5 Questions to Analyze Any Worldview

14555354976_432207b15b_k

Have you ever tried to put a puzzle together without looking at the picture on the box? It’s a losing proposition. Is that red and orange puzzle piece in your hand part of a tree, a barn, a bonfire – or have your kids mixed the puzzle pieces again? Without some overarching vision for what the whole puzzle looks like, the individual pieces make little sense.

Think of a worldview as your “picture on the box” for life. How do all the pieces of life fit together? Do they even fit together? Your worldview is the way in which, sometimes consciously, sometimes unconsciously, you answer questions like these.

But there’s a problem: that “unconscious” part in the last paragraph. Too often the way we interpret the world goes by us unnoticed. We act out of unexamined beliefs. We hope in things or people without questioning if they are worthy objects of our hope. We need to slow down and ask ourselves the why question: why did that bother me so much? Why am I convinced I should be treated that way? Why does that outcome excite (or disappoint) me so much? Here are five questions that will help us examine a worldview, ours or anyone else’s.

1) Who is God?

We could expand the question to include even an atheistic worldview: who is in ultimate control? The best way to answer this question is with this thought experiment. Think of all the verbs the Bible uses to describe our relationship to God. Love. Serve. Worship. Trust. Obey. Sacrifice for. Devote yourself to. Seek. Fear. Find refuge in. Now consider: which of those verbs applies to something other than God in your life? Of course for each of these there is a secondary sense in which they might apply to something or someone else. It’s appropriate to love your spouse, to serve your coworkers, or to sacrifice for your family – but only if the loving, serving, and sacrificing is done with God in the picture. These verbs all describe the way humans are intended to relate to their Creator and Redeemer. Idolatry happens when anything else takes God’s place. So ask yourself: who or what is my functional god?

It’s impossible to give a short version of the biblical answer to this question, but here are three categories. God is Creator – your Creator, my Creator, and the Creator of all that is. Moreover, God is Redeemer – through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, God is redeeming all what sin has ruined. Finally, God is Triune – one God, three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

2) Who am I?

Hint: we’re after more here than the information on your Social Security Card. What’s your identity? What’s most true, most significant, about you? Is it your genes? Is it your past sins, or past experiences of being sinned against? Your looks? Age? Job? Resume? Skills? Relationship status? Are you your sexuality?

None of these is a sufficient description of who we are – and yet all of them are potential false answers, wrong answers that will lead to wrong actions. If your looks or youth is your identity, then aging will destroy you. If your career is your identity, losing your job will ruin your life.

The Bible gives a different answer than any of these. Who are you? First and foremost, you are a man or woman made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). Second, you are a sinner. I know, that sounds harsh – but it’s true. But think about this: if you’re defined by your genetics, your past, or your looks, the only way to deal with your problems is medication, therapy, or Botox. If your problem is sin, there’s a remedy. His name is Jesus. And if you’ve encountered him, there’s a third thing that’s true about you: you are in Christ, joined to him by his Spirit in you, and nothing can break that union.

3) What’s the problem?

Everyone believes there’s something wrong with the world. Even the most laid-back, hippie flower child you’ll ever meet thinks the problem with the world is that people are too uptight about their problems. All of us instinctively recognize something is rotten in Denmark. What is it? Is it a lack of education? Income inequality? The wrong political party in office? Or maybe it’s smaller scale: no spouse. The wrong spouse. A loser boss. Disobedient kids. Not enough time off. Not enough money. What is it that’s wrong in your world, or the world at large?

The Bible’s answer is sin. Sin, God’s curse upon it, and all that flows from that curse is what is wrong with this world. Every human woe, every tear, every groan, can be traced back to our rebellion against God. Give a wrong answer to this question, and you will fail to deal with the ultimate problem. Which leads us to the question four.

4) What’s the solution?

These two questions are inextricably linked. Identifying the problem will naturally lead you to identifying the solution. Is the problem poor health? Then fitness, or a natural diet, or medical experts will be your saviors. Is the problem no spouse? Then the guy who asked you out becomes not just a first date but a potential redeemer from all that’s wrong with your life.

But false redeemers always disappoint. Only Jesus is capable of delivering us from what’s truly wrong with us. He works from the inside out: total cleansing from our guilt and shame, ongoing transformation into who we were meant to be, life beyond the grave, and one day a new resurrected body in which we will enjoy a new heavens and earth. And that leads us to the last question.

5) Where are we going?

What’s in the last chapter of your story? Is it a white picket fence and happily ever after? Retirement at the beach condo? Enough money to never worry about bills again? What do you dream of before you fall asleep at night? What do you hope you’ll one day, finally, achieve? What exactly would arriving look like? We can answer those questions on a personal level, and we can answer them on a grand, humanity-wide level. What’s the trajectory of human life? Where is humanity headed: utopia? Heaven on earth? The collapse of civilization and a Dark Ages remix?

The Bible’s final answer is clear. The last chapter of history is the completion of God’s great work of redemption. Jesus Christ will return and bodily raise every human being who has ever lived. We will all face his judgment: eternal life for those who have believed the gospel, and eternal judgment for those who reject it (John 5:28-29; 2 Thess. 1:5-10). Then the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea (Hab. 2:14). Then every tear will be wiped away (Rev. 21:4). Then we will enter into the joy of our master (Matt. 5:21, 23). Then, in a renewed heavens and renewed earth, we will experience all that God intended for his creation. That’s where we’re going – and no one but King Jesus can take us there.

Scripture doesn’t answer all our questions – but its answers to these five questions do give us the big picture necessary to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together. And only these answers are a sufficient foundation for life in God’s world.

Photo by Kevin Dooley

Delighting in the Storm

14538796137_33db48e380_k

Let’s talk about the weather. Have you ever had a storm ruin a perfectly good day at the beach? Instead of sunning on the sand you sulked on the sofa, watching the last hours of your vacation drizzle away in a grey fog. Why doesn’t God make every day blue skies and sunshine?

But weather’s a funny thing. Have you ever had a sunshine ruin a perfectly good rainy day to stay inside and not mow the lawn? Okay, that probably hasn’t happened since you were 14 – but you can easily imagine a scenario where rain, not sun, is the desired weather condition. There’s Murphy’s Law, as it relates to weather: we wish for sunny days, and get rain. We hope for rain as a good excuse for inactivity, and get sunshine instead. “That’s the weather for you,” we say, and shrug our shoulders and move on.

But there’s a value system imbedded in the whole Murphy’s Law-weather conundrum. It’s so common and universal we almost never notice it. Subtly, unobtrusively, but persuasively, it says, “A stormy day is bad if it interferes with my plans; it is good if it furthers my plans.” Do you see the value system, the assumed point of reference? Me. My plans. This is my universe, and everything in it must bow to me!

Okay, that’s probably a bit extreme. Most of us don’t take our gripes about the weather quite that far. But the pattern prevails: I rank external circumstances – sadly, even people – by whether they serve me or hinder me. Don’t you?

The problem is that such a way of looking at the world will frustrate us (since we all do this, you have seven billion competitors all attempting to run the world to the beat of their own drum) and lead us to an empty, vain life. Actually, even that’s not the ultimate problem. The ultimate problem is that seeing the world through this lens puts us on a collision course with the One who does rule all things for his purposes.

There’s a better way, the way of the creature before our Creator. C.S. Lewis was learning this even before he became a Christian:

The first lifelong friend I made at Oxford was A. K. Hamilton Jenkin…He continued…my education as a seeing, listening, smelling, receptive creature…Jenkin seemed able to enjoy everything; even ugliness. I learned from him that we should attempt a total surrender to whatever atmosphere was offering itself at the moment; in a squalid town to seek out those very places where its squalor rose to grimness and almost grandeur, on a dismal day to find the most dismal and dripping wood, on a windy day to seek the windiest ridge… [to have] a serious, yet gleeful, determination to rub one’s nose in the very quiddity of each thing, to rejoice in its being (so magnificently) what it was.

“To rejoice in its being (so magnificently) what it was.” I don’t know if Jenkin was a Christian, but that’s a Christian virtue. This world is God’s world, not ours. God delights in the windy-ness of the wind and the stormy-ness of the storm just as much as he does the sunniness of the sun. And he invites us to share in his delight – not to assign value to his creation based on whether it fits our plans.

That’s not to say you can’t ask for sunshine for your beach vacation. But here’s a thought. The next time the weather doesn’t cooperate, when the storm clouds ruin your plans, find a way to “rub your nose” in the storm, delighting in its stormy-ness. Then we can say with the psalmist,

O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all” (Psalm 104:24).

Even the storms.

Photo by USFWS.

5 Easy Steps to a Shallow Christian Life

6603142217_0b645e57ce_z

Wait no longer! Write them on Post-It notes, cross-stitch them on your pillow, have Siri repeat them to you daily.

1. Don’t stop searching until you’ve found “The Secret to the Christian Life.”

It’s out there! Don’t give up. It might be baptism in the Holy Spirit. It might be true surrender. It might be faith. It might be resting in what God’s already done. It might be…well, you go find it on your own. Don’t let the fact that two thousand years of Christian history has yet to produce the final solution to the perplexities of living as redeemed sinners in a fallen world stop you. Maybe the secret was just waiting for YOU to get out there and discover it…

2. In your advice to yourself and to other believers, use the word “just” regularly.

This will be a lot easier after you’ve found the answer to #1. Then you can tell people, “Stop struggling! Just (insert SOCL [Secret of Christian Life] here).” Until then, sprinkle “just” in as many tidbits of advice as possible: : “Just believe…just remember…just trust God.” That helps remind people that, after all, the Christian life is really easy. So suck it up and deal with it, wimp.

3. For simplicity’s sake, assume that God deals with everyone in exactly the same way. If you want to make things even simpler, assume that you’re the pattern.

Listen, there are a lot of Christians out there. If you let the thought enter your mind that God is a person who might deal with people as unique individuals, not generic cookie-cutter-Christians, it will overwhelm you! You might have to actually listen to people, charitably assume that God is at work in their life in ways you can’t see, or even learn from the ways they’re different from you. That’s going to take a lot of time. Just don’t go there. Here’s the code you live by: God is easy to figure out, not very creative, and has already used all his tricks in your life. (I know, it seems a little hard on God, but trust me on this one. The alternative is just way too complicated. You’ll thank me later.)

4. Don’t waste time checking your assumptions against the Bible.

After all, there’s only so much time in the day! Begin your sentences about your key beliefs with, “The Bible clearly says…” but don’t bother with actually proving it. The basis for this is that everything that’s worth knowing in Scripture is so clear that only a fool wouldn’t already see it from your point of view. If you can find one verse that proves your point, that’s more than adequate!

5. Reduce everything to “5 Easy Steps.”

See? I’ve already modeled it for you! Remember, the point is EASY steps. It’s not enough to just list things that are true (preachers do that all the time). The real test is whether or not you can make them so simplistic that they require no work or deep thought. That’s the mark of a true Easy List.

Actually, these are probably the definitive 5 Easy Steps for the Christian life, so there may be nothing left to reduce to further lists. You’d probably be better off just memorizing this one.

Photo by Barbara Eckstein

Don’t Use Scripture Like This!

Does anybody remember the old Viewmaster toys? The Viewmaster was a plastic contraption that looked like a cheap pair of binoculars. You dropped a circular cardboard reel with tiny squares of 3D film into a slot, looked through the Viewmaster, and voila! The tiny film suddenly became a 3D world. After you got tired of one picture, you moved a lever and advanced to the next square of film. As long as you pointed the Viewmaster at a good light source, the picture was pretty clear, but if you pointed it at a dark corner of the room your vision of Mickey and Minnie Mouse got a lot fuzzier.  I was fascinated with Viewmaster for several years as a kid before the novelty wore off.

I know, you’re wondering why I’m dragging you down memory lane with me and what this has to do with the Bible. But before I answer that, let me tell you one more story.

When I was about nine, I found out I needed eyeglasses. I was not a happy camper. I cried all the way home from the eye doctor. I wanted to be a mountain man like Davy Crockett when I grew up, and everybody knows mountain men don’t wear glasses. The cursed eyewear crushed my career plans in one fell swoop. There was a silver lining in the cloud, however; blades of grass, leaves, and small insects suddenly returned to my world! I had forgotten there were so many hard edges and clear lines out there. Fuzziness had become the norm.

Viewmasters and eyeglasses. Both let you see things, but with very different results. One let you see, with varying degrees of clarity, a miniature world that had nothing to do with your life. Mickey Mouse might look close enough to touch, but when you put down the Viewmaster you weren’t going to find him standing in your living room. But glasses are different. Put on a pair of glasses and suddenly everything in your world took on new crispness. You could see things you had never seen before.

Too often we read the Bible as though it’s a Viewmaster, not a pair of eyeglasses. The stories, the prayers, the praises and songs become windows into another world that has little to do with our own lives. Maybe we can describe with great accuracy and detail Abraham’s faith in God or Paul’s boldness for Christ – but when we put the Bible down we’re still just as anxious or timid as we were before.

God intends better things for his Word and his people than mere insight into past lives or historical situations. Scripture is a pair of eyeglasses, not a Viewmaster. It is a story of how God has acted and is acting to save his people through Jesus. It’s the story of how God is saving and transforming you.

Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that you and I are the stars of the show. The star is our God, who saves sinners through Christ in the power of the Spirit. But as we see how God acts we are intended to see the world around us and our own lives with increasing clarity. God is not merely the God who once turned evil to good in the life of Joseph; he is the God who even now, perhaps in the darkest hour of your life, is creating a story with a triumphant, joyful ending. He is not only the God who reversed childless Hannah’s fortunes and gave her Samuel; he is the God who will one day, when Christ returns, repay everything you thought he took away with blessings unimaginable.

It’s not enough to simply know what God did in the past for people whose lives are distant from ours. To live faithfully and joyfully in this world we need to see our present circumstances with new eyes: eyes of faith, eyes trained by the Word to see what God sees. May God “enlighten the eyes of your hearts, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe” (Ephesians 1:18-19).

Photo by Delirio Verde Anaranjado

Syria, Civil War, and King Jesus

Recently the civil war in Syria and America’s possible military intervention has been occupying a lot of time in the headlines. Attention is focused in both national and international news on President Obama’s request that Congress approve military action in response to the chemical weapons attack that took place on August 21st. The death tolls from that specific attack are estimated in the hundreds, possibly as many as 1,400, but the total casualties from the two-year long civil war are around 100,000.

How do we as Christians think about and respond to this kind of human suffering and evil? Let’s be honest – it’s difficult to process something like this Christianly, isn’t it? I find it easy to alternate between two easier, but unhelpful, responses. It’s easy to have a partisan political reaction and simply “toe the party line,” supporting whoever you voted for. It’s easy simply to ignore the situation as long as it doesn’t affect you personally. Those are easy ways to process it – but they don’t ultimately deal with the realities of life in a fallen world, life that includes things like civil wars and sarin gas attacks. Let me suggest four Christians “lenses” through which we can think about this situation.

The ultimate problem is human sinfulness. Without a worldview that includes God, we’re left straining to explain how humans do such horrible things as gas one another. Is it a lack of education? Is it poverty? Is it rage against injustice and oppression? No, not ultimately. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve rebelled against God; in Genesis 4, the blood of the first murder victim stained the earth. Every tear of sorrow, every crime, every war in human history can be traced back to our rebellion against God. Claiming to be wise, we have become fools. Hating God in our hearts, we hate one another as well (Titus 3:3). Yes, in a situation like Syria there are multiple layers of injustice and wrong committed by both sides. But underneath the entire problem is the seething enmity between God and man. Civil wars come from human sinfulness.

Governments have a role in restraining the effects of sin. With so many discouraging headlines, it’s to become cynical about any government. But we as Christians can’t give in to that temptation. Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2:13-17 make it clear that one way God restrains human evil is through the gift of government. While I don’t pretend to know what the right political solution to a problem like Syria is (and in a fallen world there are often no good solutions, only the “least worst” solution), it is right for President Obama and other world leaders to attempt to address the situation. Having said that…

Only King Jesus can bring true peace. Until the Lord returns there will be wars and rumors of wars. Governments can restrain human sinfulness; they cannot eradicate it. Only the second coming of our King can finally deal with the problem of sin. On that day justice will be done. On that day peace will finally come. The sins of every human being, great and small, will either be covered by the blood of Christ or charged to the humans who committed them. There are no utopian solutions to our problems in this world, and we of all people should see through shallow claims of false redeemers.

So Christians should pray. We have access to the one Ruler who can actually accomplish his purposes! Pray for peace in Syria, even though all human peace is limited. Pray for God to save men and women through this suffering. Pray for our brothers and sisters in Syria. And pray with those brothers and sisters: come Lord Jesus!

Photo by Freedom House