2 Corinthians 3:1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. 3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. [NIV]
“Known and read by everyone” got me thinking about how much effort we spend on creating an image we think will make us look good. It’s easy to confuse image and vanity because both are so closely tied to external influences. Attention to our image supports almost any part of the economy I can think of at this moment; housing, auto, clothing, food and certainly personal care. It’s not a bad thing to want to look good but these external things are only a convenient way for us to manipulate reality.
Paul reminds us part of our image is paying attention to our internal, intangible things that are far less easy for us to manipulate by buying the “right” whatever. They’re written not with ink on a contract or a sales slip “but with the Spirit of the living God.” Paul confirms that what is written on our heart becomes a visible part of our image that can be “known and read by everyone.” It takes the our external efforts and God’s internal commitment to complete the eternal image being written within us: “You are a letter from Christ…known and read by everyone.”
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” Genesis 1:26
“Let us…our image, in our likeness;” are phrases of the reality of Christ’s presence, not just at our Christmas or Advent celebrations but at the beginning of all life. He was there when the stage was set for mankind: water, light, sky, vegetation, stars, living creatures…and finally…Adam. He saw firsthand what a new creation looked like and it was good.
It was a perfect preparation for that future day when he would open his eyes in a very different place, a cradle, and a new beginning. Even though people might not recognize him, he would still see the likeness of their creator in them and in that image they bore the possibility of a new beginning…and it was good.
Those images we see of that divine baby during Advent remind us we are image bearers of our creator but that likeness always starts with a new beginning. While our eyes are focused on him, he sees that likeness in us and that is good!
Excerpts from Mark 3 NIV
5 He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts…9 Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him…21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”…
I’m having a negative reaction to everything I read today. I don’t like reading that Jesus was angry and distressed. I don’t like that he made plans to keep himself away from the people. I don’t like that his own family was ready to haul him away because they thought he was out of his mind. This is a clear indicator that I’m deeply involved in romanticizing the human Jesus and I don’t like that either.
I read a book “Imaginary Jesus” by Matt Mikalatos. It’s not a “Christian” book per se, it’s a novel and underlying the humor of it is a very serious reality. It’s the mistake of seeing Jesus as what we need him to be in any given situation. Here’s part of the description from Amazon: “When Matt Mikalatos realizes that his longtime buddy in the robe and sandals isn’t the real Jesus at all, but an imaginary one, he embarks on a mission to find the real thing.”
I don’t want to miss The Real Jesus because of my need to make him look and act like I think he should…but…I don’t want him to be angry, or distressed either. That’s too raw, too human, and too much a mirror of what my reaction might be. Maybe that’s the point. The Real Jesus will show me my own humanity despite my creative attempts to mold him into an imaginary image. Obviously he’s not finished yet.
We have come through a long, and well-developed, period of esteem building that hasn’t had the effect we’d hoped. It’s a good thing to be capable, to be strong, to be skilled but there’s a falseness to how we’ve promoted that. We’ve outstripped God himself with our motivational chants and as a result we have, and are, a people who do not recognize that we have settled for better when we could have had best. I’m convinced this is our biggest sin; not the things we do or say. I’m also convinced this keeps people away from the life-giving Jesus.
We have settled for words we hoped would build self-esteem and character but they have spiraled out of control inwardly until all that is left is the conflict of our own inner realities and our programmed ideas of how we SHOULD respond to life. It’s no wonder we are stressed. Inside we know our inadequacies and outside we forge onward based on these personal and cultural mantras we need to rethink:
Have it your way
You can do it
Take care of yourself
You deserve it
Love is never having to say you’re sorry
It’s the real thing
Be true to yourself
Believe in yourself
Feel good about yourself
I’m OK, you’re OK
From the day we’re born finding “the real me” is the task we set out on. Our messages over the years are many but they are not always correct or valuable. Sometimes they seem completely misleading. We are bombarded with basic tools for a reality of success, achievement and pride in our efforts. Those are good and worthy values but they are also part of our struggles.
The messages themselves are a part of the problem but so is our response to them. We need to become aware these motivational message have a downside; leading people to make self-sufficiency their god (with a little “g.”) But there is the big “God” to be considered. He is Sovereign. He is in charge. If we believe that, our quest becomes our opportunity to find ways to transform those messages of success, achievement and pride of accomplishment so they impact hearers in a world-changing way.
Our language of encouragement needs to be transformed from stress producing to stress reducing. No more motivating chants like “you can do it” when they haven’t a clue how, or “have it your way” when it’s obvious they don’t know what that way is. This is culture language that has left us bereft because our inner truth and “fake it ’til you make it” just leave us with a load of stress. We faked it and we didn’t make it; we couldn’t do it. Now what? When did “not getting my way” become failure? When did “need” become weakness? That seems like the biggest hurdle between searchers and Jesus’ promise of abundant life.
Now Sarai, Abram’s wife, had not been able to bear children for him. But she had an Egyptian servant named Hagar. So Sarai said to Abram, “The Lord has prevented me from having children. Go and sleep with my servant. Perhaps I can have children through her.” And Abram agreed with Sarai’s proposal. So Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian servant and gave her to Abram as a wife. (This happened ten years after Abram had settled in the land of Canaan.)
The three main characters.
Only three people; Abram, the righteous one, Sarai the barren wife and Hagar the Egyptian servant. It’s not hard to understand the humanity of these three people. That great cartoon philosopher, Pogo, said it all, “we have met the enemy and he is us.” Abram, Sarai and Hagar prove that everything old is new again. Without an interactive relationship with God and our faith we are like them; our own worst enemy. No wonder the modern day solution often is use any means, any person, any activity as long as it produces the result we want and think is right.
I wonder if our biggest sin is not really so much the “bad” stuff we do as the fact that while we’re not Godless, we’re not Godly either. We are carelessly busy portraying the one whose image we represent in our world as ineffective and of no practical use in real life. Could anything be worse than that? Thank God for Grace and time to grow. Thank God he’s given us Jesus, his Spirit and these Old Testament “saints” that are the mirrors we are meant to see ourselves in. Thank God for his Word and it’s promise that offers us the chance of a real image makeover.