestling with the issues of raising adolescents to sit in silent awe together, the grill radiating heat from the corner of the porch. We renewed that Scott tradition when our families traveled to Tulsa for our famous barbecued Thanksgiving turkey. Once again, our prayers of thankfulness rose with the blue smoke of our Weber-Wanna-Be.

But slowly, like her owners, the Weber-Wanna-Be began to show her age. We often threatened to purchase an easier to use gas grill. Then one day, almost twenty-years after that first barbecue, I returned home from work and found the old Webber-Wanna-Be waiting mutely for the next days’ garbage pick up. Stunned, I walked down to the curb fully intending, like a school child who has just discovered that prized art project in the trash, to rescue the Weber-Wanna-Be.

I yanked her out from under a broken toilet seat, an old turn-table, and several other priceless items. But the Weber-Wanna-Be was beyond even my towering handy-man skills. The vents were rusted shut or broken off. My home-made, wooden, replacement handle was charred beyond use. The plastic wheels had long ago dissolved. And the grill itself resembled a relic found after the eruption of Mount Saint Helen.

That day my burned-out grill gave me one last gift. It’s true, you know, what Jesus said. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven. . .” Every day we must choose to value the eternal over the temporary. And though we all know things don’t last, even treasured things, we still struggle with those choices.

The Weber-Wanna-Be reminded me that we fail to choose the eternal because we forget what turns material things into treasures–people. The Weber-Wanna-Be smoked out a place in my heart because of the people gathered around her.  People are the only eternal treasures God deposits in our day-to-day lives. Recently Dee Dee and I moved into a new house. We have added some new friends to our old ones and a new garage-sale Weber (not a Weber-Wanne-Be) to our deck. Of the two I now know which is eternal.

Editor’s note: I (Eugene) wrote this several years ago but thought it might remind us, on a day in America when we try to remember what our treasures really are and what we do have to be thankful for.

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)

Daniel 1:1-2:23

1 Peter 3:8-4:6

Psalm 119:65-80

Proverbs 28:14

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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Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door or Many an Un-truth is Spoken in Jest

Mother Teresa died and was greeted at the Pearly Gates by Saint Peter . . . so the typical heaven’s door joke opens. We’ve all heard a thousand different versions featuring everyone from golfers to geriatrics and pastors to prostitutes. Most of them also have Peter asking the poor soul standing at the gate, “Why should I let you in?” The answer is usually the punch-line.

These punch-lines produce more than a chuckle; they also reveal what many popularly believe about life and death and heaven and the God who is supposed to be living there. These jokes show us that many an un-truth is spoken in jest.

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)

Isaiah 41:17-43:13

Ephesians 2:1-22

Psalm 67:1-7

Proverbs 23:29-35

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

Isaiah 41:17-43:13: Because the arts, such as poetry, are often difficult to interpret, many are therefore very uncomfortable seeing the arts as valid ways to communicate truth. God seems to have no such misgivings. This chapter continues the beautiful poem describing God’s power, wrath, love, grace, and concern for Israel and his creation. By using artistic words and poetic concepts, God is able to deliver to us some hard truths we may shy away from if stated in mere propositional language.

Ephesians 2:1-22: “We are God’s workmanship,” Paul writes in verse 10. The word we translate “workmanship” is literally and better translated “poetry” or “artwork.” Would that the Bible translators were more comfortable with metaphorical translations. If we are “workmanship,” we can only be one of many: identical fenceposts standing in a row or silver automobiles rolling off an assembly line. But if we are poetry or art, we are unique, painstakingly written or drawn not just designed with a purpose but carrying a message and an image of the Artist himself. As I wrote yesterday, you and I are works of art!

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THE WORD MADE FRESH

Have you ever noticed how the punch-lines of these gone-to-heaven jokes usually boil down to what the person knocking on heaven’s door did or didn’t do in life? According to these jokes, entrance into heaven depends on how good each of us are during our lives down here.

One such joke features Mother Teresa and God eating very simple meals together in heaven. Eventually she asks about the sparse menu. God answers, “Let’s be honest Teresa, for just two people, it doesn’t pay to cook.”

I don’t find that idea funny. If Mother Teresa is the standard my good works have to measure up to, I might as well not even knock on the door. Further, if anyone of us, even Mother Teresa, could earn heaven, why did Jesus let himself be tortured and nailed to a cross to give us eternal life freely? Instead why didn’t Jesus just write out a check-list of attittudes and actions that we could fill out and present to Peter at the gate?

Because, as Paul writes, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.” By definition you can’t earn a gift.

This is the beautiful theological truth behind birthday presents. How ludicrus it would be for anyone upon opening her birthday gifts to say, “Thank you for recognizing how hard I worked to get here. These gifts will remind me each day of the effort I put into my conception and birth.”

Just as there is no way anyone earned his or her birth and the gift of life, so too none of us can earn being born again and the gift of eternal life. All we have to do is receive God’s gift of grace and forgiveness and open it.

Another un-truth spoken in these jests is that Peter usually stands as heaven’s gatekeeper. In reality Jesus gave Peter keys to the kingdom. But since Jesus flung the doors wide open, I’m not sure what Peter’s keys are for. Jesus is the way. No one comes to the Father except through Jesus, even Peter.

Finally notice how these jokes place heaven “up there.” Yet, Scripture speaks of heaven as a kingdom that contains earth. In the end, the earth will be reborn just as we have been. But until then it is an imperfect piece of heaven here and now. We will not walk for eternity on clouds. Paul says we “have been saved” and are “seated in the heavenly realms.” This is all written in the past or present tense. Heaven begins when we are “in Christ” not after death. Heaven is here and now. Yet there is a piece of it to come. Fuller Seminary Professor George Eldon Ladd called this the “already/not yet” truth of the gospel. Our theology lived out and conveyed in these jokes expresses only the “not yet” part of what Jesus gave us from the cross. Paul desperately wants us to live in the “already.” Mother Teresa didn’t care for the sick and dying and castoff of Calcutta to get from earth to heaven. She poured her life out to them to bring heaven to earth.

Please don’t think I can’t take a joke, I love a good comedy routine and punch-line. Still there are many truths and un-truths spoken in jest. We can laugh at both, but eternity may hang in knowing the difference.

  1. Which 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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Do We Know too Much, See too Much, and Trust too Little?

Mt Sopris

Leaves rustle behind me. A field mouse burrows under the long, golden grass that is my seat. A crow croaks above, his wings send a windy squeak into the stillness. If clouds made noise as they scraped over the high mountain peaks, today I would hear it. It’s that quiet. Stillness. Peace. This day my world consists of the shifting sounds and changing colors of wilderness. The aspens stand on their milky trunks with their gray branches reaching for eternity. A doe and fawn skitter through the meadow, never realizing we are there. I can go only where I can walk, see only to the next ridge, talk only to my friend next to me. For a moment life has narrowed, simple. Glorious.

All this as somewhere war ravages, terrorists plan more cowardice, politicians puff up like self-important peacocks, philosophical debates rage, earthquakes rumble, economies tumble, hunger ravages, homelessness decimates, and world events vast as the sky mount. I know these things because the information age is upon me. Information technology speaks loudly and carries a big stick. But not here. Here I’m journaling about field mice, aspen trees, and crows. Would that our worlds could become this small and contained again.

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)

Isaiah: 33:13-36:22

Galatians 5:13-26

Psalm 64:1-10

Proverbs 23:23

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

Isaiah: 33:13-36:22: This section of Isaiah describes small, powerless humans in contrast to a vast, fearful world, governed by a powerful seemingly distant, angry God. Rightly we tremble. But is God against us? Are we as vulnerable as we feel? No. “Be strong, do not fear; you God will come,” Isaiah tells us.

Psalm 64:1-10: Again this reading asks us about fear and faith and our place in God’s worlds and heart. Let us take refuge in God not in our own accomplishments and strength.

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THE WORD MADE FRESH

Sitting in this meadow I slowly realize, once again, I lack what it takes to fight AIDS in Africa, prevent earthquakes in Pakistan, support the correct U.S. Supreme Court nominee in DC, house the homeless in Denver, adopt baby girls from China, save the environment, stop war, care for my family, stay fit, love my wife, read a good book, be a friend, love God, and figure out global warming all at the same time. I need it narrowed down. I can’t be global. I don’t have enough mind, heart, and soul to wrap around it all. Technology may have shrunk the globe to a village. But it’s still too big for me. In his book “SoulTsunami” Leonard Sweet writes, “Technology is outrunning our theology and ethics, leaving us panting, helpless anachronisms.” Anachronism I am.

Despite their enormity, at one time most human beings would never have heard about the tsunami and Gulf Coast tragedies, much less be given an opportunity to help. The sun would have risen and set on a day containing worries enough of its own. Each day we are bombarded by more information than we can assimilate or even care about. One of my professors put the dilemma this way: we are camel-age creatures living jet-age lives. Call God shortsighted if you like. We seem to have been designed to function best with narrower boundaries. Sometimes it feels as if a terrible wind has torn down the walls and ripped off the roof of life and we stand naked and exposed to every storm the world dreams up.

Obviously technology is not all bad. I have a nephew who would not be alive without modern communications and medical technology. And hot showers are remarkable. But there is the law of unintended consequences to deal with. The question is, how?

For me these retreats into the wilderness—back in time—help. Through them God enlarges my mind, heart, and soul. When I am hunting I sleept in a tent, have no cell phone access, no cable TV, no high speed Internet, and no idea what was going on in the world. But I am not out of touch. When the enormous worries of the world shove in, I lifted my eyes to the hills and asked, where does my help come from? In response I heard God whisper and even roar in the treetops: I Am here. Time slowed down as golden sunlight chased shadows across the green sage valley for the umpteenth time: I Am timeless, God said. I glimpsed the glistening eyes of my hunting partner: I see and love, God winked. Snow covered Mount Sopris towered, gleaming in the morning sun: I Am almighty, God assured. The weight of the world is on God’s shoulders. Maybe if I let God carry the weight, I can focus on and care about those things I can affect. Thanks God, for whispering louder than a myriad of modern, screaming voices. Thanks for holding the world in your hands. Thanks for narrowing the world down, if for just a moment.   

  1. What do these for passages share in common?
  2. How is God your refuge?
  3. What does your freedom in Christ look like?

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

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