Walking through the woods as a pre-teen and teen, I was often in awe of the majestic splendor of the world I was encountering: the abundance of life teeming around me was incredible….from the smallest of ants, mosses, and fungi……to the swiftest of deer, sly foxes, and the tallest of trees soaring towards Heaven spreading their limbs in praise of their Creator. It was and is an amazing world to behold….full of wonder and grandeur: Full of life lessons waiting to be learned to a proud and arrogant young man. I soon learned that Looks Can be Deceiving in the mountains and valleys that I roamed as a kid.
Looks Can be Deceiving
When walking the hills with my Grandpa we would stop and take the time to learn which tree was which by both the type of bark and the particular leaves each tree produced. This was important to us for two reasons…..a wood stove heated my Grandparent’s house during the cold Appalachian winters and while hunting I would need to know which trees produced food for the various species of varmints that would hopefully hit the table.
Out of all the trees in those woods….the ash, the maple, hickories, dogwoods, poplars, beech, and others…..the Mighty Oak enthralled me the most. They would grow to epic sizes…both in heighth and girth all the while producing the acorns that turkeys, deers, and squirrels so loved to eat. Their branches were home to a plethora of species and they looked so solid and secure in their place among the pantheon of woodland trees that I doubted that any ill could befall them.
There was one in particular, of grand size, that was just below the trail leading around the mountain we so often traversed that I looked to as the king of the woods. I loved to gaze at it…..thinking that this tree would last forever….it seemed to have always been there and surely it would always be. Can you imagine my surprise when one day I looked down the hill and it was toppled…this giant was laying on its side…dead and lifeless.
I walked down to the shattered base of the behemoth and found out that looks can be deceiving….from the outside the Giant Oak was solid, firm, the picture of health and stability….but on the inside it was rotten….decaying….and had been dying for years. The deception that had played upon my eyes was now open for all to see….and I learned a valuable lesson that would not come to full fruition until years later.
Appearance are Deceptive
Appearances…..that is looks can be deceiving. Things are not always as they seem and that applies to the people we associate with, those we live with, and especially those we worship with. Many of us so often only have a thin veneer of being civilized…when the time comes, when our feathers are ruffled, when the winds blow contrary to our course….that veneer may quickly vanish. We ( I ) can lose all sense of decorum and tact all the while making fools out of ourselves in the name of pride.
Humans everywhere will put on the false faces of the theatre to fit in, to play act with the crowd….to reduce the chance of being scorned and ridiculed by our peers. It is our nature…it is who we are….but there is an even more insidious form of deception that plagues us…hypocrisy of religion.
Hypocrisy and Religion
Jesus Christ reserved the harshest of criticism for the Pharisees…those who appeared holy, those who loved the praise of men, but were far away from the God they claimed to serve:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.
Just like the giant oaks of my youth, Jesus knew that there where those whose looks can be deceiving. Alive on the outside, following the rules ( or so it appears ), and having every appearance of Godliness, but on the inside they are full of dead men’s bones and unclean.
These Pharisees of old were the blind leading the blind ( Luke 6:39 ) and a broad of vipers who spoke out of the abundance of their hearts the corruption that was found there ( Matthew 12:34 ). The Pharisees that Jesus spoke to in this manner were tied to an external righteousness apart from the faith of Abraham.
The sad thing is that they have survived unto this day.
Legalist and Deceivers
Our world is full of them…our churches swarm with legalist who would hinder the Christian Liberty found in Christ. They so want to….from their heart of hearts….to place burdens upon true believers that they themselves cannot bear. They demand perfection from others while they are rotten to the core. That looks can be deceiving is a hard lesson learned among the pews of the faithful.
The modern Pharisees often look the best, play the part, sing the loudest, and quote Scripture the most….but the love of God and the Truth is not in them. They bind phylacteries upon their foreheads and hands all the while not having the Word found in their hearts….their words are bitter-sweet and their venom is toxic.
The Hollow Ring of Deception
Many years after seeing that majestic ol’ oak tree fall from internal rot this life lesson was reinforced upon me once again. Working for a utility company I am required to climbs poles using a set of gaff hooks….those things that resemble rooster spurs and allow us to climb poles like a squirrel…in theory at least.
When preparing to climb we must sound the pole by taking a line hammer and tapping all around the pole in an effort to determine shell rot….if the outside is stable enough to climb. The bad thing is that sounding it at the bottom does not determine the suitability further on up….and rotteness is not always apparent at first glance….and one day I came down the pole I was climbing after ” cutting-out ” with my gaffs. It was not a pleasurable experience I can assure you.
A few splinters, some scrapes, and gobs on Neosporin and bandages later I was all healed up…but many in the Church suffer much worse at the hands of those whose looks can be deceiving. The WhiteWashed tombs try with vigor to lead others down the primrose path of destruction and legalism. Do this and you will be saved not ever heading the call of Scripture that He has done all that is required for salvation. The liberty we have in Christ is never to be confused with Antinomiansim…..that is no law, for Christ gave us commands and the NT prescribes behaviors that are fitting of a Christian to persue….but those behaviors apart from Christ are nothing but a dead and dangerous moralism.
Looks can be Deceiving so what to do?
We cannot cut down every ( even any? ) tree that we suspect to be rotten for most of these tree look sound from the outside. Jesus Himself said that the tares would have to grow with the wheat until the end, but though looks can be deceiving there are some things that we can do:
- We can look to the fruit they are producing-Matthew 7:17 since good fruit comes from good trees and bad fruit from bad trees
- Learn the Scriptures and set under sound teachers for all Scripture is given for reproof, correction, and training in righteousness 2 Timothy 3:16
- Rest in the Finished Work of Christ and the Faith He has given you. John 19:13, Hebrews 12:2, Ephesians 2:8-10
- Know that you can add nothing to your salvation and no one can take it from you. Romans 5:17,Romans 6:23, Romans 8:35-39
Don’t Be Deceived by Appearances
Appearances can be deceiving…..life is full of deception and misdirection so we must be wary….wise as serpents and harmless as doves.
Do a little ” sounding ” before building your house in a tree that may be rotten to the core.
Remember….looks can be deceiving.
God bless and keep the Faith