Tag Archives: sin

Lent: Is Your Life a Feast or Famine?

By Eugene C. Scott

Easter Worship at Red Rocks Amphitheater

Several months after God first grabbed me by the heart (I was fifteen years old), I attended an Easter sunrise service at Red Rocks Amphitheater in the foothills west of Denver. Suddenly colored eggs, chocolate bunnies, and new Easter outfits paled as symbols of a holiday that affirms the resurrection and forgiving power of Jesus Christ. I remember–still–how guilt and shame, self hate and fear slid off my heart like a winter crust slides off a blade of spring grass. With Jesus living in me, my life switched from an old, grainy, black and white movie to full living color. Everything–sight, sound, joy, pain–reverberated with an edge, a flavor, that jolted me. As a musician who was popular back then, Phil Keaggy, sings, I felt


“Like waking up from the longest dream,

how real it seemed,

Until Your love broke through

I was lost in a fantasy

That blinded me,

Until Your love broke through.”

That Easter in 1973 I realized the reality of God’s love breaking into my life and beginning a revolution. Freedom reigned. My heart danced as my life became a whirlwind of much-needed change. Tragically, my list of sins to abandon was quite impressive for a mere fifteen-year-old, especially since I abandoned the same sins multiple times. Slowly my struggle against sin transformed my Christian life from a joyous explosion of forgiveness into a smoldering list of forbidden actions I never fully managed to avoid. Christianity lost its life and became an oppressive duty.

Don’t get me wrong. The Bible clearly communicates that sin makes us incompatible with God and the banquet he has planned for us. Drug abuse, lying, gossip, skipping school, and the like were good things to give up. But when Christianity degenerates into a constant striving against life, it loses its power for life. My freedom in Christ was swallowed by guilt and fear and dos and don’ts.

There’s a story about a Presbyterian who moved into a Catholic neighborhood. Each Friday he grilled himself a steak. His neighbors were sorely tempted as they dined on their traditional fish. Soon the Catholics took matters into their own hands and converted the Presbyterian to their flavor of Christianity. That following Sunday the Priest sprinkled water on the man saying, “You were born a Presbyterian, raised a Presbyterian, but now you are a Catholic.” His neighbors welcomed him into the fold warmly.

But that next Friday they were drawn to the new convert’s deck by the aroma of a tantalizing steak. As they stepped onto his deck, they saw him sprinkling a slab of meat with A1 saying, “You were born a cow, raised a cow, but now you are a fish.”

That joke betrays an all too common belief among Christians–Presbyterian, Catholic, Independent, whatever–that Christianity is comprised of rites, rituals, traditions, and laws. Therefore our faith becomes that which Jesus died to save it from: outward expressions of inward emptiness: legalism.

Next week millions of Christians worldwide will begin looking toward Easter and remembering the resurrection of Jesus by participating in the season of Lent.  Unfortunately, as beautiful and meaningful as Lent can be, for many it teeters on becoming the modern poster child for an empty legalistic faith. On Ash Wednesday thousands will begin a fast in which they will give up chocolate, soda, TV, or something similar.

The prophet Samuel confronted Israel’s first king, Saul, with these words: “To obey is better than sacrifice.”

What’s the difference between obedience and sacrifice? Obedience stipulates an inward desire to do what God has commanded not outward acquiescence. Jesus said, if we love him we will obey his words. Obedience is a response of love to God’s love. Further, obedience is taking God’s word in and then living it out. Jesus illustrated this with the story of a house that has been swept clean of its demons. But then, because the house remained empty, many more demons rushed back in. Obedience then is an outward expression of an inward fullness. Sacrifice often is an outward expression of an inward emptiness.

Fasting has its purpose: to remind us of our need for God. But be honest. Did giving up sweets last Lent really fill you with a deeper love for our Savior? My daughter once wondered why we don’t instead add something to our lives during Lent. In other words, embrace–take in–the good things God has for each of us. And if you choose to fast, give something up, that is not healthy for you, replace it with something that is. This Easter add the fullness of the Holy Spirit to your life. Instead of fasting, feast. Dine on the simple presence of God. Read the Bible to know God not just to wrest his will from its pages. Give yourself to God in worship. Be with God.

The Apostle Paul said the harvest of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. He did not intend this as a legalistic list, but an illustration of a life with the Holy Spirit permeating the soil of the soul. Like a crop in rich earth, the fruit of the Spirit thrives in a life filled with God. Fruit withers when disconnected from the branch. If your faith is a series of outward responses based on an inward emptiness, hanging fruit on yourself will only weigh you down.

As Lent leads us toward Easter, feast on outward expressions of inward fullness; fast from outward expressions of inward emptiness. Is your life a feast or a famine? God desires it to be a banquet of freedom, forgiveness, and his very presence.


Beginning on March 13–the Sunday following Ash Wednesday–we will begin a Lenten series at The Neighborhood Church titled

“Embrace: Discover, Desire . . . Jesus”

During worship we will explore those things of God we can embrace and add to our lives as a response of love to Jesus.  These worship gatherings will also include hands-on opportunities to practice these things God asks us to add to our lives.  Join us.  See tnc3.org for worship times.

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


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Lifting the Cup of Life

by Jadell M. Forman

On Mondays at The Neighborhood Café, we’ve been considering Jesus’ question, “Can you drink the cup?” using a glass of wine as a metaphor for life.

When I waitressed at The Happy Chef in my hometown, one of our regular customers was a person, I’ll call Donald (because I don’t remember his real name), with intellectual challenges/disabilities.  He was about 5’8”, slender, and in his 30s or 40s.  If I remember correctly, he lived on his own and didn’t appear to have any disabilities.  Until he spoke.

Usually having a pleasant temperament, he liked to chat, and ordered the same thing, which made it easy to take his order despite his unclear speech.  Our manager Kim set a tone of respect, treating him well and teaching each of us how to listen to him, and giving us an example of how to comfortably interact with someone different from our other customers.  But not everyone treated him respectfully.

One day, on the streets of our small town, I found myself walking about 10 yards behind Donald.  I saw a group of boys younger than I was approach and harass him, calling him stupid and saying other things.  Donald didn’t seem to react or respond.

But I had had enough interaction with him in the restaurant to have seen a variety of his emotions–frustration, anger, sadness, happiness, confidence.  So, I empathized and imagined at this moment, he felt hurt.  Or maybe I was projecting onto him my own hurt of seeing such meanness in our community.

In Henri Nouwen’s book, Can You Drink the Cup? Nouwen shares his thoughts on community.  He likens the lifting of our cup, as we do after a toast among friends, to sharing our lives.  Or it can be like Donald lifting his coffee cup for a refill at our community restaurant.  But sharing our lives isn’t always easy.  Nouwen writes:

  • Nothing is sweet or easy about community.  Community is a fellowship of people who do not hide either joys and sorrows but make them visible to each other in a gesture of hope.  In community we say: “Life is full of gains and losses, joys and sorrows, ups and downs–but we do not have to live it alone.  We want to drink our cup together and thus celebrate the truth that the wounds of our individual lives, which seem intolerable when lived alone, become sources of healing when we live them as part of a fellowship of mutual care” (p 57).

To me, the scariest parts of living in community occurs when harassing bullies misinterpret my or another person’s mercy as stupidity or weakness.  Donald seemed to ignore or be oblivious to his harassers.  Mercy can look like that.

For whatever reason, the bullies walked away from Donald after fifteen seconds of not getting a response from him.  And, sadly for them, they walked away with less of life, not more.

My friend Cristi–the one who helped me discover my favorite wine glasses–is an occupational therapist who has helped me understand more than the value of stemware.  She has helped me understand that people who bully people with disabilities are ignorant of what people like Donald can teach us: for example, how to walk down the street without demeaning others.

Nouwen invites us to ask an “important question”: “Do we have a circle of trustworthy friends where we feel safe enough to be intimately known and called to an always greater maturity?”  That is an important question, I agree.  And I offer another: Do we let Christ embrace our friends and community bullies when they’re unfriendly, knowing that he ultimately holds us safe within his care?

It seems the call to greater maturity is most difficult to answer when someone has ripped our cup of life from our hands and dashed it onto the street.  When someone breaks our glass–our favorite one we were delighted to find and call our own–he breaks community-sacred relationship: first, with God; then, with us.

As retired pastor and author Eugene Peterson explains:

  • …[S]in is basically a depersonalized word or act.  It is not, in essence, breaking a rule, but breaking a relationship….Sin is a refused relationship with God that spills over into a wrong relationship with others (Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, p 316).

The bully’s wrong relationship with God has spilled over onto us, and we’re left with shards of glass.  And a choice.  Such a hard choice: to turn or not to turn the other cheek.

The world outside Christian community says, “Retaliate!  Rip his glass away and dash it onto the street.  Just like he did to you!  Let him know how it feels.”

Christ wants the bully and us to feel something else: the giving and receiving of mercy.  In contrast to vindictive, violent voices that place personal pride above communal connection, Christ says, something different and other.

Christ says, “Instead of breaking your brother, stand beside him, and help him lift his cup.”

Jadell M. Forman writes on Mondays for The Neighborhood Café.


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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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If Practice Makes Perfect, How Much Practice Do You Need?

I’m an incomplete archer. Every time I practice shooting my bow, I unearth a long list of information and skills I don’t yet possess. There’s so much to learn. The first time I practiced, I uncovered the concept of bowstring velocity. In order for the arrow to penetrate the target, the bow-string must be released unimpeded. I learned this basic lesson by turning my left forearm into hamburger by holding it too near the string while I released the arrow. Arrow velocity is a painful and ugly lesson. Therefore, I learned it twice.

Then I discovered the intricacies of aiming. Mainly you must have at least one eye open to hit the target, at least to hit it on purpose.

Later I decided to read up on archery. To my delight I discovered there were only a few (1,000, or so) essential movements needed to fire an arrow accurately. On my next outing, before I mastered even one of them, my arm wore out and started dancing like a drunken Chihuahua. Fortunately, no innocent bystanders were hit by my stray arrows. I did hit the bullseye once, however, by accident.

In the process of struggling to master archery, something else dawned on me. This is why the Bible uses an archery metaphor –missing the mark– to describe our human inability to reach perfection. Not only am I an incomplete archer, I’m an incomplete human, constantly missing the mark.

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)

Hosea 10:1-14:9

Jude 1:1-25

Psalm 127:1-5

Proverbs 29:15-17


Jude 1:1-25: When was the last time you heard a lesson or sermon on Jude? I don’t remember ever hearing one. And I’ve never preached one. This book cannot compete with the theology and complexity of Romans, 1 Peter or even 1 John. But this book is worth digging into deeper than many of us have. Eugene H. Peterson, in his introduction to Jude in “The Message,” writes, “As much as we need physicians for our bodies, we have even greater need for diagnosticians and healers of the spirit.” Jude diagnoses an unhealthy acceptance of half-truths and false teachers and offers as a prescription focusing on God’s true and great love and the mercy of Jesus. 

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Hosea also learned about human imperfection fist-hand. His wife never even came near the target of loving him. So too we miss the target in loving God. “They [we] make many promises,” God tells Hosea. Jude describes the same problem saying, “They [we] have taken the way of Cain.”

What are they alluding to? Sin. Not only the bad actions we each partake in but rather the reality that even our best efforts only hit the outer rim of the target and our outright bad choices maim and wound those anywhere near us.

This means not that we don’t hit the bullseye, we can’t.

For me, it looks like this. I sit down to pray and suddenly my mind has–well–danced off like a drunken Chihuahua. I find my is spirit somewhat willing to obey God but my flesh is in flat-out rebellion. I let fly my arrow of faith and inevitably miss the mark. No matter how hard I try, that bullseye of Christian perfection eludes me.

In this case practice does not make perfect. And, at least for me, practicing, especially my faith, only shows me how much I have yet to learn. You too? The time it would take for our life practices to reach perfection does not exist.

But the good news is that as followers of Christ, we aren’t aiming at once and for all perfection–a life of bull’s-eyes–this side of heaven anyway. Though, don’t read me wrong. I am not saying life is merely simmering in sin we can do nothing about. God wants us to be victorious over our hate and lust and fear.

The way to victory, however, is not what Dallas Willard, in his book “The Divine Conspiracy,” calls “sin management.” Trying to master what we cannot master, or even manage, is futile and draws our focus away from God. Instead Jude reminds us to keep ourselves “in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.”

In archery you can mentally check off the myriad of things you should or should not do in order to hit the target. Doing so, however, hinders rather than helps. Instead all other actions follow two: anchor your shooting hand and focus on the target. So too in life: anchor ourselves in God’s love and focus on the mercy of Jesus Christ. Only then will the arrows of righteousness, powered by the Holy Spirit, fly and hit the mark.

The spiritual practices of prayer, Bible study, giving, Sabbath, etc. do not make us perfect. That’s not grace. (Besides how much of the Bible do you have to memorize and master before you are perfect?) Rather, the spiritual practices draw us nearer to the heart of God. And that is the goal. Studying God’s word facilitates our knowing God. Prayer permits us to speak and listen to God. Giving allows us to act like God. Sabbath lets us to rest near God. They are not ends in themselves. They are means to anchoring ourselves in God and focusing on the mercy of Jesus Christ. The bullseye is the heart of God.

Archery is one vehicle I use to drive myself into the woods I love. It is my excuse to sit deep in the fall forest, with aspen leaves falling like otherworldly golden coins and silence singing God’s name. The end result, nearness to God, is what makes the practice perfect. Therefore, my incomplete friends, pull back your bow-string and shoot. To paraphrase Nike. Read. Pray. Worship. Give. But do so knowing these practices are not one-time tasks to master but incomplete movements in a life-time quest for God.

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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Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen

Trouble is universal. We bring it on ourselves. Others dump it on us. It seems to drop on us out of a huge vault in the sky. I’ve never met anyone who has not experienced struggles, often intense ones. So much so, each one of us could sing a duet with Louis Armstrong on his signature song, “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.”

Feels that way doesn’t it? When we find ourselves in trouble, it feels as if nobody knows the depth of our disappointments, our troubles. And when trouble comes, the last thing we want to do is tell someone, admit our faults, failures, and fears. At best, people may not understand; at worst, they may blame and judge us.

Trouble is not only universal; it’s isolating. Trouble is a lonely place.

Is it true that no one knows the trouble you’ve seen?

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 9:1-11:1

1 John 2:18-3:6

Psalm 121:1-8

Proverbs 28:27-28

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.


Here’s a scary thought. God knows everything. There is no hiding from God.

Daniel understood this. In his prayer in chapter 9, Daniel admits to God, “We have been wicked and have rebelled.” This does not mean all of our troubles befall us because of our sin. But Daniel knows that when seeking God’s help, a very good first step is to admit his failings. Full disclosure.

This only makes sense. Have you ever noticed the hardest people to help are the ones who won’t confess they need help? Worse yet are those of us caught living or telling a lie. Yet doors and hearts open wide when we confess who we really are and what we need, especially to a God who cares so deeply about us.

God does know the trouble we’ve seen and even the trouble we’ve been. And he wants to do something about it. God’s call for us to confess our wrongs does not mean he is some sort of sadistic voyeur. Rather God knows we are only as sick as our secrets. Nor is God only interested in judgement and punishment. God’s greatest desire for us is forgiveness. Forgiveness and healing come clothed in confession.

But confession is not just about admitting our wrongs. Literally the word used in the Bible means  “to speak the same thing” or to agree. So, in the case of our sins, confession is simply agreeing with God that we have done wrong and need help and forgiveness.

The piece of confession we often miss is that it is just as important to agree with God about how much he loves us. In the middle of his discussion of sin, John reminds us we are also loved children of God. Again this only makes sense. If my wife tells me she loves me, and I don’t “speak the same thing” or agree that she does indeed love me, I deflect her love no matter how freely given. I can’t receive what I don’t believe.

In other words, confession gives us the ability to live in the tense reality of how unlovable we sometimes act and yet how loved we still are. This is “knowing the truth” that John speaks of in his letter. The reality is that we needed Jesus to take on our sins on the cross. Reality too that he loved us enough to do it.

Jesus loved us so much he gave us the gift of moving out of isolation and into community with God, through confession. Like the song says,

“Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen

Nobody knows but Jesus”

And man, does he know.

  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.

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The Trouble with Ted Haggard

I don’t know Ted Haggard. I know about him, at least what I’ve read and heard about him, which is not good. Haggard, a nationally recognized pastor, lost his pastorate after it was revealed that he was using illegal drugs while also participating in a homosexual affair.

This was heartbreaking and destructive enough. What troubles me even more, however, is the unnoticed root that nourished these more obvious destructive behaviors: hiddenness.

I’m not sure anyone really knew or knows Ted Haggard–not his colleagues, not his ex-congregation, not his wife, maybe even not Ted himself. This distance from others, this invisibility from himself created an alternate universe in which he could live disconnected from what he told himself and others he believed and lived for.

Unfortunately Haggard is not the first nor the last who will struggle with a self imposed and self deceiving hiddenness.

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)

2 Chronicles 6:12-8:10

Romans 7:14-8:8

Psalm 18:1-15

Proverbs 19:24-25

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.


We all wear masks. We all play roles and have secrets. This is part of the human condition. The danger comes when our masks grow permanently attached to our faces and we no longer recognize ourselves in the mirror, or when we award ourselves the Oscar for a role deceptively played.

I believe this was (is) at the heart of the Haggard ordeal. He compartmentalized himself and no one, except God, knew the real Ted. I don’t mean that only in the negative sense. It’s like being trapped too long in one of those halls of mirrors at an amusement park. Soon you can’t discern the real you. Am I the angry one? The sad one? The kind one? The evil one? You turn circles frantically. You lose yourself. You fall to the floor exhausted. You need help.

In that moment you need someone who knows you intimately, someone with a foundation in reality, someone who can take you by the hand and lead you out to truth.

Facing the possibility of losing himself Paul cries out, “I do not do the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep doing. . . . Who will rescue me?”

Notice how public Paul is about his continual failure. He knows how dangerous it is believe your own good and bad press. He knows it is not enough to admit our faults secretly to ourselves or ostensibly to God alone. Paul is honest with himself, his trusted friends in his faith community, and with his God. All three points of contact bring focused truth and freedom into our lives. This authenticity is the antidote to our destructive tendency toward hiddenness.

I know I lean toward that dark and deadly hiddenness I believe Ted Haggard fell into. And I believe with all my heart that when you and I and Ted Haggard let God and those he calls to walk our night roads with us into those dark places, the light of truth comes on and we can discover that, though we are good and evil all wrapped together, there is rescue and redemption in Christ.

  1. How does the Ted Haggard story make you feel?
  2. Which reading spoke most clearly 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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Les Mis: Are You One of the Miserable Ones?

Jean’s stomach ached as he stared at the loaf of bread in the window. The bread was not braided or beautiful or painted golden with butter. Worth only a few cents, it was a plain, hard, day-old lump of baked flour, yeast, and water. Unable to control himself, he smashed the glass, grabbed the bread, and ran. Jean was the only source of income for his sister and her two young children and they were starving.

No matter. Jean broke the law; he knew it; the police knew it; the judge knew it. Nineteen punishing years later, he walked free from his physical prison only to find he was still captive, now and forever a convict with his conscience and the law constantly reminding him of how far he had fallen and how despicable he had become. Jean Valjean, the sullied hero in Victor Hugo’s powerful (if a tad long) novel, Les Miserables, was desperately in need of a second chance, a new life.

In a way Jean Valjean is me and–you. Read on to find whence Jean Valjean’s and our freedom comes.

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)

2 Chronicles 4:1-6:11

Romans 7:1-13

Psalm 17:1-15

Proverbs 19:22-23


2 Chronicles 4:1-6:11: Someone once said, God is big enough to fill the universe and small enough to live in our hearts. The chronicler describes how Solomon builds a house for this uncontainable God. God cannot be contained in even the grandest of temples–and Solomon’s was grand–yet “the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God.”

God so loves us he will condescend, lower himself, to be present in a mere building. Remarkably rather than see this as a miraculous gift, we set snares and try to trap God in our temples, churches, programs, liturgies, and lives. Oh how foolish we are.

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.


Though released from prison, Jean Valjean finds no peace. No inn will house or feed him. The police hound him. Angry, hungry, and seemingly doomed, he stumbles into the home of Catholic Bishop Myierl, who feeds him and gives him free run of his home. In payment, Jean Valjean steals the Bishop’s silverware, leaving only two silver candle sticks. The police catch him with the silver. A second offense is punishable by death. The police bring him to the Bishop to confirm the theft.

Unbelievably, the Bishop claims the silverware was a gift to Jean Valjean and chastises him for leaving the candle sticks behind. Jean Valjean walks free, silver and all, this time with the ability to reinvent himself. Using the silver, he becomes wealthy and gives to the poor endlessly. But Inspector Javier recognizes him and works to expose him and eventually ruins Jean Valjean’s new life–on the surface. But Jean Valjean has been transformed. He is no longer the convict Javier knew, but rather the near saint the Bishop invited him to become.

Below the surface of Les Miserables, Victor Hugo has buried deep theological truths. Like Jean Valjean, our sins set us at odds with the law and ourselves. But in Christ (the Bishop) grace intervenes and gives us the gift of a second chance. Unfortunately the law (Javier) hounds us, trying to convince us our debt is unpaid. But God’s grace is a hound as well, chasing us down with a terrible love.

Our choice is the same as Jean Valjean’s: Live in the reality of God’s gift of our undeserved freedom, despite who the law says we were. Or turn from grace and allow ourselves to be re-imprisoned by the shadow of guilt and shame.

Like Jean Valjean, I am often haunted by ghosts from my past. Small, inconsequential ghosts, such as the time in second grade I pulled a chair out from under a cute girl, flutter at my ankles. Soaring specters, ugly, destructive attitudes and actions I dare not name here, also seek to envelop me and smother my soul. But ghosts are not real. My reality is in Christ. I am new, free, born-again.

Victor Hugo tells a story of Paul’s message in Romans 7: “So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.”

In Christ we are free indeed.

  1. Which reading spoke to you and why?
  2. Do you live more often in God’s freedom or the law’s tyranny?

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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Coming To Grips With Being An @$$?&#€

“You’re an @$$?&#€,” my counselor calmly informed me.

“I am not an @$$?&#€,” I shot back.

“Yes. You are an @$$?&#€—and I’m an @$$?%#€, too.”

Believe it or not, it was one of the most formative moments in my life when I realized how messed up I really am.

And you are too.

Please join me as we look closer at coming to grips with being an @$$?&#€.


1 Chronicles 16:37-18:17
Romans 2:1-24
Psalm 10:16-18
Proverbs 19:8-9


1 Chronicles 16:37-18:17. This passage repeats 2 Samuel 7, although it presents David and his son Solomon as the founders of Israel. More than anything, today’s reading gives us a window into David’s heart.

Romans 2:1-24. After chastising the practices and morals of the Gentiles in chapter 1, Paul turns the tables on the Jews in chapter 2 and groups them in the same category. Paul’s intent in this section is to demonstrate that all people are sinners—whether religious or not. In this way, he proves that all of us need a savior. Apart from following Christ, all of us are storing up wrath for ourselves.

This also sets us up for God’s kindness (verse 4): “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?”

What is God’s kindness? Paul is foreshadowing what he will explain later as Jesus.

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Growing up in a long line of believers can be a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because our Christian heritage means we have developed a culture that challenges and expects every person to follow Jesus. Living a remotely evil life is completely foreign to me.

It can also be a curse, because people like me can easily assume we’re automatically “in.” We also tend to insulate ourselves from the outside world around us. And, as much as I hate to admit it, we can easily become judgmental of people who struggle with sins that our Christian culture has deemed worse than other sins. To put it bluntly, we have a hard time admitting that we’re an @$$?&#€s

The apostle Paul addressed people like me in Romans chapter 2:

So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? (Verse 3)

I can imagine these words ruffled the feathers of quite a few of Paul’s readers. A sinner?? Me?? God’s judgment?

Paul goes on to accuse his Jewish readers of committing the same sins as the Gentiles. In tomorrow’s reading (verses 29-31), Paul names the sins:

They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.

From a publishing standpoint, no editor would have let this appear in print because Paul has effectively alienated his readers.

But the gist of Paul’s point is this: Going to church isn’t enough. Reading the Daily Bible Conversation blog isn’t enough. Growing up in a Christian family isn’t enough. We simply can’t do enough to be saved from God’s wrath. We’re all @$$?&#€s. We may not commit heinous crimes, but we commit sins of the heart–sins like envy, murder, strife, gossip, arrogance…the list goes on and on.

How then can anyone be saved??

Paul answers the question later in Romans, but rather than point to the antidote, I encourage you to meditate on this reality. We can’t do enough to satisfy God’s wrath against sin. We cannot be good enough to save ourselves.

The psalmist in today’s reading offers us a window into resolving this dilemma:

You hear, O Lord, the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry (Psalm 10:17).

God responds to the cry of the afflicted. When we see ourselves as we really are—people created in the image of God who have become afflicted by sin—then we can be saved.


  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. Do you identify more with Romans 1 or Romans 2? Why and how?
  3. How can knowing you’re messed—really messed up—hurt you? How can it help you?

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


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Is Homosexuality the Unforgivable Sin? (Warning: You May Not Like this Blog Entry)

A small group of people in Topeka, Kansas have become infamous for their hate of homosexuals. They call themselves a church but consist mainly of the members of the founder’s family (I am torn here between naming the offenders to expose them and not naming them so as to not give them more publicity. I chose the latter.) These misguided, twisted sinners* travel the country and protest all things homosexual by holding up signs reading, “God Hates Fags,” and screaming vile slogans.

Romans 1:18-32 is one of the biblical passages they use to justify their hate. After reading  it myself, I wonder: if they feel these verses give them permission to protest homosexuality, why don’t they also attend church prayer meetings with signs reading, “God Hates Gossips,” or protest outside of their own meeting hall with signs saying, “God Hates Slanderers,” and “God Hates the Heartless and the Senseless”?

If I haven’t made you too angry or nervous, read on and ask with me, “Is homosexuality the unforgivable sin?”

(*Note: I too am a misguided, twisted sinner in need of God’s undeserving mercy.)

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

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

1 Chronicles 15:1-16:36

Romans 1:18-32

Psalm 10:1-15

Proverbs 19:6-7


1 Chronicles 15:1-16:36: When we last saw David, he was angry with God over (1 Chron. 14:11) the death of Uzzah. It seems David has reconsidered and has actually asked God about the ark and it’s treatment. David shows once again he is a “man after God’s own heart” by repenting of his actions and learning from his mistakes. Yet he still exhibits very human behavior in that he seems to blame the  Levites for “not bringing it up the first time.” I wonder if this is the first time the phrase “ignorance of the Law is no excuse.”

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.


Still with me? I hope so.

“Hate” is a strong word and in humans an even stronger emotion. The word “hate” occurs about 128 times in the English Bible, and only a dozen or so times in reference to God hating (The word “love” crops up nearly 700 times). And most often “hate” doesn’t describe an emotion but rather an enemy. The sense is that God generally “hates” things that are destructive to us humans, but not an emotion God feels toward humans. God views them as our enemies. The list of destructive actions God hates includes “robbery and iniquity,” “wrong doing,” “violence,” “idol worship,” and “religious feasts.”   Proverb 6:16-19 says,

“There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:

haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,

a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,

a false witness who pours out lies
and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.”

In short, because God loves us so much, God hates sin, which means any minor or major human action that hurts or destroys us spiritually, emotionally, intellectually, socially, or physically. We could spend 24/7 protesting such things and not exhaust the list.

And God seems to hate all of this self–and others–destructive behavior equally. No one enemy to humanity rises above the other.

Jesus equates anger with murder and declares calling someone a fool an eternally punishable offense (Mtt. 5:22). This confuses us because, to us, there are obviously sins worse than others. But Jesus is simply pointing out that anger eventually kills a relationship and possibly even a life, though in a less drastic way than murder. The destruction of the relationship and life are what seem to matter to God not the severity of the destruction. The earth-bound consequences differ, but both kill.

God views homosexuality and idol worship through the same loving eyes. To God worshiping a tree, money, success, or a god that does not exist is as “unnatural” (something we were not created to do) and soul-destroying as is misuse of the great gift of our sexuality. One is a fatal misunderstanding of who God is and the other a misunderstanding of who we are. Both may be love misapplied.

Is homosexuality an unforgivable sin? Some seem to act so. But Scripture, and God’s nature, belie that view.

  1. Do these readings connect in any way?
  2. If so, in what way?
  3. What enemies of God do you still harbor in your heart and life?

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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Our Favorite Sin May Be Favoritism

I delivered a good sermon, my first as the new associate pastor at Old Presbyterian Church. After worship, decked out in my spanking new robe, I dutifully made my way to the back of the sanctuary and stood to the right waiting for the people to file by and greet me with the traditional and obligatory, “Nice sermon, Pastor.”

Some believe this tradition dates back to the 1500s and probably originated with John Calvin himself. Every Presbyterian church I have served in has practiced this grip and gripe ritual. So, you can imagine my shock when every single person filed out to the left without even giving me a glance much less a greeting.

My sermon couldn’t have been that bad, thought I as gray haired saint after saint sauntered by. I gave it at my last church and the people there appreciated it.

Dejected I stood there staring down at my shiny black wing tips. I felt a light tug on my sleeve.

“Pastor Scott, the preacher always stands on the left side to greet the people,” the tiny, wrinkled grandmother said. I started to argue but she gripped my arm and shot a piercing look up into my eyes. I moved across the doorway and sure enough the people began grabbing my hand and gushing, “Nice sermon, Pastor.”

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

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

1 Kings 15:25-17:24

Acts 10:23b-48

Psalm 134:1-3

Proverbs 17:9-11


1 Kings 15:25-17:24: God holds the many bad kings named in this section responsible for causing Israel to sin. This may seem strange to our radically individualistic ears. Why doesn’t God hold each individual responsible for his or her own choices? God may. But God also holds each of us responsible for one another. My decisions impact my family, friends, church, and culture.  Moreover God calls leaders to a standard above that. We are our brother and sister’s keeper.

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.


That first Sunday at Old Presbyterian Church should have been a sign. But I’m a little slow. OPC was well over 100 years old and brimmed with ritual and tradition. I imagined it would only be a matter of time before I mastered enough of their traditions to find acceptance.


Why didn’t those folks greet me despite the fact I was standing on the wrong side? Because I was an outsider from the wrong part of the country. And a long haired, young whipper snapper to boot.

Little did I realize that though “God does not show favoritism,” many of us in the church have turned it into a fine art, using rituals, traditions, inside jokes, and insider language to draw lines of inclusion around ourselves–to the exclusion of all others. It’s our secret little sin, secret to us but not to outsiders who stand befuddled and hurt on the wrong side of the door.

In Acts we read how Peter struggled with and against favoritism. Jewish followers of Christ so feared losing their favored place they at first resisted Gentile followers of Christ and then restricted them with traditions.

This is the dark cave exclusive favoritism flows from: fear of loss. From the simplest loss of one’s seat to imagining a devastating loss of God’s love.

The truth is, however, that this strangling hold favoritism lays on us eventually brings on that which we dread. In grasping we lose.

The widow in 1 Kings 17 should have favored her son and herself. But with only enough food for one last meal, God asks her to share it with Elijah. Fearlessly she does so and finds God refills her jar with his everlasting supply. Her faith overcame her fear and its deformed twin: favoritism. In giving she gains. God made the his world this way.

Favoritism is strangling the modern church. We hold on to our buildings and budgets, our music and methods our traditions and rituals. We fear the loss of our place politically and culturally. And in grasping we have lost the ear of the culture surrounding us. They cannot hear or see the love of Christ in us because we are holding it too tightly.

Maybe it is time again to take a lesson from a poor starving widow and give to others all that God has given us.

  1. What does favoritism look like in your part of the world?
  2. How can faith in God eliminate favoritism?

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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