Now I know what some of you are thinking because I have heard this before. You are thinking, Dude, that sounds so cool. I mean, I want that to be real in my life. But here's the problem. That's not how the real world works. The Bible may teach it and it may be true but in the real world no body cares that God loves me so while it sounds good, that's just not how I'm treated in the real world. Real world? What in the world are you talking about? What do you mean "real world"? I met with a guy the other week who is Australian. And he really likes an African girl. In his heart he knows that God regards no difference between white and black. He knows that biblically speaking there is no distinction and no reason why he should not pursue this relationship. But then he said this to me, "That's what God thinks. But the real world doesn't work that way. So I don't know what to do." Same argument. And here is my response. In the New Testament, the church had a really interesting message. They didn't just walk around telling people to believe in Jesus and they would be saved. No. Their message was much more radical. You see, in the Roman empire the Ceaser was regarded as king and god. And the Roman empire was also a very pluralistic empire. you were allowed to believe whatever you wanted. And if the Christians had gone around telling people to believe in Jesus and they would be saved no one would have ever bothered them. But that's not all they said. Instead, they ran around declaring that the Emperor was not king and he was not God. They refused to burn incense to him because, after all, he was not king or god. And as a result the Christians were persecuted arrested and killed. It wasn't for their faith in Jesus that they died. it was because they refused to separate their faith from the real world. As Christians we have this really weird distinction between church and the "real world". It's like, here is what the church believes and here is what the "real world" believes. And we will talk and worship and believe here, but when we go back out into the "real world" we will take our faith and put it on a shelf somewhere. We will co-exist with what the world believes out there and then, once a week, we will come back to our little club and talk about what we believe again. Then, as we exit we will bury it somewhere again until the next church service. What kind of nonsense is that? No wonder so many people think church has no relevance to life. Because what we say and do here has nothing to do with what happens out there. Not for the NT Christians. No way. What they said and did in church was not buried during the week. It was proclaimed. It was lived out. For the NT church there was no such thing as the church and the "real world". The church was the real world. And for them there was the real world of Gods truth and the deluded world under Satan's control. And they refused to bury the truth when they went back out into the deluded world. Instead they defiantly proclaimed Ceaser is not king, he is not God, Jesus is kind. And it got them killed. So don't give me this "That's what God thinks but the real world is different". This is the real world. Everything else is under the spell of Satan and we should not live timidly in darkness. We must shine the light and declare everywhere we go, this is truth. You were created for love, a king and queen that lives and breathes to receive the fullness of the creator. That's the only truth there is. Everything else is a lie.
Last year I met with a young man who felt worthless and useless. When he compared himself to others he determined that he wasn't as good as they were. And he insisted that God could not love him because he just was not good enough. I challenged him with what I have shared here, and more. In the end he looked at me as tears streamed down his face and asked, "Do you really believe that?" Of course I do. And I still believe it today. And I declare it now, be grateful for the goodness of God in your life. Embrace his unutterable love for you for it is for this that you exist.
In the previous post in this series I suggested that the only way to truly combat self-deprecation and poor self-image is through a trustful understanding of something bigger than ourselves. While positive self-talk and uplifting Bible promises may be good the fact is that they are not enough. Herb Montgomery shares an interesting perspective in which he argues that what we think impacts how we feel and how we feel impacts how we behave. However, Herb goes a step further by suggesting that what we see, or how we interpret the world, impacts how we think to begin with. So the whole thing looks like this:
What I see = What I Think = How I Feel = How I Behave
He then goes on to suggest that if we want to change our behavior we cant do so by simply modifying our behavior, our thoughts, or even our feelings. Instead, we need to go all the way to the root - that is what we see or perceive. Once what we perceive as reality changes then we can begin the battle of aligning our feelings, thoughts, and behaviors to this new reality. The problem many of us face is we try to resolve our behaviors without ever addressing the root of our problem: what we see. And may I suggest, that in order to experience true gratitude in life its not enough to be told we have to be grateful (behavior change), or to force ourselves into a state of gratefulness (feeling change), or to engage in motivational positive self-talk (thought change). Each of those steps are true and have their place. But what we really need is a transformation in what we see. Once that happens everything else falls into place. Thankfully, the Bible is not just a compilation of shallow motivational quotes. Instead, the Bible presents us with a whole new way of seeing. So lets begin that journey in its most natural setting - Genesis 1 - and see what we discover.
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness" (26).
Our story begins here, at the moment in which God is creating humanity. However, in order for this to make sense I need you to completely remove yourself from this story. So take yourself and place yourself in a shelf somewhere. Instead, I want you to explore this story from the outside as a story about Adam and Eve, not you. So God has reached the end of his creation. Adam and Eve, who he is about to make, are the crowning act of his creative work. They are the apex or the climax of his work of art.
Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being (2:7).
So picture this with me. We have to use our imaginations here. God enters earth and, in a mysterious way that only God knows, he reaches down and begins to form a man out of dust. He forms his skeletal system with all of its joints and marrow, his cardiovascular system with all of its veins and arteries, he forms the muscular system with tendons and ligaments, he adds the nervous system with all of its complexity. The brain, organs, lungs, and eyes. He wraps them up in skin and flesh. And then, when he is done he looks down at this work of art, cradles its face and breathes. The breath enters into the inanimate body laying beneath him and something magical happens. The heart starts beating, blood starts flowing, the brain powers up with electrical charges and oxygen fills the lungs. Adams eyes open, and - to borrow David Asschericks image - the very first thing he sees is the presence of God.
Is that how it happened? I don't know exactly. But this I do know, God has just finished creating a creature in his own image and God is stoked. Later on, in verses 21-22 we read that God puts Adam into a deep sleep and while Adam is sleeping God once again reaches down. He opens Adam up and removes one of his ribs, then from the DNA in the rib he mysteriously fashions a companion. She opens her eyes for the first time, and there is God. Mankind is complete. Creation is complete. And now comes my magic question. Why? Why did God create? What was his purpose behind this act? Was he bored? Was he exploring his creative and artistic potential? Did he need someone to serve him and do his dirty work? Or did he simply make man in order to have living creatures outside of himself that existed for the purpose of telling him how cool he was? In other words, did he make Adam and Eve so that they could feed his divine ego with songs of praise and adoration? Was God lonely? Was he in need of something? Did he create Adam and Eve to fill a void in his eternal heart? Some of you are too young for this but bear with me here. When TV's first came out they didn't have remotes. If you wanted to change the channel you had to get up and turn this knob yourself. One day, I was at a friends house and asked the father - how did you survive without a remote back then? I mean, how annoying to have to get up every single time to change the channel. He looked at me and said, "I did have a remote". And I asked, "How? They didn't exist." He laughed and said, "Sure they did" and then pointed at his son. That's a silly story of course, but to use that metaphor, did God create Adam and Eve because he needed someone to change the channels on his TV for him? When I was in my early 20's I struggled big time with these questions. I was always told that God created us to worship him. That he made us to glorify him. And to me, that just sounded like God was the most conceited being in the universe. I wondered why a being so powerful would create other beings with the purpose of telling him how cool he was. The Bible has the answer in Acts 17:
The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else (24-25).
That phrase "as if he needed anything" struck me right between the eyes. God is perfect. He is complete. He needs nothing! This is why David, in Psalms 50 quotes God saying, "If I were hungry, I would not tell you for the world is mine, and all that is in it" (12). He doesn't need man. He has no emotional void, he has no physical limitations, he has no intellectual handicap he is almighty and eternal and it is from him that all of reality receives its sustenance. Which led me to one simple conclusion, God did not need Adam. He did not need Eve. Then, I wondered, why did he make them? And then it hit me. If God did not make Adam and Eve to get something from them the only possible alternative was that he made them to give them something. Those of you who are artists know that a true and genuine artist does not produce art to get money, or fame, or anything. A true artist produces art in order to give to others. A true artist produces art from an internal desire to communicate, to share, to express, to gift something that is within him to others in a way that is tangible and material. Artists don't create to get. They create to give. May I suggest today, that God is the ultimate artist. That he made Adam and Eve in order to give them something, in order to communicate something, in order to express something to them that he knew and wanted someone else to know. So Adam opens his eyes. Eve opens her eyes. And they are immediately ushered into the presence of God. He made them to give them something. And what was that something? The something was himself. God breathed into Adam the breath of life and Adam became a living being and his lungs filled with air, and his eyes opened and blood and oxygen began pumping into his muscles and now that he was alive he had a purpose and he could pursue that purpose - to be the recipient of God's eternal love. Adam and Eve were made, not to give something to God but to receive something from him. They were made to receive him. And the Bible declares that he is love. But God did not stop there! Read Genesis 1:27-28
So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number..."
In other words, God did not simply create two people to receive his love. He went beyond that. He gave them the ability to create more. And they did. And each new human being that was born was an entirely new person that existed for the purpose of receiving the unutterable love of God. But what exactly does that imply? I mean, it sounds good but what does that have to do with us and our insecurities here and now? Mankind continued to procreate. 1000 years. 2000. 4000. 6000. And now, here we are. It is the year 2016. And you exist today for the very reason that Adam and Eve were made: To receive the unending love of God. And all of your sins, mistakes, failures, imperfections and wounds do not change the fact that you were created to be a recipient of God himself. That's why you exist.
But that's not all there is too it. There's more. I had a professor in university that took us through a hymn one day - I cant remember which. We were exploring the meaning and poetry behind this ancient song and it said something along these lines "If I could bring to God all the silver and gold, the mountains and valleys and all that creation holds as a gift to him it would not be enough. What he wants is my heart." The professor paused. "What do you think that means?" He asked. "Why is it that God is not satisfied with silver, gold, mountains, the sun, the moon - indeed all of creation? Why is it that he only wants your heart?" None of us knew the answer but we tried. Then he paused us again and said, "Here's why: When Jesus returns the Bible says that he will re-create the heavens and the earth. It will all be made new. The mountains, valleys, sun, moon and stars. He will recreate them all. But there is one thing he will never recreate. You." I sat there stunned. But then he continued with these words, "You are the only you that there will ever be. And God has one shot in this short life to win you to himself. And if you refuse to come to him he knows he will never have you again because you cannot be recreated. There is only one you. And oh! How he longs for you." Our purpose hasn't changed. Despite what you have experienced in this life - your failures and heartaches, the times you've been lied to and betrayed. None of that changes the fact that you exist as the subject of God's unspeakable love. And through to the end of this earth nothing will ever change that. So today I implore you in the name of Jesus that you would allow your sight to be restored. Allow yourself to see the truth. Allow yourself to see who you are and what you were created for. You mean more than you could ever know. Ellen White describes it this way:
The savior regards with infinite tenderness the souls whom He has purchased with His blood…. He looks upon them with unutterable longing (The Desire of Ages, p 517).
Years ago, there was a TV show on MTV called My Super Sweet 16. For those of you who have never seen the show, Google it sometime and look at what people think about the show and you will find reviews such as these: "My Super Sweet 16: Lifestyles of the ungrateful." "Absolutely Sickening." "This MTv series is an embarrassment to civilized society." "The ultimate in pointless television." "Should be called 'Rich and Rude.'" Why all the negative reviews? Well, the show is basically about teenage American girls who are turning 16 and celebrating this through what is known as the Sweet 16 celebration. The difference here is that these girls parents are filthy rich and get them anything they want. It is the ultimate in spoiled living. And in many episodes, after thousands and thousands of dollars spent the girls would still complain that it wasn't good enough. In other words, no matter what they get, many of them still seem to be really ungrateful and when they are grateful, it appears to be built on the complete satisfaction of their every desire. Mess up on one detail and these girls would collapse into a frenzy. To the common viewer the show may be entertaining but sad at the same time. Nevertheless, there is a positive aspect to the show. My Super Sweet 16 reveals beyond a shadow of a doubt that pride and a sense of entitlement kills gratitude. Last year I preached a sermon titled "Why Am I So Bad at Being Thankful?" and suggested that many people never experience gratitude because they think too highly of themselves. Whenever you place yourself on a pedestal you inevitably feel as though you are entitled to the things you have in life and, as a result, take them for granted. But when we recognize that we are not "all that" we confront the reality that we are not entitled to anything. Then why are we blessed? It's not based on how awesome we are. It's based on how awesome God is. And once we realize that we can begin to experience true gratitude. Everything we have is an undeserved gift from a God who does not owe us anything. However, pride and a sense of entitlement are not the only things guilty of gratitude homicide. There is another equally damaging attitude that completely snuffs gratitude out of a persons life. While on the one hand there are those who think too highly of themselves and take blessings for granted, on the other hand there are those who think so lowly of themselves that they also take blessings for granted. In fact, many times they never even notice their blessings. They spend their time constantly brooding over negative things and allowing their minds to entertain any pessimistic thought to the point that God could be pouring his blessing on them and they never notice it. And if they did notice it they would quickly twist it into something negative. In many cases such people have a very low picture of themselves. In the most extreme cases they have little to no self worth. They see themselves as a waste of space, unimportant, and damaged. They say things to themselves they would never say to someone else. They self-deprecate and self-loathe. Its like their imagination has a disease. They aren't happy no matter whats going on. So while thinking too highly of yourself can lead to ingratitude, thinking too little of yourself leads to the same thing. Right now I may be speaking to someone who feels as though they are not worth much. Maybe you have been betrayed, abandoned, abused, hurt, denied, or disappointed too many times. Maybe you had a husband who promised you happiness and now he's gone. Maybe you have done things in your life that fill you with inexpressible shame such that you have come to see yourself in the most negative condescending terms. And so long as you continue to believe this you will never be able to experience true gratitude. Pride kills gratitude, yes! But so does self-deprecation. So what are we to do? How do we resolve this? For those who are proud and think too highly of themselves the solution comes from accepting what the Bible says - namely that we are not that cool and are entitled to nothing. But for those who view themselves in pessimistic, undervaluing, and hyper-modest ways the solution must be different because the problem is different. The problem is too low a view of yourself. At this point, some well meaning folk may say something like this:
"Its the inside that matters not the outside."
"There's always something to be thankful for."
"It could be worse."
"You are beautiful no matter what they say."
All of these are true statements, and I am glad they work for some people. But they don't work for everyone. In fact, I find them offensive because they are oversimplified responses to real struggles that basically communicates a "get over it" mentality. And for the person struggling with too low a view of themselves, such cliches tend to make them feel even worse about themselves. In fact, I will go so far as saying that quoting Bible verses about how valuable a person is isn't helpful either. Why? It's not because the verses aren't powerful. Its because the way we use them is not powerful. We tend to quote Bible verses in situations like this as though they are intended to be motivational statements. As a result they come across as cute statements that are pleasant and "nice" but that have no bearing in the real world. If there is going to be an answer to this in scripture it cant come in the form of a cute saying. It has to be much bigger than that. Thankfully, every text in scripture that speaks positively of you and that calls you to put away your self-deprecation and embrace gratefulness is not some isolated fortune cookie statement. Each of those verses are born out of a much bigger picture, a narrative that impacts not simply how you feel right now, but the way in which you interpret life. More on that next time...