POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 29, 2010:
Perception and Reality
It's easier to talk the talk than to walk the walk
God doesn't just want His followers to make His organization look good, He wants them to be good. To seek good, so that others will see that God Himself is good. God is concerned with what is inside.
Above and Beyond
I've wondered what it would be like to join the boat club. When I'm driving down the highway and I see an extended cab pickup truck with a sleek-looking bass boat (or speed boat) in tow, I imagine how much fun it would be to own that boat and take it out on one of our beautiful lakes for some guaranteed aqua-matic fun.
I'm sure it would be great, especially the first few times. But I've also learned that the life of a boat owner exists in extremes -- on one side euphoria and on the other tediousness. The tedious part is fraught with responsibility, and most boat owners quickly tire of maintenance obligations. That's why it is often said, "There are two really good days in the life of owning a boat: the day you buy the boat and the day you sell it."
Membership has its privileges; there is no doubt about it. But privilege comes with responsibility. In almost every case, if you want to experience the benefits of membership, you must learn how a member is expected to behave.
Walmart understands this. Their distribution center in Sanger, Texas, has the misfortune of being next-door neighbor to a XXX adult video store. They have a strict policy for every truck driver: immediate termination of employment if the employee or the company truck is seen even in the parking lot of the "smut hut." For Walmart, perception is reality. Good-standing membership in their organization means disassociating with anything that might tarnish the company's good name.
Bad membership was a major problem in Jesus' day, especially in religious circles. The majority of His confrontations on earth were with members of the religious establishment who refused to act like members should. On more than one occasion, Jesus spoke with righteous correction towards a group of Pharisees with harsh criticisms, such as the following:
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness." (Matthew 23:27-28 TNIV)
Whitewashed tombs. They looked clean and ornate on the outside, but inside they were marred by the stench of death.
Hypocrites. They knew how to play the religious role in front of others, but in reality they resembled the adversary, the devil, more than the God they claimed to worship.
I like the way Eugene Peterson paraphrases these same verses: "You're hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You're like manicured grave plots, grass clipped and the flowers bright, but six feet down it's all rotting bones and worm-eaten flesh. People look at you and think you're saints, but beneath the skin you're total frauds." (Matthew 23:27-28 The Message)
It would seem fitting here to unleash a soap-box worthy tirade against the religious establishment. I hear people say things like this all the time, "The biggest problem I have with Jesus is the people who claim to be his followers." I can see how someone might feel that way, and I have felt that way myself at times.
Perhaps one of the main reasons people view the Christian faith this way is because of bad membership. Unfortunately, if I am to be completely honest, there are times when Jesus' description of "whitewashed tombs" seems to befit me. No matter how badly I want to represent my membership in God's family well, sometimes I fail. I have been guilty of taking all of the privileges of belonging to Christ for granted and shirking the responsibility that is meant to accompany them. I have also been guilty of pretending to be someone I'm not. Giving a Golden Globe-worthy performance in religiosity is not admirable, and it doesn't interest God in the slightest.
It seems plain and simple to me: Playing the part is in and of itself fraudulent. God doesn't just want His followers to make His organization look good, He wants them to be good. To seek good, so that others will see that God Himself is good. God is concerned with what is inside.
God wants authenticity because He knows that any cheap imitation will only damage his reputation further. On behalf of all who call themselves Christ-followers, I apologize for the ways our humanity so often gets in the way. I want to take my membership in God's family seriously. I want to live up to my responsibilities to show people that God is good because of His activity in my life. Being a true Christ-follower is a real responsibility that can never truly be faked.
It all goes back to the boat club. You can own the boat, look good in pictures with the boat, and make others envious of the boat. If you fail to maintain it like a boat is meant to be maintained, your boat will decay and your membership in the boat club will have been wasted.
According to Jesus, it isn't just about perception; it's about reality.
Eric Costanzo is Minister of Community Ministries and a teaching pastor at First Baptist Church in downtown Tulsa.
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