Tag Archives: reality

Presbyopia Are Not the Eyes of a Child

By Eugene C. Scott

Grandson Linc looking at life as a child

A few weeks ago, as part of this living spiritually experiment, I decided to try and look at life as a child would. Kids are naturally spiritual, not yet dividing life into neat practical categories. Not seeing all with disbelief. I wanted to reclaim a child-like sense of surprise and wonder, to once again have child’s eyes. The trouble was, at somewhere around fifty, I wasn’t sure whether to wear my contacts or bifocals for this experiment.

But seriously, I’m no longer sure how to look at life as a child would.

So, I tried to remember what it was like, seeing things as if they were new. That’s when I ran into another problem that comes with being older.

Wish we could have done that

No, not plumbing problems. It took me a while to remember seeing something for the first time as a child. Finally, I recalled my family visiting the Civil War Museums in Gettysburg, PA. I love museums, even now. But as a nine-year old boy, all those guns and cannons, the theater that realistically depicted the fierce fighting, and the actual battle field mesmerized me. I’d never seen anything like it, especially memorable were the life size figures posted throughout the museum.

One in particular drew my attention. It was the figure of a man, a sergeant or something, in a Union uniform standing stiffly at attention with his rifle at his side. It looked so life-like, almost alive. My brother and I ignored our parents’ commands to come along as we circled this figure drawing closer until we were nearly on the pedestal with it. I noticed how its eyes glistened. Its face sagged with soft wrinkles. Its hand holding the rifle was so detailed that fine dark hair stood up on its fingers. I so wanted to touch it. Then my brother stopped right in front of the figure and drew himself up for the closest look he dared, reaching out one hand.

Suddenly the figure slumped, then raised his free hand to his mouth and coughed. My brother and I screamed and fell over each other trying to escape. The figure then laughed and waved to us. Of course the figure was alive, an actor. It was wonderful. My brother and I stayed and watched him scare other kids, the two of us laughing harder each time, until our parents drug us away.

What surprise, what wonder, what child-like life!

Granddaughter Addi looking and seeing

That’s what I wanted again. So, I set sail. And I saw some inspiring things. I noticed the blueness of the sky. Donald Miller called it “blue like jazz” in his book of the same name. We call it Colorado blue sky here. I savored my food, as if I’d never had peanut butter before. The two feet of snow in our yard glistened in the weak winter sun. I considered building a snow man but had a meeting to attend. A chickadee called out. I noticed people. Their smiles and frowns. But none surprised me like that day in Gettysburg.

All week long I looked. But something was missing. Nothing appeared magical. I’d seen it all before. Disappointment set in. I felt like bagging the whole living spiritually idea. It was too hard. Like so many other self-improvement projects. But I remembered living spiritually isn’t about mere self-improvement. It’s about transformation. There is a difference, though I’m a little unclear about what that difference is as yet.

I stayed the course. Nothing happened. Nothing I expected anyway.  But here’s what I wrote in my journal at the end of the week:

I don’t know how to do that [see with a child’s eyes] anymore. It’s as if it’s been lived out of me. I can only remember what it was like [and none to well at that either]. And I’ve told and retold, or relived, my favorite stories so much, I’m not sure I can see them as new. 

I have seen many familiar things [this week] I’m grateful for, however.

So, maybe the contrast between young and old is that at one end you wonder at the newness; at the other you’re grateful for what you’ve seen and still have. A tight embrace, sitting with your grown children, having grandchildren, knowing life-long friends, hoping to arrow and elk, reading familiar scriptures in a new translation, hiking for a few miles, not worrying about pretenses and appearances.

Are these things spiritual?

Living spiritually may not always mean looking for what I’m missing, but rather holding tighter to what I’ve got.

Maybe the kind of eyes to have aren’t necessarily child-like, but rather the eyes you presently have. Not looking back at what was, nor too far forward to what will be. But seeing what is. Maybe that’s what Jesus meant when he asked, “Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear?”

Papa Eugene looking at life as he should

Not only is Eugene a Presbyterian minister at The Neighborhood Church but he does–in fact–have Presbyopia. Which, you can see by looking him in the eye, is not so bad. Though he has lost or broken five pair of reading glasses. Please join the Living Spiritually Experiment by following and commenting on this blog or by clicking here and liking the Facebook page.

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The God of Mistaken Identities: Or Is There Only One God?

By Eugene C. Scott

I’m a man of mistaken identity. I can’t count the times people have said, “I have a friend who looks just like you.” Sometimes I get mistaken for a celebrity. I know, I know. What can I say? When my hair turned gray, some said I looked like Richard Gere. I made them take it back.

The worst is when people say, “You’re not the Dr. Gene Scott are you?” They always have wry smiles on their faces. (He was a brilliant, crazy, heretical TV preacher) But the joke gets old. Even though it is an honor to be mistaken for famous people or even an infamous preacher (who many would describe as brilliant but crazy–and possibly a heretic), I want to be known as me–not someone else. I am an individual. On the surface I may look, act, and sound like someone else. But if you get to know me, you’ll find out who I really am. Different. Unique.

It seems that God suffers from mistaken identity too.

It’s common today for people to assert that it doesn’t matter which god you believe in or which name you call God because they are all the same. After all, our many gods–at first–look so similar it’s easy to mistake them.

For example, the Hindu gods of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva each represent in turn a creator, sustainer, and ender of life. On the surface this sounds like Christianity’s trinity. Digging deeper, however, you discover the differences between the Hindu gods and the Christian God are as profound as the differences between me and Richard Gere. A simple case of mistaken identity. But a dangerous one.

The late Joseph Campbell–who studied what he called the god myths common in almost every culture on the planet–found so many similarities in the myths that he concluded that humans invented the concept of god and that we endowed these gods with many similar traits because it is human to do so. We invent them in our own image.

Other thinkers, including C.S. Lewis, look at the same facts and conclude that our god myth similarities come from God himself. We take the truths we see about God and attach them to lesser gods of our own invention because we twist and misunderstand the data about the God who does exist.

Still we want all gods to be the same. I understand this belief. Believing this feels better and it is a lot easier to say everyone is right. I once took this tack when people asked me if I preferred to be called Gene or Eugene.

“Whatever you want,” I’d say, not wanting to make them uncomfortable. This backfired and confused them because they would not know what to call me. Worse I was being dishonest. I did care. If I have to go by such an odd–almost goofy–name, I prefer the full version: Eugene. The full version means “well born, noble.” “Gene” just means “origin.” Also Gene could be confused as a girl’s name. Plus I’m a Eugene not a Gene. Eugene describes me better. It fits. And that’s what my mom named me.

Yes, I’ll answer to Gene–or even Tom, Dick, and Harry–for a time. But once you really know me, you will call me by my real name. Otherwise, I will realize you don’t really know me and probably don’t want to.

The same is true for knowing God. Of course we are not talking only about arbitrary naming. Of course a mere meaningless name makes no difference. Names in older times, however, were chosen not by popularity but as a descriptor. They let others know more about you. The core you.

Moses asked the Burning Bush, after God commanded him to confront Egypt about keeping Israel captive, “Who should I say is sending me?”

“I Am,” God named himself. The One who Is, always has Been, always will Be. The One source of all life.

This is important because most other gods only claim to be a part of the source of life such as a river or fertility or the sun or–as in Hinduism–the beginning (Brahma), the middle (Vishnu), or the end (Shiva) of life.

Does it matter what we call God? Yes, just as it is crucial that I call you by your correct name and follow that naming with a knowing, so it is with God. Someone once said, tell me about the god you don’t believe in. I probably don’t believe in that god either. This can only make sense if there are things that are true about God and things that are not true. I cannot be Eugene and Jack, tall and short, vengeful and full of grace all at the same time. It is not possible for me to be the cigar smoking, ranting and raving, cussing, crazy theological wild man Dr. Gene Scott just because you call me by his name.

God is a Being of mistaken identity. This hurts us, the mistaken, more than it does God. Still, just as you and I correct those who call us wrong, God set the record straight.

More on how he did that next Wednesday.

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Jennifer Aniston and Eugene Scott Reflect on the Fatherlessness Epidemic

By Eugene C. Scott

In 2010 Jennifer Aniston became the spokeswoman for fatherlessness. In her movie, “The Switch,” Aniston plays Kassie, a self-assured single woman, who Aniston describes as “ready to have a child and she’s not in a place where she feels she needs a man to do it.”

Ms Aniston, I don’t believe, was intentionally promoting fatherlessness. She was simply promoting her movie. I don’t think she gave a second thought to the plight of the 24 million children growing up in homes without fathers in America today, at least until trouble-maker Bill O’Reilly brought it up.

I think about it though–maybe too much. I can’t really help it. Like the kid in “The Switch,” and every other fatherless child, I had no choice in growing up without a dad. My father died of a heart attack when I was 11. I often wonder what life would have been like, both good and bad, if dad had come home that night after welding bumpers in his best friend’s garage. I only know after that summer night in 1968, life got down-right hard. So much so if I had my way, no kid would ever have to grow up without a dad–or with a bad one.

So, Aniston really struck a nerve. “[Kassie] wants a child more than she needs a man,” said Aniston. Want and need are key words here. Kassie may not need a man to become a mother–maybe all she needs is a sperm-donor. But the kid needs a dad. And believe me, no kids wants to grow up playing baseball or dolls with just a sperm-donor.

But my argument against raising kids without good dads is not sentimental and anecdotal. My case is both statistical and personal.

  • Kids in fatherless homes are twice as likely to do time in jail. All of my siblings, including me, found ourselves in jail.
  • 63% of youth suicides happen in fatherless homes. I am alive because my mom–and God–intervened.
  • 71% of high school dropouts live in fatherless homes. Three of four Scott kids failed to earn a diploma.
  • Fatherless children are at greater risk for drug and alcohol abuse and mental disorders. Okay, so this is getting too personal.
  • Single parent families are more likely to live below the poverty line. I had to start working at age 13 and at 16 dropped out of high school in order to work full-time.
  • Children without fathers are more likely to beget kids to fatherless homes. This may be the most painful personal statistic. My sisters’ children grew up without their fathers and now several of their children (a third generation) have kids who don’t know their dads, though one family is motherless (equally painful). And the cycle seems unlikely to stop. How I weep for them.

Unfortunately these are just a few of the obstacles us kids without fathers have to contend with. There are myriad more.

Losing my father left a huge hole in my life. Fatherlessness is leaving a vast canyon in our culture. We gape at the hole and then try to fill it up or deny it’s there.

For many years I blamed my dad for his death, just as if he had flipped me off and walked out the door. After all, he smoked and ate fatty foods. There is always blame enough to go around. But that was simply a way for me to try to deal with the loss. Blaming my dad did zero to alleviate the pain and problem. Sure Hollywood, et. al. have exacerbated or glorified the problem by promoting what they think are funny or unusual stories for the sake of the box office. Or worse they have promoted an ideology that sounds progressive and wise, but is not. As a man, I get the feeling some think life would be better without men, much less fathers. (Responsibility is another issue and I believe men, no matter the contributing cultural factors, need to own their role in this epidemic. More on this next week). But blame. What a waste of time.

Denial is another way we try to fill the gap absent fathers leave in our lives and world.

My family often said we were better off without him. He was strict. Dad would have never let me grow my hair out like I had. Real men didn’t wear long sissy, hippy hair. Sometimes dad got really angry, especially with my oldest sister. Today he may have bordered on what we call abusive. And he made me mow the lawn and sweep out the garage and clean greasy car parts.

But even as we sat around the basement living in denial, my heart ached for my dad to yell down the stairs: “I told you kids to get to bed. Don’t make me come down there.”

If you tell yourself something untrue long enough, maybe that’ll make it so. It didn’t. Listen to pop culture on fatherhood and you will come to believe it is, at best, archaic, and at worst abusive. It’s not.

In his book “To Own a Dragon: Reflections on Growing up Without a Father,” Donald Miller relates how hard he tried to fill his father gap. To no avail. Not even God, the Father of all will fill it. When something crucial to our lives goes missing, God is not capricious enough to replace it with a stand-in, or even stand in the hole Himself. As it should, this is why grief lingers. Forty years after my father’s unexpected death, I look back at all the silly, hurtful, even beautiful things I tried to replace him with. I’m glad I failed. Now–mostly–I live with this hole in my soul willingly. I know now to fill it is to not acknowledge it.

Perhaps that is what we, as a culture,  do too. Like bewildered people watching a fault line grow in the street before us, we deny, blame, anything but say, “Look, a terrifying hole. What are we going to do about that?”

Jennifer, Kassie may not need a man, but we all need a father. And it’s okay.

Eugene C. Scott writes the Wednesday Neighborhood Cafe blog.  If you’re reading this on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. www.bibleconversation.com. Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO.

P.S. See fatherhood.about.com/od/…/a/fatherless_children.htm for more stats and http://www.co.jefferson.co.us/cse/cse_T86_R33.htm for more local Colorado stats.

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Eagle-Sightings, God-Sightings, Flash-Mobs and You

Eagle in Waterton Canyon

The three of us bounced down the popular trail in Waterton Canyon on our mountain bikes, racing the South Platte River as it descended out of the mountains. It was a glorious evening with the sun hanging just above the rugged hogback, its last shards of light reflecting on the river. Suddenly a bald eagle, wings spread muscling the wind, swooped down near the surface and glided upstream, hunting.

All three of us clamped on our brakes and skidded to a halt in the middle of the road. The eagle danced on the wind just above the current and then tilted up and came to rest on a rock, where it stood turning its head from side to side surveying its kingdom.

Steve grabbed his camera and began shooting. The eagle preened and stretched its wings as if attending a royal photo shoot. Brendan, my son, and I, holding our breath, loyal peasants that we are, watched his Highness. Time slowed, then stopped. It was one of those magical moments where minutes stretched into hours and heaven seemed to touch earth.

Then other hikers and bikers broke the spell, heedless to the grand show the eagle was putting on just fifty yards away. Not ready for it to end, I stepped out into the dirt road, putting my finger to my lips and pointing to the eagle, hoping they too could see what I was seeing.

Their responses dumbfounded me.

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)

Ezekiel 47:1-48:35

1 Peter 2:11-3:7

Psalm 119:49-64

Proverbs 28:12-13

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

Ezekiel 47:1-48:35: This is one of the most beautiful sections of Ezekiel. God gives Ezekiel a vision of how God will heal his land and his people in some future time to come. That vision is of a full, powerful, and ever-deepening river that Ezekiel can step in, be healed by, but not be master of.

This passage is one that modern Jews hold tightly to. Their move back to and resettlement of Palestine in the 1940s is based in part on this streams in the desert prophesy. Moreover, it became their motivation to irrigate and plant much of their desert home. The results in many places are fantastic.

Also, there is a large group of Jews, mainly Orthodox, who are waiting for God to give them a signal to rebuild the Temple. Some call it the Third Temple Movement.

Whether these Jews are right or wrong in their literal understanding of this passage, I find it inspiring that they expect God to do what he says he will do. That is not so often true in my 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: www.bibleconversation.com.

THE WORD MADE FRESH

Maybe I’m a bumpkin, too easily impressed. Maybe they were jaded and calloused adrenaline junkies. Maybe eagles specifically, and nature in general, aren’t all that big of a deal anymore compared to 3D computer generated images. Whatever the reason, as I stopped the people on the road to show them the eagle, I expected them to be, like me, awe-struck. Most weren’t.

One or two stood transfixed. A couple more stopped and looked and then moved on. More yet only slowed down and glanced. Many, too many, followed my finger point, saw the eagle, gave me a puzzled if not angry look and never even slowed down. It made me mad. I wanted to grab them by the ears and shake them. I didn’t.

The eagle must have found us similarly boring because it soon lifted off and soared into the deepening sky.

As I finished my ride, it dawned on me (remember I’m a pastor and I can’t help it that my brain works this way) that my eagle sighting was eerily similar to how many of us respond to actual God-sightings.

Most of us who believe in God want to grab those who don’t believe by the ears and shake them. We get angry when they can’t see God, or do see God but don’t value God. God is so good and so full of grace and so powerful I desperately want others to see God and know God and stand in loving awe of him.

When they don’t respond according to our expectations, however, we do grab them by the ears, turning their heads by force. This seldom works. It’s like shining a bright light in their eyes. They just shut them tighter. They are busy or hurt or distracted. They are breathless from the journey, panting for their lives, little knowing the One who loves them is riding along side. Is it my job to knock them off their bikes?

I think not. Peter tells us not to demand that others see God and believe but simply point him out, with our deeds, “that they may see [our] good deeds and glorify God.” Peter says our lives–our response to authority, our relationships with one another, and even our refusal to return evil for evil–are pictures that are worth a thousand words. And yes, we use words too.

“Look, look at that,” we can say.

But it is not ours to force a response. Maybe we are not so much to debate the truth of God’s existence and love but rather live in front of others as if it is true.

My eagle-sighting made me realize that my job is first to love and enjoy God and while doing so, point God out to others. I recently saw a video (below) that is a living example of this. Instead of making people come to their church and hear about how great God is, they went to the food court in the mall and in flash mob style sang “The Hallelujah Chorus.” They loved God in the mall. Can you imagine?

What if each of us–and our churches–went out into our neighborhoods, and pointed to and loved God in such a way that a few would look and notice and begin to love and enjoy God too? Some would simply ride by. But others might just join us. And Who knows? Maybe all of them would notice something, just enough to pique their attention later.

The bad news is that often it is impossible to love anything, much less God, until you see someone else doing so. The good news is that it is possible to love something, even God, when you see someone else doing so. “To this you were called,” Peter tells us.  That is good news indeed.

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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Elk and Epiphanies: Standing in the Face of God

I heard him bugling and crashing down the mountain. Not coming fast—but furious. Long gaps of silence separated the crashing of rocks and breaking of branches. The dark firs across the ravine deepened those silences and covered each crash or responding bugle in mystery. I hunkered behind a low fence of junipers while my partner wailed and whistled out cow calls and bull bugles. Then he appeared, half a football field away, jet-black, covered brow tine to butt in mud. My entire frame went cold. He stood in defiance of everything and anything. From behind me, my partner bugled and the bull stretched out his neck and trumpeted back, cracking the air. Then he thrashed a small Douglas fir, dismembering it with his deadly antlers. I trembled on my haunches.

Another bugle from my partner called the elk down into the ravine separating us. A hoof clicked on a rock and it rattled down the steep bank. Water splashed. He was coming. I tried to ready myself. Silence. A dead aspen near my juniper blind quaked. My breath caught; my muscles tightened. His head popped out from around the bush and I came face to face with a five-by-five bull elk. I had never been so close to such a massive, wild, beautiful, dangerous animal in my life. Time stopped. There was nothing else in the world save that bull elk.

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)

Ezekiel 1:1-3:15

Hebrews 3:1-19

Psalm 104:1-23

Proverbs 26:24-26

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

THE WORD MADE FRESH

A mere three yards distant, the bull elk’s gaze fell on me like the eye of God. His nostrils flared and saliva frothed from his mouth. His breath escaped in lusty chunks. I watched his left eye tremble with fury and lust. I had seen how he had destroyed that douglas fir. What could one swipe of his bone-hard rack do to me? I tried not to lock eyes with him, not to challenge him. Would he see my hands quivering or hear my heart thundering?

My partner bugled again. The bull flicked his eyes beyond me and suddenly backed out of sight. I took a deep breath and slowly turned to follow him. I snapped a stick under my knee. He was gone.

Later that night, drifting off to sleep, the bull crashed into my mind and sent my heart racing again and again. His mighty presence lived in my dreams.

That’s when I pictured God. How much more wild and powerful is God? I wondered. Is it courage or ignorance that compels us to drawn near to God? Do we actually believe we can stand tall in the face of pure Power, pure Love, pure Holiness?

Ezekiel, that rasty Old Testament prophet, could answer those questions. He fell face down after he saw a vision of God. Ezekiel tells us he was “overwhelmed.”

Was my encounter with one of God’s most magnificent creatures even a glimpse of what Ezekiel encountered? I think not. Yet my close encounter with that bull was a holy moment and almost too much for me. Waves of awe washed over me for days each time I closed my eyes and imagined that startling creature. It woke in me an intense desire to know better our remarkably creative God—to encounter Christ with nothing in between, no camouflage, no scent blocker, no avenue of escape. No matter the danger.

When is it you feel closest to God? When has God broken into your world? God often uses nature to direct our minds and hearts toward him. David sang, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” But not all of us live near an elk herd or seascape that evokes worship and praise. Nor are all of us moved by such things. Unfortunately, in our modern well-lit world, many of us can’t even see the star flung sky God hung above us to call our hearts back home. Nor are all of us ignorant or courageous enough to seek out such encounters.

God, however, seeks such moments with us. “Stand up on your feet and I will speak to you,” God tells Ezekiel. God is a pursuer of those he loves, you and me. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to get our attention. From the midst of a windstorm, strange, four-faced creatures, spinning wheels, and flashing lightning God says to Ezekiel, “Listen to what I say to you. Do not rebel like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.”

God has something for each of us. But he is fearsome. We cannot long stand in his unadorned presence. And we need what God offers. But we are disobedient. We run away, hide, stop our ears, close our mouths and eyes and then complain God is far away.

When that bull elk stood within touching distance of me, instinct told me to bolt. I remained on my knees. That may be a good pose to hold when confronted with our wild, fierce God. I did not bag that elk. But I did not go away from that awesome experience empty-handed. So too with God. If we stand and listen to him, we will not remain empty hearted.

  1. Which passage spoke most to you?
  2. What did the four have in common?

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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When is Jesus Coming Again? Or Has He Already?

Wearing my dress whites, I stood at parade rest on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Kitty Hawk. The sun heated the sky into a skillet gray. Sweat beaded on my face and threatened to soil my uniform. I was one of thousands of sailors enduring a full dress inspection. An Admiral slowly worked his way through our ranks randomly stopping in front one hapless sailor after another nailing each for uniform infractions.

Somehow I knew I would attract his attention and that I would fail inspection. Failing held dire consequences. The ridicule and punishment would be severe. Without moving my head, I gazed off into the cloudless sky and prayed that Jesus would suddenly appear in the sky and yank me (and any of the other Christians  present) out of this tribulation.

I was eighteen, unhappy, a seaman in the Navy, and a believer in something Christians call the Rapture. The Rapture is a belief that somewhere near the beginning of the end of the world (pre-tribulation) Jesus will appear in the sky and remove the Church from the coming wrath of God and tribulation.

As I predicted, I failed my inspection. And on top of that, either I was left behind or Jesus did not come back that day back in the 1970s.

I hope it’s the latter. If that’s the case, when is Jesus coming back?

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)

Jeremiah 23:21-25:38

2 Thessalonians 2:1-17

Psalm 84:1-12

Proverbs 25:15

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

Psalm 84:1-12: Even sparrows and swallows receive God’s care and attention. What does that mean for humans?

Not so much for many of us modern 21st Century humans, I’m afraid. We live too far away from the natural world of the sparrow and the swallow to really know what these agrarian, outdoorsy allusions in Scripture mean.

I call this the curse of air conditioning. Though modern advancements and technology deliver many blessings, they also tend to separate us from the real world and its all too real Creator. Like a child who believes money comes free and unfettered out of automatic teller machines, we believe our protection comes from our amazing technology and our sustenance from the grocery store.

But the “Lord God is a sun and shield” our source of life just as he is for lowly sparrows.

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

THE WORD MADE FRESH

When is Jesus coming back? Jesus said no one but the Father knows, not even Jesus knew at that point. I’m still waiting, though not as impatiently as that day on the Kitty Hawk. I no longer believe in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture, however. Not because of that disappointing day on the flight deck but because, I now understand my belief in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture flowed out a deep misunderstanding of God and my misguided desire to escape trouble and difficulty and pain.

I’m not saying that all who believe in the Pre-Tribulation Rapture do so out of a need to escape pain (though it is a question worth asking ourselves). I know there are biblical passages that can be interpreted to support the Rapture. For example, Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 2:1: “Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, . . . .” Many interpret the phrase “gathered to” as a reference to Christians being gathered in the air to Jesus and then taken into heaven.

The myriad biblical interpretive nuances (too myriad to discuss here) aside, one major reason I left my Pre-Tribulation Rapture belief behind is that all through Scripture and history God seldom pulls his people out of tribulation or trouble. Sometimes God even led his people into trouble and always–always–walks his people through tribulation. See Abraham, Israel, Moses, David, the prophets, John, Jesus, Peter, Paul, the Church, and Martin Luther for just a few examples. In the end God also turns that trouble into a new story, a new opportunity to walk with God. This focus on God as a rescuer seems to diminish God’s role as redeemer.

And I don’t think I’m straining at gnats in making this theological distinction. If we expect God to rescue us from the ultimate tribulation, why not daily trouble such as a full dress inspection or real, worse trouble. Then what do we do when God doesn’t rescue us? Do we then miss the truth that, though Jesus will be coming back in bodily form, he is also already here in Spirit walking through trouble with us? What we believe about theological ideas such as the Pre-Tribulation Rapture reveal who we believe God is and shape what we expect life to be like.

When is Jesus coming back? In his time, but probably not just in time to rescue his beloved. While we wait, Paul does not want us to be unsettled or alarmed or to be deceived, however. Rather we are to stand fast in Christ. As I look back on that day on the Kitty Hawk flight deck, I realize I was not only immature but also not left behind. Rather I now see God’s grace has been sufficient for me in all and every situation, joyful and painful.

1. Which passage spoke most to you?

2. What did the four have in common?

2. How do you see God in nature?

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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Glenn Beck (in the black trunks) versus Jim Wallis (also in the black trunks)

Jim Wallis

Glenn Beck

Conservative Fox TV commentator and rabble rouser Glenn Beck and liberal rabble rouser and Sojourners founder Jim Wallis recently faced off in a theological boxing match. Beck threw a right hook saying “social justice” and “economic justice” are code words for liberal wealth redistribution and that they are not biblical ideas. Wallis responded with a left undercut claiming social justice is core to Scripture and said Beck was “strange” or greedy.

It’s not a heavyweight bout, according to Peter Wehner. “Neither man will be mistaken for [theologian] Reinhold Niebuhr,” Wehner wrote. Now in the late rounds both men continue to throw punches but not land many.

It’s too bad though, because justice is a heavyweight issue, one that God seems very concerned about.

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 57:15-59:21

Philippians 1:1-26

Psalm 71:1-24

Proverbs 24:9-10

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

Philippians 1:1-26: Some scholars consider Philippians a support thank you letter. The church in Philippi was close to Paul and supported him. He is now in prison and wants to reassure them their ministry to and through him was not in vain. “I will continue to rejoice for I know that through your prayers and the help given by the Spirit of Jesus . . . Christ will be exalted in my body.”

Imagine how those friends of Paul mourned when he was eventually martyred. Imagine too how they rejoiced when they were reunited after death and they saw and heard how their care and friendship made an eternal difference. Today God uses your prayers, financial support, and love for friends in difficult callings and ministries. Be encouraged. Your “partnership in the gospel” is making an eternal difference too.

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

THE WORD MADE FRESH

Wallis and Beck: who wins the bout? Both and neither.

Speaking through Isaiah God tells us, “Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists.” Fasting is a valuable spiritual discipline that, with each hunger pain, reminds us of our need for God’s sustenance.  But in this passage it can also be a more general symbol of an empty spiritual belief that produces little or no true reliance on God or caring for one another.

The religious people in Isaiah’s day knew the right practices (worship, prayer, fasting, ritual cleanliness) a person who loved God and his neighbor was supposed to engage in. Too often, however, these practices were devoid of faith in action. And just like today they failed to grasp the heart of the issue.

“Is this not the kind of fasting I [God] have chosen:

to loose the chains of injustice

and untie the cords of the yoke

to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry

and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter?”

See! Social justice, Jim Wallis may claim. And it’s true. God wants our faith to translate into social justice for the poor and homeless and hungry. God has chosen to provide for the needs of others through us.

But what about breaking the yoke and freeing the oppressed? Beck might ask. True again. overdependence, the yoke, is the first step toward bondage and oppression whether that overdependence is fostered by family members, religious rules, the workplace, or governments. God wants no false provider–idol–or false provision to bind us and come between us and our True Provider.

What’s more, might it work this way? What if in sharing my food with the hungry, shelter with the homeless, and clothes with naked, I depend less on my own wealth and ability? Instead I must turn to God to provide what I gave away. I am fasting from my abundance and as I pour myself out, I am filled with faith.

So too the needy (of which I am one, just in a different way). They turn to God for provision and God’s provision comes without expectation of repayment through me–or you. Their fasting, their hunger, is filled and produces faith.

“Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;

you will cry for help, and he will say,

‘Here am I,’” saysGod to the hungry.

“And if you do away with the yoke of oppression,

with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry

and satisfy the needs of the oppressed . . .

You will be like a well-watered garden

like a spring whose waters never fail,” God reminds the well fed.

We wish the world were black and white: Beck and Wallis. It’s not. But it’s not a forlorn, indistinct gray either. Fasting, giving, needing, praying in faith, whether expressed from the heights of God’s provision or the depths of our need is bright, colorful, alive. Faith, without which there is no making God smile, is what rich and poor, Beck and Wallis, me and you seem to need most. The good news is God has an endless supply of faith for us.

  1. Which passage spoke most to you?
  2. What did the four have in common?
  3. What spiritual practice fills you with the most faith?

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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Don’t Worry, Be Happy and Another of the World’s Most Trite and Tired Phrases

It’s an overused phrase. So much so, it’s become almost a meaningless expression. People use some form of it everywhere from describing a positive time in life, or asking for something from God, to an exclamation after someone sneezes.

As a pastor, I find myself using it and then kicking myself mentally for uttering such a trite and tired phrase. It’s the religious equivalent of “Don’t worry, be happy.” What is it?

God bless you. But what does that mean? To be blessed by God or for us to bless others?

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: 22:1-24:23

Galatians 2:17-3:9

Psalm 60:1-12

Proverbs 23:15-16

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

Isaiah: 22:1-24:23: Through Isaiah, God lets it be known that he is a two fisted God. In one God holds blessing (see below). This hand God opens readily for those drawing near to God in faith, love and obedience. The other fist God holds tight but warns that it holds a curse: the curse of what comes from not being in relationship with God but in opposition to him.

Somehow this is the hand God needs to describe most often for us. Thus we see God as wrathful but not ourselves as receiving the consequences of our disobedient actions.

Psalm 60:1-12: The above is repeated in this Psalm. God’s rejection or acceptance lies, in part, within our own choices. The psalmist readily admits and accepts God’s rejection and then pleads for restoration and salvation. “With God we will gain victory,” the psalmist reminds us. The unsaid? Lining up against God is sure defeat.

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

THE WORD MADE FRESH

Late one night, I took a wrong turn and got lost just east of the Mississippi River near down town St Louis. Suddenly I found myself in the wrong place, in a dangerous part of town. Every store front was locked down with heavy bars and huge locks over the doors and windows. With each new turn, I turned back on myself like a rat in a maze. Making it worse, I could see where I should be, my hotel well lit and inviting, rising into the night over on the west side of the Mississippi.

On my fourth trip down one dark street two guys attempted to block my way. I swerved around them and gunned my car toward the river. I had to get out of there or die trying. Then I saw a bridge spanning the river. It seemed to lead right to my hotel. The only problem was that the bridge was closed for construction. Terrified, I edged my car around the barricades and, white knuckled, picked my way through the construction rubble, imagining myself driving off the end and falling into the Mississippi. I was not happy.

The word “bless” is used nearly 400 times in the Bible. It is a key concept. God says to Abram, “I will bless you . . . and you will be a blessing . . . and all the peoples on earth will be blessed by you.” Psalm 1 begins “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked.” Jesus tells us “Blessed are they who mourn . . . .” And in today’s reading, Paul repeats the Abrahamic promise from Genesis 12. But what does it mean to be blessed?

Most people understand the word to refer to some kind of happiness or well being. Don’t worry, be happy. Robert Schuller even wrote a book called “The Be (Happy) Attitudes” based on Jesus’ contradictory sermon. That simple definition doesn’t work, however. Did God promise Abram and all peoples of the earth happiness? If so, God has not kept his promise. Did Jesus tell sad people, like the famous song, to just be happy? Hardly.

No, being blessed is more than happiness, more than an attitude, and–certainly–more than a trite, tried phrase used to express a desire or extinguish an explosive sneeze.

Most often blessing in the Bible carries the meaning of contentment even in difficult situations because you know you are in a right place with God. Being blessed does not only connote receiving something from God but rather walking through life with faith in God. “So those of you who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith,” Paul reminds the Galatians. Jesus wants us to have faith that whether we are hungry, mourning, poor, or persecuted we can still know God is with us and cares for us.

What could be more of a blessing to yourself and others than having unflappable faith in tough times? God blessed the peoples of the earth with Abraham’s faith.  God can do the same with you and me.

Somehow the bridge did not collapse nor did I drive into the river. That dilapidated bridge lead over the dark waters of the Mississippi and right back to my hotel. As I pulled in the parking garage, strangely I felt not happiness but relief, peace–almost contentment. It wasn’t just that I was now safe. Finally I was in the right place. I was where I was supposed to be. It dawned on me, I could have had that peace in Christ, even on the other side of the river.              

  1. What do these for passages share in common?
  2. When have you felt in the right time and place with God?
  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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God Is Not Silent, Even On September 11

Editor’s note: In a desire to remember and honor those murdered on 9/11, I am departing from our format slightly today. I wrote this in the days following the 9/11 attack. It was first published in the Vail Daily. I have made only minor grammatical changes. Eugene

Daily the sound of children chattering, laughing, whooping and shouting wafts, soothing and constant like waves breaking on the beach, through my open windows. There is a grade school directly behind my house and each fall weekday, at about 8:45a.m., the delightful laughing and squealing and playing commences. Occasionally I’ll take breaks from my study to watch the children from the deck. Looking down into the playground these disembodied voices suddenly connect with children on swings, or playing soccer, or chase, or simply sitting against the wall talking. Their sporadic movements and spontaneous smiles dance in the fall air like sunlight on choppy water. Back in my study again, each wave of laughter reminds me life is as it should be and that I’m not alone.

Today however, all is not as it should be and it sounds as if I am very much alone. Today is Tuesday, September 11, 2001 and the waves of innocent noise from the playground have stopped rolling because several thousand miles away an unthinkable evil has struck our nation. Behind my house stunned silence reigns. On this day the children are being kept inside for very good reasons: fear, respect, confusion, safety. I too wallow in stunned silence unable to concentrate on my work.

I sit and wonder, is God silent too? Why does it seem God is so quiet when evil speaks? For the next couple of hours these questions pound me along with the horrific images from the television. God, why are you so silent?

Thankfully the phone rings and calls me away to help with emergency prayer services in one of the chapels I serve. The chapel fills with people of all denominations and faiths twice that day. We weep and pray together quietly. Slowly through our prayers and tears, I hear a profound sound.  God too is quietly weeping. I realize the silence of the children in the school behind my house was deeper than a silence of safety or fear. It was a silence of mourning. I am reminded of Jesus response to the death of his friend Lazarus: “Jesus wept.”

Why did I, do we, assume that God condones evil simply because God allows it to continue for a time? Does God’s silence really imply He is sitting in heaven nodding and muttering, “It’s about time those sinful humans suffered. It’s just what they deserve”? God forbid! Yes, we all have sinned. But God doesn’t silently and angrily throw airplanes into tall towers full of His children to punish them anymore than loving parents sneak up behind their children and beat their bottoms with no warning or explanation. No, God does not laugh at or ignore our pain. He mourns.

I know this because God was silent at another horrific time in history. The world went dark for three hours while Jesus hung on the cross (Luke 23:44-46). God mourned as He turned away from the sins of the world–including those of September 11–tainting the heart of Jesus Christ.

On September 11 God was not silent or inactive after all. If we look and listen, this becomes obvious. Since September 11 courage, kindness, love and mercy poured from the hearts of people in the United States and around the world. For example, some of the passengers on the Pennsylvania plane forced it to crash so as to save those in its intended target. And our little Interfaith Chapels raised $20,000 for disaster relief. A Girl Scout troop in Denver made red, white and blue ribbons and a local radio station gave them away for donations, raising several hundred thousand dollars. A friend of mine told me she broke down in tears in the parking lot of the post office. A stranger on crutches hobbled over and comforted her with a long hug.

For me the final piece of evidence that God was not silent came when I stopped in at the hospital to visit a woman from our congregation who had, on September 13, given birth to a son. I trembled at what I might say to her. How would she feel bringing a son into such a world? Would she be depressed? And how could I comfort her? She beamed as I walked in, the first true smile I had seen since Monday.

“Isn’t he beautiful?” she said pointing to her son.

“Yes. He is!” I beamed back.

Looking at that dark-haired miracle, I thought, Oh, how could I be so ignorant? Evil and hate can temporarily take life. But only God and love can create life. God is not silent! The quiet mourning of God is not a powerless shrug of the shoulders. He was not silent on September 11 nor was he silent when Christ died on the cross. In both cases God quietly takes death and turns it to eternal life.

“It is finished,” Jesus said from the cross. What is finished? The ability of evil to prevail. Win some major and devastating battles? Yes. But God’s love will prevail because only God can turn death and devastation to love and life. God is not silent. Jesus Christ shouted mercy, power, forgiveness and victory from the empty tomb. And he still shouts it today. No. God is not silent or inactive. If we listen, we can still hear Jesus whisper from the cross “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.”  And if we allow it, He will speak and act through our love and kindness to one another.

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

Isaiah 19:1-21:17

Galatians 2:1-16

Psalm 59:1-17

Proverbs 23:13-14

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

Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, CO. 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.

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How the Blame Game Makes Natural Disasters and Suffering Worse

Natural disasters are nothing new. Unfortunately.

In 79 AD Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried two cities, Pompeii and Herculaneum. In the late 1800s and early 1900s the Yellow River in China flooded several times killing 3-5 million people. More recently we have seen Hurricane Katrina, the 2004 Tsunami, and this year’s devastating earthquake in Haiti cause unimaginable suffering.

It has been heartening to see the world respond to these latest disasters with aid, prayers, workers, and money.

Disheartening, though, has been our need to blame someone or something for these disasters, as if affixing blame will ease the suffering, or even–realistically–prevent another disaster.

This blame game is nothing new either.

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

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

Job 8:1-11:20

1 Corinthians 15:1-28

Psalm 38:1-22

Proverbs 21:28-29

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

THE WORD MADE FRESH

Blame. Some Democrats blamed George W. Bush for Hurricane Katrina. Some Republicans in turn blamed Democrats. Pat Robertson moved up the food chain and fingered God, saying God possibly allowed the disaster in response to America’s abortion policy. Meanwhile people suffered. And none of this blaming deterred the hurricane that wrecked Haiti.

As I said above, this blame game is not new. And God receives most of it. Or rather, we blame bad people–so called (such as George Bush or Democrats or whomever the blamer sees as sinful) for making God (or the gods, or the scientific equivalent) angry.

Pliny, a seventeen or eighteen year-old Roman citizen, who witnessed Mount Vesuvius explode and devour Pompeii and all her people, including his uncle, wrote, “Many raised their hands to the gods, and even more believed that there were no gods any longer and that this was the one last unending night for the world.”

This assigning of guilt was the response Job’s three friends had to his suffering as well.

Bildad actually has the gall to say, “When your children sinned against him [God], he gave them over to the penalty of their sin.”

Can you imagine saying such a calloused thing to a man who just had lost seven of his children to murder? Unfortunately people often do, maybe not so boldly. Our propensity for blame is as calloused and continues the destruction of the disaster . Because what blame really does is distance us from the suffering. If we can assign fault, maybe we will escape the next go round of disaster or at least we don’t have to feel what those suffering are feeling.

But Job does not flinch or fire back: “Indeed, I know that this is true,” he replies. Humans are sinful and we cause a great deal of our own suffering. We are greedy and rob and steal and lie. There is plenty of guilt to go round.

“But how can a mortal be righteous before God?” Job counters. “He shakes the earth from its place and makes its pillars tremble.”

This is not Job blaming, but rather admitting that we often deserve disaster and God has the right to visit it on us.

Somehow, however, Job knows there is more to his suffering, and suffering in general, than simple cause and effect. Job has seen good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. He understands that sometimes the good things that happen to bad people may not really turn out to be that good. And likewise the bad things that happen to good people may not end bad.

Job realizes better than the blamers that there is a mystery in suffering: the holy and beautiful and the terrible and painful twisting and turning together like a fine rope. Job doesn’t want to blame God, or himself, for his suffering. Nor does he even seem to want to end it. Job simply wants to talk to God about it.

This is honesty, authenticity, and it opens the doors to heaven. Blame is dishonest, even if someone appears responsible. I am not arguing against taking personal or corporate responsibility for our faults. Rather finding fault in others is a dodge that we hope lets us, the blamers, off the hook to find and give real hope in suffering.

In the end, God gives Job his audience because Job has looked beneath the surface and is willing to go deeper for answers, including accepting responsibility.

“My ears have heard you but now my eyes have seen you,” Job tells God. Here Job may be describing that illusive movement of truth from the head to the heart. He gets it, we might say. Whatever this phrase means, Job seems to have moved to a profound understanding of God, himself, and life. Had he stayed in the shallow waters of blame I believe he would have never drowned in the deep truth and beauty of God’s purpose for his unimaginable suffering. And neither will we.

  1. What did these reading say to you?
  2. Have you ever asked for an audience with God the way Job did?

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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