Front and Center

Outward appearance plays a vital role in our society.  Check out the number of commercials sponsoring products purported to slow down the aging process, “Apply this cream and your skin will look 10 years younger,” says the soothing voice as if all of life’s problems are solved by looking younger.  Marketing firms do their best to convince us that if we own a certain set of clothes, or a certain sports car, and whatever super-duper product our lives will suddenly morph into the glamorous lifestyle we believe our favorite stars live.  Get ready twitter!  Of course, appearances are deceiving — peal back the clean rug, and the dirt is revealed underneath.

Unfortunately, church congregations can also deceive by their outward appearances – well dressed people on their best behavior singing hymns with joyful enthusiasm.  Don’t let the appearance fool you, though.  The dirt is there.  Same for the early church as well – there are scriptures in the Bible explicitly pointing out the typical churchgoer tendency to make a big show of things.

“Matthew 6:5 — When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them.  I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get.”

Jesus also ran across people too concerned with how things looked on the outside, running here and there trying to fulfill every letter of the law instead of focusing on matters of the heart.  These same people tried to impose their heartless world of words on Jesus.  For example, in Matthew it is written that some teachers of the law asked Jesus why his disciples didn’t wash their hands before eating; therefore, breaking the tradition of the elders.  Jesus responds by quoting Isaiah.

“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”

Then, to further his point Jesus says in Matthew 15:11, “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean’, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’ “

The disciples didn’t exactly understand this, so Jesus offers the following words of wisdom.

“Matthew 15:17-20 — Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body?  But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.  These are what make a man ‘unclean’; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean.’ ”

Let’s drop our facade of righteousness now and give glory to Christ from a deep well of soulful passion — He knows the truth and is worthy of praise.  There is no need for church members to impress each other in a contest of “check box checking” that will yield no real winners.  Keep it “simple” and direct as pointed out in Matthew 22:37-40.

Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it:  Love your neighbor as yourself.  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Onward.

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