English: Bratislava; New Year 2005; FireWorks

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Sometimes, “God loves you” can sound patronizing and meaningless because, in my experience, Christian culture often seems to be on a mission to minimize human value.

For example, suppose you increase sales at work, or write a fantastic term paper, or run a great Sunday school class. Some would say that you had nothing to do with it, that it’s simply “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.

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” is the mantra of many Christians. But I rarely hear the rest of that verse in the same breath. “…and [all] are justified freely by his grace” through Christ (Rom. 3:23-24). So it’s easy to conclude that humanity has little value or anything worth celebrating in God’s eyes.

Yet Scripture consistently reaffirms human value, even when we sin. Jesus’ earthly mission was to restore to mankind God’s vision of worth and to give his own life to defend it by abolishing spiritual Death.

You can tell what’s valuable by what people celebrate or the way they behave when something’s lost. What do you do when you can’t find your keys or wallet? Likewise, you can tell what God values. In Luke 15, Jesus illustrates this with three consecutive parables, so it must be an important point.

The first is about a lost sheep (vv. 1-7), so valuable that the owner leaves the other ninety-nine, safely accounted for, to go find it. When he does, he brings it home on his shoulders and calls his friends and neighbors to celebrate. “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep!”

The second is of a woman who loses a silver coin (vv. 8-10). She sweeps the whole house, searches every nook and cranny, and when she finds it, she, too, calls her friends and neighbors to a party. “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin!”

The third is the Prodigal Son (vv. 11-32) who leaves home and squanders his inheritance. When he comes to his senses and returns home, the delighted father calls for a feast with the finest fatted calf. The party-pooping older brother resents his father’s generous spirit, questions his sense of value, and refuses to participate.

For this reason, I think he squandered more than the younger brother did, so the father gently corrects him. “We had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”

Americans value life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Along with the rest of the free world, we enjoy liberties that not every country does. Despite much debate over the economy, gun control, immigration, and a hundred other issues, we don’t live in fear of being beheaded for religious beliefs or being tortured for speaking against the government.

But it’s easy to be the older brother, to see nothing but wrong-being, to be oppressed by an arrogant or complaining spirit that trashes everyone and everything. This is a form of death from which God offers independence and freedom.

So, to my American readers, enjoy the 4th of July fireworks, cold lemonade and beer, family, and friends in safe celebrations tomorrow. To my non-U.S. readers, hey, it’s still the 4th of July and you don’t need fireworks to celebrate life, happiness, and freedom in Christ!

God treasures the whole world. Even when a coin is tarnished, it still has value, so His love is more than a patronizing platitude and His glory can’t be embezzled. “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)