Ouch! What I see is the 10-20-30 syndrome: a guy who is 10 years older than I imagined myself to be, 20 lbs. heavier than I thought myself to be, and I have 30 fewer hair follicles than I had last week.
Most of us find what we lack, what we are not. We're trained to see our blemishes, flaws, and imperfections. We're sensitive to our sags, bags, and wrinkles. Advertisers, social pressures, and our own vanity make us vulnerable to all sorts of products and sales pitches. We're too much, too little, or not enough like whatever mythical standard we have set for ourselves.
On an even more serious note, we feel much the same spiritually. We focus on what we are not or what we have done or what we neglected to do. We forget we are people that God shaped with care, intention, and purpose from the moment of conception (Psalm 139:13-16). We lose sight of the truth that God is at work in us (Philippians 2:13). We discount the power of being God's special new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), the Father's artistic handiwork made to do something great for the Kingdom (Ephesians 2:10).
How do we keep from glaring at what we are not in the mirror? How do we keep our spiritual failures and shortcomings from swamping our confidence in Christ? How do we settle ourselves in the great will of God and find our space to live, thrive, and bring our Savior glory?
Jesus gave us two guiding principles and then gave us ways to hang on to these two principles in our lives.
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?"
Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Matthew 22:34-40 TNIV).
Then Jesus taught us to pray in a way that connected these two great principles into our daily routines:
[Jesus said] This, then, is how you should pray:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one. For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen (Matthew 6:9-12).
Jesus teaches us to look beyond the person we see in the mirror. He calls on us to pray a simple prayer each day that awakens our hearts to our dependence upon and love for the incredible God of the universe. He reminds us, however, that to honor God, we must be redemptively involved in the lives of others. In other words, we must love God with all that we are and live with our Father's character and compassion in relationship to others.
Now it is so easy for us to reduce the life of Jesus to slogans and formulas that sound clever and catchy. But, if we listen closely, we hear these two themes over and over. From Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, notice these two:
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:33).
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12).
The apostle Paul takes up both of these two principles when he writes:
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him [loving God], who have been called according to his purpose" [sharing God's love with others] (Romans 8:28).
Then a little later in the same letter, he wrote:
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is true worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will (Romans 12:1-2). Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves (Romans 12:9-10).
Everything around us is going to scream for us to define ourselves by externals - by the flaws we see of ourselves in the mirror. The truth is, however, that image is always going to disappoint us unless we have our identities established in the two guiding truths of God: our love for God and our love for His children.
After studying the following make LIFE Group and discussion questions, I'd love to get some of your responses on my blog (http://www.heartlight.org/thephilfiles).
- Compare the pigment of each person's skin in your group — this is politically incorrect because we are afraid to talk about race and ethnicity; but as believers, we celebrate it! The more diversity in your group, the better. It's also a reminder that it really isn't a white or black or brown race, but we are "different shades of God's creative grace" (Galatians 3:26-4:4; Psalm 139:13-16).
If there are not many shades in your group, why not?
If there are, what do you think that is saying about your group?
Why is it so hard for us to talk about this subject in today's world?
Why don't we celebrate diversity more?
Why did God place you in the situation (skin color, family of origin, family of raising, church family, experiences) that he did?
If we understand that God made us and gave us the experiences in our lives to have us be a blessing to others (Genesis 12:1-3; 1 Peter 13:9; Romans 8:28-29), how does that change how you view yourself?
- Several passages in Scripture remind us of the importance of both celebrating the "skin" we're born in and also challenging us to move beyond the limitations of our own "unique shade of God's creative grace." What do you think these passages teach us about how to both use our skin and our need to move beyond our skin?
John 1:14-18 (cf. John 3:16-17; John 20:21-22)
Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:38-39
- How do all these passages help us speak to the nature of our real family and ethnicity and what does this say about our purpose?
Now answer that question again after reading 1 Peter 2:9-10 & Galatians 3:26-29