Imago Dei – Thoughts from Echo’s Fall Retreat part 2

Imago-Dei-Trefoil

The first weekend of November, Echo spent some time retreating with the idea that we were made in the Image of God. We reflect something of his essence and nature by virtue of our creation.  This image has been marred and obscured by our selfishness and our broken human condition, but it is there nonetheless as a stamp on our hearts, the fingerprints of our artistic creator.  God can see in us not only who we were and who we are, but also who we can become with His help. You know who you are; you know where you have been and what you have done. But only God knows who you can become; what you are capable of. Ephesians 2:10“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” You are God’s work of art, and you are becoming an artist at work. God wants to express his beauty in this world through you. You are the canvas on which he will paint a better future.

Saturday night brought us into the story of an unsung hero of the New Testament narrative: Barnabas.
Barnabas is often thought of as a supporting character, if the book of Acts were made into a movie, he would not recieve top billing.  Still, he is an essential part of the story.  We are introduced to Barnabas first in Acts 9:19-31. Barnabas took a chance on Paul, choosing to see who he could be and not only who he had been.  This is one of the most powerful decisions in history.  Barnabas did what God does: he made a broken person his personal project.  He poured into Paul, he taught, mentored, modeled, and instructed him.  This was the disposition of Barnabas toward everyone. The other disciples were afraid.  Paul (Saul) had done some terrible things.  Barnabas wasn’t going to be put off by what Paul had done, he had the ability to see what Paul could do.  This is what is so powerful about Barnabas – he is someone that embraces his identity so fully and so completely he becomes a work of art and an artist at work. If you asked him about it, he would just say: “It’s what I do. I believe in people. I help them find their way.  I’m a fixer.”  Barnabas is a builder, no less than Nehemiah.  Barnabas is a composer, no less than David with his harp. Barnabas is a creator, no less than the finest of craftsmen.  Embracing your unique identity and living into your unique story is such a huge part of what it means to be creative and to be a creator.  The world is changed when people embrace this.  Do what you were born to do, do it well, and do it with passion and purpose.  Not everyone is called to be a missionary.  Not everyone is called to be a preacher.  But everyone is created as a beautiful, living, breathing, screaming work of art to go and be an artist at work creating and building and doing good.

It starts when we allow ourselves to dream.  Imagination is the playground of God.  Your internal world orders and informs your external world.  First we dream and then we act.  First we think, then we create.  It starts when you allow yourself to believe in the invisible.  See past the evident, see past the obvious, allow God to show you the possibility of what isn’t there.  Living with mission always starts with learning to see through the eyes of Jesus.  You need to learn to see the possibility in the world around you.  You need to learn to see the potential in the people around you.  There is so much darkness and brokenness and death in our world.  There is so much pain, hurt, and suffering. These are obvious.  Learn to see where God is at work, where God wants to be at work.  Learn to see, like Barnabas, when no one else can see, the story of life and hope weaving into the pages of pain and suffering.  This involves the imagination and it involves faith.  A brilliant college professor once beautifully corrected me.  He told me I spent too much time reading the wrong books.  My reading was largely in the pursuit of information.  He told me that what I needed was to find inspiration, not only more information.  I needed to grow in my imagination, not only in my intellect.  Intellect without imagination leaves you hopeless and detached, you understand what is broken but you cannot dream or envision a better world or a better story.  We have much to learn from Barnabas here.  What Barnabas did was change the narrative of Paul’s life. Look at the contrast between v. 21 and v. 27.

21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” (Acts 9:21)

27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. (Acts 9:27)

Paul had been defined by what he had done, by who he had been.  The story being told was the story of his darkest moments and the story of his failures.  People looked at him through the lens of brokenness and dysfunction.  Barnabas told a different story.  He changed the narrative.  He told the story of Paul’s encounter with Jesus, of the transformation that had begun in his life.  He told the story of hope, and of a journey toward a better future.  This is unspeakably powerful.  When someone chooses to believe in you like this, it can change everything.  He is a hero that we should get to know.  I want to imagine like Barnabas.  I want to dream of a better world.  I want to believe in people.  I want to believe that with Jesus in the story, the narrative can change.

The bottom line is this: God wants to imagine and create a better a future through you.  There is hope for your tribe, for your neighborhood, and for your city because you are in it.  You are the agents of God’s plan.  This happens when you become yourself and then you unleash the creative force inside you.  Live into the story of the Imago Dei.  You are a work of art in the hands of God, and he wants to unleash you as an artist at work.  I am talking about your life being an expression of the beauty of God’s Image.  Nothing is more powerful to change and to restore and to create than a person doing exactly what they were born to do.  It is like seeing an artist at work.  It isn’t what talents, gifts, and strengths are given to an individual, but what that individual does with whatever material they have been given.  That is what makes someone an artist.  What can you create with the material God has given you? God’s vision to transform the world comes through you.  You can be a chef. You can be a designer. You can be dancer. You can be a hydratic geologist. What you do is nearly as important as who you are. You are an expression of God’s design. You and your community of faith are to image God into this world. Create the future that you see through the eyes of God. Bring the possibility and the potential that God’s Spirit breathes into you from imagination and into reality.  Image the unseen.  Think about how the world would be different if each of us left every person we ever met better than we found them.  Go and enjoy life.  Go and do something you love, because people who enjoy life make life more enjoyable for others.  Being creative means bringing meaning into every moment.  It means living fully alive.  Grow in curiosity, imagination, creativity, and courage.

Someone once described the Imago Dei in terms of function like an angled mirror. We are to reflect the glory of God, the will of God, the beauty of God out into the world.  We bear the Image of God, so we are the Mission of God.  You are blessed to be a blessing.  You are a work of art, and an artist at work.  We are entrusted with both promise and purpose, all for the glory of the Beautiful One.  We are called to become someone beautiful, build something beautiful, for the glory of the beautiful one.

Imago Dei – thoughts from Echo’s Fall Retreat part 1

Imago-Dei-Trefoil

Echo’s Fall Retreat theme was Imago Dei, a Latin phrase that means “the image of God.”  The primeval prologue of Genesis includes thought about God’s creation of humanity: “God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” This is a profound truth – human beings were created in the image of God, to bear the likeness of God and share in something of the essence of their divine creator. What does this mean? Sometimes this seems pretty far from the truth. War, poverty, injustice, bullies, and pride – these things seem pretty terrible.  Yet everyone has a faint idea of the way it should be even if we have never seen this perfection. It makes you wonder what God had in mind originally. This makes me wonder: does God see something about us that we struggle to recognize?

God can see in us not only who we were and who we are, but also who we can become with His help. You know who you are; you know where you have been and what you have done. But only God knows who you can become and what you are capable of.  We explored this concept throughout the weekend, rooted in the extraordinary words of Paul to the Ephesians.  Ephesians 2:10“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”  You are God’s work of art, and you are becoming an artist at work. God wants to express his beauty in this world through you. You are the canvas on which he will paint a better future.

Friday night we explored the story of Moses’ invitation to join God in the work of rescuing the captive Israelites from Egypt in Exodus 3.  Moses had a very complicated and difficult life story.  He is certainly not a stranger to the brokenness of humanity. He has been through some dramatic and traumatic events in his life.  In his encounter with God, he is invited to be someone he never thought he could be.  He is invited to do something far beyond his wildest dreams.  This moment changes everything about the way Moses sees himself, God, and the world. The essence of what God tells Moses is this: God sees the suffering. God is concerned about the suffering. God has a plan to heal and restore, and that plan is you.

Moses’ question to God is “Who am I, that I should do this?” That is a very important question. Who is Moses? His story is complicated. He is not exactly a “functional and whole” individual; Moses is someone with baggage.  God wants him to save an oppressed people group, but he is an 80-year-old abandoned orphan raised by oppressors that is guilty of murder and a fugitive from justice. Everyone, including Moses, has counted him out for the race toward anything heroic or remarkable.  Moses asks “Who am I…” and God answers: “I AM.” Moses is concerned with his problems and his past. Moses keeps telling God that he is less…God is inviting Moses to become MORE. God was unconcerned about his past. He was unconcerned about his faults, failures, and deficiencies. God doesn’t care about those things. In the eyes of God, he sees not the problem but the potential. He sees not just who you are and who you have been, but who you could be with his help. He can see the treasure in the trash. He can see the beauty in what is broken. All of us have some story, some things in our past that we can use to disqualify ourselves from greatness. We are all imperfect and broken. But God is an artist. He is a restorer. He is truly amazing in his ability to bring life out of death. This is what he does! This is who He is! He asks Moses to trust HIM. Trust in God, not yourself. You know who you are; you know where you have been and what you have done. But only God knows who you can become and what you are capable of with His help. God can see in you the potential, the beauty, and the remarkable! The way a painter brings color to her canvas, a dancer choreographs his routine, a potter guides the clay – this is the same way God wants to work with you.  You are the medium for the Greatest Creative Force in existence.  You are what God uses to create art.  You are where he does his best work.  Your life is what God is working on restoring, perfecting, and creating.  Your story is the book he is writing.  You are the canvas that God paints upon.  You are his project.  He wants to do this with all of creation, but it starts with you.  Your surrendered life is a work of art in the hands of a masterful artist.

Friday night ended with this invitation, extended to us by virtue of our creation: Become someone beautiful. It is in you, the fingerprint of God – you were created in His image. Let your life be a work of art. Let your life be the canvas on which God paints, the clay that God molds with intention and design.

This is the video that set the tone for the weekend.  The voice is an artistic preacher named Erwin MacManus, author of the book The Artisan Soul.  The clips used are all the work of the amazing artists in the Vimeo community.  The music is by Jonsi from the album We Bought a Zoo.