I've been collecting my antique hymnals for over a dozen years now. Along the way, I started picking up other antique books here and there; some old sermon collections, a few old language tools, and various other "religious" works. One of the side benefits is the little treasures you sometimes find inside.
Not the text of course, though that's the real treasure. But from time to time I come across little scraps that someone put in the book as a book mark, or as a keepsake, or maybe just by accident. I've found old letters, obituaries, some pressed flowers, and a variety of other things.
Recently I picked up my collection of sermons by Scottish pastor Thomas Brown of Dalkeith, one of my favorite "pieces" in the collection. Published in 1828, it's not in the greatest of shape: the cover is worn and water stained, the pages also water stained and yellow. But the binding is still pretty good and it's "useable." Of course, the real value of a book like this would be the content of the sermons, right? Not the outer binding. It's not about the appearance, it's about the quality of the content (of course, the content here is good except that I would differ on his "Defence of Infant Baptism"!)
And the little extra I found in this book was a good reminder of this. Tucked inside was a scrap of newspaper from...I don't know. Much later than 1828. One part of the scrap mentions an ad for a paint that was manufactured in the late 1960s, so that would be my best guess. But alongside that ad was this one:
My how times change. Imagine, advertising food purposely as "fattening." People worried about being too thin. Wouldn't find that today would you? It reminds me that what people consider to be healthy and attractive changes from generation to generation. And it brings up a very interesting note. We are much too enamored with the appearance and too little concerned with the quality inside.
The most obvious Biblical example of that was of course little David. When the prophet came looking for a new king among the sons of Jesse, he was very impressed by what he saw at first. David's brothers were big and strong and good looking. Surely a king was among them. But God said "no." He sent the prophet out back to find the little runt of a son doing his chores. Samuel was not impressed. But God said, " For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." (1 Sam. 16:7b)
Sometimes the outside might be a little worn, like my favorite books. While the inside is highly worthwhile. Other times the outside might be extremely attractive to the eye, say a sports star or model; while the inside might be empty and morally corrupt. There's nothing wrong with trying to be healthy and take good care of yourself. Heaven knows I could do a better job with that. But in the end, this shell is just temporary anyway.
"Don't judge a book by its cover" may be a cliche, but it's still good advice. It certainly applies to books. And it applies to people as well. It applies as we're considering others; and it applies to ourselves as we decide what we're going to spend our time and energy working on. It seems to me that Jesus had a few things to say about those who spent their time working only on the outer appearance, and little time on the heart.
So let's be sure that we are focusing our attention on making sure our lives represent Christ in the way we live, in the words we speak, in the actions we take, in the attitudes of our heart. And worry less about just keeping up appearances. Remember where God is looking...at the heart.