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Motives Matter (How Being Cool and Entitlement Mess Up Your Mission)

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The Pressure to Be Cool

There is a lot of pressure on everyone to be cool. And I’m sure that there are a lot of people here who think, “I don’t care if I’m cool or not. I’m not a kid anymore.” but hear me out. Being cool, by the official dictionary definition, means to be “accepted, attractive, impressive, and excellent”. If you read it off of the Urban Dictionary you get synonyms like “awesome, popular, great, okay with each other.”

Now, by those definitions, ask yourself again if you want to be cool or not. Do you want to be accepted, impressive, attractive, excellent, and okay with the people around you? Probably. If you’re still not convinced, let’s turn it around. The opposite of “cool” would be rejected, mediocre, repelling, and disliked. How about now?

I’ll say it again. There’s a lot of pressure on everyone to be cool. The problem with being cool is that it changes depending on the group you are in. Being cool to a group of engineers is much different than being cool to a group of musicians. Being cool in a Christian youth group is very different than being cool at a secular school. There are people who will walk through the Ottawa Comiccon and think they are surrounded by the coolest people in the world – while others, outside that group, would consider them social outcasts. There will be people who spend a year crafting the perfect cosplay outfit so they can look a character from a favourite game or movie, and will be showered with praise – but if they take that same outfit to a different place, they will feel embarrassed, rejected, and disliked.

I watched a very interesting clip this week from The Gospel Coalition called “The Idolatry of Youth Culture in Worship” which was all about pressure that churches feel to try to be cool. Churches get on this hamster wheel of trying to chase the newest song, coolest visuals, popular content, and most attractive spaces. People are attracted to these sorts of things too. They are attracted to the cool, new “worship artists” and “celebrity preachers” that are marketed to us from dozens of platforms, and it’s really tempting for a church to try to change themselves to try to be more cool.

The problem with the pursuit of being “cool” is that it is constantly changing. One documentary they referenced, called “The Merchants of Cool” which was about how hard companies are studying teen culture in an attempt to make money off of them. They go find the cool kids and try to figure out what the next, hot trend is going to be. One person they interviewed said at that one of the problems is that as soon as they figure out what is cool and they start to mass-market it, the very act of them marketing it makes it uncool. And so they are in a constant state of chasing the next trend, trying to keep up with the ever changing tides of coolness.

I’m sure you’ve felt this pressure at times to. The pressure to conform, to change yourself, to alter your habits and personality so that you will be more accepted, more admired, more attractive – and then the moment you do, it seems to change on you. You buy a new thing and show it off, but then something newer comes out. You dye your hair or get new clothes, but then the trend changes. You get good at a game, or watch a show, or try a new work technique, but then people stop doing it or talking about it because something new comes around.

Sometimes we don’t even know it’s happening. It’s like we’re the frog in a pot. We buy things, go places, watch things, and talk about things because we think we like them, but the truth is that we are doing it because we don’t want to be left out. Whether you are a senior or a teen, a tradesman or a homemaker, these pressures are ever present.

Entitlement

Something that is connected to being cool, but perhaps tangentially, is something called entitlement. The concept is simple. To feel entitled means you think you have the right to something. You believe you deserve something. You have a list in your mind of all the things you think you are owed. And when someone challenges this list, refuses to give it to you, or takes it away, you get angry or depressed.

For example, if you feel entitled to share your opinion at all times, that your voice should count for something, and that you deserve a vote, then when you are not listened to you feel very offended. If you feel you are entitled to a certain level of comfort, and then you feel discomfort, it makes you angry.

Think of the parent who comes home from a hard day at work. If they feel as though they are entitled to some peace and quiet, that the world and their family owes it to them, they will get very angry if you disturb them. Then there’s the couple that believes that for every dollar one partner spends, the other gets to spend the exact amount. She gets a haircut, so you get dinner out. He gets coffee at the drive through, so you feel entitled to get something for yourself.

Some people feel entitled to have the same level of access to technology as others, and not just teens. “My friends all have a big tv, so why don’t we. Our internet is so slow, all my friends have faster internet. All my friends have phones, so I should get one too.” It’s a sense of entitlement and we all have it to some degree. And if you don’t think so, just ask those closest to you what you think you are entitled to and they’ll tell you…

The Problem

The problem with the pursuit of being cool or having an out of control sense of entitlement is that it gets in the way of the best things in life like friendship, love, and serving God.

To say I wasn’t very popular when I was growing up would be a gross understatement. I was a total reject, social outcast. And I’m not saying that for dramatic effect. I have some deep scars to this day that were given to me in grade school.

I remember I had this one “friend” named Karl (and I’m putting air-quotes around that word) who I would hang out with. He and I had some sort of kinship, but I have no idea why. He wasn’t a Christian and wasn’t really that nice to me. But Karl was good at sports and had an in with the cool kids. And being cool was really important to him. Here’s how it worked with me and Karl: If I was talking to him in the hallway, I always knew that if a cool kid came, he would drop me to talk to them instead. I still remember the day he actually pushed me away so he wouldn’t be seen talking to me in the hall. If there was a party at his house, he would invite me over a few hours before to play some Nintendo, set up the snacks and whatnot, but since I wasn’t one of the cool kids I wasn’t invited to the party, so I would leave his house before anyone got there. Karl’s pursuit of being a cool kid put a huge wedge in what could have been a much better friendship. It effected our conversations. It made me not trust him. Can you imagine how pursuing cool would have affected if he was trying to witness to me? It wouldn’t work, would it? It’s incompatible.

It’s the same with the sense of entitlement. The things that you believe are owed to you, if you don’t get them, will change the way you perceive and relate to people. If you get passed over for a promotion or a raise, how do you feel about the person who got it? What about the boss who you think you could do their job better? Feel friendly? Congratulatory? Or is there some resentment there.

Think of a trip to the store. You park your car. Are you entitled to a good spot? No. But how do you feel if someone double parks or is too far over the line to give you that close place? Mad. Why? Entitlement.

And then you go inside and all the karts are gone and you have to go back outside to get one. Are you owed a cart? No. But something inside you says, “I pay good money here and I deserve to have a cart waiting when I come.” You go through the aisles and people are in the way, taking too long, some haven’t showered, some are dressed inappropriately, others keep asking for your help to reach things, and then there’s a bunch of people you know that seem to want to chat with you. You came in for a can of beans and now you are totally worked up. You get back to your car and someone has dinged the door with theirs. How do you feel? Angry, right? Why? And what will you say, “Why can’t I just go to the store and get one, stupid thing without having to be surrounded by incompetent, annoying, smelly, idiotic, selfish people?!” What’s behind that emotion? Entitlement. You feel you are owed it.

Same thing happens at church. I’m entitled to my favourite seat. I’m entitled to have good sound and an easy time. I’m entitled help with my ministry. I’m entitled to an entertaining message. I’m entitled to be left alone, or entitled to expect to be asked how I am. I’m entitled to a cup of coffee and a cookie. And if I don’t get it… ?!

How do you think that sort of thinking effects your relationships? How do you think it affects your testimony? How do you think it effects your reputation? How do you think it affects your heart and your relationship with God? The pursuit of cool and a sense of entitlement will make you an anxious, hollow, selfish, lonely person.

Am I Not Free?

Open up with me to 1 Corinthians 9 and let’s read it together. First, I want you to remember the context from a couple weeks ago when we talked about meat offered to idols and the moral butterfly effect. If you recall, Paul is making the case that the choices we make and the freedoms we exercise are not made in a vacuum, but will have ripple effects on those around us – many which we cannot see – and encouraged people to consider others feelings and weaknesses when they make their decisions. In this case it was the decision to eat food that had been offered to idols. A mature Christian knows that the food is just food, and there’s nothing we can eat or not eat that will bring us closer to God, but not everyone knows that. There are some that will be deeply offended, or tempted, or hurt, if they see someone do that, and so scripture teaches us to be willing to go without out of love for those around us.

Now here, as Paul continues that thought, he uses himself as an example of someone who has given up a lot of things for the sake of unity in the church and the furtherance of the kingdom of God. He’s just told the Corinthians to give up eating meat sometimes for the sake of their weaker brothers and sisters, and then in verses 1-12, to drive the point home, Paul lists all sorts of things that he has the right to have, but that he’s given up for the sake of others.

“Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. This is my defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to eat and drink? Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife, as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?

Do I say these things on human authority? Does not the Law say the same? For it is written in the Law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not certainly speak for our sake? It was written for our sake, because the plowman should plow in hope and the thresher thresh in hope of sharing in the crop. If we have sown spiritual things among you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share this rightful claim on you, do not we even more? Nevertheless, we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.  Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.”

So, remember the context. Way up in chapter 8:1-4 we read about how the Corinthians are claiming that because they have the “knowledge” that food is just food, and that there really is only one God, that they should have the right to eat whatever they want. The Apostle says, “Yes, but don’t use that right, that freedom, to harm anyone else.” As verse 12 says, “Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.”

And then he catches their next argument, which is what? Everyone has to deal with this, children, teens, and adults. What is our natural reaction when we look around and see a bunch of people have something that we don’t, but when we decide we want it, someone or something stops us? We argue. Our “coolness” is impacted – “But if I don’t have it, my peer group won’t accept me or will judge me poorly”. And our “entitlement” is impacted – “Everyone else has one, I’m old enough, I work hard, I deserve it.” What if it’s someone you love and trust preventing you from having it? Someone like your parents, your spouse, or God who is working against you having it? We still argue.

We lay down the same argument as Paul does in chapter 9! And that’s what Paul is doing, he’s arguing their point for him – and then going beyond their own qualifications. He says, “You may think you have the right to have that food offered to idols, but I have more right!” He is free from the law by Jesus. He has the authority of an Apostle. He has talked to Jesus face to face. He is the one who planted their church and is their leader and pastor. If anyone has the proper knowledge and freedom to eat that food, he does. But he chooses not to. Why? Look at verse 12, “… we have not made use of this right, but we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ.”

And he has given up even more than just certain kinds of food. In fact there have been times he has gone without any food for the sake of the gospel. He has the right to a wife and family, as some apostles have, but knows that a for him a family would distract him from the gospel, so he goes without. And he really drives home the point that he has the right, the entitlement, to demand the church financially support his ministry, as many other travelling teachers and apostles have done, but instead he chooses to work a labour job making tents so the message of Jesus he presents to people remains unpolluted and free from attack. Though he has every right to pull a paycheck from them, he doesn’t so that no one can accuse him of greed or false motives.

He knows he has the right to do a lot of things, and there are a lot of pressures to make his life a little easier, but he also knows that taking those things has a cost. There were, and are, many false teachers who use religion, and the name of Jesus, as a way to make money and live rich – and there seem to be plenty of desperate, ignorant people that fall for it. Paul, and any missionary of worth, stays as far away from the church’s purse strings as they can, so that they can’t be lumped into that group.

Motives Matter

In verse 15 we see Paul cut them off at their next obvious argument: “You’re just saying all these things so that we’ll send you more money!” He says, “But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision. For I would rather die than have anyone deprive me of my ground for boasting. For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward, but if not of my own will, I am still entrusted with a stewardship. What then is my reward? That in my preaching I may present the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my right in the gospel.”

You see his point. He would rather go without than leave any room for someone to see any false motives in his presentation of the gospel. His service to God, his message, the joy of seeing people be changed by the message, and all the spiritual benefits besides, are his reward.

This is a big deal today still. The question, “What are you getting out of this?” is still a major barrier for a lot of people. The accusation, “You only do this for your own personal gain!” is still a very persuasive one. And for some people, as I’ve said, is quite accurate.

Everyone falls into this kind of thinking sometimes, it’s not just full-time ministers. Paul was commissioned by God to be a missionary preacher and teacher, but this temptation hits all kinds of people. Some people serve in the church with the hope of gaining attention for themselves, or gaining a portfolio of people to sell their products to, or so they can have their own way. Some people want to be a teacher, deacon, elder, or even pastor, because they want the title, prestige, influence and authority over others. Some people tithe to the church so they can brag about it and get tax benefits. Some people pretend to care about others so they can get all the juiciest gossip. Some people play their instrument or sing in church so they can get accolades. Some people serve others as a way to build up credit in case something happens to them later, so they can cash in their chips and get help in return.

A lot of people have been burned on the church, burned on the gospel, burned on following God, because they have met Christians who were either caught having false motives and using the gospel as a means to benefit themselves, or were trying so hard to be cool that they had completely watered down their own testimony to the point where there was no discernable difference between them and someone who wasn’t saved.

Paul exclaims that he would “rather die than have anyone deprive me of this ground for boasting.” Not that he is trying to steal glory from God, but that he has a rightful sense of joy and fulfillment in being able to look everyone in the eye and say, “I have preached with no other motive than loving people and obeying God. You can check. I’ve suffered, worked, and gained nothing from anyone. No one can accuse me of false motives, because there is no evidence of it!”

Count the Cost

So, as we close today, I invite you to examine your own testimony, your own motives, your own reputation. Why do you do what you do? Is there anything in your life that hinders people from hearing you? A bad habit, an addiction, or something you’ve chosen to do that makes it so you have to spend as much time explaining that as you do trying to talk about Jesus? Is there something in your reputation that makes it so others question whether or not you are really serving God or yourself? Do you speak your own words or His? Would anyone say about you, “That person isn’t really my friend, they’re just trying to get something out of me. That person doesn’t really care, they just want another notch on their belt. That person may talk a big game about loving, forgiving, and trusting – but I know for a fact that they love themselves more than anyone else.

Jesus said that if anyone is to follow Him they must “count the cost”, because to follow Jesus means to lose everything and gain everything at the same time. Jesus set the perfect example for us. He gave us everything and gained nothing. It says in Philippians 2:5-8,

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross…”

If you are concerned about what you are entitled to, how cool you look, how accepted you are, and spend time weighing the cost/benefit to obeying Jesus in this world, then you are not going to follow Him for very long. He says in Luke 14:26-33,

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”

This isn’t theory. Following God’s plan cost Jesus everything. It cost Paul everything. All the Apostles, except one, lived difficult lives and were martyred for their faith – and the one that wasn’t killed was boiled alive and then exiled.

Being a spiritual person will make you cool. Memorizing a few favourite passages and talking about how loving Jesus was will make you cool. And there are a lot of people that will tell you that once you get saved you are entitled to all sorts of worldly blessings. But that’s not the true gospel. The true message of Jesus is not one that is going to win you popularity points or gain you much in this world.

Jesus’ next line after talking about counting the cost is this:

“Salt is good, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is of no use either for the soil or for the manure pile. It is thrown away. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

People need you to be salty, which means you must taste different than the rest of the world. And every time we water down the truth of what Jesus says, water down the message of the Gospel, water down the plain reading of scripture, or allow our sense of entitlement distract us from following God, we lose our saltiness and our words, our deeds, our preaching, our friendship, and our lives are only fit for the manure pile.

So, has Jesus been telling you to give up in order to follow Him more? What barrier is there between you and those you are trying to befriend, love, serve, and share the gospel with? What keeps you from fully obeying God and them from being able to receive your love?

The Soul Killer (Youth Camp Talk)

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2 How To Kill Your Soul

Last night we talked about living like an animal and living like a human being – and how the difference comes when we see ourselves as a special creation of God, worthy of dignity and respect, and someone loved so much that Jesus was willing to die for you. Accepting that gift of salvation is an invitation to God to work in your heart and make you into a new creation, to be born again.

Last night I divided the thinking using the idea of Animal and Human, but another way of dividing it is between things that fill our spirits and things that kill our spirits. When we think and live like animals we are denying the fact that we have something special that animals don’t have – a soul, a spirit, the special breath of God that no other creature of God has. So tonight what I want to do is spend a little time talking about some things that fill our soul, and things that kill our soul.

I want this to be immensely practical for you, so let me explain what I mean. There are things that we do, ways we think, activities common to all of us, that either fill us up, bring us closer to God, improve our relationships, increase our joy, and make us more like Jesus – and there are things that we do and think that empty our souls, draw us away from God, ruin our joy, harm our relationships, distract us from our God-given mission, and kill our souls. And I want to talk about one of them tonight:

Empty People

Why is this important? Because a lot of people feel very empty. There is a vacuum inside of them, a gaping hole, that they keep trying to fill up, but no matter what they throw into it, it never feels full. Do you know this feeling?

You’ve got a family, friends, school, work, a hobby, teammates, books, skills… and no matter what you do with them, you still feel empty. Certainly, all these things are good, and for a time, as long as you’re with them, they are distracting… but then, at night when you go to bed, when you’re alone, when the noise stops that empty void inside of you feels just as big as it ever did.

That’s why you spend so much time on the internet, playing games, watching movies, listening to music, texting on the cell phone, sending pictures and videos, exercising your body, sleeping, or doing whatever you can do to fill your eyes and ears – because you don’t like the silence. And the worst part is that no matter what you do, no matter how many friends you have, no matter what chemical you put into your body, no matter how good you do on that test, no matter how hard you hit it, no matter how many people see your video, no matter how much you try, the emptiness never gets better.

God Shaped Hole

What I want to tell you tonight is that the reason that you feel that way is because you’re trying to fill the hole inside of you with something that can never fill it. The hole is too big for anything this world has to offer. No friend, work or distraction will ever fill it.

The Bible says in Ecclesiastes 3:11 that God has “placed eternity in a man’s heart” which means that there is a God-shaped hole inside of us, an innate longing for something outside of ourselves, something transcendent, something other than what can be found in this world.

But the Bible also says in Jeremiah 17:9 that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick…”. Ecclesiastes 9:3 says, “the hearts of men, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live…”. We talked about that last night when we talked about our animalistic natures.

Our heart tells us to keep doing the same old things over and over, hoping that they will fill the God-shaped hole. It’s madness to continue, but we keep doing it hoping it will work. We hope that we will finally find meaning, peace, happiness, joy, and freedom in our work, education, friends, sports, money, things, experiences – but the things we are pursuing with such energy are utterly unsatisfactory – not enough to fill the void.

That’s why so many people can’t stand silence, but keep filling their head with noise. Do you know anyone like that? Someone who always has headphones in their ears or their phone in their face? Someone who can’t even lie down at night without filling their minds with noise? They fear silence because it’s in the silence that they start to realize how empty things are – and it terrifies them to think that no matter what they do, they will never shake the empty feeling.

So what can we do? Well, the first thing is what we talked about last night. Turn our lives over to Jesus, accept His death on the cross on your behalf, and begin a relationship with Him. Become a Christian by connecting back to your creator through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

But after that there are some other things that we can do to start filling our souls instead of killing them. And I want to talk about a big one tonight:

Killed by Comparison

The number one killer of our souls that I want to tell you about tonight is Comparison. Comparison kills joy. Theodore Rosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Mark Twain said, “Comparison is the death of joy.” Rick Warren, one of my favourite authors and pastors once said, “You cannot be happy and envious at the same time.” The Bible says, “They use themselves to measure themselves, and they judge themselves by what they themselves are. This shows that they know nothing.” (1 Cor 10:12)

What I’m talking about is the trap that people fall into when they see their life as a competition with others. They’re not happy unless they can say they are better, stronger, faster, richer, prettier, smarter, than others. If they get something, I need to have a bigger one. If you eat one, then I’ll eat two. If you start talking about their vacation, then I need to tell them how much better mine was. Both men and women have this problem – it’s not just a girl or boy thing, though it does come out different ways.

Do you ever get this? It happens all the time, without even thinking.

One person says, “Oh man, I had to go to the hospital for two days because I had an infection.” and what does the other person say, “You think you were sick?! Well, one time I was in the hospital for a whole week!”

One person says, “I just got a new iPhone.” and instead of saying, “That’s great for you!” what do we say? “Well, iPhone sucks. I have an Android! Which one ? Oh, a 5? Well, I’m saving up for a 6.” Or you whip out your phones and start comparing features.

Someone says, “I have a boyfriend/girlfriend.” And you think, “Why do they have someone? What’s wrong with me? Maybe I should lower my standards? Everyone else has a boyfriend/girlfriend? There must be something wrong with me.”

It doesn’t matter if there isn’t anything wrong with you, that you have high standards, and that no one meets them yet! That’s actually a good thing! It doesn’t matter that other people are hooking up and breaking up every week and that you’re not. But comparing yourself to them makes you feel terrible. Comparison kills your soul, doesn’t it?

And then it inevitably happens that you can’t compete with someone. You come across someone that really is smarter, faster, prettier, wealthier, more talented and more popular than you. And no matter what you do, they keep winning. So how do we react? A person who lives by comparison doesn’t react well.

They get depressed because they don’t have what the other person has – and may never have it. They get angry because that person doesn’t deserve it as much as they do. They get bitter and lash out at the person, treating them badly, even if they’ve done nothing, simply because they perceive them as a threat. And even if that person is somehow eliminated – they move, you finally beat them, or something else – then you live in constant fear that someone else will come along that will challenge your superiority.

That’s the danger of living a life where you are constantly comparing yourself to others. No matter what you achieve, you will live depressed, angry, bitter and afraid. You may look amazing on the outside, part of the crowd, or rising above them. You may project confidence and strength. You may have everyone else fooled, but inside you are always afraid someone is more loved than you. You are always angry, and you don’t really know why. You don’t see people as people, but as competitors, rivals, stepping stones.

And that colours all your relationships. If you think like that, then everyone else must as well. They’re just waiting for you to screw up so they can take what you have. They’re laughing at you behind your back. And now you’re even suspicious of your friends. Does anyone know this feeling?

Chasing Love

Maybe this has seeped in because of the tonne of books and movies that keep feeding you this. Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner, X-Men, I Am Number Four, Twilight, Harry Potter, are all fun movies to watch, but they all have the same underlying message: You are very, very special. You are on top. You are the chosen one. Only the chosen one is really important. Everyone else is second class. Every wants to take what you have. Trust no one. If you’re not special, you’re nothing.

Maybe you have had this pressed on you by your parents. You have to be stronger, fasters, smarter than others. They’re telling you about their failings and how you need to rise above. Telling you that you need to do well in school or sports, to have a great job, and get lots of money – you don’t want to be like your loser uncle whatever do you?

That sets you up for a life of comparison where you see everyone as a threat, and it’s a terrible way to live, and will kill your soul. But it’s so tempting, so persuasive.

Why? Because all the comparison boils down to chasing love. They believe that popularity equals love, wealth equals the ability to find love, being beautiful means being loved, being smartest, most talented, or strongest means people will need you and therefore love you. Having great toys and tech means that there’s someone out there that will give you good things because they love you. Having a boyfriend/girlfriend means that you’re loved.

But is that true? Not necessarily, right?

Can you be popular, but unloved? Sure. There are lots of people that are widely known, but hated.

Can you be rich, but unloved? Absolutely. Some wealthy people are very lonely.

Can you be beautiful and unloved? Certainly. Sometimes how we look on the surface, even being beautiful, becomes a barrier to a real, deep relationship.

Can you get presents every day, but still feel unloved? Certainly. Receiving gifts doesn’t always mean closeness. I get a birthday card from my insurance company – but they don’t love me!

Can you be in a relationship where you see each other often, have committed to be boyfriend/girlfriend, but have no love? Sadly, yes. Some of you know how that feels.

So what do we do? We go chasing after that love. We want so desperately to fill that God-shaped hole inside of us that we are willing to do almost anything to fill it – even if that means compromising who we are.

We want that popularity, we want people to like us, love us – but they won’t accept us the way we are. So what does our wicked, deceitful heart tell us to do? Change ourselves, lower our standards, pretend we’re stupid, pretend we’re someone else. People laugh when I do this stupid thing, and then they think I’m cool, so I’ll keep doing that. We hang around people we don’t really like, because they’re the crowd we’re expected to hang around.

We want that wealth, because we want people to love us, so what do we do? Stop doing something we love so we can take a job to make money. Pretend to be richer than we are. Steal things so we have more. Borrow money we can’t pay back. Buy things for people hoping that we will impress them enough that they will be our friends.

We want to be considered beautiful, because we think beautiful people are more loved, so what do we do? Look at blogs and glossy, airbrushed pictures of beautiful people and try to dress and act like them. Go on crazy diets, work out too much, take pills that destroy our bodies. Spend money on hair, nails, skin, eyes, clothes, shoes, sunglasses to look like someone else. Worry so much about what we look like on the surface that we forget to feed the soul inside. Which is why you panic every time you look at the closet. It’s because you’re afraid that if you don’t look perfect, people won’t love you. And then, after a time, you get used to it. You realize that people react positively whenever you show up looking this certain way, so you move heaven and earth to keep looking like that, even when you don’t really want to, even when it makes you uncomfortable, even if it compromises your values. Because you’re desperate for love.

Do you know this struggle? I know you do. So do I.

My Story

I understand that struggle because I lived it. When I was growing up I was pretty unpopular. Actually, that’s an understatement. My family moved around a bunch and I ended up attending four different schools from grade 1-7 – in the same town. But there was only one high school, so when I went there, everyone knew me as the weird, new kid that never quite fit in. The kids were pretty mean to me.

I remember some of them would wait for me to leave after school so they could throw rocks at me. Add to that the fact that I had really bad acne, was a computer nerd (way before Big Bang Theory decided nerds were cool), and was, as far as I could tell, the only Christian in the whole school. I was pretty smart and had skipped a grade, and was also one of the smallest and certainly the youngest person in my grade. I have no fashion sense so I wore weird clothes, and spent a lot of time by myself.

I hated being on the bus. I hated being at school. I was an outsider’s outsider.

I did have a few friends. My “best friend” would invite me over to his house sometimes a couple hours before he hosted his house parties. We would play some Nintendo, get the place ready for the party, and then I’d go home. I didn’t belong at parties. This was the same friend who actually pushed me away when “the popular” kids came around because he didn’t want to be publically associated with me.

By grade 12 I really started hating my life. I remember begging God to change me. I asked Him over and over why He gave me this family, this body, this face, this brain. I considered suicide to end it all, but God prevented that from happening. I wanted to change everything about me, but I didn’t know how. And I was absolutely miserable.

I went to college to study computer engineering at at 17 years old. That year was spent alone, in a basement, doing nothing but watching TV and drinking milk. I flunked out badly.

So I went home that summer a total failure. I had no friends, no future, no peace, and the only thing I was good at – computers – was a total bomb. Now what?

My dad suggested I go to Bible College, so I got a job so I could pay for it, and went for the first year. I stayed in the dorm and paid extra so I wouldn’t have a roommate. It was a split gender dorm with guys on one side and girls on the other, so I was surrounded by Christian guys all day, every day. And I treated them like garbage.

Everyone I’d known, all the way though school treated me badly and I learned to trust no one. And I came to that dorm full of hate, anger, resentment, fear and a commitment to not let anyone get through my shell.

But these guys wouldn’t leave me alone. The more I lashed out, the more they came into my room. They kept inviting me to things, asking to talk, asking to pray for me, including me in movie nights, game nights, band nights… and they never treated me badly. So one night I had it.

We were all sitting in one guys room and I told them how angry I was. How I hated myself and hated everyone else. I told them how I kept waiting for them to hurt me, and how afraid I was that I would never be loved. And they did something that I never expected. They told me to sit on the bed and prayed for me. They put their hands on me and started to pray. I don’t remember what they said, but I do remember that at first I wanted to break their arms. I was shaking with anger, turning red and sweating as rage coursed through me. I hated them.

And then I suddenly stopped and something changed. It’s like a switch flipped in my brain. I realized that I was loved. I was loved by these guys. They weren’t going to hurt me. And then, more importantly, I realized I was loved by God.

Over the next coming days God told me a lot of things about Him and myself. He said He’d been there all along, and that He never left. He said He let me go through those hard things because He wanted me to be able to see and know things that few people get to. He said that every single one of those experiences, as terrible as they were, were going to be things that He will use to help others. He told me that I wasn’t a mistake, and that all of my weirdness was exactly who He created me to be – on purpose.

And suddenly, I felt more free than I had in my whole life. I recommitted my life to serving God no matter where He wanted me to go. I signed up to stay at the college so I could train as a minister. Because I knew God’s love, and could love others, I met a girl and married her that same year.

The moment I stopped thinking that I was a mistake… the moment I stopped comparing my life to others, my happiness to others, my body and mind to others… I was free. The moment that I understood that I was loved by God for who I am, and that I don’t need to do anything in order to be loved more… I was free.

Romans 8

And God gave me a chapter of scripture that would be something I would read and share and teach over and over and over: Romans 8. And I want to read it to you because it means so much to me:

“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!… There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’… For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 7:25; 8:1, 14-15, 22-39)

The Solution

So what’s the solution to the problem of comparison? Contentment in God by following Jesus. Contentment means being mentally and emotionally satisfied with the way things as they are now. That can’t happen if you believe that satisfaction comes from things outside of you, or things that can be taken away – like popularity, wealth, beauty, friends… Contentment is extremely rare and is only found in people that know they are loved no matter what. Show me someone that knows they are loved, and I will show you someone who isn’t caught up in the comparison game.

Tonight I want you to know that you are loved.

You are loved no matter how popular or weird you are.

No matter how wealthy or poor you are.

No matter how intelligent you are.

No matter how you look.

No matter how strong or weak you are.

No matter what your family is like, what you have done, or what you haven’t.

You are abundantly loved by a God who sees every moment of your life and no matter how hard it is, He promises that He will walk with you through it, and use every part of it for your good, His glory, and to help others. He won’t waste a drop of it because He loves you.

Stop comparing yourself to others. It will kill your soul. Instead, learn who God created you to be and live as that person — because that person is richly loved.