Tag Archives: imago dei

God’s Vision for His Daughters

The following is a talk/sermon I gave in February at a ladies luncheon and in a service at our church.


I used to think that teenagers were the only ones who struggle with identity issues, as they are expected to be “finding themselves,” questioning authority, pushing boundaries, etc,  but I’ve discovered that the search for identity can continue beyond adolescence, and even be a lifelong journey.

The reason we struggle so much with our identity is that the Enemy seeks to steal, kill and destroy us, constantly using lies that tell us to find our identity:

We are what we do.
We are what others say about us.
We are what we have.

As long as we are experiencing success and people are saying good things about us, or we are living comfortably and enjoying good relationships, we can feel OK.  But when we face failures, when others disapprove of us, when we lose people and things that are dear to us, then we may experience an identity crisis.  We may discover that we’ve been finding our identity in what we do, or in what others say about us, or in what we have.

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We can be laid flat when an identity crisis comes, and may feel like the fool who built his house on sand instead of a firm foundation.  Or it can feel like we are standing face-to-face with a wall that doesn’t want to budge, and we have to push through by sheer will or just give up and walk away.  And that’s what many people do – they drift away from the Church or their faith when they lose their footing in one of these crises.

When I was in high school, one of my best friends became a Christian and I went through a Bible study with her about core doctrines of our faith. And then we went off to different colleges and she messaged me that she was doubting her faith.  I had no frame of reference for doubt, I had never had a single doubt in my 19 years of Christianity at that point.  So I had no idea how to meet her where she was.  She was having an identity crisis.  A couple years later, she died tragically, and I found myself having an identity crisis.  I was angry at myself for “letting” her drift from God.  I was angry at God for letting her die before I “fixed” her.  I didn’t walk away from my faith, but instead this was a catalyst for spiritual growth for me.  I learned that God was a loving Shepherd who pursues his lost sheep.  He didn’t need me to save my friend, so I lost my Savior complex.

This is what an identity crisis can do – it can be a time of spiritual growth as God chips a lie from the Enemy off our identity.  These crises are a natural and necessary part of our spiritual development as we mature and are sanctified more and more to be like Jesus.

God laid out a vision for his sons and daughters, so that we could live by the firm foundation of the identity that he intended for us.  Living in a fallen world, that vision is obscured by the lies of the Enemy.  But it is right here in Genesis chapter one and two.

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One of the first aspects of our identity is that we bear the image of God. That means we are representatives of the character of God on earth.  We are the eyes and ears, hands and feet, and the voice of God.  As such, every voice matters in the church.  Every one of us has a unique aspect of his character to share with the church.

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Before Jesus ascended into Heaven, he left his disciples with a Great Commission, to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:18-20).  Here in Genesis, God lays out the first Great Commission – our mission to manifest God’s kingdom here on earth.

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The essence of God’s mission for human beings can be boiled down to four words:

Fruitful – Jewish scholars decided that in order to fulfill this command, men and women should marry and have at least two children.  By this standard, Jesus failed, because he never married or had any children.  And if you divided the worlds’ population by married and unmarried, you’d discover that half are unmarried, and one in four couples struggle with infertility.  As we see in the perfect life of unmarried and fatherless Jesus, who demonstrated perfect image bearing for us, this command is not only about procreation, but goes along with the biblical theme of the “fruit” that comes from being a faithful witness.  A faithful life bears good fruit.  And Jesus never faltered, even when tempted by Satan to believe the same lies he tries to tempt us with.  Jesus always drew near to His Father and prayed for His Father’s will to be done.

Multiply – We multiply image bearers through creative action, as representatives of the character of our Creator God.  We must allow our imaginations to draw us into doing unlikely and beautiful ministry for God.  The Night to Shine is a great example of creative action that puts God’s loving character on display for the world to see and multiplies image bearers in the process.  In Jesus, the perfect Image Bearer, we see creativity on every page of the Gospels.  His stories and parables drew crowds.  His miracles never ceased to surprise.

Rule – God has given us authority over all Creation.  Again, this is a mission for both men and women, boys and girls to fulfill.  We are God’s eyes and ears, his hands and feet, and his voice in this world.  It is a position of authority to represent God.  Every one of us is a born leader in God’s kingdom.  That manifests through our different gifts, talents, and callings – and it looks like servanthood and humility, as our perfect image bearer Jesus demonstrated.  But we need to root our identity in that fact.  We are kings and queens!

Subdue – This is about pushing back against the lies and destruction of the Enemy to God’s good creation; to be activists for the redemption of his creation.  Jesus was not passive when he saw people hurting – he was moved by visceral compassion and then he acted to heal, to feed, to teach.  As God’s representatives, we too need to be moved to ACT.  We need to “Let our hearts be broken by the things that break the heart of God” ( as Bob Pierce said, the founder of World Vision and Samaritans Purse).  If we begin to imitate Jesus, the perfect Image Bearer, in small ways each day, our capacity to be fruitful, to multiply, to rule and to subdue will grow.

Not a small task!  This is the mission for all image bearers – male and female, young and old – to be fruitful, multiply, rule and subdue.  God knit each of you together while you were in your mother’s womb, giving you everything you need to accomplish the good works he planned for you to do (Ephesians 2:10)!  Often times we can get too comfortable and busy here in America, and are content to worship God, to spend time with God each day, to lead a “good” life, and we may miss that God has a MISSION for us to do!

That was the chapter one creation account.  The focus there was vertical, about the relationship between human beings and their Creator.  In chapter two, we see a horizontal focus, on how males and females relate to each other and function together as partners.

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Not good for man to be alone –

  1. He was alone in his relationship with God, no other creation called to live by faith
  2. He was alone in his mission to be God’s image bearer and to build God’s kingdom

God is Trinitarian, three-in-one, so Adam’s aloneness meant he missed a big part of image bearing and was impeded in revealing God in the world.

“God is entrusting his reputation to our male/female relationships.  We are telling the world what God is like by how we interact, value one another, build his kingdom together, and move towards Trinitarian oneness” (Carolyn Custis-James).

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If God is entrusting his reputation to our male/female relationships, we need to unpack what it means for women to be “suitable helpers.”

And here, I’m going to remind you that the Enemy attacks our identity with lies.  Lies that make us feel less-than, unworthy.  The Enemy tells us we “should” find our worth in our accomplishments, appearance, education, femininity or masculinity, occupation, race, spirituality, wealth, etc.  He lies to us, telling us we are what we do, we are what others say about us, we are what we have.

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And these lies get ingrained in our psyches through SOCIALIZATION.

We live in a Fallen world, where the Enemy prowls around looking to steal, kill and destroy.  And he’s been very effective, even in spreading lies even in the church.

We are socialized to believe certain lies about our identities through three processes:

  1. Modeling (how we observe others behaving)
  2. Overt Instruction (how we were instructed to behave)
  3. Reinforcement (positive or negative responses to our behavior)

Then, our socialization results in cognitive lenses, like bifocals or rose-colored lenses, that impact the way we understand the world and ourselves.  The Apostle Paul says that now we see as through glass, in heaven we will see face to face.

Socialization is POWERFUL.  Through our cognitive lenses, we learn to associate or assign meaning to words in a process that happens nearly instantly, in one-seventh-of-a-millionth second.

I want to do an exercise with you.  I’ll say a few words, and I want you to pay attention to your immediate association.  CHURCH; WORSHIP; LEADER; WOMAN

You may have thought “helper,” because every Bible translation you’ve ever read of Genesis 2:18 and 20 render the Greek word ezer there as “helper.”  The Holy Spirit inspired the word ezer to be used here to describe God’s daughters, so we want to understand it properly.  And sometimes, our modern English just doesn’t convey the same meaning as the original Hebrew.  This word ezer is a pretty striking example of this.

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“The word ezer is used twenty-one times in the Old Testament. Twice it is used in the context of the first woman. Three times it is used of people helping (or failing to help) in life-threatening situations. Sixteen times it is used in reference to God as a helper.  Without exception, these biblical texts are talking about a vital, powerful kind of help. Yet when ezer is applied to the first woman, its meaning is usually diminished to fit with traditional and cultural views of women’s roles.” – Marg Mowzcko

Every instance where ezer occurs, it is in the context of warfare.  And the Garden of Eden is no exception.  God intends for his daughters to be a “strong help” in the war against the Enemy and in building his Kingdom!

Similarly, the Hebrew word kenegdo that is translated “suitable” or “meet” actually means “corresponding to, signifying equality.  God has not created a subordinate assistant for Adam but rather, a strong equal.  Men and women are neither inferior nor superior to each other. Both bear the image of God, both share the mission of human authority over creation.

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Our final passage doubles down on the equality of male and female:

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Like the translation of ezer, the word translated “Rib” here doesn’t actually refer to a bone, but means “good portion of Adam’s side.”  Some theologians have argued a strong case for this meaning that the first human was divided in two.

Oneness is the point here, with God at the center of their oneness.

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So as we see in these Creation stories, our true identity is as image bearers, here in Appomattox to represent God’s character and mission.  As his representatives, we are at the center of what God is doing in Appomattox—not as spectators but as kingdom agents and as leaders responsible for what is going on around us.  We are God’s eyes and ears, his hands and feet, and his voice in the world.  We are ezer warriors, and as his representatives, we need to see the world through his eyes, love what he loves, grieve what he hates, and join his cause.

He gave us Jesus as the example of a perfect image bearer, showing us exactly how we are to be fruitful, multiply, rule and subdue.  Everywhere he went, Jesus was the embodiment of love, mercy and justice. We too must embody the gospel in our relationships and work.  And I believe this little army here today can be a catalyst for revival in Appomattox!

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Thanks for visiting TBKW!  “Like” us on Facebook where we post articles from around the web everyday, dealing with gender issues in the Church and world!

I was reading Carolyn Custis-James’ book, “Half the Church” when I prepared this talk, and her influence is all over it.  I would highly recommend you read her book!

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The Search for Identity: Healing Our Image of God and Of Ourselves

We primarily associate the search for identity with a phase of life occurring during the teen years.  Young people are expected to be “finding themselves,” questioning the messages they receive from authority figures, pushing boundaries, etc.  My experience is showing me that the search for identity continues beyond adolescence and may be a life-long process.

We are all asking the same existential questions:

What are we about?
Why are we here?
Where are we going?

And to answer these questions, we invest our energy in these things:

We are what we do.
We are what others say about us.
We are what we have.

As long as we are experiencing success and people are saying good things about us, or we are living comfortably and enjoying good relationships, we can feel OK.  But when we face failures, when others’ disapprove of us, when we lose people and things that are dear to us, then we may experience an existential crisis.

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My earth-shattering existential crisis occurred when I was 30 years old (four years ago…in case you were wondering!:).  There have been small bumps and jolts along my journey that have caused me to question things before, but at thirty I faced a tidal-wave of paradigm-shifting crap heaped up on my life that turned everything upside down and left me at ground zero.  My greatest discovery as I rebuilt my life was that I was finding my identity apart from God.  I was finding my identity in what I did, what others said about me, and what I had.  All my life, I have loved God and His Church.  But for the first time in my life, I am now living as one beloved by God.  And I am finally experiencing fullness of life and freedom in Christ!

All humans are created imago dei (in the image of God) and only in finding our identity in God can we experience life in all its fullness.  We need to recover the image of God in our lives by finding our ultimate identity in reflecting and representing God on earth – as His beloved children.

Living imago dei means finding your identity “from Him and to Him and through Him” (Romans 11:36).

To understand what it means to live imago dei, let’s first look at the Creation account in Genesis 1.  Verse 27 says,

So God created humankind in His own image, in the image
of
God He created them; male and female He created them.

Conservative scholars agree that the author of the book of Genesis was Moses, writing around 3,500 years ago.  This was during a time when emperors placed statues of themselves throughout their kingdoms, signifying who was in charge.  These statues would loom over town centers and were often made of precious metals and stones.

When my brother and I were backpacking through Europe, we visited a museum of communist and Nazi statues from the mid-20th century.  These huge statues had been formidable, oppressive symbols for the people who lived with them in their midst.  When Sadam Hussein’s regime fell, I have vivid memories of watching newscasts of people tearing down his statues, with tremendous effort and emotion.

Statue of Saddam being toppled in Firdos Square after the US invasion

Statue of Saddam being toppled in Firdos Square after the US invasion

When we think of these images of emperors being a normal aspect of life during the time of Moses, the beauty of God placing humankind as His image on earth is astounding.  We were created to represent God’s glory and diety on earth.  In heaven, it is clear who is in charge as God sits on His throne and is worshipped in a non-stop chorus of hosannas.  On earth, God has given us the choice to worship Him or not.  And He has given authority to humankind to rule and steward His creation.  And yet, unlike the emperors’ statues, who were made from precious metals and stones, we were made from the dust of the earth.

It is important to recognize two things about humanity from the Creation account:

1.  We are made for DIGNITY – to represent God’s glory and diety on earth
2.  We are HUMBLE creations – made from dust, not diety ourselves

Whether or not we are living our lives in devotion to God, every human being has dignity and value as image bearers of God.  This is common grace for all.  To live fully imago dei, however, goes beyond our creation as God’s image bearers.  It also means finding our identity as image bearers, living “from Him..to Him…[and] through Him.

Living imago dei means finding our source, purpose and meaning in God

There are three aspects to finding our identity as image bearers of God:

1.  Live in communion with God
2.  Live in community with others
3.  Steward creation the way God does

In struggling with our identity, we tend to start in the opposite order:

Do something…
Then ask for help from others…
Then, in a last ditch effort, quiet yourself and spend time with God.

So the first step towards living imago dei requires knowing God.

In healing our image of God, we heal our image of ourselves.

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“We have seen His glory, the glory of an only Son, filled with enduring love.” (John 1:14)

“May Christ grow in your heart by faith, and may love grow…that you will be able to grasp how wide, how long, how high and how deep is God’s love which is beyond all knowledge, that you may be filled with the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:17-19)

“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God…for God is love.  By this the love of God was manifested in us, that God sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.” (1 John 4:7-9)

God is love — and you are God’s beloved!

In healing our image of God, Jesus frees us from fear of the Father and dislike of ourselves.  If not, you still have not accepted the total sufficiency of His redeeming work.

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The problem: our image of God (how we see God) reflects more of our experience with humankind.

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In this short video, Greg Boyd explains why it is that many of us picture God as angry and vindictive, and how any conception of God that is other than what we find in Christ is a mischaracterization:

http://view.vzaar.com/1971665/flashplayer

(Or see it here: http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/making-god-in-our-own-image).

If we do not know God, then we cannot live fully imago dei.

Not only do we believe lies about who God is – but we believe lies about who we are and where we “should” be finding our identity.  These lies come from our society at large, the media, our families, our faith communities, etc.

Stop Shoulding Yourself

Lies make us feel as though we are less than, unworthy, freaks, frauds and failures.  While God loves us as we are and not as we should be, we get a different message from society.  We “should” find our worth in our accomplishments, appearance, education, gender, feminity or masculinity, occupation, race, sexuality, social networks, spirituality, wealth, etc.

The reason these lies are so ingrained in our psyches:  SOCIALIZATION.

We are socialized to believe certain lies about our identities through three processes:

1. Modeling (how we observe others behaving)
2. Overt Instruction (how we were instructed to behave)
3. Reinforcement (positive or negative responses to our behavior)

Our socialization results in cognitive lenses through which we understand the world and ourselves.

Socialization is POWERFUL.  Through our cognitive lenses, we learn to associate or assign meaning to words in a process that occurs in one-seventh-of-a-millionth second.

For example: when we hear “woman” we may associate that (in less than one- seventh-of-a-millionth second!) with “helper.”  This association comes from the most common translation of ezer from the Creation account.

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable (ezer kenegdo) for him.'” Genesis 2:18

Early translators viewed the Bible from a cognitive lens of gender hierarchy as God’s design (through the influence of St. Augustine’s writings, who describes Plato–a philosopher who saw educated, wealthy men as the pinnacle of society who ought to govern over the women, slaves and children–as the lens through which he understood the Bible).  So although other instances of ezer throughout the Old Testament show God swooping in as a warrior in battle to “help” turn the tide towards victory, the translation chosen denotes subjection and male authority.  A truer translation of ezer kenegdo would be “corresponding strength,” with Eve as co-warrior alongside Adam.  As women, we have valuable strength to contribute to our churches, families, and communities.

These are helpful questions to begin to peel away the onion-layers of lies that have influenced our identity formation:

What are my cultural lenses?
What has my role modeling been?
What has my instruction been?
What has my reinforcement been?
How has my socialization impacted my search for identity – the purpose, meaning and goal of my life?

Christian women in Western society have been socialized to believe that a feminine, nurturing and submissive homemaker is the ideal Christian woman.  Rather than finding our identity in God and living boldly and freely as ezer-warriors in authority over Creation, we are socialized to live small, inhibited lives, so as not to rock the boat or make waves.

Kathy Escobar shared these lists on her blog, comparing Good Christian Women to Ex-Good Christian Women.  Which list do you identify with more?

i know these are generalizations, but in my experience a lot of “good-christian-women”:

  • rarely engage in conflict
  • are terrible at saying “no” because it feels selfish
  • know how to say the right things, do the right things, to keep the peace
  • continually strive–and i do mean strive–to be a better wife, better mother, better christian
  • live with a feeling that God is disappointed with us somehow
  • feel a lot of shame for who we are and who we aren’t (but rarely say it out loud)
  • doubt our leadership, feelings, gifts, dreams
  • dwell on the things we should be doing differently or better 
  • view anger as sin
  • always seek permission 

here are some characteristics of those of us with the “ex” added.  “ex-good-christian-women”:

  • are learning to show up in relationship instead of hiding
  • engage in conflict instead of avoid it
  • say “no” with less-and-less guilt and say “yes” more freely, more honestly
  • tell the truth
  • respect anger
  • are honest about shame
  • live in the present 
  • are beginning to believe we are “enough”–here, now
  • open ourselves up to dreams & passions & living out what God is stirring up in us
  • lead & love & live in all kinds of new ways, with or without permission
  • are discovering that God is much bigger than we were ever taught & loves us more than we ever knew

Our sisters, both locally and globally, need us to step into our calling as ezer-warriors, living fully and abundantly as beloved and equal daughters of God, creating a ripple effect that erodes the lies from our neighborhoods and the world at large.

Living imago dei means finding your identity
“from Him and to Him and through Him.” 

God loves you as you are, not as you should be.
We all need to learn to live for an audience of One,
and “stop shoulding on ourselves.”

The best summary I can come up with is this Love letter from Jesus:

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With much love,

                   Jesus


This post is adapted from a talk I did at a women’s retreat earlier this month.  I shared the books, sermons and articles I referenced in this post, Imago Dei Resources.

On the retreat, it was much more of a conversation with dialogue about lies that we struggle with.  Please feel free to join that conversation in our Comments section!  What lies have you been trying to peel away, that keep you from living fully imago dei?

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Imago Dei Resources

This past weekend, Becky and I (and our fabulous co-horts, Lisa Wells and Amy St. John) were privileged to lead our church’s women’s retreat.  The vision for the retreat came to Becky last year and through much prayer and many, many hours of planning, coordinating, etc., she saw her vision come to fruition in a beautiful way.

Becky chose the topic of living imago dei (as image bearers of God), and early in the summer in one of our leaders meetings, I was chosen to teach a session Saturday morning and preach Sunday morning.  So I started the absorption phase of teaching and wanted to share the resources with you that were helpful to me this summer as I prepared.  I’ll share my Saturday morning in another post soon.  There is a link to purchase these books on Amazon if you click on the pictures.

made for more

The first book I came across was “Made for More: An Invitation to Live in God’s Image” by Hannah Anderson, which happened to turn up on my Facebook newsfeed the day before I was heading off on vacation, so I purchased it on my Kindle.  It was providential, because I actually had time to read it!  In this interview, Hannah explains that she wrote the book because she observed the struggle that many Christian women were having “to find fulfillment in their roles and family structures alone,” and the sheer majority of women’s Bible studies are framed entirely around gender so that essentially, we are being taught “that sanctification means becoming a certain type of woman, not being conformed to Christ’s image.”  The book explores how living imago dei means finding our supreme source of identity and existence “from Him and through Him and to Him” (Acts 17).  Hannah includes an excellent study guide in the indexes that could be used for group study or individuals.  I highly recommend this book.

designed for dignity

When I finished “Made for More,” Becky loaned Richard Pratt’s “Designed for Dignity” to me with the promise that it would be one of those rare, life-changing books.  Pratt is Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, but he writes deep theological truths “with great humility, simplicity, and honesty” (Steve Brown quote on the back of the book).  The book is essentially about realizing your full potential to live out God’s image by living with dignity, and by bringing glory to God.  Each chapter develops a different aspect of living with dignity, as the Bible reveals what it is to be human, and there is a concluding paragraph with study questions for each chapter, enhancing personal or group study.  Unlike Hannah Anderson’s book, this one was not geared specifically to women and it was helpful to frame the dialogue on living imago dei apart from gender.  Another high recommendation.

mans search for meaning

I came across this book on the used bookstore porch and picked it up for a whopping 25 cents.  I vaguely remember hearing a reference to Frankl’s writing in a Tim Keller sermon, so I was curious.  The first half of this short book describes Frankl’s horrifying experiences as a Jewish prisoner in four concentration camps, including Auschwitz and Dachau (two profoundly moving stops my brother and I made during our backpacking tour in 2002).  As a doctor of psychiatry, Frankl was able to study the mental condition of his fellow prisoners, as well as his own stages of shock, distress, numbness, etc.  He observed that man could live with dignity despite his circumstances if he had a meaning to cling to, and post-war, he developed a new school of psychiatry called logotherapy, which the American Journal of Psychiatry called “the most significant thinking since Freud and Adler.”  On the back of book, it reads “A profound revelation born out of Dr. Frankl’s years as a prisoner in Auschwitz and other concentration camps, logotherapy is a modern and positive approach to the mentally or spiritually disturbed personality.  Stressing man’s freedom to transcend suffering and find a meaning to his life regardless of his circumstances, it is a theory which, since its conception, has exercised a tremendous influence upon the entire field of psychiatry and psychology.”

I couldn’t put “Man’s Search for Meaning” down!  Frankl’s description of suffering in concentration camps was so riveting, and the shorter second part describing logotherapy was equally fascinating.  Towards the end, Frankl says, “As logotherapy teaches, there are three main avenues on which one arrives at meaning in life.  The first is by creating a work or by doing a deed.  The second is by experiencing something or encountering someone; in orther words, meaning can be found not only in work but also in love….Most important, however, is the third avenue to meaning in life:  even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by so doing, change himself.  He may turn a personal tragedy into a triumph.”

In addition to those books, I also found the following sermons and articles helpful in thinking through living imago dei.  This sermon, “Healing Our Image of God and Ourselves,” by Brennan Manning, was probably more influential than any other resource I turned to, as it crystalized the message of living in the image of God with the emphasis on God’s love for us:

And also Henri Nouwen’s beautiful sermon series on The Life of the Beloved (please pardon the long intro and breaks in between his 8 short sermons):

Finally, “Ex Good Christian Women” is a fantastic article by Pastor Kathy Escobar that discusses how women are hurt and enslaved by the cultural constraints on what it means to be a “good Christian woman.”  Her descriptions of “good Christian women” and “ex-good Christian women” struck a nerve with the retreat ladies.

I’ll share how these resources came together into a talk on living imago dei soon. 🙂


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