I recently allowed myself to be talked into attending a dinner theater that featured a "murder mystery." Diners, we were told, would be drawn into the cast and challenged to identify the guilty party from among the host of suspicious characters. The latter doubled as the wait staff. The service was painfully slow, but after the first course it was hard to generate much anticipation for the entree anyway. It was the acting, however, that made the evening seem interminable. The real mystery was how any of us made it to the third act-or the dessert course.
The play's characterizations were shallow. The paid cast must have faked their acting credentials. The diners shanghaied into minor roles were good sports, but their performances were less convincing than rainy-day charades at summer camp. The most useful adjective is fake. We were all fakes-chef, actors, and amateurs alike.
Ironically, a diner drafted to play "Pastor Jake" was in real life a pastor. The maitre d', who was also the stage director, selected him because of all the men in the room he thought him "to look least like a clergyman." So in this comedy of errors, even the genuine seemed counterfeit.
CRAVING THE REAL THING
On the drive home, I pondered how loudly the evening had cried out for integrity. If only there had been a few believable moments, moments with the ring of authenticity, the night might not have been such a disappointment. Just a grain or two of genuineness would have met the need.
Life is like that. We crave the "real thing." We rebel at the fake and the false, especially in matters of faith.
Jesus was always searching for genuine faith. When the Roman centurion requested his servant's healing, even from afar, Jesus expressed profound delight in the authenticity of his faith. Matthew tells us that Jesus marveled and rejoiced over the officer's sincerity and integrity. If this is what stirs the Lord's heart, I want to be someone similarly marked by genuine trust and obedience.
Some years ago Hollywood made a folk hero of a man dubbed "The Great Impostor." In the real life that inspired the film, the impostor, though unqualified, assumed the roles of physician, college professor, priest, military officer, and diplomat. Eventually he even posed as a Baptist preacher and pastored in the Pacific Northwest. But his undoing was his inability to give evidence of authentic spiritual life. He found it harder to be an impostor in faith than in medicine or academics. Only true faith can stand such tests.
THE SMELL OF THE GENUINE
Only by firsthand experience with the authentic can we distinguish the genuine from the counterfeit. I used to work as a cashier, handling large sums of currency quickly and accurately. My supervisor wanted to be confident that I was not an easy prey for crooks seeking to pass counterfeit bills. He had me prepare by studying, touching, smelling, and even learning to "listen" to genuine currency. It worked. I knew and could recognize the genuine and the counterfeit.
I am grateful to be in the midst of genuine people of God almost daily. When we encounter a woman or a man with spiritual integrity we are enriched, expanded, nurtured, and admonished, all at the same time. Such people of faith fortify us against the many counterfeit expressions of piety we may be tempted to embrace.
Even more, we need to seek the situations that call forth genuineness in ourselves: small groups in which religious posturing is discouraged and honest struggling welcomed; service opportunities in which we lose our awareness of how we are coming across because of our eagerness to help others; and spiritual mentoring partnerships in which a discerning older Christian can hold us accountable.
The only thing worse than bad acting in a dinner theater is bad acting in the household of faith.
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