Facades & Filthy Rags

I have to admit that, in our socially driven world, I get way too caught up in appearances.

I don’t think it’s at all unusual or necessarily wrong to want other people’s acceptance, to want nice things, to have good friends, to want life to be “just right”—but when that becomes our focus, our own reputation or appearance can become a god that we value above the One who has redeemed us by His grace. Christ didn’t die for us because of our Instagram accounts, Facebook statuses, or LinkedIn accomplishments but because He first loved us and saw behind those facades.

One thing I love about City Pres is that so many people are open about their stories. When someone stands in front of a crowd of people and talks about addictions, wounds from the past, abuses, or struggles against temptation, that takes a lot of guts. Often it’s the story that one would not just brush under the rug but probably bury in the backyard in a box with the lid cemented shut. But these are the stories of redemption. They’re the stories that shine with the caption “people who once walked in darkness and have seen a great light.”

I used to think that a good testimony meant you had to be a gang member, out on the streets of New York City, then some street evangelist would tell you the story of Jesus, and—BOOM!—you’d fall on your knees in repentance. By God’s grace, we have these miracles. But we also have the miracle of salvation that converts the unbelieving heart of the young man or woman that has lived in the Christian home since birth. And we have the miracle that “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”

The salvation of Christ lives in us and works through us each day.

Infatuation with myself being the good guy or making sure that I’m not the one blamed for wrongs that I’ve done or alleviating my own conscience with “it’s not that bad”—these are my daily struggles that constantly trip me up. I don’t think I always need to share the dirty details, but what I must be is honest—to the Lord. I must pour my life before Him and recognize that He knows my heart better than I do and that even at my best, my own righteousness is filthy rags, much worse my own sinfulness.

David was much better at expressing his needs, desires, emotions, and pleas than we are today. Sometimes we limit David’s life to (1) David and Goliath; (2) David and Bathsheba; (3) David running from Saul; or (4) David becoming king of Israel. But do we really hear the man who lived after God’s own heart realizing that this heart lies open to us in his own writings? Take some examples:

“Vindicate me, O LORD, for I have walked in my integrity, and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.” (Psalm 26:7—sounds a little like Job)

“Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.” (Psalm 34:11—sounds like Jesus’ “let the children come unto me”)

“Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” (Psalm 42:5—don’t we feel like this on our bad days?)

“All the days my enemies taunt me; those who deride me use my name for a curse.” (Psalm 102:8)

“Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the LORD.” (Psalm 107:43)

Out of all the Bible characters, I think David’s voluminous prayers and praises often articulate the clearest story of any Bible character because his stories resonate with our own life experiences. They are what gave Christians hope and comfort through the ages in prayer and song. These were David’s chances of realizing how much he’s focusing on himself and their his opportunities to voice his trust in God’s might. He cries out to God. He begs God for justice. He magnifies and glorifies God out of a bountiful wealth of metaphors. He prays in simplicity. He pours his heart out before the Lord.

We undoubtedly find ourselves almost daily trying to put on our best appearances; the next moment we find ourselves sulking over our own wrong doings because self inevitably crept through. We share our lives and hearts with the congregation, but later we silently crave God’s forgiveness (or a friend’s) for another trip-up. But as we peel back the layers of self-centeredness and focus on God—who He is, His majesty, His grace, His greatness—we find ourselves like David, finding out the greatness of the Lord in new and marvelous ways. We fade away as He takes center stage.

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord!
Unnumbered blessings give my spirit voice;
Tender to me the promise of his word;
In God my Savior shall my heart rejoice.
Timothy Dudley-Smith (b. 1926)

Doug Serven