English: Bratislava; New Year 2005; FireWorks

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Sometimes, those three little words, “God loves you” can seem terribly patronizing. Despite much talk about love and joy, we live in a Christian culture (in the U.S., anyway) that seems to be on a mission to minimize—even eliminate—human value and success.

In misguided, over-corrected attempts at humility, it makes for a very one-sided relationship with God where He does everything and our only part is to get out of His way.

For example, if we increase sales at work, or write fantastic term papers, or run a great Sunday school class, many are quick to say that we have nothing to do with it. Instead, it’s “Christ living in you.” Any other response brings accusations of pride and embezzling God’s glory—except when things go wrong. Then it’s all you. Humanity is thus presented as having little value, rightness, or anything really worth celebrating. How tragic and crippling!

One of the themes that Scripture consistently reaffirms is human value, even when we sin. Jesus’ core mission on Earth was to restore to mankind God’s vision of value and worth. It was so central, in fact, that he planned to give his own life to show us this reality.

You can tell what’s valuable by the way we behave when it’s lost. If you doubt it, just observe what you do when you can’t find your keys or wallet. Jesus used three analogies to convey this very idea. The fact that he stated it three times, three different ways, indicates that he didn’t want anyone to miss his point.

The first is about a lost sheep (Luk. 15:1-7). So valuable is this one sheep of the flock that the owner leaves the other ninety-nine, safely accounted for, to go find it. When he does, he joyfully brings it home on his shoulders and calls his friends and neighbors to a party. “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep!” It’s not that there’s no celebration for the righteous. Rather, it means that even sinners—right down to the last one—are worth a great deal.

The second is a woman who loses a silver coin (Luk. 15:8-10). She sweeps the entire house, searches every nook and cranny, and doesn’t stop until she finds it. And when she does, she, too, calls her friends and neighbors to a party. “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin!”

The third is the famous Prodigal Son (Luk. 15:11-32) who leaves home and squanders his inheritance on every vice imaginable. When he comes to his senses and returns home, the delighted father calls for a feast with the finest fatted calf.

The righteous older brother, of course, resents the whole idea. He angrily refuses to participate and questions his father’s sense of value. Ironically, the father corrects him rather than the wayward son: “We had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.” Today’s Christian culture is the poor grumpy brother who can’t get past shame and favoritism.

No one celebrates something they consider worthless. Likewise, treasured value is revealed by the measures taken to restore it. The Lord of the universe could have fulfilled his earthly mission as anything he wanted, but his personal choice was as a fully human being. Even the angels shouted glad tidings of great joy on the night of his physical birth.

“How much more valuable is a man than a sheep!” (Mat. 12:12) “So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Mat. 10:31)

Some will disagree, but I say we have more reason to celebrate and less reason to trash ourselves, neighbors, and God’s gift of humanness. That doesn’t mean that God agrees with everything we say and do, but it does mean that His love is much more than a patronizing platitude. In Jesus’ own words, it’s about life to the max, not life to the minimum!