Sunday, July 25, 2010

Ortberg's "IQ Test"

Several folks requested that I make available the tool I shared from John Ortberg on how to discern what might be the main idols in our lives, the principal rival to God holding the center place in our lives. Ortberg calls it his "IQ test," not an Intelligence Quotient, but our "Idolatry Quotient." With some minor adaptations, here's his diagnostic tool.

Step One: Common Idols of our Day

Start by recognizing or identifying common idols in our time:

- Money
- Relationship/s
- Success
- Attractiveness
- Intelligence
- Pleasure
- Addiction
- Religion/Spiritual Reputation
- Work
- Other________?

Step Two: Questions for Discernment

Now, use these to identify which idol most competes with God for first place in your life; you might make a mark next to the items above after each question and see which has the most marks at the end:

(1) Which of these do you think about most? When you wake up or fall asleep?
(2) Which do you most fear losing?
(3) Which most gives you a sense of identity?
(4) Which do you look to in order to feel secure?
(5) Which do I most want to be known for? Makes you feel like “somebody?”
(6) Which most causes my emotions to go up and down?
(7) Which would other people who know me well say is my biggest idol?
(8) Which do my efforts most tend to revolve around (what you sacrifice for)?

I would add a warning here: please do not allow this tool to be an instrument of guilt, but simply a way of assessing where you are in your walk. We all have a (fallen) natural tendency to replace God with something or someone else; so this is about owning where we are and offering that to God to lead us in a healthier way.

The passage in which I introduced this, Isaiah 44:6-23, ends with these strong words of grace and hope from our God: “Remember these things, Jacob, for you, Israel, are my servant. I have made you, you are my servant; Israel, I will not forget you. I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.” Sing for joy, you heavens, for the Lord has done this; shout aloud, you earth beneath. Burst into song, you mountains, you forests and all your trees, for the Lord has redeemed Jacob, he displays his glory in Israel.”

God only reveals our idolatry so that he might set us free--free to experience the joy and wonder that comes when we invite him back to the center of our lives.

Grace and peace.


Friday, April 9, 2010

Even This City Can Overcome Death

I came across this simple poem by Howard Nemerov, which provokes me again to dream. Even though he speaks a vision of Easter life to the suburbs, I imagine it speaking to the whole city, our city—the entire area of Greater Nashville. I hear in the announcement of this glorious season of our Lord’s resurrection that “even this city can overcome death…even here, death will be vanquished again…and certainly not by our own doing.” May this season be one where our God moves us outside of ourselves, so that we might be used by Him to restore life in all of its forms, right here, even here, in our city.

Enjoy the poem and Happy Easter!

Easter, by Howard Nemerov

Even this suburb has overcome death.
Overnight, by a slow explosion, or
A rapid burning, it begins again
Bravely disturbing the brown ground
With grass and even more elaborate
Unnecessaries such as daffodils
And tulips, till the whole sordid block
Of houses turned so inward on themselves,
So keeping of a winter's secret sleep,
Looks like a lady's hat, improbably
Nodding with life, with blue jays hooting
And pigeons caracoling up among
The serious chimney pots, and pairs
Of small birds speeding behind the hedges
Readying to conceal them soon. Here,
Even here, Death has been vanquished again,
What was a bramble of green barbed wire
Becomes forsythia, as the long war
Begins again, not by our doing or desiring.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Where Would We Be?

Palm Sunday, 2010. I came across this incredible image of Jesus' fateful journey taken from a painting in the Zirl parish church in Austria. I see it and strain to grasp even with all we know now, the full significance of this humble moment. I can't help wondering how many people missed it? How many folks simply went on with their day, ironically preparing to celebrate the mighty acts of God in the world, all the while oblivious to the fact that the mightiest act of all was unfolding before their very eyes?

But then again, can we really blame them? Would we really be any different? All of history is about to change, but the only marker of the occasion is a homeless carpenter, who happens to be the Son of God, riding into town on the back of a common farm animal. Pretty sure I'd have missed it too. Or, worse yet, I might well have been one of these men depicted in the back, with scowls on their faces, pointing in self-righteous accusation. Makes me thank God for second chances, for giving us all another shot (each year) to experience in some small way His life-changing actions in this world. It also makes me wary: in all of our preparations and celebrations this holy week, is it possible we too might miss him, showing up yet again in the most ordinary places and ways?

So, I don't know where I would have been then, or even what I'm missing right now. But I do know this: by the grace of God, here is where I stand today--honored to be one who cries out in grateful anticipation, "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord."

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Nature's Stop Sign

It has become nearly a cliché, but the wisdom is still sound: sometimes we’re so caught up in the “what” of life that we don’t see the “why.” For instance, much of the east coast sits under a blanket of snow and the newscasts incessantly announce what the weather is doing. They prophesy how long they expect it to last, list what organizations are closed, and then march out the statistics: so and so degrees, so many inches. We certainly need this information. But, sometimes we are so caught up in the facts that we don’t take the time to consider if there might be some meaning behind all of this.

Honestly, I’d never really thought about a ‘why’ for the weather before. At least I haven’t thought much beyond the typical question of why disasters happen (which recent events show to be still a valid subject to probe). But what about things like that snowstorm that keeps kids, teachers, and business people alike all glued to the television? Do we ever pause in the midst of the newscast to consider why? Is there perhaps some deeper purpose in simple things like drifts, sleds, and snowballs?

Some years ago, I came across this delightful treasure in the book of Job: “God says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’ and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’ So that everyone he has made may know his work, he stops all mortals from their labor” (Job 37:-7). Of course, I don’t want to make this more than it is; or to imply that every time the weather acts up, God has specifically planned that for some end. But we perhaps should take more seriously that what we call “bad weather” might actually serve as an imposed invitation to practice what God has always intended: for his people to regularly stop and rest.

When you think about it, this happens in other ways. I have a friend who recently was working at such a frenzied pace he couldn’t slow down even for a moment. Finally, his body just said stop! He got sick and was forced to practice a Sabbath rest for a couple of days. I read this text as God saying, sometimes at least, weather can do the same thing. It’s like He’s saying, “I allow the snow to pile up, just so you crazy humans have to slow down for a minute and breathe.”

So for years it has become a practice for me to view any big snowfall as God’s invitation to stop, play and enjoy his creation. I know, most everybody does this, but the Bible’s wisdom here reminds us that this isn’t just some childhood pleasure, it is a spiritual practice. That means, when Christine and I walked through the woods last week and pretended we were in Narnia, it wasn’t just make-believe. It was a prayer. It was worship. It was connecting to ‘the why’ behind ‘the what’ of our best snowfall in years.

I pray that in these moments God might begin to train me, to train all of us, not to wait for a blizzard to accept his gift of rest.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hard Lessons from the Hardwood

I was playing basketball recently, for first time in months, and I was struck by how the 12 year old inside of me still delights in being chosen by the “A-court” players to be on their team. I was almost shocked at how a simple nod from the guy I watched rain three pointers in the previous game made me feel validated in some way, when he overlooked several others to invite me to jump in. I realize that it’s incredibly shallow, of course, to feel good because some weekend warrior thinks I can still run with them. But as I think back on my superficial reaction, I sensed that it does reveal a genuine longing as well: to belong in some deeper way. I guess that's why today I was so moved by these words from Jesus: "You did not choose me, I chose you" (John 15:16). I long for the day when these unconscious moments might reveal that I am living from my true self, from the fact that value and significance comes not from any fleeting performance or ability, but from a deep centeredness on the One who made us.