Tag: Image of God

Meeting New People in Church

You have a choice. The Sunday morning routine begins. You find yourself in the same seat of your section. Next thing you know, a person who you have not met sits next to you. The internal questions begin to race through your mind. Should I say hello? Will I scare them off? What if I say something weird? How will they respond?

The choice comes down to greeting or letting them move on quietly. What choice do you usually make?

This situation can conjure up a host of emotions like fear and anxiety. Your response can result from having an extroverted or introverted personality.

Consider the role reversal. Whenever any of us walks into a new space, we hope someone will take the risk of meeting us. It alleviates a little of our anxiety and can help us get to know other people. This situation full of unknowns becomes more known.

Acknowledging the presence of a new person speaks volumes to what you believe about the Gospel. We welcome people warmly because Jesus has done the same for us. When you take the time to meet a person, you communicate their value as one created in the Image of God.

The next time you encounter a new person, rather than letting fear and anxiety keep you from meeting them, consider these steps:

1. Introduce Yourself and Find Out Their Name.

The first step can take the most courage. Take the time to not only find out their name, but remember it. You may want to use it two-three times in the conversation to help you remember it. You taking this first step helps a person feel noticed.

2. Ask Questions and Listen.

Once the introduction ends, carrying the conversation can become difficult. Start by asking, “Where are you from?” Most times that question will open the door to get to know a person. Then you can move to the question, “How did you find out about the church?” You might find similarity in your story. Most importantly, listen to what they say. You validate people by giving them the space to share their story.

3. Watch for Cues.

Most conversations happen before or after a worship gathering. If the gathering begins, be cognizant of a person wanting to get to service on time. At the end of service, a person may have to pick up their kids or go to another event.

A couple of cues to end a conversation: checking their phone, nervous tapping, looking around, and mentioning they need to go. Cues for staying in conversation includes eye contact, positive flow of conversation, and a relaxed posture.

4. Avoid the Pass Off.

You know the feeling of getting your phone call transferred. Sometimes in our exuberance to help someone connect at church, we immediately want to introduce them to other people. Remember how participating in a new setting can become overwhelming. You are a living human being talking to another living human being.

If a person has a specific question and they want the answer, then that would be an appropriate time to connect with a church leader. Recognize the next steps the person wants to take. Often, they want to start by getting to know a few people before taking a next step.

5. Invite follow up.

When you end the conversation, offer to exchange emails. Making a connection can make the difference between coming back to a church the following week – or not. People feel welcomed when you follow up with them. It speaks volumes to them feeling important if a person takes the time to make themselves available.

Also, invite them to events at the church. Think of the groups, classes, or gatherings that could be a good fit for them.

The time you take on Sunday to meet new people communicates far more than you can ever realize. Jesus not just saw people, but He welcomed them. He calls us to do the same.

How have you helped people feel welcomed at church?

Photo by Nina Strehl.

The Deeper Reality of Politics

How have you felt about the upcoming election? One week from today millions will cast their vote for president. Messages of fear, anxiety, angst, and anger have come to the forefront of each commentary on the candidates. Fact-checking gets more and more difficult with the vast amount of information.

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Faith in Jesus does not dismiss our fears, anxieties, and frustrations, but rather responds to it differently. The deeper reality of politics has to do with one of the greater narratives of Scripture; Jesus is the hero of every story.

Scan the pages of the Old and New Testaments. You will find deeply flawed political leaders. David, the most heralded of Jewish kings, commits murder. Solomon exploits his riches to feed his pleasure. Xerxes operated out of insecurity. Nebuchadnezzar had an enormous ego out of his gain. Pilate cared about the polls before they even existed.

I wonder what those followers of Jesus would say to us today. Perhaps, they would empathize with our plight. Even more so, I think they would remind us to look beyond the power systems to see God at work. They had lived through their political chaos to see that Jesus works in the storms.

How do you live out the deeper reality of Jesus in the midst of this political mess? Eugene Peterson in Reverse Thunder, a book about Revelation, has a chapter called “The Last Word on Politics.” Peterson describe living in the deeper reality called the “Politics of the Lamb” or the politics of Jesus:

The politics of the Lamb takes the ordinary and basic elements of our obedience (offering our adoration in worship, listening to the proclaimed word, practicing a holy life) and develops them into the ultimate and eternal. The politics of the Lamb, by showing that the plainest of details of our daily faith are significant facts in a cosmic drama, protects us from hubris and guides us into maturity that pours intelligence and energy into what is before us, make a work of a holy art out of the ordinary.

Radically following Jesus in this political climate can look ordinary. Our faith lived out goes well-beyond who will become president. You live out in your practices.

It exchanges the constant fact-checking of policy and insults with the truth of Scripture. It calls us to identify our anxiety and bring it to prayer. We watch our words and thoughts because we recognize each person created in the image of God. Faithfully, we gather with the community of believers sharing in the greater story of grace.

Today, live in the deeper reality of Jesus. No matter who becomes president, He is the hero of every story. Let your faith become practice.

Photo credit by Augusto Navarro.

Comebacks

Philadelphia loves the Flyers, Sixers, Phillies, and especially the Eagles. In living that area for seven years, I will never forget the summer of 2009. The Eagles signed Michael Vick to their team. He had just come out of prison for his role in dog fighting. His coming to the beloved Eagles had mixed reactions. Callers debated him on sports radio, and comment sections on online articles brought the discussion to the internet.

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Soon the season started, and Vick sat quietly on sidelines. Early in the 2010 season, Vick rose from a backup to starting quarterback. The Philadelphia fans embraced him. I would listen to the radio shows which once debated his arrival, now ecstatically cheer for him.

We love comebacks. Beyond the outrage of a person falling from grace, a part of us hopes for them to rise again. It’s not just in sports. Jean Valjean personifies it in Les Misérables. Bands after years of fighting will get back together. Some political figures even experience redemption.

Comebacks do not negate the evil perpetrated, but they call people to experience confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation.

Why do we embrace comebacks? Because these stories embody the Gospel. Whether we realize it or not, we identify with the person who falls from grace. Their worst moment displayed for all the world to judge. Grace surprises us. Rather than condemning, Christ forgives us and redeems us. Putting ourselves in someone like Vick’s shoes realizes our need for grace and mercy.

Chuck DeGroat, author and professor, recently shared a quote on January 25th by John Calvin in the Institutes saying this:

The image of God, which recommends him to you, is worthy of your giving yourself and all your possessions. It is that we remember not to consider men’s evil intention but to look upon the image of God in them, which cancels and effaces their transgressions, and with its beauty and dignity allures us to love and embrace them.

The idea of the image of God invites us to see others and ourselves as Christ sees us. Perhaps, this is why a falling out with a friend bothers us. We feel the need to right our wrongs. You and I long for freedom from guilt and shame. The hunger for forgiveness and reconciliation originates from God created us in His image.

Comebacks reveal the justice of wrongdoing, but the hope for redemption. You and I live in that tension. We look in the mirror recognizing our brokenness, but we find our value in the redemption God has given to us in creating and forgiving us. Experiencing the Gospel means realizing our comeback to the Father like the prodigal. Furthermore, seeing God’s grace bring comebacks in others.

In what ways do you hope to experience a comeback today?

Photo credit by David Straight.

Slow Down

How do you navigate conversations with a large group of people? Early in our marriage, I realized my wife Robyn, and I had different approaches. She would engage one person at a time offering them her undivided attention. I tended to move from person to person five minutes at a time. What I began to notice, people left discussions with my wife feeling a sense of significance and value.

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The way my wife engages conversations has a lot to do with the way she lives life. Unlike me, who either rushes 60 miles an hour or sleeps, Robyn takes her time, especially with people. She challenges me to slow down.

That means giving more time to people even when the conversation seems to go nowhere particular. Sometimes it means holding a question or comment back so a person can finish their story. Lots of time, it means being okay with silence because others might need a little more time to gather their thoughts.

We live in a time when we run towards the next best thing. Many people throw their energy into an activity without the patience to finish. I think we sometimes do this to people. If they don’t move fast enough for us, then we don’t take the time to get to know them. Instead of investing in deep relationships, we can find ourselves with a thousand acquaintances.

The Gospels record a fascinating aspect of Jesus. These writers record Jesus meeting with individuals. Often, the disciples think Jesus does not have time to talk with these people, yet He slows down for them. You can see Him with Nicodemus, the women at the well, stopping with blind Bartimaeus. The Pharisees have a conniption because Jesus has dinner with two tax collectors: Matthew and Zacchaeus.

Slowing down for others means recognizing the image of God in them. The practice of staying longer reminds us that often we can wait, and people take precedence in the view of Jesus. Grace causes us to recognize the patience of God in us so that we might give time to others.

Who will you slow down for others today?

Photo credit by Samuel Zeller.

God Only Knows

Few songs can capture our deepest emotions combined with a virtuoso quality of musical genius. Brian Wilson’s God Only Knows timelessly fuses these two qualities. The music website Pitchfork considered this Beach Boys’ song the greatest of the decade in their 200 Greatest Songs of the 1960’s. A biopic movie Love and Mercy on Wilson renewed interest in the song during the summer.

God Only Knows depicts life and death; joy and grief; light and darkness; hope and despair. A man shares the intimate details of a woman he loves who has seemed to have passed away. His feelings range from his own indecision to his realism on life without this person. This song does not resolve the range of emotions but encapsulates the complexity of humanity. Various articles about the song have suggested Wilson struggled to put the word “God” in the song because of the probable reactions. Yet, the repeated line of the chorus suggests only God could only understand the depth of this man’s longings.

I have listened to God Only Knows dozens of times this summer. Perhaps it reminds me of my love for Robyn. In some senses, it describes the mixed emotions of humanity. Even more so the song has left me considering the chorus, “God only knows what I’d be without you…”

Genesis speaks to humanity being created in the image of God. Allen Ross in Recalling the Hope of Glory describes the image of God, “When the LORD imparted his “breath of life,” he was sharing with people some of is nature, giving them the capacity to represent him on earth. They were then able to communicate with God, enjoy God, obey God and serve God.” Simply, humanity was meant to know God and be known by him.

The writer of Psalm 139 starts the chapter by the familiar verse, “Search me and know me..” Yet, the writer goes on to say in verse 17, “How precious are your thoughts, O God. How vast is the sum of them…” It seems that scripture has given us a deep sense of God Only Knows.

In some ways, we’ve lost sight of this. 70% of Psalms are laments — writers who expressed their deep sadness and often times anger with God. The Bible honestly paints a picture of humans who struggle with God like Job, Elijah and Paul. Yet, we see the grace God gives. Even more, when the book of Hebrews describes Jesus, the writer speaks of a Savior who identifies with humanity (Hebrews 2:14-18). God Only Knows us in our doubts, joys, griefs, despair and hope.

Think of the powerful theological and practical implications of being known by God…
Our deepest desire to be known has been met by Jesus Christ.
The Creator who knows us identifies with our deepest feelings in prayers. 
We don’t have to succumb to the lies we believe about ourselves but can find hopeful truth in Jesus.
Our greatest fear of being found out gets extinguished because of the reconciliation with God through death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Wilson’s song provides us a picture of being created in the image of God and being known by Him. We have a space to speak of our deep and complex human feelings. What we begin to discover is God who desires to know us: the good, bad, ugly, and everything in between.

Today, when you feel misunderstood or alone, remember God Only Knows. Often in following Jesus, it’s less about ordering and resolving the emotions of our souls but embracing the complexities to find that we are known by him. God has created you in His image.

God Only Knows…

 

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