Tag Archives: worship

How the Movie The Return of the King Calls Us to Worship

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King is one of my all-time favorite movies. Not only because it is one of few movies adapted from an even better book that didn’t slaughter the story (Nerd alert! I’ve read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy a dozen times). And I’m not alone in my assessment. It was a critical and box-office success and won eleven Academy Awards, including Best Picture.

But I loved The Return of the King because it told such a big engrossing story. Like all good epics Peter Jackson’s movie connected the small everyday lives of its characters: Frodo, Sam, Strider, Legolas, Pippin, Faramir, and gang with a struggle much bigger than themselves. Save Middle Earth from slavery and death. The film deftly shows each individual character’s role in that cosmic battle.

Like The Return of the King, Worship is Epic

Epic stories well-told, such as The Return of the King, become classics because they strike a chord deep in our souls. Instinctively we want to be part of the chorus singing about the significance of life, if even singing from the back row. Or to return to a movie metaphor: simply to be even an extra in the army of Gondor might be enough to give our lives meaning.

This is because God created us to be a part of something grand, epic, so to speak. That is what that strange activity called worship is supposed to do: connect our small, everyday lives to something–or more so, Someone–bigger.

What Blocks Worship?

Donald Miller, of Blue Like Jazz fame, calls this living a better story. Worship is the door through which we enter a better story, God’s story. Unfortunately the story conflict often blocking the way is not a malicious ring, or Sauron but daily drudgery. Doing dishes, watching the news, rushing here or there. Forgetfulness.

Maybe we ignore God’s casting call to play even a small role in God’s Grand Story because we think we are miscast, or unable, or we believe there is no such thing as a Grand Story. Yet, as I wrote in my last blog, there are no expendable crew members for God. You are not miscast as a worshiper. It’s the role you and I were made for. Most people, when asked what they would do with large lottery winnings, say pay off debt and then do something big, like help the homeless. Worship. And, as to belief, even non-theistic scientists search for the meaning of life, the answer, the Big Bang. Again worship, just not of God.

We were created to worship God. This is why moutainscapes, brilliant music, the flick of a bird’s wing, or the birth of a baby freeze us mid-breath and leave us seeking more. They tantalize our earth-bound imaginations. Encountering these mysterious moments free our imaginations while at the same time worship of God anchors them to something real, not just fanciful.

Worship is More than Filling our God Tanks on Sunday

Sadly even many who believe in God have forsaken this gorgeous gift from God, unless it be the rare gape at nature.

For many the trappings of religion are what deaden the desire to worship God. Church does not often feel epic. Worship has become a show, or duty, or a time and place to get what we need from God. Worship today is filled with purposes and propositions and practical applications. All the while keeping the true mystery of communicating with God miles from us.

In Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places” Eugene H. Peterson debunks this popular view of worship. He writes, “Fear-of the Lord [his biblical term for a lifestyle of worship] is not studying about God but living in reverence before God. . . is not a technique for acquiring spiritual know-how but a willed not knowing [italics mine]. It is not so much know-how we lack; we lack a simple being there. Fear-of-the-Lord nurtured in worship and prayer, silence and quiet, love and sacrifice, turns everything we do into a life of ‘breathing God’.”

Much church worship is anything but breathing God. Worship is simply “being there.” Where? In the Presence of God.

Add Worship Back into Your Life’s Menu

But just like when some meals are bland and wolfed down only to fill our empty stomaches, we do not stop seeking that one gourmet meal set in an ambiance of laughter and delight, so too we need not give up the wonder of worship simply because we have turned it into fast food.

Next time you see a movie or read a story or view a sunset that makes you yearn for something bigger, give in to the urge and turn your eyes to God. It’s God calling, trying to connect you to something epic, Someone bigger than yourself. Go ahead, worship.

Eugene C. Scott believes the command to love God with all we are is an invitation to worship. Join him in the year The Year of Living Spiritually. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following that blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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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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Is God Boring?

The words “adventure” and “worship” are not often used in the same sentence except when modified by the word “not.” Most people view worship as a passive activity at best, unless you belong to one of those congregations that stands up and sits down a lot or allows dancing and rolling around the aisles.

No, words that come to mind in terms of worship are silent, safe, sedate, and unfortunately boring. The greatest Sunday morning adventures may be in getting your reluctant kids to worship or in gulping down enough caffeine to make it through the sermon.

What is worship really 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)

Malachi 1:1-2:17

Revelation 21:1-27

Psalm 149:1-9

Proverbs 31:10-24

Thank you again for the honor of making this journey with you. I hope you join us right here for The Neighborhood Cafe: A Faithblog Community after the first of the year.

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

We don’t get worship. Most of the time we think worship is about singing our favorite hymns or songs or hearing a good sermon or practicing meaningful traditions. We feel good about going to church if we “get something out of it.” We often treat going to church like a trip to some kind of self-service spiritual filling station.

But Psalm 149 draws a very different picture of worship. Not only does the psalmist surprise by using fun words such as “rejoice,” “glad,” “joy,” and “delight,” to describe corporate worship but  he seems to believe worship is not about getting something out of God but rather connecting with God.

In worship we are to rejoice in our maker and be glad in our king. And God in turn delights in us, his people. Worship is not about perfect music and polished sermons. Worship is a relationship. God thinks it’s fun to be with us.

Annie Dillard writes about this kind of worship in her book Teaching a Stone to Talk: “A high school stage play is more polished than this service we have been rehearsing since the year one. In 2,000 years, we have not worked out the kinks. We positively glorify them. Week after week we witness the same miracle: that God is so mighty He can stifle His own laughter. Week after week, we witness the same miracle: that God, for reasons unfathomable, refrains from blowing our dancing bear act to smithereens. Week after week, Christ washes the disciples’ dirty feet, handles their very toes, and repeats, ‘It is alright—believe it or not—to be people.’”

This is not such a strange concept. There are many times where we simply enjoy being with family or friends. We may be playing cards or taking a walk or sipping tea. The activity is not important; being together is. And trying to get something out of being together is often counter-productive.

In a world of a thousand demands and distractions, God calls us into a time and place of focus. “Sing to the Lord a new song.” Bask in God’s presence. Worship. It may seem to some a waste of time, boring, irrelevant, outdated. But in reality what greater adventure could there be than being with 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.

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Revelation: The Most Misused and Misinterpreted Book in the Bible

The end is near. It’s true. For those of you participating in Daily Bible Conversations with us, we are almost done. Twenty-three days to go. For me it’s been a fabulous journey.

But that’s not what I mean. Today we begin reading the most misused, misunderstood, and misinterpreted book in the Bible: The Revelation of Jesus Christ. Revelation, the last book in the Bible but the first book in the library of those predicting the end of the world.

Predicting the end of the world has always been a popular past-time. But does Revelation actually predict the end of the world or does it have a larger more hopeful message?

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)

Joel 1:1-3:21

Revelation 1:1-20

Psalm 128:1-6

Proverbs 29:18

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

At first disturbing glance, Revelation does seem to predict the end of the world. Near the beginning of the book John of Patmos reports that, “the time is near,” though he doesn’t say exactly what time. Then a few verses later, John continues, “Look he [Jesus] is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him . . . .” From there, as Eugene H. Peterson writes in The Message, a “rush of color and sound, image and energy leaves us reeling.”

We read of scrolls and seals, censers and trumpets, angels and devils, dragons, destruction and doom, judgement and, finally, a new Jerusalem. Many have connected these vague symbols and metaphors to current events and in so doing predict the end is near.

Hal Lindsey became famous (or infamous) doing this. He reported there was a three-story computer (this was 1974) that could give a mark to every human on earth, a code, the equivalent of 666. The computer was supposedly nick-named “The Beast.” It turns out the computer was pure fiction. Using this system of turning symbols into literal events, people, or things, Lindsey predicts, “Within forty years or so of 1948 [when Israel became a nation] all these things could take place.” If he was right, we’ve all been “Left Behind.”

But to be fair, Lindsey was not the only one to read Revelation as a literal prediction of the end of the world. Also the symbolic language of Revelation is complex and confusing. It is easy to get lost trying to interpret them and miss the bigger themes of the book.

The most powerful theme is worship. John is in worship when he receives his vision and from then on every person, nation, and creature in the book ends up bowing down, voluntarily or involuntarily, in worship. Praise, adoration, and servitude fill the book. “Holy, holy, holy,” all heaven sings. Maybe many of these symbols are not to be wrestled into literalism but rather are there to show poetically how all of God’s amazing creation will fall before him in worship.

If so, Revelation is not so much a prediction about how and when the world will end but rather a description that when the end comes, God will be triumphant over all. And our response to that great victory will be to rejoice and worship him.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow captured this truth in his Christmas poem written during the seemingly endless pain and evil of the Civil War. John Gorka musically rearranged this hymn/poem as a more modern Christmas song:

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day

I heard the bells on Christmas day

Their old familiar carols play,

And wild and sweet

The words repeat

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

 

I thought how, as the day had come,

The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along

The unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

 

And in despair I bowed my head;

“There is no peace on earth,” I said,

“For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth good will to men.

 

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:

“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep:

The wrong shall fail,

The right prevail,

With peace on earth, good will to men.”

 

Till ringing, singing on its way,

The world revolved from night to day,

A Voice, a chime,

A chant sub-lime,

Of peace on earth, good will to men.

It may be by God’s design we are reading this difficult book at Christmas when our hopes our supposed to soar. Because, though the world seems to be spiralling toward a horrible and destructive end, Revelation is a vision not of a fearful end of the world, though there are terrifying visions there, but a picture of the culmination God’s powerful redemption that began on Christmas Day. Revelation envisions a hopeful end of pain, fear, death, sin, Satan, and all that opposes God. But it is not the end of the world. Rather Jesus proclaims from his throne, “I am making everything new.” Let’s celebrate.

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.

THE WORD MADE FRESH

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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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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Community: God’s Design for Life

Robert Turner Last Light on the Canyon

Scientists claim the world’s largest living organism lurks in a forest in Utah. Actually they assert the world’s largest living organism is a forest in Utah–an enormous aspen grove to be exact. Since all aspen trees in one grove originate from and remain connected to the same root system, an entire forest can be one organism. Anyone who has planted aspen trees knows you cannot plant just one. Aspens don’t thrive alone.

Neither do humans.

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 23:1-49

Hebrews 10:18-39

Psalm 109:1-31

Proverbs 27:13

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.

Psalm 109:1-31: This is what some call a trouble and trust psalm. The psalmist begins reciting his troubles. Most often they are complaints against enemies. That brings up the question: what kinds of enemies and troubles do we have that are similar or different from the those in Psalm 109?

Also, why, if God knows what we face, recite our troubles to him?

Notice too that the recitation of trouble leads to eventual trust. These poems are a condensation of the stories of our lives. Writing these psalms let the author see God never stopped working. 

THE WORD MADE FRESH

Despite our penchant for rugged individualism, we are more like those tremulous aspen trees than we care to admit. Babies perish when abandoned. Feral children, such as the mythical Pecos Bill are just that–a myth. But what about us adults? Loosing the apron strings and striking out on our own are good and time-honored traditions in America.

But individuation does not eliminate our need for other humans beings. Point out person who has struggled alone through the tough soil of life and I’ll show you a person with a heart as cracked and scarred as a graffiti marred tree trunk. Loneliness and its painful side-effects are rampant in our culture. Sociologists consider Americans the loneliest people on earth. A recent study reported 67% of us are spending less time with friends than ever. Americans live in a virtual disconnect from one another. What about your corner of the world?

Grandmothers are miles from their grandchildren, neighborhoods are empty by day and locked down by night, marriages are broken, fathers are absent, friendships collapse under distance and time constraints. Many of us resemble a withering aspen tree slowly dying after being severed from the tap-root of true community.

This simply points to God’s complex design in us. Like the aspen, we sprout from our family roots and become unique individuals. But we were never designed to thrive alone.

Notice, however, that, although aspen trees are clones, they are as distinct from one another as are snowflakes. In God’s delicate balance between independence and interdependence we have over-loaded the scales toward an isolating independence.

Our interdependence necessitated God create an even larger living organism than the aspen grove in Utah. Presently there are over two billion people in the world who claim to be followers of Christ. The Apostle Paul called this organism the body of Christ. Today we call it the Church. The name doesn’t do it justice. Too often the word “church” pictures a steepled building sitting passively on the corner of First and Main. But church is not passive. The word originally stems from the word “gathering.” For followers of Christ, it depicted a group of people gathered to actively support one another in Christ.

Personally, I have experienced the followers of Christ gathering around me and my family to carry us through illnesses, the loss of loved ones, financial disasters, and the other ubiquitous struggles of life.

Facing just one of those hurdles alone could have spelled collapse. My life has resembled that person’s in the famous poem “Footprints,” with one major exception. When I look down at the sandy beach, I do not see the lone footprints of Jesus as he has borne me through trouble. I recognize hundreds of prints. There, along with the sandal mark of Jesus, are the barefoot prints of my children, the firm, small impression of my wife, the booted imprint of my best friend, the jumbled prints of my family, and the multi-sneakered stamp of the people of God. It’s like coming along behind the track of the Boston Marathon, except it’s the track of the body of Christ.

One of the early followers of Jesus had a similar experience. He wrote, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as we see the day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:25) There is strength and hope in gathering with those trying to live as Jesus did.

Lest I paint too rosy a picture, I know the Church is simply a meeting of flawed, and sometimes broken, human beings. Look at any aspen tree, scarred, crooked, creaky. As anyone can attest, the body of Christ has serious blemishes. Many of us, myself included, have been crushed rather than carried by the Church. There is no excuse for inflicting judgmental pain on others. But I have found healing for even those wounds in the Church. And because I have found isolation from God and God’s people to be more painful than the occasional footprint on my heart, I will no more give up going to church than I would shun grocery shopping because I was mistreated in a grocery store.

God’s design of all creation is purposeful and wonderous. The Church is as beautiful as any aspen grove. Are you one of those withering aspens cut off from the root of God’s community? There is relief. Find a shady spot among God’s gathered and sink new roots.

  1. What does your community look like?
  2. Which passage spoke most to you?
  3. What did the four have in common?

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

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