Summary: Learning to not live off the applause of others but only of God. Seeking God;s approval not that of friends and others

The week after Christmas is the hardest week of the year for many people. This is the time when people are tested by the gifts they received or did not receive or by how people responded or did not respond to the gifts that were given.

Some people are upset because they did not receive a thank you for the gift they gave. Some people become upset because they did not receive a card or gift from someone they expected to get something from. Some people get upset because the gift they gave was nicer and more expensive than the gift they received.

But probably the biggest reason many people become upset after Christmas is what I have already alluded to, they did not receive a thank you. So how do those people respond? Some of them decide not to give a gift to that person again. Some decide to give them a second chance next Christmas and then if they don’t respond they stop giving a gift to that person. And then there are those who just feel bad. Who feel unappreciated. Who feel angry. Who even get a little bitter. Which now raises the question: Why did they give the gift in the first place?

A gift by definition is something freely given, undeserved, and is given whether recognized or not.

This is the third message in our series on Pure Joy. In the first message we focused on James 2:2-3, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” We used a sieve as our visual illustration. We said that we should be joyful when trials and hardships come because God uses them to develop his character in us and make us more like him. Trials sift out the sins, the imperfections in our character.

Then in our second message we focused on Hebrews 12:4-6, “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons and daughters: "My son, my daughter, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves.”

Our illustration that week was a bonsai tree, a miniature tree that has been shaped, cut, pruned, to make it the size it is.

Our text this week is found in the Gospel of John, “How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?” (John 5:44, NIV). The Contemporary English Version puts it this way “How could you possibly believe? You like to have your friends praise you, and you don’t care about praise that the only God can give!”

What is the context for this passage? Let’s read beginning with verse 41. Jesus is speaking. "I do not accept praise from men, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God” (John 4:41-44).

Jesus is talking to the Jewish people who have not accepted him. He says that they are more willing to believe human beings than believe him who is both human and divine. He says that they are too reliant on other people for approval rather than relying on God.

My illustration this week is a recognition plaque. I once visited in a person office and one wall, which was about fifteen feet long and ten feet high was covered with plaques and certificates of recognition. It was obvious that the approval, the praise of men was very important to that person.

We all want approval. And it is good to give approval. We want our parent’s approval. We want our friend’s approval. We want our supervisor’s approval. But more important than any of that is receiving God’s approval. When Jesus came out of the water at his baptism God spoke these words: “This is my Son, whom I love, with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him” (Matthew 3:17).

The title of our message is “How to feel good about yourself.” Now there is a wrong way and a right way to feel good about oneself. The wrong way is the way of pride, the belief that I am better than other people. The belief that I am smarter than those around me. The belief that I can accomplish anything I want. All these are the way of pride. Another way that we try and feel good about ourselves is to seek the approval, the praise of others. But what happens when we don’t get praise, thanks, approval? Depending on our temperament we will react in different ways. We will either lash out or we will withdraw, quit.

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