A number of years ago in a ministry I previously served in a set of glossy professionally printed posters were ordered to put on the walls detailing the life transformation that Christ offers. Unfortunately, the only message that was really clear in these posters was that God desires to take scruffy urban kids, clean up their clothing, and make them productive members of society with a sensible haircut to boot. Themes included "I was a taker, now I'm a giver," or "I was a loser, now I'm a teacher," coupled with before and after pictures apparently direct from getty images detailing the physical change that follows the change in ones heart, or at least ones mindset.
I was baptized by confession of faith into membership at the church where I now serve as an Associate Pastor back in 1996 at 20 years of age. I didn't know until many years later that after my testimony one of our pastors had to assure some older members that I was in fact a christian and my testimony was in fact valid even though I had two earrings in my left ear. I'm very thankful to this day that I wasn't told about this at the time. As a young christian positively overwhelmed by the love of Christ I was experiencing from my new church family, I don't think I would have understood such a negative fixation on physical matters, especially one so minimal.
With this in mind, I was sad to open up my denominational magazine yesterday to see an article about prodigal children who don't return illustrated by a color photo of a young man with a facial piercing and a red bandana. In that picture I saw one of my worship leaders, I saw one of my youth leaders, I saw a number of my youth; all who passionately love and serve the Lord. It hurt to think that assumptions are still made about who has fallen away from the faith based purely on appearance. Knowing the editorial staff behind this piece I know this wasn't the intention, but the fact that this picture made sense to use as the illustration at all says something about how we still look at things.
When God sent the prophet Samuel to anoint one of Jesse's sons as the new king of Israel, Samuel naturally first chose the one who looked most like a king. However, God quickly rejected Eliab with these words from 1 Samuel 16:7. "The Lord doesn't see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."
I guess this starts with me because I know I do it to.... God, I pray for the wisdom to look at the heart first and foremost....