Category Archives: Pop Theology

His Image, My Image

“Who am I?” has become the question that shapes our world. Most people are on a search to discover their own unique identity, and this is especially true of adolescents. Young people are apt to try lots of things to discover their passions, giftings, preferences and values.

When it comes to the issue of identity, I believe there are four different kind of people from a Biblical perspective.
• Those who don’t ever really think much about their identity.
• Those who are defined by everybody else around them.
• Those who look only within and still find something missing.
• Those who have a healthy self image founded in Christ that reflects their own unique callings and giftings.

Many smart people say that the key to this process of finding your identity is to look deep within to find the true you. And while this advice sounds good, it is missing something very important if God exists and He created each one of us. We are asking the wrong question. Looking deep within is just as wrong as looking around to everybody else to discover the real me. The best question to ask is, “What does God say about me?”

Since God is our Creator, only He can give an accurate estimation of our worth and value. Only He can ultimately answer our longings for acceptance and love. We are made in the image of God, which means getting to know God will help us discover ourselves. If you are a Christian, think of this another way… Jesus Is My Self Image!

Noted theologian and author, C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “The more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become.” While there is nothing wrong with seeking the opinions of others or looking within to explore issues of our life, these are limited in their effectiveness to answer our deepest questions on our journey for self discovery.

“Having a healthy self image is not the ultimate goal. Knowing Jesus in all His fullness is,” wrote Josh McDowell, Christian apologetics expert and author in His Image, My Image. Developing a healthy self image is the byproduct of chasing after Jesus and discovering just how wonderful He is.

I love what Corey Russel, author and iHOP-KC leader, said, “There is a whole generation running around asking, ‘What is my identity? What is my calling? Who am I?’ God says if we would just seek to know Him we would discover who we are…You want to know who you are – Go after Jesus. You will run right into yourself.”

Unfortunately, too many people are defined by lies that they have believed. These may be statements made by others or our own assessment of our failings and “negative” traits. These thoughts may be inspired by demons to rob us of the true identity we have when we see ourselves as God sees us. If we are defined by a lie, we will never know the real us!

Your identity development does more than just affect your self esteem. Our sense of identity is a lens that impacts how we look at the world and ourselves. If you have a healthy self image, you will be able to look at both the good and the bad in your design. But too many people can only see the negative or the ways that they don’t measure up to others. Developing a healthy self image happens as we explore the depths of Jesus Christ and realize that He is the key to our quest for discovery. And this process happens best in community because we are called to be part of a living body of believers.

Along this process of self discovery, I found out that rejecting who God designed me to be is a sin. It is actually rebellion against God. It is in essence saying to the Creator, “I know better than you how I should have been made.” While we may all have something we would like to change about ourselves, we should not strongly dislike who we are. This includes our physical design as well as talents, abilities, personality and our life situation. We were born where we were for a reason. We were placed in our families for a reason. We look a certain way for reason. We have to embrace God’s design or we can become miserable in the pursuit of becoming someone else. While there is nothing wrong with changing some things that we don’t like or are not good, there are some things we just need to accept and embrace because we can’t change it.

Having a Jesus-inspired self identity starts with searching the Scriptures to see what God says about His love and purposes for humanity. What does the Bible say about our self image and value?

God loves you more than the best parent does a treasured child.

1 John 3:1 (NIV)
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.
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You were created in God’s image and bear the mark of a grand design.

Genesis 1:26-27 (NIV)
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

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God has crowned man with honor and glory. Thus, you have value and worth because God says so. He sacrificed His Son to save you.

Psalm 8:4-5 (NIV)
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 honor.

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Key Questions to Consider

• What is the basis of your identity?
• Is there somebody you would rather be than you?
• How do you think God sees you?

Sorry I Said That…

The most recent election has produced some very strong feelings and words by many Christians. Some people have really said things that are hard to reconcile with what I know about those people. Ultimately, we are only responsible to God for what we say. But we must remember that our public witness does reflect on the cause of Christ.

I believe that we can state our opinion and even enter into political discourse without getting into name calling, yelling or being rude. Some of the best posts that I have seen on Facebook suggest that any Christian who acts like all is either won or lost just because of an election has put too much faith in people and politics. I certainly agree although I believe it is perfectly fine to either celebrate or mourn depending on your opinion.

I personally am mourning the fact that I believe this nation is swinging further away from the heart of God and at the same time both political parties refuse to do anything about pressing issues such as a skyrocketing debt, immigration concerns, boosting the economy, education, regulatory reform, etc.

As I was reading the Word today, I was challenged by these statements made in the book of James…

James 1:19-21: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.”

Sometimes we need to think twice before we hit the “send” button on the email or Facebook post. Our first reaction, may not be a Biblical one. I was hit hard by the statement that the “anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Wow! If what I desire is righteousness, then me torching somebody in an argument may not be the best way to accomplish what I say that I want.

James 1:26: “If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”

Ouch that just hurt so good! We should not think more highly of our own moral high ground than we ought. We should be careful what we say. Or else we can become deceived and produce a life that is worthless in God’s eyes.

The last thing I want is to have a “worthless religion.”

Lord, help me to speak only Words of life not doubt and fear. Yes, I may even need to say a hard word at times. But may everything that I say and do be rooted in love. May I be quick to pray and slow to  speak. May I have eyes to see through the lens of mercy and grace. Help me to love and live like You did — Jesus.

Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid

There are some passages of Scripture that are hard to accept and easy to dismiss just because they seemingly contradict commonly held ideas about God. This is especially true when Scripture makes God appear too stern, demanding or downright unfair. We are more attracted to a concept of God that resembles Santa Claus than say a holy, just God.

One of the common ideas today is to envision God as all love and no bite. People talk about God as if He is their best friend, yet they show Him little respect. But this oversimplifies a very complex reality. True, God is love. But He is also just, all-powerful, holy and beyond anything we can imagine. God is vast like a canyon with no end. God is worthy of our praise, adoration and yes, outright fear.

I have heard Bible teachers talk about the fear of the Lord as if we are to respect but not really fear God. This line of thinking seems to believe that if people are afraid of God they won’t want to be in relationship with Him. And while this may make sense in some aspects, it is also true that we cannot really understand God and our need for Him unless we learn to do more than just “respect” Him.

Scripture states that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Time and time again, people in the Bible had direct encounters with God and they were forever changed. Some of these experiences clearly indicate that the people who had them were visibly shaken by the presence of God. Think about the children of Israel who dared not go up to meet God but sent Moses as their representative. They maintained a safe distance because they were completely afraid of God. Or consider Isaiah who proclaimed his sin as a man of unclean lips at seeing a vision of God. He feared for his life until an angel proclaimed his atonement by touching his mouth with a piece of coal. And in the last book of the Bible, the apostle John fell down as dead at the revelation of Christ. But Jesus told him to get up.

Maybe one of the reasons why we don’t see more real life change in the lives of so-called Christians today is because we haven’t had meaningful, fear-filled encounters with God. If we had the kind of experiences recorded in Scripture, we would never forget them. We would be forever transformed by five seconds in God’s direct presence. Then, as we are overcome with fear and dread we would also know that this same God speaks peace to our hearts. By knowing God’s greatness we come to realize that He is trustworthy and able to do what we cannot. This causes us to hope, rejoice and live in freedom.

These thoughts were inspired by the recent Francis Chan short film entitled BASIC Fear God. I encourage you to check it out at http://store.flannel.org/fear-god.html

Biblical or Chauvinistic?

A hotly debated issue in many churches these days is the role of women in leadership. You can find a number of different camps on the issue. Some churches move toward reform where women can have any role that a man has. Other fellowships give women the freedom to minister in most roles except for the top leadership spots, such as an elder or pastor. Still, other churches opt for a more traditional view where women are not allowed to publicly teach men or in any way have authority over men.

Women’s role in churches can become a very emotionally charged issue for all sides. It can be easy for things to get out of hand. Before you know it, one group sees the other with a very jaded perspective. One group might classify the other as out of touch with society or a proper contextual understanding of certain Scripture passages. I have even see factions develop where one group thinks of another as chauvinistic.

The opposite sentiment can develop where one group sees itself as the traditional defenders of God-mandated order or specific guidelines established by Scripture. Just as political disagreements can quickly turn into a war of rhetoric, the same thing does happen in church squabbles from time to time.

I believe there tend to be even more foundational concerns that are below the surface of the contemporary discussion on the role of women. These include: disagreements over what is contextual and what still applies today when it comes to Scripture, setting aside personal rights for the good of the church, recapturing what it means to submit and honor authorities, dealing with emotional hurts caused by poor leaders, restoring Biblical servant leadership in churches, and motivating men to take more active roles in leading churches and their families.

One of the most important things is to have a discussion not a violent debate. Preserving a sense of mutual respect and oneness in Christ must be a high goal. Sometimes more than the conclusion reached by a particular church, what people do along the way can either help or hurt the kingdom of God.

Churches should seek to understand why people seek change and then carefully consider all sides through petitions before God, listening prayer, studying Scripture and honest discussion. Ultimately, what a fellowship does is up to its view of Scripture and context.

Christians should be slow to call each other names and draw up battle lines. How we handle our disagreements is a clear sign to the world how much we truly love God and each other. While we do have to reach decisions and everyone might not like it, deep division does not have to be the outcome. 

Well That Changes Everything Doesn’t It?

The following thoughts and quotes came from the National Youth Workers Conference in Atlanta. These ideas are revolutionary. Be warned – read further at your own risk.

• “Are you teaching kids how to do the right things to get out of here? No wonder they are bored…It’s not how can I get into heaven but how can I bring heaven here. I don’t use the word evangelism because it sounds like some kind of disease and if you are in the church, it probably is…For Jesus, eternal life is not some day it is now. We are reclaiming God’s plan for the world.” – Rob Bell, pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church, Nooma director

• “Your job is the relentless pursuit of who God made you to be, everything else is sin.” – Rob Bell

• “Evangelism is an invitation to a way of life that answers the deeper longings in my life not fire insurance.” –Ruth Haley Barton, author and speaker on spiritual transformation

• “A good journey begins with knowing where you are and being willing to go somewhere else…Truth is my quiet times were very busy.” – Ruth Haley Barton

• “We are asking the wrong questions. Instead of asking, “If you die tonight would you go to heaven or hell?”, we should be asking, “If you live for 30 or 50 more years, what kind of life would you live?” – Mike King of Youth Front

• “There are three requirements for relevance – content, presentation and context. You have to be aware of current felt needs. You have to elevate peoples’ awareness of their unfelt needs. You have to address their needs sin way they consider helpful. Consider these questions. What’s the question that I want them to want me to answer? How do I get them to beg me to answer the question I know they need someone to answer? – Andy Stanley, pastor North Point Church

• “God has a plan for this generation and the degree to which God will work depends on our willingness to obey Him.” – Steve Fitzhugh, former pro football player and inner city youth worker

Ditch Dwellers

The Christian life frequently seems like a fragile balancing act between two extremes. On one side there are legalists who focus on the rules. For them, Christianity centers on a to-do list and maintaining the proper pious attitude toward God. They’re walk has little joy. It comes with a tremendous burden. They have a reverence for God. But they have an unhealthy understanding of what it really means to fear God.

Then there are those who relish in their “Christian liberty.” They always seem to be pushing the line and in some cases blowing right past it. They have a very casual attitude toward God. They will quickly point out that Jesus was a maverick, a rule breaker. To them, God seems more like a cosmic big buddy than The King.

Although they profess to love God, they do not have a firm understanding of God’s holiness and righteous standard. Their life looks too much like the world to provide contrast to the confused masses.

Christian liberty boosters think they are doing God a favor by making Christianity become relevant and attractive to the world. They generally like and enjoy spending time with God because they see Jesus as a liberator not a rule enforcer. They tend to be very happy and content.

Liberty-focused Christians frequently fall in the trap of become too familiar with God. They can profane the holy by making it common and undisciplined.

Either the legalist or the liberty mindset is a perversion of what God wants. Jesus pointed out that the correct path for a disciple is indeed narrow and few travel along it (Matthew 7:13&14). It can be real easy to live in a ditch and not the center of the road. Trials, temptations and human nature pull to one extreme or the other.

The two forces that keep your life in alignment are the fear of the Lord and heart-felt love for God. Sometimes love for God is not enough to keep us from sin. We need to recognize that God will not be mocked. Sin is serious business to God, and He will judge it. Hebrews declares, “It is a fearful thing to fall in to the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).

And then no matter how much we strive to do the right thing and respect God, these things are only part of what God wants. He ultimately desires our love, a close relationship with men. Without love, all of our works amount to nothing.

Like most things in life what is the strength of something also can be its chief weakness. And it can be all too easy to end up in ditch. But if the forces of love and fearing God are active in our lives, we will walk the center line in harmony with God and His will.

At first, loving and fearing God may seem to conflict. But that is only for those who fail to understand the true meaning of the concepts. If you really love something, you will recognize what makes it special and will seek to honor it. If you really love somebody, your actions will show it. Jesus said that those who love Him will obey His commandments.

The fear of the Lord does not drive us from God. Instead, it drives us to God because we have no reason to hide. God’ perfect love drives out the fear associated with judgment and replaces it a holy fear based on reverence. If you find yourself frequently stuck in a spiritual ditch, let God pull you out and do what only He can do. Proper balance lies not in our actions, feelings or theology. It can only be found in the truth and the power contained in Jesus Christ.

Cut & Paste Theology

‘Ok kids, get out your scissors, Bible and glue. And let’s get ready to create a whole new reality.’

This is how I feel sometimes when I hear preachers do ‘expository preaching.’ The Bible in the hands of a smart man and/or a dynamic speaker can be twisted around to say pretty much whatever you want. One friend of mine tells a story of how he weaved together Scripture to come up with a theology that wearing sunglasses is sin. Of course, he wasn’t really serious. My friend just used this little trick to illustrate a very valid point. We must be careful how we rightly divide the Word of truth.

Let’s work through an example to see how the Scripture can be reconstructed to defend even ludicrous positions. Here’s one that I wish I had known as a kid. In Luke 11:37-38, a Pharisee invites Jesus to come have dinner with him. Jesus accepts the invitation and proceeds to sit down to eat. Listen to how the King James version of the Bible described the situation. “And when the Pharisee saw it, he marveled that he (Jesus) had not first washed before dinner (v38).” Thinking with the mindset of a young boy, I could use that Scripture to try to justify to my mother why I don’t have to wash my hands before eating dinner. She could say, ‘March right in the bathroom and wash your hands before supper.’ To which I could reply, ‘Why? Jesus didn’t wash his hands before eating.’

In my young mind, the Scripture seems to fit my situation, but in trying to apply the Word to fit my own desires, I end up butchering the real meaning. The Pharisee was shocked to see Jesus dine without going through the ceremonial washing required by the Jewish traditions. Jesus did this to challenge their traditions. He wanted them to see that the inside of the cup (the heart) is more important than the outside. The Pharisees ignored the real heart issues, which is what really matters the most to God. This Scripture passage doesn’t really have anything to do with germs, health habits or obeying my mother.

Sometimes Bible teachers end up taking Scriptures out of context to support a very valid and Biblically sound point. Some might ask, ‘What’s the big deal as long as they overall get the theology right? What does the context really matter?’ It matters a great deal. If you take the attitude that you can manipulate the Word of God to match your feelings, then you dilute the authority of Scripture. You start to play the role of god. Scripture does not exist to support our world view. Scripture exists to reveal to us God’s world view. Anything else is just a toll road to idolatry, and you won’t like the price at the end of the journey.

Scripture must always be studied in context. Where does a passage fall in the entire storyline of the Bible? What are the historical and cultural issues surrounding the passage? Does the passage have more than one application as is common, especially in the Old Testament prophets? Now this shouldn’t scare you away and lead you to think that the Bible is only for serious scholars. Just as being too loose with Scripture can be a problem, being too legalistic can rob you of revelation inspired by the Holy Spirit. There are two extremes, and neither one is a good thing.

John 6:63 – “It is the spirit that quickeneth the flesh profiteth nothing:the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” We should not look at the Bible as a legalistic rule book loaded with impersonal doctrine and cold, hard truth void of life. The Word of God bears the mark, the image of God. And God is a spirit. His words exist on a spiritual plain beyond just the physical world. Sure the Bible is words on a page, but that’s not all there is to it. Apart from the Spirit, the Bible has no real power. Thus, there must be liberty to allow the Spirit to speak direct revelation and application to your life. The good news is that the revelation of the Holy Spirit will never be out of alignment with the real meaning of Scripture. God is not confused about His Word. But sometimes our flesh can get in the way. That’s why we should be students of the Word and hold one anther accountable for our doctrine and practices. The process starts with identyfing the negative habits of the past and moving forward into the New and Living Way.

The more we treasure the Word and its authority, the less likely we will be to manipulate it to serve our own agenda.