Be Better.

As a culture, Americans aren’t very nice to ourselves. We have a million self-improvement classes, we go to school to get grades, and we measure our value by the numbers on our paycheck and 401k, the words that are or are not in front of and behind our names (PhD, President, etc). We judge ourselves by the cars we drive, or the cars that other people drive and we can’t, the houses we live in, the houses we don’t live in. The college we get accepted into, our GPA, how beautiful or handsome or rich our spouse is, how respected we are, or aren’t, or how famous we are. Or how our bodies look.

As Christians, we’re not much better. And we’re more committed to our self-improvement. No gym memberships for us, we go to church. We worry if we don’t spend an hour every day in devotions. (Some of us get so discouraged at being unable to spend an hour that we don’t even spend five minutes). We worry about our prayer life, then feel guilty about worrying because Jesus told us not to. We measure our value by whether we’re called, or (some of us) whether we speak in tongues, or tithe, or how much we tithe, or how much we volunteer. Whether we’re good people.

I was flipping through the CBD catalog on the “Favorites for Women” section (no particular reason; I was just absently there…) and these were some of the titles (I promise I’m not making this up). I’ll comment on each one with my own reading of the title.

The Power of a Woman’s Words. Your words have power, and right now they need improving.
Feminine Appeal, Expanded. You should have appeal, but you don’t. We’ll tell you how to.
Disciplines of a Godly Woman. You only think you’re a godly woman. But if you follow our disciplines, you really might be.
True Woman 101. Obviously, right now you’re a false woman. We’ll tell you how to be better.
Becoming a Woman of Extraordinary Faith. Right now, you may have ordinary faith. You should have extraordinary faith. As it so happens, we can help you with that.
Stuck. You’re stuck. We can help you.
Expecting to See Jesus. Because obviously you’re not right now, but you should be.
A Woman’s Passionate Pursuit of God. This is what you should be doing. Buy our book, we’ll teach you how to.
Real Women – Real Faith. You’re obviously a fake woman with fake faith. As with all the other books, we can help you.
Becoming a Vessel God Can Use. This is one of the worst. You’re obviously not usable right now, though you should be.
Choose Joy: Because Happiness isn’t Enough. There ya go. All your fears are true. You’re not good enough if you’re only “happy.” You should be Joyful! And guess what.. we’ll tell you how.
Praying the Names of God. Everyone should do this. If you’re not, we can help you.

Hopefully I haven’t gone overboard too far. I’m sure these books aren’t all implying what I’m saying they’re implying, and they’re all trying to help… but my feeling is that our culture has this pervasive sense that we’re not good enough. The United States is the most stressed-out country in the world. We’re all trying to do, do, do, whatever it is that God or our parents or husband or wife or kids want us to do so we’ll be good enough for them. Damn it. Damn this ridiculous horrible notion to a real and literal hell, one that burns and burns for all eternity. It comes from the devil, and I think it’s high time the devil got it back. Somebody tell Satan he’s not good enough, and his lies are insufficient to pry us free from who God says we are.

But who does God say that we are? It’s funny you should ask. I preached through Ephesians at a homeless shelter back in April 2009, and my friend James pointed out what the book has to say – about us and how God sees us.

WHO YOU ARE (Ephesians 1 edition)
(v.3) Blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ
(v. 4) Chosen in Him before the foundation of the world
(v. 4) Chosen to be holy and blameless before God
(v. 5) Adopted by God
(v. 6) In the group known as “God’s Beloved.
(v. 6) Accepted in the beloved.
(v. 7) Redeemed through Jesus’ blood
(v. 8) One on whom grace has been lavished (not just given, but DUMPED all over you)
(v. 9) One toward whom my Lord has shown kindness.
(v. 10) God’s inheritence
(v. 11) An heir of / to God.
(v. 12) Intended to be to the praise of God’s glory

And that’s just in chapter one. Chapter 2 has more:
(v. 1) A saint – a holy one – in Christ Jesus.
(v. 4) Loved by God with a great love
(v. 5) Alive together with Christ
(v. 7) One toward whom God shows kindness – in a showing-off kind of demonstration of His grace
(v. 8) Saved by God’s grace
(v. 10) God’s handiwork. His workmanship. His masterpiece. (And God don’t make no junk)
(v 10) Created in Christ Jesus
(v. 16) Reconciled to God.
(v. 19) Not a stranger or illegal alien in God’s kingdom
(v. 19) A fellow citizen with the holy ones
(v. 19) From God’s household
(v. 21) Part of what is growing into a holy temple of my Lord

And even more outside chapters 1 and 2…
(4:1) Called.
(4:25) Member of other saints and believers
(5:1) A dearly-loved child.
(5:2) Loved by Christ
(5:3) A saint
(5:8) Light in my Lord
(6:6) A slave to Christ, if a slave at all.

And that’s just the stuff from Ephesians! Psalm 139 will tell you more. Don’t let the (hopefully) well-meaning Christian book publishing company that’s somehow trying to make you better than God made you – or ANYONE – tell you you’re not good enough. Let me tell you something. God made you, and he was immensely happy with the job He did. He chose you – yeah, you – to be His kid. God can help you become who He intended you to be, but that doesn’t mean you stop being yourself; it only means that He strips away the stuff (the sin) that’s clinging to you that He didn’t put there. You don’t become a clone of Jesus, or Paul, or Peter, or even Joel Osteen – no! you become more yourself than you ever were before! Hear me on this: God does not want to rid you of yourself.

God does not want to rid you of yourself.

God made you, and He likes you the way He made you. He wants to cleanse you from sin and set you free from its power, because that’s not what He made you for. Note who’s doing the cleansing and purifying here: Not you, God. Not you, God.

The book that covers the history of Alcoholics Anonymous has a pretty telling title. It’s called “Not God.” The second step of the famous twelve steps is “We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” Al Anon has it straight. God restores us to sanity. God restores. Our “job,” if it is a job, is in the serenity prayer: Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will…”

Know who you are in God. Let the lies be erased by God’s truth. Is there stuff for you to do? Yes. But your work is not because you are not good enough. Your work is to reject the lies of the devil about who you are and what you do, and accept the truth of God about who you are and what you do, and most importantly, what Jesus has done for you. Because the gospel, thank God, is not about what we did for God. It’s about what God did – and continues to do – for us.

He loves us, Amen?

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