Emmanuel Presbyterian Church (Self-Image)

A Biblical Self-Image

2004-09-21 – “God don’t make no Junk!”

So God created man in His own image,
in the image of God He created him,
male and female He created them…
God saw all that He had made, and it was _very_ good. Gen1:27-31

Have you ever been to a hall of mirrors at the circus? A walk through a tent filled with mirrors that make you taller, shorter, fatter, thinner, and twist your reflection this way and that is a serious test of your own sense of self-worth!

In the self-image department life has given many of us a severe hammering. The media and people’s expectations have us constantly trying to live up to standards that are at least unrealistic and at most downright impossible. For example: There are only 8 or 9 women who look like the world’s 8 or 9 supermodels! And, if Barbie were a real woman, she would have to walk on all fours because of her “perfect” proportions!

There is a fundamental problem and it is that we are wounded people. Our sin and the brokeness of society has scarred and bruised us and society. Our own ideals and society’s expectation are therefore flawed mirrors that twist and distort any perceptions we may have of ourselves!

When we find it hard to believe in and love ourselves, we will not find help by looking to society for help. Society’s answer is distraction and deflection. If I can’t feel good about myself, can I bring others down so that I can feel better than them? Can I put so many achievements behind my name that they outweigh what I see in the mirrors? These solutions are a chasing in the wind.

A much better route to take is to follow in the pathways of Biblical truth. I will return to the first part of the passage tomorrow, but our starting point is this: God saw all that He had made and it was _very_ good.

While many may argue that it was easy for God to be proud of Adam and Eve because they had not sinned yet, we must understand that Scripture is telling us that the “raw material” that forms us – our shapes, sizes, personalities, our uniqueness, our strengths, abilities, capabilities, and potentials are something that God gave us, created in us, and celebrated about us.

We have all over us the fingerprints of Divine creativity and pleasure. He chose to make us, took pleasure in making us, and pronounced the job a success!

2004-09-22 – “Resemblence”

So God created man in His own image,
in the image of God He created him,
male and female He created them. Gen1:27

People often comment that my son Caleb is a splitting image of me. I always reply by saying “Poor guy!!!” I have had to come to grips with the fact that I am not the most handsome person in the world (“Darn!”) and that Caleb has inherited some genetic imperfections from me. Fortunately Caleb’s worth is not measured by the reflection of my image in him!

But our worth as human beings is affected by another image that is reflected in us – not a genetic image – but a spiritual image and a dna of purpose. Let’s look at the verse more closely:

* We’re told 3 times that God created. Besides the hint that all three members of the Trinity were involved in our making, the issue is that God was deeply and personally involved in this creation. Genesis 2 takes it further in that it points out that all other creatures were spoken into being but that God made people by moulding clay and breathing His Spirit into them.

* Being created in His image does not only mean that we may well resemble God physically, but that we are able to enjoy an interactive relationship with Him because He has created us as Spiritual, Eternal, and Responsive beings. Almighty God has chosen us (you and me!) to enjoy a relationship with Him. The church is ultimately the bride of Christ, and you and I are part of this bride!

* Another aspect of being created in God’s image is that we will live forever – we are eternal beings

* Women are equally a reflection of God as men are – God is greater than male and female. A single-sex community would understand only part of God’s nature and character because those around them reflect only one aspect of God’s full personhood.

* Being created in the image of God also gives us the capacity for choice, the ability love, the gift of being able to appreciate beauty, and, on the possible negative side, the potential for trying to be our own gods.

We are created in God’s image. I am a unique reflection of some facet of God’s incredible being. He trusts me to bear that image, knowing that I can drag it through the mud. There are things about God that are reflected in each vibrantly unique individual that only they can teach us, and as we bring people together we discover that they are beautiful pieces in the most spectacular puzzle or mosaic of who God is.

So who am I? I am a unique reflection of an awesome God who bears His fingerprints and reflects, in spite of the brokeness of sin, something of His wonderful nature. I am able to have a relationship with Him, and He esteems me highly enough to allow me to choose whether I want to love Him or not!

2004-09-23 – “Twisted Mirror!”

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realised they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves…
But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”…
The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. Gen3:7-21

“Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?”
In a parody of the Snow White story, the evil queen threatens to break the mirror and so the poor mirror gives a safe but inaccurate answer: “Of course it is you oh queen!” This makes the queen’s grasp of her own self-image a twisted one because instead of getting an independent view, she has become self-referencing. She is directly involved in the verdict on herself.

In a sense the eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a choice to become self-referencing. Satan candy-coated the temptation by saying: “You will be like God!” What he didn’t tell them was that the knowledge they gained would be like trying to read a sundial on the deck of a ship in rough seas. If we think that we are stable enough (ie that we are like God) to make accurate judgements about ourselves and about life, we are mistaken. It is like trying to remove your own appendix by holding the mirror in one hand to see what you are doing and holding the scalpel in the other! We need a solid reference point.

The moment Adam and Eve grabbed the mirror of knowledge and held it in their own hands, the mirror began to twist in their hands and the images they saw became distorted, blurred, and out of focus.

Notice the four areas that are affected by their decision:
1. Their relationship with God is affected – they hide from Him
2. Their relationship with themselves is affected – they are ashamed of their bodies.
3. Their relationship with each other is affected – Adam blames Eve although he was there all the time!
4. Their relationship with the earth is affected – Adam will sruggle to get the earth to produce fruit.

James tells us that God’s Word is the perfect mirror in which we can see ourselves clearly (Jam.1:22-25) When we choose to become self-referencing and we listen to our magazines, self-help books, society, fashion, and our own inner voices instead of listening to God, we have moved the sundial from a firm and stable position and placed it on the deck of our tossing ship – we have opted for a twisted mirror!

What does the a accurate mirror say? In spite of our “palace revolution” – our attempt to be independent from God – He still loves us. He comes searching for Adam and Eve. Furthermore, although their nakedness is not a problem to God, He accomodates their insecurities and fears. He makes them skin garments. And when we get to the book of Revelation we read that we will be given white robes washed in the blood of the Lamb. Our brokeness will be healed.

2004-09-28 – “Custodians”

When I consider Your heavens, the work of your fingers,
The moon and stars which You have set in place,
What is man that You are mindful of him, the son of man that You care for him?
You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
And crowned him with glory and honour
You made him ruler over the works of your hands and crowned him with glory and honour. Psa8:3-6

As David reflects on the majesty, wonder, and beauty of creation, he is grasped by a thought that we are all familiar with when we expose ourselves to the grandeur of creation – the sense of our own smallness! “Who am I in comparision to this ocean?” “Am I not just a speck compared to this mountain? Where do I fit in this awesome mosaic of life, complexity, and purpose?”

We sense some of the broken self-image in David. He finds it amazing that he _does_ matter. His psalm is an affirmation of his worth. But it is a worth that is given and not earned. Our worth does not come from our achievements, but from our creation purpose! As human beings, we are just a little lower than the heavenly beings! (And, according to the end of Hebrews 1, the heavenly beings are ministering angels who are sent to take care of us – their greatness lies in their service!)

More than that, God has appointed us as custodians of the earth. We were appointed administrators, stewards, and caretakers of the earth. Unfortunately our sinfulness and selfishness has resulted in our abusing, raping, and pillaging the earth – squandering its resources, polluting the environment, and defacing its beauty.

One might have thought that God would withdraw our status after the fall of Adam and Eve. He does not. In spite of our brokeness, He continues to hope for and expect the best from us. More than that – He is mindful and caring toward us. We are important and valuable to Him.

The band “NewSong” sing a song entitled “Mars” in the song they make the point that if they were God and they saw what people had done on earth, they would “start all over on Mars!” God does not! In spite of our failures He does not let us go! Why? He loves us and that gives us worth and value.

2004-09-29 – “Knitting”

1 Lord You have searched me and you know me
2 You know when I sit and when I rise…
7 Where can I go from Your Spirit, where can I flee from your presence? …
13 For You created my inmost being – you knit me together in my mother’s womb
14 I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made
Your works are wonderful, I know that full well
15 My frame was not hidden from You when I was made in the secret place
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before any one of them came to be.
17 How precious to me are your thoughts O God.
How vast is the sum of them 18 Were I to count them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand…
23 Search me o God and know my heart- test me and know my anxious thoughts
24 See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting Psa139:1-24

(This devotion is not as well-structured and laid out as I would like – there is a sense in which I have only thrown some peoples into the pond of this beautiful psalm and I would ask you to dwell on the psalm rather than my pebbles.)

While it is one thing to be excited about the fact that we were created good, the ultimate question relates to whether God still attaches value to us when He sees us as we really are – broken and wounded by sin.

David, in this Psalm, celebrates the amazing truth that God is _passionate_ about us. The psalm begins with an affirmation that God knows us – He sees us clearly – warts and all. It ends with an invitation for God to search even into our darkness so that we might be transformed and renewed.

It is the middle of the psalm that is incredibly beautiful:
While we want to run from God, He relentlessly pursues us, searching for us, longing for us, desiring to reach us.
In the midst of the darkness of our brokeness comes this incredible affirmation:
“I created you, I hand-knitted you and wove you together, I made you with infinite care and love, and the angels held their breath at the wonder of your creation. I have a plan for you and I have a clear picture of the boundaries of your life. I think of you so often that you can’t actually count the number of thoughts I have about you.”

“In the light of this incredible attention to detail, will you let me in and let me love away your brokeness?”

2004-09-30 – “Called by name”

But now this is what the LORD says
- He who created you, O Jacob, He who formed you O Israel:
“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you
When you pass through the rivers they will not sweep over you
When you walk through the fire you will not be burned
- the flames will not set you ablaze
For I am the LORD Your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Saviour
I will give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead
Since you are precious and honoured in my sight and because I love you.” Isa43:1-4

The use of names in this passage is significant. Names are used to describe God, and names are used to describe the people he calls.

The name used for God (“LORD”) is the holiest name for God that the Old Testament knew. It is a name that had no equivalents in any of the surrounding Canaanite religions. The name is His covenant name “I AM” or “I AM who I AM” It is a name that is indicative of God’s sovereign independence. He is answerable to no-one and needs no-one and yet we see incredible love revealed in this passage – God does not _need_ us, but He _loves_ us. He is the “Holy One” and we know that we are not, but He steps in as our “Saviour.” There are two more names that are indirectly given and those are the names “Creator” and “Former” or “Shaper.” These two names are important in understanding _our_ names.

Then there are the names used of His people. The first two names are “Jacob” and “Israel.” The Jacob name is painful – it means “he grabs the heel” (he deceives or trips up). It is a name that reflects the reality of our brokeness. It is a name that tells it like it is, even though it leaves us in despair. The Israel name is the name given to Jacob when he reached the end of his manipulations and had to wrestle with the Angel at the Jabbok river. It means “People who struggle with God” and becomes the way of identifying those who are in relationship with Him. We too are Jacob and Israel, when in spite of our brokeness, we come to a point of decision and reckoning with God, He gives us a new name – Israel.

But there are other names that He gives us: “We are _precious_ and _honoured_ in His sight.” We have value, worth, dignity, purpose, and value in God’s sight. Again it is worth that He imparts to us and culminates in the final name: “Loved”

We, although we are Jacobs, become loved Israel through the sovereign choice of the One who is the LORD and He redeems (rescues or saves) us, calls us by all our names – who we are and who we can become – and rescues us in the midst of the tough realities of life.

How many of us only think of ourselves only as Jacob?

2004-10-01 – “More than only a child”

The Word of the LORD came to me saying:
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you;
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
“Ah, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know who to speak; I am only a child.”
But the LORD said to me; “Do not say, ‘I am only a child.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and will rescue you,” declares the LORD. Jer1:4-8

I can well identify with Jeremiah. In the face of the tasks that my life and calling placed in front of me, I often want to run away and hide behind feelings of fear and inadequacy. Jeremiah’s self-description is both cause and cure of his insecurity.

When Jeremiah describes himself as a child, he identifies all the qualities that the world looks for that are absent in children. The world looks for maturity (which is often just a cynical pessimism that says “If it can go wrong, it will”), for experience (which is evidenced by grey hairs and a bumped head), and for wisdom (which is more often than not equated to understanding the “rules” of a corrupt system) There is nothing wrong with maturity, wisdom, and experience, but I think there are better definitions.

The other qualities that Jeremiah has in mind when he describes himself as “only a child” are timidity (or maybe that children can easily be intimidated), dependence (especially when children don’t branch out on their own but remain hidden behind mother’s skirt), and weakness (that there are weights that children cannot pick up or carry).

God is incensed at Jeremiah’s self-degrading reply. There are a couple of reasons why Jeremiah is wrong:
1. Jeremiah is purpose-made for His life – God thought hard before He even picked up the clay. Jeremiah and you and I are not accidental and our gifts and talents are not incidental. There is no-one as well-suited to my life task as I am.
2. God has _called_ us to our life’s task. Jeremiah was called to be a prophet to the nations. I am called to my family, to teach God’s Word and love God’s family. You are called to be accountants, business-people, teachers, parents, spouses. Our lives have meaning and significance in the light of this calling.
3. Children who are happy and a blessing are children who are secure and comfortable in their parents’ love. Jeremiah must learn to be a secure child who will branch out into his Father’s will for him. He can be bold, courageous, and safe in the love of his heavenly Father. The good thing about children is that they know who their Father is. There is no reason for us to be insecure! I do not have to be afraid!!!

There are therefore two options:
- Childishness which embodies all the insecurities and weakness of youth and concentrates on me.
- Child-likeness which embraces my creation-purpose and value and concentrates on the provision of my Father.

2004-10-05 – “Looking up vs Giving up”

Why do you say O Jacob and complain O Israel:
“My way is hidden from the Lord – My cause is disregarded by my God?”
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God – the Creator of the ends of the earth
He will not grow tired or weary and His understanding no-one can fathom
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak
Even youths grow tired and weary and young men stumble and fall
But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength
They will soar on wings like eagles
They will run and not grow weary
They will walk and not be faint. Isa40:27-31

Hebrew (which is the language Isaiah wrote in) is a very expressive language. If a word didn’t quite describe the thing or action they had in mind, they would invent another. For an ancient language, Hebrew has a huge dictionary and many many words to choose from.

In the light of this, it is interesting that the Hebrew word for “weary” appears four times. The root of this word means “weary, tired, exhausted.” And in the light of the context of this passage it is significant to see this word repeated.

Isaiah is speaking to the exiled community who find themselves in the desert lands of Babylon, dislocated and devasted. They are convinced that God has forgotten them. They are depressed, broken, and tired. They have focussed on the experience of exile – on the frustration of their circumstances. Their vision is dominated by their situation – and they are weary: Dog-dead-tired.

Isaiah’s advice is vital:
- God is not subject to the same numbing tiredness of heart and soul.
- God sees the weary and the tired and gives them strength
- Even the young and the strong can get tired – it’s ok!
- There is inspiration, courage, and strength available for those who hope in Him.

This did not mean that they came out of the exile immediately – but rather that there would be a song of hope and courage in their hearts that brought them through their situations and helped them cope!

What does this mean for us in terms of self-image?
- Our weariness does not define us and God is not subject to our spiritual, moral, and emotional lethargy.
- I need not look at my circumstances and say – “Well this is how God wants it to be and so this is my lot.”
- I can’t look into myself for strength because I get tired.
- But I look up to Him for strength.

The eagle soars by concentrating on finding the thermals that will lift him up. When we concentrate on God’s provision and not our circumstances or our tiredness then we can soar.

2004-10-06 – “Dirty Clothes”

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?”
Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before Him, “Take off his filthy clothes.”
Then He said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin and I will put rich garments on you.” Zec3:1-4

I still get goosebumps each time I read this passage! Zechariah’s vision of Joshua the High Priest is one of the most graphic and hopeful depictions of the human condition.

Joshua the high priest represents all of us as he stands before the Angel of the Lord. I am convinced that “the Angel of the Lord” is none other than a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus. (Everytime we meet “the angel of the Lord” in the OT we find Him doing things that an angel would not normally do and people worshipping him in a way that angels would not allow.)

Joshua is dressed in filthy clothes and Satan is present to accuse him. Not only are we a people who are broken by our sinfulness, but we need to have a sober and clear grasp that we face an enemy who will do what he can to steal, kill, and destroy. We are locked into a relentless battle for our identity.

There are three voices in this battle. Joshua’s voice is silent – he does not know what to say. He knows his brokeness and even though he is the high priest who must represent the people before God, he is speechless because of his awareness of his limitations. The second voice is the voice of Satan who is the ancient accuser. His language is the language of factual claim and illegitimate extension or conclusion. Let me explain: Satan always begins with our actual mistakes and blemishes but draws conclusions that are not true.

For example: We will forget something and let someone down, and immediately there’s a voice in the back of our minds – “You’re useless – you can’t get anything right.” Sometimes the accuser’s language creeps into the language of those around us – maybe at school you struggle with maths and the teacher says “You will never get anywhere without maths” and once again there’s the accusation – “You’re worthless!” The accusers accusations creep into the speech of parents, teachers, friends, and even our own subconscious. Our self-images are bruised and broken because we have based our worth on our poor performances and the unfair conclusions we and others draw from this.

Joshua is silent. He is so beaten up by the accusations that he cannot respond.

But there is Someone who does respond. There is a third voice! His name is the LORD. There are three aspects to His response:
* Firstly, the Accuser is firmly put in his place! God knows the difference between truth and unfair conclusion.

* Secondly, He affirms Joshua’s worth (and therefore our worth.) God almighty has _chosen_ us and has deemed us worthy of being rescued (“Snatched from the fire”)

* Thirdly, He deals with our brokeness. He addresses our need. He is not blind to our actual mistakes and sin. But they are just dirty clothes – He will give us new clothes.

Are you silent before your accuser and do you think that God is the one accusing you? Have you bought into a bunch of illegitimate conclusions that are the work of one who wants to steal, kill, and destroy? Look up into the eyes of the God who says: “I have _chosen_ you. This is the source of your worth. As for your real and genuine mistakes and failures – even those will be forgiven!”

2004-10-07 – “Battered by burnout”

Elijah replied: “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have refected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” 1Ki19:14

Elijah was battered by burnout. For years he had spoken God’s word, challenged Kings, Queens, and corrupt religious power players, and lived the life of an itinerant prophet. All of this climaxed in a dramatic showdown with the prophets of Baal and although God showed up in a convincing way, Elijah was not heralded as a hero, but threatened by evil queen Jezebel.

At a point of extreme stress and breakdown, Elijah fled. God pursues him into the desert and tenderly feeds him and allows him to rest. Then Elijah is brought on a journey through some of the most beautiful parts of Israel to Mount Carmel where God shows up again. Before God makes His presence felt, He asks Elijah why he is there and Elijah answers in the same words as quoted above. God promises His presence and invites Elijah to experience it.

As Elijah stands on the mountain waiting for God to appear, he experiences 3 curtain-raisers to Divine Presence – wind, earthquake, and fire. There is a sense in which these three elements are tangible expressions of the storm in Elijah’s heart – maybe God’s way of saying “I know how you feel!”

In the still small voice of intimate love God again can ask him “Why are you here?” And Elijah can answer with the exact words he used earlier, and this time find peace, because God has heard him, and in the verses that follow, God gives him a plan.

How does this connect to self-image? We take a hammering from life. Even when we do good and succeed, we can experience a fatigue which drains our sense of meaning and purpose. All it takes is one vicious enemy who will hiss at us and our confidence plummets.

Burnout can wipe out even the strong and the confident. To overcome the debilitating sense of loneliness and failure that exhaustion can bring us to, there are four things we must do:
- Rest and eat properly
- Make a journey to a quiet and safe place (This journey does not have to take long or go far – it just needs to be a place where you can become quiet)
- Know that God understands our feelings
- Tell God how we feel. (And like Elijah we may need to tell it more than once, not because God is hard of hearing, but because we need to get it out of our systems.)

God always has a plan for us. Elijah had to learn that he was not alone (something we often believe to be true of ourselves) and that God was not going to let him down.

2004-10-08 – “God is interested in all of us”

And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, and she had spent all she had on doctors, but no one could heal her. She came up behind Him and touched the edge of His cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.
“Who touched me?” Jesus asked.

Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at His feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed.
Then He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.” Luk8:43-48

The people who know me well, know that that this is one of my favourite passages.

The woman was subject to bleeding. A woman was considered unclean during her monthly menstruation and could not go to the temple and was not supposed to touch people because this made them unclean. This wasn’t a monthly event for this woman. She was considered unclean _all_the_time!!!

Imagine the impact of this sentence: Imagine the bruising of self-esteem. She had been desperate to get better! She had spent money on doctor after doctor – she had probably even tried some of the quacks. But it was all to no avail. “Try this bandage”, “Try this herb”, “Try lying down for a month”, “Try this, try that” and each time, the persistent blood flow and the resulting dizzyness, anemia, and tiredness. Imagine to people’s anger when they realised her condition and she had touched them. Imagine to initial patience of a husband and then his ultimate rejection.

And so we find her in the crowd desperate and risking more rejection, without a penny in her pocket and without a penny’s worth of self-esteem. The fact that she was healed, just by touching Him is wonderful. If He had left it at that, she would have had physical healing, but have been left with a very impersonal picture of God and a sense that if He healed by “remote control,” he was only remotely interested in her.

Jesus has another passion. His longing is for her to experience a full and complete healing of body, mind, and spirit.
- He stops – indicating that she is very important to Him.
- He listens to her story – indicating that He is interested in her pain
- He calls her daughter – nobody else has wanted to be associated to her for a long time
- He reassures her that she did the right thing – she did not impose – she was welcome
- He assures her that the healing is for keeps
- He blesses her with peace – something she has not had for a long time.
- He protects her from the crowd who might have been angry at the “contamination” she brought. By blessing her He ensures that they would want to touch her – a sensation she has not had for a long time.

What are the implications for us and our self-images? We matter very very much to God and even when we suffer from very debilitating brokenesses He longs to heal us and restore us and He will.

2004-10-12 – “In spite of us!”

When Simon Peter sw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid, from now on you will catch men.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed Him. Luk5:8-11

The background to this passage is that Jesus had been teaching the crowds from Peter’s boat. When he had finished, He told Peter to throw the nets on the other side of the boat. Peter was skeptical – he was a fisherman, Jesus was a carpenter. But he obeyed and caught the biggest catch of his life!!

His response is a one I can identify with: The moment he recognises God’s glory at work in Jesus, Peter is convicted of his own brokenness. This is not an uncommon reaction – the closer we get to the Light, the more clear our own failures and the stains of our sin become. As the bright light of Christ’s holiness shines on him, Peter realises his own desperate shortcomings.

In his heart of hearts Peter knows that he has fallen short and that he will continue to fall short. He knows his own failures only too well! He is painfully aware of his tendency to doubt, to shoot his mouth off, and to lose his cool. He knows his own brokeness and in the pages of the gospels we see him fail in all three areas.

Jesus does not dwell on our failures. Knowing all that Peter would do, knowing that Peter would fail, our Lord still attributes worth and value to Peter. He still has a plan for Peter and purpose for Him. He entrusts Peter with a job – be a fisher of men. In spite of us, even though we will fail, and even in the light of our track-records, Jesus wants to use us and hopes for the best from us.

POSTSCRIPT: Three years later Peter and Jesus are once again standing on the beach. Peter _has_ failed – he doubted Jesus and tried to keep Him from the cross. He lost his cool and cut of the ear of the high priest’s servant. He made promises he couldn’t keep and denied Jesus three times. But Jesus is still not going away. He has not given up on Peter. Three times – once for each denial – Peter gets to declare his love for Jesus and three times over Jesus says “Feed my flock” Our worth comes from our Lord’s attribution of purpose and value, and not from our failures!

2004-10-13 – “Clay pots”

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed but not in despair; persecuted but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. 2Co4:7-9

God sends His Holy Spirit to take up residence in us. He intends for us to be containers of the most valuable treasure of all – His presence. Our weaknesses become His opportunities. Our failures become His new beginnings, and our brokeness can become His forgiven-ness.

What an incredible thought that He can bring good even out of the heartache that sometimes threatens to crush us. Even when our brokeness can leave us exposed and humiliated before a world that is just waiting for us to fall, we have hope and that hope is the sure knowledge of His intimate care and concern.

The driving forces of persecution, temptation, rebellion, and chaos will attempt to draw the attention of our hearts: We are but clay pots! The secret is not finding worth and value in the clay, even though we can often become obsessed with making the clay look better or last longer. No, the secret is not in the clay, but in the God who fashioned the clay and wants to welcome relationship between us and Him and take up residence in us.

Shaking happens. The attribution of value does not come from the amount or lack of trouble in each ones’ life. The simple basic truth about us is that we are fragile and breakable. The pots have cracks!
When the pressure mounts and we survive,
when trouble comes knocking and we are brave enough to answer the door,
when we can hang tough when everyone is letting go,
when all the others drop off and we are still here,
it is _because_ we have treasure in us.

So, the treasure is not the sparkling personality, our amazing intelligence, or even my experience but rather it is that the God of Heaven deems me worthy of bearing His name and that the light of the treasure within shines so brightly in me that it can also shine through my cracks.

2004-10-20 – “Living Poetry”

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” is ‘poiema.’ It implies that we are God’s masterpieces or poems. The word conjures up a picture of a potter, or an artist, who lovingly creates originals without any hint of duplication, mass-production or impersonalness. With the love and the pride of an artist, God created me with value and meaning and says to the angels, “Watch how amazingly he is going to turn out!”

But we are created in Christ. Not only does this mean that Jesus was involved in our first creation, it means that He is also involved in our re-creation when we find salvation by putting our trust in Him. We are worth so much that He was willing to die for us.

And finally we find meaning, purpose, and value in the fact that God has a plan for our lives. He values us so highly that He pays incredible attention to the detail of our lives, longing to bring the very best out of each day and longing to transform our daily “grind” into an adventure of discovering His purpose and plan.

Mark Hall from the band “Casting Crowns” expresses these truths very powerfully in their song “Who am I?”

Who am I, that the Lord of all the earth
Would care to know my name?
Would care to feel my hurt?
Who am I, that the Bright and Morning Star
Would chose to light the way ?
For my ever wandering heart?

Not because of who I am
but because of what You’ve done
Not because of what I’ve done,
but because of who You are

I am a flower quickly fading, here today and gone tomorrow
A wave tossed in the ocean, a vapour in the wind
Still You hear me when I’m calling
Lord You catch me when I’m falling
And You’ve told me who I am – I am Yours.

Who am I that they eyes that see no sin
Would look on me with love
And watch me rise again.
Who am I that the voice that calmed the sea
Would call out through the rain
And calm the storm in me.

Not because of who I am
but because of what You’ve done
Not because of what I’ve done,
but because of who You are

I am a flower quickly fading, here today and gone tomorrow
A wave tossed in the ocean, a vapour in the wind
Still You hear me when I’m calling
Lord You catch me when I’m falling
And You’ve told me who I am – I am Yours.

I am Yours
Whom shall I fear?
Whom shall I fear?
’cause I am Yours
I am Yours.

2004-10-21 – “Point of view”

So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come. 2Co5:16-17

A point of view can define our perception of reality. Have you ever seen that picture of the woman that looks like a young woman if you look at it from one perspective, and like an old woman if you look at it from another? In a similar way, if you draw a round column in 2D instead of 3D, then it looks like a rectangle from the side and a circle from above.

When we look at ourselves from a worldly point of view there is not all that much to see. The problem with the world’s view is that it is imperfectly perfectionistic. The world holds up a certain standard and we break ourselves trying to attain it. The few who nearly attain it, find that it is an empty promise.

God has a perfect standard too. His standard is holiness – not because He enjoys setting us impossible tasks, but because He knows that brokenness (the opposite of holiness) hurts us. When we were unable to overcome the devastating effects of our sinful brokenness, God offered us another perspective in Christ.

This perspective is the wholeness of Christ. When Jesus died on the cross, He died as a whole and holy person, pouring out His life in the midst of our death. He makes His wholeness available to us. When God sees us, He sees the circle of Christ’s imputed holiness rather than the rectangle of our brokenness. The truth is that we are both! The more we see ourselves from Christ’s perspectives, the more our lives will broaden and widen, so that the narrow column of our lives can become a perfect sphere (if I can stretch the column analogy to its limit!) of a life lived in God.

Our self-image resides in the incredible knowledge that there is a wholeness that is poured into my life. A wholeness that will help me to become who God made me to be. We can look at our lives from the perspective of the world’s deceptive ‘ideal’ or from the perspective of our brokeness in the light of God’s holiness. The one view will lead us to disillusionment and the other to despair. Or we can see ourselves as God does – filled with the holy wholesomeness of Christ where we recognise our potential for ’roundness’ instead of ‘rectangularity’ and grow into what we already are.

2004-10-22 – “Once… but now… Part 1″

But you are
a chosen people (or generation),
a royal priesthood,
a holy nation,
a people belonging to God,
that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.
Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God;
Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1Pe2:9-10

Peter is talking about the church, and in the picture he creates a vital truth comes to light: We are not people in isolation, but people in community. We can never fully find our self-worth and a healthy self-image in isolation, but in connection, co-operation, and interaction with others we come to a full self-realisation.

Peter’s identity-building of the community consists of nouns and adjectives.
The adjectives are “chosen”, “royal”, “holy”, and “belonging to God.” These are significant: God has chosen us, selected us, opted for us in spite of our failures and brokenesses. He has adopted us into His family – we are sons and daughters of the King – Royalty! Holiness implies a status and a call – we are given the status of holiness because Jesus died for us, and we are called to holiness because God has high hopes for us and believes in us. “Belonging to God” reminds us that God is possessive over us.

The nouns are significant too. The noun “people” which is used with chosen implies “generation” and implies that we are set apart for this time for this purpose. Queen Esther who is afraid of the duty that she is called to is reminded “and who knows but that you have come to this royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14) The call to being a priesthood indicates the favour that God bestows on us. We have the privilege of worship and mediation. We can freely stand in the presence of God and He entrusts His reputation into our hands as we represent Him to the world. The word nation implies ethnicity and our ethnicity does not come from skin colour or the tilt of our noses, but from the fact that we are all beginning to look more like Jesus. The Greek word for “people” who belong to God is the word that is often used in connection to Israel. The picture created is that of Moses confronting Pharoah and saying on God’s behalf “Let my people go!”

Who are we? Those who have received God’s favour without having earned it – chosen for a specific time and purpose. We are gifted with the privilege of worship and speaking on God’s behalf as children of the King. We are a family that has its genetic roots in the fact that we are called to holiness – we will develop the characteristics of Jesus. And we are a people who, when we were trapped in sin and brokeness, God became passionate about us and rescued us!

(More on Tuesday!)

2004-10-26 – “Once… but now… Part 2″

But you are
a chosen people (or generation),
a royal priesthood,
a holy nation,
a people belonging to God,
that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.
Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God;
Once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1Pe2:9-10

Last week we looked at the 4 nouns and adjectives that this passage uses to describe us. These descriptors culminate in a purpose and are reinforced by a historical event.

Our purpose in life is to declare God’s praises. Life, apart from this purpose simply does not make sense! When we live apart from God and when we do not live so that our words and actions bring Him praise, we are in danger of having a self-image implosion. Like a pen is created to write, like a lightbulb is created to shine, and like a violin is made to make beautfiul music, we are created with a purpose. When the purpose is not achieved, then there can be no sense of fulfilment – we are still in the darkness.

There are many who have seen what Christ has done for them, but have not embraced it. They live in the dark even though they see the light. A good analogy is the moon. The moon has no light of its own… Its beauty comes from the opportunities it has to reflect light. There are times that the moon is badly positioned and finds itself in shadow – dull and dim. At other times it is in the right place and reflects brightly.

When we’re feeling dull and miserable about ourselves, it may well be that we are in the wrong place in our lives desperately trying to generate our own light when what we need to do is to move to a place where God’s light can be reflected in us.

The once… but now… couplet is the key to this passage. It is easy to dwell on the past and on our failures. It is easy for us to be sucked into self-criticism and self-doubt.
- Once we were not fully a people (the same word as “people belonging to God”) but now we are!
- Once there was no mercy available for us – now there is.
The significant thing about the present tenses (what we now are) is that these are not our achievements! We did not obtain or achieve citizenship, but God adopted us. We did not qualify for mercy, but Christ achieved it through the price paid on the cross.

Do you, like the moon, need to move out of the shadows into the light? Are you still living in the past?

2004-10-27 – “The Ultimate Relationship”

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Dear friends now we are children of God and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. 1Jn3:1-2

The most incredible facet of our identity and value is that we are God’s children. When we spend time in relationship with Him and in His presence we will manifest His nature and character.

We belong to God twice: He created us _and_ He redeemed and adopted us.
A little boy made a beautiful sailing boat. He spent months working on it and when he took it for its first test run, a strong gust of wind took it downstream and they couldn’t catch it. The little guy was devastated. A few weeks later he saw his boat in the toy shop window! He went in to talk to the shop owner: “That’s my boat!”
The shopowner’s answer was final: “Someone brought the boat to me and I bought it – it’s mine. If you want it, you will have to buy it.”
The little boy went home and emptied his piggy bank and did chores around the house for two weeks until he had the money to buy the boat. As they came back from the shop, he cradled the boat in his arms and said to his dad. “I love this boat twice over – I made it and I bought it back”

This is how God feels about us. He created us and when we were taken away by sin and brokeness, He set out to get us back! In His presence and in response to the love He lavishes on us, we become like Him! The world does not know Him. As a result they attach value and worth on different criteria. We will not find ultimate worth and value in any other place but in Him.

Self-help courses and psychotherapy will only help us to get to know and love ourselves up to a point. At the end of the day, the best way for us to know our worth and value is to draw near to Him and see Him as He is. When we bask in Him and the love He has lavished on us, we will truly know ourselves.

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