Questions that Get to the Heart of Life

computer-tomography-62942_1920In his book, Seeing with New Eyes, David Powilson offers some very helpful diagnostic questions to uncover the ways we find life and significance apart from God.

On these questions, called “X-Ray Questions”,  Powilson writes

“The questions aim to help people identify the ungodly masters that occupy positions of authority in their heart. These questions reveal ‘functional gods,’ what or who actually controls their particular actions, thoughts, emotions, attitudes, memories, and anticipations.”

Consider these questions as a way to get to the bottom of your heart, to identify and confess the sin and “functional gods” you might be looking to for life, worth, and significance, but more than that, to be at the point where you come to the end of yourself and find the loving, grace-filled arms of God meeting you in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I would suggest using these as part of a daily, weekly, or monthly review of where you are in relationship to your goals and aspirations for your devotional life and walk with God.

1. What do you love? Hate?

2. What do you want, desire, crave, lust, and wish for? What desires do you serve and obey?

3. What do you seek, aim for, and pursue?

4. Where do you bank your hopes?

5. What do you fear? What do you not want? What do you tend to worry about?

6. What do you feel like doing?

7. What do you think you need? What are your ‘felt needs’?

8. What are your plans, agendas, strategies, and intentions designed to accomplish?

9. What makes you tick? What sun does your planet revolve around? What do you organize your life around?

10. Where do you find refuge, safety, comfort, escape, pleasure, security?

11. What or whom do you trust?

12. Whose performance matters? On whose shoulders does the well-being of your world rest? Who can make it better, make it work, make it safe, make it successful?

13. Whom must you please? Whose opinion of you counts? From whom do you desire approval and fear rejection? Whose value system do you measure yourself against? In whose eyes are you living? Whose love and approval do you need?

14. Who are your role models? What kind of person do you think you ought to be or want to be?

15. On your deathbed, what would sum up your life as worthwhile? What gives your life meaning?

16. How do you define and weigh success and failure, right or wrong, desirable or undesirable, in any particular situation?

17. What would make you feel rich, secure, prosperous? What must you get to make life sing?

18. What would bring you the greatest pleasure, happiness, and delight? The greatest pain or misery?

19. Whose coming into political power would make everything better?

20. Whose victory or success would make your life happy? How do you define victory and success?

21. What do you see as your rights? What do you feel entitled to?

22. In what situations do you feel pressured or tense? Confident and relaxed? When you are pressured, where do you turn? What do you think about? What are your escapes? What do you escape from?

23. What do you want to get out of life? What payoff do you seek out of the things you do?

24. What do you pray for?

25. What do you think about most often? What preoccupies or obsesses you? In the morning, to what does your mind drift instinctively?

26. What do you talk about? What is important to you? What attitudes do you communicate?

27. How do you spend your time? What are your priorities?

28. What are your characteristic fantasies, either pleasurable or fearful? Daydreams? What do your night dreams revolve around?

29. What are the functional beliefs that control how you interpret your life and determine how you act?

30. What are your idols and false gods? In what do you place your trust, or set your hopes? What do you turn to or seek? Where do you take refuge?

31. How do you live for yourself?

32. How do you live as a slave of the devil?

33. How do you implicitly say , ‘If only…’ (to get what you want, avoid what you don’t want, keep what you have)?

34. What instinctively seems and feels right to you? What are your opinions, the things you feel true?

35. Where do you find your identity? How do you define who you are?

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Sin as Vandalism of the Life We All Want

Quote

banksycosetteokBelow is one of my all-time favorite quotes, highlighting that what we experience is not life as we want it, nor as it was meant to be.  Something has gone wrong and hijacked God’s good intention for all of Creation.

“The webbing together of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfillment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom. We call it peace, but it means far more than mere peace of mind or a cease-fire between enemies. In the Bible, shalom means universal flourishing, wholeness and delight — a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, a state of affairs that inspires joyful wonder as its Creator and Savior opens doors and welcomes the creatures in whom he delights. Shalom, in other words, is the way things ought to be….

In sum, shalom is God’s design for creation and redemption; sin is blamable human vandalism of these great realities and therefore an affront to their architect and builder.”

Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Not the Way Its Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, (Wm. B. Erdmans Publ. Co., 1995)

Facets of the Gospel (2): Wrath

Came across this quote in my study this week on Romans 1:16-32, and thought it particularly helpful in thinking about God’s wrath as it relates to the gospel and “all ungodliness and unrighteousness”.

Picture taken from NCPR website. Click picture to go to news source link.

Pippert here is extremely helpful in seeing how we have no problem with the concept of “wrath” when it comes to “unrighteousness” – predominately effecting life in the “horizontal” dimension (e.g. injustice, wrongdoing; against “neighbor”). But if we live in a world created by a “higher power”/Supreme Being/Creator, should we then not be surprised that there is a wrath provoked by our genuine neglect or lack of regard for said Creator (i.e. “ungodliness”; ingratitude, unresponsiveness, arrogance toward, etc)?

Here’s the quote and the question to ponder is:

“Why would we have a problem with God’s wrath against all sin and it’s effects, if we have any problem with sin’s effects in the form of cruelty, wrongdoing and injustice throughout the world?

“We tend to be taken aback by the thought that God could be angry. how can a deity who is perfect and loving ever be angry?…We take pride in our tolerance of the excesses of others. So what is God’s problem?… But love detests what destroys the beloved. Real love stands against the deception, the lie, the sin that destroys. Nearly a century ago the theologian E.H. Glifford wrote: ‘Human love here offers a true analogy: the more a father loves his son, the more he hates in him the drunkard, the liar, the traitor.’… 

“The fact is that anger and love are inseparably bound in human experience. And if I, a flawed and sinful woman, can feel this much pain and anger over someone’s condition, how much more a morally perfect God who made them? If God were not angry over how we are destroying ourselves, then he wouldn’t be good and he certainly wouldn’t be loving. Anger isn’t the opposite of love. Hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference…. How can a good God forgive bad people without compromising himself? Does he just play fast and loose with the facts? ‘Oh, never mind…boys will be boys’. Try telling that to a survivor of ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia or to someone who lost an entire family in Rwanda…No. To be truly good one has to be outraged by evil and implacably hostile to injustice.”

– Rebecca Pippert, Hope Has It’s Reasons (100-01)

Stubborn Grace and Losing Focus

In yesterday’s sermon at Christ Church Mansfield we completed our study of Mark’s Gospel called The Way of Paradox: Following the Right-Side Up King in an Upside-Down World. We ended by seeing how Jesus is the center of it all – the gospel, the Christian faith, even reality itself.

One of the main themes that we reiterated week in and week out was that the world as we know it is not normal; it’s abnormal. It’s not the way it’s supposed to be. But when Jesus comes into the scene, we get a glimpse, a picture, of what that right-side up world is supposed to look like.

I have been forever impacted and indebted to Tim Keller for introducing me to Cornelius Plantinga, and his monumental work on sin. Of all things, this book, and particularly the following quote has left an impression on me in regards to understanding the gospel, Jesus Christ, and what it is that His life and His work is really all about.

If you were with us this past weekend for the sermon “The Center of it All”, here is the quote I read at the end:

“Evil rolls across the ages, but so does good. Good has its own momentum. Corruption never wholly succeeds. (Even blasphemers acknowledge God.) Creation is stronger than sin and grace stronger still. Creation and grace are anvils that have worn out a lot of our hammers. To speak of sin itself, to speak of it apart from the realities of creation and grace, is to forget the resolve of God. God wants shalom and will pay any price to get it back. Human sin is stubborn, but not as stubborn as the grace of God and not half so persistent, not half so ready to suffer to win its way. Moreover, to speak of sin by itself is to misunderstand its nature: sin is only a parasite, a vandal, a spoiler. Sinful life is a partly depressing, partly ludicrous caricature of genuine human life. To concentrate on our rebellion, defection, and folly—to say to the world ‘I have some bad news and I have some bad news’—is to forget that the center of the Christian religion is not our sin but our Savior. To speak of sin without grace is to minimize the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the fruit of the Spirit, and the hope of shalom.” – Cornelius PlantingaNot the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (p. 199)

One of the best books I've ever read - thanks Tim Keller!

One of the best books I’ve ever read – thanks Tim Keller!

Just Want to Be Happy

Seems like a reasonable thing to say doesn’t it? After all, who doesn’t want to be happy?

But what if life is not about being happy?

What if the purpose of your job is not about your happiness?

What if the purpose of your marriage is not about your happiness?

What if the nature of your friendships is not about your happiness? 

What if the world keeps on spinning even when you’re not the center of it all?

Here’s what happens. If you live for your happiness alone, everything will spin out of control. 

No one will be good enough for you.

No job will be ever quite right enough for you.

No friend will ever be safe or true enough for you. 

Want to know why?

You.

You are the common denominator in all situations and scenarios when your happiness is the driving force and motivation for everything you do.

The reason why you are the problem is because neither you or I am capable of giving life, meaning, value and purpose – or in a word, happiness – all by ourselves.  

We are dependent upon others in every sense of the word. And when we force everything else exist for our needs, pleasure and happiness, we let them down.  

We are incapable of giving life to the same degree that we demand it.

What we need…

What the world needs now, more than ever, is someone that does not demand life, but gives it.

Who doesn’t force others to serve him, but who lives to serve others.

Who doesn’t ruin the lives of those around him because they aren’t meeting his needs, but who constantly pours himself out to fill the needs of others.

Where have I heard this before?

“And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mark 10:42-45 (ESV)

How do you base your morality? and What is the bible? (Part 1)

I was recently asked a question by a friend that made me stop and take some time to think before I responded.  Essentially, his questions broke down into three main questions, with the third having a list of passages that could prove problematic for anyone who would want to base their morality on the Bible.  Image

1) How do you base your morality?

2)  If it’s based on the Bible, which is supposed to reveal the character of God, how can you (or, do you) pick and choose which parts to follow or not?  

3) Take the examples of God not only allowing, but sanctioning even commanding the murder of whole people groups (ethnic cleansing?), including women, children and non-combatants (Canaanites).  How is this “moral” and what does it reflect about God’s character, as well as the character of those people who seek to reflect His character?

I am going to post my answers to these question in two blog posts.  The first (this one) will address the first two questions, and the next post will address the third question.

Q: How do you base your morality?  

A: I would say that I base my morality on the gospel – the Good News (literal meaning of gospel) that God does for me and the world what the world and me can’t do for ourselves – as revealed in the Bible, not on the Bible itself.  For more, see next question.

Q: If it’s based on the Bible, which is supposed to reveal the character of God, how can you (or, do you) pick and choose which parts to follow or not?  

 A: The Bible does in fact reveal the character of God, but it is not simply a collection of God’s characteristics in the abstract.  It is about His character in action.  What we know of God is first and foremost revealed to us by Him.  It is not merely conjured up or developed from the human mind (whether collective or individual); the direction is not from the human to the divine, but from the divine to the human.   This means that what we know about God is set in the context of recipients who are themselves not-God.  

But more than that, what we know of God is also set in a context of sin, or what one philosopher describes as “vandalism of shalom” – Hebrew for peace, meaning universal human flourishing and a webbing together of all humans and all things in a rich state of affairs where natural gifts are employed and needs are met. In a phrase, the context we live in is a world that is “not the way it’s supposed to be.”  (Cornelius Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary on Sin).  In this context, all humanity is both complicit with and impacted by sin; we are at one and the same time both victims and victimizers (borrowing from Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace).  And before you dismiss this statement by saying, “I have not harmed anyone or done anything wrong/bad/evil,” ask yourself if you really believe that you are so completely disconnected from others in this world that your actions do not impact – whether directly or indirectly – the lives of others. This is what theologians refer to as “sins of commission” – those things we do that are wrong, unjust, and harm others – or “sins of omission” – those things we leave undone that are right, just and seek the welfare of others.”  Voltaire famously said, “No snowflake feels guilty in an avalanche.”  We are caught up into a system of human relationships where our actions or inaction impact others, and most of us are simply oblivious to this reality.  Just watch The Place Behind the Pines or Crash for modern cinematic examples of this fact.

Now, so far I have described the context of human life and sin in a horizontal dimension – the impact we have on our fellow man.  If you take that as your only dimension, the problems we face are bad enough as it is.  But if we take the world we live in as a product of a Creator’s design, delight and intent, then we have to add a vertical dimension to the horizontal.  How we live then, not only impacts our fellow man or the environment, but also our relationship with One who created us.  If we can turn the world we live in and create an environment that is not the way it’s supposed to be, what would the One who created it in the first place think of our actions and inaction?

In a word, displeasure.  But that sounds too shallow, or calm.  Afterall, you and I experience more passion when someone disses a band we like or a movie we loved.  Could you imagine someone actually threatening, abusing and destroying another human being you deeply cared about? Or a work of art that was a labor of love and you spent countless hours developing? If He created the world, and us to live in it because He delighted to do it, then we can and should assume that our attempts to live life in ways that thwart or disrupt that creational intent for peace and human flourishing would invoke God’s anger.  Now if He were angry at what had become of His creation, He has a couple of choices: a) scrap it all and start over, or b) put in place a plan to “redeem” (buy back, purchase, reclaim ownership) and “restore” (fix, repair, make new again) His creation.  

This is exactly what the pages of the Bible in the book of Genesis tell us.  Genesis 1-3 is the historical account of God’s creating all things, declaring them good, commanding His crowning jewel of creation, man, to live in a state of love and trust with Him and carry out his task of doing in creation what God had done for creation – manage and cultivate it with benevolent care and peace-full intention.  When man instead breaks that state of love and trust (yes, I have the Pearl Jam song playing in my head as I write that), God inserts himself into the situation and interjects His solution – a promised redeemer and rescuer for all creation (cf. Genesis 3:15).  In the meantime though, all of creation lives under a curse – the inevitable outcome of choosing to love and trust in self instead of living in dependence on God and carrying out our original intention as humans made in His image.  

Ultimately, this promised redeemer comes and is God’s very own Son, Jesus Christ in the pages of the New Testament.  But up until the coming of the Jesus, we have foretastes, or appetizers, of the redemption that God would bring about. This occurred through select individuals (Noah, Abraham, Moses, David) but also through the establishment of a whole people group, the nation of Israel.  Their charge and responsibility was to be a blessing to all the nations.  Their method or way of doing this was by living as a distinct and unique (meaning of holy, set apart) nation among all the nations. Genesis 12, what could be labeled as the Israelites Charter for Existence, tells us such:

“Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

– Genesis 12:1–3 (ESV)

 This is why I say that I get my morality from the gospel as revealed in the Bible, instead of the Bible itself.  The Bible is a collection of recorded works that describe who God is but also what He has done and is doing, in this world to fix the problems, right every wrong, and ultimately wipe every tear from every eye.  I can derive my morality, or ethical lifestyle choices from the Bible to be sure, but only in the context of the gospel, because that is ultimately what the Bible seeks to communicate.  It is not a moral play book, or a divine guide for a good and happy life, sent down from on high to educate and provide the steps needed to live a certain way.  It includes that, but it is not merely that.  It is first and foremost a revelation from God to us, highlighting who He is, who we are, what’s wrong with the world, and how He intends to put it back right.  This allows one to see the connectedness of all scripture and how each individual part (verse, passage, book, genre, collection, testament) fits together to make a composite picture, or mosaic, of the character in action (God) and the implications for His creatures (man, included).  

So, I don’t pick and choose which parts of the Bible to follow; I follow them all, in the context of the overall picture of Bible, which could be summarized as: 

Creation (Gen. 1-2) – Fall (Gen. 3:1-14) – Redemption (Gen. 3:15-Rev.19) – Consummation/New Creation (Rev.20-22).

 

What happens when prayer requests and acceptable sins go beneath the socially recognized surface?

Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Stained glass at St John the Baptist’s Anglican Church http://www.stjohnsashfield.org.au, Ashfield, New South Wales. Illustrates Jesus’ description of himself “I am the Good Shepherd” (from the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 11). This version of the image shows the detail of his face. The memorial window is also captioned: “To the Glory of God and in Loving Memory of William Wright. Died 6th November, 1932. Aged 70 Yrs.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I wonder what would happen in my life, and the life of those in the church, if we really believed that God knows everything about us and our sins, and still loved us enough to send His Son to die for those sins? And what if He really did love us enough after that to also send us His Spirit to be free to struggle with those sins, and gave us the gift of community to help us bear up under that struggle without having to fake, hide or pretend we’re anything other than redeemed men and women?

Saw this posing by a friend on Facebook (HT: Jeff Kerr) and thought it worth re-posting here for further discussion:

In a discussion elsewhere on the interwebs, I saw this statement. I think this gets directly to the heart of why most Christians in most contexts are afraid of confessing anything beyond “disorganization” and the like:

“I visited a Mom’s Bible study at a friend’s church years ago. When it was time for prayer requests, all the other moms said, “better time management” and “get organized”. This was met with understanding clucks and nods from the other moms. When it was my turn I said, “I yell at my kids.” I got a lecture about how wrong and damaging yelling was and how concerned the leader was that I would start “hurting my kids.” There was a moralistic lecture because there was no possibility of repentence and forgiveness.

Here’s what I’ve thought since then: Since grace is so cheap these days, our sin isn’t allowed to be very bad. That leads to confessing things like disorganization. Jesus’ blood can cover that one. But REALLY bad things? There’s no cure for them, so let’s not bring them up.”

via (5) In a discussion….