Concretization of the Abstraction of God

Jesus concretized God. Man is supposed to concretize Jesus.

When God created the universe and the earth, he did not consider it to be complete unless he gave the creation a way to know him and what he is like. God is a real person. He is invisible, yet concrete. But to most of us he is more of an abstraction. We can’t see him. We can only see evidence of him. His kingdom, the kingdom of God, is such an abstraction that Jesus never explicitly defines it, rather saying what it is like: a mustard seed, a man on a trip, a father with two sons…

But in the days of creation, God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness” (Gen 1:26). Not being a Hebrew scholar myself, I can look up the word and see that the word God uses for image is the same as that of idol. The kind of thing we are not to do, make an image of God to worship it, God has already done in man, not so that we could worship it, but so that we and the rest of the creation could know something of what God is like.

In man in his unbroken, un-fallen state, we can see what God is like. He may have been only a concept before, but now he is concrete.  Righteousness is an abstraction, but the way man was called to live on the earth was concrete.  The same goes for holiness, justice, and love.  To see these abstractions in a concrete reality, one should be able to look at any human on the earth.  

But that is not what we get from looking at humans on the earth, because the image is broken.  Now, to try to see what God is like from looking at his creatures will be misleading, to say the least.  God is love; we hate all the time.  God is joyful; we are often depressed.  God is purposeful; we are purposeless much of the time.  God is selfless; we are selfish.  God is truth; we are liars.  

Because of this difficulty, humans who wanted to know God had to do the best they could by looking at the best of humans, the goodness of creation (broken though it was), and studying the law he gave to Moses with their depraved minds and experimenting with ways to keep it.  

So, understandably, by the time Jesus arrived on the earth, there was much confusion about what the Father was truly like.  But when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us (Jn 1:14), the world got a clear picture.  Philip said to Jesus, “‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father’”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me” (Jn 14:8-10)? Philip was a disciple of Jesus. Imagine the confusion of those who would oppose Jesus.

Nonetheless, Jesus came and restored the image of God in man, by showing the Father by his life and his own nature, which was the Father’s nature.  In 1 Corinthians 11:3 it says that the head of Christ is God, and the head of man is Christ.  

Our Part in Concretizing the Abstraction

Once again, the world is faced with the problem of abstraction.  Many things are said of Christ, and he has been portrayed in many ways, some more faithfully than others.  The Church has the responsibility of being the body of Christ, the physical expression of him in this age.  Christian men and women who make up the Church are also called to continually grow in their capacity to image Christ and so image the Father.  

I like what happens in Acts 4:13:

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.

I pray that others could see my boldness and my actions, my commonness, and recognize that I am with Jesus!  I pray that for you too. 

Here is how Jesus said it: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (Jn 13:35).

Boldness and love are two of the ways in which we can demonstrate the image of Christ and his Father in us, and these we display by receiving the free gift of life in Christ on the cross, and by walking according to his Spirit that he has put in us.  

Then, when they recognize you are different, that you have “been with Jesus,” share the gospel, which is the power of God for salvation (Ro 1:16).

A Christian Approach to Relating to Others Part 3, Discrimination for the Sake of Justice

I want you to discriminate.  Discrimination is good.  Discrimination becomes a bad thing when one discriminates on the basis of something dumb, like skin color.  The late, great Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said that he had a dream that his “four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  I whole-heartedly agree with this dream. It is God’s dream, and if no one ever gets away with anything, then no one ever gets away with racism and discrimination based on race or anything else subjective.  

But discrimination is good.  You must discriminate. If you are ready to get married and looking for who might be a good spouse, you had better discriminate.  Take King’s advice and discriminate according to the content of a potential spouse’s character.  If you don’t, not only will you suffer, but you will commit an injustice, and no one ever gets away with injustice forever.  

How is that injustice?  Because it rewards a person of low character with the honor of becoming your closest kinship, one-fleshness.  It teaches them they can find a spouse and still be a horrible person.  If you meet this person, you should not encourage them to keep being the way they are.  God wouldn’t do that.  God is just. If he were not totally just, he would not have sent his Son to take on the sin of those to whom he intended to show mercy. We are called to be merciful, because God is just, and no one gets away with anything.  We are called to be just, because we are called to be like God.  We are called to forgive, because God reserves eternal judgment for himself alone, and he does not want us to carry that burden. 

What About Trust?

Whoever we come across should be considered a potential friend.  What do we know about them?  They are a human, so an equal in dignity. They are geographically close to us in that moment, so a potential neighbor/friend.  They are either a brother, sister, neighbor (in the biblical sense), or enemy, so they are a person we should love.  So is that enough information to know whether or not we should trust them?  No. 

No? Is that unloving?  Not at all, but trusting an untrustworthy person is unjust.  Did you know that Jesus did not trust people?  John 2:23-24 says, 

23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

This tells us that Jesus, though he loved everyone, did not trust them.  He did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.  Wow! Gentle Jesus was under no illusions about the heart of man.  He did not trust them, but he gave his life to them. And that is different.  Does that mean that we should not trust anyone?  No, it does not mean that, but we should trust only those who have proven trustworthy.  Honest people deserve to be trusted more than people we know to be dishonest.  This is just, and it is righteous, and breaking these basic laws will land you in trouble and enable someone else’s unethical behavior.  That would not be godly.  

And we ourselves should be trustworthy. No matter what it costs us.  The outcome of the truth is always the right outcome. First, because God says so.  

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor (Ex 20:16).

Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices (Col 3:9).

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another (Eph 4:25).

Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out (Prov 10:9). 

The book of Proverbs is full of wisdom about honesty.  Furthermore, there are countless biblical narratives about a person who lies, and it always comes back.  No one ever gets away with anything.  Bending reality is not possible.  The cost always comes. 

But even if you did not believe in God, you should be truthful for the sake of practicality.  There is a reason that all religions regard truthfulness as a virtue. There is a reason why you get upset when you feel you have been lied to. Simply, faking in any way denies what is actually real.  Just because you lie about something doesn’t mean that the real truth ceases to be true.  If you lie to your spouse about how you’re feeling about the marriage, the truth festers and keeps torturing you. If you lie on your company reports, the actual numbers are somewhere refusing to lie, and they will come back to haunt you.  If you lie to yourself about your health problems, you will die young.  

Another major cost of dishonesty is your own self esteem.  Self esteem psychology gets a bad rep because of the ill conceived efforts of the education system of the last few decades to generate self esteem out of thin air.  This phenomenon is itself a lie.  Telling someone they are good when they are not objectively good, is a lie, and they know it, even if you have taught them to repeat the lie.  This doesn’t work.  

What we should be doing instead is teaching our children that they are intrinsically valuable to God because he created them in his image. But that doesn’t change the fact that there are ways to be judged in character, and the road to actual esteem for oneself is to travel that road honestly and courageously.  Self esteem is a good thing, but free self esteem is a lie, and we all know it.  You are valuable.  God made you.  That’s no small thing, and the fact that he made you in his image is a tremendous discovery.  But, because you are an image bearer, you have to make choices concerning how to live, and you will hate yourself if you don’t choose righteousness.  

It is true that many unfortunate children are taught that they are no good intrinsically.  They had bad care-takers who tore them down.  But these were also lies from the fools who we were forced to believe.  It is this problem that the self esteem movement is seeking to correct.  It is combatting the one lie, that you are a bad boy or a bad girl fundamentally, with another, that you are a good boy or girl, apart from anything you do or any character flaws.  No, you are intrinsically valuable, but you must choose to be good or bad.  

As Christians we know that the difficulty of the choice springs from the sin in our flesh.  The first facing of the truth is to repent and turn to Jesus. He has paid for our dishonesty with his blood and made a way not only for us to be forgiven for it, but to become different. He has given us a new nature and the ability to change the habits of dishonesty that have so wrecked our self esteem.  In Christ, we can learn to be truthful, and we will strengthen as we, like true image bearers of the I AM, make righteous choices that will impact our esteem of ourselves. 

Tomorrow let’s explore further the idea that we don’t need to obsess about outcomes. Those belong to God, and as I’ll explain tomorrow, “The outcome of the truth is the right outcome.”

A Christian Approach to Relating to Others Part 2, Justice and Value

Yesterday I wrote about horizontal versus vertical relationships and Jesus’ call not to “exercise authority” over others in part one of a multi-part post about how Christians should relate to other people.  Today I want to talk about the concept of “Justice,” a word that I’m sure we misunderstand quite a bit. 

Justice (Value for Value)

After part one of this discussion you might be thinking, “I understand that we aren’t supposed to dominate others, and that we are equals with everyone we meet, but what about all the verses that say I’m supposed to make myself lower than everyone?  Aren’t I supposed to put everyone above me?”  Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”  And Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant” (Mt 20:26).  You already know that no one is supposed to be your head, that no one is supposed to personally dominate you.  But how should you see others?  How should you look at other men and women who you are supposed to “consider better than yourselves?”  

The word justice is the right word for beginning this thought process. God has created us in his image. He is perfect.  A key part of the Gospel message is that God’s justice is impeccable, perfect.  Because of this, he had to send his Son to die for us, to redeem us, justify us, save us.  The fact that God’s justice is perfect means that the justice in the universe is perfect.  It doesn’t always seem like it, and indeed, the Psalmists complain about that (Ps 58). But time is the key ingredient. No one ever gets away with anything.  This is why confession and repentance is so crucial. By confessing and repenting you can clear the decks. Your confession is your not getting away with it.  The universe, that is, the creation is a just place because the Creator is just.  When we live in his image and pursue abundant life as his delegates, we are to pursue justice.

Justice is a misunderstood term.  Social Justice means many different things to many different people, but very often it has the unfortunate circumstances to be misapplied.  When there is a perceived injustice, often well-meaning people seek to correct it. There is nothing wrong with the desire to correct injustice, but because we are so twisted and broken, we often create greater injustices by our attempts.  Social justice and how to go about it are beyond the scope of this post, but for my current purposes, I’d like you to see justice in light of how we relate to all people around us.  

Honesty, integrity, and love must go together in each and every single, solitary interaction that you have with a fellow image-bearer.

Your spouse, your children, your friends, coworkers, neighbors, highway sharers, shoppers, and anyone else, deserve your integrity and love.  This means that when you face them, whether it is for one half of a second, or until death do you part, you must be just in your interactions.  You must be honest.  You must trade with them horizontally, value for value.  You must remember that God loves them more than you do.  You must see them as God sees them, an image-bearer with the potential to be saved.  You must show up on their radar screen with total integrity.  

Those Closest To You

Remember that part of what we have been created for was relationship.  Everyone you interact with is a relationship of some distance.  You cannot be equally close with everyone, so you have had to make some choices.  One the one hand, you should treat everyone the same.  Everyone deserves your honesty, your courage, your kindness and love, your exhibition of the image of God, that is, your Christlikeness.  Everyone deserves your integrity and your authenticity. And this is not for their sake alone, but for the sake of justice, and for your sake. If you have to pretend in any sphere of your life, you will be damaged. The less time you can live being your true self, the more difficult it will be to live the life that Jesus was trying to give you when he died for you and told you to lose your life to find it.  When you are being your most honest yet loving self, you are “finding your life” (Mt 10:39).  

Let’s see what this looks like with your spouse. If you don’t have one, imagine that you do.  You approach the relationship as someone whose identity is in Christ.  You know who you are. You know where your happiness lies. You did not get married in order to become happy. You got married in order to share your happiness with another, and to accomplish God’s purposes with someone who you have entered into a one-flesh, permanent-for-this-life union, most likely (but not definitely) for the sake of producing godly offspring for the glory of God and the good of the world.

With your identity, that is, your sense of self, and your purpose and happiness rooted already in God, you come to this person ready to give love and support and ready to trade value for value. Does this sound like a business transaction?  It is similar in kind in that true value is not a zero sum game.  Capitalism gets a bad name because of those who engage in it dishonestly in order to steal from others.  But that is not capitalism. It is theft. It is crime. True capitalism can and should be perfectly loving.  Consider that you have an old drill you don’t need because your friend gave you a new and better one. You don’t have room in your garage for two, so you decide you need to get rid of the old one.  You thought you might give it to your other friend, but it turns out he has a better one already.  You also realize you’d like to take your wife out for dinner, but you don’t have the money set aside for that. Maybe you could sell that drill you don’t need anymore to someone who needs it and has expendable income he’s been saving for a drill.  You advertise online and within a day you get an offer that is acceptable to you. You meet up and trade the drill for dinner with your wife. You no longer have the problem of an extra drill and no money for dinner.  Your “customer” no longer has the problem of no drill.  Value has been created by the fact that not only has neither party taken advantage of the other, but dinner for you and your wife is more valuable to you than the drill was.  The drill is more valuable to the other guy than his money was.  To top it off, your wife, who gave up nothing at all, gets treated to dinner.  

This is how capitalism should work, on the basis of justice and value for value. Why is this so?  Because that is how God designed all just relationships to work.  I’m not saying that a marriage or friendship should be modeled on a business transaction. I’m saying that a right relationship is a right relationship.  An honest relationship is an honest relationship. It makes no difference whether two people are married or meeting one time in a parking lot to trade cash for a drill.  How you show up as a true human is the very same. The only difference is in the degree of closeness.  

So with my spouse, everything should be totally honest.  I also believe that I should love everyone, especially her.  So all my interactions with her are not only to be honest, but loving.  I should want the very best for her for the sake of justice and righteousness in all our interactions.  This costs me nothing, because no godly transaction is zero sum, meaning it is not win-lose.  It can only be win-win, and value can only be created, not diminished, when conducted this way.  If you conduct all your relationships the same way, the only difference being the commitment to closeness with those you’ve chosen to be closest to, you will have all great relationships, especially your marriage relationship. 

Tomorrow let’s look at the word “discrimination” and see if there is not a good way to discriminate that is just.

A Christian Approach to Relating to Others Part 1, Horizontal vs. Vertical Relationships

Relating to Others

In the beginning God created a man.  He was alone. God said that it was not good that the man was alone, so he gave him a wife.  You might think that having a wife was the answer to the problem.  It was not. It was the beginning of the answer. It was step one.  But the real answer came about two hundred years later when these two had built a society.  God made man in his image to lovingly relate to other people.  Adam and Eve had to create other people, who would create other people, who would create other people. In their long lives they had time to see most of the known world populated with their family before they died.  This was God’s plan when he said in Genesis 1:28, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” 

Part of being human, then, is doing life with others.  God in himself is three persons, so he could not make man, who is one person, like him in his image without giving him community. So that is what he did, starting with Eve.  Then he gave him children, grandchildren, great grandchildren for many generations.  These families formed communities.  After the flood and the Tower of Babel, these communities spread over the face of the earth.  Now there are continents, countries, regions, states, cities, suburbs and villages, neighborhoods, and households.  At every level the principles of relating to one another are the same, but the distance between people is closed as you work your way inwardly, both because of the number of people at each stage, and the geographic location of people in relation to one another. Even in our modern globally connected world, this still applies.  

So it is important for the Christian, the image bearer, to learn the principles for relating at each of these levels. Psychologists have said that every emotional problem humans face is an interpersonal relationship problem. Remember my earlier post about the man who escaped his problems by hiding in the woods for over twohttps://formyownsake.com/2020/05/https://formyownsake.com/2020/05/15/manifestations-of-a-broken-image-pt-3/ decades. He knew all his problems were interpersonal relationship problems, but he just didn’t know what to do about it. God helps us if we are willing to listen and do the hard and courageous work of transformation. If we allow God into our lives in these areas, relationships will become a source of joy and a part of our abundance of life.

Horizontal vs. Vertical

In the kingdom of satan, relationships are hierarchical. Everybody knows it. Jordan Peterson, a psychologist of recent internet fame, says people are like lobsters, looking for their place in the status ladder, always challenging for a position higher. He is completely correct. In this world it is ‘dominate or be dominated.’ Human history is the history of who dominated whom. Many of us are evaluating people as soon as we meet them. Unconscious or consciously we are asking, “How do I measure up to this one? Could I win a fight with him” (Guys ask this, women might ask, “Am I prettier than her”)? Our real question is, “Am I any good?” And the vast majority of us will use the people around us to answer that question.

This is what the disciples were getting at when they argued about who was the greatest.  Yet somehow they knew Jesus wouldn’t like it (Mk 9).  This is what James and John were getting at when they had their momma come and ask Jesus to give them the two highest positions in their kingdom.

20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. 21 And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” 22 Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” 23 He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” 24 And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt 20:20-28).

After telling them that they have no idea what kind of burden such a position would bring, that of drinking from the same cup of suffering as Jesus, he says to the disciples who were indignant because they didn’t think to get their own moms involved to get them a position (not really, but maybe),“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.”  Notice he doesn’t say that they are too domineering, or that the Gentiles necessarily abuse those who they lead. What he says is they lord it over them, which means they take a position of lordship, and they “exercise authority.” They take a position of authority.  What’s so bad about that?  It sounds perfectly natural. There are leaders, and there are followers.  Don’t there have to be?  Well, yes, and no. 

Jesus says, “It shall not be so among you.” You will not lead that way. You are different from the world. The world does what is perfectly natural for people and lobsters, but you are not natural people, you are spiritual people, supernatural people. Your relationships will not be characterized by dominance.  Your identity will not be characterized by your place in a hierarchy.  This will have massive implications for how church should be done, but rarely is.  Jesus has made a powerful statement about the way humans are to relate to one another.  

Even in a situation where positional authority is recognized, personal authority is not proper.

In short, no man should have another man as his leader, meaning, as a person who can dominate that man with his personal power, especially not in the Church. Early twentieth century psychologist, Alfred Adler called this the difference between horizontal relationships, and vertical relationships.    

According to God, all relationships should be horizontal, except for our relationship with him.  That one is completely vertical. His ways are higher than our ways. His glory is and always will be greater than our own.  He is in charge, we are not in charge of anything except what he alone gives us charge over.   But with other people, it is a different story.  When I am face to face with another man or woman, we are equals in dignity. We are equals in intrinsic value.  Why? Because we are both created in God’s image, and that is a great honor.  We don’t share dignity with animals. They are lower than us.  Even the majestic ones who would eat us, are considered by God to be lower than us (Gen 1:26).  In a relationship with an animal, all humans rank above them.  Your dog is not your son.  He is your dog, and he will thrive if you treat him like one.  But the people in your life should be treated as humans, equals, and you should expect, demand, that they will treat you the same. 

Are their hierarchies?  Yes. Are their rulers and governments? Yes.  Does God call us to obey authority? Yes.  Ok, so how then are these people over us our equals?  

Because their authority over you is not personal, and has nothing to do with who you are intrinsically.

It has to do with what power has been vested in them by God.  If the state gives someone authority over you, like a police officer, then it is actually vested by God.   If the company gives a manager authority over you, then it is vested by God. It is true that the company CEO or board of directors is the one who gave that manager authority over you, but it is institutional, and limited in scope.  You may have to submit to him concerning the job, but only under certain moral parameters, and only according to what is reasonable under the contractual agreement that you have with the company.  Though this is your boss, you have a horizontal relationship because you are trading value for value.  You might be allowing him to direct you, but only if he (or she) keeps up his end of the bargain and pays you what he agreed to pay you, and treats you in a way that is appropriate.

Being in a horizontal relationship with this person means that he or she is not better than you just because their institutional position is higher.

Even the police man only has authority over you within certain parameters. The laws of the United States don’t give him absolute power over your life. The laws, in fact, protect the individual from the power of the state. The state, including the police officer, must be just, or they lose their authority. Your relationship with the police, the judge, or the President of the United States, is horizontal. They are not personally over you. They are not better than you intrinsically. They may be more competent, for now, or they may represent a higher institutional authority than you, and representing the institution, they represent God so long as their rules are just, which means that they are in accordance with Scripture and logic, whether they acknowledge that or not. But, they are not over you.

But why do we feel like they are? Because it is natural to feel that way. It is natural in our flesh to feel our lack in the face of a stronger personality. That is why Jesus had to teach the disciples a way of thinking about leadership that went opposite of the world’s way. Not so with you. You will not “exercise authority.” No using natural means to gain power over others. No standing between people and God, which is what happens when one lords it over another, and exercises personal authority, human, natural authority.

The head of Christ is God. The head of man is Christ. 1 Cor 11:3-13 says it is disgraceful for a man to wear a head covering, because it is a sign of authority, such as a wife would wear who has a husband, who is her “head.” But no man has another human as his head. No man is to have another human standing in between himself and God. Some of those in ministry see themselves as holding that position, we’ll discuss this more in a future post, but for now I’ll say they are sorely mistaken, and they do a great disservice to the people they serve if they think that way. Jesus said it would be different in his Church.

I will continue this series in several parts about relating to other people. I hope you’ll come back tomorrow to continue the conversation. I welcome your comments.

How Jesus Restores Mankind Part 4, Freedom

The Praise of Man

Giving in Secret

The last two posts looked at the sermon on the mount to consider Jesus’s prescription for the restoration of men and women on the earth. First we looked at his words on anger and murder, then his words on lust and sexual sin, and we noted the extreme freedom that his viewpoint brings to those who have ears to hear and want something better than what passes in the world for happiness and fulfillment. 

Next in the sermon on the mount Jesus discusses divorce. In light of what he says about lust, this one should be easy.  Then oaths: If you are a truly honest person, you don’t need them.  Then retaliation: Don’t retaliate, because you are free from anger. And, love for enemies: Having this will free you from anger and the need for retaliation. After this, in Matthew 6, Jesus moves into subtler territory and gets at the heart of a prevalent issue in the human condition: Doing things, even religious things, to collect the praises of man.  

First, he addresses the subject of giving.  Most people have a hard enough time making themselves give away any money at all. Often, ministries and charities make use of our fallen nature to manipulate us to give, and that usually revolves around other people knowing what you give.  Whether it is in a church where the pastors make it known that they see who gives what, or it is a philanthropist getting their name on a hospital wing, most know that people will tend to give more in public than they will in private.  Why is this?  There can only be one answer to this question: Because we are giving what we are giving to be seen by men, rather than God. Jesus saw the problem with this and called it out in verses 1-4 of Matthew 6.  He said, to paraphrase, that we should not let anyone see us giving to the needy.  If we “practice our righteousness before other people,” then we will receive the reward we are clearly looking for, the esteem of others.  When we have received that, then there is no more reward to be had by God.  

This is tragic, because Jesus died to set us free from the shame brought on by sinfulness, first seen in the garden (Gen 3:10).  It is this shame that compels us to practice righteousness in order to be seen. These righteous acts are like the fig leaves covering Adam and Eve.  The reward that Jesus desires for us is freedom from this shame. When we are free, then we are free to give in secret. 

The reward that the Father will give us is that of freedom from the bondage of needing the approval of others that we have been seeking to cover our shame, or our sense of worthlessness.  

Rather than fig leaves, Jesus is the animal skins that the Father so lovingly gave to Adam to cover him by his work, instead of Adam’s.  Jesus says to us by his coming and his death for us that we have no need to hide behind the approval of others. When we as Christians give in secret, we reinforce the truth and starve out the lie.  That reinforcement strengthens us at the core, bringing us more peace, more joy, more stability in Christ, more of the good kind of pride, better fellowship with God, because there is less hiding. The reward of the praise of man is a cheap substitute that will not pay off in the end and keeps us from the real prize.  

Praying in Secret

All the very same principles apply in the area of prayer.  If you want to see someone put on a show, put them in a corporate prayer session.  I am a pastor, and I weekly battle the temptation when praying at the end of a sermon to “perform” the closing prayer.  I don’t even realize when I’m doing it!  It’s easier for me to notice when others are doing it.  Granted, it takes a great deal of freedom to become the kind of person who will pray in front of others in the exact same way that he or she prays alone.  You don’t have to want to put on a show for that to be what happens. I would say that for 99% of us, it is the default.  But Jesus shows us here that by refusing to participate in the normal way of doing it, praying, at least partly, for show, and instead just pouring out your heart to God when you are praying with others, or even praying only alone for a while, we will receive a reward from God in the way of answered prayer, and as with the giving in secret, in the way of a strengthening of faith and character.  

Forgiveness 

Next, after teaching them the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches his disciples that they must forgive others or they will not be forgiven by their Heavenly Father. This is some strong language.  To fail to forgive others keeps you in the bondage of sin and hell, and proves that you’ve yet to understand and accept God’s forgiveness, either because you don’t think you need it, or you don’t think he is kind enough, or loves you enough to forgive you.  If you are holding any unforgiveness, stop everything and deal with it. God will help you. 

Fasting

Briefly, fasting is a spiritual discipline that can be helpful in learning to abide in Christ.  It is also super impressive to the churchy crowd that is impressed by that sort of thing. Knowing this, Jesus warns against the hypocritical tendency of religious folks to fast and make it clear to everyone how miserable they are because they are so holy and are not eating.  Once again, what is at issue is the bondage of needing to put on a show, for whatever reason, to impress others.  The more you will engage in these sorts of practices without telling anyone, the more you will be transformed into the likeness of Christ.  

The rest of the sermon on the mount deals less with living for the attention and praise of man, and more with an inward heart towards God. We will discuss it further in the coming days.

Manifestations of a Broken Image Pt 3

In the first two posts we talked about some common ways that our brokenness negatively affects our ability to bear the image of God in the way that he originally intended when he dreamed up and created mankind to reflect him and represent him on the earth. Because of sin we have never been able to pull it off, but because of Christ we can begin to learn what God intended for us, and we have the tools: truth, redemption, the Holy Spirit, and the example of Jesus to make it possible.

But today I want to explore some of the more insidious ways that our broken image can manifest so that we can not only watch for signs of these in our own hearts, but also know them when we see it in others around us. 

Crooks

A crook is a person who does not understand that according to the true knowledge of good and evil handed down by God, it is an abomination to steal from others.  As we said in an earlier post, God institutes the sacredness of property rights in the Ten Commandments.  In order to elevate one’s status, some will become thieves of one kind or another, whether by breaking in and stealing physical property, online theft, identity theft, scam business practices, false advertising, cheating, or other such activities.  This violates the very principles we’ve been discussing about the sacredness and dignity of human beings.  God says our stuff is our stuff to dispose of any way we see fit, hoping we will look to him for direction.  Crooks deny his existence by denying the necessity to follow his ways and by trampling his image in their victims. 

Liars

A glance at Scripture may make it seem like it is a sin to be rich. But a careful and balanced study of the Bible will show that the issue is not how much money one has, in itself a neutral thing, but how one acquires it, and what one does with it.  Many of the passages that seem to condemn wealth assume that those with wealth will have gotten it by means of oppression (Ja 5:4).  Indeed, to acquire wealth by oppression violates the principles we’ve been discussing. It fails to see the inherent dignity of the oppressed and is wicked. 

Closely related to crooks are liars. Remember we are discussing the manifestations of the shame that began in the garden (Gen 3:10). Why do people lie? They lie in order to project a false image, or to gain something. If when we were kids, we were expected to be perfect, at least outwardly, we may have discovered that lying was easier than being good. In a sense, this whole blog is about being good, but not like you think. Not looking good. Not pleasing anyone. Not gathering other people’s opinions that you are good, but actually being good, which is a major key to the abundant life of being a glorious image-bearer. Since no one teaches us that as kids, we find out that the rewards are for looking good, and getting other people to recognize that. Well that is difficult, but we can short-cut the process by lying when we fall short. This can go with any of the other categories of the manifestations of shame.

Recluses

Any of the above characters could choose to escape all that shame and interpersonal complexity by becoming a recluse. There was an article in GQ called “The Strange and Curious Tale of the Last True Hermit” (Aug 5, 2014; Finkel). Christopher Thomas Knight lived in the woods of central Maine for twenty-seven years.  He was affectionately known to the locals as the North Pond Hermit, and when he was finally caught stealing by the police, he admitted to around forty robberies over the years.  He’d go into the town when he needed food, or batteries, or clothing, fattening up on Smarties and Oatmeal pies in the fall against the harsh Maine winters (never lighting fires to avoid being seen).  

When they finally caught him it eventually came out that, while he felt a fair amount of shame for being a thief, it was ultimately worth it to him because it meant that he could avoid interacting with people.  When he was twenty years old, he had just had enough. Not that he’d had a bad life, but interpersonal relationships made him anxious and uncomfortable, so he ran, and though it was really tough to survive out there in the woods all those years, he said the anxiety and stress just stopped the day he left, and started up again the day he returned, twenty-seven years later.  But God made us to be in relationships. It is healthy and good to become a self-reliant person who is emotionally resilient enough to spend lots of time alone, but not forever.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in his book, Life Together, “Let him who is not in community beware of being alone” (pg 77).  

The recluse can manifest on a spectrum, like any of these.  Some just have a tendency to stay home and avoid people most of the time.  Some go into the woods for twenty-seven years.  But either way, it is still a function of our brokenness when we are unable to deal with being around other people. 

Tyrants

Tyrants come in all shapes and sizes, but what they have in common is that their favorite mode of coping with people is to dominate them. Jesus was clear that God created us for what psychologist Alfred Adler called, horizontal relationships.  No one is meant to be above us, and no one is meant to be below us.  This does not mean we cannot have or be a boss, a teacher, a police officer, or some other such authority. Christians are called to submit to authority (Ro 13:1). But none of that is ever meant to be personal authority. If we have authority over another person, there is some higher entity that they are actually submitting to: the state, who has the power to protect rights; the company, who has the power to fire, or promote; or even the parents, who are invested by God.  

But no person is supposed to dominate another person because it violates that person’s selfhood. It does violence to the image of God in them.  A Tyrant, because of his shame, will seek personal power over people, rather than trade value for value as a servant leader.  A boss, a parent, a friend, or the worst, a pastor, may use you to soothe their insecurity and the anxiety of their self-doubt by seeking dominance over you.  

But this is the broken image of leadership as God intended it and as Jesus described it to his own status-hungry disciples (Mk 10:42-44).  All relationships should start with the acknowledgement that here before you is an image-bearer of the Almighty.  To seek dominance is to destroy that image.  The techniques vary from obvious and physically violent, to subtle and highly manipulative. Either way, as Jesus said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 43 Not so with you.” (Mk 10:42-43 emphasis mine).  

Followers

On the opposite end, are the extreme followers.  There could be no tyrants if there were not those who were prone to give over the keys to their identity and their responsibility for thinking to these tyrants.  People long for heroes and infallible leaders, because they long for God.  Many people did not quite get what they needed or wanted from an earthly Father, and so they are susceptible to any fatherly type of tyrant.  Others just like having someone to trust in, who will take care of them, of everything, and sometimes, who they can blame when things go wrong.  

You don’t have to look all the way to the cults like Jonestown and Waco. There is some level of a sinful willingness to follow in every sphere of human life, and at most otherwise good churches.  Consider the teenager who lets the cool kids get him into trouble. Why is he doing what he knows to be wrong? Because of the powerful desire to follow the one who will give him status by association.  Isn’t this what happens in spiritually abusive churches?  Men and women seek status, so they seek to hitch themselves to the highest status leaders in the church. These followers will eventually become tyrants if they can, and for the same reason.  

Gangs, online communities, clubs, secret societies, and pretty much any grouping of people has great potential for this sort of thing, but none is more destructive than when it happens in a government. The extreme version of this might be seen in fascist (Hitler) or communist (Mao) countries, but even democratic political systems will bring out the sinful tendency to want to give over thinking responsibility to an all powerful leader who has tapped into a need in the masses and become a cult of personality.

So What Do We Do?

These are just some of the ways that our sin manifests to break down the image of God inside us and derail us from living the life we were made for and to live for God, ourselves, and others. Sometimes, to look around, or to even look at yourself can feel hopeless. Does anyone come to earth and live like an image-bearer, fulfilling the purpose God had for humanity when he lovingly created us? There was one. And his work on earth has made possible the restoration of us all, if only we will have eyes to see what he has done, and ears to hear what he has said. His name is Jesus. He knows you and loves you, and he was everything he is calling us to be.

Manifestations of a Broken Image Pt. 2

In part 1 we discussed how we were made in the image of God to work.  Work was meant by God to be a rewarding experience for us.  God worked in the creation of the world and he is still working (Jn 5:17).  Because of the fall, work became difficult, but because of Christ, work can be restored to its proper place of glorifying God and being an aspect of the meaningfulness of our lives.  This meaning in the pursuit of life for our own sake, for his sake is what will drive us when we become mature.  It is something we will do perfectly in eternity.  

Today and tomorrow I’ll consider some of the things that can drive us instead of the pursuit of righteousness and abundant life. Because the world is in sin, working in the way we are discussing, in a redeemed way, is rare. We have already discussed in part 1 the cycle of working hard to seek comfort and pleasure. Consider now the following drivers of the people of the world.

Status Chasing Treadmill

If you have managed to outgrow pleasure seeking and comfort chasing, then there is a good chance you are driven by status seeking. Remember what happened in the garden (Gen 3:11)?  Shame.  Fear of our own nakedness means that we don’t like who and what we truly are.  

Sadly, the way most sinful humans deal with this is to compare themselves with others, hoping to find some reason to believe that they are higher somewhere on the ladder of status than those with whom they are comparing.

The worst part about this is that the way the vast majority of us choose to do this is to mine the world for the opinions of others. Everything we do asks the question: “What do you think of me in comparison with them?”  You can live your whole life this way and never quite realize it, or know how to stop.  Why? Because only one person at a time can achieve the highest place.  There can only be one best person. And the secret is that even that person won’t know they are the best.  

Consider how this happened: You are a bright kid with lots of potential.  Your parents are proud of you, a little too proud.  Every time they hear about the achievement of someone else’s kids, they feel anxious and begin to push you a little harder than before to succeed at everything that you do. When you win, or succeed, they seem to really love it, and love you. When you don’t, they say something about how it’s OK, and they love you no matter what, but somehow it doesn’t feel the same.  They get so very elated when you succeed, and you can hear the joy oozing from their voices as they brag to their parents and friends about how great of a kid you are.  

You pick up on this and learn that the most important thing you can do is impress them.  You also learn that impressing others impresses them the most.  You are good at piano. They like to hear you play, but they love to hear you play for their friends.   If you’re young enough, your parents were on Facebook and projected this unhealthy pattern to hundreds, if not thousands.  And you? Somehow you have become the same way. You can’t wait to tell them about the A that your kid, the grandchild of their loins, got on his math test.  You may have mild discomfort about all of it, but you ignore it, because everybody is like this. Not everybody, but the vast majority.  

Where did this start? The garden.  I was ashamed because I was naked, so I hid myself. The image of the little creators was broken and hopelessly screwed up.  The history of humanity has shown the sad results, starting with the murder of a brother because he was envious of him and not able to master the sin that was crouching at his door (Gen 4:7), and right on until today.   Here are some ways we can turn out as a result.

Second Handers

Some philosophers have called them second handers, others call them agreeable, and most call them people pleasers. These people have no idea who they actually are. They’ve learned from an early age to become experts at reading others to find out what they should value. These are non thinkers who often get possessed by ideological positions, either on the left OR the right, probably depending on who they most interact with.  They make up herds, crowds all driven by the same idea.  How great that I don’t have to think in a herd!  A thousand people can’t be wrong!  They make up mobs, crowds all driven by the same emotion. Again, I don’t have to think, feelings make me feel alive! And they make up gangs, all driven by the same idea and emotion.  These are all ways of experiencing groupthink, and they can be virtual online crowds, or actual physical crowds.  

One sad example of a second-hander is the overwhelming number of young people today that aspire to become celebrities.  In surveys of young people, the number one aspiration tends to be fame of some kind.  Famous for what?  For being famous! If all the people that want to become famous, become famous, then none of them will become famous. Fame truly is a zero-sum game. 

Emotional Dependents

These people don’t bother thinking very much.  They chase the feelings, or at least they run from the bad feelings.  Consider the idolization of romance.  God made us male and female and created sex and romantic love for the purpose of godly families and joy in marriage. Those who are addicted to romantic relationships, making it their highest purpose, tend to go from relationship to relationship searching for a feeling.  If they do stay with one person, the codependency will be certain to cause distress for both parties. 

Emotional dependents may find one person to depend on emotionally, or they will depend on everyone to varying degrees.  Consider the overbearing mothers who felt distant from their father, so they married a man just like him who they also feel distant toward, and then she has a son.  This baby boy will fulfill all her dreams of connection and closeness, and will grow up to have a codependent relationship with her, ruining his future marriage, as he looks for another mom in his choice of spouse. This person has been taught that he is a bad boy if his mother is not happy with him.  This translates to everyone must be happy with him and all the time.  He will never have an enemy, because he will look to win everyone he ever meets.  Someone upset with him will consume until he can win their approval, or find a reason to write them off and try to forget they ever existed.  

This doesn’t just happen to boys.  In fact, women struggle with this more than men. Remember the overbearing mother.  There are books and books written about how we got this way, but for now, remember that the main source is the knowledge of good and evil that came, not from God, but from man’s disobedience to God, which led to shame.  Shame drives the behaviors and emotionalism that keep us from being who we actually are as image-bearers of the great I AM who made us to be creators.  Emotional dependents create nothing except validation pipelines from themselves to everyone.  

Performers

Once in a great while a musician, or an actor, or some other kind of entertainer will come around who truly seems to be doing what they do for the art itself.  These people, in my experience, are one in a million.  Most of them, like 98%, were driven to perform because of shame. Actors probably are especially prone to this because of the allure of becoming someone else in a performance.  But more than that, spend time with them (I am speaking from experience as a former singer-actor), and you will see that they are always on. Do they know they are always on?  Not usually.  Sometimes those who have been driven by the most pain will eventually come to terms with this.  Those who find God will begin to see the idol of the opinions of others as what drives them.  Cultivating a relationship with God can help someone to stop getting the reward from performing that they were getting, as they learn to worship God alone, but this will likely be a lifetime struggle.  

But one doesn’t have to become a professional entertainer to live their life as a performer.

Consider the rise of social media and the tendency to curate an image.  People can carefully consider everything they post, designing their online personality to be exactly what they want it to be.  Or consider those people who do that in person.  They are salesee. They always have some agenda. You never quite know what is behind their words.  You get the sense that you don’t really know anything about them, even if you have “known” them for years.  

Have you ever seen someone who smiles all the time, but you sense they are wound up so tight that they could explode at any minute?  Have you ever caught someone like that when they don’t know anyone is watching, and their face returns to the look of desperation that was hiding behind the huge smile all along? Then when they see you looking, BAM, smile is back.  This is a performer.  They don’t even know themselves, and they probably think they don’t want to know. Sadly, I think a lot of clergy fall into this category, forgetting we are called to be truth-bearers, not salesmen, and that people are God’s children and sheep of his pasture, not potential customers and clients. 

Hope

It doesn’t have to be this way. Jesus did not die just so that we could go to heaven some day. He died to heal us, to restore our broken image back to the glory under God that we were meant to have as we reflect our creator. I’ll come back tomorrow to talk in part 3 about a few other more dangerous ways that our broken image can manifest.

Manifestations of a Broken Image Pt. 1

How do most people think of work?  Most people think of work as something that you have to do, so that you can afford the things that you want to do.  They work for the weekend.  But the weekend is often just as hard, if not harder, at least for those with families.  There are kids to raise, notoriously difficult and labor intensive.  If it isn’t labor intensive then you are doing it wrong!  There is a house and lawn to keep up. Don’t forget about the fact that all week, spouses have been able to avoid one another while one or both of them were working outside the home.  Remember what God said about the curse on marriage?  Will it be fun for the wife to have a “desire [that] shall be contrary to [her] husband?”  It is potentially no fun for either one of them.    

And so much of the work is in the hopes of gaining enough to spend on pleasures. But those pleasures always fall short of being worth the effort.  When one lives for comfort and pleasure, the best part is the anticipation and the work to achieve them.  Getting the comfort and pleasure is never as great as we anticipate that it will be. Why? 

Because pleasure seeking is not actually what we’re made for. 

Think about something pleasurable, like eating cake. Anticipating it is great. Smelling it is great. The first two or three bites are great. But the third through the seventy-fifth bites become increasingly not great. In fact, they start to impact our emotions negatively as we begin thinking about the pain that is coming, the weight that will be gained, the early death that we can expect if we keep doing this, how disgusted with ourselves we are for not stopping. If cake is not your thing, insert sex, drugs, alcohol, shopping, and you’ll see that emptiness and depression are the result of all of it. Right now in history is the worst time to be dealing with this, because we are so prosperous. If you didn’t have time for any of these things, because you spent all your time on toil in order to survive, you’d have other problems, but you wouldn’t have this one. The current age is the most dangerous in history in terms of having the time and resources to seek pleasure and comfort to our hearts content, which is actually impossible, though we are killing ourselves to learn that.