So, my second official Guest Blog, I hope you are as excited about it as I am. About a month or so ago, I got this awesome idea of comparing the concept of being the image-bearers of God to the real life context of how soldiers represent their country. I just had a small problem – I have never been in the military and would be forced to fake an article, which I was not willing to do. Fortunately, I have this amazing colleague who actually is military, and who studies with the Wisdom in Torah Talmidim teachers – so when I told him that I wanted and asked politely (begged might be more accurate), he said yes! So, without further ado – here is Matt Nappier of Beit Shalom congregation in Monroe, La.
I often like to take inventory of my personal space and the interactions around my small slice of this world to see God wherever it is I happen to find myself. Over time and as I’ve grown, like all of us, I’ve found Him within many different experiences. When my wife and I decided to start a farm, our sole focus in the beginning, and hopefully still, was to learn to see God in a deeper way through His creation, digging our hands into the most basic aspect of it. Before that, we became parents, and our prayer was that God would not only show to us how to be great parents but also reveal to us a deeper understanding of Him as Father. Going even further back, as we were married, our prayer was that God not only would teach us to be fruitful spouses to each other but also that he would guide us in showing the world that relationship He desires to have with all of creation.
One other identity I hold is that of an Army soldier over the last 15 years. Having just graduated from another leadership course, I find myself also looking for God in those experiences. As the Army has trained me over the years to be a leader within its ranks, I have prayed God that God will continue to show me how to use those tools to be a leader within the ranks of His Kingdom on earth. While I was away, one emerging area of contemplation for me has been that of the ancient concept of humans as the image-bearers of God; as a result, a physical picture of what that means has presented itself, as so many other times, in the experiences around me.
I’d like to offer somewhat of an analogy, a physical comparison of something we may relate to today to help illustrate what it means to be the image-bearers of God on earth. I’d like to paint this picture through the palette of my career in the US Army. Let me be clear that I’m not suggesting that the Army of the United States is a good or equal comparison to God’s Kingdom and reiterate that this is simply an analogy in the physical world around us.
Although my focus for this comparison is our current worldview and responsibilities as image-bearers in the Kingdom of God here on earth, carrying the identity we have through Yeshua (Jesus) our Messiah, it wouldn’t be correct if I failed to mention the original image-bearers of God – Adam and Eve.
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So, God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
At the very inception of our existence as human beings, the intention was that we should be the image-bearers of God. Often, we overlook the middle section of those verses that states our image-bearing is in relation to the dominion of the world, bringing God to all creation. Anglican bishop, professor, and theologian N.T. Wright explains that image as being like a mirror one looks into at an angle – seeing a reflection, not of themselves but another that is standing a few feet away. When creation looked to Adam and Eve, they should have been able to see God, but Adam and Eve corrupted that image. Since then, God has been working through His creation to restore the Creation Covenant made with us, humans, to restore us as His proper image-bearers on earth.
Fast forward to the first century, and we are given Yeshua, the incorruptible image of the invisible God, the One Who came to establish order and restore the image-bearers back to the intended image. Through His restorative act of the resurrection, we are no longer captives to sin, nor are we slaves to bearing the burden and image of Egyptian captors, but are instead set free to walk out into the world bearing the true image of our God, King, and Creator. That freedom, however, comes with a heavy responsibility.
When a person joins the military, their very first action as a soldier, sailor, marine, or airman is to raise their right hand and swear to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies. We even call on God to help us do this, and this moment is always a very solemn one. I don’t know many brothers or sisters in arms that don’t remember that moment of raising their right hand. It’s serious. There’s a real task at hand, one that can very well include an enemy threat. As I assume anyone reading this would agree, the seriousness of the task we undertook by coming into Covenant and swearing allegiance to the Body of Messiah has often been diminished. Can you imagine the seriousness of God’s oath to Abraham when it was promised that his offspring would be a blessing to all nations? Can you imagine the seriousness of the oath taken at the base of Mt. Sinai, which carried the expectation of being true image-bearers to the nations?
Once the oath is sworn, new recruits are then sent to Basic Training, the discipleship camp that transforms those who have never served into the image of a United States soldier. Through long hours of training and intense study of material, those who once only dreamed of what it looked like to be an Army soldier now embody the role. They’ve been given a uniform, taught how to stand and walk, and trained rigorously to be fit to fight. The great transformation occurs over a short nine weeks, and it’s a remarkable change. Parents and loved ones often have trouble recognizing the new soldiers after they’ve completed those weeks. They’ve been transformed into the image that the Army desires.
These exterior changes, however, are not the important ones nor are they the most significant. These changes are merely the simplest and easiest. We throw some clothes on them, give them a haircut, and workout with them for nine weeks; this only accomplishes the external, or physical, changes. The harder task is changing what can’t be seen: what’s inside the soldier. The greatest change is only evident when we can see that a person has fully embodied the intent of their Army training – to be instilled with the Army Core Values that motivates us not only to be soldiers who can not only win any war but also have the integrity to win that war honorably.
For those who haven’t heard of the Army Core Values, they consist of Leadership, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage. These are the weightier matters of our service. That’s quite a hefty list of characteristics, and so it is readily understandable that Basic Training can only be the beginning of this molding process. For many, it takes years to truly internalize these values, and for some, it never happens. Yet, this is the intent of the Army – to train soldiers that will fight and fight honorably.
The United States Army has been the leading army in the world for quite some time now, and when we think back on why, it’s because we fight the honorable fight. Sure, we may have hiccups along the way, but overall, we have fought to restore justice and righteousness in the world. Being the strongest army isn’t all that matters – being the strongest and most honorable is. Think of WWII when we saw the Nazis as enemies, a force that fought hard yet failed to overcome the prowess of the United States. Yet, their strength never matters to anyone today because the world looks back with almost universal disgust at the shameful acts committed. They may have had strength, but no honor.
The Body of Messiah should work in similar fashion. We should be taking new believers through Basic Training, explaining to them in a quick, efficient manner those things which we are not to do at all. Our example is Acts 15 where we see new converts instructed to stop their overtly pagan practices, which was then supplemented with weekly training on how to walk out the task of becoming the image of God on earth. These quick changes, doing away with idolatry and the overt acts of worldliness, are akin to the uniform and haircut given within the first week at Basic Training. Yes, it changed our image a bit, but it wasn’t a full transformation. Some may still look as weak and skinny as I did when I left for Basic Training. Others may still need to trim a little fat. Most importantly, they all need to continue to learn the values of how to take on the desired image honorably.
Every Sabbath, at our weekly training session, we should be learning more and more about what our new image in Messiah looks like and, following our Acts 15 example, that learning can and should come through the writings of Moses – the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. This is, functionally, the mission statement of our congregation, Beit Shalom Messianic Congregation. In our beginnings, we made a decision that, no matter what else was taught, the instructions of Moses would be read in our community every Sabbath. Therefore, every service opens with a reading of the entire weekly Torah portion. This corresponds to the training, the putting on of the uniform, and the resultant trimming down or bulking up.
In the Messianic or Hebrew Roots movement, we’ve taken this new uniform or realized that maybe we weren’t given the full uniform when we became believers in Messiah. Those that led us in giving us a haircut and a brown t-shirt sometimes innocently left us sitting in the barracks. We weren’t given the full picture of what it meant to walk in the image of God. Yet, in our current understanding, we’ve found the uniform and performed those nine weeks of training – only to forget that the original intent was to instill those unseen values within us that would allow us to become members of God’s Army fighting the enemies of His Constitution, the Torah, honorably.
We’ve taken these externals that are definitely part of the image of God, the uniform that anyone who sees us should know us by, and we’ve made that the end-all focus of our training as image-bearers. We’ve taken the easier things to change, tying on tzitziyot, taking some days off of work, and changing our diet; we implemented those while forgetting to tackle the tough, internal sins that serve to separate our character from God’s character – as displayed in His love, righteousness, mercy, justice, and kindness.
In the Army, we judge those within our ranks to a harder degree, and this is done in the name of maintaining the proper image of an honorable institution. When soldiers get caught doing that which is dishonorable, things that go against the Army Core Values, they aren’t allowed to remain in the ranks, and when we release them from the ranks, it’s usually done in a manner that publicly shows what we expect in terms of honor.
However, if soldiers simply fail in maintaining the outward appearances, those physical changes that are easy to adjust, we help our brother or sister in arms make the necessary corrections. If we see a deficiency in a uniform, we make a simple on-the-spot correction, and we do so respectfully. We don’t rip their uniform off and show everyone in the unit how they had missed a string on their pocket or had their boot laces out. If someone gains a little weight and can’t pass the physical requirements, we put them on a program towards success and get them back in right standing, again, doing so respectfully.
I can see our flaws as a movement through these experiences – and how we can improve. We put on these uniforms, get a haircut, lost a little weight, and then we go around kicking in the doors of innocent people – poking our chests out as though wearing medals, yet having earned none. We’ve put on the easy physical changes, but haven’t embraced the deeper changes that come through painful refinement. I see our Core Values plainly laid out in the Scriptures, but are we working diligently to make sure those are our priorities in training?
For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.
We all know that Abraham was blessed for keeping the instructions of God, but Abraham’s leadership, his installation as the progenitor (commander) of the Israelite people, is ascribed to his walking in righteousness and justice. He not only kept the instructions of God but kept them honorably. He took the full image of God, inside and out, and went train those others coming after him, the children and his household to do the same.
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Are we walking in the deeper image that was shown to us through the perfect image of God made manifest in the flesh? Are we seeking mercy, peace, and righteousness? Are we turning the other cheek when others mock us through the new 1st Century world of shame: Facebook and YouTube? Are we putting on the uniform and cutting our hair but forgetting to comfort those around us, humble ourselves, and serve as Yeshua taught us to serve?
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.
This list, given to us in Galatians, represents our Core Values. When people look at us, the covenant members of Israel and God’s Army, do they see love, joy, and peace, or do they see a bunch of strife, bitterness, and hatred wrapped in the physical changes of tzitziyot, Sabbath, and Feast Days? I can’t tell you how many times in the past I’ve been involved in arguments full of sarcasm and negative speech towards others on the Sabbath, and I see it going on every week around the world. Are people seeing us and seeing the image of a longsuffering God, or are the seeing short-sightedness that cuts people down if they don’t immediately mold to the image of ourselves? Do people see kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness in our walks, or are they seeing harshness and rudeness towards those that don’t agree with us? And finally, do they see the image of our God in self-control, or do they see people who can’t control their tongues?
Have we become First Century Judaism, a sea of people trying to build others into the image of ourselves rather than the image of God, not hesitating to cut down our brothers and sisters when they don’t conform? Have we lost sight of the fact that we are supposed to be the image of a God who is abounding in mercy, goodness, graciousness, and longsuffering?
And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.”
I want to share one more Core Value verse with you, one that has been a focus for me over the past year, one that God keeps bringing back to me.
Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord
How do we present the image of the one true God to the world, being right and honorable image-bearers for His name’s sake? – We pursue peace with all people, as well as holiness. We don’t forsake those things that we realized we weren’t taught, the holiness in our walk of Sabbath, Kosher, Feasts, Tassels, and more. We most definitely need those physical acts of holiness to point the world around us to the invisible God that desires an intimate relationship with all – but when we pursue holiness without peace, without walking out that holiness honorably, the world cannot and will not see the true image of God.