Bible Devotions

Self-image



2010-03-02 – “God don’t make no junk!”

In our Equipping God’s People series which runs on the last Sunday night of every month, I tackled the issue of self-image.

People found it helpful, but wanted more and it was suggested that I put some of it into the EmmDevs.

Let see how it goes…

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For you created my inmost being;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

your works are wonderful,

I know that full well. (Psalms139:13-14)


We live in a “Reality bytes vs bites” tension. There is brokenness in our world, but also a Sovereign God who works out His plans alongside, in-spite-of and through our free-will and the brokenness that we find ourselves in. Very often we start with a statement of the the problem _before_ we start at the very beginning.



The very beginning is that we are carefully and purposefully created by God. He knitted the double-helix of our DNA so that we could become the unique people that we are. Furthermore, in Acts 17:26 Paul explains that “…He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.”



THEREFORE in our creation, timing and placement we are not accidental or incidental – We are fearfully and wonderfully made!




There are three things about our creation that are vitally important to remember:

1. We are created in the image of God: We are capable and designed for relationship with him. After Paul explained how God put everyone in his determined place and time, he said this: “God did this so that we would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us.” (Acts17:27)



2. Being in His image, we are able to love and be loved, for God is love. (1Jn4:8)



3. We have a life of purpose ahead of us. The psalmist says that the days ordained for us are written in His book (Ps.139:16) and Paul says that there is a life of good works prepared in advance for us to do (Eph2:10) Our lives have value as we are purposed to live out meaningful lives that glorify our Creator.



The bumper sticker summary goes: “I know I must be special, ‘cos God made me and He don’t make no junk!”

2010-03-03 – “Contentment”


God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning–the sixth day.



(Genesis1:31)


Genesis tells the creation story twice: In chapter one it is from a cosmological perspective showing how the things that other nations worshipped (like the sun, the mountains and the animals) were all effortlessly brought into being by God. The account in chapter two is more intimate, giving us a bit more detail and it highlights the closeness and involvement of God in the creation of the human race.




What permeates both accounts is a sense of abundance and contentment.

- God saw all that He had made and it was _good_.

- God makes Adam from clay and lovingly breathes life into Him.

- God gives Adam a garden, a vocation and a partner.

- Adam upon seeing Eve is ecstatically content!

- They were naked but not ashamed.



This is how we were originally created, but the sense of “my-cup-runneth-over gratitude” has been replaced with a sense of “I’ve been done in! I’m not satisfied!”



We don’t have to look far for the cause of this – it’s described in Genesis 3 where Satan creates a deep sense of mistrust and discontentment in Eve and this ultimately leads to humankind’s fall into sin.



Dove, the manufacturer of many skincare products, has made three hard-hitting movies* in their “Campaign for real beauty.” One of them, called “Amy” is about a boy who is visiting Amy’s house, calling her to come out, but she stays inside. It ends with the caption: “Amy can think of 12 things that are wrong with her appearance – he can’t think of one.” The other movie shows how much make up work and photo-shopping they do on a model to make a billboard advert.



We have lost the sense of contentment that we could have in our lives. God has created us well and on the whole we are discontent with ourselves because others have told us to be!

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* If you have a quick internet connection and a flash-enabled browser you can watch the movies here:


http://www.campaignforrealbeauty.co.uk

Click on the dove-film icon below the banner ad.

2010-03-04 – “Disharmony”


Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” (Genesis3:8-9)

One of the best descriptions given to our broken world is given by the Bethel course which describes our current state as one of disharmony.



The reality of our sin has consequences for Adam and Eve and for our lives and results in a tragic loss of harmony in four areas:



1. Instead of enjoying intimacy with God, we, like Adam and Eve, tend to hide from Him and be fearful of Him.



2. Adam moves from relating to Eve as “flesh of his flesh” to blame: “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” There is disharmony in relationships: we blame, resent and betray each other.



3. Their relationship with creation became discordant. There is now danger and struggle in our relationship with the rest of creation.


These first three areas indicate the brokenness of our world: They explain

- our rampant idolatry,

- our wars and violence,

- and the heartache of natural disasters and birth-defects.

These are not part of God’s created purpose, but the horrendous consequences of our sin.



This broken environment is the first factor in our faulty self-images. It results in a tragic loss of purpose.



The fourth area of disharmony is significant:



4. Their sense of self-worth and self-perception takes a massive knock, and now their nakedness is an issue. Interesting question: “Did eating the fruit make them flabby or give them wrinkles? Did _anything_ change about their bodies that caused them to hide?” No, their bodies didn’t change, but their self-perceptions became off-key.



This represents the second factor of self-image chaos in that the mirror we use to see ourselves is now twisted and distorted and we can no longer see ourselves the way God has created us.



The hopeful thing about this sad picture is that there is a God who still calls our name and wants to rescue us from our disharmony.

2010-03-05 – “Filters”


20 “Don’t call me Naomi, ” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. (Ruth1:20)

Yesterday we looked at the first two things that are factors in our poor self-images:

1. Brokenness: We live in a world broken by sin – so we have birth-defects, our relationships are not perfect and we are disappointed by others and ourselves.



2. Mirrors: Society is like a “hall of mirrors” where our self-perceptions are stretched and pulled out of shape and are not a true reflection of who we are.



But there is a third factor and I call it “the Filter.” Filters are created when certain things happen to us that leave deep marks on our souls. These marks become part of how we interpret subsequent events in our lives. Our histories become the filters that sift and sort whatever new information comes into my mind today.



When a good filter is in place, it filters out negative and false information preventing it from becoming lodged in our minds. A bad filter will prevent positive and uplifting thoughts from coming through and only allows destructive and hurting thoughts to come in.



Here are some examples:

- A girl who can’t relate to God as Father because her dad molested her.

- A guy who manages to self-destruct every job he ever has because a teacher told him “You will never be a success.”

- A person who can’t commit to a relationship because they still blame themselves (incorrectly) for their parent’s divorce.

- A girl who acts “butch” because someone told her she wasn’t pretty




These filters are brutal to our self-images, because they only allow certain information through into their hearts and minds. No matter how many times you tell the butch girl she is attractive, she will not hear you – because she has a filter.



Naomi was in danger of having a filter: She had experienced famine and the death of her husband and sons – there was a filter in the making and it was labelled “Bitter: nothing good ever happens to me.” Fortunately Naomi seems to have discarded that filter because throughout the book she is gracious and is loved by her daughter-in-law and the people around her.



Filters can be discarded – but it takes courage!

Do you have a filter? Maybe you need to throw it out!

2010-03-09 – “Highway to Destruction”


For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans1:21)

So, to summarise the roots of poor self-image, there are three factors:



1. The Aftermath of Sin which results in brokenness: Birth-defects, natural disasters, and skew noses on the one side and relational breakdown on the other.



2. The Distorted Mirror of Society that sells our wants to us as needs and makes attractiveness an impossible standard that we exhaust ourselves trying to achieve.




3. The Filters of Past Pain that mute the positives and amplify the negatives.



Bizarrely enough all of this leads us away from God and to an obsession with self – but in the most negative sense. We spend way too much time, self-analysing, self-criticising, self-hating and self-destructing.



The further we move away from God, the more our hearts become dark and the more futile our thinking becomes. The route toward a better self-image is for us to get to know our Maker and Sustainer and allow Him to heal our brokenness, to clarify our distortions and to remove our filters.



He can, He does and He will.



We’ll look at some key passages through the rest of this week.

2010-03-10 – “Broken? Experience Unconditional Love”


9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1John4:9-10)

Brokenness makes us feel unlovable:

Our physical defects cause us to feel unattractive.


Our personality flaws make us insecure.

Our lapses (“accidental” sins) make us feel pathetic

and our willfull sins leave us feeling unforgivably guilty.



We cover for these things with inflated, deflated or alter egos. We push our perceived strengths over the top, often creating more pain and frustration. Sometimes we shrink on the inside, convincing ourselves that we can’t cope when there are actually a lot of tools left in our toolboxes. Then there are the times that we try to be all things to all people, but being a chameleon on a smartiebox is exhausting.



The real key to overcoming brokenness is to realise that God offers us unconditional love. We are deeply and awesomely loved by God. We do not have to achieve lovability and we don’t have to live up to an expectation.



John tells us that God loved us before we even thought of Him.

That God took the first steps toward us and when our brokenness got in the way, God paid the most costly price to set that brokenness aside.



This is the only sensible foundation for a healthy self-image:

It’s not that I am kind-of ok.

It’s not that “I am not really so bad you know.”

It’s that even if my face was rotted away by some wasting disease, even if I was a pathological liar, if I wasted every opportunity God gave me and if I spent my days hurting those around me, God would look past all of my appearances and bad performances and see inside me a person who He has made and loves. And He wouldn’t love me any less than He loves Mother Theresa.



My lovability comes from God’s decision and not my performance.

2010-03-11 – “Broken? Set free from Failure”


When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians2:13 )

Have you got an uncouth, rebellious and heathen inner-being?

When Jews talked about the gentiles (non-Jews) as “uncircumcised” they meant it in the derogatory sense of an uncivilised heathen. (Similarly, the Greeks had a word for a non-greek: “Barbaroi” – go figure!)



Paul’s phrase, “the uncircumcision of your sinful nature,” is his way of talking about our brokenness – our tendency to do evil even when we want to be good. (Our “barbarian” spirits…)



The problem as far as our self-images go, is that we are flawed deep within. Our faults are not only skin-deep. At the very core of our being, we are selfish, self-serving, ambitious and arrogant and even our best deeds are tainted with these motives.



No matter what pretences we put up, there is no escaping the lack of peace that lurks at the core of our beings: Instinctively we know that we are not right with God.



Christ sets us free from failure.

He cancels the written code, the law, that reveals our failures and lists our punishments. He cancels it at great cost – paying it in full through His death on the cross.



Jesus says on John 8:36


“If the Son sets you free – you will be free indeed!”



Next time you feel that numbing sense of failure, you can look in the mirror and say “I may have done something stupid and I may have to live through the practical consequences of my failures, but I am free (and much-loved!) because Christ paid a great price to cancel my sin-debts.”

2010-03-12 – “Broken? Recover your purpose”


11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah29:11-13)

Our brokenness causes a loss of purpose. We become self-centred and self-absorbed – but this is not a purpose that satisfies.



We long for purpose and direction. We want our lives to count for something. We struggle with futility.



This was Israel’s struggle. Their rampant idolatry and sinfulness led to their defeat at the hands of the Babylonians and the destruction of Jerusalem and their idolised temple. They found themselves in Exile – “by the Rivers of Babylon” – where they were sucked up in a day to day grind of slavery and loss of purpose.



Jeremiah writes them a letter to reassure and awaken them:

- God still has a plan for them and the plan is not thwarted by their failure.

- These plans provide hope and a future.


- But in order to link into these plans, they will need to seek God.



Paul gives the Ephesians a similar sense of hope: Having described humankind’s fall into sin and how Christ rescues us from our sin-debt through grace alone, he then reminds them: “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph2:10)



The Greek word for “workmanship” can also be translated “handiwork” or “masterpiece” and gives a sense that God is personally involved in the shape and direction of our lives. Even in our brokenness, God has plans that we can slot into and find real purpose and direction.



The bottom line? You can mope at the “Rivers of Babylon” or you can embrace the restoring forgiveness of God and plug into the dream He has for us!

2010-03-17 – “Distortion: Get a Guide”


15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of Sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. (Romans8:15-16)

We identified three key contributing factors to poor self-images:

- brokenness: we live in an imperfect world with imperfect bodies and imperfect relationships.

- distortion: our views of reality, others and ourselves are distorted and cause us heartache

- filters: when we experience the pain of brokenness and distortion we often create filters that cause us to interpret the signals we get wrongly.


How do we address the distortion caused by the “hall of mirrors” effect that the media and society has on how we see ourselves?



The first step is to get a Reliable Guide. Our parents, our friends, fashion and the media are not reliable guides. Our Reliable Guide is the Holy Spirit.



The Holy Spirit whispers a vital truth into our inmost beings: We are sons and daughters of God. We don’t have to earn it and we most certainly haven’t deserved it. We are _adopted_ by God – we are His children by _His_ decision and not on our merits.



When the world tells us that we are inadequate and undeserving of love because we are not cool, or because we don’t look like super-models, or because we have failed in the past, then lets listen to the “Voice of Truth.”



VOICE OF TRUTH (A song by Casting Crowns)

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Oh what I would do to have the kind of faith it takes

To climb out of this boat I’m in onto the crashing waves

To step out of my comfort zone into the realm of the unknown

Where Jesus is, and he’s holding out his hand



But the waves are calling out my name and they laugh at me

Reminding me of all the times I’ve tried before and failed


The waves they keep on telling me time and time again

“Boy, you’ll never win, you’ll never win



But the Voice of truth tells me a different story

the Voice of truth says “do not be afraid!”

and the Voice of truth says “this is for My glory”

Out of all the voices calling out to me

I will choose to listen and believe the Voice of truth



Oh, what I would do to have the kind of strength it takes

To stand before a giant with just a sling and a stone

Surrounded by the sound of a 1000 warriors shaking in their armor

Wishing they’d have had the strength to stand



But the giant’s calling out my name and he laughs at me

Reminding me of all the times I’ve tried before and failed

The giant keeps on telling me time and time again


“Boy you’ll never win, you’ll never win.”



But the voice of truth tells me a different story

the Voice of truth says “do not be afraid!”

and the Voice of truth says “this is for My glory”

Out of all the voices calling out to me

I will choose to listen and believe the Voice of truth



But the stone was just the right size to put the giant on the ground

and the waves they don’t seem so high from on top of them looking down

I will soar with the wings of eagles when I stop

and listen to the sound of Jesus singing over me



But the Voice of truth tells me a different story

The Voice of truth says “do not be afraid!”

And the Voice of truth says “this is for my glory”

Out of all the voices calling out to me (calling out to me)


I will choose to listen and believe (I will choose to listen and believe)

I will choose to listen and believe the Voice of truth

2010-03-18 – “Distortion: New Operating System”


2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans12:2)

Many of you know that I don’t use Windows on my computer. I use an Operating System called Linux. An operating system (OS) is a set of values and programming instructions that build the bridge between the different parts of the hardware of the computer. The operating system also creates the user-interface that allows you to communicate with the computer.



When it comes to the distorted feedback we get from the media and “in-crowd” of the world we have to adopt a new operating system. God’s operating system has a different set of base values compared with that of the world.



The World OS says that our value is derived from our coolness, that there is no such thing as a free lunch and that it is the survival of the fittest.



God’s OS says that we are valued because God loves us, that loving others is the way to go and we can’t survive without His grace working in our lives (and grace is free because Jesus paid for us all.)



We have to re-format the hard-drives of our minds. We have to reboot our memories that are full of unforgiveness .i.e. give resentment the boot! We need to up-load a new user-interface of love and compassion and need to open the ports of our heart to download His love into our lives.


Unless we get this new operating system it will still be the same old broken self on the screen…

2010-03-23 – “Distortion: Find Godly Community”


11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

(1John4:11-12)


There is a powerful antidote to distortion: Godly Community.



When we are part of a community where Christ is central and we all stand on the level ground before the cross, we can experience a freedom that can be found nowhere else.



Biblical Community is based on a realistic self-perspective: we are not perfect, but we are perfectly and PASSIONately loved. We don’t have it all together, but our Saviour does.



And then there’s this amazing thing that happens when we are in Biblical Community: We discover that loving others doesn’t cost us as much as we thought it would, and, as we love each other, we are experiencing God more and more and we have an increasing experience of His love for us!



Sometimes churches get caught up in pride, politics, prattle and prejudice but this is usually when a church loses focus on its Saviour and its purpose. When the church’s focus is right it is a powerful healing community.




You can go it alone or find a healing Godly community.

2010-03-24 – “Filters: Experience Forgiveness”


Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John8:34)

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Quick revision:

We identified three key contributing factors to poor self-images:



1.Brokenness: we live in an imperfect world with imperfect bodies and imperfect relationships.



2.Distortion: our views of reality, others and ourselves are distorted and cause us heartache



3.Filters: when we experience the pain of brokenness and distortion we often create filters that cause us to interpret the signals we get wrongly.


We’ve worked through brokenness and distortion and now we look at how we deal with filters in our souls and memories.

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Whether we have sinned or have been sinned against – there is a good chance that we experience guilt – a sense of being dirty. I remember counselling a woman who had been raped who felt guilty even though she had not “provoked” or “asked for” what had happened to her. Her healing came when we asked the Lord to forgive what had been done _to_ her.



When we don’t experience forgiveness, we are slaves to this sense of guilt and dirtiness and it becomes a filter through which the rest of life’s input comes.



If any or all of the following are true:

- we cannot bear criticism (even if it is constructive)

- we are cynical and suspicious of people who try to befriend us

- we doubt and are sceptical of compliments, often fending them off

- we fear any level of self-disclosure

Then…

…there is probably a filter in place – a bad experience that has left a bad taste in our mouths and we go into fight or flight mode whenever something happens that is similar to what we went through.



Jesus sets us free. When our sin or the sin of others puts us in a place of slavery to the past and past hurts, then the blood of Christ is expensive enough to set us free! We can experience forgiveness for what we’ve done AND for what has been done _to_ us!

2010-03-25 – “Filters: Forgive Yourself”


(A little longer today – but very NB!)

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14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews9:14)


The writer of the letter to the Hebrews knew something important: We have a hard time forgiving ourselves.



Some people say that our consciences are actually the Holy Spirit whispering His truth into our hearts. This is not entirely accurate. We all have a conscience – a set of values that help us differentiate right and wrong. Our consciences are a place where God can and does speak to us powerfully through the Holy Spirit.



But our consciences can be damaged in two ways:

1. They can be seared or corrupted (1Tim4:2 and Titus1:15). When this happens, we care less and less about the things we have done wrong.



2. But our consciences can also become weak and we doubt our position with God and the reality of our “being-forgiven.” Paul describes this in detail when he deals with the Corinthian problem of meat sacrificed to idols.



In Corinth, just about all the meat that was on sale had been slaughtered in one of the many pagan temples in the city. It was believed that whenever you ate this meat, you honoured the deity of that temple.



Paul’s take was simple:


1. There is only one true God.

2. So, eating meat that was dedicated to false gods was meaningless and harmless to the Christian who ate in thanksgiving to the One True God.



BUT some people had weak consciences – they still carried with them the superstitions of the past and so they were threatened by the eating of the meat. Paul’s _interim_ advice was not to eat meat in front of them until their consciences had been transformed by the truth.



Jesus’ death does not only cancel the legal debt of our sins and brokenness, but His blood will also heal our consciences. This means that we can begin to forgive ourselves.



If you are struggling to love yourself and forgive yourself or if you are paralysed by a sense of failure and brokenness to the point that you are unable to freely receive the love and forgiveness offered by Christ, then it may be time to ask Jesus to heal your conscience.

He can, He does and He will!

2010-03-26 – “Filters: Forgive Others”


Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. (Matthew5:23-24)

Someone said: “Unforgiveness is drinking poison and hoping the one we are mad at will die.”



While unforgiveness is a topic all in itself – it is relevant here in that it has an impact on our self-images in the sense that we are unable to experience and know the forgiveness of God. This is why we pray: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”




When we hold on to the pain that others have caused us, it causes all sorts of complicated filters that sit in our psyche and interfere with our ability to function normally.



For example: If I hold on to a hurt of a past relationship, I adopt the attitude of “once-bitten, twice shy” and never give myself fully in subsequent relationships. Or if I have been hurt by the betrayal of a loved one in the past, I jump to quick (and wrong) conclusions when the circumstances are similar (even if it is another person)



To forgive is to choose to remember without pain and fear.

To forgive is to break the grip that those who have hurt us have over us.

To forgive is to refute the lie that we somehow deserve what was done to us.



Sometimes forgiveness can happen without the other person present, but there are times when forgiveness and reconciliation need to happen together. This is best started with an honest, unconditional apology when we have been out of line from our side.



When we let those who have hurt us go, we often discover that it is us who find real freedom. Thunk! There’s a filter that has just landed in the bin!

2010-04-13 – “Conclusion: Good Habits”


After the Easter break (which I hope was a good one!) here is the last in our series on self-image…


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1 And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. 2 Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. (Romans12:1-2)


In his beautiful children’s story about a community of wooden puppets called the “Wemmicks”, Max Lucado tells how the Wemmicks devised a system of stars and dots. They would stick stars on the Wemmicks who were pretty or did clever things and dots on those who were not cool or fashionable or clever.



The result was self-fulfilling prophecy: those who received dots were downcast and their gloom earned them even more dots, while those who got stars felt good and their contentment resulted in confidence which earned them more stars.



One dot-covered Wemmick named Punchinello met a Wemmick who didn’t have dots or stars and was truly happy. When he asked her why, she replied that she spent a lot of time with the Carpenter who had made them.



Although Punchinello was scared that the Carpenter would be cross about all the dots, he decided to visit the workshop. His visit with the Carpenter was wonderful, he wasn’t cross with Punchinello and they spoke together and spent a lot of time together. The Carpenter told Punchinello that he was special and that there was no other Wemmick like him. And the Carpenter should know: He made Punchinello and he loved him.



As Punchinello left the Carpenter’s house with the promise that he would visit again the next day, he noticed that some of the dots had fallen off…

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Here are some keys to a healthier self-image:



1. Spend time with your Maker and know that He loves you.


2. Spend time soaking in God’s Word – it gives perspective



3. Deal with your past in a concrete way – get help if you need to



4. Identify where negative self-perceptions come from: Brokenness, a warped mirror or a filter? Then deal with it appropriately.



5. Replace negative patterns with healthier Biblical ones.

e.g.: “I am a sinner – but I am a _forgiven_ sinner! Hallelujah!”



6. Determine God’s will for your life and get busy with it.



7. Join a healing community – a church or fellowship group.





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