Worldviews, Worship, and Wineskins

The Gospel at Work in Every Context

Archive for the month “November, 2015”

Created to Worship

worship-black-whiteHumans are made to worship. You can see this played out everywhere there are people. We worship the sky, the sun, animals, statues…even each other. Even in this day, when our culture has largely lost the concept of worship, we still worship. Money, celebrities, classic cars…all these and more have the power to absorb our attention and affection. Carl Sagan, celebrated host of the original “Cosmos” series demonstrated a visceral awe at the created universe that has been called Pantheism. That’s worship. Even the Humanist movement, which is blatantly non-spiritual, worships the human. Have you seen “Interstellar”?

What the Bible shows us is that we don’t truly understand ourselves; truly find ourselves until we find the proper object of our worship. The Apostle Paul, in Acts 17 publicly spoke to the Athenians gathered at the Areopagus. They were professional worshipers, crafting idols to represent every conceivable deity under the sun and above it. They had even set up a shrine to “the unknown God”, just so they wouldn’t offend anyone by leaving them out. (Picture your grandmother at Christmas, trying to make sure all of the grandchildren have received equally valuable gifts.)

Referring to that shrine, Paul said “What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it…made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.”

Yet he is actually not far from each one of us.

Worship is that the heart of who we are. We cannot deny the impulse to lose ourselves in awe and wonder. The promise of the gospel is that when we find the proper object of worship (or rather are found by him), we are complete. This is why in scripture we are warned so consistently against idolatry. Its like God is saying “I am actually not far from you. Don’t settle for that counterfeit!”

Not only does idolatry rob you and I of the fullness of life that comes when we find the proper object of worship, it grieves the heart of God. Picture a husband or wife cuddling up to a picture of their spouse instead of the living, breathing version. (This shouldn’t be too hard, since pornography creates the opportunity for that scenario). Doesn’t it strike you as absurd? The spouse who is left out may experience feelings of jealousy. This is God when we pour our affections out on something other than him: the jilted spouse.

That isn’t to say that there is no space in the Christian life for relationships, pursuits and interests other than Christ. The healthiest married couples do not live in a social vacuum: they enjoy other friendships, good books, and hobbies, all in their proper context. God made pleasure. He made us in such a way that we would enjoy a sunset over the mountains, but he intends for the awe that is generated to be channeled into worship for Him, not worship of the sun. God made us artistic beings, but we should not worship the art. He made food for us to enjoy, but we should not worship our stomachs. He invented sex, but it was intended to reflect the intimacy we might have with him; not replace it.

In short, “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). Much of our confusion, dysfunction and pain comes from worshiping the gift instead of the giver.

 

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Choose Your Battle Wisely: Self or Society?

I heard an earth-shattering observation that concerns the two main approaches to life in Western society. According to the observer, religious communities generally raise children to believe that man is basically evil and the purpose of religion is for for man to battle the evil in his heart. Communities that raise their children in the absence of religion tend to emphasize the need for change in society rather than the need for personal change. The battle, according to this theory, is either within oneself, or without.

While we can grant that there are exceptions to this rule, it seems to be a great way to begin to explain many phenomena in American culture. Can you find religious groups that are interested in making an impact in society? Certainly. Are there non-religious folks who emphasize self-help? Of course. There will always be outliers, but the theory is a helpful tool in understanding competing worldviews in the mainstream.

Call me cynical, but each approach offers false hope. The child who was reared in religious circles often finds himself disillusioned with the church (or whatever tradition she was raised in). In spite of all his effort, he is no less sinful than he was last year, or the year before. Likewise, the social activist will often run out of steam when his ideals are rejected at the polling station…or when the ideals are implemented, but fail because of the human element.

Which philosophy is right? Is it the human heart that needs correction, or society? Where is the failure?

In short, both. While a multitude of societal ills would be cured if real heart change has occurred, Social Action is not necessarily a bad thing. It just seems to treat the symptom rather than the disease. But neither approach (self-improvement or social action) will work. If you have not been down one of these paths and found yourself exhausted and disillusioned, you need only look to history and see the legions of examples of folks who have failed to improve the individual or the group. Real change begins with the heart. If my own experience is any indication, the human heart resists change like water resists oil!

Historically, how can one change the human heart? The Bible says that we are born into sin, powerless to change the evil inclinations that are part of the fabric of human souls. We are cursed. The only hope is for something more powerful than evil to work its power from within. This isn’t possible by imposing an ethical code! Good preaching cannot change the heart! Good education and social reform have proven powerless in the battle against evil–just look at crime rates in communities with lots of social programs.

What must we do? Jesus was sent to defeat the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). He once told a prominent wise man that the only way to see the Kingdom of God is to be born again (John 3). The only agent of change in the human heart is its creator. How is this different from battling the evil in our own hearts? Self-improvement is a scam. God’s improvement comes with the promise of power, renewal and love. And when individuals are transformed by God’s power, societies tend to change as well.

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