Sentimental Value

I never really understood paying for storage. If you have a business where what you’re storing has value and earns a profit above the cost of the storage, then good on you. I had a storage for a time while we were moving, but once we got settled, it emptied, either because we put to use the things we had, or sold off the stuff we didn’t really want or need anymore. Paying monthly to keep things we have no real use for seemed…silly.

How many things do we keep around for the sake of sentimental value? These are those things that are of no practical value, but help us to recall people or times that make us feel good. There’s that old set of lamps that used to be grandma’s. I remember going to sleep by the light from that white, knobby ceramic lampshade when we’d visit their North Hollywood home as a kid. Mom gave them to me when they downsized. I’ll never use them, but they remind of grandma so they get a nice safe space in a box in the rafters of the garage. I eventually did pass them along in the hopes they’d get some use, but I kept the fond memories. Sentiment is a great emotional pacifier, but it’s really of no practical use.

Likewise, in the church, belief without obedience is nothing more than sentiment. Sentimental Christians may feel good, but they are simply of no real use to the kingdom of God, nor in the world which we are called to serve. Sentimental Christians will talk about what they believe, but when the rubber meets the road, it’s easier to have an emotional experience or remember another time, or be encouraged by someone else’s obedience rather than follow through with their own. Sentimental Christians cannot know Jesus. It is through obedience that we achieve intimacy with Jesus. In John 14, Jesus says that those who love him will obey his commands and that obedience will bring the disciple into intimacy with Jesus and with the Father (John 14:21, 23, John 15:10). Without obedience we may have the call of Jesus, but we aren’t following him, and so we cannot be near to him. We can only fondly recall his kindness. That’s not the same as being with him, or living in him.

Sentimental Christians offend the world. These are the ones who seem to have a stock, pat answer for the deep and real issues and challenges of life. They tell the one who is hurting that “all things work for good” with a smile and a chuck on the shoulder; they justify a poor turnout with, “well, where two or three are gathered…” without actually knowing what those things mean. They do more harm with flippancy than they ever do good and leave the world bitter, resentful, and feeding their doubts. This is because sentimental Christians have never really followed Jesus through the Valley of the Shadow of death. That would be uncomfortable, even painful, and they came to Jesus to make their lives better, not harder. But that’s not really what Jesus called us to, a better version of our lives. He called us to die to self, to cast off the old self and to put on the new self created to be like Jesus. He called us to “deny ourselves, pick our cross and follow him,” yet the sentimental Christian responds more like the Rich Young Ruler in Luke 18 than like Abraham (Genesis 12) or even Paul (see Philippians 3:2-11).

When it comes to giving gifts, we’re told that “it’s the thought that counts.” I’m glad Jesus didn’t take that view of things when it comes to his gift of life. A sentimental savior would save no one. It’s really not the thought that counts. It’s the effort. When we hear the call, we seek his face. When we see him, we believe. That belief challenges the old self and beckons the new and we must choose to take up that cross and follow. As we follow we will take up and lay down as Jesus leads. We will know both green pastures and still waters as well as troubles, toils and snares within the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Yet, we must follow Jesus because we believe that it is better to be walking in the Valley with Jesus that to be lying in green pastures without him.

Sentiment accomplishes nothing. In fact it only serves as a place to tarry rather than follow. The world doesn’t need sentimental Christians. In this way, Satan — the devil — believes, yet he only loves himself and so neither honors God nor loves or serves man. There is no value in this, only harm. The world needs those whom believe and through whom “springs of living water flow” to heal and refresh through courageous obedience, fueled by love for God and love for others. This is how we change the world.

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