What Are We Pursuing?

When I was in middle school, I changed my hairstyle quite often. Like every other middle school student, popularity and what other people thought of me mattered more than anything. So my hairdresser, bless her soul, changed the way I looked several times over the course of a few years. One month, I’d want it short, the next, I’d want it longer, the next, I’d want my hair styled in the front. Now, none of these haircuts looked good. None. Not a single one made me feel better about myself, and not one of them gained me a single friend. So why did I do it?

Because I was pursuing a certain kind of image, namely, the image set by my peers and the culture around me. I wasn’t satisfied with who I was. I wanted to be who others told me to be.

Culture creates and fosters the idea of an “image” that we all have to fit into. If you aren’t “x,” you aren’t cool like us. If you don’t have “y,” you can’t sit at the cool kid’s table. You need “z” to make you happy. The pressure is enormous to be like the rest of the world. Look at any makeup, cologne or clothing advertisement. It’s pretty ridiculous. And it changes everyday!

And even if we manage to not give in to cultural expectations about who we should be and what we should do, we set up our own image of what we want ourselves to be, and we don’t even live up to that. For example, if I want to be more athletic, and believe that would make me happier, I chase that, when the truth is, while I should definitely get in shape and take care of my body, I will never be the first guy picked in a pick-up game, in any sport. While I can get better, it’s apparent if you’ve ever seen me play, I was not born to be an athlete.

We are all pursuing an image, a picture, of what we want our lives to look like, of what we want to be. Maybe that’s married with three kids living in a modest home in Birmingham, maybe it’s living in another country as an international businessman. Maybe it’s a professional athlete. Regardless of the details, we all are pursuing something.

The Bible has something to say about that. Let’s start at the beginning, in Genesis 1:27:

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”

So while we are pursuing our own self-made or culturally made images, God tells us we are made in His image. While we are busy chasing other, lesser images, God says, “You were made by me, to look like me!”

Now, what’s the problem? Same thing it usually always is—sin. We have decided that to reflect the image and glory of God, to walk in His ways and be like Him, is not good. We believe we can do better than God. Although He is our Creator, we have decided we want to make ourselves in our image—we want to determine where we should go and what we should be—we want to be our own gods. And we are terrible at it. It is not cute when a child talks back to his parents and the people and culture around him says, “Oh, he’s just so independent.” No, he’s not independent—he’s a sinner that rebels against God and the authority of the parents God has given him.

So, again, we all pursue an image, whether self-made or culture-made. We know that God has made us in His image and we should pursue it. But we also know that we are sinners, dead in our sin and not reflecting the image and glory of God.

So what do we do? This is where the gospel comes in. This is where we see that the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ really is good news for sinners.

God made us to enjoy His presence, to know His love and provision and power and glory, to be like Him and model His excellence. We fell from that. But the beautiful, life-changing, world-rocking truth of the gospel is that God did not give up on His creation. He would not lose His loved ones. I’m convinced the reason we have stories that glorify and praise someone that will not give up on love, even in the worst of circumstances, is because we, being made in God’s image, are impressed and awestruck at someone who loves so jealously and so sacrificially. We find that kind of love first and foremost in the gospel. The gospel is the true story of the God who would not, does not, and never will give up on His people, no matter how far away they fall from Him. While we were still God’s enemies, we were also the objects of His love, and He gave His very life to show the magnitude of that love. God is holy, and He cannot tolerate sin that takes glory away from Him. But God, when we could not come to Him, came to us in the person of Jesus Christ and worked our salvation, and now effectively calls us to trust in Him, be saved, and follow Him. God had a purpose in making us, and He had a purpose in saving us—to bring us into His fellowship, enjoy Him, and be like Him.

What God is accomplishing in sinners through the salvation of Christ is not just about forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Those are really good and necessary things. I need to be forgiven, and of course I want to live forever with God. But if we read 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul tells us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold the new has come.”

Our sin keeps us from reflecting the image of God. But because Jesus died and rose again, we can repent, confessing our sin and our sinful state before God, trusting Christ to come be our Lord and Savior, and not only are we forgiven and righteous through faith, but we get new life, where the Creator begins creating us anew in Christ Jesus.

So what we pursue should be the image of our God. We have a higher purpose than to be what society says we should be, or what we say we should be. The God who created us alone has the true right to tell us who and what to be. And He calls us to be like Him, by finding joy in Him and reflecting His holy character and love, by being like Him in all we do. We do this not by our own strength, but by trust in the Savior’s grace to change our hearts and our desires, and by walking by the Spirit. Sanctification is by grace, too. Don’t forget that.

Now, quick clarifier here: This does not mean we are going to be divine in essence. We will not ever be like God in the sense of being divine and omniscient and all-powerful, etc. However, in His character, in His joy, in His love—-oh absolutely, yes, we shall be like Him in this way, if we are in Christ. This is the joy of glorification—the completion of our salvation, to be just like Jesus, who is the only good man that’s ever lived, to perfectly abide in God’s love, to find complete joy and satisfaction in Him, and to be the holy men and women God has created us to be. What a day it will be when this becomes reality!

So I urge you to turn around from sin and idolatry, confess the Lordship of Christ over your life and trust Him to save you, to forgive you and stand as your perfection before the Father. And let Him become your pursuit. What does that mean? It means instead of pursuing joy in this world, which will pass away, you pursue joy in who God is. Instead of pursuing worldly love, you pursue God’s love. Worldly love, like that of a spouse, is wonderful, but it pales in comparison to the sacrificial, eternity-changing love of God. Instead of pursuing identity in a society and culture that changes its standards every day, find identity in belonging to Christ, and living by God’s standards and ways, which are full of joy, life and peace.

The pursuit of God, of His love and His joy and His ways, is so much higher, better and rewarding than pursuing something lesser. The Creator is better than the creation.

Lord, may we pursue you because you have graciously pursued us in Christ. May that not just be a cute phrase that we say in church, but the desire of our hearts. May we spend time in your Word, to know who you are and find joy in knowing that you are who you are for us. May we reach others, to tell them there is something better than sin and this world. May we not fail to find our identity, purpose and joy in who you are and what you have done for us.

God bless,

Neal E.

Next week, I’ll talk about what it really means to be holy. What does being holy really mean and look like, practically? Hopefully, for my sake and yours, we’ll understand that more after next week.

If you have any ideas for this blog or my other blog (reporternealembry.wordpress.com), please feel free to email me at nembry@charter.net

A Christian Image–You should care what others think

Ever heard the phrase “I don’t care what other people think about me?”  Or “It’s not about what others think of me, it’s about what I think of me.”  Maybe even your parents told you that.  I hate that phrase.  A lot.  Because we do care.  As humans, it’s inevitable.  There’s a reason I get up, shower, put on deodorant, and put on cologne (sometimes) every day.  Yes, I want my girlfriend to think I smell good.  But I also don’t want the guy next to me in class to sit through a lecture thinking “Oh wow….he smells like fish guts and three-week old milk.”  There’s a few reasons I brush my teeth every day.  One, I have a decent sense of personal hygiene.  Two, I don’t want my breath to smell like crap.  I put on decent clothes and try to look my best so my professors and classmates know that I take my work seriously.  So stop lying to yourself, both Christians and non-Christians alike…you DO care what others think.  And to the Christians, you should.

Now, before I go any further, let me define what I mean when I say you should care what others think.  For the Christian, we are NOT to find our satisfaction in man’s praise.  We are NOT to define ourselves by the world’s definition.  My definition of success is not when the world tells me good job, it’s when the Lord is glorified by my work.  Yes, I want to succeed in journalism.  I want my professor to say good job.  But when she says good job, what I hope is that she understands by my attitude and by the content of my writing and how I present it, that I serve God, not myself.  Ultimately, however, if I never make it “big” as a journalist, I’ll be content if God is made much of through my writing, and I never even receive a sticker.

What the Christian is to care about is what people see when they look at you.  While we find our comfort, our sense of who we are, and our knowledge of true success and love in Christ, we are also called to be the image of Christ to the nations.  I DON’T care if people never praise me for my writing.  I DON’T care if they ever see me as a great guy in the worldly sense.  If they don’t think I’m “cool” or a “manly” man…so be it.

“For if i were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.”–Galatians 1:10

But I DO care, and all Christians should, whether they see Christ in me.  If they see love in me.  If they see me as someone they can come to with problems and can trust me.  If I can be comic relief when it’s needed.  If they see me as reliable and dependable.  I do care if they see me as tenderhearted and caring.  I DO care if they see Christ…and care even more if they can’t see Him.

Let me pose some questions:  What happens when non-believers look at our churches today and see that our divorce rates are the same as the non-believers?  When they see that our anger is just as great as theirs?  What happens when they see scandals that rock our churches?  What happens when they see us arguing and bickering over secondary issues that really don’t matter?  What happens when they see us elevate ourselves, our buildings, and our paychecks over what we say we believe?

What happens when we do these things, but fail to remember the Great Commission?  When we do not share Christ with the world around us?  I’ll tell you what happens.  Well, actually…..Jesus will.

“And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God.”–Luke 12:8-9 ESV

That’s what happens.  We say we believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that He has changed our lives.  And people watch us, day in and day out, and I believe that far too often, all they see is someone who puts on khaki pants on Sunday mornings and may even listen to some new music.

God didn’t radically change your life, or my life, or send His Son to die for us, so that you could wear nice pants and listen to Chris Tomlin for the rest of your life and call yourself a Christian.

The simple fact is, is that when we live like the people described in the questions five paragraphs earlier, and when we fail to truly live the Christian life, people do not see God.  And we must start to question whether we ourselves have actually come to know Christ.

What difference does Christ make in your life?  Ask yourself this.  For me, it means that when I feel lonely, I can go to my heavenly Father and find comfort.  When I start to feel overwhelmed, I can give up all my troubles to Him.  It means that I find my satisfaction in knowing that I am loved by Him who created the world, and that I am no longer captive to the destructive power of sin.  If you find that it really doesn’t make a difference, start asking yourself if you have ever truly believed.

The world is watching.  And we MUST realize this.  We are called to live radically different than the world.  When trouble comes, we trust in a higher power.  The Creator of the universe.  When disaster hits Japan, we point to God’s sovereignty and rest on the promise that He IS in control, no matter what.  When parents get divorced and husbands die, we rest on God’s promise to never leave us.  That’s what makes the difference.  It comes down, not just to morals, but to where our sense of right and wrong, of what to do in all situations, and how to live life comes from.  It comes from God.  Another phrase I don’t like: “Share your faith, and if necessary, use words.”  It sounds good, and there’s truth in it.  We are to live lives that point to the cross.  But there are hundreds and thousands of people who live good, upstanding, moral lives that are going straight to hell.  Gandhi and Thomas Jefferson are two of them.  We must SPEAK about why we do what we do, and about where our strength and love comes from.

Do we build ourselves up, or do we make God known?  What image do you put off everyday?  Does your life shout and scream the glory of God, or does it say “Yeah, I’m a good guy, I can do all these things, and yeah, I guess Jesus is pretty cool?”  As the church, are we more concerned with building good-looking buildings than building up the kingdom of God?  Is the majority of our money going to spread the Gospel?  Are we loving with other believers who we may not agree with on every single secondary issue?  I hate to see Christians divided over these issues that don’t matter (and I’ll save those specific issues for later blogs).  Because when it comes down to it, the church, the universal body of Christ, has one goal, and one goal only, and that’s to bring glory to God by making Him known.  If you are not doing that, you are failing. Period.  No way around it.

One more question I’ll leave you with:

If the world isn’t seeing Christ when they look at you….what do they see?

Scary thought that someone could look at a “Christian” and see anything BUT Jesus.  Unfortunately, especially in America, where nominalism is prevalent, this happens everyday.  People of God, church: We must come back to true faith that transforms lives, and allow God to transform our image, that we may make His name known.  And we must do this now.

God bless,

Neal