Wisconsin Trip

Well, we’re back and we had a great trip. Our friends are doing well, staying in his parents basement for now while they get their house ready and wait on their stuff to be delivered. We stayed there too. His parents were generous enough to go stay in their camper in the barn while we had their room and the kids got the spare room.
The part of Wisconsin that they live in is beautiful. It was cloudy most of the time and drizzly, but not too cold. His parents have about 80 acres. The house, two barns, garage and a couple other small buildings are all in one corner of the property. The field that he farms is about 150 feet up a steep, rocky hill. Byron, our girls and I climbed the hill to the field and walked through the woods to the rock overlook to look down on the house on Thursday morning. That afternoon we went 6 miles down to their place and took a tour of their 103 acres by ‘Mule’. By ‘Mule’ I mean a small 4WD Kawasaki mini truck. The women and all the girls rode in back and he and I up front. Their place is more rolling hills, with the farm land in 7 different fields separated by steeper or wooded areas. They have just the house and a 2 1/2 car garage and a barn that has fallen down. Their house is small but cute 2 bedroom with arches in the doorways and an unfinished walk up attic that will become their master bedroom someday.
That night at dinner we noticed that Emily had a tick on her chin, probably from the woods at his parents place. We were in a nearby town and his brother’s vet clinic was nearby so we stopped in after dinner and had him check it. Ended up that Emily had 4, one on the chin, two behind her ear and one in her hair. Jessica had two, one in her belly button and one we found later in her arm pit. Jessie was ‘freaked out’ (her words) but Emily wasn’t phased at all. My friend found one later too. Only Audrey and I came out of the woods clean.
On Friday we went to this place called House on the Rock. It started as a get away house in the country that a guy built on the top of this rock that stuck up out of the ground. He built it to get away and study art. It’s grown into this museum that includes a tour of the strange house that uses the actual rock for some of it’s walls and then his eccentric collection of various items, doll houses, circus models and lots of other stuff. The house includes a glass walled ‘infinity room’ (see the picture) that is cantilevered 218 feet over the valley. You can look straight down through a glass ‘table’ at he end. It was kind of spooky as you can feel the thing move around a lot as you walk out there. He and I were pretty uneasy about it (it moves a lot) while the women and the girls just went on out. A central theme to the museum is the guy’s fascination with using air, like the bellows of a player piano, to make musical instruments play. There must have been a dozen of those playing every kind of musical instrument. Some have been converted to CD’s and they just look like their playing, others actually work. The one’s that work don’t sound real good. There was also a neat collection of old music players, most from the 1800’s. There were several that played huge discs, 2-3 feet in diameter for a single song. They also have the worlds largest carousel, but you can’t ride it or even walk around it. It’s a real strange (and large) collection of stuff. From there the women went in to Madison to scrapbook while he and I took the kids home. He took me by some enourmous power generating windmills near there on the way which was cool. The afternoon was pretty nice and the kids spent most of it on the trampoline.
We spent Saturday around the house relaxing. The girls had fun with his brother’s kids playing around the farm. They have cows and a couple of horses there. Jessie (my 9 year old) really wanted to ride, but they didn’t think the horse was tame enough. They also had two new calves and a real young horse (all less than a week old). Jessie learned to drive the go cart, amazingly enough. She did pretty good, with me sitting next to her, and wanted to take everyone for rides. We took another ride around their place in the Mule so he could collect soil samples to get analyzed.
Sunday morning after church in Madison we had butter burgers, fried cheese curds and custard and it was off for Ohio. All in all, a rather mundane and unremarkable collection of activities for the most part, it was the company that made it fun. We really miss those guys. It’s great to have a relationship that can make riding in a cramped, open truck on a cold, damp day collecting soil samples fun. We’re looking forward to going back.

Vacation Time

The family is heading off on vacation tomorrow. Leaving at lunch and we’ll be back late on Sunday. We’re heading off to visit our best friends who moved to Wisconsin in December. I don’t think I’ll have much opportunity to post while I’m gone. Normal blog activity (such that it is) will resume when I return.

Is God in Control?

Back in the spring of 2003, I had a couple of conversations with men I respect greatly. The first was with Paul Frederick, then a member of my local church. The second, only days later, and after his message during a Kingdom Kids conference, was with Douglas Jacoby. They both put forth their opinion that we tend to abuse the idea that “God is in Control.” This was something I hadn’t considered, and the fact that each of them had presented the same basic idea independently, and within days of each other, prompted a study of the topic. This paper, written in the fall of 2003, is the result of that Bible study. It was originally published by Douglas Jacoby on his website on October 1st, 2003. An interesting thread at VirusDoc inspired me to post it here.
Does asking that question bother you? It does me a bit. Ask me that six months ago I would have answered immediately, “Yes, of course!” That response would have probably been accompanied by a skeptical look, and perhaps questions about your faith. What were you thinking, asking such a question? In the church, we’ve been told (and told others) over and over, “Don’t worry, God’s in control.” “You need to have faith, God’s in control.” “You just need to let go of that and be confident that God is in control.” It seems like heresy to question it, but question it we must. Satan loves it when we accept things unquestioned. I believe one of his most powerful weapons is to take God’s foundation of truth, remove just one brick or two, replace them with his own inferior bricks and hand it to us to build on. It looks a lot like God’s foundation, and in fact they are almost identical. Satan just hopes that we won’t examine it too closely and discover his alterations. Over the past months of revolution, re-examination and revelation, as we’ve examined our church’s foundation, I’ve really looked deeply at my own, what I believe and why. One of the many things I’ve come to a conviction on is that the statement “God is in control.” is not completely accurate.
Certainly God is sovereign; he created all that we see. Nothing we see would exist if he hadn’t set this whole universe in motion. We did not decide how many fingers man would have, the rotation and order of the planets or what is right or wrong. God did that. (See Job 40 & 41) Certainly God has more knowledge of the workings of the universe and the inner confines of each of our hearts that we ever will. Science tries to understand the universe but every answer it finds brings more questions. Psychologists and doctors probe the inner workings of the human soul but still can’t figure it all out. Also, there are things that we have no say in at all, like when Jesus will return and how to judge the world. So, at the most basic level of all it is most certainly God who is in control, but does that equal control on all levels? Perhaps a better question is “What has God decided not to control?”
To say simply that “God is in control” implies that he is intimately involved with everything that happens, massaging every situation so that it will come out as he would like. If you believe that God is good and he loves you, there is comfort in that. If God is in control, then I don’t need to be concerned with anything, all will be fine. It seems to match the spirit of Mathew 6, where we are commanded not to worry. I hope you can see, though, the slippery slope that statement is. It can quickly go far beyond just being content and free of worry to apathy. If God is in control, I don’t need to challenge that brother on his sin; God will take care of it. If God is in control, I don’t need to question my leaders; God is guiding them. If God is in control, I don’t need to deal with my own sin; God will guide me in the right direction. If God is in control, I don’t need to share my faith; God will bring people into the kingdom. If God is in control, we can absolve ourselves from responsibility and use it as an excuse to not be concerned with doing the right thing.
Certainly, God’s sovereignty and omnipotence is not questionable, but does that equal total control? Not necessarily. Does a lack of control equal a lack of involvement? No! Consider this imperfect example of an automobile. If you go down to your local Ford store and buy a new Ford, you could say that the designers and engineers at Ford were ‘sovereign’ over your new car. They developed the specifications, designed the components, tested them, assembled it and delivered it to the dealer. They will be involved in it too, sending out maintenance bulletins and recall notices if necessary and providing you with documentation like an owner’s manual. But you, not Ford, will be in control of the car. You decide how fast to drive it, where to drive it, how often to drive it, what type of gas to use, when to change the oil and if it should be washed. Ford will give you recommendations on many of these things, but you may ignore them if you choose. If you do, however, you may suffer the consequences of premature failure of your car. If so, Ford will have no sympathy, rightfully so, and will not be held responsible for the repairs. You ignored their rules at your peril.
I believe that God operates in a similar way. He has created a world for us and that world is governed by laws, both physical and spiritual. Those things are constant. Gravity always pulls down and with the same force, lying is always a sin, the sun rises in the east and love never fails. But what if they were not constant? What if God did manipulate every situation attempting to make everything alright regardless of our actions? I would not want to live in such a world and I am quite grateful that our God does not behave that way. Malachi 3:6-7 says that God set things up this way so that we would not be destroyed. Imagine waking up in the morning, not knowing whether fire would burn you or not or if gravity was going to work that day. What if there were situations where it was alright to lie or sex before marriage was acceptable? It would be chaos! Much of the world operates under these ‘conditional’ morals and look at the mess it is in. No, our God has lovingly given us freedom. But with that freedom comes a heavy responsibility to seek out what exactly is God’s will and do the right thing. God is in control only to the extent that he set the rules in place that govern our lives. This is not because of a limitation in God’s ability. No, he is certainly able to control it all. He has chosen not to and gives us the complete freedom to do as we please.
OK, I’ve talked enough; let’s consider some examples from the scriptures.
• In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve had the choice to eat or not from the tree of life. They chose to eat and had to live with the consequences of their disobedience for the rest of their lives (and so do we!). God certainly didn’t control their eating.
• Joshua 7, we read the story of Achan’s sin. Achan decided that the treasure was worth the risk. Not only did he pay for it, but his entire family and 36 others died as a result. Did God unmercifully kill these men and women? No, Achan stepped outside of the rules of God and the consequences were severe.
• Later, in Joshua 10, we see God stopping the sun over head. God temporarily suspended the physical laws he had set in place, why? Because Joshua, a righteous man on a Godly pursuit asked him to so. Was it God’s idea to stop the sun? No, it was Joshua’s. He simply did not want to let sundown leave the work of God unfinished. (I’ve often wondered about those who knew nothing of this battle. As they worked that day, what did they think as the day wore on, and on, and on …)
• In Isaiah 37, it might be said that Isaiah 37:26 or Isaiah 37:28-29 show that God was in control of the situation, dictating the outcome. Look, though, at the entire passage. In Isaiah 37:21-22 God sends a message to Hezekiah through Amoz. He tells him that he has said these words “Because you have prayed to me concerning Sennacherib king of Assyria”. Was God unaware of the sins of Sennacherib before Hezekiah prayed? No, he is sovereign and omnipotent, and it seems clear from the passage that God knew exactly what was going on. However, it was the action (prayer) of a righteous man the moved God to act and bring down a king. The implication is that God was willing to do nothing and let the evil stand as long as the righteous did nothing. But one man prayed and God unleashed his army and killed 185,000 men and saved his people. So, was God in control, or was Hezekiah?
• In the parable of the sheep and the goats in Mathew 25, it is the lives and actions of the people that determine which group they will be placed in. It is not God’s choice, he is simply judging them by the rules he set up. God made the rules, but the people are in control of the outcome.
• In Acts 5 Ananias and Sapphira lied about their gift in order to look good in front of the disciples. They lost their lives as a result. God did not strike them down arbitrarily; they let their pride and desire for praise from men sear their consciences to the point that a lie was acceptable. Once Peter exposed their sin, they paid for it with their lives.
The list of examples goes on and on. Throughout the Bible, people rebel against God or seek him and submit to him and receive the consequences, good or bad, of their actions, but what of God’s involvement in the world? One of the reasons we pray is the hope that God will respond to our prayers and get involved. If God simply set up a world with boundaries and rules, why bother to pray? Why ask anything of him at all? Why not just simply study the Bible intently and do our best to do right? It seems a bit depressing to think that we may be on our own here!
But look at those passages again and you’ll see a pattern. God indeed gets involved, but mainly after being invited. God revealed Achan’s sin after Joshua and the elders reacted in alarm and petitioned God on what to do. God stopped the sun at the request of Joshua so he could finish the job. God sent an angel to slaughter 185,000 enemy soldiers and turn back a king after Hezekiah prayed. God struck down Ananias and Sapphira after Peter challenged them on their sin. God got involved because of the actions of righteous men. The notion that 18th century British parliamentarian Edmund Burke put forth is true, “Evil triumphs when good men do nothing.” In each of these situations, if the righteous had done nothing, evil would have had a victory. (Interestingly, look at the motives of the men in these examples. They were passionate for God’s honor not their own safety, security or well being.)
Interestingly, the results of the actions are frequently disproportionate to the actions themselves. Little acts of faith and obedience by the righteous equal huge actions from God. Just before the story of Achan, Joshua and the Israelites simply marched around Jericho and the city implodes. Hezekiah says one prayer and a king and his entire army are routed and destroyed. Peter challenges a lie (some might even water it down to an exaggeration) and two people loose their lives and the entire church ramps up its respect for God’s standards.
Does God act without our request? Certainly! I believe that he is constantly calling out for righteous men to take a stand for him. He called many men throughout the Bible – Moses, Jonah, Gideon, Paul, David, Jesus’ 12 disciples and others. But take note, each one of these men could have said no. Jonah did, but God didn’t give up that easy. In fact, we have no idea how many others stood at that burning bush and walked away. How many Jonah’s were digested instead of repentant? Even in the times that God started the conversation, men were in control of the outcome. Perhaps God, through his spirit and the scriptures, is calling you to something. What is your answer?
So what’s the point? Well, it isn’t to put God in a box and clearly define the limits of his responsibly or dominion. We’ll never fully know that, and it would be foolish to think that we could, especially in a short paper like this. And certainly the point is not to crush your faith and make you doubt whether God is with you or not (although perhaps a better question than ‘Is God with me?’ is ‘Am I with God?’). No, the point is to more fully understand the nature of God and how he relates to us and how he loves us. He loves us enough to keep his hands off and let us find our own way, but when (and if) we call on him, he stands ready to respond in ways we can’t even imagine (see Psalm 18 and Ephesians 3:20). Even more than that, the point is to take a sober look at our lives and understand the consequences of our actions and the depth of our convictions. We cannot have a shallow understanding of the Bible and simply ‘go with the flow’ and expect that, because God is good, things will be OK.
God has put the responsibility on us to determine what’s right and to act accordingly; we must not try to put that burden back on him. In this sense, God is not in control—we are.

03/20 Numbers 10:1-34, 9:15-23, 10:35-36, 11

Numbers 10:1-34, Numbers 9:15-23, Numbers 10:35-36, Numbers 11
Num. 10:29 – All through Exodus, Moses’ father in law was called ‘Jethro’. Here is says, that Moses’ father in law is either Hobab or Reuel, it’s not clear to me which name the text is refering to. Additionally, Ex. 18:27 says that Moses had sent him back to Midian. I’m confused. Perhaps the father of an unnamed wife?
Ex. 11:1-3 – Is it just the complaining that angered God so? Simple ingratitude or was it the subject of their complaint? The Bible does not say what they were complaining about, just ‘hardships’. In the NT we are admonished to do everything without complaining (Phil. 2:14) and to be joyful always (1 Thes. 5:16). Evidenly it offends God greatly when we fail to acknowledge how he cares for us, putting our troubles in perspective. Num. 11:20 even calls it a rejection of God.
Num. 11-10-15 – Even Moses joins in the whining.
Num. 11:18-23 – This is an interesting ‘spat’ between Moses and God. It’s hard to know what to make of this passage. God seems spitefull and vengeful here. It is not the God of patience or tolerance but the jealous and angry God. What, if any impact should this have on my worship of Him? Does His actions here make him less than the perfect God that I want to be? Just because He has a temper does that make Him flawed? It seems that God is the definition of perfect. His actions are the standard we should live by. If so, do passages like this one give us freedom to be angry and vengeful? Do they silently make such behavior acceptable? Is it perhaps the context that makes this OK? If so, what about it? These type of passages are tough to reconcile with the picture of God we get from Sunday School, the picture we want to believe in. I don’t want to just say it’s good just because I want it to be, I want to know why it’s OK. If we acted this way, would God condemn us? It would seem hypocritical for Him to, and I don’t believe that He would. There must be an explination that is out of my reach at the moment.

03/17 Numbers 3:14-39, 4, 3:40-51

Numbers 3:14-39, Numbers 4, Numbers 3:40-51
Num. 4:1-15 – Related to my February 25th post, it was the responsibility of Aaron and his sons, and I assume the priests to follow, to take down the curtain and use it to cover the ark and then put the poles in place. The ark was covered and therefore the Kohathites protected from accidentally touching it. See also Num. 4:17-20. In 1 Chron. 13 a man dies as the ark is transported (on a cart, uncovered) and is often talked about as a pasasage that shows God’s harshness and uncaring nature. But looking at these passages, it’s clear that God set things up so that those charged with carying the ark would be protected. Poles to carry it with made it easy to do, and it was covered with 3 layers of fabric or hides. Additionally, the priests (Aaron and sons) was cautioned to be sure that they watch out for the Kohathites and make sure they are not put in danger. In 1 Chron. 13 these instructions and cautions are not heeded and a man pays for the shortcut.

Are you a greeter?

No, I don’t mean the blue vested retirees at the door of Wal-mart. What I mean is, in the morning, are you the one to say”Hello.” or “Good Morning.” or do you typically respond to someone else?
A few years ago I had the great pleasure of working for a year side by side with my best friend. We lived near each other, so we carpooled as well, getting in a little prayer time together on the way. It was a year I would not trade for anything. Byron is a man with an uncanny insight into people’s character, ever observant of their demeanor and behavior, looking into their soul. Not long after starting there (I had been there for several years), Byron pointed out that the owner rarely greeted anyone in the morning. He was almost always there first, but rarely seemed to even notice that we had come in until we said “Hello.”. Byron also pointed out that I was the same way. I came in and went to my desk to get started on the day, oblivious to the other humans in the room. Byron would go out to the shop and say “Hi” to everyone before sitting down. He confronted me on that. Frankly, it was something I had never thought of. It wasn’t that I intended to ignore folks or didn’t care, I was just in my own little world I guess.
Well, Byron has moved to another state and I’ve moved on to another job. Recently, though, two new guys at the office have refreshed my memory. They’re both greeters, it’s rare that I say “Hi” to them before they say “Hi” to me. In fact, there have been times that I hear “Good morning!.” from over the wall and I hadn’t even noticed them.
I have to wonder, as a disciple, would Jesus be a greeter? I have a hard time coming up with a reason he wouldn’t be. So, again, as a disciple, shouldn’t I strive to be a greeter too? Not so much to beat folks to the punch, or to be that annoying happy-go-lucky guy that’s so perky on Monday morning, but doesn’t it say a little something about me that I can arrive in a building full of people I know and not even notice them? What is so important on my mind that I can’t pay attention to those around me long enough to say “Hi”? Does it say anything about how much (or little) concern I have for them? Now, I’m not saying that all non-greeters will go to Hell, but it seems to me that a Christian ought to be in tune with the people around him, their demeanor, what they are all about, who they are, at the very least to say “Hi”. We ought to strive to care about their hope and fears, their dreams and struggles. Why would they tell us that if we didn’t even see them there? In order to love, we have to be aware, and being a Christian is all about how we love.
So, are you a greeter?

03/15 Numbers 9:1-12, 1-2

Numbers 9:1-12, Numbers 1-2
Num. 9:1-12 – One year later. The memories of that night must have flooded to mind. I think about one year ago for me. It was about that time that Henry Kriete’s infamous letter came to light about my family of churches. It forever chagned not only how I view my church, but God and my own faith. I’ve realized that I cannot take my knowledge for granted nor cna I just rest on my knowledge. I must keep digging and striving for truth. Truth is elusive to those who think that they’ve already found it.
Num. 1:46. – 600,000 plus men. It seems like a lot for three or so generations from Joseph. From 12 families to 600,000+ in three or four generations? And that’s just the men of fighting age, no women, no children, no elderly. Do I misunderstand the time frame?
Num. 1:47-54 – Nor does it include the Levites!

03/14 Numbers 3:1-13, 7-8

Numbers 3:1-13, Numbers 8:5-26, Numbers 7, Numbers 8:1-4
Num. 3:11-13, Num. 8:16-18 – A trade. How did it feel to be a Levite and set apart by God like this? On one hand, encouraging, to be chosen by God! On the other hand – no freedom. Certainly they could walk away from their duties, but wouldn’t that mean walking away from God and Isreal too?
Num. 8:5-13 – Shave their whole bodies! Ouch.
Num. 8:23-26 – Cool – you get 25 years free of obligation and manditory retirement at 50.
Num. 7:10-88 – I wonder why the Bible repeats the same offering 12 times? Why not just say “Each tribe gave …” It seems like you could just skip to Num. 7:84-88 (and I did) and get teh whole picture. Is the repetition supposed to mean something to me?

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