I have been reading three books and my Bible today. I'm reading Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges with my small group. I've been reading Christ and Culture Revisited by D.A. Carson. And this morning, after reading from those two books and my Bible, I started to read Lord, Only You Can Change Me by Kay Arthur. It's a devotional study on growing in character from the Beatitudes.

I enjoy reading more than one book at a time. And while I am getting a lot out of Carson's book, I have to read it in small doses because it's really over my head in a lot of places. I have a stack of books I am looking forward to reading and it's hard to read just one at a time. I have to stop reading soon and get on the treadmill because we have church at 5:00. But all I have wanted to do today is read.

I read something in Kay Arthur's book that I may have heard before; but if I have, I had forgotten it. And I thought it was interesting enough to share.

Hypocrite was the word used for a stage actor. In Greek and Roman theater, actors customarily wore large masks to indicate a particular mood or emotion. No matter how the actor himself might feel, the mask was what everyone saw. A hypocrite, then, is an actor, or one who habitually wears a mask.

From your reading of Matthew 23, why do you think Jesus used the term hypocrites to describe the scribes and Pharisees? What were they doing that prompted Him to say what He did?

...What about masks? Do you behave one way at church and another way at home or in your business? Does your attitude toward your mate or your children change when you get out of the car in the church parking lot? Do you slip on a smiling-face mask over an angry scowl? Do you pull on an I-really-care-about-you mask when you talk to people, while underneath you really don't care at all?

Do you see what I'm saying? It was the religious ones whom Jesus called hypocrites. They were the ones who claimed to know God -- not the prostitutes, drunks, thieves, liars, and adulterers.

Jesus said in Matthew 5:20, "For I say unto you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven."

To understand the meaning of that statement, we have to understand the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus' day. And it also helps to understand the origin of the word hypocrite.

As I was reading this, I thought about how important appearances can be to all of us in various ways. I'm not someone who can pull off the role of actress with any real effectiveness. But we all care to some degree how we are perceived by others. And I tend to feel self-conscious and embarassed at times about my inability to conceal whatever I'm feeling.

I remember an occasion, a long time ago, when I was going through a very painful and humiliating situation, and I could not control my tears during a church service. An important person in my life at the time leaned over and asked me why I couldn't be a good little actress. I knew I was embarassing this person by drawing attention to myself and my situation. This person loved me very much and never would have deliberately hurt me. But this person was wanting me to act. I'm thankful acting did not come naturally to me then. And I'm thankful that it doesn't now. (Even if I do wish, at times, that my heart didn't have to be on display at any given moment.)

I'm not saying who this person was because my intent is not to reflect on the person who said this. But appearances were too important. And my acting would not have been a godly trait or a fruit of the spirit. I mention this because I see how easily we can send messages to others that go against scripture without ever recognizing that is what we're doing and even with the best intentions. Anything we do to create a facade or a false image is hypocrisy and it is ungodly behavior.

Lest you think I am only going to address the hypocrisy I am not prone to, let me just add that the form of hypocrisy I am prone to fall into is expecting something from others that I don't demand of myself. I hate double standards and I try not to be guilty of having them. I remember not being able to enforce certain rules upon my son, like making his bed every morning, if I didn't keep the rule myself. Examples like that are glaring. But it's so easy to focus on a failure in someone else when it results in hurting me, then turn around and fail in the same area without ever recognizing my own double standard of expectations.

There are two ways we can fail to recognize our double standards. The first is that we honestly cannot see ourselves and need God to show us so we can confess and repent. The second is that we choose not to confront our double standards because it's easier to live in denial. I know I am guilty of the first. With all my heart I do not want to be guilty of the second and hope I never will be. So I try to embrace the wounds of a friend when my faults are pointed out to me. Sometimes this is a process and embracing any kind of wound is not my first response. But I really do try to honestly see myself to the best of my ability, and then ask God to make my "eyesight" clearer (gently, if possible).

If you are reading this and you are someone I have disappointed or held to a higher standard than I have held myself to, please forgive me. And if there is something specific you are holding against me that I have never asked forgiveness for, please communicate that to me.

I want to live for God's glory more than anything else I live for. That's why I'm reading a book called Lord, Only You Can Change Me. I feel so powerless at times to change certain parts of my personality. But I know there is power in the cross. I know God can change me if I really want to be changed. And I really do want to be changed. I want to be transformed.