Sunday, June 8, 2014

For Christians Only

Do you look stupid?  
Do you look odd or silly or ugly?  
Stop and think about your own looks for a moment, and ask yourself a simple question: 
             How do I look? 

The answer isn't hard to deduce.  We look differently to different observers.  To a genius, most of us seem dumb.  To a supermodel, we aren't beautiful.  To our family … well, that depends on your family.  At work maybe we appear one way, and at a reunion, another.  

How do we appear to God? 
Sadly, very few people (even those who call themselves “Christians”) consider this. 
We say we want to please God. 
We say we fear Him. 
We call Him Lord, and pretend He governs our lives.
We even tell people the most important thing in a human life is: To love God with ALL your heart, ALL your soul, ALL your mind, and ALL your strength. 

Is that true of you? 
Challenge yourself.  Do you try to be “good looking” to God - or to other people?  When you update your clothes or hair or other things to keep up with the latest trends, are you buying something you need, or something you merely want?  And when you do … who are you pleasing?  God, others, or yourself? 

It used to be (in my parent’s generation), a person who was preoccupied with his or her appearance was considered “vain,” and silly.  No one (then or now) admires a shallow or silly person.  We laugh at comedians and other clowns, we watch silly people perform on screen for our amusement, but no reasonable person admires them.  Or do we? 

“Admirable” used to be something reserved for people who made sacrifices, who worked and sweated in order to help or defend others.  I don’t hear much about that anymore.  People want to be attractive more than admirable.  Most would rather be liked than respected

For people in the world, this is understandable.  There’s a spiral downward into shallowness that just happens.  As people get more money, they want more material things.  They want to never get a wrinkle or gray hair, they obsess over shoes, ties, jewelry, handbags or tattoos; they are slaves to fashion.  They no longer cut their own fingernails, but go to a “salon” for a mani-pedi (or whatever it’s called). Even men these days are pretty.  Tattoos can make a man look tough without him actually having to be disciplined, strong and resilient.  And these “men” aren't ashamed!  No one is embarrassed to be shallow.  Rather, they’re embarrassed if they’re not just as shallow as their neighbor. 

I may be wrong, but it seems to me that so-called Christians are headed in the same direction and are indistinguishable from people in the world.  When Christians spend more time and money on their own physical appearance than they do helping others or serving God … isn't that a problem?  Shouldn't the followers of Jesus be embarrassed to be so vain? 

We even distort scripture in service to our vanity.  I can’t count how many times I've heard people distort this passage to believe that “modesty” is about covering up body parts:

Women should adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.  (1 Timothy 2:9–10)

If you read that passage carefully, you’ll see that “modestly” isn't about covering-up, but it’s about not spending a ton of money.  No gold or pearls or costly garments, Paul wrote.  Instead of that, he suggested one be involved in “good works.”  Wow – can you imagine what Paul would make of women these days? 

What do you suppose God thinks of a person who spends more time, money and energy dealing with her hair color or her bangs (or lack thereof) than in expanding or strengthening His kingdom?

How many so-called Christian women do you know whose most beloved outfit in her closet is her good works?  How many men do you know who see more money as an opportunity to serve more, love more and give more instead of buying more? 

Materialism and vanity are alive and well in Jesus’ church. 

How much is too much? 

Each disciple must decide for himself or herself. This is one of those beautiful scriptures that is written to be a guideline, not a rule.  (Although many try to turn it into rules)  And when we are given guidelines, then we reveal our heart by our response:
  • If you want to please God, you’ll go out of your way to see just how modestly (inexpensively) you can clothe yourself. 
  • If you want to please yourself, you’ll see how much you can excuse, justify and/or rationalize. 

Jesus would rather starve than turn stones to bread at Satan’s request (Matthew 4.3-4).  Paul would rather die than take money from the Corinth church (1 Corinthians 9:14-15).  All who want to please God will take “moderation” to an extreme (if necessary), and those who want to cling to their earthly desires will bend modesty to suit what they want, and that will always come ahead of what God wants. 

Again: when we are given guidelines, our response reveals our heart.  Or to put it another way: I can tell what you value often by just looking at you (and so can everyone else).  Do you dress for success?  Do you dress to please a specific person, to show off your assets, to look older or younger or sexier?  What you do with your appearance usually reveals your values to observant people.
God, of course, already knows your heart. 

Christians also surround themselves with “friends” who support them in their habits.  Among the worst influences are modern “churches.”  Churches feed us at every opportunity and never speak of the sin of gluttony.  They have no regard for the hard things, like sensible diet and regular exercise; and high regard for those who can put on their “Sunday best.”  Cover up your fat, lazy body with dark colors and vertical stripes, and you’ll fit right in at most churches.  You can spend a fortune on clothes, shoes, accessories.  Waste hours each week beyond simple good hygiene and add to that makeup and hair products … and you’ll be right at home with most church people.  And why are churches like this?  Because they care more about your attendance and contribution than your effective service for the Lord.  Despite the clear teaching of scripture, they think “church growth” is about having more people attend, instead of making those who do attend even stronger. 

The people at church are usually just like the assembly itself: all show, and no go.  All form and no function.  It’s all about how you look – not who you are.  So be sure and also say the right things, because it’s better to be a complimentary liar than a blunt truth-lover … even among “Christians.” 

My hope and prayer is that you’ll take this little article personally.  I hope you’ll examine your own heart and closet, and challenge yourself.  Make it between you … and you.  Don’t pick on others about this, but rather give yourself a thorough checkup.

Like getting out of debt or losing weight, this is a much greater challenge for some and less for others.  If you’re super-deep in debt, it’s going to be a long, long journey.  If you haven’t exercised in a long time, that first walk, jog or bike ride will wreck you.  For others, you’ll find these things easy, and you’ll find it hard to be compassionate – even with yourselves.  But find your way, and help a brother or sister … for God’s sake.  Strive to be good looking to Him first! 

Examine yourself and see where you are.  And then … challenge yourself.  See if you can make your wardrobe last just a bit longer this year than last.  See how few pairs of shoes you can own.  See how little time you can spend on your hair and makeup. 

One of my personal favorite challenges is to see how much advertising I can resist.  The web, magazines, TV … we are surrounded by advertisements to buy more stuff, eat more stuff, to need the latest thing, to want the newest (and therefore “coolest”) gadget, etc.  Better buy it now while it’s on sale … or you’ll (horror) miss out!  After all, they tell you: you “deserve” it.  You’re “worth” it.

I like to see how many generations of software how many phones I can skip before upgrading.  I like to see if I can find clothes that are durable, and whose appearance is just barely good enough.  I like to deliberately miss big chunks of TV and/or sports. 

Yes, they tempt me to want stuff.  That’s their job, and they’re good at it.  But my job is to take care of myself, my family and the needy.  The less I spend on myself, the more I have for those other things.  And maybe I can be slightly better looking to my King. 

This is not about just saying ‘no’ to everything.  It’s not about being passionless or ugly or “simple” or a fanatic.  When one is constantly saying “no” to stuff, or saying ‘no’ because he doesn't really want something, then it’s just being a miserly, “Mean Mr. Mustard.”  Being miserly (according to God) exposes you as a fool - (Luke 12.16-21).  Don’t be a miserly fool.  This is ugly to both men and God.

But if I can make it a game, then it’s a challenge.  How long can I go between stops at a fast food place?  How much can I save by making my own coffee, or tea, or drinking tap water?  These are things I challenge myself to do.  What’s your record for going without a soft drink, or a donut or other yummy but worthless indulgence?  How long can you make a pair of shoes last? 

Again, this is something you do that’s personal.  It’s something you do for yourself.  It’s your personal “gift” to God, to cut back on consumerism, so you can spend more time and money helping others.  It’s our pleasure (or not) to do everything in our power to please God, and to do more tomorrow than we did today.

It’s a personal choice, but we are helped or hurt by the company we keep.  If your friends make fun of you because you’re “out of style,” or because you still use a flip-phone or because you no longer chase after fashion with them … then maybe you need new friends.  Or maybe you just cave-in and refuse to be different.  You can either be exceptional or you can blend in, but you can’t be both.  If you can find brothers and sisters who want to push each other to be exceptional, you are doubly blessed! 

I’ll be praying for you this week, especially that you’ll challenge yourselves to see how attractive you can make yourselves to God our Father, our Lord and our King.

Since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the desires of men, but for the will of God.

For the time already past is sufficient for you to have carried out the desire of the Gentiles, having pursued a course of sensuality, desires, etc…. 
In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you; but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead….   

The end of all things is near; therefore:
…be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer. Above all…  
…keep fervent in your love for one another (because love covers a multitude of sins).
Be hospitable to one another without complaint.
As each one has received a gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.
Whoever speaks … as one who is speaking the utterances of God
Whoever serves … as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies
So that:
In all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

(1 Peter 4:1–11)

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