Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Created in an image

In the steamy Amazon jungle of Peru, the Bora tribeswoman wore a natural-material skirt. She was topless except for the bead-and-feather necklace. There was a brown-skinned, naked baby perched on her left hip. She stood unsmiling for the photo, with a four year-old boy in white jockey shorts next to her. The Peruvian woman posed for the university group who were touring some of the sites served by the their denomination. 

Last year, when my employer, a nonprofit ministry, needed graphics for a fundraising newsletter, we knew we couldn’t use the image as-is, because a few constituents would be offended by the nudity. One designer manipulated pixels to lengthen the feathers on the necklace, but the image was still too revealing. So our artist, an award-winning quilter, graphically designed a halter top for the woman in the photograph. She “Photoshopped” the image to make it acceptable to a North American audience. 

Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' Matthew 25:34-36 NIV

There’s a man in my Bible class who says he knows that God loves him. God loves everyone, even the worst sinner, but he wants to know that God really likes him, too. Like Abraham and David, he wants to be known as a friend of God. It has nothing to do with keeping commandments or doing good works to earn his ticket to heaven. It is all about loving and accepting other human beings. My friend was thrilled to learn of this verse in Deuteronomy 30:9 MSG: "Yes, God will start enjoying you again, making things go well for you just as he enjoyed doing it for your ancestors." So God really does like people above and beyond the unconditional love He gives!

Is obtaining the Lord’s approval and friendship as easy as cutting, pasting, cloning, layering, and color-matching in Photoshop? Or replicating a meal or beverage, or healing with a handheld device, like in Star Trek?

God created us in His image. Not like altering pixels in photo editing. Not even physically, with two eyes, a nose, and a mouth. He created us in the image of His Spirit. God is Love. He created us in that image.

Our giving to others (the real stuff, not the virtual) is not something that God needs. He owns everything. He speaks limitless quantities of precious materials into existence. To the Creator, pure gold is just paving material.

God wants us to give because in doing so, we become like Him. Giving is something that we need. He so loved the world (meaning all humanity), that He gave! When He wipes away our sins, He is for-giving. He gives us so much that He instills the need of repentance before we confess! God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. Acts 5:31 NIV. (Repentance is not a gift we can give God, because He got there first and supplied it!)

So no, God doesn’t need your tithes, offerings, good deeds, your hands uplifted in worship, your cultural or religious ritual, or the proceeds of your estate sale. He repeatedly said that He doesn’t want sacrifices of “stuff.” God wants you to give love, and give yourself in His name. Often that does translate to money, because it empowers others to enlarge the kingdom through hands-on ministry and mission projects. But primarily, giving—whatever it is that God calls you to—means being submitted to the Holy Spirit’s leading. Listen to His voice and obey. The sacrifices He desires are mercy, compassion, justice, and love of others. He’ll share with you the creativity to know how to express those virtues in tangible ways.

When Jesus comes, there won’t be an examination of how much we know about the Bible, the offices we held at church, the cans of beans we gave to the homeless once a year, or an audit of our tax-deductible donations. He will select the givers who loved in His name, to “enter into the joy of the kingdom.” He will take His friends, the people He likes. 

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Colossians 3:12-14 NIV.

The Lord will accept (and like!) the people who are created in His image: lovers and givers.

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