Image of God


I grew up in the Presbyterian and United Methodist churches. Overall, their beliefs are very similar, and by the time I left the care of my parents and church I had a good start to a foundation. I had only been a believer for two years when I stepped out my own, not realizing there were dangers that lay ahead.

In college, I attended InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, the Covenant Church, and a non-denominational church. I also studied Religion, and was exposed to a large range of belief systems. When Christianity was discussed, it was often in negative light or a very weak manner. After college, I served with a ministry in the south (Bible Belt) and then went overseas with Youth With a Mission. I returned to the states to look for a solid church home for several years before settling into a non-denominational church. Twelve years later, I was abused.

Since that time I have received counsel from leaders of many different churches, worked with counselors with different belief systems, attended several different churches, and I have been exposed to a very large number of books, sermons, web sites, conferences, etc. They do not all share the same viewpoints and beliefs.

I am a theological mess!

The mixture of things I was exposed to has broadened my mind and stretched me, but it holds many dangers.

I have been exposed to so many varying teachings and beliefs, that sometimes I don’t know what to believe.

Sometimes things I read or hear sound really good, and then I start to realize that it is misleading or shortsighted in some way. It leaves me wondering how often I read or listen to things and do not realize it is distorted or off target. It isn’t that these writers and speakers intend to mislead, because I am sure they firmly believe what they share, but unless we know the whole truth, the parts can mix us up or may not make sense.

Not long ago I learned that a very well-known pastor I have read and listened to believes the Bible is a product of humans, and not inspired and created by God. He used to look to the Bible for truth, but now he just accepts that certain things will remain a mystery. The news shocked me and made me wonder why I did not know this about him. It made me realize that I do not know much about the beliefs of those I have listened to and read.

Not knowing about those speaking into my life has left me in a very dangerous position where I can be mislead and deceived.

I have been taught many conflicting things.

Sometimes I don’t know what to believe, but there one thing of which I am absolutely certain.

The Lord is greater than any theology or belief I hold. He can fix any mixed up belief, deceit, misleading, or shortsighted understanding I hold.

After all, he is God!

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We have a problem in the church, a problem that is growing because we are not recognizing and addressing it. Our problem is we are moving away from truth and toward our own wisdom. We have taken up moralizing and psychologizing issues and not looking at our issues as a result of a distorted understanding of God where we have hold other things as idols that take the place of God in our lives.

This information is quoted from Galatians: The Law and the Gospel by Timothy J. Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, NY:

  1. Moralizing: Basic analysis: Your problems is that you are doing wrong. Repent!
    This focuses on behavior but doesn’t go deep enough. We must find out the why of our behavior. To simply tell an unhappy person (or yourself) to repent and change their behavior is insufficient, because the lack of self-control is coming from a belief that says, “Even if you live up to moral standards but don’t have this, then you are still a failure.” You must replace this belief through repentance for the one sin under it all – your particular idolatry.
  2. Psychologizing: Basic analysis: Your problem is that you don’t see that God loves you as you are. Rejoice!
    This focuses on feelings, which seem to be deeper than behavior but it also fails to go deep enough. We must also find out the why of our feelings. To simply tell an unhappy person (or yourself), “God loves you – rejoice!” is insufficient. The unhappiness is coming from a belief that says, “Even if God loves you, but you don’t have this, then you are still a failure.” You must replace this belief through repentance for the one sin under it all – your particular idolatry.
  3. The Gospel: Basic analysis: Your problem is that you are looking to something besides Christ for your happiness. Repent and rejoice!
    This confronts a person with the real sin under the sins and behind the bad feelings. Our problems is that we have given ourselves over to idols! Every idol-system is a way of our-works-salvation, and thus it keeps us “under the law.” Paul tells us that the bondage of sin is broken when we come out from under the law – when we being to believe the gospel of Christ’s-work-salvation. Only when we realize in a new way that we are righteous in Christ will the idol’s power over us be broken. “Sin shall not be your master for you are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). You will only be “under grace” and free from the controlling effects of idols to the degree that you have both repented for your idols and rested and rejoiced in the saving work and love of Christ instead.

Grace, a word and concept we don’t understand. Christ saved us by faith and grace, not by works. Grace frees us because it does not condemn and shame us, but it points us back to the work that Christ did for us. It tells us that the law will not, can not, was never meant to save us. It just shows us the contrast of what the Lord did for us and how we are liberated and free.

Moralizing and psychologizing will not save us, but the Gospel will. It is all about Christ’s work and not ours.

Several times now I have talked about the necessity of having a good, true, and complete understanding of God. What we believe, right or wrong affects how we live our lives. Due to that, it is so important for our beliefs to be right.

I just came across this video which is a trailer for Joshua Harris’ book Dug Down Deep. I do not know anything about the book, but I definitely believe in the message this video portrays about how our understanding and study of God (theology) matter.

I can not get the Vimeo video to embed, so please visit it at their site. DugDownDeep_Carnahan.mov

Today I was listening to a podcast by John and Stasi Eldridge of Ransomed Heart Ministry. They were speaking about Love and War, a new book they have written, but they spoke something that is very important.

“The Gospel that most churches are trying to apply to marriage is not strong enough medicine. You have to have a Gospel that heals the brokenhearted. You have to have as a reality, Jesus healing your soul.” (John Eldridge)

I think we can change that statement, and even believe that John Eldridge would agree if we said, the Gospel that most churches are trying to apply to the struggle areas in our lives is not strong enough medicine. We are continuing to struggle in our marriages, relationships, and life because of the Christianity that is being offered. The medicine is not strong enough. Our image of God is not big enough.

If we do not believe that Christianity is truth, that Jesus is the source of life, that the Gospel will heal our hearts and souls, then what are we believing in? Is our Gospel only about being saved for eternity and not about having different and changed lives here and now?

Is our Gospel big enough to change hearts? Change lives? Heal souls? Break addictions? Restore brokenness?
Is our Gospel big enough to “bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners? It should be…that came right out of Isaiah 61.

Is the Gospel being shared by your church big enough to make a difference in your life?

If not, then you are not hearing the true and complete Gospel.

There is an old hymn where the chorus says, “Trust and obey, for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.”

The hymn comes from Psalm 84:11-12. Verse 12 reads, “O LORD Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you.”

Are you trusting and obeying? Or are you obeying and then trusting?

There is a difference!

Placing obedience before trust means we are living to try to please God through our actions, we are trying to “earn” our salvation and our identity in Christ. That just isn’t possible. It was already given to us as a gift and it is ours. We can’t earn it when we already own it. We just need to learn to walk in it.

If we do not start with trusting God, especially with trusting what he says about who we are and where our identity comes from we end up trusting in our own abilities, resources, skills, mindset, etc.

Trusting the Lord isn’t about earning our place. It isn’t about offering a sacrifice. It isn’t about performing and doing all the right things.

Trusting is about accepting, receiving, embracing, and believing.

Most of us are living this out backwards. We are living out the obedience before the trust. How would it affect your life if you switched and started living out of trust, a trust that then leads you to obedience?

I was reviewing some material from the book Soul Repair: Rebuilding Your Spiritual Life by Jeff VanVonderen and Dale & Juanita Ryan today. In looking at the foundation of our faith they speak to the fact that we need to take a hard look at our view of God. The image and perception of God that we hold shapes our entire spiritual life. Here are some examples they describe in the book as distorted images of God. Can you think of others that you might hold?

  • The Abusive god – tyrant, quick to anger, slow to forgive, wrathful, unapproachable, violent, cruel
  • The Abandoning god – left us or is threatening to, without love and grace
  • The Emotionally Distant god – does not care about our emotional needs, emotionally aloof, unable to give comfort
  • The Passive god – cannot help us, uncaring, impotent, lacking power, unreliable, no practical help
  • The god of Impossible Expectations – never please with us, expects performance, demands perfection

If thinking about these distorted images makes you a little uncomfortable then pay attention to your emotions. They may reveal some truths that are deep and underlying. Taking a deep look at your beliefs can lead to anxiety and discomfort, but usually that is due to the fact that you are recognizing something is wrong, that something needs to change. If you recognize you hold a distorted image of God in some way the next step is to look at how you can replace that image with the correct one. You can’t just throw out your distorted one and be left with nothing, you need to replace it with the truth of who God is and what his character is really like. You may wonder if there is any hope, that if you tear apart your spiritual beliefs that it will lie in ruins and will never be rebuilt. That concern is very understandable but it is only through examining the real foundations and being willing to look hard and be honest that you will start the hard work of recovery.

I am hoping and praying for your courage to take a step toward a recovered and truthful view of God. I have taken this journey myself and it was hard but the fruit that I now see as I have reached a healthier perspective is well worth all the struggle.

No church is perfect as every church is lead by imperfect people. Our understandings of God are lead by these imperfect people and often there are things they can say and speak into our lives either through the sermon or directly that may seem correct, but unless they are 100% based on God’s truth then they can be wrong and can lead us astray. This is one of the dangers of organized religion, but also creates opportunities where we can grow and learn together and sharpen each other. Even your leaders need others to help them see different angles, think of things differently, and rethink something that might not have come out the way they intended others to receive it.

On Sunday I spoke to one of the pastors who have been helping me through the processing I have been doing and the healing journey I am on. I asked him about walking in brokenness because I continue to struggle with the fact that others have forced broken relationships on me and no matter what I have tried no progress seems to be made toward reconciliation. I have forgiven those involved and because the forgiveness is deep and true my heart desires to find reconciliation. My situation is not unique, there are many in life where brokenness is forced upon them by others such as divorces, abandonment, rejection, etc. I am sure it is not God’s heart that we live in that brokenness, but what I expressed to the pastor is that I am having a difficult time reconciling what I read in God’s word about living in unity with the fact that I can not force others to walk in that, even other believers. It gives me a glimpse of the incredible grief God must feel over those who he loves deeply and fiercely who will not receive his love and be reconciled with him. I only have a few people in my life that are responding this way but God has millions. I can’t even grasp how that must burden him.

Matthew 5:23-24 says, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” The pastor I spoke to explained there is a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation, and then he went on to explain that this and other verses refer to those we are in fellowship with (in a local church with) and since I am no longer in my old church and am in right relationships with those in the new church I am able to walk in freedom and to take communion without being burdened with guilt and shame over what happened. On one hand what he says makes sense because I don’t believe God wants me to live burdened by the brokenness I feel, however to read that verse and say it only applies to those in our own local church seems to go against Christ’s teachings of unity, a global church and family, and really being in unity. If we are not willing to be in unity with those who attend the church across the street, or a neighbor or co-worker because they attend a different church then the witness we have for Christ is going to be really limited. I have a lot of respect for that pastor and I truly believe he was giving me the best advice and counsel he knows how to give, however this time I have to say I disagree and need to seek God further.Member_Forgeing%20Iron

Is it okay to disagree with the counsel of your pastor? Does it show disrespect? I believe it is okay to disagree with the counsel when you find that scripture supports a different view, and it does not need to show disrespect to follow your heart and embrace your own personal walk with God. How you express your disagreement, how public you make it, and the heart attitude you carry toward your pastor is whether you walk in right or wrong ways. In this case I don’t think that pastor gave me counsel that is completely pleasing to God, but he did his best and as he is imperfect I see no fault in what he did. I will continue to work through these issues, and hopefully he and I will dialogue further about this and together we will grow and look more fully at what God’s word says about situations like this so that we both find truth, allow it to affect our hearts, and then we can share it with others and lead them toward right relationships that are pleasing toward God.

I love walking in community with others!

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