I love garage sales. Not just because of the great finds you can come across but because I love to haggle. I think it is my spiritual gift! Garage sales are designed for haggling precisely because of the challenge of accurately and objectively ascribing monetary worth to previously owned items.
Admittedly it is hard to assign worth to things. It just seems so arbitrary at times. For example, do you know what the most expensive item sold at the famous Sotheby’s auction is? It’s this:
A teal ashtray. Not really, but close. It’s a 900 year old dish from the Song Dynasty in China. And it sold for $37.68 Million!
Now it’s one thing to assign worth to antiques and heirlooms, but what about people? How do we determine the worth of a human being? In a day and age where it is common to believe that we are nothing more than a bundle of atoms guided by the firing of synapses in our brain, this creates an interesting challenge.
While many affirm this anthropological position intellectually, I don’t think we functionally live as though it’s true. Deep within all of us we deny the claim that we are nothing more than material beings. Deep within us we know that human worth is not merely an assumed de facto reality we arbitrarily assign to ourselves. Or to frame it more theologically, deep within us we believe in the doctrine of the image of God.
As mid 20th century German Philosopher Dietrich Von Hildebrand said, “All of Western civilization stands and falls with the words of Genesis, ‘God made man in his image.’ ”
I believe that the same functional basis that causes some people to speak out on behalf of the unborn is the same functional basis that causes others to exclaim that black lives matter. It is the acceptance that the image of God is in all people.
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion….”
The word image is the Hebrew word Tselem. This was a very important word in the ancient Near East because it was used in multiple ways.
For starters, it was widely believed that the spirit of a god inhabited any and all statues or images of that god. As a result, that statue or image would then function as the earthly representation of that god in the world.
It was also common for kings and leaders in the ancient Near East to be seen as representatives of the gods among the people. Because of this, it was customary for kings to refer to themselves as the image of God.
Now in the Hebrew scriptures, the word Tselem is often translated as idol or icon. So when we read in places like Leviticus 19:4 Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves any gods of cast metal…. this is the same word used in Genesis 1 and it is the same word to describe kings in the ancient Near East.
The reason we are not to make graven images of God is because God has already made an image of himself in the world through humanity. Being made in the image of God is in part about being endowed with a royal value by God. There is a reason why C.S. Lewis had the four Pevensie children in the Chronicles of Narnia rule as kings and queens. As humans they were of unique royalty in contrast to the other creatures in the land.
We all know deep down that there is worth in every human. And yet, this compelling doctrine has been abused by many throughout the centuries to justify perspectives and practices that are horridly antithetical to the image of God.
For centuries many Christians believed that God’s image was a dynamic reality subject to change based on human capability, capacity, and competence. The more one possessed these qualities, the more one possessed the image of God. This paved the way for countless injustices.
As theologian John Kilner puts it in his book Dignity and Destiny, “This way of thinking has encouraged such abuses as the mistreatment of impoverished and disabled people, the Nazi holocaust, the exterminations of Native American groups, and the oppression of enslaved Africans.”
In fact, the entire Transatlantic slave trade was justified by many, including Christians, because Africans were seen as less than human. As one historian put it, “Unlike white slaveholders who were in God’s image, blacks were described as people created by nature in the likeness of beasts.”
In that same vile vein, the theologian Charles Carroll wrote the book The Negro a Beast at the dawn of the 20th century. In it he argued, “If the white was created in the image of God, then the negro was made after some other model.”
This work and others like it were in great circulation among the church, which paved the way for the so-called “Christian Identity Movement” which developed in significant popularity in the mid 20th century through groups like the KKK and the Aryan Nations.
When human worth is not seen as given only by God, then we can easily find ourselves on the slippery slope of claiming the power and ability to determine the worth of human life. When we do not see all humans as fundamentally marked by the image of God, then we will mark others with some secondary category that makes it easier to justify mindsets and mistreatments that lead to evils of all kinds.
I believe we have seen progress in some areas of civil rights and human dignity in our culture, but with it has come a strange inconsistency. For some, the solution to value human life is found when we unfetter ourselves from the chains of religion, faith, and God. However, when we do so, we essentially saw off the branch we are sitting on. In other words, we want the implications of bearing the image of God without recognizing the God whose image we bear. This produces a myriad of contradictions.
GK Chesterton describes this inconsistent mindset in his book Orthodoxy which was written over 100 years ago.
The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite skeptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines.
If we hold to the doctrine of the image of God in all people, then it will have major implications for our lives, our work, our mission, and our church. What does it look like for us to more fully embrace the image of God in all people?
A Greater Sense of Worth
We live in a culture that assigns value by accomplishments, attractiveness, accolades, and acquired wealth. When this is our culture’s understanding of human worth we will at best give preferential treatment to those deemed superior, or at worst, degrade and despise those deemed inferior.
I recently read Martin Luther King Jr and the Image of God that unpacks Dr. King’s theology on this doctrine. Perhaps no other quote of his captures the heart of his thinking more than this portion of his sermon The American Dream.
The image of God is the idea that all men have something within them that God injected. Not that they have substantial unity with God, but that every man has a capacity to have fellowship with God. And this gives him a uniqueness, it gives him worth, it gives him dignity. And we must never forget this as a nation: there are no gradations in the image of God. Every man from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God’s keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the image of God.
The image of God serves as the basis upon which we value and protect life at every stage. It compels us to speak out against racism and bigotry, defend the rights of the unborn, and care for widows, orphans, immigrants and the poor.
The image of God is to be the primary thing we see in all people with whom we interact. The people you do business with and work alongside. The people you raise and live with. The people you disagree with on social media. The people who wish ill upon you. They all bear the image of God.
A Wider Scope of Wholeness
We must see humanity in bearing the image of God as possessing what Dutch theologian Anthony Hoekema refers to as a psychosomatic unity. This means that God did not create us as purely material or purely immaterial beings, but as a mysteriously beautiful union of the two. And this has serious implications for how we think about what wholeness looks like for ourselves and for others.
Followers of Jesus should consider the image of God in every person in every part of life.
Are we seeing people as whole beings the way God sees them? Do we care for the whole person in our work, service, and contribution? Do we view our discipleship and neighborly love through the lens of the image of God in such a way that we are compelled to value the spiritual, emotional, physical, mental, and financial health of all people?
To neglect the body in order to care for the soul, or to neglect the soul in order to care for the body comes from an impoverished understanding of the image of God.
A Fuller Picture of the Church
The image of God that we all bear points us to the true image of God, Jesus Christ, who is the head of all things including His church. And this church is comprised of people from all tribes, tongues, and nations who are all called to be His people. A people from all the peoples of the earth, unified together by the redeeming and reconciling work on the cross through Christ’s shed blood.
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church….
When we see Jesus as the true image of God, we as image bearers now have a fuller picture of what the church is and ought to be. We see that the image of God compels us to work toward justice, unity, and reconciliation among all God’s people.
The pursuit of diversity in the church is not simply a nice quality, but is a central value to the church of Jesus Christ who has come to make the many one and who will one day be one.
In his outstanding book The Color of Compromise, Jemar Tisby paints the picture of where the church of Jesus Christ is heading.
In that heavenly congregation we will finally see the culmination of God’s gathering. A diverse people unified by faith in Christ. We will surround the throne of the lamb as a redeemed picture of all the ethnic and cultural diversity that God created. Our skin color will no longer be a source of pain or arrogant pride, but will serve as a multi-hued reflection of God’s image. We will no longer be alienated by our earthly economic or social position. We will no longer clamor for power over one another. Our single focus will be worshipping God for eternity in sublime fellowship with each other and our creator.
If this is the culmination of the corporate image of God within humanity redeemed by the blood of Christ in the new heavens and new earth, then we ought to be diligent in our pursuit of a gospel-empowered love and unity among all peoples who are in Christ. We must embrace the truth of Jesus as the true image of God who has come to make us His own by making us one with Him through His atoning death and victorious resurrection.
This is where we find our true worth.
We have a very peculiar relationship with time. We find ourselves needing to kill time and make time. We experience time flying by and standing still. Sometimes we want time to slow down and other times we want it to speed up.
Before the advent of the watch, people told time by the sun, which led to the development of sundials. And it’s very interesting to note that in ancient cultures, from Egypt to China to Europe, sundials would often have some kind of motto inscribed in them. And more often than not those mottos typically had a more despairing tone.
Here are just a handful of them.
Look upon the hour, and remember death
Of the last hour, beware!
As time and hours passeth away, so doth the life of man decay
I did nothing good today; the day is lost
Can you imagine if Garmin decided to inscribe Look upon the hour, and remember death on the back of every watch they made?I think it’s interesting that when we talk about time, schedules, calendars, and plans, we speak of our priorities. But how can we have multiple priorities?
A priority, by definition, implies that there can’t be priorities. There can only be one greatest, one best, one favorite, and one priority.
In Luke 14 Jesus teaches on the parable of the great banquet. In this parable He gives examples of people who offer varying excuses for why they did not attend the banquet.
As Jesus unpacks His parable, He lays out the responses of three invited guests who have had ample time to plan, prepare, and respond to the host. And each of them gives an excuse for why they cannot attend the party.
Just imagine if you were the host. What would you conclude about the way your guests viewed their relationship with you? You might just think that your friends are terrible planners. But at some point you are probably asking yourself why they don’t prioritize your friendship.
The point Jesus is making is that these guests have a greater priority that is dictating and determining their involvement and commitment to the host and his party. They are claiming to be too busy to attend the banquet feast. But the real issue is that they have a higher priority which sets the order of the rest of their roles and responsibilities in life.
Perhaps part of the reason you and I struggle with busyness, overcommitted schedules, and the tyranny of the urgent is because we don’t know how to prioritize.
You can’t have priorities without a paramount priority. Or to use the line from Lord of the Rings, we need one priority to rule them all.
What is the one, overarching, foundational, cornerstone priority that drives, defines, and dictates everything else you do? That priority is what will determine the purpose of your time, how you view time, and how you use time.
In this parable Jesus is presenting himself as the greatest good, the greatest gift, and the greatest priority in all of life. And if that is true, then he cannot simply be a priority or a good in life. But he must be the priority and the good in life. To live for anything less will misorder and distort our priorities, and actually leave us empty at best and corrupt at worst.
CS Lewis describes this concept in his essay entitled First Things and Second Things
“The woman who makes a dog the centre of her life loses, in the end, not only her human usefulness and dignity but even the proper pleasure of dog-keeping…You can’t get second things by putting them first. You get second things only by putting first things first.”-CS Lewis
Jesus has extended His invitation to join Him at His banquet. To be with Him in His kingdom on His mission. But are we too busy and too distracted with lesser things to even respond? Have we set a priority over and above Him that has made us so busy and overwhelmed that all we can do is offer lame excuses for why we aren’t living with Him and for Him?
So let me offer a few things for us to consider as we ponder the details of the invitation that Christ has offered us, and continues to offer us.
Honestly ask yourself what is the governing priority in your life. Not what it should be but what it is functionally. And don’t think about it too long because odds are your gut reaction answer to that question is the correct one.
But if you really struggle to identify your priority, perhaps consider looking at what fills your calendar, what appears on your credit card statements, and how you spend your free time. You may also consider asking a trusted friend what they think is truly your priority in life.
The late Dallas Willard was once asked what is needed to truly grow in spiritual maturity. His simple yet profound answer was “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”
We may have the right priority identified but it is functionally pushed down the list because we are so frantically rushed in getting from one thing to the next. So perhaps what we need in order to say yes to our greatest priority is to learn how to say no to things that may still be good.
If we get to a point where we can truly identify Jesus as our priority, then we need to find ways to continue making Him our priority. Maybe that looks like forming the specific and intentional habit of daily Bible reading.
A great way to start this would be to have a clear and specific answer to the questions of What, When, and Where. What will you read? When will you read? Where will you read? When we lay out specific answers to these questions for forming habits and making priorities, we significantly increase the chances of the habit sticking.
Another great resource would be to sign up for theFormed.life. When you sign up we will provide you with helpful resources and prompts to take small steps toward intentionally cultivating various spiritual habits in your life.
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We all feel busy, overwhelmed, stretched thin, and stressed. And I am convinced that so much of our problem with time and busyness is due to the fact that we don’t know how to prioritize. And we don’t know how to prioritize because we don’t know our priority.
The reason Jesus is to be our priority is because while we so often replace Him with lesser things, He replaced us on the cross with Himself that we might receive the life we long to live. A life that is not characterized by competing priorities but rather a life that is lived under the priority that shapes and forms every aspect of our lives.
How will you make Jesus your priority this year?
About a year ago I seriously injured my elbow when I slipped and hit it on a door frame at a local restaurant. A normal human being with a level of intelligence just slightly higher than a dung beetle would have realized the need to rest in order to heal from such an injury. I clearly did not possess said level of intelligence.
Not only did I refuse to go to the doctor for several months, I continued to go to the gym, lift weights, and work on finishing our basement. All of that served to compound my elbow problems to the point that I developed lateral epicondylitis, otherwise known as tennis elbow. And yes, I had to google that.
The pain had reached such a level that I had to stop exercising and take a break from the basement project. This was not easy for me to accept because I had to face the fact that I had limitations and that I couldn’t do everything. And that is a hard lesson for someone who has an inflated ego and an exaggerated view of their capabilities.
My desires and attempts to work through the pain were not driven by necessity. They were driven by self-sufficiency. In other words, I didn’t need to remain on my exercise routine, and I didn’t need to finish the basement right away.
I did feel as though my worth and identity was wrapped up in my accomplishments. My aim of validating my significance through my achievements is what resulted in me being forced to rest.
During this time of “forced” rest, I remember reading in Romans 4 and I came across a verse that felt like it was bolded, underlined, italicized, and highlighted just for me. They were words I had undoubtedly read several times throughout my life, but somehow I saw them for the first time. The context is Paul speaking about the faith of Abraham and he says:
He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. (Romans 4:19-21)
There was something about that phrase in verse 19 that just struck me afresh. Yes, Abraham was fully aware of God’s limitless power and unshakable promises. But he was also fully aware of his own limitations and deficiencies. He knew how old he was, how impossible the promise of a son was, and how incapable he was to accomplish any of this. Yet this was precisely what allowed him to see his life and circumstances in a way that didn’t lead him to despair.
He knew what he could do and he did it faithfully. He left his home, he followed God, and obeyed his commands. But he also knew what he couldn’t do and he trusted God to fill in the gaps.
If we only look to ourselves or rely on our own abilities, skills, and talents, then this will either inflate our ego to where we say “I got this” or deflate our joy to where we ask “what’s the point of this?” In my life these two are closely related. My joy deflates because I try to do everything and I quickly learn that I can’t. That is why we have to look at our limits and God’s promises simultaneously.
Knowing and leaning into our limits and limitations is not a practice of self-pity that leads to failure and frustration. It is a practice of self-discovery that leads to faithfulness and fruitfulness. Leaning into our limitations is an opportunity for us to trust God and watch Him bring life from barren wombs, so to speak.
When it comes to rest, we will learn how to do it the easy way or the hard way. We will either rest through establishing intentional habits and rhythms, or we will rest out of sheer necessity due to exhaustion of some kind. Our limitations will either prime us to receive God’s gift of rest, or they will cause us to push forward until we are forced to rest.
Which way do you want to learn how to rest?
Several months ago, back when our main association with the word Corona was a Mexican style lager, I was in a staff meeting during the lunch hour. Through a strange series of events, I did not have my lunch with me. Most people in the meeting were enjoying the fruits of their lack of negligence while I went without. I jokingly told the group that I would just eat off of Joseph’s plate who was sitting next to me. Truth be told, I really was not very hungry. But Joseph, another pastor on staff, graciously offered to share his lunch with me. It was very kind but I politely declined. Then Joseph said something to me that will not soon leave my memory.
“It’s ok to be in need.”
Joseph offered me a gift that day. And it was more than just half of his microwaved pork chop. It was the gift of sacrificing my pride in order to be the recipient of kindness. Like a ball bearing in a spray paint can, Joseph’s words rattled in my mind for several reasons. For starters, I was faced with the fact that I do struggle to receive help from people because I see it as a sign of weakness or deficiency within myself. But also, growing up as a child in a very low income home, I was reminded of the feelings of shame that came with living in a constant state of need.
I think being in need is difficult for us as humans in general. But the challenges are compounded in our western, and specifically midwestern, culture. Now I contend that there are noble and even biblical reasons for the discomfort of being in need. Perhaps we don’t want to be a burden to others (1 Thessalonians 4:12) or we want to strive to work hard to increase our own capacity to contribute (Ephesians 4:28).
But if we are honest with ourselves, our midwestern politeness can be used as a diversion to prevent us from embracing a place of humility and dependence. It can be a way to save face and avoid looking inadequate or perhaps inferior.
This is absolutely a motivation at play in my life when I attempt to do things on my own without the assistance or even input of anyone else. Not only do I want to avoid feeling inferior, I want my name to be the only name on the credits of my work and accomplishments. The pernicious nature of the sins of pride and arrogance is precisely why being in need is not just ok, but also good for us. But if that isn’t convincing enough, then consider the example of Jesus.
The person who was in very nature God was Himself a man who lived in need of others. Jesus needed His mother to care for and raise Him as a child (Luke 2:7). Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman showed that He was in need of her to provide water for Him (John 4:7). We even see Jesus needing the financial support of several successful women who were committed to His mission (Luke 8:2-3). If Jesus was in need then it is ok for you and I to be in need.
So let me offer three final words about why it is ok to be in need and receive help from others.
When we are humble enough to show our need to others and let them care for us, we are actually showing love to them. We are giving them the gift of using their gifts to serve us. We all know the experience of being blessed by blessing others. Now this does have a shadow side to it where we may want to help others to make ourselves feel good or, God forbid, superior. But in my experience within the family of God, people genuinely want to help and serve others because they truly believe the words of our Lord Jesus, “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
One of the best ways to grow in hospitality and generosity is to be the recipient of hospitality and generosity. If we only ever play the role of host and never of guest, then we will find ourselves being malformed in the area of compassion.
Only those who have suffered are able to truly be a comfort to the suffering. This is most powerfully seen in the gospel of grace. When we receive the love of God in the gospel through Christ, it compels us to be people of love and grace towards others (1 John 3:16).
If we have a hard time being in need, then we will have a hard time being in worship. Because at the heart of what it means to worship God is to recognize our deep dependence upon Him.
Worship is not a mere spiritual experience. It is when we are profoundly awakened to and in awe of the reality of how great God is, and how great is our need for Him. When we are able to humble ourselves to receive from others, it is a way to prepare us to worship God. It is why the Psalmist describes our worship to God in this way.
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and perform your vows to the Most High,
and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” (ESV)
It is not easy being in need. But if we are to be a people who are shaped by the gospel and who live as a family united by Christ, then we must embrace the goodness of being in need. And the sooner we do, the more we can function as a caring family.
We know that times are tough and needs are increasing in this season. If you or someone you know is in need and are facing challenges right now, we want to know about it so that we can love and care for one another as family. We have a needs request form on our website that we would encourage you to fill out. By doing so you are loving us by letting us love you. That is what family does.