JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF YOUR WORTH
MY, MYSELF, AND WHY – WHO YOU ARE IN GOD’S EYES
APRIL 10, 1994
Recently I called a doctor and scheduled myself for a full physical examination, because I hadn’t had one in about ten years. I showed up at the appointed time, and this doctor took me through a battery of tests that lasted about three hours. The final test was when he escorted me into a little room. There in the little room was a treadmill and a very sinister-looking technician. This technician told me to take my shirt off, and he began to shave part of the hair on my chest and place electrodes all over me. The doctor said, “Ed, we’re going to give you a stress test.”
The technician said in this staccato-like voice, “Mr. Young, get on the treadmill and walk on the treadmill until you cannot walk any more.” I said, “Yes, sir!” I began to walk on this treadmill. I was thinking, “No problem! A cinch! Easy! I can last two, three, maybe four hours on this thing.” I didn’t realize it, but the speed began to increase and the incline began to get steeper and steeper. After about 25 minutes of this torture chamber, again, this man had the audacity to ask me, “Ah, Mr. Young, do you feel a little tired?” [pants] “Moderately tired?” [pants] “Or very tired?” I said, “I feel very tired! I can make it about thirty more seconds.” Finally I said these words: “Stop the machine! Stop the machine! I’ve had enough!” He pushed the button to stop it, looked at me with a very masochistic-type expression and said, “Hmm, Mr. Young, you did… okay.”
A treadmill is not very fun. In fact, a treadmill will wear you out. Ladies and gentlemen, if the truth were known this morning, if we could see the true wholehearted reality, it’s this: many of you, while I’m speaking, are on a treadmill. Some are saying, “Ed, come on, give me a break. I’m in church listening to you talk. Me, on a treadmill?” I’m not talking about the kind of treadmill at a health club or one you purchase on one of the infomercials. I’m talking about a self-esteem machine called the self-image treadmill. You’re on this treadmill. From the moment we’re born we embark on a search for significance, a search for dignity, a search for meaning and worth and power. We ask ourselves this five-word, God-ordained, Holy-Spirit-prompted question: “Do I matter to anyone?” We all ask ourselves this question. Do I matter to anyone? There’s a hunger within our spirit, and we want to get the hunger satisfied.
How many times have we eaten before, I’m talking about a giant meal, and about 30 minutes later we’re saying, “You know what? I’m hungry again! I want some more food!” I had that experience this past week. Why do we have that hunger and why, in most circumstances, isn’t the self-esteem issue really dealt with? Why do we ask ourselves that five-word, power-packed Holy-Spirit-generated question?
Take your scripture sheets. They’re pink, right there in your bulletin. I want you to notice the first scripture, Genesis 3:5, because Genesis 3:5 answers this question for us. Let me set up the context of this particular section of scripture. God had created Adam and Eve in his image. They were perfect, in an ultimate environment, having a great time. They had the supreme self-esteem. They saw who they were in the eyes of God. They only looked to God for value. But as we talked about in my series on angels, Lucifer was kicked out of heaven. He took with him a third of the angels, now called the demons, and Lucifer, Satan, tempts man.
Here is the lie, Genesis 3:5: “For God knows that when you eat of the fruit of the tree, your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” You know the story. You know the facts. Man sinned, and in Genesis 3:5 we have the first instance of man looking away from God to something else for his self-esteem. From that moment on, we’ve been struggling with feelings of insecurity and inadequacy, and asking ourselves the question, “Do I really matter? Am I really worth something?”
This search leads us to a place where most individuals spend the majority of their lives searching, living, dying, crying, and being frustrated, right in this arena. I’m talking about the self-esteem machine arena. This search leads us to three treadmills. The Bible mentions these three treadmills time and time again. But remember, it’s God-ordained for me to want security, for me to want to feel loved, for me to love myself.
The first treadmill that most of us climb on to is the treadmill called style. We jump on the treadmill and we grasp the railings and we say, “Style. Appearance. Surely if I work on the style, surely if I’m really into the appearance, that will give me dignity, that will give me value, that will give me esteem.” Many of you are kind of how I was during that physical exam a while back. You’re going, “[pant pant] I’m going to stay with it! I’m going to stay with the style machine! Surely that will give me meaning.”
Here’s what the Bible tells us. Proverbs 31:30: “Charm can be deceptive,” do you agree with that? “Charm can be deceptive and beauty doesn’t last.” If you base your worth solely on style, on appearance, you’re setting yourself up for insecurity. Think about it. About 80% of the beauty products we purchase are designed to camouflage the aging process.
Every time I read this verse, Proverbs 31:30, “Charm can be deceptive, and beauty doesn’t last,” I think about the story of the two guys playing golf at Bear Creek. An elderly woman streaks across the fairway with nothing on. One golfer says to the other, “Did you see what she was wearing?” And the other one says to the first golfer, “No, I didn’t, but whatever it was, it sure needed ironing.”
Folks, what we are — I’m talking about the style, the appearance — it’s fading, it’s eroding. It doesn’t last. The Bible says again in 1 Samuel 16:7, “Man looks at the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart.” How many of you are trading the eternal for the external? What if you put about half the time you’re putting into your appearance and your style, took that block of time and energy, and put it into God’s word, put it into spending time with Him, put it into fellowship with other brothers and sisters in Christ? What would happen in your life?
Does God, then, want us to wear burlap sacks, never bathe, shave, or use deodorant? Is that what God is saying here? No, it’s not. The Bible calls our bodies the temples of the Holy Spirit. We should look as good as possible. But if this style, appearance thing begins to get out of focus, it will wear you out.
A lot of people are smart. A lot of us are saying, “Ed, I’ve been on that before, and I’ve said, “Stop! I’m tired!”” and we jump from this one to the next one. We just kind of make one giant leap and say, “Surely this will do it! You know, the style thing didn’t work. I know what I’ll do: I’ll try status. Oh, yeah, status. That will surely bring me value. That will settle the issue for me. That will settle the “Do I matter?” question.” Proverbs 11:7 in the Good News: “Confidence placed in riches comes to nothing.” Status. I love that word. Here’s the way I remember it: people who are into status keep stats on us. Get it? Stats on us. “I’m going to keep score.” You see, the root of materialism, the root of status, is a poor self-esteem. We think we can buy confidence, don’t we? This status deal is a moving target. It’s tough to focus on it. It’s tough to get the crosshairs right on it because it changes: what’s hot, what’s not.
How many of you are going to watch the Masters today? That’s a golf tournament, right? There’s a golfer named Greg Norman, and everyone loves Greg Norman. I played golf this week, and the golfers in my foursome were saying, “Oh, Greg Norman. The ultimate. The shark. He is the man.” And millions of golfers will see Greg Norman, they will watch Greg Norman, and they will say, “Honey, I like those golf shoes he’s wearing. I think that would be a nice birthday present. And maybe the shirt and hat and clubs and the kind of tees he uses and the golf balls.” We think, “If I can dress like Greg Norman, that means I’ll be able to play like Greg Norman!” We try to buy status; we try to buy confidence. The bottom line is, Greg Norman could take a ten-year-old five-iron, wear cutoffs, and play barefooted, and beat every single golfer and wannabe golfer in this church! It’s not the equipment. God says, “That doesn’t matter to me. Confidence place in riches comes to nothing.” Could you be on this status cycle?
Some hop from the style to the status, and then take one more little step over to the final treadmill. This is the success track. We think, “Okay, that will do it. Style doesn’t work; status doesn’t work. Success will do it. I’m on the success track, Ed. That’s me.” Jeremiah 9:23-24: “The Lord says, “Wise men should not boast,”” circle these phrases, “of their wisdom, nor strong men of their strength, nor rich men of their wealth. If anyone wants to boast, he should boast that he knows Me and understands Me.” Wisdom, strength, and wealth. Those are the big three in American values, right? We love to compete, compare, and contrast in all three of these. We think, “Surely that will do it.”
This success mill leads to frustration because a lot of people are on the performance track, or the perception-of-others track. We think, “If I can only perform. If I can only do enough to gain the applause or the admiration of men and women, that will do it. That will really give me meaning. Surely that’s the answer, Ed. That’s got to be it.” I’ve talked to too many people in too many situations, and I’ve seen it in my own life as well: that doesn’t do it. You say, “Well, when we finally win the Superbowl, or the NBA finals, or we get to the Final Four, or win the Masters, that’ll do it.” Talk to them. It doesn’t. “Well, when I get that corner office at work, that will give it to me.” Ask the person in the corner office. “When I make head cheerleader,” oh, that’s a popularity contest, “when I do that…” “When I become the pastor of the largest church, that will surely do it, God, because that’s kind of a religious thing…” That doesn’t work. Success, performance, and the perception of others.
What, again, does God’s penetrating and relevant word say to us? Luke 16:15: “For what men think,” circle that phrase, “for what men think is of great value is worth nothing in God’s sight.” Success is just a tiny band-aid, a Sesame Street band-aid at that, on a cancer.
I’ll never forget the article I read years ago when writer Gary Smith interviewed Mohammed Ali. He went to Mohammed Ali’s house and Ali took him out to the place where he trained and won all of those fights. Ali had all of his awards and trophies up in an attic area, and he took Gary Smith to the attic. There were pigeon droppings all over the awards. Gary Smith said, “Mohammed, that’s odd. Why do you keep your awards up here? And the pigeon droppings – they’re going to ruin this valuable memorabilia! Mohammed, what’s the problem?” Mohammed Ali now has a difficult time speaking, and he had to repeat this phrase twice to Gary Smith. Mohammed Ali said this: “I had the world by the tail, and it ain’t nothin’.” Is that where you are?
What is God telling us? What does God want us to do? God says, “I love you so much, even though you’re on the success mill, the status mill, the style mill. I want you to do what most people do, or what Ed Young did on the stress test. Say, “Stop it! I’m ready to move. I’m ready to get off the treadmills.”” And most of us can see this, and we can say in a very rationalistic way, “Ed, that’s me. I’m ready to get off one of those three self-esteem machines.”
But too many of us become what I call tread-militant. “I’m going to hang in there. Oh, no, you’re not getting me off this one. I’m going to stay with success. No one tells me what to do.” Especially men here, this macho, bravado-type mentality. “I will stay right here. I will not be moved.” Or, “No, I’ll tell you what. I’ll move to this one. Or maybe back to this one. Or maybe I can ride two at once.” God says, “Jump off. Stop it.”
When we stop it, when we say, “God, I give up,” when we lift our hands to Heaven and say, “God, have it your way. I want you to lead me in a journey to the center of my worth. I want the question answered — me, myself, and why. I want the question answered — do I really matter to anyone?” here’s what God will do. Don’t we have a great God? God will say, “You need to know two things if you’re going to take the journey to the center of your worth. The first thing you have to know is, and don’t miss this, you are a masterpiece.” This, by the way, is a masterpiece: Picasso. Say it with me: I am a masterpiece. Again, I am a masterpiece.
Isaiah 49:5 in the Good News says, “The Lord gives me honor. He is the source of my strength.” Do you know what a great self-esteem is? A great self-esteem, here’s the definition, is an accurate view of God, yourself, and others, based on the authority of His word. I’m a masterpiece, the Bible tells me. Psalm 9:5: “You,” God, “made man inferior only to Yourself. You crowned him with glory and honor.” In other words, I am a living, breathing, masterpiece. Think about it. A living, breathing, masterpiece.
If you think about this, and the Bible tells us about this, what will you do? Will you hoard this gift? Will you hide this gift? Will you put it away in a deep, dark closet? No. If you had an original Picasso – and no, this is not an original – if you had an original Picasso, you would put it up for everyone to see. In fact, when you looked into others’ eyes, you would say, “There’s an original there. There’s an original there. There’s – oh, I remember when the master did that one.”
When Lisa and I were in seminary, we house-sat for a family that is extremely wealthy. I’ll tell you how wealthy they are. One day they took us on a tour of their home, and they had made, in the basement, a place to keep all of their works of art. There were many masterpieces down there in the basement, where no one ever treads, on some shelves: paintings and sculptures worth hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars. I thought, “Whoa!” Is that incredible? That’s kind of crazy, isn’t it? Is God saying that to you? Are you keeping that masterpiece? Give your uniqueness away. Share it with others.
The Bible continues, and the word of God says in Psalm 139:13, “You created every part of me. You put me together in my mother’s womb.” That’s why abortion is wrong. There’s no such thing as an illegitimate child. There are illegitimate parents, but not illegitimate children. If you’ve had an abortion, and you tell the truth about this and turn from it, God will forgive you, but abortion is wrong. It’s murder.
As I think about my ministry, as I think about what God’s called me to do, I have to rush to two principles in my life. The first principle, the first thing I’m about, is sharing Jesus Christ with others, hoping and praying they will establish a relationship with him and then become fully devoted followers of Christ. That is my first priority. Introducing people to Christ and then helping them to become fully devoted followers of Jesus. Number two, the second focus: every time I have the opportunity to come in contact with an individual, a family, or a group of people, I want to raise the self-esteem of the folks I’m coming in contact with. When I see someone accept Christ and become a fully devoted follower, when I see someone see who they are before God, themselves, and others, things fall off. Destructive thought patterns, relational problems, fears, disillusionment, all just drop off. Whoa, the lights come on when they see that they are a masterpiece.
But there’s a second thing you need to know as you take this journey to the center of your worth. You were bought with a price. A couple of years ago, this was illustrated to me in a mighty way. Lisa and I had a garage sale. How many of you have had a garage sale before? It’s a lot of fun, isn’t it? But one thing garage sales will teach you — and I had the leisure suits out, old basketball shoes — one thing that just blew me away was the fact that people will buy anything. They will.
When you take an object, an object is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it, right? Many times in my life I’ve felt, “Well, I don’t matter. I’m a no-count.” You’ve thought that too. When you think that, when you have those thoughts that come from the evil one, remember the cross. You’re talking about valuable. Am I valuable? Are you valuable, a masterpiece? What was the price? The price was the precious blood of Jesus shed for you and for me, for our sins.
Going back to Genesis 3:5, remember, man lost it: significance, honor, value, dignity. But at the cross, Jesus regained what man had lost. That’s some great news. That’s why the Bible tells us in Romans 5:8, “God has shown us how much he loves us. It was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us.” 1 Peter 1:18-19: “God paid a ransom to save you. He paid for you with the precious life-blood of Jesus Christ.” Wow. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to talk about what scars a self-esteem, we’re going to talk about how to reconstruct a damaged self-esteem, and then, how to build self-esteem in others. This is a critical issue, a foundational issue, and the first two principles you have to take with you are these: I’m a masterpiece, and I was bought with a price.