Wednesday, January 21, 2015

An Antidote For Hypocrisy

Dear Friends,

I had cooked up a large pot of Broccoli and Cauliflower Soup for a group of church folks one night. Sensitive to the fact that some people do have food allergies, I made a sign that carefully listed all the ingredients. Organic chicken broth, flour added as a thickener, and the five different vegetables. A woman read the sign, stared fiercely in my direction and rushed on over. She looked up at me and declared in a cigarette-thickened voice, “I'm lactose intolerant and can't have any gluten, sulfites, msg, nitrates, nuts or potassium. Can I eat this?” I repeated the list of ingredients that she had just read off the sign and she gave me an accusatory look as if she had just caught me in a murder plot most foul. She glared at me and said, “This soup will make me deathly ill.” Later on, I noticed she was enjoying my “toxic” soup so much that she had gone back for thirds...

We were inviting Bill and Sally over for dinner and she informed me that she was strictly vegan. She went on to tell me that she never eats anything that “has a face” and told me that all animals have souls just like people do. I didn't have time to get into that theological discussion but did want to clarify the menu I was planning. “Okay, so you never eat anything but vegetables?” I asked. “Well, I love Sushi,” she replied. She saw the smile on my face and quickly explained, “Well that's only a fish but animals should never be killed.” I looked at her standing there in her red leather Nocona boots with her leather Coach purse and sequined leather Brighton belt, and wondered if she had given any thought to those “faceless” cows who gave their lives for her outfit...

When our walk doesn’t match our talk – when we claim to have moral standards or beliefs and our behavior doesn’t conform to those standards and beliefs we are a hypocrite. The word “Hypocrite” comes from a Greek word that means to “pretend” and in the Gospels, few sins are denounced as strongly as hypocrisy.

Non-believers ask, “How can I trust Christianity when so many Christians are hypocrites?” I know what they're talking about because honestly, a lot of the time Christians are embarrassing to me. They give Jesus a bad name. I don't blame people who look at Christians and decide to not follow Jesus. It should be disturbing for us to realize that a major cause of atheism is Christians who preach the life-saving, life-changing Gospel of Jesus while flaunting their own unchanged, unchristlike behavior.

Like I said, Christians are embarrassing to me and I have no tolerance for their hypocritical behavior. Then I catch myself standing in front of the mirror. I see the guy who has been negative and critical. The guy who has been angry, impatient and rude. The one who’s too often inconsiderate and unkind. I see the guy who has been aloof and judgmental. I look at the guy who has not always practiced what he preached. And I want to point my finger at the image in the mirror and yell accusingly at him, “And you call yourself a Christian!” So the hypocritical guy in the mirror is an embarrassment to me also. And then God reminds me that the guy in the mirror is just another sinner saved by grace.

So what do we tell the skeptics? The late wife of Billy Graham, told a story about a young woman from India who had said, “We of India would like to believe in Christ but we have never seen a Christian who was like Christ.” Ruth Graham told the young lady, “I'm not offering you Christians. I'm offering you Christ.” That needs to be our answer to those put off by the hypocrisy of Christians. We are not asking skeptical family and friends to follow Christians and do what they do. We are asking them to follow Jesus and to do what He would do.

Here's the one important thing for a skeptic to understand about why there are so many hypocrites in church. It's because all humans are hypocrites. There are times for all of us when our behavior does not match up with our values and beliefs. A recent PEW Survey even found that 5% of Atheists pray to God when they get into a real jam and 2% have said that those prayers had been answered. Think about that for a moment...

The antidote for hypocrisy is authenticity, and it’s only when we lead repentant lives that we can become authentic Christians. Authentic followers of Jesus will describe themselves as “works in progress” so it should be no surprise to anyone that at times we fail to live up to what we know is the right thing to do. The evidence of a Christian life is not when they see our perfect saintly behavior, but when they see us constantly striving to live like Jesus despite our occasional failures to do so. That’s authentic Christianity.  Amen?

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