Tag Archives: The Neighborhood Church

Avoiding Shortcuts To Nowhere

Years ago, our family lived in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area. After spending most of my life in Denver, where the streets run north and south in straight lines, Philadelphia threw me for a loop. Literally.

Many of the roads in Philly date back hundreds of years. One of the main roads in an outlying town is called “Cowpath Road.” Obviously, the road was a converted cow path. Cows don’t walk in straight lines. This is just one of many examples of Philadelphia’s meandering roads.

So at times, when the traffic on the two-lane roads backed up, I tried taking side streets to get ahead. On more than one occasion, my “shortcut” brought me back to my starting point. I was literally driving in circles.

That’s often the case when we take shortcuts in our lives.

Shortcuts To God Will Lead You Nowhere

Growing up in the church, I’ve witnessed the good, the bad, and the ugly in church leadership. At various stages in my life as a pastor, I must admit that I’ve done my part in presenting a poor example of leadership as well. So please understand that I’m not casting stones.

Our human nature gravitates toward following charismatic individuals who speak to us on behalf of God. Often, this is the result of our laziness. Relying on someone who will “stand in” for God is like opting for the Cliff’s Notes version of a great novel. Rather than read the Bible for ourselves and seek an intimate relationship with God, we prefer that someone do it for us.

Moses, Israel’s first great leader, was concerned that after he died, they would follow false prophets who would lead them away from God. So Moses warned Israel, “It is the Lord your God you must follow, and him you must revere” (Deuteronomy 13:4).

When our walk with God is dependent upon the leaders we follow, we set ourselves up for tremendous disappointment and pain.

Pastors, TV preachers, televangelists, and authors all must be compared with the plumb line of Scripture. Just because they say something that sounds good, or they say something that we want to be true—doesn’t make it true! Many have led well-meaning believers astray. And history continues to repeat itself.

Not long ago, I witnessed a church split that affected thousands of people. Some of the people who were damaged by the fallout were devastated and vowed never again to return to church or trust a church leader. In my judgment, far too many of those people needlessly followed the Senior Pastor rather than God.

My friends, please join me in following Moses’ advice. Let’s follow God and avoid the unnecessary disappointment and pain that inevitably meets people who depend on fallible men and women for their walk with God.

Shortcuts in our walk with God lead us nowhere.

What shortcuts have you tried in your walk with God? Where did they lead you? If you were hurt from the experience, how did you recover? Have you recovered?

Why would God want us to avoid following people instead of him?

What does this tell you about God?

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

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The Symbols That Define Us

A 4 by 3 inch slice of wood sits on my desk. Fifteen years ago it served as the stump to a Christmas tree that stood in our living room.

That year, I was struck by the fact that my Christmas tree spent  10 years preparing itself to be the family tree for three weeks. In the same way, I realized, God may spend months, even years, preparing me for significant moments.

I keep the tree sample on my desk as a reminder. In many ways, that stump symbolizes  my values–the existence of God, the potentially redemptive nature of pain, the importance of preparing myself for significant moments.

Symbols Are All Around Us

We live in a world of symbols. Photos remind us of past events. Plaques, trophies, and medals take us back to earlier accomplishments. Tattoos on our bodies reveal untold stories. Perhaps you wear a cross to remind you of the steep price Jesus paid to save you from yourself. The symbols we choose to keep nearby say a great deal about our past and our values.

The importance of symbols cannot be understated. A life without them is a life devoid of meaning and memory.

When the children of Israel crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land, they gathered large stones from the bottom of the river and constructed a memorial on the river bank to remind them of the day God parted the waters to bring them home. The stones did more than tell a story—they taught the people about God.

The greatest memorial in the Christian faith is the Lord’s Supper, which reminds us not only of Jesus’ death, but also the forgiveness Jesus purchased for us, our hunger for him, and the importance of community (hence the word “communion”).

What do the symbols in your life communicate about you?

What symbols are missing?

What symbols shouldn’t be there?

As you revisit the memorials in your life, take a moment to listen. What might God be speaking to your heart?

If anything comes to mind, please share it with us!

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. His favorite symbol is a carved, wooden crucifix that hangs on a wall in front of his computer. 

 

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What Do You Need From God?

“Hello, is this Pastor Mike Klassen?”

“Yes,” I responded.

“My name is Christine and I need help getting out.”

“Getting out of what?” I asked. After an extended pause, she finally answered.

“I’m, uh, uh…I’m a hooker. I live in a house with about a dozen other people. The girls in our house work the streets and the guys in our house sell drugs.”

Then she said something that sent chills down my spine.

“I’m part of a Satanic cult. If they know I’m leaving, they’ll kill me.”

“I’ll do whatever I can,” I replied. “How can I help you?”

“Meet me at the bus station at 11:00 tonight.”

“Okay,” I answered. “One other question, though. How did you get my phone number?”

“Somebody downtown handed me your business card.”

The next week or so was one of the strangest of my life.  At 11:00 that night, my wife, a friend, and I picked her up from the bus station and drove to my church office. I expected to meet someone along the lines of Julia Roberts’ character from the movie Pretty Woman. I quickly learned that the “happy hooker” didn’t exist. The young woman I picked up was obese, unkempt, and smelly. She hadn’t showered in days, if not weeks.

After telling me her story about running away from home as an adolescent, we delved into her involvement with the cult.

“The demons talk to me,” she said matter-of-factly.

“Would you like to make the demons stop talking?” I asked.

While explaining about the power of Jesus, she screamed in pain and jumped on the top of the couch.

“What touched me?” she said.

I looked around the room to see if a bee had flown into the room and stung her. I looked under the coffee table in front of her.

“I don’t see anything,” I explained. “What do you think it was?”

“That’s it!” she cried out, pointing to my right hand. “Keep that away from me. It burned me when it touched my leg.”

Believe me, I’m not making this up.

In my right hand I was holding a Bible.

The next hour or so, we addressed several demons that were harassing her. But we spent a good deal of the time quoting Scripture because we had witnessed its effects on her. That night I learned the true power of the word of God.

It’s no coincidence that God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah, “‘Is not my word like fire,’ declares the Lord, ‘and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?'” (Jeremiah 23:29)

The apostle Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends, also understood this.

Two weeks ago I started a Friday study on the book of 2 Peter. I believe the book has unique relevance on our society today.

At the beginning of his epistle, he writes:

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
2 Peter 1:3-4

Followers of Jesus were suffering persecution at the hands of emperor Nero. They were afraid to depart from the popular emperor-driven cult at that time and acknowledge their faith in Christ. Popular opinion was becoming increasingly intolerant of people who believed in ultimate truth, sin, and salvation through Jesus Christ.

So Peter, who knew Jesus, who had listened to nearly every sermon he had preached during his three year ministry, wrote that we already have everything we need for life and godliness. We don’t need to seek outside help. If we’re following Jesus, then Jesus lives in us.

But how do we access this power?

Through “his very great and precious promises.” And whose promises is Peter referring to? God the father and his son Jesus (the verse immediately preceding this passage says it). The Bible is the record, a testament, of those promises.

I don’t want to offer you a formula, but the word of God is powerful. It gives strength to our souls, encourages us when we’re down, and it burns the powers of darkness.

If you’re discouraged, spiritually hungry, or feeling powerless, I encourage you to feed on the word of God. Don’t just memorize it—meditate on it and let it nourish the deepest place in your soul. Peter writes that through them–God’s promises in his word–we  “participate in the divine nature.” The word “participate” means literally “fellowship,” “partner,” or “commune.” Through the precious promises we connect with God.

And nothing in heaven or on earth that opposes him can stand up to him.

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. He’s still amazed by the power of God’s word.

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What’s So Good About Good Friday?

Have you ever wondered why we call today “Good Friday”? From what I can tell, only English speaking countries call it “Good.” The Germans call it Karfreitag, which means, basically, “Mourning Friday.” Other languages call it “Holy Friday.” Perhaps we chose “good” because “holy” was already taken by Saturday.

But let’s take a closer look at Friday of holy week by reviewing what happened on Maundy Thursday (the subject of discussion for another time):

  • Jesus shared his last supper with his disciples
  • Judas betrayed Jesus to the ruling authorities
  • Jesus cried out to God in the Garden of Gethsemane, asking to bypass the cross, but then relented to the will of his father in heaven. The disciples slept.
  • Jesus was arrested like a criminal and appeared before the High Priest
  • He was mocked and beaten
  • Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends, denied him three times
  • Jesus was delivered to Pilate, then Herod, then back to Pilate, who found Jesus innocent—but then handed him over to be crucified
  • The people who a week earlier were clamoring to crown him king were now shouting “Crucify Him!”
  • Jesus was beaten and mocked.

Doesn’t sound like a good day. But then it gets worse for Jesus. On “Good” Friday:

  • Jesus was forced to carry his cross to Golgotha, walking through crowds that mocked him, spit on him, and hurled stones at him
  • He was then nailed to a cross between two criminals
  • Hanging on the cross, Jesus was mocked by the people he sought to save
  • He experienced abandonment by his father in heaven
  • Jesus carried the sins of the world on his shoulders
  • Then around 3pm, Jesus died

Doesn’t sound like much of a good Friday to me. In fact, if all of the above-mentioned actions were committed against me, I would pretty much consider it a Bad Friday. Or even Sad Friday. Mourning Friday makes more sense. So it doesn’t make sense calling it good.

Depending on how you define “good.”

Oh yes, one other thing occurred on Good Friday:

And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
Matthew 27:50–51 (NIV)

The curtain in the temple is a reference to the veil separating the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place. The Holy Place was the room that priests entered regularly to replenish the oil in the Golden Lampstand, supply fresh bread for the Table of Showbread, and  furnish hot coals for the Altar of Incense.

The Holy of Holies contained one item: the Ark of the Covenant. The lid on the ark was called the Mercy Seat, which the Jews considered to be the throne of almighty God. Only one day a year, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies. Usually, a rope was tied around one foot so if he was struck dead, the other priests could pull him outside without endangering themselves by enter God’s presence.

So a veil separated the two rooms. The curtain in Herod’s temple was 30 feet wide, 60 feet high, and 4 inches thick. It was so heavy that three hundred priests were reaquired to hang it from the ceiling.

For over a thousand years, a veil hung between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies, separating a holy God from his sinful people.

When Jesus died, that veil was torn in two. The divide separating God from humanity was torn. Anyone can approach God in prayer without the assistance of a pastor or priest. Through Jesus’ death on the cross, we have been forgiven and granted access into God’s life-giving presence. And we need no longer live in fear of being struck dead when we encounter God!

Is that good news? No, that’s great news!

The reason for calling today “Good” Friday is a mystery. But Jesus’ death on Good Friday is great news for all of us.

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. If you don’t have plans for Easter and you live in the Denver area, please join us at The Neighborhood Church.

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What Would You Do With $540 million?

At 9pm tonight, at least one person’s life is going to change forever. And chances are, you’re probably wasting time today envisioning yourself as that person.

Do I even need to explain myself?

The big news story today is tonight’s Mega Millions lottery drawing with an estimated jackpot of $540 million. This is the largest lottery jackpot in world history with the winner receiving 26 annual payments of a little more than $19 million or one lump payment of $389 million. Seems to me that going with the lump payment is akin to being giving back $181 million of your hard-earned…umm…I mean winnings.

Your Chances Of Winning The $540 Mill…

Not that I’m trying to rain on anyone’s victory parade, but the chances of winning tonight’s jackpot are one in 176 million, according to the Associated Press. If you think those are winnable odds, take a gander at the odds below. You have…

  • 1 in 1 million chances of being struck by lightning
  • 1 in 10 million chances of becoming U.S. president
  • 1 in 13.2 million chances of becoming an astronaut

Let’s look at it this way: You’re 176 times more likely to be struck by lightening, 17.6 times more likely of being elected president, and 13.3 times more likely of becoming an astronaut. Of course, the odds of winning are in your favor compared to becoming an astronaut who’s elected president and then is struck by lightening.

It’s kind of like that scene in the movie Dumb and Dumber when Jim Carry’s character expresses his affection for his love interest and asks, “What are my chances?”

“Not good,” she replies.

“You mean, not good like one out of a hundred?”

“I’d say more like one out of a million.”

“So you’re telling me there’s a chance!”

I’m telling you there’s a chance! And someone is probably going to win tonight when the winning ticket is pulled at 11pm eastern time.

Richard Lustig has won the lottery seven times and even wrote a book about it where he shares his secrets. He reportedly lets the machine pick the numbers every time.

What Would You Do With The Money?

If you won tonight’s lottery, what would you do with all that money?

Buy that sports care you’ve been dreaming about?

Purchase a small Caribbean island and declare yourself a sovereign country?

Travel around the world—over and over again?

$540 million! Of course, that’s before  uncle Sam gets a piece of the action.

Don McNay, author of the book “Son of a Son of a Gambler: Winners, Losers and What to Do When You Win the Lottery,” says nine out of 10 winners go through their money in five years or less.

This common malady  affects many sudden millionaires. Not long ago, NBA basketball star Allen Iverson declared that he was broke after earning over $200 million in his career. Sixty percent of all NBA players are reportedly broke within five years of retiring. Where does all that money go? You’d be surprised.

Easy come, easy go.

But all of this discussion about getting by on half a billion dollars reminds me of Jesus’ words in Matthew 16:26, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (ESV)

The stories of people who gained the whole world and lost everything are legion.

Eventually, every winner needs to find a reason for living. A purpose. And spending all that money doesn’t meet the criteria. If anything, winning the lottery only exposes and accentuates the real person deep inside. The person you are before you win the money is the person you have to live with after you win the money.

Winning a boatload of money is nice. If it drifts my way, I’ll take it. But it isn’t the key to happiness or purpose.

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. If he wins tonight’s lottery, he wants to form a foundation that plants neighborhood churches around the world. Incidentally, if you don’t have plans for Palm Sunday (April 1) or Easter (April 8) and you live in the Denver area, please join us at The Neighborhood Church.

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Death And The Pillsbury Doughboy

Recently, on a hot afternoon in Arkansas, a woman was sitting in her car in a grocery store parking lot when she heard a loud pop followed by a sharp pain in the back of her head.

When she reached behind her to probe the damage, she felt something warm oozing down the back of her head. She concluded that she had been shot and in her hands she was holding the remnants of her brain.

To avoid any further bleeding and the possibility of her brains rushing out of her head, the woman held her hands tightly over the wound. Her only hope was that somebody would walk by her car, see her in her critical condition, and call an ambulance before she passed out and died.

A few long minutes later, a voice behind her asked, “Ma’am, are you OK?”

“I’ve been shot in the head,” she cried out, “and I’m holding my brains in.”

“Lady, I don’t think those are brains.”

The inquisitor then opened the rear car door and reached to grab something…

“A canister of Pillsbury biscuits in the back seat exploded from the heat and some of the dough hit you in the head.”

When people share their near-death experiences, surely this woman will talk about how the Pillsbury doughboy changed her life.

Death Is All Around Us

Death greatly impacts our lives. We all think about it, dream about it, and do anything we can to avoid it. We work out and eat right in order to delay its inevitable arrival. We lament the departure of our loved ones while watching movies that glorify the living dead, whom we call “zombies.”

Woody Allen once said, “I’m not afraid to die. I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

Death is so extreme, so painful, so…final. When someone dies, you can’t go back and revive the person.

In Ezekiel 37, God escorts Ezekiel to the middle of a valley.  All around them, as far as the eye could see, are piles of bones. Not comatose bodies that can be revived. Not even decaying carcasses.  Dry bones

God and Ezekiel wade through the sea of bones before the Almighty asks his companion, “Can these bones become living people again?”

Assuming this was a trick question, Ezekiel replies, “God, you tell me!”

I can imagine Ezekiel was thinking What do you mean, “Can these bones become living people?”  I’ve seen you do some amazing things. You’ve given me words of prophecy that have been fulfilled. You’ve provided for me and protected me. But let’s get serious—raise the dead? From these dry bones?  God, I’m leaving the answer to that question up to you.

Later, God tells Ezekiel, “These bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off’” (v.11).

At the time, Israel was enslaved by the vastly superior Babylonians. Israel’s strongest and smartest were living in Babylon while the poor and uneducated were struggling to stay alive in what was left of their war-torn country.

The chances of Israel rising from the ashes was about the same as the chances of the dry bones returning to life. All hope was gone.

Then God instructed Ezekiel, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!’”

Soon Ezekiel heard a rattling sound from the bones coming together. Tendons appeared, then flesh, then skin. Bodies appeared everywhere, but they had no life.

The God instructed Ezekiel a second time: “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Come, breath, from the four winds and breathe into these slain, that they may live.’ ”

Suddenly, the bodies began to move. They stood to their feet fully alive. A valley of dry bones transformed into a vast army.

Where are you in this story?

How often do we encounter situations when we expect life, but instead, we experience death?

  • A miscarriage
  • You get laid off from your job
  • A bad investment buries you under an overwhelming load of debt
  • Your marriage fails to live up to your expectations
  • A lifelong dream dies a slow death

I have good news for you.

Just because you’re surrounded by dry bones doesn’t mean they’re going to stay that way. Regardless of what you feel and see, God knows your situation and he’s already at work. The results may not appear like you expect, but God is good, he’s powerful, and he knows what he’s doing.

Like the woman in her car who thought she was dying,  you may think you’re holding your life in your hands, but it’s only the remains of a Pillsbury dough mishap. Your life is in God’s hands.

At this point in our Lenten journey, death is all around us. We see the hopelessness of our own condition. But remember that Easter is coming.

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. If you live in the Denver, Colorado area, please join the for worship on Easter Sunday. You can learn more at http://www.tnc3.org.

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What We Can Learn From Harry Chapin About Making Room For God

In 1973, Sandy Chapin wrote a poem about the disconnect in the relationship between her ex-husband James Cashmore, and his father, a New York City politician. A year later, after initially discounting it, her husband Harry Chapin witnessed the birth of his son. Inspired by the experience and in light of his wife’s poem, he wrote the now-famous song “Cat’s In The Cradle.”

After writing the ballad, he commented, “Frankly, this song scares me to death.”

Cat’s In The Cradle is written from a son’s perspective about his father who is too busy to spend time with him. Despite his many requests to join him in different childhood activities, his father continues to respond with little more than vague promises of spending time together in the future. Nevertheless, the son continues to admire him, promising that someday “I’m gonna be like you, Dad.”

At the end of the song, the roles are reversed. The father asks his grown-up son to visit, but the son responds that he is now too busy to make time. The father then reflects that they are both alike, saying “my boy was just like me.” The song’s chorus utilizes imagery related to childhood (hence the title, “Cat’s in the cradle”). You can read the lyrics by clicking here.

While other songs like Eve Of Destruction generate more consideration about its worthiness for the title of the Hippie Movement anthem, Cat’s In The Cradle at least deserves honorable mention. That song embodies the life trajectory of far too many Baby Boomers (and their kids!).

Every time I read the lyrics or listen to the song, my heart physically hurts. Perhaps it hits too close to home on a number of different levels. I see myself in the song as a son and a father. But I also relate to this song as a child of God. Fortunately, God always, always, always makes time for us.

Ironically, Chapin was either an agnostic or an atheist. In my walk with God, I so easily live as a functional agnostic, behaving as if God doesn’t exist. Even as a pastor and Christian writer.

The Purpose Of Lent Is To Make Room For God

Last Wednesday marked the beginning of Lent. The purpose of Lent isn’t to punish ourselves for our sins over the previous 12 months. The purpose of Lent is to reflect on how we live as functional agnostics, and then make room for God.

To a great extent, observing Lent is the attempt to avoid the pitfalls of this song. How often do we give God the leftovers of our hearts and priorities? Then at the end of our lives, we look back with great regret over the many missed opportunities.

Last month, I realized that I was giving God my leftovers. Despite my many “spiritual” activities, my soul was overwhelmed with a hunger  far deeper than the richest food could ever satisfy. I was becoming the anti-hero of Cat’s In The Cradle. So, I decided to begin my Lenten fast five weeks early. My focus isn’t mortifying my flesh–it’s creating room for God.

So I invite you to join me on this journey.

How do you make room for God? Please share it with us!

If you’d like to see a brief, interesting video about Lent, click on the video below.

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. He’s making room for God by turning off the sports talk and classic rock when he drives. Instead, he’s driving in silence or listening to worship music.

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