Think Highly and Be Happy
I have given a lot of thought to the way God would want me to feel. Does God want me to feel good and happy? Or, do you think God would rather me be sad and solemn, just in case I did something I shouldn’t have done? I mean, if I get to feeling too good, I might become too proud and arrogant, and I know God doesn’t like that at all.
So I keep thinking about that question. A question all of us must ponder. Does God want us to feel good about life and about ourselves? Or, should we be scared of getting too proud, feeling too good?
Let me read to you our text for this morning. Romans 12.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God– what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us:
Our text says we should present our lives to God as an act of worship. We should present ourselves to God as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, and that is our reasonable service, or our worship of God. That is a pretty high and lofty view we are take of ourselves isn’t it? We are, by the act of our Christian existence, a sacrifice to God, and thus we are worshiping God. Aren’t we good?
I am a sacrifice to God and I didn’t do anything but wake up this morning. Boy, I’m good! But that just doesn’t sit right, after all we like to think of ourselves as too small, too mean, too low, too wicked, too wrong, too unworthy to appear before God. Something just isn’t right about that.
And so Paul says no. Present yourselves to God as acts of worship. Offer the best you have to give, the best of yourself, offer it to God. Then Paul pauses and says, but hold on now, just don’t think more highly than you ought to think. Don’t get the big head. “Well that’s not much instruction, I need more than that.” So he keeps going, and says, don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but think of yourself as a member of a group, each one with a gift, and everyone exercising his or her gift for the good of the whole family of God and for the work of the kingdom.
Paul is dealing with something that has been a problem for God’s people since the beginning of time, and that is the matter of pride and humility. There is a tension there that is hard to figure out. There is something high and mighty when it comes to offering yourself to God as the right kind of acceptable worship. “I’ll just give God myself, that will suit God.”
Yet, we can sometimes get arrogant in our religion. So Paul says, don’t think of yourself too high. And then says, but you ought to think of yourself as gifted in the company of the saints, that is in sharing your gift with everyone else in the church.
Paul puts it in such a way that we are left to figure out exactly how to play that out. Sometimes we don’t do a very good job of that. We can be so worried about being too proud that we run to the other extreme and join in the massive put-down of our society. But that’s just not right. It’s not true to the way we really feel. We don’t like being put down. We do not like thinking we’re pathetic or less than or unworthy. We don’t like that. It hurts.
The Lutheran Church did a nationwide survey among high school people asking this question: “What is the worst thing that can happen to you?” Far and away the number one answer was: “to be put down in front of my friends.” The worst thing that could happen is to be put down. But it happens to us all the time.
The government puts us down. Our families, never intending to, put us down. Our friends, in passing and probably joking, they put us down. We overhear the conversations of other people, and they put us down. We do it in the church. We get on this thing about humility, though we really don’t know what it is.
We want everyone to be so humble, so meek and mild, we preach humility and teach humility over and over and over, like driving a stake into the ground, smash…smash…smash. It happens all the time. We are just cut down, trimmed away, made to feel like two cents waiting for change.
We even say it in our expressions. When someone makes a mistake, “well, after all, I am human.” We have relegated being human to mean making mistakes, or doing something wrong, or being weak. We just can’t win…after all we are human.
The shortstop drops the ball…well, after all he’s human. The public official slips up and says something he shouldn’t…well, after all he’s human. Someone makes a mistake…well, after all they are human. We say to err is human and to forgive is divine.
Why have we done this? Why do we work so hard at keeping each other humble? Our insistence on humility really amounts to a massive put down, so that the full life and vigor and vitality and claim of being in the image of God is eventually snuffed out. Everyone is too scared to feel good about themselves.
We weren’t like that when we were growing up. A little boy gets an “A” in arithmetic and he is proud. He walks down the street telling everyone he sees, at least three times a day, “see, I made an ‘A’ in arithmetic. Did you know I made an ‘A’ in arithmetic?’ He calls grandma on the phone, I made an ‘A’ in arithmetic. He’s with mother in the grocery store, she stops to talk to a friend, “see, I made an ‘A’.”
30 years later let that same person be a public servant working in the community. Let him be the head of a huge project, a great project. He’s given recognition and a reward. He goes to the front, looks down, mumbles into the microphone, well, I…I…I…really didn’t do anything. It was really the members of my committee and when they stand I want everyone to applaud them. And I owe it to my wife and to my great great grandmother who came over on the mayflower…mumble…mumble…. And he gives credit to everyone but himself.
Why does he do that? Why doesn’t he stand up there and say, “you know that plaque ought to be solid gold the way I worked on this thing?” Why not? It is a part of this whole thing that we are afraid someone will get out of hand and become arrogant and proud, they might get the big head.
We are more inclined to make people feel put down and think too lowly of themselves than we are to allow them to think too highly. Even when we mean well, when we are doing something right, even when we are trying to help people, we sometimes make them feel worthless. Is it any wonder there are people we help that hate us?
Think about that in terms of a church project. Let’s help the poor and needy. Let’s be Santa Claus to needy people. We want them to be glad we did them a favor, but we don’t want them to be too happy about it. I’ll give you this money, but you have to…I’ll get you some groceries, but you have to go get a job. I’ll help you out this time, but you are perfectly capable of getting it yourself. We don’t want them to be too proud.
Sometimes we just mess it up. We don’t mean to. We feel bad when we do. We know that healthy relationships with other people, a healthy relationship with the church, with family, with friends and with the world, as God would have it to be, healthy relationships depend on a healthy self regard. Love your neighbor as….
How can I love the neighbor, . . . as myself. How can I love the neighbor if I don’t have high regard for myself? If I don’t have a healthy regard for self, I will make a casualty out of the neighbor one way or another. It always happens. How much of the bible teaches us that that’s the way it works?
I bet very few of you ever noticed this, but can you remember from the same chapter of Leviticus that gives us Love your neighbor as yourself, there is another strange little teaching. It says “never curse a deaf man.” Have you ever read that? Never curse someone who cannot hear.
What is wrong with it…they can’t hear…it doesn’t hurt anyone. You can be walking down the street, pass by someone you know, wait till you get far enough past them, and you begin talking bad about them. So and so did this. There is nothing wrong with that, after all, they didn’t hear it.
But do you know what’s wrong with that? That person doesn’t hear it, that is true, but you know what, you hear it. It is just like the man being asked “have you been out to the nursing home to see your mother?” And he says, “oh no, she wouldn’t even know if I were there.” And the man replied, but you would know you were there.
Never curse a deaf person. We say, “well he couldn’t hear it.” But that’s not the point. You are to be as God is, who does not weigh people with that kind of scale. Your proper self respect is grounds for behavior approved of God.
So what is the ground for adequate self respect? Our creation, we are created in the image of God. We forget that sometimes. We go outside and see the birds and the bees and the animals and the mountains and we say they are beautiful. We read the Genesis account of when God made the animals of the earth and the birds of the air and the fishes of the sea. He created all those things and he said they are good.
And God made something else, he said all those things are good…but now…now I am going to make something that is like myself…I am going to make something after my own likeness and in my own image. And what did he make? He made you. He made you.
And if you put yourself down, if you kick yourself around, [do you need me to give you the answer?] if you put yourself down, that is a sin. Because when God made you he said it was the very best he could do. The Ephesian letter says “You Are God’s Masterpiece.” And you know what, you are human, created as a masterpiece of God. How easy it is to forget.
A preacher tells the story of a year he was in charge of a VBS. By his own confession he was given the 18 meanest kids in the church. The theme for that summer was nature. He gathered the kids together and sent them out into the woods and the fields to get something that reminded them of God.
He called all the kids back and began to ask them what they found. The first child had a rock. He asked the child how it reminded him of God. He said “because God is strong and stout.” He asked the next child, she had a flower and said that reminded her that God was beautiful. Another child had some huckleberries and said that reminded him of how God feeds us and the animals.
The preacher looked to the back of the group and there stood a boy, holding the hand of his little sister. He figured he must be baby sitting. He noticed the child hadn’t brought anything to show, but he asked him anyway, “what do you have, what did you find that reminded you of God?” He said, “I brought my sister.”
The preacher said, “well . . . OK, I guess that is all right, but what does that tell you about God?” And the boy said, “uh…uh…uh. I don’t know.” The preacher said he had forgotten all about that part. He was thinking about rocks and trees and flowers (pause) and that mean little boy thought of his sister.
Did you know, sitting with you, sitting next to you this morning is the image of God? Did you know sitting in your seat is the image of God?
At one level we are created in God’s image. At another level we are re-created in God’s image. We are the love of God in Christ. In case we’ve forgotten that we were created in God’s image, God sent his love to us in Christ Jesus to restore that image and call us back to himself as his people to be re-created by the love of God.
If there was only one person on earth, God would have loved that person in the sending of Christ. And as long as one person loves you, you are absolutely invaluable. As long as one person loves you, you are positively priceless. And if God loves you, what then is the price tag? (pause) But we forget that sometimes, don’t we?
Fred Craddock tells of a time in the late 50’s when he was a missionary in the Appalachian Mountains. Early in his career he went and called on this little old lady who lived in a one room shack. He went in the home and it was very dark. There were no lights, no water, and very little furniture. The floor was dirt. Over in one corner sat this dirty old woman. She didn’t have any teeth and she had snuff dripping off her chin.
She asked him to come in and sit. He didn’t want to stay. He didn’t want to touch anything, he said it was just so grimy, and the goop on her chin, and no teeth, and he just wanted to get the call over with so that he could say he made the call.
About that time a car pulled up and out from the car came a precious little girl running towards the house, her grin gaining size as she runs and plops down in the lap of that little old lady. That precious little girl rapped her arms around that dirty old lady with the goop hanging off her chin, and she kissed her.
He stopped and wandered what the difference was between the way the child saw her and the way he saw her. If one person loves you, you are absolutely indispensable. He was looking at dirt and snuff and a little old woman in a shack and a little girl runs in and kisses her grandmother and tells her she loves her.
And that is exactly what God has done for you in Christ Jesus. You may get down on yourself, but God says hold on, hold on, as long as one person loves you, and I do, I do regardless of the shape you are in.
As we look at our text for today and as we try and understand what Paul wants us to recognize about the way we exercise our gifts in the church, I think what he wants us to understand is that some members of the Christian community sometimes get down on themselves and they need to be reminded, you are God’s image and God loves you in Christ…. So don’t think so lowly of yourself, don’t put yourself down.
And we need this because we do put ourselves down sometimes and we need someone to come around and remind us. And I am sure there is not a person here today who does not know someone that you could go to and say something, do something, or share something that would make the difference between daylight and dark. God wants you to be happy. God wants you to love your neighbor. But he wants those things only as you love yourself. At your very worst, when you think about yourself soberly, remember that you are still created in the image of the Creator, and that He has gifted you and enabled you. You are important. You are loved.
Present yourself as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; that is your reasonable service to God. But don’t think too highly of yourself. But please, by all means, please think of yourself the way God thinks of you. You are created in His image; you are made in His likeness. Sitting next to you this morning is the image of God. What will you do to care for it?