Tuesday, August 26, 2008

~Outward Appearances~


The following is a copy of James McDonald's devotion for this week:

"But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself . . . It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God" (1 Corinthians 4: 3–5).

I grew up in a good church with good people. But one issue I noticed even as a young person was a constant struggle with an outward focus. Folks were obsessive about appearances. The external was put under the microscope. The outward appearances were scrutinized. You couldn't walk in the church foyer without everyone inspecting everyone else. It took me a long time to shake that in ministry.

I've felt the pressure of looking the part. In 1987, I went on the game show The $25,000 Pyramid (you can watch a clip of it at www.jamesmacdonald.com/classics_gameshow.aspx). You remember how the game goes; I partnered with a celebrity in getting through a list of words. In this specific case, I had to get the celebrity to say the word revolution.

Now, if I had been brought up in the States, I would have given the clue, "In 1776 we fought a war called the American ____________." But under pressure, all I could think to give as a clue was the Beatles' song, "Revolution" (You say you want a rev-o-lution . . .). My game partner didn't get my clue, and so we moved on. At the end of that round, Dick Clark looked at me, a young pastor, and said, "You must be a real Beatles fan, huh?"

First came the authentic response--I pumped my fist in the air, implying "Yes!" But then I remembered all the people in my church who would watch the show, and I quickly changed my expression and shook my head, "Nah."

To me this is such a portrait of a person struggling to be authentic but then giving in to the immense pressure to perform for people's expectations. What an awful way to live your life. If it's wrong, it's wrong. If it's not wrong, it's not wrong. It's one or the other. But it's crucial for you and me to recognize we feel the constant pressure to measure up to people's scrutiny based on the little list of things they've labeled appropriate. When that shows up in the body of Christ, it is death to authenticity. The pressure to conform and to look the part kills sincerity, and so much of it comes from the trap of trying to please other people.

I preached a message this last weekend at our church called, "Freedom from People Pleasing," that met with huge response--a clear indication that a lot of us have lived our lives on the exhaustive treadmill of trying to please others. We need an exit ramp off this endless highway. The message is based on 1 Corinthians 4, in which Paul said, "But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself . . . It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God" (vv. 3–5). Notice that Paul said, "I do not even judge myself": I can't even trust myself to assess my own sincerity, let alone you who don't know what I'm thinking or feeling.

I cannot please everyone. You can't either. The attempt on our part to keep trying leads first to a crease, then a crevice, then a canyon of distance between who we are and who we try to appear to be. Let's be done right now with people-pleasing. I dream a better dream for us than allowing petty people, majoring on silly things about which the Bible does not even explicitly speak, to control our hearts and lives. Let's not allow even our brothers and sisters in Christ who have such strong opinions to pressure us into external conformity that doesn't reflect our hearts and doesn't please or satisfy God. No doubt about it, hypocrisy has to go. It's destructive to us and despised by God.

So, what are your thoughts on this?

Blessings!

4 comments:

Kim said...

Cheryl~
This is truly a powerful post that all of us, if we are honest, struggle with to some level in our lives.

God has been teaching me SO much about my need, to be, and do...ONLY what the Father has asked me to do.

I've learned, the hard way at times...that so often I spend so much energy trying to please people who either:
a. don't really care about me
b. I'll never be able to please because their bar of acceptance continues to move

When my focus is on "pleasing everyone" around me, my focus isn't on HIM..the one in whom I need to be worrying about pleasing!

Thanks for this amazing reminder friend.

Kim~

Melanie said...

Hi, Cheryl. wow... what a great post! And one that hits a little too close to home for me. I struggle with this quite a bit and have actually been trying to move my focus from "what do people think about me?" to "am I pleasing God?" Honestly, it's hard.. some days I really struggle. Posts like this are so helpful and encouraging, though. Thanks, Cheryl!

Tracy said...

Amen my friend. I love James McDonald! Such a gifted teacher. This message really hits home. People pleasing has always been a struggle for me. What a great reminder to focus only on pleasing Christ. Thank you so much for sharing this awesome reminder.

Blessings,
Tracy

Christina said...

I was thinking of this subject on Sunday. Here in Hawaii anything goes, but at church most dress up. Some of the young adults who come over from my daughters youth group at another place are from Sweden. In Sweden they must be pretty laid back because I noticed a kid in flip flops (called slipas here in Hawaii) and thought how in Hawaii a lot of people will dress up in suits and then think nothing of putting on flip flops. Anyway the next thing I knew a kid stood up from the same group and he was barefoot. How strange I thought. I wasn't judging but I had never seen anyone barefoot in church before. I was thinking "I wonder if some other people would judge this as not appropriate." I am not sure but I am guessing this may be so. I'm also guessing that here in Hawaii where people pull up to church in pick up trucks with surf boards strapped to them this is not even noticeable. I'm kind of jealous since it wasn't like this for me. How cool to be able to walk into church barefoot just to worship and not care what is on your feet.