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.