loserWhat is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for Whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ. Philippians 3:8


I saw a tee shirt the other day that said, “Keep Calm. You’re a loser anyway.” What a statement to wear on a shirt! But on any given day, there are people who look kind of like you and me who truly believe they are of no value to themselves or society. They walk around thinking negative thoughts about themselves, and they are certain that everyone around them thinks negative thoughts about them too. What an awful way to live!


And how many people do you imagine are thinking, God doesn’t love me! I would have to be a perfect person for God to love me, and I’d have to do everything just perfectly. So He can’t possibly love me. Why would I ever think He could love me?


But that’s not what the Bible says, is it? Jesus sat on the side of a hill and gave a whole long talk that we call the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-11), in which He said, unequivocally, that everybody is blessed. That includes (but is not limited to): the depressed people, those in mourning, quiet people, folks who are trying to do good, those who show mercy, those who have good intentions, peacemakers and persecuted people (vs. 1-10). And if that doesn’t include all of us, He goes on to say we are blessed when people insult us, persecute us, and falsely say all kinds of evil against us because of our belief in Him (v. 11). So why would anybody think God doesn’t love her or him?


When I was a new Christian, I knew a man who was in prison for killing his wife’s lover. A “crime of passion,” people called it. But that man wrote to me and told me he knew he would go to heaven because, even though he was a criminal doing his time, he had asked for and received God’s forgiveness. Period. We are all saved by grace and we are all loved equally by God. Any questions?


Saving Lord, we thank You that You did all the bleeding so we could be perfect and holy and redeemed. Amen


mahatma-gandiConsequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. Romans 5:18


Mahatma Gandhi was a Hindu, but he was interested in Christianity and impressed by what he read of Jesus in the Gospels. The late Reverend Fredrick Pattison told a story about Gandhi visiting a Christian church in Calcutta, India. When he tried to enter the church he was told he was not welcome because this particular church was for whites and high-caste Indians. After that, Gandhi refused ever to enter another Christian church and gave Jesus no further consideration. It was because of this experience that Gandhi later declared, “I’d be a Christian if it were not for the Christians.’”


When I read of this deplorable discrimination against one of the most loving, peaceable people in modern history, I was instantly appalled. How could a church that called itself Christian do such a thing? Imagine what those Indian Christians could have learned from Gandhi, and him from them! Didn’t God intend His church to welcome all people? But then I realized that this kind of thing doesn’t happen only in a country such as India, where the caste system is still prevalent. Christian churches in the Western world, supposedly living in a time when diversity is the norm rather than the exception, are still subject to a “them and us” philosophy. The church I attend has almost exclusively white, upper-middle class members, which reflect the demographics of the area. In our small suburban town, we have a group home for persons with mental illness. On the rare occasion any of those residents have ventured into our church, most of us are welcoming and friendly. But some are suspicious and skeptical. What would Jesus say to that? Like Gandhi, any person who feels unwelcome or rejected in our churches may well conclude that all Christians would disapprove of their presence.


We each have a commission, spoken by Jesus Himself, to carry the message of the Gospel “to all the world” (Mark 16:15). Can we be part of a movement to help people say, “If it weren’t for Christians, I would not be blessed/fed/loved/clothed/cared for/insert-word-here?” Mahatma Gandhi would surely have approved of that.


God of All Nations, bring us together in Your love. End divisions among us today. Amen


self-identityYet to all who did receive Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God. John 1:12


Often, when people in western culture are asked what they do, they respond by telling how they make their living, where they work, or where they received their training. It’s in our nature to identify ourselves by our jobs, our fields of interest, or if we are students, what we are planning to do when we finish school. Even if we are retired, we are quick to say from which field we retired, so we don’t sound like trust fund babies or lazy slugs. Our strong identity with our occupations is why losing a job is so devastating. If we are laid off, fired, or injured making it impossible to do what we once did, we literally “grieve” the loss of our productive selves.


In short, we seldom begin conversations with new people by telling what we like to do best (golf, fishing, painting, hiking) unless we are lucky enough to make our living doing those things. And we even less seldom mention what makes us tick (we like math, or we crave “I Love Lucy” reruns, or we think avocados are the food of the gods). We are stuck in the “I am what I do for a living” mode.


What if, the next time someone asks you, “What do you do?” you responded with what you believe. Imagine the reaction you’d get—sometimes positive and sometimes maybe not—if you said, “I follow Jesus Christ,” or “I am a believer in God’s grace and forgiveness?” What if, instead of telling people what you do to make a living, you had the courage to say exactly what motivates you to get up in the morning? In his first epistle, Peter said, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). So why don’t we lead with the answer to Peter’s question every chance we get? Maybe we’re shy or think people won’t like us, or afraid we’ll offend someone. Try it sometime. What you believe might be exactly what you want people to know about you!


Holy God, we are Your children, and we want the world to know how wonderful Your family is! Amen


lena-and-friedaAnd so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 1 Corinthians 2:1


After four decades, two of my rural county social services clients are still fresh in my memory. Lena and her twin sister raised ducks and geese on their father’s farm. They made and sold feather “ticking” and pillows until their parents died and the farm was sold. They moved into town, but Lena’s sister died soon, leaving Lena all alone. At one point, I served as her guardian because she was quite naïve and in danger of being taken advantage of. She told me once that she sent back her first Social Security checks because she “didn’t want no welfare.” I’m not sure she ever understood that I was from the “welfare” office, or that she had earned that Social Security, but she liked me and we got along fine whenever I visited.


Frieda was also old and naïve. She lived in a house along the river, having cared for her father until his death many years before. In her words, she had “loved and lost twice,” and didn’t want anything to do with men. She cooked on a wood stove. When she broke her arm once, a public health nurse was called out of retirement to help because no one else knew how to build a fire in the stove so Freida could cook. Freida pulled a little red wagon to town every day to buy her groceries. She heated her home with oil, used an outhouse, and once when I checked on her during a cold snap, I observed her false teeth frozen in a jar on her nightstand.


What impressed me most about these women was that each one could tell you clearly why they believed in God and how they felt blessed every day of their lives. To me as a young “city kid” social worker, I thought they lived in abject poverty, with a limited world view and a dull existence. But I learned, time after time, that these two women had way more to teach me about faith in God than I could ever have imagined.


Father of Love, You don’t want us to use flowery language. You just want us to love You. Amen