Tag Archives: promise

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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Facebook states the average user has 130 Facebook friends.  I know people who boast of more than 1000 friends on the social networking site.  Some people challenge each other to see who can “friend” the most people. Quantity often trumps quality.

I enjoy and utilize Facebook. Through it I have engaged in theological conversations with people as far away from my native Colorado as Australia. Reconnecting with long lost friends has been rewarding. And social networking sites allow us to keep up-to-date and communicate with many people we would not otherwise be able to.  A Daily Bible Conversation is just such a site.

To name each of the 493 people listed on my Facebook page as friends, however, stretches the definition of friendship out of recognition. Many of them are acquaintances or contacts at best. Can anyone really be friends with 1000 people or even 130?  I suppose it depends on your definition of friendship.

In today’s reading we see that Jonathan and David’s definition of friendship may challenge many of our modern assumptions about relationships.

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 Samuel 20-21:15

John 9:1-41

Psalm 113:1-114:8

Proverbs 15:15-17


1 Samuel 20-21:15: We catch a candid glimpse of the life of the court of Israel’s first king. Saul is grooming Jonathan as heir apparent and has given him much authority. But everyone, including Jonathan, knows that God has decreed the crown will go to David. The tension and intrigue are high. David must hide from a murderous Saul, who is hiding his hatred for David from Jonathan. The issue comes to a head at the New Moon Festival which was a festival the first of each month celebrating God’s constant provision. Jonathan and David meet secretly so that David will not be killed and Jonathan cannot be accused of treason by his father.

Knowing how common it was for those aspiring to a throne to kill anyone who may be in the way, it is remarkable that Jonathan does not betray and kill his friend. Rather he preserves his life and ensures he will not inherit the throne.

John 9:1-41: The religious leaders of Jesus’ day rightly see him as a threat to their power. And he is, though not through Jesus wresting their power from them but rather by transforming what it meant to walk with God. Once again Jesus heals on the Sabbath. This is not coincidence. The Sabbath laws were fiercely debated and enforced. Jesus consistently chose to heal on the Sabbath and “disobey” their pet law to prove who he was and to provoke them. Though Jesus was not political in the way we view it today, he did spend a great deal of time and energy working against established religion. This angered the religious leaders.

Today many Christians are tireless in their critique of governments and political parties they view as wrong. I do not necessarily disagree with this. But following Jesus, I believe, also calls us to evaluate and reform the religious establishment in areas it has lost sight of Jesus‘ mission and where it is as confused and oppressive as any government is and as the Pharisees of old were.

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Jonathan and David would have scoffed at what many of us today define as friendship, especially the Facebook kind. We shouldn’t castigate ourselves, however. Because we can learn from them. What made their friendship so exceptional?

Close friends often share common interests.  More than that, David and Jonathan shared a deep, living faith in God. They made at least three covenants to one another that they based on their common Hebrew faith.

This covenant also shows they were both intentional about their friendship. They did not just meet in a bar and “hang out.” They chose to walk with one another through some very difficult times.

Giving not taking was foundational. Both were willing to give up their promised future crowns for one another. Jonathan gave up his relationship with his father. David refused to fight back against Saul and gave up his safety for Jonathan.

They were incredibly loyal to one another. Jonathan kept his promise even though his father threatened to kill him. And David kept his promise to Jonathan’s family long after Jonathan’s death.

They shared their passions and emotions, and even affection.

They were not utilitarian. They did not use one another. Each loved the other as he loved himself.

Several hundred years later Jesus would say this trait–loving others as oneself–was second only to loving God.

In the end what made their friendship uncommon was that they held their relationship sacred. They knew it was from God, holy, living, life-sustaining, worth sacrificing career, standing, and fame for. They weren’t “just” friends.

According to a 2004 Gallup article the average American has nine “close friends.” I probably could count that many myself. But as I look at what these two ancient warriors had, I have some work to do in order to have many of those go as deep as did Jonathan and David.

  1. How do you define friendship?
  2. How many close friends do you have?
  3. Is there anyone in your life with whom you have a friendship similar to Jonathan and David’s?
  4. What issues/practices in modern religious life do you believe Jesus would make a point of resisting

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


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