Category Archives: Image of God

You’re doing it wrong

Several months ago, a friend who is very near to me asked me this question, “Why are unbelievers generally so much kinder and friendlier than Christians?”

And I thought about it. I gave her a pretty standard mumbling about “common grace”, and I do believe that is true.

I also believe that all humans are created in God’s image and have an understanding of kindness and friendship and love. We should be thankful for that.

But I thought about it.

I know this friend. I know that he was raised in the church, quite similar to my own circles and so his concerns echoed with me. I also have found that in general the people who treated me with the most contempt, rage, anger, and dismissal have been fellow professors of Christ. I have never had an unbeliever treat me as badly as one who broke bread with me at the Lord’s Table.

Why is that? If we are to be known by our love, why is it that we are mostly known by our contempt and anger against everyone?

And once again, you can deny it. I have had many believers try to prove that they aren’t bullies by threatening me, slandering me and cutting off all contact with me for saying that they were bullies.

You know what I am talking about. If you don’t, then maybe it would help you to learn to listen to those who have left the church. So many souls have been trampled on and abused by conservative evangelicals!

So I thought about it.

I think that there are two things that are deeply engrained in our evangelical culture.

First, fear is deeply engrained.  We were raised firmly in the belief that coming into contact with the “world” would destroy us. We were taught throughout the 70s and 80s and beyond that “secular humanists” were out to take away all of our rights, persecute us, change our way of life, and destroy churches.  “Left Behind”, Youth Camps, Bill Gothard – all of them painted quite the horrifying apocalypse if the unbelievers ever get power. If “these people” get their way, we will lose everything this country stands for! We will lose our place and our nation.

It actually was for this very reason that the leaders of the Jews delivered Jesus to be crucified. They thought that if he continued, the Romans would destroy their way of life and their positions of power (John 11:47-48).

So we react with the world through fear. We are terrified of everything. Rock music, Hollywood, Disney, ABC, Starbuck coffee, Harry Potter, women getting out of control! We need to be continually steadfast and vigilant!

We act as if God is just waiting for us to let our guards down and then punish us for not being vigilant enough.

(On a side note, this is why the teaching that Adam sinned by not guarding the garden from the invasion of the serpent bothers me so much. Not only is that nowhere in the text, but it puts an impossible standard on people that no one can meet. How could Adam have been everywhere at once? Should he have built a wall? Trained his sons to be armed border patrol?)

But I digress.

God has not called us to fear. We are complete in Christ and safe in him. God is not waiting for us to mess up so he can gleefully punish us. He delights in us as dear children and nothing can ever take us out of his hand.

2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV)
For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.

So quit being afraid of everything. If your gay neighbors get married, it won’t damage you or your relationship with God at all. Put the pickets down. Learn to delight in people and stop being afraid of them.

So that’s the first thing.

The second problem is this one – we cannot resist the opportunity to inform someone that they are doing something wrong.

Are you grieving loss? You’re doing it wrong.

Are you trying to come to terms with your childhood? You’re doing it wrong.

Are you living in terror? You’re doing it wrong.

Are you ready to report your sexual assault? You’re doing it wrong.

Are you happy about a promotion? You’re doing it wrong.

Are you having a party to celebrate an accomplishment? You’re doing it wrong.

Are you proud of your family? Raising your children? Pregnant? Breastfeeding? Bottle feeding? educating your children? Disciplining your children?

You’re doing it wrong.

I can’t speak for everyone, but in my circles I know where this tendency comes from.

We have a long, long history of being told that only Christians are knowledgeable on every single subject. Only Christians have the TRUTH and so only Christians can rightly teach history, child-rearing, marriage and family, math, economics, healthcare – and we have found bible verses to prove it all.

We are the experts in trauma, depression, anxiety, discipline, raising children, marriage, ADHD, ADD, gender roles, constitutional law, statute law, common law, race, economics – and it is our sworn duty to explain to the whole world that YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG!

Don’t you know that “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” (Kuyper). And this, of course, gives me the right as a Christian to explain to you again in all Christian love that YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG!!

If we do not explain carefully how everything you are doing is wrong, how on earth can you possibly repent from doing it wrong? And if you don’t repent from doing it wrong, how can you expect God to bless you.

Just quit doing it wrong, do it the other way, and then you will know God’s blessing in your life and all of your problems will disappear.

And then it follows – if you don’t stop doing it wrong, we are going to have to force you somehow.

Whew. And if we miss one opportunity, then the devil gets in the garden, our wife goes out wandering, and next thing you know all hell breaks loose again.

It’s exhausting, isn’t it?

And then we discover that what we thought was right and good wasn’t Christianity at all. In fact, it wasn’t much different than any other autocratic religion.

I wonder what would happen if we just stopped…

What if we just assumed that people who are truly doing it wrong probably already know that and those that don’t are probably just different than you are and that is OK.

Or maybe it’s not OK and they really are doing it wrong.

I’m probably doing it wrong too.

I grieve wrong. I get anxious over things. I forget things. I grumble when I shouldn’t. I don’t love as I ought.

What I am doing is simply trying to make it from one day to the next day the best I can, walking in God’s love and limping along towards the heavenly city.

Or maybe Jesus is carrying me the whole way. Or maybe I’m limping.

What I know for certain is this – he won’t ever let me go, even when I do everything wrong. And he will lead me by his Spirit and gently guide me exactly where I need to go and so I can just stop.

I wonder what would happen if we just sat with the grieving?

I wonder what would happen if we just listened to the one trying to process trauma?

I wonder what would happen if we just rejoiced when our neighbor got married?

I wonder what would happen if we were proud that our friend was proud of their work and cracked a cold one with him in his garage?

I wonder what would happen if we just stopped that impulse to tell everyone that everything that they are doing is wrong?

Maybe then people wouldn’t ask, “Why are unbelievers so much kinder and gentler than believers?”

Maybe we should listen.

19 Comments

Filed under Encouragement, Gospel, Image of God

taking up space

Have you ever been tormented by the thought that you take up too much space? Have you ever thought that no one wants to hear from you, that your body is offensive, that your breathe too loud?

Trauma often has that effect. If you could only make yourself invisible, maybe they will stop hurting you.

So you turn your voice down; you cover up all of your body parts. You slouch down. Don’t make eye-contact. Hide in the corner. Curl up in a ball.

And you wish that you didn’t take up so much space.

In my translation, this Psalm is given the heading, “God’s Perfect Knowledge of Man.”

My heading would be “The Psalm for those who think they take up too much space”

Read it.

Psalm 139:1–24 (NKJV)

1      O LORD, You have searched me and known me.
2      You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
3      You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
4      For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O LORD, You know it altogether.
5      You have hedged me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
6      Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is high, I cannot attain it.

7      Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
8      If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
9      If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10      Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me.
11      If I say, “Surely the darkness shall fall on me,”
Even the night shall be light about me;
12      Indeed, the darkness shall not hide from You,
But the night shines as the day;
The darkness and the light are both alike to You.

13      For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
14      I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
15      My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
16      Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.

17      How precious also are Your thoughts to me, O God!
How great is the sum of them!
18      If I should count them, they would be more in number than the sand;
When I awake, I am still with You.

19      Oh, that You would slay the wicked, O God!
Depart from me, therefore, you bloodthirsty men.
20      For they speak against You wickedly;
Your enemies take Your name in vain.
21      Do I not hate them, O LORD, who hate You?
And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?
22      I hate them with perfect hatred;
I count them my enemies.

23      Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me, and know my anxieties;
24      And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.

Stand up straight. Look me in the eye. Speak loud enough to be heard. Because you matter. Your space matters, because God made it.

In fact, we find out that after the Holy Spirit is poured out, your space is sacred space. Your body is the Holy of Holies of the Lord God who dwells in you. Jesus ascended into heaven and poured out his spirit on his sons and daughters, his old men and maidens. All of his people. Even you.

You matter. You can speak. Never apologize for taking up space. God loves you and the space you inhabit and he dwells there with you.

Read the Psalm again. And then again. Hide it in your heart.

Those who hate your space hate the God who made that space and placed you in it to be his Holy Temple. Now read verse 22 again. Take your space.

1 Corinthians 3:16–17 (NASB 2020)
16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys the temple of God, God will destroy that person; for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.

Take your space. Don’t hear those who seek to destroy. They are warring against you.

4 Comments

Filed under holy, Image of God, temple

Clothed with dignity

I’ve been thinking about clothing lately.

In my bible studies and in my preaching, I seem to come across this idea frequently. It bears some meditation.

“Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry And bring the homeless poor into the house; When you see the naked, to cover him; And not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (Isa. 58:7)

`I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ (Matt. 25:36)

These are the practical outworking of love, according to the Bible. A person who is born again by the spirit has been given new eyes and a new heart, and this new heart sees their neighbor differently than before. It is what is means to be united to Christ – to be more and more conformed to his image.

So when we say, “To be like Christ is to clothe the naked”, what do we mean? Of course, there are many other things mentioned – feeding the hungry, providing for your own relatives, comforting the lonely and downhearted, and so on, as well as other duties summarized in God’s law. But this is a blog, and I would just like to leave you with a couple of thoughts on just one word picture: What does it mean to clothe the naked?

The obvious is to provide clothing to those who are too poor to afford any. But I think it goes deeper.

Nakedness is always viewed as shameful in the scripture. It is exposure to the contempt and ridicule of others. To be naked is to be shamed, helpless, exposed.

In fact, in the Hebrew language, to be stripped naked is the same word used for being “exiled”. One who was captured and sent away was first stripped naked.

When one is stripped naked, they are no longer clothed with dignity and honor. They are no longer men or women to be respected, but slaves to be mocked.

Slaves were sold naked on the auction block. The clothed people who were the “masters” wanted to see their potential “property”.

In other words, to be naked is to no longer be viewed as an image-bearer of God, with dignity and honor. It is rather to be exposed to the leers and contempt of those who are clothed.

The first thing that we need to see is this – Jesus was stripped naked before he was nailed to the cross. He was stripped naked so that we might be clothed with his righteousness.

He was the fulfillment of the sign of the skins in the Garden of Eden. Right after the fall, God clothed Adam and Eve with the skin of an animal, pointing to the day when their shame and nakedness would be covered by the Sacrifice that God would provide.

Jesus was that sacrifice. He bore our shame. He bore the ridicule of the “clothed ones” so that I might be His forever, without shame, without sin, without nakedness. And he did this because of the “great love with which he loved us.”

We are now one step closer to seeing what it means to be like Christ in clothing the naked.

As far as we know, Jesus never donated coats to goodwill. He was poor his entire life and only had one garment. But he clothed all of his people with righteousness, holiness, wisdom, acceptance, belonging – the richest clothes imaginable.

To walk in his footsteps is to do as he did: View each person you meet as an image-bearer of God, worthy of dignity and honor. It will only come as the outflowing of a heart that is born again.

If God has provided richly in material things, then certainly give coats and clothing to the poor. Be generous with your charity. This is most certainly commanded in many places in the Scripture. But Christian love goes deeper, and “clothing the naked” applies whether you have money or not.

It means to be consciously aware of those around you – each one is worthy of dignity, whether they know it or not. Treat everyone you meet as worthy of your respect and dignity.

I will use one example that I heard from someone years ago, that I have not been able to forget.

First, from the perspective of the “church lady”.

A young woman, perhaps 18 or 19, enters the church and sits in the back row. Everyone sees her walk in. She is wearing an extremely short skirt and high heels. Her midriff is bare. Her cleavage is showing. She isn’t wearing makeup. She sneaks in the back and sits down.

The men leer at her. The church lady, out of the goodness of her heart, draws her to the side and explains to her that her outfit is making the men lust, and they can’t worship with her dressed like that.

She leaves the service and never returns. What happened?

What happened was that the congregation did not “clothe the naked” as Jesus clothed us.

Let’s look at the same scenario from the point of view of the young woman.

A young woman is sexually assaulted over and over again by her mother’s boyfriend. No one has ever been kind to her. No one has ever viewed her as anything other than an object to be used and discarded.

She runs away from home at age 13. While on the streets, hungry and cold, a young man comes to her rescue. He brings her home and begins to groom her. It is the only life she knows. By the time she is 14, she is turning tricks to keep her new “boyfriend” from throwing her out or hurting her badly.

When she turns 18, she hears a preacher on the radio speak about Jesus and how he forgives sin, how he came to rescue those who were lost, and how he seeks and saves…she works up every bit of courage she can muster, puts on her very best outfit, and braves the church…

And she is told that the men, who profess to follow Jesus, are lusting after her and she needs to put on more clothes.

Where can she be safe, if not the church of Jesus Christ? Her worst nightmare has come true, that even God views her as an object to be used and discarded.

We can do better. Of course this young woman is a sinner. She would be hard around the edges. She has learned how to survive in ways that would cause us the flinch.

But Jesus clothes the naked.

“When you found me naked, you clothed me”, Jesus said. You didn’t mock me. You didn’t condescend to me. You didn’t lust after me. You didn’t clothe me with shame.

You didn’t tell me that I was not acceptable, not wanted, not worth dignity and love.

What you did was you clothed me. You treated me with kindness and honor. You heard me. You saw me. You treated me as if I were valuable, worth saving. You treated me as if I were a lost coin, rejoicing that I was found.

Of course, if you view the body of an 18 or 19 year old as an object to be lusted after, no matter how they are dressed, you have far deeper problems and I would suggest you fly to your redeemer yourself before YOUR nakedness is exposed, but that is another blog for another day.

As the body of Christ, should we not learn to view people as HE viewed people while he walked on this earth?

10 Comments

Filed under Image of God, Sin and Grace

Peopling is hard

My brain sometimes behaves like an 8 year old. It hides behind things and jumps out at me in the hopes of messing me up. One of its favorite tricks is to blend words that people say to me in new and unique ways so that all I am hearing is gibberish.

As an interesting example, when I was a child, a minister friend of my father’s would greet me with “What’s new?” My brain scramble would hear, “What snew?”

“What snew?” I have no idea what to say to that. Like my brain just jumped out at me and said, “Gotcha!” and all I could do is go, “waaaaaaaahhhhh” but that doesn’t contribute anything at all to the conversation. I would function enough to know that simply going waaaahhhh would get me sent away, so I just gaped.

Since that brain scramble wasn’t enough, my brain decided to disconnect the circuitry that responds to anything. After rejecting waaaaaaaaahhhhhhh as inadequate for the situation, I would say nothing and just wait for something to load….

“Snew…” “snew.” *file not found. critical error. abort immediately.

From the perspective of the adults around me, I’m just a drooling imbecile. But my brain runs Vista and frequently shuts down.

As I got a bit older, I started to just say, “What?” Or, more politely, “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that.” Or perhaps “pardon me?”

But then he would just say, “What snew?” again, which isn’t exactly helpful.

How many times does one say, “What?” before one just gives up and says the first thing that pops into his mind?

“What snew

“What?

“What snew?

“I purpled a thing and I can’t dog anymore.

Peopling is exhausting sometimes.

Of course, as an adult, I am far more understanding of the gaping child. Look at it from his perspective: he is sitting there minding his own business. His mind is pondering. His unicorns are unicorning and his purpling is purpler than ever before. He is thinking through the mysteries of self and why I am me and you are you and what is the dogness of the dog and then some giant man shouts at you…

“What snew?”

That’s just too much input. Critical error. This is going to take some time to boot up.

I need a nap now. This, mom, is why I just would give up and go to bed at 9:30.

If I’m gaping at you, or my words are not the expected response, please be assured that I am really trying. Also please be aware that I might just need a nap.

Jesus said to deal with your neighbor as you would have them deal with you. We all have a basic need to be understood. God created us to know and to be known.

But we teach our kids to be silent, to conform, to be just like everyone else. In fact, our whole education model is based upon making the children conform. No wonder anxiety and depression and ADHD are rampant. God didn’t create us to conform. He created us to commune! We aren’t borg. We are image-bearers of God.

But we have had generations of teaching children “Sit still. Answer the adults. Be respectful. Regurgitate your lessons properly. Don’t fidget in church. Don’t embarrass your parents by being different…”

Let’s try a different strategy. Let’s try communing with our children instead of making them conform. Listen to them. Provide a safe space for them to thrive. Let them be themselves, with all of their glorious coloring.

“I think that those who would try to make you feel less than who you are…that’s the great evil” (Fred Rogers).

Let’s stop the “I turned out just fine” model and learn from the past.

And when a child is staring with an open gaping mouth, maybe give him a break. Things that come easily to you might not come easily to everyone else, and that is OK. All of us have our own glorious purpling.

3 Comments

Filed under Anthropology, Image of God

Image-bearers

27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. (Gen. 1:27)

Sometimes I use this blog as an opportunity to jot down an idea while it is mulling. It is sort of an invitation to mull right along with me.

I have over the past few months been meditating on the doctrine of eternal generation. This is the doctrine that God the Father is begetting the Son in an unfathomable, eternal act. This act of begetting does not have a before, after, or future, but takes place in eternity without any change in the nature of God.

Simply, this means that it is of God’s essence to fellowship, to love, and to overflow with goodness. This goodness flows into creation and God created man to share in the love and fellowship of the Trinity. It was fitting, then, that men and women be created in the image of God, to share in that fellowship as much as creatures are able to.

So…mull on that a bit…

Of course, man fell. And that corrupted everything. Jesus came into the world to restore what was destroyed in the fall.

In other words, he came to bring us back into the fellowship of love that we were created to take a part in.

25 O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me.
26 And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them. (Jn. 17:25-26)

OK. Moving on.

Let’s take this to the next step. If the essence of God is eternal communion and love (which the doctrine of eternal generation teaches), then sin is far greater than we can imagine, for it breaks the fellowship with God. We are born alienated and strangers to that fellowship.

This is what the church meant when it taught the “T” in “TULIP” – total depravity. Man cannot climb back into God’s graces because man is fallen in the totality of his being.

But according to scripture, even though it teaches that “all have sinned and have come short of the glory of God”, sin is not the essence of who men and women are. Essentially, they are image-bearers of God. Therefore, they are redeemable, for when sin is taken away, the image of God remains and is restored.

So here is what I am mulling – what if we viewed human beings as essentially image-bearers of God rather than essentially as sinners?

Think about that. How much would change in your thinking?

Even in the law, a criminal was not to be tortured and beaten to a pulp because of the image-bearing that was essentially there. He was not to be despised (Deut. 25:3)

When we view people as primarily sinners, we cannot see anything worth redeeming in them.

We must then shun music and art and fashion and poetry for fear that we will somehow be tainted by “sinners”.

And, worse, we cannot see beyond our senses, to the inherent dignity and worth of every man, woman and child as reflecting their heavenly Father, whether they remain in their sins or are redeemed by Christ.

And so we must ask ourselves, “How much is a little girl worth?”

“How much is a little boy worth?”

And if we view children as “vipers in diapers”, and as essentially sinners, we have to answer, “Not much…” and our actions reflect that answer.

But as Christians we believe the bible. We believe that men and women are not essentially sinners. Sin came later, a corruption of what was essentially there, which is what makes it so heinous. But it also makes men and women redeemable, which is what Christ’s mission was. To redeem his people from their sins and misery.

If we truly believe that, then the question “How much is a child worth?” has a clear answer.

Worth fighting for. Worth protecting. Worth all of your treasures and gifts to love and protect. Worth your love and your joy and your cherishing.

If we truly believed that, would churches continue to condone and overlook violence against women?

If we truly believed that, would slavery and racism have ever been a thing?

If we believed that, would there have been a genocide of California Indians?

The history of the United States, for all of the good that was there, forgot quite frequently that men and women are essentially image-bearers of God, and God takes how we treat them quite seriously, whether they are still in their sins or not.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son.”

You were all created in honor. Fallen in sin, yes. Unable to free yourselves. Yes.

Sinking in the mud of death and misery? Yes.

But because essentially you are an image-bearer of God, you are worth redemption.

12 But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, (Jn. 1:12)

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Filed under Image of God, redemption