...as yourself.

25 affirm selfesteem1

A rare Saturday morning post to wrap up the Basics series. Pretend it's like cartoons!


We've been studying what the basics of youth ministry looks like by studying what Jesus seemed to think were the basics to faith. The most important commandments in the Law. The entire Law and Prophets hang on these two ideas. In other words, these weren't throw away words. These words are meant to be savored, each and every last one of them. 


When we come to the last words, we may be tempted to think that this is the least important part of the commandment. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Think of this series of commandments like a great detective story: the real plot twist comes right at the very end. 


We left off with Jesus telling us to love our neighbor, a task that in this day and age seems to be very difficult for most of us. Stories like bullying and political fighting and wars and rumors of wars lead us to believe that not a whole lot of people have a firm grasp on what it means to love our neighbors. But Jesus doesn't just blindly point us toward loving our neighbors. Jesus gives us context. We are to love our neighbors as yourself. In other words, the same level of respect and dignity we have for ourselves, we should have for our neighbors. 


Do me a favor, take a second and turn on any 24 hour cable news channel, and watch for 15 minutes. I don't care which channel it is, and I wrote this on Thursday night so I have no idea what news stories are dominating the headlines right now. But I'm willing to bet that in 15 minutes, you will come across at least one, maybe two situations where clearly someone has neglected to love their neighbor. Maybe it was the politicians, maybe it was the criminals, maybe those are the same people, or maybe even the commentators relaying the story to us. Either way, here I am a whole 36 hours away from this going live and I'm fairly confident we won't have to look hard to find someone avoiding loving their neighbor. 


The reason for this problem can really only be one of two things: either 1) we have completely lost compassion in the face of the challenges of the 21st century, and we really do think that everyone out there is a miserable little twirp who deserves to rot in hell for all eternity, or 2) (a more likely alternative), we've forgotten what it looks like to truly love ourselves.


Think about it. We live in a culture where competition and drive are the number one goal from the time we learn how to walk. And yet if we have any kind of intelligence at all, we know that no matter how good we are at something, there will always be someone better than us. When I was in high school/college, I got to be a pretty solid drummer/percussionist. There were however people better than me. I could name them. Some of them I was friends with. Some of them I still am. For all the hours I put in to practicing, I could not achieve the greatness I wanted. There were just simply people who were better than me. 


So I wonder if we've lost a healthy sense of self-esteem. What if we either puff ourselves up beyond what we're capable of, putting on a display of misplaced bravado that really only embarrasses our friends and makes strangers think we're jerks? Or what if we just assume we'll never matter for anything, because we'll never rise to the top, and so we just give up on the idea of loving ourselves in the face of every else. Neither situation allows us to love ourselves fully. 


My senior pastor has a philosophy about sin and self esteem. His point is that the more we embrace how fallen and broken we are, the more we're opened up to embrace the loving and saving Grace of Jesus Christ. Loving yourself doesn't consist of painting a unreal picture of yourself and trying to live up to it. Loving yourself is what happens when you look at yourself the way that God see you. Forgiven. Blessed. Redeemed. Child of God. It's what Paul was hearing from Jesus when he wrote "My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness." The more you embrace weakness, the more you experience the power. 


This takes some time and some practice, believe me. But once you get it, you truly start to see a picture of the world as Jesus imagines it. What would it look like if someone's love for God was so profound, with all their heart soul and mind, that they saw themselves just as they were, perfect child of God? And what would that look like if it were unleashed on the rest of the world? What would it look like if we loved our neighbors with that same kind of compassion? What would the world be like if instead of exploiting every misstep by our opposition we embraced them, and welcomed them into the grace that is made strongest in weakness? What would our youth ministries look like if our students love for God led them to a deeper love for themselves, and thus a deeper love for their neighbors? Even the ones that don't look, act, dress, talk, or think like they do? What if we saw others the way that God saw them? What if we saw ourselves this way? 


That is why this is so basic and elemental. It's so small, and yet is has such a far reaching impact. It's reach is so far that Jesus has no hesitation saying things like "The Law and the Prophets" can hang on this idea. We must fight the temptation to over-complicate this. We must fight the desire to make it more work than it really is. We must allow God's power to be made perfect in our weakness. And we must teach our students to do the same. 


Next week: The Best Student.