Tag Archives: happiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah: 22:1-24:23

Galatians 2:17-3:9

Psalm 60:1-12

Proverbs 23:15-16

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

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

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

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

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

THE WORD MADE FRESH

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  1. What do these for passages share in common?
  2. When have you felt in the right time and place with God?
  3. What passage spoke most to you?

If you’re reading this blog on Facebook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here. www.bibleconversation.com.

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

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Gilligan’s Tiki

Although I rarely see the program on television anymore, I absolutely love watching Gilligan’s Island. Something about Gilligan makes me laugh. Did you ever notice that somehow they always had enough food and their clothes never wore out? And despite the fact that various guests appeared on their program from week to week, they never escaped the island.

From time to time, Gilligan and his friends were confronted by voodoo, headhunters, and witch doctors. Scariest of all were the Tiki idols with magical powers. They terrified Gilligan.

In today’s reading, we’re going to explore the power of idols to change us into mysterious characters.

Please join me!

TODAY’S READING

1 Samuel 22:1-23:29
John 10:1-21
Psalm 115:1-18
Proverbs 15:18-19

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

1 Samuel 22:1-23:29. The locations where David chose to hide from Saul were very intentional. By hiding in Moab, David was likely hoping that the people would look favorably on him because he was part Moabite—remember, his grandmother Ruth was from Moab. He then moved to the forest of Hereth (close to Hebron) in Judah, which offered him protection by people of his own tribe and a little distance between him and Jerusalem.

Next, we read that Saul ordered the killing of all the priests (and their familes) at Nob, because Ahimelech helped David. This action was so outrageous that Saul’s own men refused to participate, except for Doeg the Edomite. By virtue of his name, we know that Doeg wasn’t an Israelite, so he probably held few if any religious convictions. By ordering the wholesale execution of an entire city of priests and their families, Saul likely alienated himself from a large contingent of priests across Israel. Slowly, Saul was losing his grip on Israel while endearing David to the people.

Later we read that David moved toward the desert of Ziph, which is further south of Jerusalem and full of canyons where he and his men could hide. Strangely enough, Saul and his men couldn’t find David, yet Jonathan did.

John 10:1-21. One of the ways I glean from a Scripture passage is by asking, “What does this passage tell me about Jesus?” Here’s what our reading from John tells me about Jesus:

  • Jesus calls his sheep by name. He knows my name!
  • Jesus’ sheep belong to him.
  • Jesus leads his sheep—and they follow.
  • Jesus is the protector of his sheep.
  • Jesus’ intent on coming to earth is to give us an abundant life.
  • Jesus is the good shepherd, not the bad shepherd.
  • Jesus never abandons his sheep, as opposed to the hired hand.
  • Jesus knows his sheep and his sheep know him.
  • Jesus lays down his life for his sheep.
  • Jesus has other sheep too, who abide in other flocks.

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: http://www.bibleconversation.com.

THE WORD MADE FRESH

All too often when I read about idols the Bible, I think of little wooden statues of odd-looking people or animals. However, idolatry is as much of a problem in our society today as it was in the time of the psalmist.

In Psalm 115:2–8 of today’s reading, the psalmist describes the futility of idol worship:

2 Why do the nations say,

“Where is their God?”

3 Our God is in heaven;

he does whatever pleases him.

4 But their idols are silver and gold,

made by the hands of men.

5 They have mouths, but cannot speak,

eyes, but they cannot see;

6 they have ears, but cannot hear,

noses, but they cannot smell;

7 they have hands, but cannot feel,

feet, but they cannot walk;

nor can they utter a sound with their throats.

8 Those who make them will be like them,

and so will all who trust in them.

Basically, the psalmist is saying, idols do nothing for us, so why trust in them?

So what constitutes an idol for you and me? Anyone and anything apart from God whom we look to in order to find peace, happiness, and significance.

If you still aren’t sure what might be identified as a potential idol, look at how you spend your money and your time.

For me, I wrestle with allowing material possessions to be an idol. A month ago, I purchased an iPhone, subconsciously assuming that it would improve my life. It hasn’t. Later this week I’m purchasing a new (used) vehicle because I’m giving my old car to my daughter. Yet I must continue reminding myself that a new vehicle will fill the hole in my heart as much as an iPhone.

The most revealing verse in our reading above—to me at least—is verse 8: “Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.”

We become what we worship.

If we want to become more like Jesus, then we must make him the object of our worship and trust him completely to bring us the peace, happiness, and significance that we desire.

I certainly don’t want to resemble a stupid cell phone!

CONVERSATION STARTERS

  1. What spoke to you in today’s reading?
  2. Who was your favorite cast member on Gilligan’s island? Why?
  3. What idols tempt you? How effective have they been at bringing you peace, happiness, and significance?
  4. What does John 10:1-21 tell you about Jesus? How does it encourage you?

If you’re reading this blog on FaceBook and you’d like to join the conversation, click here.

www.bibleconversation.com

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

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