SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON/What's normal?
Wednesday, July 16, 2014 1:00 PM
"Aaron and all the people of Israel saw Moses, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. . . Whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would remove the veil, until he came out. And when he came out and told the people of Israel what he was commanded, the people of Israel would see the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face was shining. And Moses would put the veil over his face again, until he went in to speak with him." (Exodus 34:30,34-35)
On the surface, this covering of the face may seem rather hypocritical of Moses. Not even for a moment would I have you think so of this man of God. Rather, we are told quite clearly that the reason behind this rather bizarre behavior in his case was that the people (including Aaron) were afraid of him - freaked out by his shining face. Moses enjoyed the privilege of going into the presence of God and conversing with Him, as it were, face to face. These encounters had the effect of transforming his very countenance and something of the Glory of God would come to be reflected upon his face. A. W. Tozer writes that the reason for the fear in the people was their sinfulness - the glow on the face of Moses reminded them so forcefully of the holiness of God that they could not bear to see it. Therefore, rather than be confronted with their sin problem, they demanded that Moses cover his face. The kind leader that he was, Moses complied with their wishes. But notice this - whenever he went back in to commune with God - face to face - the veil came off. Before his God, Moses wanted no veil of any sorts to come between.
But this image does raise the question - at least in my mind - what 'veils' have we come to wear most naturally? With what façade of cultural religiosity have we accustomed ourselves? What is normal for us today as professing followers of Christ?
It is not a flattering accounting where one writer describes current church normalcy as follows: It's quite normal these days for church members to show up only when it pleases them to do so. It's normal for them to give only when it is convenient and only out of surplus. It's normal to volunteer for nothing, to make no sacrifice, to go out on no limb, and to sing out loud only on the rarest of occasions. It has become normal to pray only when in need or in trouble, to rebuff any feeling one might have to put into practice what one professes to believe, and to satisfy oneself with only a first grade level understanding of God's Word. In other words, it has become quite normal to wear a veil of make-believe over our faces and pretend to be the devoted followers of Christ we know we ought to be - but aren't! I believe it was Tozer who wrote that many in the church today are guilty of such hypocrisy - "like glowworms which appear to have both light and warmth but, in truth, possess neither."
Do you see any of this in your own life? -- a façade of faith? - a wide disconnect between the head and the heart? - an engagement in a religion of words where there is an obvious absence of deeds? Is this the way it should be for any of us?
Hymn writer, Charles Tindley, in his song, Nothing Between, reminds us of the need to be satisfied with none of these things but to live lives of genuineness before the Lord. "Nothing between my soul and the Savior, Naught of this world's delusive dream; I have renounced all sinful pleasure, Jesus is mine; there's nothing between. Nothing between my soul and the Savior, So that His blessed face may be seen; Nothing preventing the least of His favor, Keep the way clear! Let nothing between." Shouldn't that be the desire of our heart?
Why is it so hard? What are some of the things we allow to get between us and Christ? Tindley suggests: "worldly pleasures", "habits of life", "pride of station", "self or friends" as just a few things that can come between our hearts and Jesus. In truth, the list is practically endless. It becomes necessary, therefore, that each of us engage in a bit of prayerful introspection, asking Christ Jesus to reveal to us all the things we've allowed to take precedent over an intimate relationship with Him. Then, once uncovered (unveiled), it would be most prudent for us to adopt the prayer Frederick Faber includes in his hymn: "Burn, burn, O love, within my heart; Burn fiercely night and day; Till all the dross of earthly loves, is burned, and burned away."
It's possible to fool others. Sometimes it's even possible to fool ourselves, isn't it? Fresh figs can be hung upon the barren tree, large clusters of grapes can be tied to the vine, whitewash can be applied to the empty tomb, but it doesn't change the fact that no real life dwells within. Only a radical quickening of our spirits by the Spirit of Christ can awaken us from the deadness of religious hypocrisy and place within us a heart that beats for Christ. Only God, by His grace, can work within us such a love for Him that a renewed sense of excitement comes to permeate our whole attitude towards worship and service. Opening up God's Word in private study, then becomes as filled with glorious anticipation as one might expect to find in a child surrounded by a stack of carefully wrapped presents on Christmas morning - such would be the anticipated joy of discovering the treasures to be found therein.
Hypocrisy may be "the lubricant of society", as David Hull puts it - but surely there is no place for it in the church of Jesus Christ!
The Rev. Donald Caviness is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, MS.