October 4, 2009: Are You Living to Impress People or God?

Let us pray: Dear Savior, because our egos are fragile and we’re easily crushed–all as a result of sin, we crave the acceptance and accolades of others. And to achieve those accolades, we all do our prideful best to impress them. Lord, today teach us that you have a better way, a more excellent way to live! Your way is to spurn what the world deems so important and to embrace love and humble service to others and to You. Lord, move us to think and act accordingly. Amen

GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE LORD WHO SERVES US!

TEXT: Mark 9: 30-37

Fellow Redeemed Sinners:

Why is it that some people feel inferior to other people? Well, all those inferiority complexes are a result of our sin-drenched hearts. You say: “I’m not inferior to anyone and I never feel that way?” Ah, but you do and your words condemn you. I’ll give you a couple of examples. Many years ago a close relative pointed out how often some people “name drop.” Guys are especially guilty of this. We seem to think that more important people we’ve known will impress another and make us rise in stature before their very eyes. That relative was correct. Name dropping is a indication that your ego needs boosting. And a night of two men name dropping back and forth is pretty silly and non-substantive, if you think about it.

All people engage in name dropping. Most of the time we don’t even realize we’re doing it.—All to impress someone else. But, trying to impress others has other forms, too. Designer fashions with the maker’s mark prominently displayed is a classic form. I laugh when I see women proudly carrying Louis Vuitton handbags. Quite frankly, they look like kitchen linoleum with a label stamped on them. But to many they are the ultimate status symbol.—All this to feed their fragile ego.

One of the great things about age is that you begin to realize you really don’t need to impress anyone. Either they should accept you as you are, or they’re really not worth great time and effort. And such a balanced ego breeds peace—both with yourself and with your sphere of influence.

Today, we find the disciples engaged in this ego-feeding, worldly one-upsmanship. And Christ takes them head-on and shows the futility of it all. So, let’s search the Scriptures by pondering this question:

ARE YOU LIVING TO IMPRESS PEOPLE OR GOD?

I

Jesus is well into His ministry of reconciling the world to Himself and to God. He has trained the disciples well. They have witnessed miracles and even engaged in a few on their own. Walking through Galilee He took time to instruct and remind them of his upcoming suffering, death and resurrection. But, the disciples weren’t really paying attention. Instead they were arguing on the road about who was the greatest in their midst! Of course, Jesus knew this. Thus His question to them. And their reticence to answer shows that they were embarrassed by it all.

When I visualize this scene, I can see them following Christ at a little distance. I can hear them say things like: “Well, I cast out one demon in Cana!” While another says: “Well, I cast out two in Nazareth!” It’s almost akin to little kids arguing over their parents—“Mom loves you more than me! But, I do all the work around the house!” Where does this silliness come from? You know. It’s the sin-tainted ego at work trying to excuse and justify itself before others. We do that because somehow we think that by putting others into an inferior position, we enlarge ourselves—at least in our own eyes.

This idea of impressing others by name-dropping, or showing off, is rampant. The whole celebrity culture today is based on it. But, they had such a culture in their day, too, and it rubbed off, as well. Think of how the Pharisees dressed in sumptuous robes with bells and gold tassel adorning them. Think about how such religious leaders lived—in spacious houses fit for nobility. And because of these impressive externals people fawned when they walked by. Don’t you think these simple fisher-folk from back-water Galilee wanted a piece of that action, at least a little?

Of course, lest we get too cocky and adopt a pious demeanor simply to impress others that we’re above such human silliness, consider other aspects of “impressing others.” For example, many Christians today react negatively to people dressing up to go to church. So, instead they go to the other extreme and wear even less than casual clothes. In a sense, they’re trying to impress by how they are not dressed. I suppose they would say: “Well, man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart.” Implying that they’re better than the well-dressed because they’re above it all. To which I would respond, are you using that as an excuse for being lazy in doing your best, or wearing your best to honor God? Finally, it’s really all about your motivation. It’s about your heart. So, examine your heart and ask yourself: “Is what I say and do untainted by my inner ego? Is God glorified and are others uplifted? Does this pithy truth from James ring true in my life: “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.”

II

The fact of the matter is: trying to impress others to boast our ego is a fruitless task. It’s never-ending because it focuses on externals in life while the real issue is internal. But what about impressing God? Can we do that? And if so, exactly how? Listen to Christ’s response: “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and a servant of all.’ He took a little child and had him stand among them. Taking him in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Of course, a simplistic understanding of these words is practiced by many today. That is, they go through the motions of self-denial, of helping others in need, and of making a show of being kind and charitable. They think to themselves: “Ah, I’ve kept Christ’s words, I’ve done what He said, so He’s impressed with me!” Wrong!

External actions must always correspond to a person’s heart. Let’s be frank, because we’re stuck with our ego, neither our motives nor our actions will ever be totally pure, perfect, and holy. So, the point is: trying to impress God on our own is a futile endeavor.

Christ knew that. In fact, that’s why He came. He came to be the perfect servant to us. He came to suffer for us. To die for us. To put His life on the line for us. He came in order to perfectly love every human with all His heart, soul, strength, and mind. He was God’s Son. He didn’t need to impress anyone. His ego was guilt free and sin free. And by living in our place, Christ won a wonderful blessing which He freely gives to us through faith. That is, He impressed God the Father for us and His perfect impression is transferred to us and covers us. Yes, He, the First born of all creation, become the last. With Him humbleness wasn’t just a word, or an occasional way of living, it was His ongoing reality.

So, Are You Living to Impress God or Other People? Are you at peace enough with God in your soul and let Him shine forth in you, or do you still try to obscure the light of His grace and replace it with your own fake light? That day on the road to Capernaum, the disciples learned an important lesson about God’s most excellent way. Today, I hope you’ve also learned that lesson, as well. Amen