Monday, December 06, 2004

Being Real

(this message was delivered in chapel services with the Boston Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday, May 16th, 2004)

The following conversation between Skin Horse and the Rabbit from the book, The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams, gives some poignant commentary on what it means to be real.

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.

"What is REAL?" asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. "Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?"

"Real isn't how you are made," said the Skin Horse. "It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real."

"Does it hurt?" asked the Rabbit. "Sometimes," said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. "When you are Real you don't mind being hurt."

"Does it happen all at once, like being wound up," he asked, "or bit by bit?" "It doesn't happen all at once," said the Skin Horse. "You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in your joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand." "I suppose you are real?" said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.

"The Boy's Uncle made me Real," he said. "That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always."

The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.

Excellent thoughts on what it means to be real from a stuffed animal's point of view.

One of my son Nathan’s favorite expressions is, “get real, dad!” As I was preparing this message I asked him what he means when he says that. He couldn’t answer. Big help he was! We’re bombarded with “reality” TV shows but what is really “real”? I'm too busy with my own "realities" to watch these programs. Uncommon words in the world’s vocabulary these days are “genuine”, “authentic” and “pure”.

Jesus had harsh words for those who weren’t real and genuine. He referred to them as hypocrites. He pronounced His judgment on them in Matthew chapter 23. Seven times He says, “Woe to you!” He was speaking to the teachers of the law, the Pharisees. Why did Jesus scold them? Here are a few of the reasons:

- They didn’t practice what they preached.
- They did their “good deeds” to be seen by others.
- They loved to take the place of honor at banquets and be greeted and called “Rabbi” in the marketplace.
- They were adamant about the need to “tithe” but they neglected important things like justice, mercy and faithfulness.
- They appeared righteous on the outside but were full of hypocrisy and wickedness inside.

Jesus used a few choice phrases to describe them. He called them hypocrites of course but also “blind guides”, “blind fools”, “snakes, a brood of vipers”.

We still have them around today. Maybe more so! Apparently a few of them slip into our Baseball Chapel services each Sunday. That’s what I’ve been told, often, over the years. Apparently that’s why some of the other guys don’t attend chapel or at least that's their excuse.

What we need is a good dose of reality . . . men who are "the genuine article". Men who don't cover up the dirt that's inside with a whitewashed exterior. If Jesus was disgusted by the conduct of the Pharisees and condemned their hypocrisy, surely He is looking for "real men" who will exhibit a genuine, authentic Christian lifestyle.

So, what does a true Christian look like? What is authentic Christianity?

- A true Christian will practice what he preaches.
- A true Christian will take the lesser place. He will practice humility and will not be prideful. Jesus said, “whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matt. 23:12)
- A true Christian will be generous but will also exhibit justice, mercy and faithfulness.
- A true Christian will determine to keep the inside pure and not just put on a good-looking exterior. “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)
- A true Christian knows that it’s all about Jesus. He must be Lord of all!

Let’s determine to be real, authentic, genuine believers! Someday we might hear these words . . . "those chapel guys are really real." Of course our services are always open to hypocrites too. Isn’t that what churches are . . . a hospital for sinners, not a showcase for saints.

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