If you live in the United States, you live in a society obsessed with appearances. Those who "make it" in our culture often do so because they are exceedingly aware of how they appear to the world. Politicians are aware that a vote cast today will affect them come election time. Heads of organizations are unlikely to wear sweats on a day off because an unkempt appearance could prove disastrous.
If this doesn't describe you, think again. While many of us are honestly seeking to move away from the shallowness of our culture, each time we answer "fine" to the question "How are you?" we inadvertently play into our culture's bent toward polished images. This, of course, is not to suggest that you are not actually "fine" sometimes or even "great."
I have to ask, How should the church respond to this particular form of worldliness? As one who seeks to interpret cultural texts, let me tell you the stakes are high.
Woe to the Scribes and Pharisees
Excerpted from Matthew's Gospel
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean.
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness" (23:25-28).
I admit it's difficult to describe my love for what's real. Perhaps expressing my love with some examples may help. While I enjoyed dating Aimee, the rawness of marriage (for richer or poorer, in sickness and health) has proved much more satisfying. While a polished church service keeps my interest, working through the grit of relationships in the context of intimate fellowship is where I want to be. While having lots of money in the bank gives me that secure feeling, having little to nothing causes me to reflect much more deeply.
Perhaps I have masochistic tendencies. But upon reflection, that's not it at all. What's at work in my heart is the gravitational pull of truth.
Just for a moment, think about your life fully exposed. Think about a you minus all cover ups. And if that's not uncomfortable enough, think about an exposed you in the presence of an exposed me.
I'm wondering, do you really want to know who I am? The stats say you don't. As an "expert" in church planting, the stats tell me that what draws crowds isn't the gospel, but the allure of personal prosperity and purpose within the context of one's present worldview.
As disciples, it's vitally important that we not get sucked into our culture's love of appearances. Yes, it's much more comfortable, even beautiful (on the outside). Great music. Pretty lights. A polished message.
While I don't think Yeshua (Jesus) was opposed to beauty, texts like Matthew 23 still baffle and amaze me. If I were to do something similar today, I'd get killed. Well, maybe not killed, but I'd certainly get a prompt visit from an usher (one whose job is to remove the unruly).
In sharing these thoughts, my hope is that you will join me in pursuing what's real. To do that, of course, we've got to say no to some things and even take some risks. And because I've lived this for some time now, let me assure you of a few things; it's good and right and, at times, very difficult with rather uncomfortable consequences.
Take up your cross.