Saturday, January 28, 2012

#4 Matthew 6:5-6 "Shhhhh! It's a Secret!"

"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

There are two very personal reasons why I hate the word "hypocrite."

One reason is because I am an actor. Yes, I like to get on stage and perform a role in a play. But, the church has had a long and mostly unfriendly relationship with theatre, for multiple reasons I will not get into.

And the only time I really hear about theatre and actors is when the pastor is preaching about hypocrisy. You see, the word "hypocrite" comes from the Greek word hypokrisis, which means "play-acting." In ancient Greek theatre, actors on stage often wore masks to portray the characters in the story. Hypocrites are those who pretend, or put on a mask, as one type of person, but in reality, are really another type of person altogether.

I know some in the church have viewed my theatrical endeavors with mild suspicion. Arts and the Christian life seem to be limited to worship music, in some peoples' eyes. I know not everyone will be a theatre fan. It just hurts that the only mention of theatre in church is when they equate us to hypocrites.

The second reason I hate this word is because I am a Christian. "Hypocrite" is a word-bomb that gets thrown at us believers by those outside the church. It is the common insult (and excuse) used to justify why some non-believers refuse to go to church or why they dismiss the church and its members.

I once heard a pastor tell me that when he invites people to church, they often say, "I don't want to go to church. The church is full of hypocrites." Then he'd say, "Well,'ll fit right in!"

Okay...I'll be the first to say that, yes, there ARE hypocrites in the church. I have also met many hypocrites outside the church. We Christians have no monopoly on hypocrisy.

But that doesn't excuse any of us, believer and non-believer alike, from walking our walk and talking our talk. Hypocrisy is something we all need to get over.

Matthew 6 tells us that God, too, disapproves of hypocrisy. Play-acting the life of a holy and righteous person who has a dirty, secret life within is exactly why our critics are calling us to the carpet. Our secret life within (as Matthew says, behind closed doors) is what God calls genuine. When the secret life is pleasing to God, this is what He rewards. Our secret life is what is in our hearts, in our deepest thoughts and desires.

God knows what's in a person's heart, even though the rest of the world may not. As this verse shows, not everything in our hearts is portrayed by our actions. Just last evening, I had the opportunity to watch a play. The play was a "comedy" based on the question, what would happen if several deities from various religions got together and planned the apocalypse?

I heard the words, some bordering on blasphemous, being delivered by the actors (yes! the hypocrites!!). A couple of the actors I knew personally. One was a believer, the other was not.

I doubt that either actor personally believed what their characters were saying. But when the Christian actor had to deliver offensive dialogue, I prayed silently. But God assured me, "It's only a role on stage....Don't worry, I know what is in his heart."

And that's what God looks at, the heart. Yes, our actions should flow out of what is in our hearts. But this is where it begins. That way, there will be no disconnect between our hearts and our actions. When people meet us, they'll get the genuine deal.

Am I giving God my genuine self? He is the maker and healer of my imperfect and wounded heart. I have to begin there. When God gets the real me, then He can work on that hard heart of mine. And the whole world doesn't need to see that heart work. Matthew reminds us that it is done in secret.

I pray that when His work continues in me, my actions will naturally follow suit. Oh but wait, that heart work is secret. I wasn't supposed to tell you about that.....

Monday, January 23, 2012

#3 Genesis 1:3 "Lights, (no) Camera, Action!"

"And God said, 'Let there be light.' And there was light."

When mankind seeks to understand something that can't be explained, he develops a theory. To be fair, these theories are based on scientific observation and extensive data collection. But, even when the data still leaves science somewhat in the dark, a theory is born. Thus, Hubble's Big Bang Theory sought to explain just how our universe was created. Darwin's Theory of Evolution seeks to explain the origins of life and man.

Now, I am not necessarily taking sides on this debate, I am just trying to make a point: that man has always wanted to search the unsearchable and know the unknowable. This is what man is about. We are the species that asks "how" and "why" rather than just marvel at the fact that something "is."

And yes, I do know that there are varying interpretations of the Genesis account of creation. Some see it literally, and others see the account more poetically. Still others consider it just a myth, a primitive attempt to explain the inexplicable.

I have not decided just where on that theological continuum I sit (hint: I do NOT subscribe to the myth school of thought). But I do know this: the first words on record uttered from God's mouth is "Let there be light."

Whether you believe this to be a literal truth or a poetic expression of the truth, it is no mistake that God began His creative work by proclaiming light into existence.

The word "light" has many meanings for us. Here are a few that help me.

First, "Light" means understanding.

Without light, God's creative genius would have been expressed in the dark. He's God. Can't God see in the dark? Well...yes, He can.

But, the Bible tells us that God IS light. John 1:4 says that (referring to Jesus) "In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind."

God wants us to know that we need never be lost in the dark. He is our light, He is our illumination when we seek answers. The scientists Hubble and Darwin sought answers. With God's illumination and understanding, we too can seek and find answers.

Secondly, "light" refers to holiness. A life lived in God's light is one that seeks righteousness and godliness. A life lived in darkness is separated from God, and is lived for sinful desires and self-righteousness.

It's no mistake that evil is often called "the dark side." When Jesus told us He is "the light of the world," He was telling us that He is the way to righteousness. John 1:5 tells us that, "the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."

And lastly, "light" reminds me that I can see. Literally, see. My cat is pretty good at seeing in the dark, but I fail woefully at that. I need light in order to see where I am and what obstacles might be in my path.

God's light gives me vision. Yes, the literal, biological vision so I can navigate through this world. And it also provides my spiritual vision. I can see God and know God in this world. I may not see God in the way Moses was able to, but I can see Him through His creation, His people, His Word and in my heart of hearts.

This was God's first act of creation. It was a work of genius. Light, needed to see, understand and overcome evil, was the first gift God gave to mankind....even before mankind ever existed.

Imagine that. Even before we were born, God was already giving us a precious gift. And that was just the beginning....

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

#2 James 1:12 "Blessed Are the Rich?"

"Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him."

Today, in Tacoma, we have snow. By our standards, lots of it. In a region that sees little snow, we don't really have the snow and ice removal systems in place, unlike the Midwest or parts of the East coast.

So, snow becomes our "trial." Our neighborhoods are impassible. A car belonging to a home two doors away only made it one block from home before a tow truck had to assist it back to its driveway.

Randy and I put on our winter gear, carried our backpacks and hiked to the market so we had something to cook for dinner. I fell once during the trip. Luckily, no injuries.

The rest of the day was spent cooped up at home. Boredom set in. Restlessness ensued.

I know what you're thinking. The "trials" of today were NOT what James had in mind as he wrote the opening verses of this epistle. The First Century believers endured persecution and suffering for the sake of their faith in Christ. We who are sheltered and privileged usually know nothing of perseverance under such trials.

James 1:12 tells us that those who persevere when tested will receive the crown of life. What a wonderful promise. But, for those like me who live a rather cushy life, how am I to receive any crown of life? Am I even eligible?

This is what I have pondered, not just today, but for many years. What does perseverance in middle class and upper middle class America look like?

Have you ever heard the term, "affluenza?" It's that "virus" that can infect those of us who are rich by the world's standards. We have whatever material things we need, and much of what we really don't need. Meeting our needs doesn't seem to depend on God's provision, but our own ability to gather wealth.

We've never known hunger or any real persecution. Life for us, and for our non-believing neighbors, is a piece of cake. So, if we are pretty much able to meet our own needs, why would most of us need God?

By God's grace, I have yet to suffer greatly for His gospel. But, I feel I have been tested in my faith. One of my tests is, despite what my eyes see, to keep on believing, and to urge others to do the same.

Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as the assurance of what we hope for and the certainty of what we don't see. What do my eyes see? My cushy bank account. Lots of clothes in my closet. A roof over my head, a dependable car to drive and plenty of food in the cupboard.

What do I not see? I don't "see" the Hand that provides all this to me. I don't "see" the grace that freely gives me the comforts of life that I have not earned. I don't "see" the One who is the invisible source of my life and well being.

I am protected. I am loved. I am forgiven of all my sins, past, present and future. This, I cannot "see," but will acknowledge. For this reason, I seek to serve Him and proclaim Him to a world that also cannot see Him.

It is a natural tendency to only acknowledge God when we are in trouble or pain. My test of faith is to acknowledge Him when I am comfortable.

What is my other test of faith? It is to let go of some of that comfort and share it with others....share my time, my money and my love with those who need it. I admit, I can be as selfish as anyone. And it is easy to develop a sense of entitlement to my "wealth."

But God challenges me to give as He directs me. And He has blessed me with more opportunities than ever before. And with each opportunity, it brings me great joy.

Okay, so maybe that can't compare with those saints who suffer for the gospel. But, each of us has been put where God wants us to serve in our own unique way. For today, this is how I have been asked to serve.

For tomorrow, who knows?

Friday, January 13, 2012

#1 Proverbs 31:30 "You Look Maaah-velous!"

"Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised."

Ah.....New Year's resolutions. I've made them, so have you. This year, 2012, Randy and I have made one together: to go on a "healthy" diet, exercise more, and lose some weight.

Heard that one before? Yes, so have I. Only this time, I am the one making the resolution. I need to lost weight for my health? Maybe....but I have to admit, for a person my age, I am doing pretty well. I am probably only about 10 lbs. above my ideal weight. I don't have diabetes, heart or lung problems, I take no prescription medication, and my blood pressure is normal, as is my cholesterol.

So why go on this diet and exercise program? Simple: vanity.

I want to fit into this nice dress I bought a couple years ago, but never had the occasion to wear, until now. I don't want the world to see me and my middle-aged belly at a formal event. I am chasing after beauty...or the world's idea of beauty.

I stepped on the scale today for the first time in over 20 years. I was appalled. I never realized just how much weight I had gained over the past 10 years.

Proverbs 31 reminds me, however, that the Woman after God's Own Heart is not the supermodel. She's not the one with perfect skin, or the most fashionably dressed.

Yes, Proverbs 31 sets a high standard for women of God. She is hard-worker. A faithful and loving wife and mother. A shrewd businesswoman. A woman of respect and wisdom. A gracious and generous person. All these traits God says are more valuable than rubies.

I find it interesting that, at the end of such a description of a praiseworthy female, God knows to address the issue of physical beauty. After all, that is the primary trait for which womankind has been judged and valued throughout human history.

God tells us that physical beauty is fleeting, as my middle years has shown me all too well. If you compare what else God said is fleeting, recall Matt. 6: 30, when Jesus calls the grass of the field "here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire." In other words, fleeting.

And, as in Prov. 31, Jesus tells us NOT to run after the things that are fleeting. Things like grass....and beauty.

What does He tell us to pursue? Matt. 6:33 says to first seek His kingdom and His righteousness. Prov. 31 tells us to fear the LORD.

This also exhorts me to seek after His word...and to try to reach my goal this year of blogging about 52 verses in 2012. Psalm 119:11 reminds me to hide God's word in my heart so that I might not sin against Him. I need the Word of God in my heart. I need to seek after Him. This year, and every year.

So, what about that diet and exercise plan? It's still on. After all, God's word also says that our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). I am taking care of God's temple. the "beauty" thing will still pop up in my thinking. Can't help that. But I pray that, this year, my beauty will come from the Spirit within me.....

...and maybe a bit from losing a few excess pounds.