Tag Archives: Creation

Seen Any Burning Bushes Lately?

By Eugene C. Scott

The desert had grown comfortable for Moses. After forty years of caring for Jethro’s sheep, he knew every bush and watering hole as well as he knew the seams and stitches of his old camel-hair robe. When he first arrived in Midian, a fugitive from Egypt and God, wariness was a way of life. He noticed all–the cool slant of the sun in the morning, the twitch of a conies’ ear as he approached an oasis, the heat waves drawing alluring pictures in the midday heat. His nerves jumped at each breath of wind or bleat of sheep. And always he wondered if he had run far enough from Egypt and feared he could never run far enough from God.

Today, however, Moses drowsed as he followed his flock across the desert. His sandals scuffed a rhythm on the hard, dry desert floor. Horeb, the mountain of God, towered in the distance, its long shadow touching the noses of his lead sheep. But Moses noticed not. He had grown comfortable. So it is he walked an hour or more without perceiving the bright light that flickered at the base of Horeb. In the early days Moses would have seen it afar and worried if it were the glint of an enemies’ weapon. Today he shuffled almost upon it before the fire registered. And he only looked up because his flock veered off to the right of the burning bush.

Moses stopped and planted his staff in the dirt between his feet. He sheep continued ontheir well-worn route. Moses rubbed his old eyes and wondered how this bush came to burn. Then slowly he realized the bush was aflame but it did not burn–no crumbling branches, no ember, no ash. “Moses thought, ‘I will go over and see this strange sight–why the bush does not burn up.’” Exodus 3:1-4

Amazing what God resorts to to get our attention. Remember the one time you knew the correct answer to your math teacher’s question and you waved your arm until your biceps muscle seized and your arm plummeted to your desk like a dead weight? And your math teacher never noticed. She called on the kid sleeping and drooling on his desk next to you. I wonder if God feels like that? He burns bushes, throws lightning bolts, and generally makes a nuisance of himself, waving his arms around like an eager fourth grader, and we never notice.

I have a friend who, when he is out in the woods, always sees a deer or elk or coyote or grouse or rabbit or something. I can hike a trail for hours and never see a blessed thing. But then Jay joins me and suddenly the hills are alive. I once asked him if he attracted all these animals by wearing a special scent or failing to shower. He simply smiled and pointed out a six point bull elk watering fifty yards off the trail. Some people are just tuned in.

Jay loves the wilderness so much he becomes a part of it. He has trained himself to notice things most of us ignore. Dead tree branches transfigure into the rack of a buck standing behind a tree, and a flickering, golden oak leaf is really a doe perking her ear at a strange noise. Jay doesn’t miss much.

I’m sure by now you get the point. Most of us are like Moses almost missing God in a burning bush. We might even be worse than Moses and walk right by the durned thing. And the tragedy is God only occasionally speaks through burning bushes. The rest of the time his subtle voice is in the flick of a leaf or the blink of an eye. We rush down the trail of life claiming it leads through a barren wilderness, while God is dropping hints of his love and presence at every turn. Stop, look, listen. God is there.

Hebrews 11:1 reads, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Contrary to popular belief that verse does not advocate blind faith. It commends “the ancients” for hearing God’s voice and seeing his hand in everyday life. They trusted God in the supernatural world because they walked with him in the natural world. We can be certain of what we do not see only if we open our eyes to what God has put before us.

“When the Lord saw that [Moses] had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’

“And Moses said, ‘Here I am.’” But of course God knew where Moses was. Moses was really saying, “I’m here; I’m listening now; speak, my God.”

Life often grows comfortable–we habituate to its wonders. We drive the same route to work. And glaze-eyed notice nothing.  What must God do to get us to say, “I’m here; I’m listening now; speak, my God.”? Usually it’s something that burns like fire.

Eugene often misses God and good things right in front of him. Fortunately God is patient with him and keeps trying. Eugene also co-pastors The Neighborhood Church.

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Size Matters

By Eugene C. Scott

Size matters. Especially to 12-year-old boys. That’s the year, 1969, I began to believe bigger was better. Every Friday night my best-friend Bruce and I would walk to a mall in our neighborhood to hang out. We always hoped there would be girls there. There usually weren’t and, had there been, we would have been afraid to talk to them anyway. Bored Bruce and I would saunter over to Hodel’s Drug Store to buy a bottle of Dr Pepper each. Since we were scrawny kids, we’d buy the biggest bottle of DP available: 16 oz. Then we’d stroll around acting big and sipping our Dr Peppers.

Not my truck

To us size mattered. Bigger was better, especially where Dr Pepper was concerned. By high school, however, we needed something even bigger. Monster four-wheel drive trucks filled the bill. Most Friday nights you could find a dozen trucks with those huge tires, roll bars, and loud 8 track players parked in front of my house. My mom complained they blocked her view of the mountains.

Does size matter?

According to my high school buddies it does (not to mention the spam email industry that promises a magic pill that can enlarge a body part most high school boys value even over their trucks.).

It seems like many people in the modern world suppose bigger is better.

Though many people complain about them, mega-churches are all the rage. In the new church (church planting) world the going philosophy is, “Launch Large.”

Fast food joints offer to “super-size” already big burgers. Thus our waist lines have grown bigger.

Think too of Walmart, The Home Depot, Google, colleges, public school systems, and–please no–big government.

Since growth is usually good and a sign of life–and bigger often means cheaper prices or more services–most of us haven’t given the bigger is better mantra the scrutiny it needs.

But “big” is not a synonym for “best.”

Think of the trend in education. At one time, students learned one-on-one or in small groups led by one teacher. Then communities formed small schools that could educate all the children there. But as communities grew so did schools. As did the size of the problems. Curricula became uniform, teaching to a median rather than specific needs, leaving many kids treading water in a sea of students. Grades and over-all knowledge dropped. This, in part, developed a mind-set of information dumping rather than mentoring.

Standardized testing ignores diversity. This one-size-fits all mentality lends to a loss of individual achievement. To battle that we award students with a generic “you are special” rather than getting to know them and what they are capable of. We can’t; there are too many of them. In large schools discipline problems have exploded exponentially because there are few real, relational consequences.

Big is not synonymous with bad but is often impersonal, cumbersome, unaccountable, one-size (BIG!) fits all.

Big churches have more money for mission and programs. It’s just that they often lose touch with their people. Likewise big businesses offer better deals but few personal services.

Still big has a dangerous down side. Think of the internet. Its main flaw is its offer of anonymity and lack of accountability. But the internet is not evil. Just the aloneness and distance it fosters. Humans were created to be connected. Big strains or destroys that.

I know I sound idealistic and unrealistic. Maybe so. But I remember the problems my friends in high school and I had with those huge trucks. We each owned one (you were not cool if you didn’t) and all drove alone to the same hangouts. Soon we fought over who had the biggest and coolest truck and our friendships frayed. Then OPEC declared an oil embargo and gas prices shot through the roof. After that we all walked together down to the local park and talked and hung out. Life was good.

Whatever you think, I believe the distance this focus on big creates between us as humans is insidious and dangerous. It eventually forces us to be less than human, less than we were created to be.

God faced this same problem. God was so big we could not really connect with him. So he poured himself into a tiny baby, and lived a small life where those within several hundred miles could touch him, argue with him, love him and be loved by him.

Does size matter? God thought so.

Eugene is a recovering Dr Pepper addict, could not afford a real monster truck–so was not very cool in high school–and is not very large himself, but doesn’t have small-man syndrome. He also is co-pastor of the intentionally small but really relational The Neighborhood Church.

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Harry Potter and the Church Part I

By Eugene C. Scott


Like J. K. Rowling’s wonderfully weird invention of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Jelly Beans, her Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and God’s equally wonderful and weird church are both humanity flavored hope. Sometimes they’re sweet and sometimes disgusting.

The truth is Rowling gave Hogwarts the same humanity flawed quirkiness that God created the church to reflect.

In chapter six of “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” a confused but expectant Harry Potter stands on platform nine and three quarters waiting for the Hogwarts Express–a magical train that will take him–for the first time–to Hogwarts, where he will be schooled in magic. Once there, Harry’s life changes dramatically.

In this magical castle filled with moving staircases, strange rooms, stranger people, talking portraits, and ghosts, Harry, among other things, will cement life-long friendships with Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley while discovering that even the best witchcraft and wizardry school is full of quirks and imperfections and–more-so–quirky and imperfect people.

As I have enjoyed J. K. Rowling’s classic stories as pure fun reading, I also have been challenged by some of her deeper themes. Did she, for instance, intend to draw parallels between the mythical castle called Hogwarts and God’s mysterious community called the church?

Intentional or not, the parallels are there.

Relationships Define the Church and Hogwarts

Contrary to popular belief, the church is not a building nor an institution. It is a community. Yes, most often the church meets in a building and–unfortunately–becomes far too institutional. Hogwarts too is a particular place and has rules–most of which Harry breaks. But this is not what defines Hogwarts.

At Hogwarts, Harry, the orphan, finds his family. Through his friendship with Ron Weasley at Hogwarts, Harry is unofficially adopted into the Weasley clan. It is at Hogwarts also that Harry meets his godfather, Sirius Black and is mentored by a father figure, Albus Dumbledore.

Like Hogwarts, the church, first and foremost, is a community. A family thrown together in a myriad of relationships. Orphans all adopted by Christ.

I grew up in what is commonly called a dysfunctional family. We weren’t completely dysfunctional, however. We did two things very well: fight and meddle in each other’s business. What we did not manage was to foster intimacy. We loved each other to the best of our ability. Still my family was a lonely, chaotic place.

Then I became a follower of Christ and was adopted into this quirky, imperfect family called the church. Like Harry, it was in this completely foreign and unexpected place that I discovered true family. I am who I am because of God speaking and working through the family members I have met in various churches. I have served in six churches over the last 32 years. In each one God has introduced me to people who have become life-long friends. We have, as the great theologian and poet Paul said, “carried one another’s burdens.” We have cried, laughed, fought, feasted (a lot), and lived life together. Rowling was brilliant in drawing Harry as a hero who needed friends to accomplish his mission. And Hogwarts as the place those relationships formed and thrived.

This too is us.

The Church and Hogwarts Are a Mix of Angels and Demons

Much to Harry’s dismay, however, Hogwarts is far from perfect. It is there, under the Sorting Hat, that he discovers his own dark side. It tells Harry, “You could be great, you know, and Slytherin will help you on the way to greatness, no doubt about that.” But Ron warns him, “There’s not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin.” Should Harry join the darker, more prone to evil House of Slytherin, or the more benign House of Gryffindor? Each of us, whether follower of Christ or no, face the same choices.

No wonder so many wars and wonders have been wrought in the name of God. 

In Hogwarts Harry battles his nearest enemy, Draco Malfoy. Hogwarts, like the church, contains not just angels but demons (so to speak). In the church I’ve been and met both. Like Harry, all of us who have spent more than 10 minutes in the church carry and have inflicted wounds.

Rowling invents a fictional school that rings true because it is such a real mix of sinner and saint. Just like the church.

If Harry imagined Hogwarts as utopia, he was sorely disappointed. This may be why so many of us give up on the church. We are drawn to its divinity but are driven away by its humanity. Our unrealistic expectations are as much a part of our disappointment as are the actual flaws thriving in the church. I plummet emotionally each time the church–or more correctly people, including myself, of the church–don’t live up to my lofty ideals.

Though I understand well the pain that the church can inflict (from personal experience as well as theoretically), the load that weighs heaviest on my pastor’s soul is trying to convince people that the church is both more and less than they ever imagined. More in that it is about being human and being in relationships while also being in relationship with God.  Less in that it is about being flawed humans who need each other.

And in that way the church reflects humanity and human community perfectly. Harry could have never become who he was born to be without Hogwarts and all the pain, joy, disappointment and triumph mixed together in one.

Imagine had Harry, as do so many people today in regards to church, refused to board that mysterious train bound for Hogwarts, one of the best stories written in modern times would have never come into being. So too, when any of us refuses to join that infuriating, dangerous, glorious, Christ-community God calls the church. What real story might you be missing?

Eugene C Scott is co-pastor of one of those wonderfully weird places called The Neighborhood Church.

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What If “The Hunger Games” Were True? A Book Review

By Eugene C. Scott

What if?

“What if” is frequently the central question submerged in good fiction. C.S. Lewis asked, what if a Christ figure came into a completely different world from the one we know? In answer to his question, Lewis invented Aslan the Lion and Narnia. J.K. Rowling seemed to ask what if there were an invisible, magical world existing alongside ours and in that world of wonderful, powerful magic, love was the most powerful force of all? Hogwarts and Harry Potter sprang to life.

Suzanne Collins, author of the New York Times best sellers, The Hunger Games Trilogy, asked an age-old science-fiction question: what if the world as we know it was destroyed, leaving only a remnant of human life.

Collins’ trilogy tells the sad, violent story of Katniss Everdeen, a 16 year-old girl living in the dystopian world of Panem–all that is left of the United States after a nuclear war–with her emotionally broken mother and her 12 year-old sister, Prim. Panem is divided into 12 districts ruled from the Capitol by a malignant government. The outlying districts function as slave labor. The ultimate tyranny of the Capitol is that once a year two children, ages 12-18, are chosen from each district to compete to the death in The Hunger Games. The chosen children must murder each other with only one walking out scarred but alive.

Collins is a good writer and an even better story-teller; her best talent being pacing. Her prose is nearly invisible and sparse, which fits the story. But the books do contain literary elements. Collins lays in many bigger themes worth mining for, if one chooses to do so.

Katniss is as conflicted and as complicated as this type of story can bear. Her complacency with and repulsion to the evil in her world is realistic. Her search for love and for her purpose is obvious but well told.

Also to Collins‘ credit, the high level of violence fits the story, if not the YA label the book carries. Like Rowling, she is not afraid to kill off several main characters.

These books deserve the stir they have caused and are not only worth reading but are worth discussing.

Especially meriting conversation is one “what if” Collins may not have placed in the books intentionally.

What if God did not exist? Nowhere in the three books is there any hint of a belief in a higher power. It’s as if religion were the main target of the bombs. No character uses spiritual language, even in non-technical, slang ways. When one character close to Katniss dies, Katniss almost pictures an after life, but not quite. No one cries out against God for the evil God is allowing nor does anyone cry out to God for help. Rather a song Katniss’ father taught her, that she remembers in her toughest times, seems to reflect a belief that in the world of Panem, this difficult, unpredictable, unfair, unjust world is all we get.

Near the end of the last book, one character comforts Katniss by telling her humans may yet evolve away from senseless evil and into love. Maybe, maybe not.

This is not a criticism of Collins or the books. The books do contain humor, love, and insight. And Collins may have built her dystopian world this way on purpose. There are two books of the Bible where God is never mentioned. God’s absence there is as powerful of a message as being there. Sometimes a need is best pointed out by its absence.

What would the world look like without God? Unfortunately, because of our refusal to grab God’s outstretched hand, there is violence and ugliness worse than in The Hunger Games. The difference being that without God there is no real reason to believe we can learn and change. Evolution promises no such advances.

Fortunately, God’s presence gives real hope and tangible help. Looking at history the only cultures to seriously slow the march of evil have been those directly impacted by the intervention of God and the Incarnation of Christ. And even those cultures have been flawed. Imagine where we could be without Christ coming? Unintentionally or intentionally The Hunger Games imagines that world.

For my part, this is what I liked about these stories. They left me with questions.

Too much story-telling in the Christian world seems afraid to let God narrate to the reader out of the story and therefore, the human narrator provides pat answers and unrealistic solutions. I believe God can and does speak even through stories that contain no overt mention of God.

It could also be true that Collins may actually believe there is no such Person as God. Thus a fictional world that contains only the slightest thread of human hope may actually exist for her and for many others. I don’t know. Our continual propensity toward evil makes such a belief more plausible.

This, along with a story well told, is what brought tears to my eyes at the end of The Hunger Games Trilogy. I was crying for Katniss as an archetype of the modern person.

Eugene C. Scott is co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church

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All the World’s a . . . Dance: The Trinity and You

By Eugene C. Scott

“Country road take me home. . .,” John Denver warbled from the CD player as our Jeep jolted down the lonely miles of country roads in the Canyon Lands of Utah. “. . . to a place where I belong,” John sang in complete incongruity to how out-of-place we were among the soaring rock formations and sinking canyons breaking the pastel expanse of the desert. We had not seen a home in hours and the last time we did it was a meager, wind-bitten outpost set against this glorious wilderness.

As we pounded out the miles, I wondered why more of us don’t call these wild places home? I remembered I had once dreamed of living alone in a teepee in the wilderness.  Like me, so many of us romanticize rugged individualism and the wilderness in songs, paintings, and books. And many of us yearn for the singular beauty of the desert or an isolated mountain.

Yet the majority of us sink our roots nearer to communities than canyons. Why is it only the hardy hermit or crazy coot can live out in barren places? Certainly the harshness of wilderness life plays a role. That there is no hot, running water, not to mention no Quickie Mart, may indeed be an ingredient. But there were no Quickie Marts for most of human history and even back then folks chose to gather in communities rather than brave the solitude of their vast and wild world. So ease of life cannot be the major factor in why we gather rather than scatter.

I tried variations of my lone wolf in the wilderness dream before coming to the conclusion that not only did I like people but I also needed them.

God is the cause of our need for community. “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image in our likeness. . .’” (Genesis 1:26) This simple sentence contains as much information about human life as a DNA strand. For centuries theologians and philosophers have held those words under their microscopes mining them for meaning. Most have concluded being created in God’s likeness means we derive our personhood, emotions, intellect, will, etc. from God. In other words, all the attributes God shines we reflect–albeit in a severely smoky mirror. We are who we are because God is Who He is!

Thus we come to the words “us” and “our” in that ancient sentence. Here is our first introduction to God as three-in-one. Trinity may be one of the toughest concepts about God to understand. I’ve heard various attempts to describe God’s three-in-oneness. The simple chicken egg, they say, is made of three distinct parts: the shell, the whites, and the yoke, but there is only one egg. Others focus us on complex chemicals to see how God can be three-in-one. H2O can be a solid, a liquid, or a gas, and still be water. Today modern molecular biology informs us that every whole is made up of millions of other wholes. In essence models of Trinity are all around us.

An older and better metaphor for understanding God as Trinity can be seen in the Greek word perichoresis. It means to dance: peri = around and choresis = dance. For thousands of years the ancient Greek Orthodox Church pictured the Trinity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit in a holy and sacred dance.

Eugene H. Peterson, in his book “Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places,” describes it this way: “Imagine a folk dance, a round dance, with three partners in each set. The music starts up and the partners holding hands begin moving in a circle. . . . The tempo increases, the partners move more swiftly . . . swinging and twirling, embracing and releasing. . . . But there is no confusion, every movement is cleanly coordinated in precise rhythms . . . as each person maintains his or her own identity.”

Shakespeare wrote, “All the world’s a stage.” But it may be more true that all the world’s a dance and Father, Son and Holy Spirit are the caller. There is nothing we do without “dancing” with God and others in relationship.

How are we created in God’s image? God is in relationship and we too were created to be in relationship. Our human need for community is not just an analogy of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; it is one of the attributes of God we reflect. Just like God is love and God is just, God is community. The Father exists in relationship with the Son and the Holy Spirit. The great darkness and pain of God the Son on the cross was the breaking of that community for the first time in history. The great victory of the resurrection was the healing of that Holy Community and the mending of the tear in our human relationships with God and one another.

We need to live near other people and be intimate with one another because God created us in their image–the image of Community. Our need for one another is God designed. Therefore, those hermits hacking out a life in the wilds of our world are bucking God’s plan. And John Denver’s longing for home was planted in his heart by God. I love and need the solitude of a desert horizon or mountain vista. I hear God’s voice and see God’s strength in the barren places. But I feel God’s warm arms and know God’s forgiving love and healing touch best when standing among my God ordained community of family and friends.

Eugene co-pastors The Neighborhood Church. More info go to tnc3.org.

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A Postcard from the Pacific Rim: Maui, Hawaii

By Brendan Scott and Eugene C. Scott

Expectations. Most times what we expect to happen trips us up and gets in the way of seeing and experiencing the more oblique, twisted, fun, real side of life. For example on a trip to Maui one would expect a sunburn, sand between the toes, jungle waterfalls, and serious beach time. These would be good things. But when we take off our expectation colored sun glasses, it’s amazing some of the crazy, fun, real things you can experience. On a recent vacation with my family my son Brendan and I decided to record some of the unexpected things we saw and experienced in a blog. Brendan also writes a blog at guatspot.wordpress.com.

Signs from God?

Quick trip to heaven? Turn left.

Some things go without saying . . .

Shouldn’t you also deploy wings?

. . . yet some people still feel the need to say them.

Sign above toilet ——>
<——Can dogs on Maui read signs?

Random Observations:

We’re staying in the same area in which actress Helen Hunt, the “Mad about You” star, lives. Yes, she is still alive and no, she didn’t disappear after “As Good As It Gets.” Consequently we have experienced dozens of Helen Hunt sightings. The only one we can confirm, however, was a week previous when Dave, our generous host, saw her being interviewed by Jay Leno on TV.

We’ve seen as many trucks with surfboard racks as tool racks. And even then many of the tool racks double for surfboards. The question seems to be surf or survive?

And don’t even get us started on convertible Ford Mustangs. Apparently car rental companies have figured out how to get them to reproduce like rabbits.

Multiplying Mustangs

Overheard:

A woman behind us on the beach:“How’d all this sand get in this?”

Dee Dee on seeing a dead mouse on the porch: “I wish I could be brave.  I just can’t.”

A young mother with her daughter climbing down–as we climbed up–to a rocky crag over-looking the vast, wild blue pacific ocean as it pounded onto volcanic rock cliffs formed eons ago. “There’s nothing up there.”

Ashley on the best places to snorkel. “Swimming with dolphins is fun but after a while it’s irritating. You just want to say, ‘Dolphins, stop being so happy!’”

Emmy on snorkeling anywhere. “I don’t need flippers to snorkel. My feet are better than flippers.”

Danger in Paradise:

Our gracious hostess, Linda, loves Maui. She knows its history ancient and modern, (did you know Hawaiian Hula dancers did not–I repeat–did not wear grass skirts), the correct pronunciation of words like humuhumunukunuku’āpua’a
, the best restaurants (Star-Noodle and The Gazeebo), beaches, and activities (Maui Ulalena). Linda is not only a Hawaii historian but a nurse. Thus she knows how and where every shark attack, drowning, broken neck from surfing, freak hiking accident and deadly food-borne illness took place.

Late each night Linda enthralled us with tales of death, danger and destruction. One such tale was of a doctor and his wife being lost at sea in their kayak and how a shark attacked and the wife lost her leg. The doctor washed up on one of the islands and the wife was never seen again. Locals suspect the doctor was the shark.

Linda told another gripping story about nine Japanese tourists standing too close to the edge of the cliff we had climbed the day before. As they stood admiring God’s handy work, a rogue wave smashed against the cliff and washed them all out to sea. Cameras and all. Tragic but there was a partially happy ending. Some Hawaiians dove in and swam over and saved several of the tourists. “Nothing to see up there” indeed.

Danger is sometimes deceptively beautiful.

Paradise in Paradise.

Expectations. We were up at 3am. on day two of our holiday in Maui driving to the 10,000 foot peak of Haleakala Volcano to watch the sunrise. Our rental Ford SUV climbed slowly up the dark, twisty road–the most elevation gain in the shortest distance anywhere on the planet. We arrived at the dormant craters‘ edge at 5am. God had scheduled the sunrise this day for 5:38am. It would be an hour-long show–like watching flowers filmed in slow motion as they bust out of the ground and blossom.

Sunrise over Haleakala Volcano

Spectacular!

Two things:

One: The road less travelled by is sometimes crowded. But still worth it. Several hundred others braved the early hour, the dark, and the cold to witness God reinventing the day.

Two: It amazed us how something so mundane and predictable as the sun rising one more time in a succession of daybreaks that has not stopped since the beginning of time could also be so extraordinary.

 Aloha.

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Is God a Control Freak?

By Eugene C. Scott

There have been times when life has been completely out of control. And there seemed nothing anyone could do to change it, fix it, or stop it.

Even God.

It was as if my life were a passenger jet first wobbling, then looping and finally plummeting out of control. But before it hits the ground I bust into the cockpit only to discover God chatting it up with the co-pilot (and no, contrary the popular bumper-sticker, I am not God’s co-pilot and neither are you), while He is also texting and updating His status on Facebook. In the meantime my life is heading down nose first.

“Who’s in control here?” I shout. “Don’t You know You’re not supposed to text and drive? Grab the wheel. Get a grip!” God simply smiles and shrugs and goes back to texting.

People who believe in God love to talk about God being in control. By this we usually mean that we believe God can and should keep most–if not all–evil, bad, or even slightly uncomfortable situations from befalling us.

Given life’s raft of tornadoes, cancers, marriage break-ups and daily disappointments, it doesn’t seem that God has the same agenda. Is God is in control of this wildly tilting planet of ours? This discontinuity between believing in a loving God and living in an unpredictable world is the genesis of the question “how could a loving God allow (insert painful, devastating life circumstance here)?”

Most of us–even those who don’t really believe in God–understand that an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent Being should be able to prevent the personal and global problems of the world.

Yet life does not reflect any such controlling God. Not mine anyway. To me God seems to be anything but in control. But it’s not just me–or you. Even the Bible seems confused on the issue of God being in control. God did not stop the first two of us from making a bad choice. Then–like dominoes–character after biblical hero stumbles and falls: Abraham, Jacob, Saul, David, Judas, Peter and Paul to name the biggies.

Consider the story of Joseph. God gives him a big dream and then lets his brothers nearly murder him and finally sell him. Israel ends up in slavery for four hundred years. Moses tries defending some poor Hebrew slave and is cast into the desert for another forty years. Yes, Moses eventually sets his people free. But couldn’t God have prevented those tragedies? Wasn’t there a better way? Not according to God.

Or on a smaller scale, couldn’t God have kept my father or mother in this world just a little longer? In Navy terms, God doesn’t run a very tight ship. This pain and struggle that often permeates our lives leaves us a choice. We must believe God is in control and we have done something for which God has removed his controlling hand and let us swing in the wind, as Job’s friends claimed. Or to cease to believe in God, as C.S Lewis once did and so many others have.

Or to rethink how God and control interact.

Love requires freedom. Control kills love’s response. I have complete power over a toy remote control car. Not so a kitten. I can make the car turn left, right, back up, stop. But I can never win love from it. A kitten, however, listens to me not. It runs free and ignores anything I say or do except the opening of a can of cat food. But I can win love from that . . . well maybe using a cat was a bad example but you get what I mean.

A world in which love exists, much less thrives, must favor love and danger over control and safety. Therefore, God, unlike us, seems to eschew control.

If God is not in control, who is? Or is God simply a wimp?

God is no wimp. And God is indeed sovereign. Surprisingly so. In God’s surprising sovereignty prevention of pain gives way to redemption of pain.

In 1990 I was offered my first ordained pastoral position, associate pastor to families in a large church in Bloomington, IL. Dee Dee, my wife, and I prayed, sought advice, studied, debated and decided to accept the position. We moved, lock stock and two young children. A mere two years later spiritually, physically and emotionally broken I was ready to give up this dream of serving God in the pastorate and strap on my carpenter’s tool belt again. The church we went to serve was a broken, dying place. The senior pastor was on his umpteenth affair and the congregation took its pain and confusion out on anyone new and vulnerable: The Scott family.

What was God thinking? We asked for wisdom. God could have prevented the whole thing.

Instead God redeemed it.

In the middle of this came a phone call out of the blue. “I hear from a mutual friend you’re in a difficult church,” the pastor I had met at a wedding in Denver years ago said. For some reason I told this virtual stranger my story.

“Our senior pastor went through something very similar here as an associate pastor. Can he call you and talk to you about our need for an associate pastor to families?”

Almost two years to the day after we moved to Bloomington, we were on our way to Tulsa, OK. We spent almost nine years serving at Kirk of the Hills. Some with equal pain to Bloomington.

But Dee Dee and I return to Tulsa often. Our youngest daughter, Emmy, was born there.  Our oldest daughter, Katie, son-in-law, Michael and two beautiful grandchildren still live there. You see Katie married Michael, a boy who came to love Jesus and my daughter in the Kirk of the Hills youth group.

Redemption indeed. God could have prevented the pain of Bloomington. But he chose a better story! A story of taking our pain and turning it into something more beautiful than any Van Gough, Remington, sunset or seascape.

God is no control freak. I love Him for that.

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How to Know if You’re a Control Freak

By Eugene C. Scott

Several thousand years ago dung beetles enjoyed god-like status. They earned this high honor by toiling day-long collecting balls of dung between their tiny horns and rolling them across the hot desert floor. Some observant Egyptian noticed this little rolling ball of dung resembled the sun’s movement. Soon the belief was born that the sun was moved across the desert sky by a huge, invisible dung beetle.

The Egyptians–and most other ancient peoples–considered the powerful, life-giving forces, such as the sun, water, fire, fertility, in nature gods–or, at least, directly controlled by a god such as a dung beetle. Thus they developed religious and sacrificial systems that they hoped would please these capricious gods. In Egypt essential crops flourished or failed based on the Nile River.  If the gods were angry it might flood and wash all their food away. Or dry up. If the gods were pleased, the Nile might over-flow its banks just enough to water even the most distant fields.

These ancient religious systems became what people turned to when life got difficult.

But it did little good. Unfortunately, still children died, crops still failed, life–like the Nile–still ebbed and flowed seemingly without respect to religious sacrifices.

Today scientists laugh at such superstitious beliefs. We know the sun is not the god Re but a star, not pushed across the sky, but a point earth orbits. Science replaced superstition. We watch the weather patterns explained and pin-pointed on the nightly news. Science has given us cloud seeding, en-vitro fertilization, the cure for polio, and brilliant inventions and technologies by the thousands. When life gets hard we have doctors, pharmaceuticals, technologies, and governments we can turn to.

A phrase from my childhood embodies this faith in science most of our world holds. “If they can put a man on the moon, they ought to be able to __________(fill in the blank).”

Unfortunately, children still die, crops still fail, tornadoes devastate, new diseases spring to life and confound and kill us while paying little homage to our scientific advancements and prowess.

Christians call such total dependence on science foolish. Christians believe there is one God who created all these things science has discovered and mastered. In line with this belief we have designed sophisticated worship liturgies that give people access to deeper meaning and connection with God. Theologians have developed systematic theologies that attempt to answer the big questions about life and God. Gifted preachers lay out the five keys to life with purpose. The promise is that when life gets hard these liturgies, systems and practices including prayer and other spiritual disciplines bring Christians healing and wholeness.

Unfortunately children still die, crops fail . . . .

Depending on your perspective and belief system you may read the three world views above and sing that sweet song from the children’s show “Sesame Street,” “One of These Things is Not Like the Other?” And each–superstitious, scientific, or spiritual–is a very different way to understand and live in the world.

But they also each have a foundational similarity. Control. Or more accurately a desire to control. The ancient Egyptians lived in a dangerous, unpredictable world. Any thing that promised even a modicum of control over that world was welcome. And their superstitious practices fit the rhythm of the seasons of life just often enough to hold out the promise of control over the mighty Nile like a carrot on a stick.

Science too, especially in its naive early days, flat-out promised to wrest control from nature and lay it in our hands. And the promise has often been fulfilled. At least tentatively. Antibiotics, heat and air-conditioning, cell-phones, air travel all put us above and beyond nature. But just as often, or more so, science has not fulfilled its promise of control. We did put a man on the moon but we often cannot fill in the blank that would give us the cure to this or that disease or the answer to so many questions. Never-the-less, most of us believed and still may.

Christian spirituality also often degenerates into attempts to control God and his world. Systematic theology unwittingly promises that if we understand God we may know how to get him to do our bidding, purpose driven lives are lives we can likewise understand and control, prayers of Jabez seem to bind God to expand our borders, and five keys to a happy life, word of faith theology, pocketbooks of God’s promises, frenzied scripture memory programs all–even, like science, though they contain some truth–appeal to our deep desire to live in a world we can keep under control.

The truth is from ancient Egypt to modern science to today’s  Christian spirituality we are control freaks.

But superstitious behavior nor mighty dams nor words of faith will tame the Nile much less God.

“Vanity, vanity, all is vanity,” wrote King Solomon. By this the great king did not mean that the pursuit of knowledge scientific or spiritual is vanity. But trying to use that information to gain control over things, people, and especially God is foolish.

Fear grows in neat garden rows fertilized with the promise of control. What if I lose control? is the weedy question that grows here. And it strangles faith. Because faith flourishes in the open fields littered with rocks and pot holes and dung. In this field faith is not the thing we use to control God and life but the thing we use to believe God is good and loves us in a life that sometimes is not under control and is not going the way we expected.

How do you know if you’re a control freak. Pinch yourself. Are you human?

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Creation Carries a Cost, Beauty a High Price

By Michael Gallup

My wife is a talented seamstress and knitter. She has given herself to use the gifts and talents God has given her to create. I have seen the joy that this new work has given her and it has inspired me. There is something remarkably beautiful about seeing this woman create. However, like anything of worth, it is often hard for her to do the very thing she loves.  And, if we’re honest, we all have the same struggles.  Why is that?

Throughout the age of the church perhaps the biggest theological debate has been over the problem of evil.  This is a debate that still stirs us today and can be summed up in a simple question: “If God is good, then why do bad things happen?”  If God is all the things that make Him God (omnipresent, omniscient, all-powerful, all-knowing, holy, loving, etc.)  then why or how could His creation look so, well, ugly sometimes. The ground was not even done cooling before Eve sunk her teeth into that Pandora’s box of a fruit.  Couldn’t He have seen this? Couldn’t He have prevented this? Why even bother in the first place?

I will not pretend to have the answers to these questions.  Men much wiser than I have grappled with them only to be left defeated. Yet, I believe I know at least a piece of the puzzle.  God is daring.  Creation always has been and always will be risky.  To literally give of yourself to make something unique, to truly write something beautiful, takes sacrifice.  God gave us His image and in doing so, He knew what He was risking but I believe He knew it was worth it too.  He was willing to give what ever it took to finish His work.  He knew that man would have the capacity to be like Him and He was willing to share His glory, and yet almost before He could finish calling His work good, it no longer was.

Going back to my initial question of why we struggle to do the things we most love, it may be that deep down, in the God-image part of us, we know that it may cost us everything. We know that there are things out there, that if we let them, we will love so much that we will die for them: peace, equality, food for the hungry, and so on.  And we just aren’t sure that we are truly ready to sacrifice. It is frightening indeed to face the end of ourselves and not know, I mean KNOW, how it will all pan out.  Praise God that He does not leave us alone there in the fear; He has shown us the way.

As I said, creation cost God. But it would soon cost Him everything. In the incarnation, God became flesh in the man of Jesus. He lived amongst us for several reasons, but most of all, to restore the Father’s prize. I love how human Jesus is at times. In the Garden before His betrayal, He felt most pointedly the sacrifice He would have to endure and for a moment wished it didn’t have to be. And on the cross, in agony, cried out to His Father the same question many of us in the dark night of our soul have been too afraid to ask, “Why have you forsaken me?”

In Jesus, God lost everything: His glory, and His life.  Yet in Jesus, we gained everything: His glory and His life!  That, my friends, is truly beautiful indeed.  Beauty is not free, it may cost us everything, but it has always been and always will be worth it.

******

We welcome Michael Gallup as one of the “servers” at the Neighborhood Cafe. Michael will be writing our Monday blog. Michael once had a truck named possum. He is a member of The Neighborhood Church (tnc3.org) and is attending Denver Seminary. He writes a blog at www.asprigofhope.blogspot.com

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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

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

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.”

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THE WORD MADE FRESH

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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