Monday, November 22, 2010

I am a Priest

Peter declares in 1 Peter 2:9 that one of the identities of the follower of Christ is as a priest. In the Old Testament the priestly role was a unique position between the holy and the common. Priests represented God's will to the community and represented the community before God.  Because of the Fall (sin), fallen image-bearers could not relate directly to God. They needed the priests to intercede on their behalf. This was the privilege and the responsibility of being a priest. The highest privilege and responsibility was left to the High Priest to enter the Holy of Holies on behalf of the people. This was the inner sanctuary that was marked off by a heavy duty curtain. Not just anyone was allowed in. It was where God's holiness dwelled. Once a year the High Priest could go in on behalf of the people but it required the High Priest to go through a lot of preparation so that they could be pure enough to meet with God.  God's presence was not a place where just anyone could go. 

But with Jesus, everything changed. Jesus came so that we did not need other people to be the go-between between us and God. When Jesus died a dramatic thing happened. The curtain the separated the common from the holy was torn in two (Matthew 27:51). No longer did humanity need other human beings to intercede on their behalf before God. The writer of Hebrews makes note of the new relationship that exists now when he writes,
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19-22)
As followers of Christ we have an access to God that was previously unavailable.  We are as priests who bridged the gap between the common and the divine. In fact as people who have been granted access to God, we become God’s representatives, his renewed image-bearers, to the world around us. Because of the work of Christ on the cross, we have the ability to commune with God personally and without barrier. Part of who we are is as priests.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I am a new creation

Have you ever met someone who doesn't like who they are? They may appear confident but at the end of the day, in those moments before sleep over takes them, they just can't stand to be alone with their thoughts. Or maybe the person who is coming to mind has self-destructive tendencies. Maybe they wish they could just start all over. Maybe this person is you. Unfortunately many people don't like who they are and who they are becoming. But they feel stuck, powerless to do anything about it. 

But the Bible says that it doesn't have to be this way. In fact it wasn't supposed to be this way. We were made in God's image to be defined by him. Instead, because of sin, we have tried to define ourselves in other ways that have left us feeling empty, dissatisfied, broken and stuck. When we try find meaning/happiness through relationships, sex, substances, material possessions, wealth, skills and other things, it may briefly give us a feeling that we matter, but really this is a mask. It doesn't help that deep longing inside us. Instead the Bible calls us to have the image of God inside of us cleaned up and made new again. This is the new life that we can have through Jesus.

 In 2 Corinthians 5:17-29, the Apostle Paul writes of this new life in terms of being made a “new creation” through Christ Jesus. As followers of Christ our lives are made new. The old life, the image that has been marred by sin, is put away as God is working to reconcile the world to himself through Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:19). In Ephesians 4:20-24, Paul again writes about being made new. On the basis of what God has done in Christ is a new identity which is to be put on.  This new identity is to be like God in righteousness and holiness – a renewal of the divine image.  

This is the hope for us as fallen image bearers. That the image of God that is within us is redeemable and that a new identity is available to us through Jesus. Who we are as sinners is not who we have to be. God wants to change us. He wants to give us a new life that is characterized by love, joy and peace. He wants to take away that old life that makes us feel empty and stuck. Through Christ you can be a new creation!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

I am a child of God

As has already been mentioned in my last posting, the image of God is the key way of defining the individual’s worth and significance. The divine image is given to all of humanity, regardless of religious persuasion. At the core of each person lies the fact that they matter to God for they carry within them his image. But sin disfigures the divine image that is in each of us, meaning that while we have worth, the image needs to be redeemed. The redemption process gives further definition to the individual’s significance. Indeed it redefines us. In John’s gospel, John writes “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God...” (John 1:12). Here John presents a new reality for those who put their faith in Jesus as a child of God.  This implies the concept of adoption which Paul picks up in Romans 8:14-17 and in Galatians 3:23-4:7. In the Romans text Paul informs us that our adoption into God’s family brings a renewed intimacy with God the Father (8:15) and makes us heirs with Christ (8:17). In Galatians Paul emphasizes our change in status. Where we were once slaves, alienated from God, through Christ we have been brought into God’s family. 

For some, the imagery of adoption brings up thoughts of being unwanted as we may have had negative experiences with the human adoption experience. But I challenge us to think about adoption in other terms - as being wanted so much that another person goes out of their way to bring a child into their family. Personally I think that adoption is a beautiful action that shows deep love and redemption as a child who had nothing is given a family, a home, love and a new life. It is a life changing event. This is what the Bible tells us happens to us when we put our faith in Jesus. Our lives change! 

In 1 John 3:1, John picks up on this theme of being God’s children as he marvels at the present status of believers as God’s children. John speaks of the lavish love of God like a gift that is to be received. The reality of God's love is that he sent his son to die so that we may have new, and eternal, life. Through Christ everything changes - we move from being alienated from God to having the status of his child,  from being an outsider who doesn't belong to finding our place in God's family, from being old and tired to being made into  a new person who has purpose, from having no hope to having hope. 

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! ~ 1 John 3:1a

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Image of God

I believe that the foundational Biblical doctrine that needs to be considered when we try to answer the question "who am i?" is that of the image of God. No other doctrine more fully explains our identity and nature as human beings. Specifically with regards to identity, this doctrine is foundational in helping the individual understand their value and place in creation as well as whom we are created to be in relationship to God and to each other.

The logical place to begin in understanding of the image of God is in Genesis chapter one. It is here that the reader is first confronted with the reality that humanity has a unique place in God’s creation. The text sets human life apart from the creation of other aspects of creation. In contrast to the creation of vegetation, birds and animals that were all created according to their kind, the text presents the intentional divine initiative to create humanity in a different way.

The God said, “Let us make human beings 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.” So God created human beings in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.(Genesis 1:23-26)

Here the creation of humanity is presented as being a deliberate and personal decision by God. Up until this point each act of creation had been marked by the impersonal statement “let there be” (or its equivalent). But with humanity God speaks in more personal terms and says “Let us make human beings...” The divine decision to create humanity is declared as a personal decision which emphasizes humanity’s special place within creation.

The pattern in which humanity is created is the divine image. This is a unique humanity and  sets humankind apart - no other part of creation is given the distinction of being image-bearers of God. Being made in the image of God is not about physically looking like God nor is it being a duplicate of God. Rather being made in the image of God describes the idea of representation. It refers to the reality that in the whole of our beings that we are somehow like God. Some have suggested that the term refers to human life as a reflection of God’s spiritual nature. Consequently,t “humans have spiritual life, ethical and moral sensitivities, conscience, and the capacity to represent God.” 

God’s unique creation of humanity is further underscored in Genesis 2:7 where the formation of man is described in detail. The description of God forming Adam out of the dust of the earth is the language of a potter creating out of clay. This imagery further depicts the deliberate nature of humanity’s creation and also conveys a sense of artistry and personal touch that is not described with regards to any other aspect of creation in Genesis. In addition, the image-bearer of God is brought to life through the breath of God.  This act is a warm and loving act. It is a life giving intimacy as God gave of himself to bring life to Adam. But this breath is more than the breath that the animals breathe. It is the nature of God himself! One author, Allen P. Ross, points out that this breath is more than the breath of animation but that it also brings spiritual understanding and a functioning conscience.

The image of God is marred on account of sin in Genesis 3; where once communion with God was uninhibited, sin brought alienation and conflict. But the introduction of sin does not eliminate the image of God in humanity. In fact in Genesis 5:1-3, in the genealogy of Adam, the author repeats the fact that Adam was created in God’s likeness by God. The Fall did not destroy the image of God. The image of God continues through the family line so that all is given the breath of God and his image. Later, in his covenant with Noah, God appeals to the divine image as the reason for the strict punishment in the case of murder: “Whoever sheds human blood, by human beings shall their blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made humankind.” (Genesis 9:6). The narrator is suggesting that being made in the image of God gives human life special dignity and worth. This reality can be further seen in God’s vehement protection of human dignity and worth as God prohibits murder, adultery and other injustices throughout the Law. God does not stand for the defacing of his image by one human being towards another. The New Testament continues in this understanding in James draws on the humanity’s being in the image of God as an ethical basis of controlling ones tongue: “With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness.” (James 3:9).

The apostle Paul takes the concept of the divine image and applies to Christ. According to Paul in 2 Corinthians 4, Jesus is the ultimate image of God. This point of reference allows Paul to include all believers to be considered being in the image of God. Paul points out that believers are being transformed into the image of Christ so that the believers life can reflect Christ’s glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). He encourages his readers to put on “the new self” which is to be created like God (Ephesians 4:24) and to be renewed in the image of the Creator (Colossians 3:9-10). For Paul, the image of God is made perfect in Jesus Christ. Where the divine image has been defaced by sin and is barely a shadow of its former self, Christ restores the image in the believer. The reality is that this image, while it is partially restored in this life through Christ, still only points us forward to a completely renewed image upon Christ’s final return.

The implications of the  image of God on who we are is important. First, in general terms, all people are created in the image of God. This means that every human being has been created with intentionality and care. This gives meaning and significance to the individual. We each matter to God.  Secondly, human beings have been created with purpose. God created us to rule the earth, but to more importantly have fellowship with him. God made us spiritual, relational beings so that we could have intimate communion with him. This is made possible through the work of Jesus Christ who redeems in us the divine image which has been marred by sin. Thirdly, being made in the image of God means that we need to be in community with others.  As the church is the body of Christ here on earth, the perfect expression of God’s divine image is found in relationship with other people who are being transformed by the Holy Spirit into the image of Christ Jesus (i.e. the church).   

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

the need for hope

One of the things that I have learned during my time at seminary has been the importance of having hope. Hope is what will encourage people to persevere when life seems overwhelming. Hope is more than just a faint silver lining on a dark cloud, it is the reason for being - the reason to hold on.  Recently I have been confronted with stories of teens whose lives are full of hurts. I see them searching for meaning, hope - something to help them get through. The tough thing is that for many of them their search is coming up lacking. In short they are failing to find hope. 

This weekend I was once again face to face with hurting teens needing to find hope. I was part of a youth retreat at my camp. The theme for the weekend was about helping the students understand who God made them to be - basically we wanted our campers to understand that they matter deeply to God. During one of the sessions we asked our campers to write out some prayers to God. This is an exercise that I both love and hate. I love it because it teaches the students a lot about prayer and gets them involved. I hate it because it usually reveals a lot of brokenness and hurt. This time was no exception. Our prayer boards were covered with all sorts of concerns and cries to God. It was beautiful and heart-wrenching. Perhaps my favorite thing that was written was not a prayer but a short comment that simply read..."I had no reason to live 'til you told me I matter to God."

This sentence has been something that I have been reflecting on for 48 hours now. I was brought to tears when I read it the first time and I have been awed by it every time I have read it since. It very plainly relates the pain, brokenness and lostness that many teens feel and also plainly state how God was at work this weekend. The message of hope was that they mattered to God. 

I believe that the foundational theological truth of all of scripture is that each person has been made in the image of God and has been given great value because they bear that image. We are not accidents but the work of a deliberate creator who made us to matter to him. This is what a world in need to hope needs to  hear. They need to know that they matter to God. 
- Josh

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Why family lovin' is important

I have just completed a paper on identity formation in adolescents. Really I wish I could post the whole thing, but I realize that the entire thing would be of little interest to most of my blog readers...although if you want to see it please feel free to ask. You may find it interesting. Anyways, here are a few excerpts from that paper that I have welded together. Hopefully you find them thought provoking.

I firmly believe that we all desire to be valued and to be accepted. These two things will drive many people to do many things. This is very much true in the world of adolescents, they are looking to find love (be valued) and to belong. This is the basis for healthy development in all areas of life. Ideally, in God's design, the adolescent would find love and acceptance at home. Indeed a healthy family is key to the adolescent’s identity formation. It has been well documented that the breakdown of the family has had an impact on adolescents. In one youth worker's experience (Chap Clark), the mid-adolescents who struggle the most in their adolescent development come almost universally from a family system that was less than safe and supportive. For those who do not find home to be a place of love and nurturing were looking elsewhere to feel valuable and wanted. Another author, Walt Mueller, notes that adolescents just want to be loved. He writes, “Research has shown that teenagers will often use sex as a means to express and satisfy emotional and interpersonal needs that have little to do with sex.  Sexual intercourse becomes a coping mechanism to deal with the absence of love and affection at home...The weakening of the family unit over the last decades has contributed to the sexuality crisis among teenagers. Studies show that “kids with a stable family background had lower levels of premarital intercourse and older age at first intercourse.”” 

But all is not lost.I believe that the church youth ministry can be a place where adolescents can try to make sense of their world and explore the questions that they are asking. Church can, and should be, a place where students are allowed to struggle with their questions and where guidance is offered. Their cries for help and clarity need to be listened to and commended as being valid. When the questions have been heard, then the youth ministry can journey with students in exploring answers and presenting God’s truth. I also believe that the church can be a place of belonging for students. Youth ministries should be seeking to be communities of acceptance and belonging where relationships can be cultivated and nurtured. These relationships ought to involve multiple generations so that adolescents have the opportunity to experience positive adult relationships as well as relationships with peers. Indeed The youth ministry is in a unique situation of being a place where students can come and experience love. The world can be a hostile place for adolescents, but the church should be a place where they feel loved and valued, unjudged against the societal model of what they should be.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

a brief thought about love

One of the authors I am reading right now is Ginny Olsen. In her book on ministering to teenager girls she points out the importance of girls having healthy relationships with parents. They need to have relationships where they are affirmed of their worth and experience real love. Unfortunately, as Olsen points out, the consequence of not experiencing a loving, nurturing home environment is often that girls seek out what they are missing in other relationships...even if these relationships are unhealthy and destructive. (see: Olsen, Ginny. Teenage Girls: Exploring Issues Adolescent Girls Face and Strategies to Help Them. 2006.)

I think that this correctly expresses the human need to experience love. People will do all sorts of things to find and hold onto love...even poor reflections of it.  Indeed, how many times have we known someone to compromise on a value, belief or principle for the sake of being accepted by another person? This is not a rare occurrence.  Some people will compromise what they hold dear in order to experience love even if that form of love is full of flaws and may be unhealthy. We are wired to crave love...we need to be known and accepted.

But there is hope. Paul writes about God's passionate love for his children that cannot be moved or diminished (check out Romans 8:35-39).  Those of us who have been given new life through the sacrifice of Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, can rest in the reality that God's love for us is immovable. We no longer need to search for love because love found us and will never leave us. This is our new reality in which our new life is based. Indeed we have a message for a world that is looking for love in all the wrong places, is that what they are looking for is found in Christ. The love that binds the broken and heals. The love that makes people whole again.

just a thought...J

Monday, October 4, 2010

An observation

Many of you know that I have developed the habit of spending my summer's at camp. One of the fun things about coming home is catching up on all the changes that have happened in people's lives. It is always remarkable to me just how much changes while I am gone.

One of the biggest surprises to be was the total re-invention of one of my young friends. When I left he was totally into basketball and looked at dressed the part. He listened to hip-hop and was determined to be the next basketball player. When I got back he has changed his whole person to skater, complete with dressing the part and looking to start a band. This total transformation was further emphasized by his refusal to enjoy the things he used to enjoy - example: I tried to pass him a basketball for him to make an open shot and he refused to even touch the ball.

To be fair to my friend, there is nothing wrong with the changes that he made in his life. There is nothing wrong with changing a hobby from basketball to skateboarding or suddenly only wearing skinny jeans. These things are fine. But watching my friend re-invent himself has made me think of other people who I have watched reinvent themselves too. The quiet, nerdy kid who all of a sudden turns rock and roll. The argumentative Red Wings fan who suddenly loves the Leafs (poor kid). Again these can just be superficial things with no real meaning but they can also be a way that a person tries to change who they are because they aren't happy about deeper things.

Understanding who we are is an important thing. We all want to know that we matter and that we belong. We need to know that we have value. In fact to have questions about our worth and who our people are can be very can rock the foundations of our lives. When people feel worthless, empty and alone they will do all sorts of things to find value. Some people have questions about their identity, about who they are and why they matter, and so they seek to find it in all sorts of things. Relationships. Sex. Substances. Muscles. Fashion. Music. Movies. Sports. They are looking for what will define them and give them worth. For some people the deep discontent with who they are means that they will reach for what they have the ability to change - their outward appearance - and they hope that this change will be the thing that fixes the emptiness they feel.

Inevitably, when we try to define ourselves with things that are not God (i.e. skinny jeans, basketball or Opera music), we will find ourselves still feeling empty. We could start the vicious cycle of trying to find something new to give us worth, but whatever that is won't help. Instead I will suggest that what we are looking for is God. God has created us with great value and has created us to find our true identity in him. Anything else will leave us feeling empty.

Just a thought.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Getting started...

I once took a youth ministry course with a prof who pointed out that teenagers were asking the questions," who am I?", "where do I get value?" and "who are my people?"  These are foundational questions for all of us because they are at the heart of who we are. Indeed where we get the answers to these questions from will shape us. The reality is that God created us to find our sense of identity in him, to find our value in him and to find our sense of belonging with him. I believe that when we look to other people, places or things than God to answer the "who am i?" questions, that we will always come up still wanting. 

Over the next few months the purpose of this blog will be to flush out this topic of identity. I will be looking specifically at how this relates to teenagers, but I believe that this blog should still be of interest to those of you who don't work with teenagers or are no longer teenagers. The fact of the matter is that this is not a ministry concern for just those under 20 years of age. Hopefully you visit often.

 Until next time...