Friday, September 21, 2007


Style is different than substance. This is good to keep in mind.

There are only a handful of times (recorded anyway) when Jesus got really, really mad. One was in Matthew 23, when he tore into the religious leaders of his day for being more about style than substance. Jesus used a couple of choice analogies to make his point: cups that were clean on the outside but filthy on the inside, and tombs that were whitewashed on the outside, but full of rotting bodies on the inside. You learn a lot about a person when you find out what makes them mad. Here's what makes Jesus mad: When religious leaders choose style over substance.

Style is not the same as substance. Style is external; substance is internal. Style is about impressions; substance is about reality. Style is reputation; substance is reality. Substance is what’s really going on, and what Jesus cares about.

Style and substance don't always go together. We want to be careful not to confuse the two. A tree can look fruit-bearing, but really only be good for firewood. A person can look like a sheep on the outside, but be a wolf on the inside. On the other hand (and I personally love this contrast) a person can look like a wolf on the outside, but be a sheep on the inside. One highway can be wide and well-paved and take you straight to hell. Another road can be narrow, windy and bumpy, but lead to heaven.

In America the trend is style over substance. This is why Anna Nicole Smith's death can be THE news for weeks on end, and why hundreds of cameras cover Paris Hilton's release from prison. Stephen Covey says that "character ethic" has been replaced by "personality ethic." This is certainly true in business where corporations now spend more on marketing (style) than research and development (substance).

This trend of style over substance has also been seen to some extent in the church. In the last fifty years churches and Christians have spent more and more energy on style. Many of the arguments have been stylistic (the "contemporary music" war come to mind.). This despite the fact that the scripture is clear that man looks on the outward appearance, while God looks on the heart. God is not looking for a particular outward appearance from us. He is looking for a particular heart from us. John the Baptist was a rough customer. Zacheus was a timid individual. But both had a heart for Christ. Peter was rambunctious. John was a lover not a fighter. Both had the same heart.

At CTK we are trying to give more attention to substance than style. It's one of the reasons we have such a wide variety of people in our story. In any given week we have assembled soccer moms, kids dressed in punk, retired couples, college preppies, businessmen, the homeless, and everything in between. It works because we are not striving for the same stye, but the same heart. Spirituality is an inside job. Always.

Jesus said that in the end there would be individuals who have worked miracles in his name to which He will say, "I never knew you." But note what Jesus doesn't say. He doesn't say, "I'm sorry. I didn't like the words you used in that one prayer to me. That prayer didn't sound very spiritual." Nor will He say, "I'm not a real fan of that one tattoo you got. It kind of gives me the creeps." And you don't hear Him say, "I never really liked your taste in clothing" or "I never really enjoyed the rhythms in that one song you also listened to." What he does say is "I never knew you." Hmmm. The implication is that you don’t need to do “impression management” with God. You don't need to ask, "Am I smiling enough?" or "Are my prayers flowery enough?" God’s not looking at that stuff. God is looking at your heart.

So many times on earth style beats substance. One of the things that makes heaven heaven is that substance beats style.


A recent email that was sent out to ladies at one of our CTK Worship Centers demonstrates a small triumph of substance over style:

"For those of you needing a bit more female interaction, Allyson Yamauchi has planned a CTK Ladies Time Out at the Carpenter Creek Winery. For those interested check out the web site."

For many pre-processed Christians this announcement would draw a harumph. "Why in the world is a CTK women's event being held at a winery?" they might ask. This is a teachable moment. When you go to the web site you read: "Ladies Night Out wine tasting at Carpenter Creek Winery to benefit Breast Cancer Awareness. Local specialty food paired with fine wines. $5 cover fee and a portion of every wine sold will be donated to the Susan G Komen breast cancer foundation." If you didn't know the rest of the story you might miss something substantive. You see, Allyson Yamauchi is a walking, talking miracle. She's an answer to hundreds of prayers. She is a cancer survivor. Man, I wish I could go to this event!

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