Things God Wants To Know

But why?

Note Attention Road Sign Right Of Way Duplicate

How do you respond to motivation? Are you more inclined to do something if someone else wants you to? If the rules say you should? Or, like some of us, not at all no matter what?

Gretchen Rubin, in her book The Four Tendencies, divides people into categories depending on how they respond to motivation. Those who, like me, respond to inner motivation far more than anything from the outside, are called questioners. (You can even take the quiz here if you want.)

We ask “why” a lot. That’s the gist of the personality. If you can give us a good reason for doing something, we’re in. If not, we’re not terribly motivated. A good reason, mind you, is in the eye of the questioner.

So it’s not a surprise, I suppose, that I would be drawn to the questions in the Bible. A couple weeks ago, we talked about God’s first question. (Where are you?) It’s important, I believe, to look at the things God wants to know and ponder why. (I did say I asked “why” a lot.)

Questions God asks

God, presumably, does not ask rhetorical questions. He doesn’t need to ask questions at all. What doesn’t he already know? Can he ask a question he doesn’t know the answer to?

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“Omniscient” is one of those fifty-dollar theological words that means the ability, or even character trait, of knowing absolutely everything. (So go use that word now to impress people.) God has no need to ask us anything at all.

That’s why I find the fact that he does so intriguing.

Who is able to advise the Spirit of the Lord? Who knows enough to give him advice or teach him? Has the Lord ever needed anyone’s advice? Does he need instruction about what is good? Did someone teach him what is right or show him the path of justice? (Isaiah 40.13-14)

Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Who determined its dimensions and stretched out the surveying line? What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone? Have you ever commanded the morning to appear and caused the dawn to rise in the east?

Do you know where the gates of death are located?  Where does light come from, and where does darkness go? Can you take each to its home? Can you direct the movement of the stars? Do you know the laws of the universe? Can you use them to regulate the earth? Can you shout to the clouds and make it rain? (Job 38)

So why would he ask us questions?

Well, why did I ask my students questions when I taught high school? Did I need to know the author of Pride and Prejudice? Was I ignorant of the psychology behind Javert’s issues? Could I not google the date of publication of War and Peace if I didn’t know? (No, in fact, I couldn’t. We didn’t have google. Or the interwebs. It was that long ago.)

As a parent, do I really have to walk into a room and ask “Who made this mess?”

No parent in the history of parents needs to ask that. We know.

But we do ask these things. We ask them for several reasons.

We want to see if others do know the answers they need to know. We want to give people a chance to confess to things they need to know (or things they did) before they have no choice. Maybe we want them to rethink an answer they’ve given or a belief they hold. Perhaps we want to prod action. Possibly, we just want a dialog.

God works in similar ways. He doesn’t need information or answers. So what’s left?

Maybe God also wants to:

  • Help us figure out the answers
  • Make us rethink some answer we thought we knew
  • Prod us into thinking about our answers
  • Give us information
  • Move us to action
  • Have a dialog with us.

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It’s a well known axiom of adult learning experts that asking questions helps people learn better. (That’s why I’ve taken to doing it a lot when I preach.) In their research, Julie Bugg and Mark McDaniel at Washington University in St. Louis (shout out to the alma mater!) set out to discover what kind of questions worked best. They determined that conceptual questions—those where you ask yourself or someone else questions that require putting ideas together rather than just knowing details—help us learn best.

So asking about motives of Javert would give my students a much better grasp of literature than asking the publication date of War and Peace. Truth.

What does this have to do with God?

It’s important because if God asks a question, we should probably pay attention.

If he’s wanting to dialog, we should be joy-filled at the prospect.

If he respects us enough to want us to figure things out on our own, we can be grateful. He made us in his image, which includes the ability to think things through.

If he speaks in questions so often, perhaps we should rethink our tendency to speak in proclamation more often than not. I love that Jesus often spoke in questions. Maybe being like Jesus should prod us to listen more, ask more questions, trust people more to be able to come to conclusions of their own. Perhaps being so sure we have wisdom to impart should give way to his method of helping people figure out wisdom and confession in their time and way.

If questions are such a vital part of God’s toolkit, maybe we could take a look at why. Next week, we’ll continue the journey that we started with God’s first question—Where are you?—with Jesus’ first question. What is it? You’ll find out next week.

Stamp of the Almighty — If I’m God’s Image, What Are You?

Twelve years ago, we took our family on a mission trip to China. As part of our daily activity, we went into classrooms where kids would ask us questions and practice their English skills. Usually, we fielded generic questions like: What’s your favorite color? What do you like about China? What do you do? And, once they found out our family was from Chicago, Do you know Michael Jordan?

But one day, a boy raised his hand and floored me with something else. “Do you hate Osama bin Laden?” 

We think we’ve got large class sizes.

This was October, 2002. 9/11 was not yet history. I struggled for the right words, and out came something like, “No, I don’t. I am a follower of Jesus and he asks me to love my enemies. So I hate what he did. But no, I do not hate him.”

I could sense a climate change in the room. A room filled with communist atheist kids had just heard something they did not have the resources to comprehend. I wasn’t sure I did. But their skepticism that our God was relevant turned to interest. What could make someone not return hate with hate?
Remember a time when people got along all the time? No one blamed anyone else for their dumb decisions, and no one got all defensive in your face about it either? We never bullied or inflicted hurt on purpose or put our own wants above someone else’s needs? No one died in mindless acts of hatred.
Yeah, neither do I. Because none of us ever saw it. Only two people ever did. They didn’t hang onto it for long.

It Was All Good. Very Good.

I imagine looking up in the garden was like this.

When God created the first two people, he declared that the original partnership was very good. It was the only part of creation that earned the adverb “very.” In that beginning, the original pair did not blame and fear one another. They worked together with grace and dignity. Humanity had that “let’s all hold hands and get along” thing down, I tell you. But then, there were only two of them. How much conflict can you get into?

Enough.
It ended. Rather abruptly. 
We’ve been talking about the image of God and what that means every day. How do we discover our identity, what we were born to be and do, by knowing more about that image? 
We’ve figured out that being created in God’s image means displaying his character and growing up, like kids, to “look” more like him. It means having his vision for my future and the future of the Kingdom. It means taking on the responsibility of being his ambassador of light in a dark world. Doing what he would do. 
One huge aspect of “doing what he would do” lies at the heart of the Genesis story. If all people are created in his image, and if that image is still to be protected and valued even after we completely messed it up (Genesis 9.6), what does that mean for how we value other human beings? 
If my purpose is to hold his vision dearer than anything I can dream of myself, I need to seriously look at that original relationship—and then at how we relate to one another now. God’s vision was made clear in the garden. People are equal. People are precious. People are the most beautiful thing He created. 
What am I going to do with that?
What I should be going to do is let the rest of the world see how it was meant to be. Let them know God had a plan. Make it clear that I’m committed to restoring that original plan. Even if it’s not a popular commitment.

Who Is God’s Image Again?


I listened to a panel of pastors and others recently talk about racism, privilege, and power. One of the young men told the story of going to Ferguson to participate in nonviolent protest. He spoke of standing face to face with police officers and looking into their eyes. “I could see clearly that neither one of us wanted to hurt the other. We were both people, looking in one another’s eyes. Looking at another person who wanted peace. But we were stuck on opposite sides. Most people don’t want to hurt anyone—we know we’re all the same people.” 
Those aren’t his exact words, but that was the scene he painted. People who want to treat one another right, but a world that is so filled with complication, so far from what the original order was meant to be, we don’t really know how. 
  • Osama bin Laden was made in the image of God.
  • Michael Brown and Darren Wilson were made in the image of God.
  • Every illegal immigrant you’ve ever seen, talked to, or read about was made in the image of God.
  • Every girl trafficked for sex was made in the image of God. So was her pimp.
  • The person who annoys you next door or in the next pew was made in the image of God.
  • The kid in youth group who just unleashed the longest string of profanity you’ve ever heard put together was made in the image of God.
  • The slow old lady up ahead, the grocery checker who made a mistake when you were in a hurry, the kid you just cut from the team are all made in the image of God.

What am I going to do with that?
Darn, but I don’t think God made any exceptions when he said humans were made in his image. And that we are to love them. I don’t see any annotations next to those pretty all-inclusive verses. 
Why not? Because as his image, we know two things. One, we are called to restore what his original plan was. Two, the moment I look at you as a lesser being, I forget that I am you.  . I am of the same materials. If I look in the mirror, I should see you as much as I see me. I should be able to look at those who stand against me and recognize myself. If I’m living as God’s ambassador, I should look into any eyes at all and see like Jesus would. In fact, I should see Jesus himself.
The world around us tells us we should treat everyone equally and be kind to all. Why? Because . . . well, we’re not sure really, but it seems like a good idea. It’s warm and fuzzy and gets a lot of Facebook likes. It often works out well in practice. So yeah, love your neighbor. That’s a good thing to do.
No wonder it doesn’t motivate a lot of us to change.

The Real Reason


How about this? Treat everyone equally because everyone has the same stamp of the Almighty on his or her soul. And as his ambassadors, we have the chance to help them uncover it. To help another human soul recognize his or her identity as God’s own. To see the spark of joy and empowerment and pure light that comes from that recognition dawning. We get to be a part of that. We get to see it happen–when we start seeing others as fellow image bearers, no matter what.
The other thing to understand, though, is that love is a verb, not a nice feeling. We can’t get away with, “Hey, I love them with the love of God. But they’ve got to conform to my standards before I’ll do anything more.” Love always does something. It never pats someone on the head and moves on. It gets in the mud and pulls people out of it, because no one can discover their true identity covered in muck. And no one can get out of it alone. I couldn’t. 
Respecting the image of God means we can’t turn away from damage that is done to it. It requires us to call out injustice. It begs us to stand up for others until they can stand for themselves. That’s what God did, still does, for us. Jesus stood up for us on the cross. We never could have. 
Yet some days we can’t stand up for our neighbor, friend, coworker, or that person at church. They are to blame. They should apologize first. They should prove they care for me first. Guess what? Jesus didn’t require that, and I’m glad. While we were yet sinners, he died for us. He didn’t ask for apologies or qualifications first. He didn’t inspect skin color, economic status, gender, nationality, or morality. He didn’t say he’d die for only those who agreed with his politics, word choice, ideas for how to run a church, or theology. While we still rejected him, he died. Thank God.
To be his image is to see the “very good” of Genesis in everyone.  . It’s to look at another soul and recognize the same image that is in you. Every human soul. How can I act hatefully toward my own face?

Next week, we’ll actually ask that question. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

Legacy Leaving and Statue Building — What Is Your Vision for 2015?

The kings of old didn’t do things small.

Our kids are a huge disappointment to us. Seriously, the Richardsons are leaving nothing in this world when we exit, and it is all those kids’ fault.


In several short months, one of them is going to be leaving that name behind for a new one. Eventually, it is assumed (but not a necessity) the other two will marry as well. Not that they could not keep their names—they choose not to. (Unless one of them gets engaged to a guy named, say, Snuffleupagus or something. Then, please reconsider, kiddo.)

Nor will they carry on the family business. None of our daughters wants to be a doctor. (Their mother may have swayed them a bit with her horror stories. Or her preference for Shakespeare over intestines.) They will never be practice partners with dad. In the ways traditional families measure legacies, we’re slacking. Fortunately, we don’t care. There are more important legacies to leave.

Last week, we talked about how our children reflect our character. It’s an analogy for how we reflect God’s character as his children and his image. But there is even more to being a child, and an image, than reflecting behaviors and ideas.

Our children are the ones we entrust to carry into this world what we find important. They are the ones we hope and believe will take on our values and visions for the future.

Sometimes it’s a family business; sometimes it’s a family name. I hope, more often, it’s treasured beliefs like caring for others, protecting family ties, and persevering through a difficult task. We won’t be here to continue what was important to us. We dream that they will.

God has the same dream. 


He not only made us to reflect his character–he created us to see his vision.  . We’re not meant to simply be nice people in this world. A computer knows how to generate good manners. We’re meant to spread God’s values like rain after a California drought. To make our world loving and just, not settle for making ourselves good people.

Giant Statues and Kingdom Stakes


In the ancient world, kings set up images of themselves in the outer regions of their kingdom. Why? Other people might just send an email with a photo attachment. A strongly worded memo. But these guys figured, hey, I’m a king. I don’t do things small. Giant statues? Let’s get on this thing!

There was a reason. See, when your kingdom is far flung, and your transportation system is a chariot, and there is no satellite programming to get your message out on 347 channels, you’ve got to have a Plan B. And their plan was to establish statues that would stand in for them. The figures would have their authority. Whatever a person would be expected to do in the king’s actual presence he is expected to do for the statue. The image was a representative of the real thing. It had the authority of the king.

That’s the idea we’re supposed to get from being told in Genesis 1 that we are created in the image of God. You (you as in people–you and I) have been placed in the outer reaches of the kingdom as God’s own representative. You have his authority to do what he would do. You’re like an emissary sent our from your country to offer aid to this government and counsel to this other one.

This makes for an entirely different plot line than just looking at the image of God idea as “Wow, maybe I should kind of act better.” It’s, “Wow, there’s an entire kingdom at stake here, and I’m spending my days hanging out on Facebook arguing over who should have won the Golden Globes.” Arguing nicely, understand, because I’m the image of God.

We are a people called to mirror his character and his vision into a crazy world. That’s way bigger than “Share this picture if you love Jesus.” Crazy bigger.

We’re the delegation he has sent out to accomplish what the King wants for His kingdom. You’re an envoy. For the King of the universe. That’s serious stuff right there. Potentially scary. And unbelievably exciting.

(Side note: If we’re sent to do what he would do? We’d better be quite sure what he would do. And fyi, I don’t think launching hate campaigns against people who don’t think like us is on the short list of things God would do.)

Giant Changes and Kingdom Strategies


For this little guy? She is Jesus.

How would it change your day to day priorities if you got out of bed today thinking, “I’m an emissary for God?” How would it mess with your agenda? Change your schedule? Slow your hurried walk past people you work with, shop with, go to school with? Deflect the criticism on your tongue or push out the encouragement? Keep you from thinking “someone should fix that problem” and start you fixing it yourself?


If we looked one person in the eyes and thought, how can I represent God to her? Right here, right now? Not in a 4-Spiritual-Laws shove the gospel at her kind of way but in a Jesus-would-do-this style. If we saw one social issue of our time and, instead of wringing our hands or focusing blame on one side, thought, how does God see this? How can I bring light and love into the darkness of this bad situation?

I used to think I wanted to go into politics. Now I know I’m not cut out for the mind games involved. Yet I have the responsibility of standing in for the King.

God says He’s looking for someone to go on an adventure. Are you ready?


Next week—What does being in God’s image mean for how we treat others? How about ourselves? Which one is harder for you?

Mirror Mirror — What Are We Reflecting in 2015?

I have a photo of my mom when she was fifteen. It looks remarkably like my senior portrait. (Only she was gorgeous in that way only 40’s women can be. And I had Farrah hair. Because it was cool.) I have a photo of our youngest daughter entering first grade. It looks identical to my own school photo, down to the handmade dress. Genetics rule—we end up like our parents in more ways than one.

Some find that distressing. Others have, at least, come to terms with the reality.

Last week on the blog we started talking about rediscovering our identity in 2015. What aspects of it have been hacked, like our debit cards at Target, and what can we do about it?

Image of God — Say What?


But before we can figure out how to re-find our identity, we have to know what we’re looking for. If we have no real clue, how will we know if we ever stumble upon it? It’s like going to the store when you’re hungry but you don’t have a menu plan. Everything and nothing looks good. You load up the cart with a bunch of stuff, take it home, and then find out none of it actually goes together in a meal. It’s a patched together mess, and you’re still hungry. What are we looking for?


Creation gives us the glorious facts—we are created in the image of God. Both male and female. No distinctions or hierarchies among humans in the perfect world. If you don’t believe me, check out the story yourself.

But it’s easy to say we’re the image of God. To have some vague idea of what that is and that maybe it’s a good thing. Yet all the time, I suspect we have an idea like that of my photos—we kind of look like God, whatever that is. We’re his kids, so we resemble him in some cosmic way we don’t really understand and therefore don’t consider important on a daily basis.

But what if we’re wrong?

What if, in fact, it’s the most important part of our daily life? And we’re missing it?

To be created in the image of God means a bunch of things, and none of them has to do with looks. Which is good because, honestly, how could God look like all the colors, sizes, shapes, and two genders of people? I mean, unless he’s like Professor McGonagall and shape shifts whenever he feels like it. Which could be cool, but we don’t exactly have a basis in the Bible for that idea.

(Well, yes, we do, He can appear however he needs to. But that’s not quite the same as just deciding, “Today I think I’ll be an armadillo. Tomorrow, maybe I’ll want to look like Queen Latifah. Depends on how the cosmic mood swings.”)

OK, we are officially off topic.

Yes, sir, that’s my baby. And me.

Taking on God’s Character


So, let’s start with one thing it means. Being made in the image of God means we take on characteristics of God. Just like my oldest daughter can read people and have instant empathy—she gets that trait from me.

Middle child likes to surprise people she loves with grand gestures, just as I do. Like the times I redecorated my mom’s entire bathroom and kitchen as gifts. (Thinking back, I have to wonder if she wanted them redecorated or if she liked my choices. But at the time, I wanted to surprise her because to me, it meant an act of love. Same with middle child.)

Child #3 has her father’s diligence and responsibility. Good thing she got it from somewhere.

A child grows to be more and more like her parents in attitudes and behavior. She may hate it, but one day she hears that sentence come out of her mouth and she knows . . . oh my gosh, that was my mother. Sorry—true story.

Regardless of what we hear about peer pressure and media influence, parents are still the number one arbiter of what kids become. Their values become their children’s values. Their reactions to life’s circumstances become their children’s model. From the time of birth, kids are becoming their parents. Obviously, there are differences. They are not robots. But stick with the analogy for a bit.

From the moment we are created, we should be growing to resemble God more and more. Not physically, but in values and behaviors. In the way we react to hardship or situations that would bring out the road rage in us. Our values should be becoming more and more identical to his. Love and holiness, grace and truth above all. That’s the plan. That’s part of what it means to be made in his image. If that was put inside us, it should be coming out.

When we mess up and interrupt that process, we have a Savior who promises to remake us so we can begin again. (“If anyone is in Christ, he or she is a new creation.”)

We are a people called to mirror his character into a crazy world. 

Sometimes, that means taking a hard look in our own mirror and asking—hey, is this really a good reflection?

  • Does this life, this daily thing I do here, the decisions I make, reflect meaning? Or are they reflex, plans auto-accepted because they are comfortable and “normal”?
  • Does this person I see reflect a belief that I am here for a reason? Or do I more often live day to day, waiting for life to happen, accepting myself as a victim of circumstances, uncommitted to responsibility of being an heir to the King?
  • Do my reactions reflect who God says he is? Or am I more likely to react like a person who has no experience at all of the mercy of Christ when angry, frustrated, confused, or scared?
  • Does my life reflect that God created everything to work with order and purpose? Or is the chaos in my own existence showing something entirely different?
  • Does it look like God orders my life? Or do I allow my schedule, other people, or the tyranny of the urgent to be the boss of my days?
  • Does this face, and heart, offer love before all else? Or is it too often something I expect others to earn?

  • If I don’t like the reflection, what needs to change?

Heavy questions for a cold day in January. But January is a perfect time for questions. Everyone else is reexamining. There is nothing else to do while watching the snow and hiding from the cold. Why not? Be brave. Ask the hard questions.


God, how will I, your image, reflect it better in 2015?

Next week–what else does that image in us mean? It means not only a new character but a new job. An adventure, hobbit lovers everywhere! Stay tuned.