Monday, January 26, 2015

Legacy Leaving and Statue Building -- What Is Your Vision for 2015?

The kings of old didn't do things small.
Our kids are a huge disappointment to us. Seriously, the Richardsons are leaving nothing in this world when we exit, and it is all those kids' fault.

In several short months, one of them is going to be leaving that name behind for a new one. Eventually, it is assumed (but not a necessity) the other two will marry as well. Not that they could not keep their names—they choose not to. (Unless one of them gets engaged to a guy named, say, Snuffleupagus or something. Then, please reconsider, kiddo.)

Nor will they carry on the family business. None of our daughters wants to be a doctor. (Their mother may have swayed them a bit with her horror stories. Or her preference for Shakespeare over intestines.) They will never be practice partners with dad. In the ways traditional families measure legacies, we're slacking. Fortunately, we don't care. There are more important legacies to leave.

Last week, we talked about how our children reflect our character. It's an analogy for how we reflect God's character as his children and his image. But there is even more to being a child, and an image, than reflecting behaviors and ideas.

Our children are the ones we entrust to carry into this world what we find important. They are the ones we hope and believe will take on our values and visions for the future.

Sometimes it's a family business; sometimes it's a family name. I hope, more often, it's treasured beliefs like caring for others, protecting family ties, and persevering through a difficult task. We won't be here to continue what was important to us. We dream that they will.

God has the same dream. 

He not only made us to reflect his character--he created us to see his vision.  [tweet this]. We're not meant to simply be nice people in this world. A computer knows how to generate good manners. We're meant to spread God's values like rain after a California drought. To make our world loving and just, not settle for making ourselves good people.

Giant Statues and Kingdom Stakes

In the ancient world, kings set up images of themselves in the outer regions of their kingdom. Why? Other people might just send an email with a photo attachment. A strongly worded memo. But these guys figured, hey, I'm a king. I don't do things small. Giant statues? Let's get on this thing!

There was a reason. See, when your kingdom is far flung, and your transportation system is a chariot, and there is no satellite programming to get your message out on 347 channels, you've got to have a Plan B. And their plan was to establish statues that would stand in for them. The figures would have their authority. Whatever a person would be expected to do in the king's actual presence he is expected to do for the statue. The image was a representative of the real thing. It had the authority of the king.

That's the idea we're supposed to get from being told in Genesis 1 that we are created in the image of God. You (you as in people--you and I) have been placed in the outer reaches of the kingdom as God's own representative. You have his authority to do what he would do. You're like an emissary sent our from your country to offer aid to this government and counsel to this other one.

This makes for an entirely different plot line than just looking at the image of God idea as “Wow, maybe I should kind of act better.” It's, “Wow, there's an entire kingdom at stake here, and I'm spending my days hanging out on Facebook arguing over who should have won the Golden Globes.” Arguing nicely, understand, because I'm the image of God.

We are a people called to mirror his character and his vision into a crazy world. That's way bigger than “Share this picture if you love Jesus.” Crazy bigger.

We're the delegation he has sent out to accomplish what the King wants for His kingdom. You're an envoy. For the King of the universe. That's serious stuff right there. Potentially scary. And unbelievably exciting.

(Side note: If we're sent to do what he would do? We'd better be quite sure what he would do. And fyi, I don't think launching hate campaigns against people who don't think like us is on the short list of things God would do.)

Giant Changes and Kingdom Strategies

For this little guy? She is Jesus.
How would it change your day to day priorities if you got out of bed today thinking, “I'm an emissary for God?” How would it mess with your agenda? Change your schedule? Slow your hurried walk past people you work with, shop with, go to school with? Deflect the criticism on your tongue or push out the encouragement? Keep you from thinking “someone should fix that problem” and start you fixing it yourself?

If we looked one person in the eyes and thought, how can I represent God to her? Right here, right now? Not in a 4-Spiritual-Laws shove the gospel at her kind of way but in a Jesus-would-do-this style. If we saw one social issue of our time and, instead of wringing our hands or focusing blame on one side, thought, how does God see this? How can I bring light and love into the darkness of this bad situation?

I used to think I wanted to go into politics. Now I know I'm not cut out for the mind games involved. Yet I have the responsibility of standing in for the King.

God says He's looking for someone to go on an adventure. Are you ready?

Next week—What does being in God's image mean for how we treat others? How about ourselves? Which one is harder for you?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Mirror Mirror -- What Are We Reflecting in 2015?

I have a photo of my mom when she was fifteen. It looks remarkably like my senior portrait. (Only she was gorgeous in that way only 40's women can be. And I had Farrah hair. Because it was cool.) I have a photo of our youngest daughter entering first grade. It looks identical to my own school photo, down to the handmade dress. Genetics rule—we end up like our parents in more ways than one.

Some find that distressing. Others have, at least, come to terms with the reality.

Last week on the blog we started talking about rediscovering our identity in 2015. What aspects of it have been hacked, like our debit cards at Target, and what can we do about it?

Image of God -- Say What?

But before we can figure out how to re-find our identity, we have to know what we're looking for. If we have no real clue, how will we know if we ever stumble upon it? It's like going to the store when you're hungry but you don't have a menu plan. Everything and nothing looks good. You load up the cart with a bunch of stuff, take it home, and then find out none of it actually goes together in a meal. It's a patched together mess, and you're still hungry. What are we looking for?

Creation gives us the glorious facts—we are created in the image of God. Both male and female. No distinctions or hierarchies among humans in the perfect world. If you don't believe me, check out the story yourself.

But it's easy to say we're the image of God. To have some vague idea of what that is and that maybe it's a good thing. Yet all the time, I suspect we have an idea like that of my photos—we kind of look like God, whatever that is. We're his kids, so we resemble him in some cosmic way we don't really understand and therefore don't consider important on a daily basis.

But what if we're wrong?

What if, in fact, it's the most important part of our daily life? And we're missing it?

To be created in the image of God means a bunch of things, and none of them has to do with looks. Which is good because, honestly, how could God look like all the colors, sizes, shapes, and two genders of people? I mean, unless he's like Professor McGonagall and shape shifts whenever he feels like it. Which could be cool, but we don't exactly have a basis in the Bible for that idea.

(Well, yes, we do, He can appear however he needs to. But that's not quite the same as just deciding, “Today I think I'll be an armadillo. Tomorrow, maybe I'll want to look like Queen Latifah. Depends on how the cosmic mood swings.”)

OK, we are officially off topic.

Yes, sir, that's my baby. And me.

Taking on God's Character

So, let's start with one thing it means. Being made in the image of God means we take on characteristics of God. Just like my oldest daughter can read people and have instant empathy—she gets that trait from me.

Middle child likes to surprise people she loves with grand gestures, just as I do. Like the times I redecorated my mom's entire bathroom and kitchen as gifts. (Thinking back, I have to wonder if she wanted them redecorated or if she liked my choices. But at the time, I wanted to surprise her because to me, it meant an act of love. Same with middle child.)

Child #3 has her father's diligence and responsibility. Good thing she got it from somewhere.

A child grows to be more and more like her parents in attitudes and behavior. She may hate it, but one day she hears that sentence come out of her mouth and she knows . . . oh my gosh, that was my mother. Sorry—true story.

Regardless of what we hear about peer pressure and media influence, parents are still the number one arbiter of what kids become. Their values become their children's values. Their reactions to life's circumstances become their children's model. From the time of birth, kids are becoming their parents. Obviously, there are differences. They are not robots. But stick with the analogy for a bit.

From the moment we are created, we should be growing to resemble God more and more. Not physically, but in values and behaviors. In the way we react to hardship or situations that would bring out the road rage in us. Our values should be becoming more and more identical to his. Love and holiness, grace and truth above all. That's the plan. That's part of what it means to be made in his image. If that was put inside us, it should be coming out.

When we mess up and interrupt that process, we have a Savior who promises to remake us so we can begin again. (“If anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creation.”)

We are a people called to mirror his character into a crazy world. 

Sometimes, that means taking a hard look in our own mirror and asking—hey, is this really a good reflection?

  • Does this life, this daily thing I do here, the decisions I make, reflect meaning? Or are they reflex, plans auto-accepted because they are comfortable and “normal”?
  • Does this person I see reflect a belief that I am here for a reason? Or do I more often live day to day, waiting for life to happen, accepting myself as a victim of circumstances, uncommitted to responsibility of being an heir to the King?
  • Do my reactions reflect who God says he is? Or am I more likely to react like a person who has no experience at all of the mercy of Christ when angry, frustrated, confused, or scared?
  • Does my life reflect that God created everything to work with order and purpose? Or is the chaos in my own existence showing something entirely different?
  • Does it look like God orders my life? Or do I allow my schedule, other people, or the tyranny of the urgent to be the boss of my days?
  • Does this face, and heart, offer love before all else? Or is it too often something I expect others to earn?

  • If I don't like the reflection, what needs to change?

Heavy questions for a cold day in January. But January is a perfect time for questions. Everyone else is reexamining. There is nothing else to do while watching the snow and hiding from the cold. Why not? Be brave. Ask the hard questions.

God, how will I, your image, reflect it better in 2015?

Next week--what else does that image in us mean? It means not only a new character but a new job. An adventure, hobbit lovers everywhere! Stay tuned.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Identity Theft--Living Who We Are in 2015

Every New Years our family has a tradition. We watch the same movie. But when the Richardsons do anything, hey, we go big or go home. We don't watch just any movie. We watch The Lord of the Rings, extended versions, all three films. It's a long day. 

Big as in big screen. As in, a big white bedsheet.
Because I do own a projector but I do not own a TV.
whatevs, guys.
If you are as good at nerding out as we are, you know that the character Aragorn is the man destined to be king. Yet for several hours worth of film (and the first 86 years of his life), he hides from that destiny. He's kind of the Robin Hood of Middle-earth, swooping out of the woods to do good things for helpless people, then going back into hiding. He's a Ranger, a lone Ranger, uninterested in the responsibility of being a king.

Until he is told quite succinctly (and when an Elf-Lord speaks it's usually succinctly) to stop it. No one else can do this job, he's told. It's yours whether you will or not. “Put aside the ranger; become who you were born to be.”

I love that moment. The big shining sword comes out (it's a huge shining sword. Seriously. No one could actually swing that thing), and it's time to face true identity.

Sometimes I think God says the same thing to me. What are you afraid of? Why are you hiding behind lesser responsibilities? Why are you messing around with meaningless, trivial things when there is a kingdom at stake here? 

Why are you content to live a small life? 

Wasn't kidding when I said we go big, was I?
Ouch. God is worse than an Elf Lord, people, when it comes to telling it like it is.

We hide from who we are. Too often, more often than not, we don't even know who we are. But I am convinced that most of our life's battles would be significantly easier, even over, if we knew the answer to these questions: 

Who am I? Who am I meant to be?
 Why aren't I? 

They're questions it's good to explore in a new year. It's never too early--it's never too late--to become who you were born to be. And the best place to look is in the beginning.

Really. In. the. Beginning.

Three times in Genesis 1 God uses a phrase when he talks about the creation of human beings. 

Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

“In our image.” 

You know, if something is said three times in Hebrew scriptures, it's pretty serious. Like, Chicago getting mildly excited if the Cubs win the World Series serious. It means the thing mentioned is not even up for debate. It's settled.

So, the point is, God meant this emphatically. 

You are made in my image. Each one of you.

Every single human on this earth. All sizes, all colors, both genders, even all the kinds of baptists. Even when you really, really don't feel like you're living up to your end of the deal. That's who you are, plain fact. Are you ready to stop being anything less and become who you were born to be?

Soon after that pinnacle of creation in Genesis, a slinking, sneaking scoundrel (I do love alliteration) stole our true identity from us. And here's the kicker—we let it happen. We walked right into it. It wasn't like a stranger hacking into our credit info at Target. We opened up the account and said, “Have at it. I don't want to be what God made me to be. Let's try something else.”

It didn't end well. 

I don't know about you, but in this new year I think I'd like to take back what was stolen from me. I want to be what I was born to be. Time to put aside the sometimes-heir-sometimes-child-often-roaming-ranger and accept the challenge of being the King's image bearer, not just in creation fact but in daily life.

So for a few weeks, let's explore this idea of identity. Who are we? Who were we born to be? Why aren't we being that? 

“People are portrayed as the pinnacle of creation, endowed with dignity as those made in the image of the Creator. They are made in order to serve God, not as slaves but as partners, whom he delegates to do his work in the world.” 

Are you ready to learn to be a delegate? I am. What do you think being made in the image of God means?