Tag Archives: Peter

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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Is Prayer a Waste of Time?

By Eugene C. Scott

Late one night after supper Jesus and his friends stole through the dark, dangerous streets of Jerusalem, talking quietly among themselves. Once out of town, Jesus led them to a safe and silent place to pray. Something wicked loomed on the horizon. And Jesus knew he needed a miracle to face it. They climbed a hill to an ancient olive garden. The gnarled tree trunks, as big around as the massive mill stones which pressed their olives into oil, stood supporting the speckled sky. Their maudlin shadows crisscrossed on the ground and Jesus’ somber mood transformed Gethsemane into a many-pillared temple.

In this shadowy sanctuary Jesus stopped the procession saying, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Peter, James, and John touched their Lord tenderly and nodded their willingness to do anything. But the long day of travel, and the heavy Passover meal, the wine, and the quiet, dark night overwhelmed them and, though Jesus prayed so passionately he sweat blood, they dropped off to sleep. Twice Jesus interrupted his prayers to wake them, but each time they lolled off again.

How could they sleep? Didn’t they suspect what was coming? Couldn’t they stay awake and pray? Those are the questions we ask of this story in Matthew chapter 26. Jesus too asks these questions. He also answers them.

“The spirit is willing, but the body is weak,” he asserts.

So why do we spend so much time chastising the sleepy disciples? They were tired! They were human! They were self-centered! These are not profound observations. Sinful, weak human beings tend to fall asleep–no matter what (just ask any long-winded pastor). We also make promises we can’t keep. Moreover, we lie; we gossip; we kill! This is not new information. These are just a few of the sins Jesus bore on the cross for us. They are why he had to face that torture.

The real question this account stirs up is not why the disciples can’t pray but why Jesus does? Wasn’t he already in tune with the Father?

Not without prayer.

Jesus prayed because he knew facing life alone, in this case death, equals the height of folly. Clement of Alexandria called prayer keeping company with God. Today we would call it “hanging out.” Jesus constantly sought the company and wisdom of his Father. Prayer simply helped Them hang out. Why hang out with God?

Jesus said it this way, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.” The Gethsemane story exists not to portray slothful disciples, but to teach us the first function of prayer–keeping company with God. Notice that Jesus’ garden prayer produces no spectacular miracle. No angels rip open the heavens and rescue him. He simply rises from his knees with new strength–strength derived from keeping company with the Father.

“Rise, let us go,” he says calmly. “Here comes my betrayer.”

Is prayer time for you to “hang out” with God? Or is it a tool to manipulate miraculous escapes? Yes, Jesus asked for an escape: “may this cup be taken from me.” But in the end Jesus knows the deepest miracle is the change inside him not a change in his destiny. “Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

In the end, peace comes not from burning bushes, miraculous escapes, or bolts of lightning, but from time spent talking, listening, arguing, sitting in awkward silence, hanging out with God. Prayer activates osmosis, unclogging our poluted hearts and allowing peace to permeate our lives. Are you in need of a miracle? Try what Jesus did. Pray. Keep company with God.

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Presto Chango!

When I re-introduced myself at my twenty year high school reunion, most of my classmates simply gaped. I was unrecognizable to them. Not just because I had grown older, but because I had become someone entirely different. One long-lost friend said, “Eugene, we voted you most likely to be dead.”

In a way he was right. I had died. All most of them could remember about me was that I was a good [sic] source for drugs and that I had flunked my sophomore year and had disappeared (dropped out) in the fall of my junior year. There are no pictures of me in the yearbooks, even my name was expunged for what would have been my junior and senior years.

I had died. At least that angst driven, drug addicted, confused, human IED I was back then had.

Robert McKee, in his book Story, writes that we humans don’t “take any risks we don’t have to, change if we don’t have to. Why should we? Why do anything the hard way if we can get what we want the easy way?”

How is it then that I had changed (again not gray hair, wrinkles, and a bit of a gut) so in twenty years? McKee was right. It was not easy and it came at the cost of two lives.

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

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

2 Samuel 20:14-21:22

Acts 1:1-26

Psalm 121:1-8

Proverbs 16:18

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

2 Samuel 20:14-21:22 David, with God’s help, solidifies his rule of Israel. But he is getting old and even his Psalm is more about looking back than reaching for what God has ahead. Even great men like David seem to forget to live in the present and hope in the future.

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

Every story has a turning point. Robert McKee calls it the “negation of the negation.” This is the point in a story where the worst that could possibly happen does–and then gets worse. Nothing changes, truly changes, in our stories until this point.

For Jesus’ friends nothing could get worse than Jesus’ awful death. They are grief stricken, deflated, finished. Every dream, hope, and plan for their world to get better was nailed to the cross and drained of life.

But wait! Jesus conquers death, is resurrected! Now he’ll show those Romans and those unbelieving religious people. Now Jesus’ll set things right. Jesus’ll get ‘em.

But instead of using his power to conquer evil, he wanders around for forty days eating fish and teaching and saying cryptic things such as, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

I can imagine the folks at the back of the crowd, confused looks on their faces, asking, “Who’s this Holy Spirit guy? We’re his witnesses? What does that mean?” Then Jesus floats off into heaven.

Things just got a whole lot worse. Jesus has disappeared in a cloud and left the entire revolution up to losers like Peter and Bartholomew and you and me. This is the plan, however, the true turning point. But they don’t know that. We know the end of the story, they don’t. This is it for them. Only now are they ready for change. And change they do.

In The Message, in his introduction to Acts, Eugene Peterson writes, “The story of Jesus doesn’t end with Jesus. It continues in the lives of those who believe in him. . . . [T]hey are in on the action of God, God acting in them, God living in them. Which also means, of course, in us.”

We only change if we have to. The easy way would have been for Jesus to bodily stick around. Jesus, it seems, never did anything the easy way.

I’m glad for that because I was dead at sixteen, out of earthly options. Then one of those “who believe in him,” two thousands years after the fact, showed me the One who had given his life for me. Then and only then was I changed!

  1. Do you agree that we must be forced to change?
  2. Do we have a different perspective on pain than does God?
  3. Can you name a time of the negation of the negation in your 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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Quick, Define Forgiveness

When I was eight or nine I would stretch out in front of our record player with my chin cupped in my hands and listen over and over to a story about a courageous boy who saves a horse he loves from being gored by a bull in a bull fight.

I can still hear the terrified squeal of the horse, the roar of the crowd suddenly sputter and die, the pounding of hooves, the strong, rich voice of the narrator describing the young Spanish boy, sombrero askew, red scarf flying,  gripping the mane of the horse as he flies from certain death over the gate of the bull fighting arena and to freedom.

I listened to that record until I wore the stereo needle and my mother out.

I can’t remember the name of the tale, or the boy, nor many of its details.  I can, however, remember how I felt as if I were that boy: fearless, selfless, making my little life count for something much bigger than anyone around me thought I could.

That story taught me the meaning of bravery and sacrifice like no dictionary definition ever could.  Stories do that.

What is God saying to you through today’s stories?

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

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

2 Samuel 19:11-20:13

John 21:1-25

Psalm 120:1-7

Proverbs 16:16-17

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

2 Samuel 19:11-20:13: One could spend hours trying to understand the how and why of the betrayal and intrigue just in this section of Scripture alone. And doing so might yield some fruit. It might also make one miss the salient point of the story: How much are we each like Shimei, Abishai, and Joab in our betrayal of and double dealing with God? And how much is God like David fearlessly pouring undeserved grace on each of us?

John 16:1-33: Notice the details in this narrative. It’s early in the morning, Peter is unclothed, Jesus builds a fire, they catch 153 fish, Jesus has appeared to them three times. What do these details add to the story? What do they mean? At the very least they mean the author, John, was present and these details spoke to him. What do they speak to you?

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

How much help do you believe the following definition would be to someone who had just been lied to, hurt, or betrayed by a loved one?

Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary says to forgive is “to grant pardon for or remission of an offense, debt, etc.” or “to cease to feel resentment against” someone.

It’s a precise, accurate propositional statement. Good for reminding yourself of what you may not be doing or for reciting in a test, but it’s flat and lacks life, is virtually powerless to produce what it so well defines.

Imagine if when informing us of David regaining the throne, the author of 1 Samuel 19-20 simply wrote, “David granted pardon and ceased to feel resentment against” those who had joined Absalom in betraying him. The Old Testament would be a lot shorter and  profoundly less difficult, complicated, meaningful, and memorable.

So too with how in John 21 John recounts Jesus forgiving Peter. John could merely have listed the facts:

  • Previously Peter denied Jesus three times.
  • Jesus comes to the shore of the lake.
  • Peter swims ashore.
  • Jesus asks Peter if he loves him three times.
  • Peter answers yes three times.
  • Jesus cooks some fish.
  • Everyone is happy.

If you recited those facts for a quiz about this section of Scripture you would earn an A, or close to it. But would you know, feel, and understand what forgiveness is? I doubt it.

Therefore, God instead had John show us forgiveness in the story of how Jesus interacted with Peter.

I can see Peter standing in the boat embarrassed, not over being physically naked but emotionally so. I can hear Jesus strong, rich voice asking, “Do you love me?” I, like Peter, hear Jesus’ unspoken, “I love you.” The question and Jesus’ unspoken affirmation are filled with the warmth of love, like the fire Jesus is tending. And in that moment I am Peter. I draw near Jesus’ warmth and I remember how much I hurt him and how much he loves me. I look in his dark eyes and I feel his grace fill me. I weep. Like Peter, I am forgiven.

God’s stories do that.

  1. What details of these stories spoke to you?
  2. Do you learn better by memorizing facts or hearing a story?

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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