Friday, May 29, 2009

Worth Saving

Can people change?

This is a hard question for me to answer. While I will say yes, it is possible, I will also say, no, it is unlikely. Not impossible, but improbable. As I grow older I find myself having less faith that people will indeed change, despite the lip service we give to making changes in our lives.

How about changing our beliefs? Beliefs about ourselves? Here's a question for you:

Which is harder for you to really believe: That Jesus rose from the dead, or, that Jesus really does love you?

Feeling like you are unloveable or are somehow a bad person is not an easy thing to change. You do bad things and those things just confirm to you that you are bad. Some bad things you do, you really want to stop doing. But you find yourself doing them again and again. You get discouraged. You feel like you can't change. You sigh in defeat, "This is just the way I am." And because that way is not good, you feel you are bad.

For many of us “bad” also means “unchangeable” or “unsavable.” Nothing good can be salvaged out of this wretched heart of ours. We suffer from depression, mostly, because we believe that we cannot change—that we will always be bad and do bad things and be unaccepted, unloved, unrespected and unappreciated by people in society.

One of the deepest questions people ask in their lives is, “Am I good?” And there are two main sources for a major answer of “No!” to that question.

One, you are not good because you do bad things—you sin. Sin has made you unclean. You have sinned in the past, you do sin and you will sin again.

Two, you are not good if you are unliked or unattractive to many people in society. You know this may not be how it really is, but it is how you sometimes feel. People don't pay you attention. People don't take you seriously. People judge you, ignore you and don't respect you all that much. People don't want to spend a lot of time just hanging out with you. At least, that is how you find yourself feeling sometimes.

There is something in you that tells you that if you were “good” people would treat you better, respect you more than they do and want to be your friend and spend time with you. Any negativity you get from other people—you turn it on yourself and feel that it is because you are not good. You don’t like the person you are because you wish you were someone other people liked more.

This is my message to you. Not only can you change, but you are worth changing. And, really, the latter is a more important issue. It is where it starts.

I remember when my Grandpa was living with us and was getting old. One time he became very sick and had to go to the hospital. He lost a lot of weight very fast. Relatives joined at our house to discuss what to do when he was in the hospital. One lady said that we need to prepare ourselves for the fact that he is dying. I was just a kid at the time—maybe just 10 years old, I don’t remember. And what she said, I now realize, was wise and good. But at the time it angered me. I felt like they were giving up on him. I felt like they were calling the game "over” when the fat lady had not yet sung. I remember thinking, “He’s not dead yet!”

About that time (I don’t remember clearly the chronology of events) I remember my dad taking me into see grandpa at the hospital. The doctor laid out the options before my grandpa and dad about what can be done, and that he needed some sort of surgery or procedure if he was going to live much longer. I think the cost of this procedure was expensive or not covered by insurance, or there was some sort of financial issue involved. (Again, I am not too clear.) But I remember my grandpa saying something to the effect that we might not choose to do the procedure—perhaps because it was too expensive and he was so old and not worth saving. But my dad didn’t waiver at all, and said that we would definitely do the procedure. To my dad, it wasn’t a question to consider—my grandpa was worth saving, at any cost.

Spiritually speaking, I have felt like my grandpa—too far gone to be worth saving. The issue isn’t just a question of possibility—it is a question of worth—of profitability. What would we really gain by saving this?

My grandpa got better, to everyone’s amazement. He put weight back on. He came back home with us and lived a life the same as before he went into the hospital. The night he died he had just finished helping me wash the dinner dishes and sang as he worked. I am so thankful that my dad saw him as worth saving.

My grandpa used to save everything. He had lived through the great depression and had lost his house during that time. Unlike people of my generation, he knew the pain of poverty, and how fleeting was worldly wealth. He did not take things for granted and therefore did not live wastefully. I remember that he saved his dinner napkins from almost every night of dinner when it didn’t get too dirty. He folded them up and kept them on top of his refrigerator in his room. They were still good. They could be used again. There was no need to throw them away so promptly.

My grandpa didn’t come from a disposable society. In our society, so many of the products we buy and use are disposable—we use them and then we throw them away. It is cheaper and easier to buy a new one than it is to re-use an old one. It has become our mentality. Once something is “old” or “used” then it cannot be made new again. So, we don’t get attached to it. We throw it away. Nothing has value to us for very long. And certainly nothing has redeemable valuable—something that we can save, or get value back out of. No, we just dispose and purchase new; dispose and purchase new.

Imagine a paper napkin that we have used to place a piece of barbecued chicken on. The sauce has dripped down and soaked the paper napkin. It is really impossible to re-use that napkin. The sauce has probably actually melted the paper of the napkin. There is no way we could, or would, take that napkin to the laundry room and wash it, dry it out, and then use it again. If we placed it in a washing machine or a dryer, it would disintegrate. But that is the point of a paper napkin—they are so cheap that they wouldn’t be worth spending the money on soap, water and electricity (much less our precious time) to re-use when we can just throw them away and grab another one out of the pack.

Now, if we had a fine cloth or silk napkin, we would probably think differently. If gravy gets on that napkin we certainly do not throw it away and buy another! We do all we can to get it clean, and restore it to its prior condition. Why? Because we have already spent a lot of money on it. It is worth more. A dirty paper napkin is not worth saving. A dirty silk napkin is worth saving because we have already invested a significant amount into it.

And that is my point about my dad and my grandpa. To my dad, my grandpa was not disposable. He was not something my dad could just so easily part with. Yes, he was sick. Yes, it was very serious. But he was worth saving. He was worth bringing back to his prior condition. My dad had no doubts about that. I am glad he didn’t.

So, I have to ask… Is your depressed and broken heart worth saving? Is it worth being changed? Is it worth being healed? Is it worth all the time and work it would require to restore it to a healthy condition?

Jesus died to say “Yes!” to this question. Romans 5:6-8 makes it clear that we were sick; we were sinners; our situation was very grave and serious. But Jesus didn’t even wait for us to ask. He didn’t wait for us “get well” on our own. No, he came with his purpose of “redeeming” us—of retaining the value that he had created us with. He came with the purpose of freeing our hearts from the prison of lies and sin, and to heal the broken hearted. Jesus wants our hearts free. Jesus wants our hearts healed.

So, yes, you are worth saving—your heart is worth saving. And if you are not dead yet, it is not too late. You are not “too far gone.” You can change, and you are worth changing.

Satan’s purpose is to get us to reject Jesus and to reject God’s grace. How do we usually reject God’s grace? By feeling that we are “not worth” saving. When we say, “I am not good,” we are not just saying that we have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory—no, we are actually saying that “we are not worth anything.” Yes, it is true that we have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. But, no, it is not true that we are not worth saving. Satan’s most powerful deception is to get us to believe that we are “not worth” saving, so that we will thereby reject any grace, any possibility of change. (See Good and Good.)

So, in communicating the story of Jesus, we don’t just need to convince people that Jesus died save them, but that they are worth saving! This is good news!

To believe that you are worth being changed is simply to believe that God truly loves you.

“Okay, maybe I am worth being changed, but CAN I be changed?”

I think that if you can change your mind about your worth (that your heart is good, not bad), then you can change.

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