Friday, July 07, 2006

Cosmetic Christianity...


It’s so pretty isn’t it? A lovely golden cross bejeweled with tiny diamonds, delicately fashioned to look like a bow on a package, hanging from a delicate golden chain. It is a symbol of Christianity. Yet in reality, the cross was never that pretty. In fact it was downright ugly. It was a tool of execution...like the gallows or the electric chair. We don’t glamorize those things….but we do with the cross… Here in the land of plenty, in the land of glamour, in the land of putting your best foot forward… we have all learned over time, the importance of our cosmetic world. I have never been one who was much into going to the perfume counters, or the beauty boutiques to peruse the latest fashions that would supposedly make me irresistible. Yet, some make a habit of it. They don’t like their looks, can’t accept that they are getting older. Refuse to put up with wrinkles, sags, and bags. So they make the trek to the beauty experts, to discover how to fake the world out that they are not as old as they really are. Reality is hard to accept sometimes. The hair is getting gray, eyelids droop, and your don’t know for sure who that old stranger is looking back at you in the mirror.
But what we see in the mirror does not even begin to reflect what God sees on the inside. He sees the real you…. Not glamorized by our attempts to show the world around us that we are just lovely. Too often Christians today get caught into the traps and behaviors of the world. We become experts at wearing a mask. We dare not let it down lest we reveal reality.
Cosmetic Prayer:
You’ve heard them pray….perfunctory prayers with big impressive words. But somehow they seemed like a lot of tinkling glass and clanging cymbals. Lots of show but no music. Don’t let it happen to you. You can’t change other people but you can change yourself. Choose to be real. Pray from your heart. Pray with emotion. Pray with sincerity. Pray as if your life depended on it. Pray as if God were standing right in front of you, hanging on every word. Jesus rebukes the phony kinds of cosmetic prayers we sometimes hear. “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess…...for every one that exalts himself shall be abased; (Luke 18:11,12,14) but the publican, he commended… 13And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner…...I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other:…...and he that humbles himself shall be exalted. (Luke 18: 13,14). Choose to pray in a way that is pleasing to God. It may not be finely polished, perfect grammar, or be a prayer that they will one day write books about, but prayers prayed from the heart will reach the throne of God. When we pray, we need to unlearn what man’s idea of prayer is and learn God’s way. Jesus disciples noticed something different in the way he prayed. It so touched them that they asked Him to teach them how to do it… and it was not a cosmetic prayer. Some have made it into a cosmetic prayer today but that was never the Master’s intention. Up until that time, Jewish people had prayed but their prayer lives had become sterile and powerless. Many just left praying to the priests who had to wash themselves every time they said the name of Jehovah ‘Yahweh.’ It became so much work to pray that prayer lost its power, its purpose and its intimacy. Jesus tried to restore that. His prayer teaches us that we are to talk to God like a Father, telling him our basic needs, giving Him praise for who He is, yielding our will to His will, asking for forgiveness, praying with humility, honesty, and integrity. His prayer recognized the power source of Almighty God. This was no cosmetic prayer.
Cosmetic Church:
The larger and more complex the church becomes, the more cosmetic it also becomes. It is nearly impossible to keep a real complexion in front of a demanding mega church. As the church grows, it hires the best staff so the work gets done to perfection. Then the committees give the church a facelift….a new sanctuary, or new parking lot, or new d├ęcor….all with the goal of attracting more folks… and we polish and scrub in our attempt to make our crude carnal churches into something special. God calls it pride.
We fail to remember that this is His church… it is His body… His complexion. He is the One who needs to work on it. Changing the face of the church is not in providingprofessional staff members, or the beautification of the facilities. It is each individual person yielding to the searching work of the Holy Spirit. As he draws our attention to areas of weakness or neglect in our own lives, it then becomes our responsibility to yield that area to His control. Then he makes us into ‘new creations’ with a total makeover. He transforms us, not by cosmetics touchups, not by anything we can do, but only by the power that He has to change us from the inside out.
There are always those who think they have the gift of criticism… as if the Holy Spirit just does not know how to do the job right. So they step up to the microphone and let everyone know…. “ that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican…” Years ago, someone drew to my attention that when I point my finger at someone else, I have three fingers pointing back at me. I have learned that it is not my job to judge others. It is my job to work on me.
Christians have given Christianity a bad name. On the internet in a Yahoo question and answer forum lately, a question was asked… “Why do Christians hate other Christians.” When we act in an un-Christ-like manner towards others who call themselves Christians, we are not only hurting our own image, we are damaging the image of Christ before the world. Denominations are notorious for attacking other denominations if they happen to disagree on one small point of doctrine. To the world, we look like fools. We play into the enemy’s hands as he divides and conquers. He keeps us so busy with fighting and quarreling among ourselves that we fail to realize that the real purpose we are here for, is not to perfect doctrine, define bylaws, or get more education, but to tell the good news. We choose to focus on news headlines of our own making….instead of lifting Jesus higher for all the world to see. While the church squabbles, souls are dying without Christ. While we argue about the color of the carpet, whether to sing hymns or choruses, or if we should get rid of the pews and get chairs…..just down the street, a home is breaking up in divorce, a dad is caught up in pornography or gambling, a mom is hooked on drugs or alcohol, and kids are being abused. Across the tracks, downtown, churches have packed their bags and moved to the ‘nice’ neighborhood. I am reminded of the story written about the ....
Life Saving Station:
On a dangerous seacoast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little life saving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat but a few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves, they went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. Many lives were saved by this wonderful little life saving station, so it became famous. So some of those who had been saved, and various others from the surrounding areas wanted to become associated with this station, and give of their time and their money and their effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought, new life saving crews were trained, and the little life saving station grew.
Some of the members of the life saving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those who were saved from the sea. So they replaced the emergency cots and beds with better furniture in the enlarged building. Now the life saving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it, and they beautifully furnished it exquisitely because they used it as something of a club. Few members were now interested in going to sea on life saving missions so they hired life boat crews to do the work. The life saving motif still prevailed in the life saving club's decorations and there was a liturgical lifeboat in the room where the club held it's initiations, but professionalism had taken over and displaced the original purpose of lifesaving.
Now about this time a large ship was wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in loads of cold, wet, half drowned people. They were dirty and sick, and some of them had black skin and some of them had yellow skin and the beautiful new club was considerably messed up - so the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where the victims of ship wrecks could be cleaned up before they came inside. At the next meeting there was a split in the club membership. You see most of the members wanted to stop the clubs life saving activity as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon life saving as their primary purpose and they pointed out that they were still called the life saving station. But they were finally voted down and told if they wanted to save the lives of various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, and dirty and wet, they could begin their own life saving station down the coast a little ways, which they did. And as the years went by the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old one. It evolved into a club, and yet another life saving station was founded. Well history continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that coast today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along the shore which are very professional in nature. Shipwrecks are still frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown.

Let’s get real! Don’t be a market driven cosmetic Christian. Be real. The world is tired of phonies. Keep your roots pure and your foundation strong! Stand for the truths in the Bible. Swim away from the crowd. Listen to the Holy Spirit. Do what’s right! Your stand for God may make an eternal difference for one lost soul. How you handle it may determine their outcome. Don’t let fear and intimidation deter your calling or your vision. If God is in it, go for it!
J. Johnson