Friday, September 30, 2011

Is Your Marriage (Or Other Relationships) A Place Of Trust?


Are you building relationships of trust? Take time to look at yourself, your marriage and other relationships in the mirror of these questions.

A TRUST QUESTIONNAIRE

1) Is there more unity, understanding, and love in your marriage now than there has ever been?
2) Do you both do what you promise in the time that you have promised?
3) Are you attentive to what your spouse sees as important?
4) Do you make excuses for failures to do what you’ve promised, or are you ready to confess?
5) Do you listen well to your spouse and act on what you’ve heard?
6) Do you follow through with mutually agreed-upon plans?
7) Do you work together on planning and scheduling priorities, or do you demand that the other do it your way?
8) Do you share with your spouse your thoughts, desires, hopes, dreams, and concerns, or is it easier for you to be quiet or to share with someone else?
9) Is there any evidence that you’ve withdrawn from the other in protective distance?
10) Would your spouse say that you’re good for your word and faithful to your promises?
11) Do you carry wrongs around with you, or do you trust one another to confront and confess?
12) Do you ever wonder what the other is doing when not with you?
13) Are you conscious of editing your words and withholding your feelings because you can’t trust your spouse to deal with them properly?
14) Is your marriage partner the best friend in your life or has your dream of this kind of companionship evaporated?
15) Is your sexual relationship mutually satisfying, or is it hard for you to give yourself physically to your spouse?
16) Do you say things to other people about your spouse that you’ve not communicated to him or her?
17) Do you look forward to sharing times together, and when you have these times are they peaceful and enjoyable?
18) Are there problems between you that remain unsolved because you don’t have the bond of trust necessary to work together on a solution?
19) Are you comfortable with the vulnerability that a good marriage involves?
20) Do you ever wonder if you made a mistake in marrying the person who is your spouse?
21) Do you ever fear that you’re being manipulated or taken advantage of in any way?
22) Do you ever wonder if your spouse cares for him- or herself more than for you?

So, look over your answers. What do you think? Is trust solid in your marriage? Is it growing in your other relationships? As you commit yourself to build a sturdy bond of trust, remember you don’t do that work alone or in your own strength. The One, who defines what trust is and does, is with you and offers you every grace you need to build relationships that picture his grace and point to his glory.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Have You Been Taken Captive?

When I was in seminary preparing for ministry, I never imagined what I've encountered since then as a counselor. So many times I've sat with confused and discouraged people, people who had made regrettable personal decisions that further complicated their travels through this broken world. They would sit with me and wonder aloud why things happened the way they had, and what in the world they should do about it all now. Usually they were hoping there might be some rare, hidden wisdom that would clear things up for them. They craved a revelation, a solution, a magic bullet. And as I listened I would think, 95 percent of what this person is seeking is right there in God’s Word.

These people did not need any new revelation or special insight. They needed to submit to what God had already written. They needed to trust what is sure: the clear words of the Creator of it all, found in the pages of his book, the Bible. The apostle Paul does a good job in Colossians 2 of diagnosing this endemic problem.

"So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world, rather than on Christ"(vv. 6–8).

If you, as a resident of this fallen world, are to follow in the vein of what Paul is teaching here, you must embrace two realities. The first is this: as a person made in the image of God you do not live life based on the cold, objective facts of your experience, but on your interpretation of your experience. Everyone living is a philosopher and a theologian. We are always stepping back, taking a look at our lives, and turning our situations and relationships over and over in our hands for further inspection and understanding. The sense you make out of the events of your life will form what you do and say in response to them. As you interpret new events and reinterpret old events, time after time after time, your interpretations will begin to form into a worldview that will function as an organizing structure not only for what you think, but also for how you live.

Here is the second reality: you are always being bombarded by the opinions of others. The world around you is not silent. You live in the middle of a constant cacophony of interpretations of reality. Whether its the opinion of a friend, the lyrics of a song, the words of a text, an article from a newspaper, the plot of a sitcom, some information on a website, or the worldview of a great movie, your eyes are receiving and your mind is being influenced by a thousand voices every day. Each is telling you how to think, and in telling you how to think, is telling you how to live. We never interpret the events of our lives on the basis of pure objectivity; we are always influenced by a myriad of cultural and interpersonal influences.

Now, keep these two realities in mind as you consider Paul’s diagnosis. He is saying that Christians, people who really do know the Lord, can be taken captive through “hollow and deceptive philosophy.” In this phrase we find a stinging criticism of the limits of human research, experience, and interpretation. Here’s what Paul is telling us: understanding that is merely human, continually claims that it can provide a reliable basis for daily living, yet its hollow (empty) because it doesn't provide this reliable basis, and its deceptive (false) because it cannot. The authoritative truth and wisdom you need to guide you through your situations and relationships simply can’t be obtained from any human source.

Then Paul points us to the fatal flaw of human understanding. Such understanding will ultimately fail because it looks to “human tradition and the basic principles of this world” rather than to Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (v. 3). This is exactly what often makes our lives so difficult. We're relying on some basic tradition of human understanding for guidance in daily life. Some of us are relying on the power of the human intellect: our own. Others are relying on a popular mystical notion we've clearly absorbed somewhere along the line: that a benevolent orderliness in the nature of things will simply guide you into goodness. Both have forgotten about the Fall, about the reality of this broken universe.

Human “wisdom” that cannot be aligned with Scripture simply is not wisdom at all. Because many of us have embraced fallen imitations of wisdom, we live stressful and disappointing lives full of unexpected problems and confusion. We've been taken captive and didn’t know it, even as we hold in our hands the only truly reliable source of understanding and direction: the Word of God; written guidance from the One who supplies every treasure, insight, wisdom, and truth.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Light of the World


On one of those confusing, distressing days when your journey confronts you with the inescapable realities of life in this fallen world, here is something to remember.

A Light in His Hand
s

So little preparation
so many
unrealistic expectations
so often
dreams are dashed
unwanted fears
realized.
Too few
understand where they are
too few
know where they’re going
too many
feel alone and lost.
Yet the One who knows
and who understands
has joined the journey.
He holds a light
in His hands
and He is One
who can be trusted.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

So, What's Hyssop?

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

PSALM 51:7

It seems such a strange request from a man who’s in the throes of grief over sins that he can’t deny and can’t take back. I would propose to you that it was exactly the right thing for David and for each of us to pray whenever we’re confronted with our sins. But when you first read the word in Psalm 51, it does make you wonder, “What in the world is hyssop?”

Researching the plant won’t give you much help. It produces a delicate white flower and is thought by some to have medicinal qualities. But this is one time that Wikipedia.com won’t help you. What you really need to know, in order to understand the grieving in David’s request, is Old Testament history. David’s mind goes to that original Passover, when the firstborn of Egypt were stricken dead and the houses of Israel that had blood on the door frames were passed over. What does this have to do with David’s request? Here it is: God directed the Israelites to take a branch of hyssop and dip it in blood and paint the door frames with it.

Here is David, grieved by his sin and bowed before God between the “already” and the “not yet.” Already the blood of the first Passover had protected Israel from death and made their exodus to freedom and the land of promise possible. Already the Mosaic system of constant animal-blood sacrifices covered the sins of God’s people. But the promised Lamb had not yet come. Nor yet had his blood been spilt, once and for all, in the final moment of sacrifice that forever ended any need for further sacrifice.

So reflecting on the past, David’s words actually reach into the future. They form the ultimate backdrop to the future prayer. For embedded in this cry for cleansing that remembers the spilt blood of deliverance (Passover) and the shed blood of forgiveness (Mosaic sacrifices), David cries for the one thing that anyone who acknowledges his sin will cry for—cleansing.

When your sin really does become ugly to you, when it produces pain in your heart and sickness in your stomach, you celebrate forgiveness, but you want something more. You want to be clean. You long to be once and for all purified from all sin whatsoever. You want your sin to be once and for all washed away. You want to be free of every dark residue of sinful thought, desire, word, or deed.

Yes, you’ll love the fact that you can stand before God dirty and unafraid because of his comprehensive and freely given grace. You’ll love the fact that his forgiveness of you has been full and complete. But you’ll grow tired of needing and seeking forgiveness. You’ll mourn the hold that sin has on you. You’ll be frustrated with the way that sin seems to infect everything you do. And you’ll begin to plead for what the blood of Jesus alone is able to do; wash away your sin. In this moment of need and helplessness, you’ll cry, “Purge me with hyssop Lord, dip the branch of your grace into the blood of your Son and cleanse me once and for all!”

David never sang that great, old hymn “Nothing but the Blood,” but maybe he’ll hear it some day and remember the tear-stained prayer that followed the visit of Nathan. Maybe someday he’ll celebrate final cleansing with a chorus of the ages singing:

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
O precious is the flow,
That makes me white as snow.
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Today do you long to be completely clean? Today will you celebrate the cleansing blood of the son?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Listening to Luther

"With Paul, we absolutely deny the possibility of self merit. God never yet gave to any person grace and everlasting life as a reward for merit...the true way of salvation is this: First, a person must realize that he’s a sinner, the kind of sinner who’s congenitally unable to do any good thing. "Whatsoever is not of faith, is sin." Those who seek to earn the grace of God by their own efforts are trying to please God with sins. They mock God, and provoke His anger. The first step on the way to salvation is to repent." (Martin Luther, Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians)

I want believe
that there is another way.
I want to think
that I am the exception to the rule.
I grasp at the thought
that my righteousness is enough.
I hold to the hope
that my behavior satisfies you.
I want to think
that you judge me worthy.
It is my evaluation
that I am capable of your standard.
I want to hold onto my assessment
that I am not like others,
I can plainly see
that they offend your law.
I get the fact
that they fall short of your glory.
I know very well
that they can't stand before you.
But I still want to think
that I am not like them.
I want to hold your Word
and my righteousness at the same time.
I want to celebrate the Gospel
and my worthiness together.
But it is
a self-sufficient delusion.
It aggrandizes me and diminishes You.
It minimizes sin and devalues grace.
It asks the law to do
what only grace can accomplish.
It denies the daily evidence
of my sin.
It ignores the true condition
of my heart.
It turns away
from the sacrifice that you have made.
It omits the sovereign plan
of your grace.
It forgets the desperate condition
of my need.
And so I turn
to what I know is true.
I am nothing
without you.
I accept the invitation
of your grace.
I run to the sacrifice
of the cross.
I cry for the help
of your spirit.
I accept the diagnosis
of your Word.
I trust the faithfulness
of your love.
I seek the forgiveness
you alone can give.
And I reject
the righteousness that is my own.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Reasons to Be Passive - Part 3

Passivity is rarely the result of a conscious decision. You don’t wake up one morning and say to yourself, "I’m going to begin to view myself as powerless. I’m going to look on God as small. So from now on, I’ll just close my door and take care of me and mine.” It never happens quite that way. But it does happen, all the time. Perhaps the broken-down house metaphor can help us again in illustrating the progressive stages of passivity.

One day you’re walking through your living room and notice a slight crack in the wall. It’s barely visible, so you think; it’s too small to worry about today. Now this is a perfectly plausible statement. The crack is minor and not worth re-ordering your day over. But something else also needs to be said; problems are always easiest to address when they are small. So often we make the mistake of not dealing with problems when we first notice them. After all, they crop up in the middle of the mundane moments of our lives—and we forget that those mundane moments are pretty much all we have!

You and I live in these little, mundane moments. The character of a life is not set in three or four moments of huge significance. No, the character of a life is set in 10,000 little moments, one after another. The character formed in those innumerable little moments is what positions us to respond in the big moments of life. (See the Parable of the Ten Minas, Luke 19:11–27.)

But neither the crack in your wall nor the passivity in your heart remains unchanged. So several months later your wife notices that the crack has become sizably larger. It’s now very noticeable, so she asks if you’d do something about it. You say, “I’ll get to it when I have time.” When you tell her that, you’re not lying. You really do intend to fix it when you have a few free moments. The problem is that those moments never come. There’s a principle here; the problems of life are not usually fixed in free and unscheduled moments. Problems generally get fixed because someone cares enough to make the time to address and solve them.

Because you haven’t found that mysterious free moment in your schedule, the crack in the wall is now three inches wide at the top and runs from ceiling to floor. It has morphed from a minor to a major problem. It simply can’t be ignored any longer. At this point, however, it will take real skill to fix. So you say to yourself, this is way too big for me to deal with. Overwhelmed with what you’re facing, you realize you’re incapable of solving it.

Isn’t this exactly where passivity always leads us? “Too little” and “no time” always lead to “too big.”

The Call

The point of the last three blog posts is simple but absolutely vital: you cannot think biblically and adopt a passive lifestyle. To begin with, the world you live in is terribly broken (see Romans 8:18–22). Second, God’s agenda is the complete renewal of everything (see Revelation 21:1–5). Third, God is sovereign and has placed you exactly where he intends you to be (see Acts 17: 24–28). Fourth, you’ve been lit by God’s grace and called to radiate his character in the darkness that surrounds where he’s placed you (see Matthew 5:14–16, quoted previously).

The question is, will you live biblically, exercising the character and influence you’ve been given? Or in your passivity will you try to take yourself off the hook with self-serving rationalizations, flawed logic, and unbiblical thinking? Remember, the One who has positioned and called you is with you again and again reminding you of that fact; he has taken the name Emmanuel.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Reasons to Be Passive - Part 2


The Magnitude Argument: “The Problem Is Too Big”

Maybe you’re looking at the chaotic life of a loved one and are overwhelmed at all that needs to change. Or maybe you’re considering your marriage, and all the years that have poured over the dam, and it simply seems impossible to turn it around. Or maybe in studying your community you’re stunned at the injustice, corruption, poverty, and violence not too far from you—conditions that seem far too big, far too complicated, and goodness, it’s all been going on for years.

Once more, Moses comes to mind. The children of Israel are now in the wilderness and complaining because they are bored with eating the manna that God provides every day to sustain them. God tells Moses that he’ll send quail for Israel to eat; not just for a meal, or a week’s meals, but for a month, until it comes out of their noses and they loathe it! (Numbers 11:18–20). Now read Moses’ words, and you can then understand what‘s wrong with the magnitude argument.

But Moses said, “Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, ‘I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!’ Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?”
(Numbers 11:21–22)

What do you think is wrong with Moses’ analysis? He certainly recognizes, legitimately, that it will take a great deal of food to feed more than 600,000 hungry Israelites. But he can’t see past that fact. The fatal flaw in his analysis is that he thinks far too little of the God who is calling him to act. We know this from God’s answer: “Is the Lord’s arm too short? You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you” (Numbers 11:23). In Moses’ eyes, the God whom he serves is infinitely smaller than the God who actually exists and who’s called him to do great things. No problem is too big for the Creator God.

The Separation Argument: “It’s Not My Problem”

One way we sometimes try to quiet a guilty conscience is to tell ourselves that we would gladly get involved if we were involved. We argue that we’ve a lot on our plate already and we want to be faithful to what God has given us to do. Again, there is some logic to this, and even some truth. You’re a human being with limited time, energy, and resources. And it’s true that you must make a priority of the things God has given you to do. But perhaps we take ourselves off the hook too easily. Perhaps we are often too happily uninvolved.

Could it be that our passivity to the needs around us doesn’t really grow out of a commitment to prioritize what God has commanded us to do, but is really a neglect of how he’s commanded us to live? It’s the difference between focusing on specific behaviors as opposed to a particular kind of lifestyle. Listen to the words of the prophet Micah:

With what shall I come before the Lord
and bow down before the exalted God?
Shall I come before him with burnt offerings,
with calves a year old?
Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams,
with ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression,
the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.
(Micah 6:6–8)

In this passage, specific acts of worship at the personal level (which may or may not be genuinely from the heart) take a definite back seat to a lifestyle at the public level that’s committed to justice, mercy, and humility. Micah’s call takes us way beyond a “me and mine” way of looking at the call of God. God requires his people to be instruments of his justice and mercy wherever he’s placed them.

How you live is much more comprehensive and broader than your specific acts or roles. It’s the child, the apprentice, who simply performs the duties that have been set before him. With growth and maturity comes a release into a broader world where you’re expected to interact more freely with your environment. The apprentice becomes a craftsman, and the child becomes an adult. Consider the call of Christ to us all as recorded by Matthew:

You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
(Mathew 5:14–16)

Jesus is saying, “You’ve been lit by my grace, now go let my character shine through you.” How do you do this? Jesus makes it very clear: through a public life characterized by good deeds. Here again is a call to step out into this darkened world, not succumbing to thoughts of your smallness, or the magnitude of the problem, or the distance it is from your front door. It’s a call to remember who you are (someone who has been lit by the transforming grace of God) and who he is (a God of awesome power and grace) and step out to look for opportunities to light what has been dark through actions of love, mercy, justice, reconciliation, peace, and compassion.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Reasons to Be Passive - Part 1

Apart from an active faith in God’s sovereignty and grace, it’s easy to throw up our hands and adopt a “What’s the use?” mentality. If it’s going to be so hard to make really significant improvements, what does it matter if things deteriorate a little further?

This sort of faithless attitude could apply to the “house” that is our life, or the “house” that’s the regular environment in which we live and work—such as the school attended by those young men. We could all come up with lots of good reasons to remain passive. The problems seem too numerous, and many seem too large. You see yourself as one little person, in one little place, at one little moment in time, and it just doesn’t seem logical that you could make any difference at all. To be specific, let me propose three arguments that we all tend to make at one time or another that keep us passive and uninvolved.

The Identity Argument: “I’m Too Small”

As I have written again and again, you and I don’t have much in the way of personal power and authority. When we think about it, we know we can’t really change people, and we know that in most important respects we have little ability to alter circumstances significantly. When we compare ourselves to the size of the changes that are needed around our “house,” it is easy to conclude that God must actually be mistaken on this whole subject of renovation.

Remember the first words from Moses’ mouth when God called him to go back to Egypt and lead out the Israelites? Moses said, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11). In response, God restates Moses’ commission, and Moses basically replies, “But I’m not sure I know what to say.” So God tells him what to say, tells him that he will go with him, and tells him that he will accompany Moses’ words with “wonders” that will strike the Egyptians. Moses tries once again to take himself out of the action, essentially replying, But what if they do not believe me?”

So the Lord, right there and then, demonstrates two miraculous signs that he will allow Moses to perform before Pharaoh. But these still aren’t enough for Moses, so he says, “O, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue” (Exodus 4:10). Through a series of questions God then reminds Moses that he made his mouth. But Moses is still not convinced that he can do what God is calling him to do and finally pleads, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” The Bible says that at that point the anger of the Lord burned against Moses, that God gave Aaron to Moses as his spokesman, and that God sent Moses to do what he had chosen him to do.

There are two ways to look at how Moses responded here, and both are true. In one sense, Moses was accurately identifying weaknesses in himself. Fair enough, but hardly the complete picture because, far more importantly, Moses was completely overlooking the fact that the one asking him to do these significant things was the Almighty Creator, who certainly had the power to bring them to pass.

So the kind of doubt Moses was displaying here was not simply doubt in his own abilities. There is ultimately a deeper and far more significant doubt involved—a doubt of God’s sovereignty and power. Where the first kind of doubt might be a form of humility, the second is a sinful faithlessness. God knows that in ourselves we are not up to the tasks he calls us to, but he never makes a false assignment. When he sends us we are sent as instruments in his almighty hands. He is the one who creates the change. He is the great Restorer. He never calls us to what we cannot accomplish in him, but he always calls us to what we could never accomplish without him.

God did eventually do amazing things through weak and fearful Moses. Pharaoh was silenced, Egypt was defeated, and the children of Israel were liberated. You see, for the child of God, passivity is simply rooted in poor theology. When you begin to embrace the theology of God’s presence, promises, and power, passivity no longer makes any sense.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Celebrate!

It should be the thing that greets your mind and fills your heart as you wake each morning. It should be your final thought as you settle in for a night of sleep. It should define how you face your day, and it should shape your self-reflections. It should be the thing that directs how you respond to others. It should be at the forefront of your thoughts in times of trouble or disappointment. It should alter how you think about finances, possessions, decisions, relationships, and everything else. It should be a central theme of your existence. It's so huge, so gorgeous, and so glorious that once it gets hold of you, you’ll never be the same again.

You don’t need to be an expert at riddles for this one. I‘m talking about grace.

If you’re God’s child, grace is the stunning core reality of your existence. It’s the most amazing thing that has ever happened to you, or ever will. It has changed everything you have, do, and are. It’s redefined your past, refocused your present, and reshaped your future. It’s the thing that you’ve needed since your first breath. It’s an absolutely essential ingredient of productive living on this side of eternity. It’s what you and I will focus on and celebrate for the rest of eternity. And it’s vital that in preparation for eternity we start our celebration now.

Playing with the Box
Luella and I gave birth to a son who didn’t understand what to do with gifts. We would shop for what we thought was just the right gift for him. Then on Christmas, or his birthday, we would watch as he gleefully tore open the wrapping. But not long afterward we would find him playing with the box, his carefully chosen gift lying neglected on the floor! This went on for years, and eventually became quite frustrating.

One Christmas, Luella and I decided to find our son a gift he simply couldn’t resist. After extensive shopping, we found it. We both realized at the same moment that this was the perfect choice. We were certain that this was a gift he’d actually play with.

Christmas morning arrived, and we were all sitting around the tree opening our gifts. I’m sure Luella and I were gripped by more anticipation than our son was. We couldn’t wait for the moment when he opened that particular gift, couldn’t wait to see the look on his face. We just knew that this gift would truly capture his attention. Finally the gift was in front of him, and his little hands instantly shredded the wrapping. He saw the box, opened the box, removed the toy, and actually began playing with it! With the toy! I was filled with a warm feeling of parental accomplishment.

I went into the kitchen to get something to drink. When I returned to the living room a few minutes later, the toy was there on the floor, and our son was sitting in the box! I couldn’t believe it! We’d given him the best toy ever and he was still quite content to play with the box.

Why am I telling you this cute family story? Because I’m convinced that many Christians are a lot like my son. You and I have been given the best gift that could ever be given. However closely you study it, from whatever perspective you choose to examine it, it’s astonishing and gorgeous and awesome in the true sense of the word. No other gift could possibly be more significant or life-changing. As an act of sheer, breathtaking, over-the-top generosity and kindness, no other gift comes close.

The gift of grace is the single most important thing every human being needs. And we all need it equally; no one needs it more, and no one needs it less. Without this gift you’ll never be what you were designed to be, or do what you were created to do. It’s a gift you could never earn, achieve, or deserve. It has the power to completely transform you and everything you desire, choose, think, say, and do. It’s the gift of gifts. It’s the gift of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. But I’m deeply persuaded that many Christians, having been given this awesome gift, are content to play with the box.

We’re content with episodic Christianity, a faith that lives most vibrantly on Sunday morning. We’re content with stepping out of our busy schedules for occasional participation in ministry. We’re content with a little bit of casual fellowship (which, being casual, usually isn’t fellowship at all). We’re content with putting a little bit of money in the offering plate. We may support and encourage the ministry of others, but if someone were to watch a video of our lives they would quickly conclude we’re driven by hopes, dreams, and values that have little or nothing to do with God’s purposes. Sadly, having been given the most wonderful and trans-formative gift that could ever be, I think there are many Christians who are quite content to play with the box.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Fantasy Sovereignty

Our Sovereign Fantasy
Like children, we all buy into a fundamental and very tempting delusion. Our weakness in this area is what gave an opening to the serpent in the Garden, and by it that same enemy still seeks to prey upon us today. There are two helpful ways of expressing and thinking about this delusion, although in practice these two forms are so closely related as to produce what is essentially a single fantasy.

The first and primary form of this delusion is autonomy. To be truly autonomous is to be independent, self-determining, and self-ruling. To possess autonomy is to have the right to do with your time and resources whatever you will. It means you can set your own rules and chart your own course, that you’re in charge of your own life and nobody has the authority to tell you what to do.

It doesn’t take much reflection to see how irrational and even absurd this notion is. Imagine if all the drivers in Philadelphia, where I live, began to drive as if they actually thought they were autonomous. Imagine the chaos and carnage that would ensue as the desires of one driver collided head-on with the desires of another driver, throughout the city!

Autonomy is a delusion that seduces all of us. Every time I treat my wife, children, or friends in a way I shouldn’t treat them, in order to advance my own purpose, I’m operating out of the delusion of autonomy. Every time I take for myself glory that belongs to God, I’m claiming autonomy. Every time I willingly step over one of God’s boundaries with a word, a thought, a choice, or an action, I’m acting as if my life belongs to me. Autonomy is a dangerous fantasy that at various times and in various ways deceives us all.

Another way to think about this same basic delusion is in terms of self-sufficiency. To be self-sufficient is to have everything you need within yourself to be what you were designed to be, and to do what you were designed to do.

To assume we're self-sufficient is no more rational than to assume we're autonomous. Obviously, a newborn child is the opposite of self-sufficient; while young children and teens clearly have their own limitations. But what about a mature, accomplished adult? What about you? Can you be self-sufficient?

Here’s a test. Consider all the things you’ve done in the last twenty-four hours that required the assistance or contributions of others. Did you sleep indoors? Travel in a vehicle? Use electricity? Wear clothing you didn’t make? Read? Eat food you didn’t kill or grow? Get water from a faucet? Would any of that have been possible without the involvement of countless other people?

We were designed to live in worshipful dependence upon God and in humble, interdependent community with other people. Self-sufficiency may be a nonsensical delusion, but it’s a powerfully seductive and dangerous one. Yet every day we act as if we’re far more independent than we actually are. Every time you’re too proud to ask for help, you buy into the fantasy of your self-sufficiency. Every time you reject someone who’s trying to confront you with a wrong, you’re believing the lie of your self-sufficiency. Every time you act as if you know more than you actually know, you accept the delusion of your self-sufficiency.

The Confrontation of Nature

God designed this world in such a way that it serves as a constant reminder of his presence, his character, and his glory. Even as creation reminds us of these divine attributes, it does something else. It confronts our delusions of autonomy and self-sufficiency.
The doctrine of creation reveals the delusion of autonomy for the foolishness it is. Think about the logic here. If there is a Creator and you are his creature, the work of his hands, then there’s no such thing as autonomy.

I am a painter by avocation. When, after months of work, I finally complete a painting, who does that painting belong to? The answer is easy and obvious. It belongs to me because I created it. Does the beauty or sophistication of the thing created change who owns it? No. If somehow my next painting were judged by every art critic in the world to be the single best painting in history, it would still be mine, and I could still do with it whatever I pleased. In the same way, we belong to God, however amazingly well-constructed we are or imagine ourselves to be.
You cannot embrace both the doctrine of creation and the illusion of personal autonomy. The first cancels out the second. The Bible begins by declaring that the entire physical world (including humans) is the product of God’s creative artistry. It follows from this that we’re owned by him. Therefore, he alone has the right to tell us how we should participate in the existence that is his creation.

The doctrine of creation also exposes the lie of self-sufficiency. You can plant the healthiest seeds available, but if God doesn’t send the rain your plants will die. You're dependent on God for your very life and breath. If he would withdraw his hand, this orderly world would explode into chaos. Look how a drought or a flood can bring a region to its knees. Look at all the examples of how the goods of one part of the world are desperately needed by another part of the world. The more you consider the interdependent operation of the various elements of creation, the clearer it is that no aspect of God’s creation is truly self-sufficient, including you.
Especially you.