Archive for February, 2018|Monthly archive page

Self-esteem or God’s esteem?

It’s easy to beat yourself up.  I know – I have a lot of practice doing it.

But God doesn’t want us to wallow in our woes.  He wants us to get up from the ground, put our hand in his, and carry on – knowing that God loves us just as much as he ever did.

For many years, I was so aware of my failings that I felt that God was displeased with me. But in recent years, I have learned the real good news – God loves me even with my faults.

In fact, as many Christian writers have pointed out, there is nothing I can do that will make him love me more or less than he already does.

That is the essence of God’s grace and mercy.  It depends not on me, but on Jesus who died for me on the cross and rose again, conquering sin and Satan.  He did it for me so that I could be with him forever.

I now see that I have put the emphasis in the wrong place – on myself.

Jesus didn’t go to the cross because I was perfect – I certainly am not.  He did it because he loved me – and all others who put their faith in him.


God realizes I am weak and has provided me with the Holy Spirit to give me the strength to live a godly life.  And he picks me up, dusts me off, and forgives when I mess up.

That lifts a crushing weight on me.

“Performance-based acceptance is a diabolical game with no winners and plenty of losers,” writes Paul Ellis in his book The Gospel in Ten Words.

Even those who draw the applause of other Christians can fall into this performance trap.  They may begin to feel they are special.

“The love of God is not for sale,” says Ellis about this human drive to perform.  “Like everything with grace, his acceptance and approval is a free gift that comes to us through Christ alone.”



The eldest son

I love Jesus’ story of the prodigal son which tells how a loving father ran out and embraced his contrite son returning home after living a wasted life.

But Jesus’ story in Luke 15 ends with the angry older son who is hurt by his father’s arranging a party to welcome the younger son home.

In effect, the older son says: “You’ve never done that for me!  And I’ve been a good and faithful and hard-working son all my life.”

I understand that feeling.  I have felt it myself.

When we were discussing this passage in a Bible study group this week, a woman said that she sometimes fights jealousy in her life.

The older son may have been jealous.  Or, he may have simply felt he was being treated unfairly.

Most Christians feel that the story is really about God’s Father-love for his children and how ready he is to embrace us wayward children when we come back to him humble and contrite in heart.

But the Lord probably also used the story to point out God’s love does not depend on us following a rigid set of rules.  We tap into God’s love through humble and loving dependence on him.

So, how do we believers deal with feelings of unfairness or jealousy?

I believe the answer lies in the response of the father to his two sons in this story.

He cherished both of them. The two sons were different, but the father loved each one.

In Luke 15:31, the father tells his angry, older son: “Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours.  We had to celebrate this happy day.  For your brother was dead and has come back to life!  He was lost, but now he is found!”

As a follower of Christ, I need to remember God loves me just as much as any other child of his.  We are different but we are all loved equally by the Lord.  Jesus gave his life for each one of us, showing how much he wanted us to be part of God’s family.

What more could I want?


Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the truth.

But God calls us to tell the truth in love when we’re dealing with other believers – and with non-believers, too.

This morning, my wife and I were attending a Bible study aboard a cruise ship when another group member said failure to tell the truth is a problem in our North American churches.

He suggested the church needs more godly mentors to help people who are struggling.  He seemed to be saying that allowing truth to go unspoken can be damaging – to the church and to the strugglers, too.

I agree, while admitting that I shrink from facing up to difficult issues.

Bill Hybels, senior pastor at Chicago’s Willow Creek Community Church, said in a leadership seminar a few years ago that he now insists on his staff members telling him the truth.  And he has extended the same offer to his congregation.

But he has one proviso – the truth must be shared in godly love, not anger and vengeance.

Hybels says that Christians often resort to gossip, attacking people behind their backs rather than seeking resolution of their issues with the persons involved.  If they’re upset with the pastor or the leadership, they may simply leave without ever resolving their differences.

There are, of course, people who love to fight.  They stand at the opposite extreme.

My wife and I have been part of a church where annual congregational meetings were a battlefield – often between the same two or three people.

Paul and the apostles in the early Church believed in speaking the truth.  But their motives were to draw people closer to Christ – not for personal glory or dominance.

Paul stepped in strongly to defend the gospel and to denounce divisions within groups of believers.

In 1 Corinthians, he was concerned that people were lining up in opposing groups, some claiming Paul as their leader and others Apollos. He pleaded with the Corinthians to see that each had his value, but the church should pull together and focus on Jesus.

In Galatians, he was clearly struck to the heart by the attempt of some Jewish believers to push new Greek believers to abide by the Old Testament religious laws even though they came to Christ by faith.  You can sense his anger at this perversion of the gospel, but all his letters shine with his love for the people he is writing to.

Paul urged believers to deal with serious moral and spiritual issues by discussing them among themselves and working to resolve them in love.

Ultimately, we Christians are to love one another.

May we pursue truth in love.

Lifeboat Christians?

Paul Ellis says many believers are really just “lifeboat Christians”.

Ellis, author The Gospel in Ten Words, says that “the lifeboat gospel is the idea that salvation is all about avoiding hell and gaining heaven”.

“The problem with this gospel,” he continues, “is that it has sidelined entire generations of believers by telling them the earth is nothing more than a waiting room for eternity.”

They have “opted out” of the current world they live in.  “They want nothing to do with this filthy world lest they get entangled with it.”

Ellis has a point.

Like many believers, I feel the temptation to live only in church circles with church friends.  It seems safer and easier that way.

But that was not the way of Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul.

They stepped out into the highways and markets of the world and talked with people, befriended them, healed them and argued with them.  They saw their role as bringing the kingdom of God into the world – not withdrawing from it.

Ellis pinpoints a major reason why so many Christians have jumped into the lifeboat – they feel life is all about being good enough to get into heaven.  And they are afraid of messing up.

He acknowledges that most evangelical Christians declare that once they have put their faith in Christ, they are guaranteed a place with Christ in eternity.

But, in their heart of hearts, they feel that they must be good enough in their everyday lives to gain God’s approval.  If not, the Lord will be displeased with them at the very least.

However, Ellis argues that the Bible is really about God’s grace which is not about us and our goodness.  It is really about God’s forgiving love in spite of our weakness and failures.

I love this truth.  The apostle Paul hammers it home repeatedly in his letters to the young churches in the first century.

In fact, an entire letter – to the Galatian church – is about calling back believers to their initial joy in salvation through grace and rejecting attempts by others to impose new rules of spiritual life upon them.

Ellis’ view is that we believers can never make God love us more, no matter what efforts we make to be perfect.  He loves us because Jesus died for us so that we would be acceptable to the Father and become his sons and daughters.

When he looks at us, says Ellis, he sees Jesus – not our imperfections.

That should inspire us to love God more and more.

And it should make us want to share the glad news with others.

Ellis is calling us – as God calls us – to jump out of our lifeboats and reach out to people struggling in the troubled waters around us.