Tag Archives: worry

Freedom with a Twist

By Eugene C. Scott

Oppression is chameleon. Throughout human history it has changed its color and adapted itself to every age and every need or right we humans must have. And it’s disguise is always—at first—beautiful, promising. This chameleon usually first promises us safety in a dangerous world, then maybe protection of beloved values, or true peace, or more food, or better wages, and even—paradoxically—freedom. Then somehow, slowly—maybe even unintentionally at times—it changes its color. The trap slams shut and we are caught.

The ancient Israelites came begging Egypt for safety from a famine and wound up enslaved for over 400 years. That was one expensive meal.

In 1789 the French Revolutionaries began an overthrow of a corrupt and absolute monarchy. Freedom, they cried. They wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Then only four years later the Committee of Public Safety began what is now called the Reign of Terror. Up to 40,00 people were killed. The dictator Napoleon followed.

The Russian Revolution in 1917 turned out worse, with an estimated 30 million killed by Stalin’s government. Communist China and North Korea, so-called democratic nations in Africa, and the theocracies of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran have followed suite. To name a few more recent oppressive chameleons. Even the theological American ideal of “manifest destiny” turned murderous.

What is the common denominator in all this oppression? Some today say religion. Others corporations. Some governments. And these are all elements to be sure. But religions, corporations, and governments are made up of people. You and me. Humans are the root of all this oppression.

We are each capable of wreaking it on others or releasing it in the name of getting something we think we need. When I visited that horrific reminder of human oppression, The Holocaust Museum in Washington DC, I realized it was not Nazis or Germans who killed six million Jews. Yes, the murderers wore Nazi uniforms and were mainly German. But beneath those uniforms they wore human skin. This the Bible calls sin. And on this level it is hard to deny.

The good news is we are also capable of resisting oppression. Freedom also comes in many different varieties. Though true freedom is never deceptive nor makes promises of mere safety. Some varieties of freedom come harder than others. With a cost.

Political, economic, religious, personal freedom are the most common freedoms we cry out for. But maybe the most precious freedom is one we avoid at almost all cost: The freedom to not be safe, to cry, to struggle, to suffer. This is the freedom Jesus chose as an expression of his love for us. He freely gave his life for you and me.

Note the difference? Oppression promises to give but really takes. And leaves us no choice in the matter. Only God gives expecting nothing in return. Because God needs nothing.

If anyone ever could become a demanding dictator it is God. Often our cries to God for safety, mere happiness, contentment, a cessation of pain and worry are just that, invitations for God to declare universal marshall law in the name of public safety. But how much more would God’s mighty fist crush us if mere humans such as Pharaoh, Napoleon, Stalin, and Hitler did such thorough work?

So God continually grants us the freedom to suffer. Knowing this then gives us the freedom to love and live as creatures of love.

The ancient Israelites were mud and brick, hard labor, economic slaves in Egypt for over 400 years. But when God tells Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and say to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: Let my people go,’” their freedom is not escaping human oppression. God goes on to say, “Let my people go . . . so that they may worship me.” Worship is an expression of love. Soon enough, faced with a barren and dangerous desert, however, the people are crying out for the safety of Egypt. Give us the leeks and onions of Egypt they tell Moses.

Finally, as these people then stand on the edge of the “promised land” which contains not only “milk and honey” but suffering too, Joshua says, “But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Those gods, like our gods of protective governments and human systems only take because they cannot give us what we truly need. The freedom to receive and give love.

This freedom is costly. But not as costly as choosing safety and other chameleon promises.

Eugene C. Scott is enjoying the freedom he has and is thankful for both the joy and the suffering it brings. He is also trying to see God in daily life, even in tragedy. Join him in the year The Year of Living Spiritually. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following that blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

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Do We Know too Much, See too Much, and Trust too Little?

Mt Sopris

Leaves rustle behind me. A field mouse burrows under the long, golden grass that is my seat. A crow croaks above, his wings send a windy squeak into the stillness. If clouds made noise as they scraped over the high mountain peaks, today I would hear it. It’s that quiet. Stillness. Peace. This day my world consists of the shifting sounds and changing colors of wilderness. The aspens stand on their milky trunks with their gray branches reaching for eternity. A doe and fawn skitter through the meadow, never realizing we are there. I can go only where I can walk, see only to the next ridge, talk only to my friend next to me. For a moment life has narrowed, simple. Glorious.

All this as somewhere war ravages, terrorists plan more cowardice, politicians puff up like self-important peacocks, philosophical debates rage, earthquakes rumble, economies tumble, hunger ravages, homelessness decimates, and world events vast as the sky mount. I know these things because the information age is upon me. Information technology speaks loudly and carries a big stick. But not here. Here I’m journaling about field mice, aspen trees, and crows. Would that our worlds could become this small and contained again.

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: 33:13-36:22

Galatians 5:13-26

Psalm 64:1-10

Proverbs 23:23

INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS

Isaiah: 33:13-36:22: This section of Isaiah describes small, powerless humans in contrast to a vast, fearful world, governed by a powerful seemingly distant, angry God. Rightly we tremble. But is God against us? Are we as vulnerable as we feel? No. “Be strong, do not fear; you God will come,” Isaiah tells us.

Psalm 64:1-10: Again this reading asks us about fear and faith and our place in God’s worlds and heart. Let us take refuge in God not in our own accomplishments and strength.

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

Sitting in this meadow I slowly realize, once again, I lack what it takes to fight AIDS in Africa, prevent earthquakes in Pakistan, support the correct U.S. Supreme Court nominee in DC, house the homeless in Denver, adopt baby girls from China, save the environment, stop war, care for my family, stay fit, love my wife, read a good book, be a friend, love God, and figure out global warming all at the same time. I need it narrowed down. I can’t be global. I don’t have enough mind, heart, and soul to wrap around it all. Technology may have shrunk the globe to a village. But it’s still too big for me. In his book “SoulTsunami” Leonard Sweet writes, “Technology is outrunning our theology and ethics, leaving us panting, helpless anachronisms.” Anachronism I am.

Despite their enormity, at one time most human beings would never have heard about the tsunami and Gulf Coast tragedies, much less be given an opportunity to help. The sun would have risen and set on a day containing worries enough of its own. Each day we are bombarded by more information than we can assimilate or even care about. One of my professors put the dilemma this way: we are camel-age creatures living jet-age lives. Call God shortsighted if you like. We seem to have been designed to function best with narrower boundaries. Sometimes it feels as if a terrible wind has torn down the walls and ripped off the roof of life and we stand naked and exposed to every storm the world dreams up.

Obviously technology is not all bad. I have a nephew who would not be alive without modern communications and medical technology. And hot showers are remarkable. But there is the law of unintended consequences to deal with. The question is, how?

For me these retreats into the wilderness—back in time—help. Through them God enlarges my mind, heart, and soul. When I am hunting I sleept in a tent, have no cell phone access, no cable TV, no high speed Internet, and no idea what was going on in the world. But I am not out of touch. When the enormous worries of the world shove in, I lifted my eyes to the hills and asked, where does my help come from? In response I heard God whisper and even roar in the treetops: I Am here. Time slowed down as golden sunlight chased shadows across the green sage valley for the umpteenth time: I Am timeless, God said. I glimpsed the glistening eyes of my hunting partner: I see and love, God winked. Snow covered Mount Sopris towered, gleaming in the morning sun: I Am almighty, God assured. The weight of the world is on God’s shoulders. Maybe if I let God carry the weight, I can focus on and care about those things I can affect. Thanks God, for whispering louder than a myriad of modern, screaming voices. Thanks for holding the world in your hands. Thanks for narrowing the world down, if for just a moment.   

  1. What do these for passages share in common?
  2. How is God your refuge?
  3. What does your freedom in Christ look like?

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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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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