What He Sees in Me

“What is man that You are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” Psalm 8:4

This is a personal testimony, and I share it because I believe with all my heart and soul that is true for every person. Please prayerfully read it and let God speak to your own heart.

I’ve always believed there was nothing good in me, nothing of value. That’s been a persistent feeling for most of my life.   The thought comes to me and I just accept it and agree with it and take it as part and parcel of my identity. Recently, that same old impression came to me – “There is nothing good in me – nothing worth redeeming.” Then came the thought, “No – that’s not entirely true.” So I went to God in prayer and posed a question. “God what is the truth here? You saved me through the cross of Christ – but why? What did you see in me worth redeeming?”

I wondered, is it some innate gift or talent He’d given me? I’m a pretty good writer and teacher – maybe that is what He saw. I’m generous and loyal (sometimes too loyal) and helpful – those are good qualities worth redeeming.   I have a heart for God and His Word – that has to mean something. But I knew that all these were not the answer. And then God painted a scene in my heart that was a true revelation to me.

Go with me, back to the beginning to Genesis and creation.

Genesis 1 tells the story of the creation of the universe, the heavens and the earth, plants and animals and God’s premier creation: man. Please take a moment and read Genesis 1:26-27. Both verses record the creation of man in the image of God, the Imago Dei. What does that mean?

Without trying to delve into much deep theological theory, the creation of man in the image of God can be understood as a certain essence of God imbued in man at the time of creation. “The image is something in the very nature of humans, in the way in which we were made. It refers to something we are rather than something we have or do.”[1] “The image of God is what makes us human”[2] Humans are created as body, soul and spirit.[3] It is within this trichotomy that we bear the image of God. How it works, I cannot tell you – theologians and scholars have debated it for centuries, but the Bible says that it is part of every human.  Consider Deuteronomy 6:5 which says: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart [spirit] and with all your soul and with all your strength [body].” We share a body – a physical shell – with all creation. The body houses the soul – the seat of reason and emotion. But what truly sets us apart from all other creation is the spirit – the part that enables us to commune with God – it is somewhere in the realm of the spirit that the most distinctive image of God is found.  However, while the Scriptures tell us that we are made in God’s image “there are no direct statements in Scripture to resolve the issue.”[4] This is one of God’s mysteries and we can only accept it and rejoice in it, for this image is what God sees in man that calls out to His heart for redemption.

God saw His image – the Imago Dei in me, and that was worth saving.   So He pursued me – me, who’s never been pursued in her life – and drew me to His Son. He saved me through the cross of redemption, through the blood of His Son and in saving me He imparted His Spirit to me, [5] and His Spirit brought my spirit to life. [6] He brought Image and Spirit together to create a perfected being – perfected, meaning completed, as Hebrews 10:14 says – “by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”  (Perfect – teleioo – to perfect, complete, finish, to reach a goal, be fulfilled, made complete.)  He restored me to God’s original design – complete in Image and Spirit.

Now God sees in me His completed design. He does not see my faults and failings, my shortcomings, my weight, anxieties, character flaws, temper or  impurities – because of Jesus – He no longer sees my sin. He does not see this worthless perspective I’ve always held of myself.  He sees a completed, beautiful and whole person. I don’t know what that means to you, but it means the world to me. In Christ I am made complete.

Ah, but that’s not all there is! There is coming a day – a grand and glorious day – in the resurrection when I will receive my spiritual body,[7] and the total transformation is gloriously accomplished and I will be fully perfected – body, soul and spirit.

This can be your testimony too. You were made in the image of God and the redemption of Jesus Christ is available to you – just receive this wonderful gift – it is given freely. Will you be complete in Christ?

Holy Father, I don’t pretend to understand all of this with perfect knowledge, You left it a mystery. But one thing I know – “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing” (Psalm 16:2). But with You I have everything-I am made complete!

A word of thanks to Rev. Michael Shockley for his theological assistance.  Love you “Dad!”

[1] Millard Erickson, Introducing Christian Doctrine, 2nd Edition, (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 176.

[2] Gerhard von Rand as quoted by Erickson, Introducing Christian Doctrine, 171.

[3] See 1 Thessalonians 5:23

[4] Erickson, Introducing Christian Doctrine, 175.

[5] See Luke 11:13, John 7:39, Romans 8:16, 1 Corinthians 3:16,

[6] See John 6:63, 1 Corinthians 6:17

[7] 1 Corinthians 15:35-54

Hiding the Cross

(Note: I have my son’s permission to share this conversation.)

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

My son stepped into my study this morning to tell me he was heading out for work. I noticed the cross hanging from his neck, not something he usually wears. I said, “Let me ask you a question. When you start letting curse words fly, what are your co-workers going to think about that cross you’re wearing?” Mind you, I love my son, but I know him. He professes a faith in Christ, and I believe it is so.   But, he’s a young adult who works in construction, not exactly an atmosphere that monitors inappropriate language.   Like a sponge, he tends to absorb what is around him. I’ve heard him use “colorful” words. I’m not excusing his language, it’s been an issue we’ve discussed often. He has told me that he is trying to “clean up” his language. When I posed my question to him, I was not doing so in a condemning manner, but rather to make him think.

He replied, “Well, I’ll just hide my cross behind my shirt.”

I understood the thought behind his answer because I’ve taught him since he was little that we are to honor and respect God and the things of God like the Bible and the Cross (and don’t run in the church – this is God’s house!). I’ve taught him that, as Christians, we should strive to never bring any shame on the name of God. So in his mind, he thought that by hiding his cross behind his shirt, he would not shame it.

Doesn’t that sound so much like the reasoning of this world? Rather than change our behavior in order to honor God, we hide His Word, we hide the cross, we hide Him. In fact, the trend in church “décor” in recent years is to remove the cross so that no one is “offended” by it.   (That’s a whole other blog post!)

So I told him, “Son, we don’t hide the cross when we stumble and sin; that’s when we need to grab hold of the cross all the more and draw on it’s strength to help us.”

Listen to Peter’s words about the cross: “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree [cross], so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24, emphasis added). There are two important things we find in this verse.

First, the cross is for sinners. The cross is for those of us who make mistakes, for the ones who are weak, for those of us who do foolish things, who fall into pit of sin and walk in the wilderness of the consequences. The cross is the place where Jesus took on all our sin and shame, our profane mouths and promiscuous acts, our greed and selfishness, our lies, our addictions, our lustful thoughts, our rebellion and disobedience.  Jesus didn’t die for those who have it all together. He died for those of us who are falling apart in our own human sinfulness. He died that we might be set free from the punishment of sin, but also the power of sin.   We are not helpless against sin. If you are in Christ, sin no longer has authority over you. Through the cross, Christ enables us to die to sin.

Second, and this was the point I was making to my son – the cross helps us in our weaknesses.   By holding fast to the cross of Jesus, we draw strength to enable us to overcome our un-Christ like habits and attractions. When I look to the cross, I am reminded again of what Jesus did for me, and I find strength to fight against the enemy and to flee from temptation.   I’m not implying that the cross is some magic talisman; but it is a symbol of the transforming power of Christ – a power we are encouraged to call on every day and every moment.   My son won’t be able to “clean up” his language, but Christ can.   I can’t undo the consequences of my actions, but Christ can work them all out to my good and His glory.   You will not be able to control the sinful desires of your flesh, but Christ can help you stand strong in godliness. Through the cross, Christ empowers us to live for righteousness.

I advised my son to wrap his hand around his cross when those words started to form in his mind, and remember that Jesus died to enable him to live a righteous life, language and all.

Have you chosen to hide the cross instead of letting it do its transforming work in your life? My friend, the cross is meant to be seen, by you and me and the whole world. Let’s put the cross back in our churches, in our hearts and in our lives.

Lord Jesus, thank you for the Cross, the symbol of my freedom from sin and shame and death. Thank you for dying that I might live. May I esteem Your cross and hold it high every day. Amen.

Jesus, Bless This Mess!

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:21).

I am not the best housekeeper. It’s not that our small home is filthy, but mostly cluttered, still, I’m embarrassed to have anyone come in. Shoes kicked off in the living room, my crocheting projects and books piled on the table, my husband’s college football devotion adorning the room. Suffice to say, I’ll never be featured in the home issue of Southern Living. I’ve decided to get a porch swing and chairs to keep on the front porch to visit with folks and keep them from seeing the inside. Heaven help me if they need to use the bathroom!

As much as I want to hide my messy home from others, I sometimes want to hide my messy life from Jesus. Maybe you can relate. We tend to welcome Him as far as the front porch, but we really don’t want to invite Him in.   “Now Jesus, just sit down right here; I’ll give you the swing, it’s so comfortable, and I’ll bring a glass of sweet tea right out to You, then we can ‘visit’!” I’ll even go the extra mile and bring out some of those cookies I’ve been hiding from the rest of the family – it is Jesus after all! Anything to keep Him outside – to keep Him from seeing the clutter, the dust and the unswept floors.

Here’s the problem with that – our key verse says that unless we open the door to Jesus and allow Him entry into our lives – yes our messy, un-Jesus-looking lives – we don’t really have a relationship that will sustain us. Tea and cookies on the front porch won’t feed our hungry souls. Jesus desires a full, deep and abiding relationship with you and me. The kind of relationship that dips into the same dish together and shares, not just a meal, but our hearts.

What will He think when He steps over the threshold and enters our tattered, cluttered, dirt-encrusted lives? What will he say about the dust on our Bible and the stack of fashionable clothes piled up on the chair from which we said we’d pray every morning? How can we ever explain to Him the mud and the muck that has crept into our hearts?   I cringe with anxiety and hang my head in shame just thinking about all the junk and trash He will have to walk over to sit at the table of my life so we can eat together.

But here’s what I know about my Jesus – wherever He is allowed to enter, He brings His transforming power with Him.   Somehow, when His feet step over the welcome mat of our heart, His robes sweep away the dirt and dust. He brings with Him the cleansing we so desperately need. By His blood we are washed, and, to our astonishment, our hearts become pure and fit for the presence of a King – King Jesus. I believe as He nears the table, which has suddenly been laden with the richest feast you could ever imagine, He pulls out a chair – for you – and bids you come and dine with Him.

Oh my friend, Jesus does not come to condemn you for the state of your heart. He does not glare at the mess in your life and order you to clean yourself up before He will come in. He comes to make you clean, to make you whole; to transform you heart, your life and your world into a place of order and beauty. Do you hear Him knocking? Won’t you let Him move from the front porch and into your heart?

Dear Lord Jesus, I hear you knocking at the door of my heart. My life is in such disarray Jesus, will You come in with Your cleansing power and make my heart Your home? Come and be Messiah over my messy life. Amen.

Ain’t Backing Down!

“They were all trying to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will get too weak for the work, and it will not be completed’ (Nehemiah 6:9).”

He was a formidable opponent with his huge, snarling face and quick, elusive ability to move with me in any direction. He intended to block my path, and he was bringing all his strength to hold me back. But I was even more determined to get by him and do what I knew I had to do. I darted – first to the left, then quickly jumped to the right and hurdled over his arm sweeping at my legs. I touched down again and pounded my feet on the ground, running with all my might. TOUCHDOWN! I glanced back at him, lying on the ground with a look of shock on his face as my cousins erupted with shouts and laughter. I rarely got the best of him, but this one glorious moment is etched in my memory – little sister had beaten big brother.

As kids growing up, my older brother often tried to intimidate me; big brothers can be a kid sister’s worst enemy. But lest I paint him badly, he also spent one Saturday cutting lawns in our neighborhood to buy me a sock monkey when I was sick and staged a “stuffed animal” musical with Monkey and all my “babies.” (I also have another older brother who was my frequent defender.)

Intimidation is nothing new. There will always be someone who is bigger or faster or meaner that will try to stand in someone else’s way.   The story that revolves around our key verse is set in the ancient Middle East, right after the Israelite captives were released from Babylon to return to Jerusalem. The bedraggled remnant found their city in ruins, the Temple destroyed, and the wall that protected their homes in rubble.  In the book of Ezra which preceded Nehemiah, the returning Israelites had faced great opposition in rebuilding the Temple of God. Ezra 3:3 says, “Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offering on it to the Lord.” Later Nehemiah led the people to restore the wall to the displeasure of their neighbors, who “became angry and greatly incensed [and] ridiculed the Jews” (Nehemiah 4:1, 2). “They all plotted together to come and fight against Jerusalem and stir up trouble against it” (4:8). Despite their own fear and their enemy’s threats the Israelites “prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat” (4:9) and “returned to the wall, each to his own work” (4:15), and “rebuilt the wall . . . for the people worked with all their heart” (4:6).

The Israelites had a word from God to rebuild and restore their city, their place of worship and their protecting wall. The neighboring pagan communities opposed and tried to intimidate them, to cause them to cower in fear and abandon their work. But they refused to bow and stuck with the task and they completed the wall in a remarkable fifty-two days. Listen to what Nehemiah records of those who opposed them: “When all our enemies heard about this, all the surrounding nations were afraid and lost their self-confidence, because they realized that his work had been done with the help of our God” (6:16).

God called me to the ministry of the Scriptures; to, in the call of Ezra, “study the Word, live the Word and teach the Word” (Ezra 7:10 paraphrased). My enemy, the devil, is “angry and greatly incensed.” He has lobbed threats at me, shouted words of condemnation and failure at me and set people in opposition against me, trying to discourage me and cause me to give in, give up and abandon the call. My big brother learned that when I am determined, I am not easily intimidated. The devil is learning that too. He can throw his best efforts at me, but I know what God has called me to do and I will not be intimidated. God has called me by His Word and His Word never fails.

I don’t know what God has called you to do; maybe to preach His Word, teach a class, sing in the choir, or just be devoted to Bible study and prayer in your daily life. Maybe it’s something more challenging, like loving someone you’d rather not or enduring through a health crisis in a God-honoring way. I do know that whatever God has called you to do, the devil wants to stop you from doing it. He will try his best to intimidate you and wear you down so that you will give up and walk away. I am here to tell you – don’t let him.   Whatever God’s work and purpose for you is, know that He always fulfills His purpose. You have His assurance that, despite the enemy’s best efforts, you can – and will – succeed, if you don’t give up. To those who trust in the Lord and don’t back down, He will “not grant the wicked their desire [nor] let their plans succeed” (Psalm 140:8); and He will “work out His plans for [your] life; He will fulfill His purpose for [you] and perfect that which concerns [you]” (Psalm 138: 8 – TLB, NIV, NASB respectively).

Like the enemies of the Israelites, your enemy is fighting a losing battle. Satan has no authority where God has called you. The truth is – he’s trying to intimate you because you intimidate him. If what you are called to do is so threatening to the enemy that he must try to make you quit, then it’s that much more important that you don’t. God has entrusted you and I with important Kingdom work; work that will be opposed by God’s enemies. Let’s keep Paul’s attitude in mind: “I will stay on . . . because a great door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many who oppose me” (1 Corinthians 16:9).

Holy Father, You have called me to great things in Your name, and our enemy is infuriated. Give me the strength to stay the course, to keep my eyes on You and never, never, never give up. Amen.