Being is Better Than Seeming

maskI knew a pastor once whose church had “full altars.” (Baptist churches aren’t supposed to have altars, but that’s the terminology.)  That meant that every time he gave an “altar call”, people would walk down the aisle to “get right with God.” He preached ceaselessly against moral sin and held his congregation to an unwavering standard of clean living. Pants weren’t allowed on women. Rock music wasn’t allowed. A glass of wine was never allowed. Card playing wasn’t allowed. Movies weren’t allowed. These were things of the flesh that must be expunged to live right and do right.

The problem was, the preacher had a waist high stash of porn in the closet of his “pastor’s study” (pre-internet porno fans had to actually get the mags) and was having an affair with one of the teachers in his Christian school. She didn’t wear pants, but adultery with the preacher man was OK if she wore culottes for the photos he kept in his desk.

The pastor was a serial adulterer who had women all over from the churches he had destroyed, it later came out. But a more grandfatherly appearance would be hard to find. White shirt and tie and big Bible in hand, he ascended the platform Sunday after Sunday to play the weeping Jeremiah, appealing to his erring flock to turn off the TV’s and rock stations and turn to Jesus.

The nausea of discovering that someone I looked up to was, in fact, a fraud and a scumbag, remains to this day. I had once talked with this pastor, in my youth and  naivete believing he had something to offer in the way of good counsel. Frauds are disillusioning. Spiritual frauds are the worst.

There is an old poem that beings with these words:

“True worth is in being, not seeming…”

I know another man. He’s never had a radio show or a pulpit or a blog or anything else. He quietly  lives his integrity day in and day out. He is a good man, but would quickly admit that he has his flaws. I know of his integrity not because of the great moral lessons that he gives with his mouth or his grand spiritual proclamations. I know he’s a good man, because I’ve seen how he’s lived and how he treats others for the last 20 years. For him, it has been about being, not seeming to be something he is not. He’s my husband. What a difference.

On Facebook recently, there was a discussion about the importance of shutting off the Big Media voices and getting back to basics in our lives. We don’t need Big People to tell us how to be. The hypocrisy in Christian media land  is breathtaking. I would add that God is exposing it all over the place. We don’t need people with failed private lives lecturing us on how to live, what to do and how to please God. The good thing is, we have the treasure of the Word of God for each of us, available 24/7. There is truth. There is what we need to know.  At a time of growing darkness and spiritual fraud, the simplicity and concept of being, rather than seeming, needs a comeback.

Love God, love your neighbor, mow your grass, take care of your family, help someone in need. These are the details that need attending to. Have a spiritual calling? That’s great.  Do you have a spouse and children? Choose to make a family?  That’s your first calling and it’s far more important than any Big Important Thing you do on the side. The sheep running after this Big Voice and that one over there aren’t being helped .Putting people on pedestals who have their own personal rot behind the scenes adds nothing to our own spiritual lives, and sets us up for a crash when the truth comes out.

Our children will thank us for being real, rather than seeming to be something we are not. They spot fakes a mile off, don’t kid yourself. What’s needed is everyday faithfulness, everyday forgiveness when we blow it, everyday humility to admit when we’re wrong and lots and lots of love to cover it all.

That’s what being a real Christian in a fake-o world  is all about.


Rejecting “Sticker Jesus”

stickerjesusI once saw a Sunday School chart on a wall where attendance was kept. For each Sunday that kids showed up, a sticker was placed on the chart with a cartoon drawing depicting Jesus on it. It is helpful for each of us to ponder whether that is the “Jesus” we as professing Christian believers have or not.

The world of  Sticker Jesus is a confusing one. It seems to be a “Christian” place, if by “Christian” we mean adhering to a specific set of external standards. Certain things are shunned in a knee-jerk fashion, like rock music, smokes, booze, certain words, even playing cards (because somebody might think you are gambling.) I once heard someone rail against “sipping saints” while the indignant tee-totaling person was a nasty, lying gossip. (Sticker Jesus is not OK with a glass of wine with dinner, but gossip and slander and lies, not a problem.) So external rightness is the norm in Sticker Jesus Land, but upon closer scrutiny, other things don’t look Christian at all.

In Sticker Jesus Land, your behavior doesn’t have to look anything like the Jesus of the Bible. Here, you can invent false narratives to explain any relational  irregularities in your life caused by your own corruption. (Please pray for Brother or Sister X, they have gone prodigal. Pray that something dramatic happens to bring them back to the Lord.) Worse still, Sticker Jesus followers actually come to believe those lying narratives. Blindness is the norm. Who cares if I am ignoring whole swaths of Scriptural teaching? My “Jesus” is the one I serve, and he tells me that it’s everyone else’s fault if things are bad behind the scenes. Let’s pray for those with a root of bitterness!

Sticker Jesus is OK with a lot of things the real Jesus is not OK with. That is, if you actually read what the real Jesus said in the Bible.  Sadly, Sticker Jesus followers do incredible damage, because they wear deceptive masks. When the masks eventually come down, and they always do, those they have misled are left to wonder whether any real Jesus actually exists, because Sticker Jesus followers often give their family and followers a foretaste of hell, not heaven, and those burned and deceived want no more of that. Those affected by Sticker Jesus followers can be effectively inoculated against the real Jesus Christ because of the hurt they carry.

Sticker Jesus followers are legion. Real Jesus followers are rare—too rare. Better to have no pretense of a Jesus at all than to be a walking billboard for a counterfeit Christ.