I have a confession to make...I ate the cookies and felt diminished. (I'll explain more about that later.)
Have you ever felt diminished? Do you ever feel small? Humiliated? Have you ever said: "I'm a Christian! How could I have acted that way, lost it that way, spoken that way, thought that way?"
Of course, you can feel diminished not only because of what you say or think or what you don't say or think, but because of what others say or think. When people count you of little importance or worth, you can't help but feel diminished, even if you know a lot or all of it is untrue. That feels horrible.
The dictionary defines diminishing as "to make smaller or that which reduces or makes of lesser degree," as opposed to being enlarged and growing bigger and better and of more value.
People can diminish you. Life can diminish you. You can diminish yourself if you listen to negative messages. The devil himself is the author of diminishing. He doesn't care how the belittling comes. He'll use any person or anything to do his horrible work.
Sometimes people's worth is found in what they earn or achieve in the world. Our worth can be all wrapped up in the house we live in, the dishes we eat from, the way the drapes drape, or even if the basement is finished or not!
Driving to church a few months ago, I was listening to stories about the plane crash in the Hudson, the miracle story of the new year. All were saved by the heroism of the pilot. Interspersed with the man's amazing skill in this true story of life and death was the news of the cease-fire in the war in Gaza. The killing had stopped for a while. But news followed of atrocities in Africa and danger in Afghanistan for our troops. Serious stuff. When someone tries to kill you, you feel diminished all right.
A musical jingle began on the radio. The lively group sang, "Do you feel diminished when your basement isn't finished?" This seemed incredibly incongruous in the light of the really important stuff, but some people really do! Do what? Feel diminished if their basement isn't finished and their neighbor's is! Yet even though it's silly to feel belittled by what is seemingly trivial, it isn't trivial if it sidelines you or if your self-worth is wrapped up in material success, whatever it is.
The devil doesn't care about the basement. He doesn't care about war or the really big things going on around our hurting world. He just cares about making you lose respect for yourself as God sees you. Don't let him get away with it. The Bible says he is the "accuser of the brethren" (Rev. 12:10, KJV).
The devil exists to diminish us! He is the ultimate diminisher. He is a murderer. He kills our God-given sense of intrinsic value and worth. He reduces our view of ourselves and our view of God and His worth, too. We diminish God when we see Him as angry and disappointed in us or when we think less of ourselves than He does as His precious, forgiven child. Satan is heavy into diminishing, while God is busy enlarging and giving us an incredible sense of value.
"You are worth coming for, finding, saving, and rising again," Christ tells us. "You are worth indwelling; I love to live in your life. I want to stay here. I like it here. You are worth everything to me. You are infinitely precious and worthwhile. You are worth forgiving, indwelling, gifting, and using in my plans and purposes. I value you." (Read Psalm 139 every day for a week! That should help!).
But even though we know these things in our heads, when we do something that makes us ashamed and small or buy into others' accusations and abusive words, knowing this doesn't seem to help unless we choose to believe it! We get into blaming those who diminish us, blaming ourselves for letting them, and blaming anything else in sight!
We can't believe we did that or said that! We ask ourselves, "How could I?" and we lose self-respect. Our self-worth is shattered and we lose the will to try and grow bigger...to strive to enlarge our lives to let God increase and augment our self value. Or we tell ourselves, "I deserve this treatment because of who I am."
God wants to bless us by assuring us we are known and loved — and He is pleased with us. He is not pleased with our sins of commission or omission, of course, but pleased with us even when we never do it all right. He says, "Well, you never do it all wrong either." We should believe that still small voice of encouragement.
Paul was being criticized and said, "I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself" (1 Cor. 4:3). It's God who judges us knowing our motives and desires.
It was 9/11 and I was in an airplane. I had been traveling from Siberia trying to get home. Instead, we landed in Newfoundland and stayed there for six days. When we got there we had to sit for hours before we could be processed. We hadn't eaten for a long time, so all of us were hungry. Once down on the ground, we were told we wouldn't be eating for hours. Sitting on the tarmac for hours, I dreamed of all the opportunities to tell my flight full of people about the Lord. I prayed that God would use me in this very dramatic place, helping people with their fear and trauma.
The passengers snoozed for a time — we were all pretty jet-lagged. Suddenly, I remembered that I had bought some cookies at Heathrow Airport. At once, a high and noble thought came to me. I would share my cookies with the doctor next to me, or the older lady weeping across the aisle, or those cute kids in the front seat. Maybe this act of generosity, at no little cost, would give me a chance to talk about Christ. Fast on the heels of the Spirit's suggestion came a very different voice, "Why don't you wait till everyone's asleep and nibble them surreptitiously?" The battle began. I had a choice to make. I couldn't believe myself. Here I was, an international relief worker, a speaker, and author of books on sacrificial love and how to live like Jesus, and I was busy plotting to eat my cookies — all by myself!
The battle raged. And...I ate the cookies! Yes I did, ALL OF THEM! As soon as I swallowed the last cookie, the guilt began. The shame followed. I felt diminished (quite rightly!). I certainly felt a whole lot smaller than I had felt a few minutes earlier. I couldn't believe I did that, and I couldn't undo it either! It was done.
Have you ever "eaten the cookies"? What a sick feeling. On 9/11, God and I had a serious talk about the cookies. I said I was sorry. He said, "Good, now let's try again. Failure is never final for my children." After such a disastrous start in that Salvation Army hall in Gander, Newfoundland, God gave me the gift of six more days to do a little better! "Well, that shouldn't have been too hard," you say. Right! That's what I love about Jesus. He gives us another day to do better. Sometimes six!
The cookies represent any time we do the wrong thing instead of doing the right thing - or when people diminish us with words or actions and we "eat them!" It represents any time we fail as a daughter, son, grandparent, mother, father, friend, leader, or follower. All of us will fail and fail again. Remember, we are fallen people living in a fallen world, but we can't allow others to judge us as failures. There is only one judgment seat and it is most thoroughly occupied by the Lord Himself, who died for us. God is the judge and only God knows the measure of our hearts. "It must be a small thing, not a large thing, that others judge us" (1 Cor. 4:2-4). When others, by innuendo, impugn and degrade us, even if sometimes we indeed do it wrong, God whispers love and affirmation to our heart, if we let Him.
Even if you have just eaten the cookies, or someone else has and you are blaming yourself, learn to keep in touch with the loving Lord. Know we will eat our share of cookies before it's over, but one day, we will be done with it. We shall be complete and whole and hear "well done faithful (not successful) servant." We must not think less of ourselves than God thinks of us. And one glorious day we will never do it again. I can't wait! Hallelujah.
How do you feel about yourself today? Remember how God feels about you, whatever kind of cookies you've eaten! There is healing for all the cookies that have been eaten in the whole wide world. Next time you're feeling diminished, refer the "accuser of the brethren" to the One that defeated Him.
When the apostles John and Peter healed the lame man in Acts chapter 4, it’s a beautiful picture of the healing we can receive in our souls to make us whole. And there’s only one person who can do this. Not Muhammad, not Buddha, not the Ten Commandments, not the Pope, not Marx, not Freud, not yoga, not tolerance, not enlightenment, science, or philosophy. Only Jesus can transform us from the inside out.
In this message, Pete Briscoe teaches from Acts 4 about how experiencing the sheer power and love of the indwelling Christ leaves us compelled to tell lost people about the beautiful, saving grace of Jesus.