On Friday, we had a special treat at church--a guest speaker. Some of you may have heard of him: Josh McDowell. For those of you who haven't heard of him, he's a well-known Christian author and speaker. He's known for apologetics--defined as "the branch of theology that is concerned with defending or proving the truth of Christian doctrines" or "formal argumentation in defense of something, such as a position or system" (from TheFreeDictionary.com). Among his books are Evidence That Demands a Verdict and More Than a Carpenter. Based on his reputation and what I know of his books, I expected an intellectual message that had something to do with apologetics. I got something even better.
Josh started out by telling us that what he was going to be talking about is considered heretical by some Christians. Of course, the audience perked right up at that! Anything that smacks of controversy is always an interesting topic of discussion. But as he went on, I realized that although the topic often is misunderstood and misapplied by Christians, it isn't a message I've never heard before--though it is a message that bears repeating. The topic, to put it simply, was how we actually do and should view ourselves--our self-concept, to go back to my days as a psych student. And the point of the message was that, although of course we should not err by thinking too much of ourselves, we also should not err by thinking too little of ourselves.
I don't know about you, but I always am amazed at the beauty of a waterfall, the tranquility of a beach, the grandeur of a mountain view. Josh pointed out that most of us are in awe of the majesty of nature, but we fail to be amazed at God's crowning creation . . . ourselves. We all have a picture of who we are, but that self-portrait is rarely accurate. We see ourselves trying to become who we think we ought to be, in accordance with what we're taught by our culture, our family, or our own reasoning. But in order to know who we truly are, we have to see the picture from the Creator's view. Only He knows us inside and out, with all our flaws, yes, but also with all of our possibilities and as-yet-undiscovered gifts.
Josh gave the example of a pilot who is flying during a bad storm. It's possible for the pilot to get so confused that he's flying upside down without realizing it. That's why pilots are taught to always, above all, trust their instruments. Don't trust your own feeling of what's up and what's down; trust the instruments. Don't trust your own judgment of how high off the ground you are; trust the instruments. The instruments see reality objectively; your feelings and judgments can be skewed. In the same way, we as individuals have our own feelings and judgments about who we are and what we're worth, but our feelings and judgments can be skewed. We, like the pilots, need to learn to trust the instruments--in our case, the Word of God.
But in trusting our instrument, it also is critically important that we read the instrument correctly, that we interpret it as we should. So many people read the Bible and come away with a message that is not what is written there. One example: Romans 12:3 says "For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned" (ESV). Many people, including some that I have known, read that verse and say "See! You should not think highly of yourself!" But that isn't what it says. It says that no one should think of himself "more highly than he ought to think" (emphasis added), not that we shouldn't think highly of ourselves at all.
And we should think highly of ourselves--God does. We should value ourselves--God does. After all, what is a good way to determine something's value or worth? What is anything really worth in this world? Josh McDowell, Dave Ramsey, and many other sensible people agree: Things are worth whatever someone is willing to give up in order to obtain them--what someone is willing to pay for them. And just think about what God was willing to exchange for us, not just for us corporately, but for each of us individually: His one and only Son, Jesus Christ.
Thinking about that in the wrong way could result in some real arrogance, let me tell you!
Of course, Josh did point out how we can think about that in the right way. There are these economic terms: inherent value and derived value. Things with inherent value are valuable because of what they are. Things with derived value are given value by something external to the thing itself. For example, a Tommy Hilfiger shirt and an off-brand shirt both have some amount of intrinsic value as a piece of cloth that can be used to cover a person's torso and help keep that torso warm. However, the Tommy shirt usually has more value to most people; they're willing to part with more of their money to get it than to get the off-brand shirt. Where does that extra value come from? It comes from the fact that it's a Tommy shirt--it comes from the label, from the designer. Similarly, our value is derived from our Creator, who created us in His image as individuals who have the capacity to know and to worship Him as a personal being, as individuals who are capable of exerting will, of loving, of thinking, of choosing.
And the really beautiful thing is that we all have this derived value. It's what sets us apart from the rest of creation--makes us even more amazing than the most awe-inspiring piece of nature you've ever seen--but it doesn't make any one of us worth more than any other of us, which goes back to the whole thing of not thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought (which is the part that so many Christians focus on). We all have this unfathomable worth that is given to us by our Creator.
Of course, none of us wants to be just like each other--even as we strive to be the same (look at how we dress, talk, and behave)--we all want to be special. And we are! God created us to be unique. Each individual one of us is special, created to be something previously unseen in the universe. But that uniqueness doesn't make any of us worth any more than the other; if anything, it enhances all of our worths because all of us are rare, one-of-a-kind creations of the best Designer who has ever existed. And we all have a goal that is as similar as it is dissimilar: We each are designed to become the best possible us that we can become. You are designed to become the best you that you can be. You aren't designed to be the best him, her, or me. I'm not supposed to be trying to be a better you than you are. We're not in competition. As Josh says, "You're not in competition with anyone to be yourself."
To me, that is a liberating concept. I don't have to be the prettiest woman around; I just need to be the prettiest me that I can be. I don't have to be the smartest person in the room, just the smartest me I can become. As a blog author, I don't need to be trying to have the most widely read blog on the internet; I just need to be the best blog author that I can be. I'm not meant to strive to become the best person in the world at anything other than being me--and since no one else could be more me than me, even if they tried, I can't fail! I'm meant to fill my own specialized niche in this world, and to fill it to the best of my ability. As long as I'm being the best me that I can be, I'm fine, even if the best me that I can be doesn't look like what others think it ought to look like.
Now that's what I call a good message!