How understanding the Image of God can change the world – Luke Harbaugh

10 Aug

Today we once again welcome Luke Harbaugh of HOPE International who follows-up his guest post and sermon from August 2nd.

Genesis 1:26-27 tells us that we occupy a privileged place in God’s creation. We have been made in God’s Image, according to his likeness, and have been endowed with qualities that nothing else in the universe can claim. In David’s words, we have been “fearfully and wonderfully made.” But with this blessing also comes a sacred responsibility.

In Genesis, when God commands humanity to take “dominion” over Creation, the Hebrew word radah is used. Throughout the Old Testament this word takes on several meanings, including to “rule over,” “tread down,” or “prevail against.” In this sense, humanity is to subjugate, take authority over, and impose its will upon the earth. But the word radah is also frequently connected to the responsibilities of kings and rulers, where it carries with it a sense of obligation, stewardship and the command to care for subordinates (especially the weak or poor.) In other words, God’s command to have dominion over what has been created carries a double responsibility: to take command and control of Creation, but also to care for it, steward it and use it well.

The same can be said for our own skills and abilities. God has granted each of us with a unique repertoire of gifts to take dominion over – to rule over and bend for our purposes. In the midst of this though, we also have a responsibility to use those gifts wisely, to care for and nurture them and use them for good ends. Being made in God’s image then is just as much about responsibility as it power. Part of a Christian understanding of the Imago Dei (the Image of God) is that it has become severely damaged in each of us. Sin’s presence in our lives represses God’s Image, damages the skills and gifts we have been given and bends them toward selfish gain and personal indulgence. Because of this, we approach the reality of God’s Image in each of us with the knowledge that only Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit can restore it fully.

At HOPE International, we know that each of us is made in God’s Image, and we celebrate that every person is capable, dignified, worthwhile, and packed with potential. But we also know that each and every person is in desperate need of rescue. Through Christ-centered microfinance, we seek to bring men and women into a brighter future, not only through economic opportunity and education, but through a living and fruitful relationship with Jesus Christ – the full Image of the One True God.

In Malawi a woman named Jean began growing and selling assorted vegetables to provide for her seven children after her husband died a decade ago. Living in Malawi, where 88 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day, Jean often struggled to put food on the table or pay school fees.

When Jean’s church partnered with HOPE and began training groups of people to save money together, she became one of the founding members of The Chivumbulutso (meaning “Revelation”) savings group. A proud pioneer of this ministry, Jean describes the financial and spiritual transformation she has experienced: “I became a Christian a long time ago and have been reading the Bible since my youth days, but it had never occurred to me that the Scripture can help me on financial matters.”

Prior to joining the savings group, Jean struggled to manage her finances, remaining in constant debt. Now, saving approximately $2 each week, she owns a piece of land for farming and has hired several workers. Jean dreams of growing her business and opening a grocery store.

Her spiritual life has also flourished through prayer and meditation on the Word of God. “My knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures as the living Word of God speaking directly to me has increased greatly through the sharing of the Word and experiences which we have at our group every time we meet,” Jean explains. Now, she views communication with God as a two-way street, saying, “God speaks directly to me through His Word while I speak directly to Him through prayer.”

Since joining the savings group, Jean’s understanding of giving has also changed. “I used to see no reason why I should give to God especially because I never knew the connection between my resources and God,” she reflects. “However, this program has helped me to recognize that God is the owner and source of all that I have and that giving back to Him is an expression of my gratitude and worship to Him.” Knowing that God will never fail, she rejoices in times of joy and hardship, faithfully relying on God to provide for her needs: “I have seen God working in my life in all circumstances. God has strengthened and encouraged me in times of need and has been with me in times of joy as well.”

Through her experience in a savings group, the Image of God has flourished in Jean in brand new ways. Her story is a reminder to us that God has given us a privileged place within Creation, endowing us each with the gifts, talents, skills, and abilities needed to carry out the mission to “be fruitful and multiply,” “subdue and have dominion” over the earth and love and care for one another. Living in poverty, Jean’s opportunities to care for her family and her community were limited, but within her others saw great potential. HOPE International, the local churches in Malawi, and the members of Chivumbulutso believed that Jean was made in God’s Image and that what she truly needed to thrive was a relationship with Jesus Christ and an opportunity to save. Since then, that Image has been brought to life within her in new and exciting ways.

This week, ask yourself how often you acknowledge God’s image in others. How could you – in your home, your workplace or your school – see the Image of God more clearly in those around you? What can you do to introduce people to the healing and saving power of Christ? How can you provide someone with an opportunity to thrive?

Editor’s Note: I am so thankful for Luke’s visit to Faith Church while I was in Kenya.  Please listen to Luke’s sermon here.

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