An Abdicated Image

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”

So God created human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.”
Genesis 1:26-28 New Living Translation

The idea that humanity carries the image of God in them is rooted in the very beginning of the story of God and humanity. In the creation accounts, we are told that humanity is created in the image of God. Humanity is given the responsibility of stewarding God’s creation on His behalf. We are told to reign over and govern creation. This is not a blank check that frees humanity to do whatever they please with the rest of the created world. Our call to govern creation is only within the parameters of still remaining in the image of God and under His authority. Faithfully carrying out this call means that we seek to preserve what is good in God’s creation to honor Him. It precludes any idea of exploiting God’s creation for our own benefit at the expense of what is good for all creation.

The obvious challenge to this thinking is that humanity has not always done well in how it treats the rest of creation. There is much done in human history that leaves behind wreckage and debris that looks nothing like the good world God created in the beginning. The answer to this paradox is found a few pages later when humanity tells God through their actions that they would prefer to set their own standards of good and evil and reject His way. They still have the image of God in them but it has been tarnished by the forces of evil in the world that push us toward seeking our own benefit ahead of the benefit of others. When we give in to the tendencies that do not come from the image of God in us, the results can be rather devastating.

As followers of Jesus, the perfect expression of the image of God on earth, we have the opportunity to lay aside our self-centered tendencies and seek the betterment of others. We can also recognize when our society has abdicated our role as stewards and given into the values of self-preservation and self-centeredness. We can call out those things we see and seek to live in a way that demonstrates to others what a life that lives out the image of God looks like.

The recent crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic provides many examples of both the good and the bad of human nature. Recently a story has emerged about the dilemma facing farmers who raise livestock for the corporate meat industry. As I read about farmers having to decide if they will need to euthanize their herds of swine that they cannot sell to corporate production facilities that have been closed due to COVID outbreaks, I can’t help but wonder if this is the end result of a system that has abdicated the human role of being stewards of creation in favor of a corporate system that commodifies our fellow creatures. When we begin to see the rest of creation as a commodity that we produce according to preset formulas that maximize our profits, we lose a piece of the image of God in our lives. Many of these farmers are struggling with the decision they now face. Some are finding creative ways to get at least part of their herd directly to people through other means. These farmers are doing their best to live out the call to be good stewards of creation, but they are caught in a system that lives by values of profit over anything else. As followers of Christ, we have the opportunity to model a new way of stewarding creation according to the value God places on His creation and to offer empathy to those who are currently stuck in this system. We can also advocate for changes in how meat is produced in our nation that is much for humane. We can pick-up the mantel of the image of God again and lead the way to positive change for the future.

God, forgive us for the times we have abdicated our role as stewards of your creation in favor of the principles of a corrupt system. Help us to be examples of what it means to be good stewards according to Your values.

Waiting For Power

“And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven.”
Luke 24:49 New Living Translation

Waiting can be a difficult thing, especially when there is a job to be done. Sometimes, though, it is necessary. After His resurrection, Jesus was preparing His disciples to continue His mission once he had ascended to be with His Father again. He promised He wouldn’t leave them alone to fend for themselves, though. He was going to send the Holy Spirit to live within them to give them the power they needed to continue His work. The first thing they needed to do was wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came to fill them.

The longer version of this dialogue found at the beginning of Acts shows that the disciples still had the idea in their head that this was all about restoring the greatness of the Kingdom of Israel (Acts 1:6). Jesus reminded them that it wasn’t in their power to know the details of the final fulfillment of the Kingdom of God. In the end, it probably wouldn’t look like anything they were imagining. Their mission and the power they were being given was the power to carry His message and His way of life to the far reaches of the globe. They were going to spread a subversive Kingdom that would change the world from the inside out. The first step in that process, though, was to wait in Jerusalem until the power of the Holy Spirit came on them and changed them from the inside out so that they could fully grasp what type of Kingdom they were called to build.

There are times in our lives when the best thing we can do is wait. We may feel nervous energy in our desire to get things done. Spending time waiting for the Spirit, though, energizes us to be able to carry out the work of the Kingdom. It can also change our ambitions to align them more with the Kingdom of God than our own agendas. Times of waiting and seeking can help us gain a clearer vision for what God desires us to do. It’s now always easy to wait, but sometimes it’s the best thing we can do.

Jesus, we need Your power to fulfill Your mission in our world. Help us to take the time to wait for Your power when we need it before we set out on mission.

Answering Doubt

“Why are you frightened?” he asked. “Why are your hearts filled with doubt? Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it’s really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don’t have bodies, as you see that I do.” As he spoke, he showed them his hands and his feet.
Luke 24:38-40 New Living Translation

The disciples of Jesus probably experienced their share of PTSD between the arrest of Jesus and His death. They had seen the person they spent over three years following as a close friend brutally executed by an empire that held little value for human life. The prospects for them were no better if they were found. Then they are awoken on Sunday morning with the news that their friend’s body is now missing and a dispute is developing between those who believed He had been raised from the dead as He predicted and those who assumed the body was stolen as part of some cruel joke by the powers that be. They may have even wondered if this was a plot by the religious leaders of their day to draw them out and arrest them to be executed too. The one thing that is certain at this point is that they were in desperate need of assurance.

In the midst of all their confusion, Jesus shows up and offers them peace. When Jesus first appeared, His disciples weren’t sure what to think. Some of them thought they were seeing a ghost. Jesus recognized their apprehension and addressed their fears with compassion, not judgment. He offered for them to touch His hands and feet as evidence that He was there in person and not simply a ghost. He then asked for a piece of fish and ate it in their presence. He knew that they needed evidence that He had returned in a physical form. Therefore, He did things that He could only do as a physical being. As they saw these proofs that Jesus had been resurrected in physical form, they began to let down their guard and were able to begin having a relationship with Him and learn from Him again. Jesus graciously moved them from a place of fear to a place of faith.

There are many times in our lives that we can feel very shell shocked by the battles of life and feel like we are experiencing our own trauma and stress. It can especially be true when we are dealing with a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic we see happening around the world right now. We can reach a place in our emotions where it is impossible to believe that anything positive can come out of a situation that would be more faith-building. In times like this, Jesus seeks to gently move us from a place of fear to faith with the presence of His Holy Spirit in our lives. At first, the presence of the Spirit may be a bit of a shock to our system and we may be uncertain what we are experiencing. As we open ourselves up to the reality of His presence, though, He will address our fears and concerns in ways that will generate more faith and slowly ease our fears. The key for us is to keep our hearts in an open posture toward the work of the Spirit and to allow Him to direct our paths toward peace and a new level of faith.

Jesus, you come to us in the midst of our fears with a gentle assurance of Your presence and Your care for us. Speak to our hearts with the voice that moves us from a place of fear to a place of faith.

Slow to Learn

Then they began to argue among themselves about who would be the greatest among them. Jesus told them, “In this world the kings and great men lord it over their people, yet they are called ‘friends of the people.’ But among you it will be different. Those who are the greatest among you should take the lowest rank, and the leader should be like a servant. Who is more important, the one who sits at the table or the one who serves? The one who sits at the table, of course. But not here! For I am among you as one who serves.
Luke 22:24-27 New Living Translation

Even as they sat with Jesus at the Last Supper and Jesus again explained the necessity of His coming death, the disciples still demonstrated that they did not get the point of what the Kingdom of God was about. They had become so indoctrinated by their culture’s ideas about a military campaign lead by a conquering Messiah that they began to argue among themselves about who is ready to be the next leader of the revolution if Jesus does die. Jesus has to again remind them that the call to greatness in the Kingdom of God comes through a heart of service and humility. He had modeled this all His life and he would model it through His death on the cross. He sat among them as one who served and not as one who lords over them in the way that the world’s system of power lived by.

Jesus is calling His followers to live by a different set of values than they see in the earthly kingdoms around them. Since the days of Saul and David, their people had been plagued by a desire to be like every other nation with a mighty king that lead them to military and cultural victory over others. This history had been marked with a constant stream of failures to truly be the people of God, yet they seemed prepared to persist in it even now. Jesus was so convinced that they needed to let go of the world’s idea of power and learn His way to true greatness that He continued to remind them of this often repeated lesson to the very end. His hope was that they would remember what He said as they saw the whole pattern lived out in His death, resurrection, and ascension over the coming weeks. History tells us many did get it later and joined Jesus’s new community of peacemakers on earth. Still, history also shows us that some who have taken on the name of Jesus as their Lord have often given into the temptation pick the sword of power up again in the name of advancing the Kingdom of God.

American Christianity continues to struggle with this temptation today. Many of us (myself included) were raised on ideas such as Manifest Destiny and American Exceptionalism. These ideas can lead us to believe that whatever strengthens our political and nationalistic agenda is good for the Kingdom of God. To achieve these goals we may not always resort to violence but we often resort to the same political tactics of our culture in order to gain the upper hand and impose our agenda on others around us in the name of “preserving our heritage” or some other similar cause. Jesus calls us to live a different way, though. He calls us to sit among our neighbors as one who serves and seeks the good of others over our personal agendas. It is there that we find the place of true influence and greatness. It is on this level that we can bring about real positive change in our world.

Jesus, help us to resist the temptation to pick up the sword of power in our efforts to build Your kingdom. We want to be people who know how to sit among our neighbors as those who serve.

Rejecting The Way Of Peace

But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep. “How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.”
Luke 19:41-44 New Living Translation

The Passion Week narratives contain within themselves many subplots in the story of the relationship between God and humanity. One of these is the culmination of the rejection of Shalom (peace from God) by the leadership in Jerusalem. God’s desire for the descendants of Abraham had been from the beginning that they would be a symbol of His goodness, justice, peace, and blessing to all nations that would draw all people back into a relationship of trust and peace through Him. Time and time again, the leaders of Israel rejected this way of peace. At many key points in their history, they chose the ways of war and fear over peace. Instead of trusting the ways of God, they chose to imitate the ways of the world around them. In the events leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus, they had reached another key point in this journey. Jesus came as the Prince of Peace to bring peace to His people. Still, they were unable (more likely, unwilling) to understand the way of peace and rejected Jesus in the process.

As He entered the city, Jesus saw dark days ahead for Jerusalem. Their ways of war and rebellion would catch up to them again forty years in the future when a band of Judeans would revolt against the Roman Empire and suffer the full force of Rome’s retribution lead by General Titus during the reign of Emporer Vespasian. Jesus looked into the future and saw Jerusalem placed under siege as the Roman army would build ramparts and bring destruction the city had not seen since it’s fall to Babylon. History tells us that the city was demolished by the Romans with only a few structures left standing. Many were executed by crucifixion and others were forced into service as gladiators or slave labor. Jesus tells those around that this coming destruction would be a result of their failure to recognize the presence of God in their midst and their rejection of His ways again.

Israel is not alone in their rejection of the way of peace. History is filled with examples of people who have chosen the ways of war, fear, and violence over the ways of the Prince of Peace. Each has eventually come to their own demise because of their choice. Each of us also has many turning points in our lives when we face a choice between following the Prince of Peace or continuing to live by the rules of a culture of death and war. For us, it’s a daily decision to trust the ways of Christ by seeking the good of others over the self-protective patterns of our culture. Jesus offers to live in our midst through His Spirit to bring us true peace. It’s up to us to be willing to live in the peace He offers.

Jesus, You offer us peace that our culture can never offer us. Help us to trust You to bring us the real peace that only You can give.