I want to share a theory with you this morning. Now
it's untested. I haven't read about it anywhere and other than my own
observations I don't have any scientific evidence to prove it. But this morning
I would like to run it by you to see what you think.
Do you remember what it felt like to be in Junior
High? That'll be easy for some of you because you are there now. Others have
Jr. Hi kids or you teach them in school, so it's not a big stretch for you
either. Some of us, though, are a lot of years away from that time in our
lives. You do well to remember what it felt like to be 30! So let me see if I
can help you remember.
When you are in Jr. Hi, every day you wake up to
the same test. By "test" I don't mean an instrument designed to
measure the knowledge you have mastered or the facts you have memorized. This
test isn't the kind for which you get a letter grade. But believe me, you are
It's a social test. Not a Social Studies test, I
said a social test. And it has only four questions. The questions are true or
false. But they are cruelly difficult. They are coldly objective and brutally
direct. And no matter how well you did on Monday, you have to take the same
test on Tuesday. And the answers are always changing. Are you ready for
question number one?
Question 1) I am noticed.
This is a crucial question. Because if I am not
noticed, if I have to answer false to this one, then I am invisible. I may be taking
in oxygen and taking up space, but if no one notices me I am a nobody and; I
may as well not exist.
If you remember Junior High, or if you have a
Junior High child you know that Junior High students will do all kinds of crazy
things to be noticed. They'll dress in weird ways and say goofy things and
behave obnoxiously, all so they can circle true to question number one. Go
stand outside the middle school of your choice and you will see 100 different
ways that kids are trying to be noticed.
When I was in school I read about a psychiatrist
who was working with an eighth grader. The boy had badly burned his upper lip.
The doctor’s first question was, "So, how did you burn your lip?" To
which the kid replied, "I licked a light bulb." The doctor asked his second question,
"Why did you lick a light bulb?" The kid said, "Because I'd
never done that before."
The doctor accepted the boy’s answer. But honestly,
I don't. I'll tell you the rest of the answer. "I licked the light bulb
because all my buddies were standing around and I'd tried everything else to
get them to notice me, so I thought, 'Hey, I know, I’ll lick the light bulb and
they'll notice me.”
And that’s just what he did. He got second degree
burns, a trip to the hospital and plastic surgery, but so what. He got to
answer "true" to number one.
The number one question kids ask is "Do you
see me?" They'll act tough or tender, they'll weep like it's a funeral or
cavort like clowns at the circus, they'll pretend to be stud athletes or strut
like movie starlet’s, they'll dress like the latest musical sensation, all for
the purpose of getting to answer yes to the first question. I am noticed.
But it isn't enough to be noticed. Because even if
you can circle true on number one, question number 2 pops up on the screen.
Question 2) I am accepted.
When I was in High School there was a kid in my
School and who showed up at our church for a while named Jimmy. We noticed
Jimmy, all right, so he passed question number one. But we noticed him because
he looked funny and had a nasally voice and wore strange clothes which hung
loosely on his oddly shaped frame.
We noticed Jimmy but we never accepted him. He was
never welcome in the group unless it was to make fun of him. Then, when the fun
was over, we'd send him back to his place. You see even back in the dark ages
when I was in school, we had a pecking order. Popularity meant acceptance, and
you guarded what popularity you could find with everything you had.
Now there were a lot of different groups that you
could get involved with in order to find your acceptance. We had jocks, and
punks. We had skaters and geeks. We have folks in the band, in choir, in
theater, in German club, in the chess club, and in the psychology club. We had fraternities
and sororities that were service based and party based. And everyone used those
groups to find the same thing, acceptance.
Jimmy had to put false by number 2. To be honest he
didn't last long at our church. I don't know how he fared in his new church,
but he failed at ours. Or better said we failed him. But even if Jimmy was able
to mark true to question number 2 on the test, he wouldn't have been finished.
Because it isn't enough to be accepted. Question number three demands an
Question 3) I am valued.
Acceptance is one rung up from tolerance. And who
wants to settle for just being tolerated? It isn't enough for the circle to
open up and let you in. There are kinds of bogus ways to answer true to number
Maybe you are just part of a package because a
friend of yours is accepted and you ride in on her coat tails. Maybe you have
rich or powerful parents or a really cool older sibling or maybe they are just
afraid of you or feel sorry for you.
So question number three is really personal: it
demands to know, Am I valued? Do I make a contribution? Am I accepted because
of who I am? Do they really want me? Or is my acceptance in the circle an
accident of fate? Is it real or just a favor?
You see the value question is so
important, because it basically asks, how much worth do I have? This question
goes deeper that asking what is my net worth. There are a 6.8 billion
folks on earth and we all need food, clothes, air. The value question is more
than am I worth my share of all of these natural resources. We are wondering do I have worth; is
the world, my community, my family better off because I exist.
This is the question that gets us in trouble. This
summer when I go to visit the work that Craig and Tomya are doing, they have
asked me to teach a class on counseling. They want me to focus on fundamentals
of suicide counseling because it is such a big problem in Australia. I’m sure that
you’re not surprised by the fact that suicide is the result of someone who doesn’t
like the answer they got to this question. You see if I don’t have worth then
what is the point of living?
But there's one question more. Even if you answer
true to numbers 1 - 3 every morning, question number four always appears at the
end of the test. It’s the most important question and in this test if you get
this question wrong then you fail the test.
Question 4) I am loved.
It matters very little how noticed, accepted or
valued you are. Because you can always make a mistake. You can blow it.
And if you are only noticed for some striking
feature of your life, if you are only accepted because of who you know or how
you are connected, if you are valued only for what you can contribute, your
membership inside the circle is still temporary. It's only when they love you
that you are safe. Because if they love you, you can stop worrying about being
You don't have to fight for acceptance. You don't
have to hit a home run or sing the perfect solo or play your part like a Broadway
star. Because if you are loved, you've got lots of room for mistakes. In fact,
if all you do is exchange oxygen and take up space, you are still safe, because
you are loved.
Okay, that's what it's like to be in Jr. Hi. Every
day, the same test. Now, here's my theory. Ready? We never graduate from
You know I am proud of our teenagers because they
are a lot more honest about this test than we adults are. The older you get,
the longer you've played this game, the less likely you are to realize that's
what you're doing. Teenagers act strange and you know it. Adults act strange
and we call it normal.
Here's what I mean. Right now some of us grown ups
are going, "Speak for yourself, buddy, I'm way past Junior High"
Maybe you are. They say preaching is just working out your own stuff in front
of a crowd. So maybe it's just me.
But look at it this way. You left Jr. High school
and then graduated. Maybe you went on to college or maybe you entered the real
world. You got a job and you make real money, you have real bills. Do you ever
do or say anything to let folks know you did all that? I have a friend that
works in the coal mines. Darryl is a great guy, but if you talk with him for
more than 5 minutes he will let you know that he works 15 hour days. He’s not
lazy, he has value and he lets you know it.
Or there was a professor at
Faulker that demanded that you call her Dr. She worked hard on that degree and
she demanded that you use her title or you would get the tongue lashing of your
For many of us, all those hours we worked, the letters
after our names, or the size of our car or house are just another way of
asking, "Did you see me? I am
We do the same thing with question number 2: I am accepted?
Grown ups have circles they want to be accepted in.
Did you know that adults have cool, trendy clothes as well? In Scufflegrit all
the guys wore Carharts, so we move to Texas with a closet full of Carharts and
the men here wear Magellan shirts and if you can find one with a Texas flag on
it well, that’s a BONUS! Adults pay attention to the clothes we wear and the
cars we drive and the neighborhoods we live in. If we can't have money we at
least want to have the appearance of it.
We fret about our weight, we go to great lengths to
give the appearance of having hair, we get our tummies tucked, our wrinkles
stretched, our muscles toned, our bodies tanned and our physiological
inadequacies ... enhanced.
So it shouldn’t surprise
you that we also struggle with question number 3: Am I valued?
It isn't enough for us to just be a part of the
circle. Every now and then we want to be in the center of it. We want people to
appreciate us for the contributions we have made. We don't need to be MVP every
season. Every other season or two would be adequate. We want to be valued.
That’s why some folks get mad and quit their jobs,
or leave churches. I’ll show them how important I am, they’ll be sorry when I’m
gone. Maybe we don’t say that we are not valued, it’s much more mature to say
that I wasn’t appreciated. No matter how you dress it up, it’s still question
And just like our Teenagers, none of that matters
if we aren't loved, that’s question 4.
We'll do all kinds of things to feel loved. Sometimes we'll even hurt the
people closest to us if they don't make us feel loved. We'll put extraordinary
expectations on them, make unreasonable demands and sometimes violate the very
eternal laws of God so that we can feel loved. Why do you think people have
Now you need to understand, I'm not criticizing or
condemning you for wanting to be noticed, accepted, valued and loved. I don't
think those are bad things. I think those are human things, whether you're two
or twelve or twenty or a hundred years old. But what I need you to understand
today is that for a member of the family here at Park Central there should be
no need to take this test.
There is no need for a child of God to agonize over
this because Jesus has already given us the answer we are looking for.
We can answer True
to question one because if you were to ask God,
"Did you see me?" He'd say, "Yes. I always see you." And
that's not a threat. It's a promise, that our God lovingly looks after us.
We can answer true to Question two
because God not only sees us, but accepts us.
There is a great scripture in Zephaniah 3:17 that says “The LORD your God is with you, he
is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with
his love, he will rejoice over you with singing."
I love that word picture there. God’s acceptance
leads Him to rejoice over us with singing. It’s the picture of a mom or dad
holding their child, and even with the dirty diapers, croup that keeps the
whole house up all night long and their inability to do anything for them self,
there we find the parent singing with joy over that child.
And we can say true to question
three because God has shown that we are deeply valued. As the Psalmist
would write in Psalms 17 that God keeps us as the apple of His eye. That’s
another way of saying that God keeps us as the center of His attention.
And finally we see the
answer to question four am I loved. The entirety of scripture
points to the fact that we are loved, deeply by our God who loved us first.
We can take solace this morning that our test has
already been taken and you passed. In fact, you didn't even have to take it.
And because the test was taken some pretty amazing things can happen. The test was It was taken for you a
long time ago, in a far away country, on a hill shaped like a skull, by a man
you've never met. But he noticed you. He accepted you. He valued you. He loved
you. You personally. You specifically. Jesus died on a cross to take your test.
If you ever feel invisible, look at the cross.
You'll see Him noticing you. If you ever feel rejected, look at the cross.
You'll see Him accepting you. If you ever feel worthless, look at the cross.
You'll see the value He placed on your life. If you ever feel unloved, look at
the cross. Even then, even there He was loving you. He loves you still. He will
always love you.
This morning we said that we are all trying to find
the answer to four questions: Am I noticed, Am I Accepted, Am I valued, and Am
I loved. How do you find yourself
struggling with those questions?
If we understand that everyone is struggling with
the same fears then why do we find it so hard to open our hearts to others?
What is the risk we take in accepting others?
How would you define friendship?
How would you define community?
What can you do to build the community of
Do you have to agree on everything to find true
What is it that keeps us from being in true
How do you respond when folks are too needy or
demanding of your time?
Why are proper boundaries important for true
* I am thankful to Jody Vickery for his help with this sermon.