Saturday, April 26, 2008


April 25, 2008

"Is this what I think it is?" she asked, her voice filled with anticipation and her eyes searching for the affirmation of a dream. She held out a dusty, well-worn, antique wooden case and invited me to open it. "We found this in dad's attic while we were sorting through his things after his funeral," she explained with obvious excitement and a childlike grin betraying her expectation for my assessment.
Upon learning that I had been a professional cellist the woman had insisted on showing me her recently discovered treasure hoping I would be able to ascertain its value. Having always been fascinated with antique musical instruments I eagerly agreed to her request. The open case revealed an old violin scratched and worn from years of use. Its two broken strings and collapsed bridge testified to the likelihood that a great deal of time had passed since the instrument had felt the fingers of a musician or vibrated with the sweet sounds of a melody. A warped bow rested in the lid of the case with a few remaining strands of horse hair hanging loosely from its tip. A tattered polishing cloth was draped over the ancient instrument like a burial shroud. I slowly and carefully exhumed the violin from its place of interment and began examining it more closely.
"Look inside," she said pointing to the "S" shaped sound-hole on the top of the ancient instrument. Holding the violin up to the light and peering inside, I could plainly see a label. Though faint with age the name was still legible, "Stradivarius."
"Is it genuine?" she asked expectantly. “Is it what it claims to be?" Her questions begged for a positive response, and my heart longed to satisfy her dreams of finding a rare treasure.
Unfortunately, I was almost certain the label was false. Although my knowledge of stringed instruments is limited, a lifetime of playing the cello including 18 years as a member of a professional symphony orchestra has taught me to be extremely suspicious of such labels. During the era of Stradivarius, the best “luthiers” were all members of exclusive guilds. No one would purchase an instrument that wasn’t created by a member of one of these guilds. Consequently, makers would often sell their labels to other, less reputable luthiers to make extra money. Sometimes apprentices in the same workshop would all use the same label even though an instrument might never be touched by the master. Over the years cagey craftsman learned to “borrow” the label of a famous maker in order to sell their product for a greater profit. The label on an instrument is just about the last place to look when appraising its worth.
When it comes to stringed instruments, a small handful of master appraisers alone are qualified to determine their true value. They will carefully examine an instrument's shape, dimensions, design, varnish, quality of craftsmanship, state of repair and, of course, the quality of the sound, comparing it to other instruments they know to be genuine. The master's appraisal will determine the worth of a musical instrument, not its label.
"I'm afraid the quality of the craftsmanship doesn't live up to the name," I confessed regrettably. After blowing away some dust and viewing the label through a magnifying glass, I could make out some additional writing. In small print, barely visible, just above the name Stradivarius, were the words, "in the style of…" The violin was nothing more than a cheap imitation. Had it been genuine it would have been worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Instead, its value was nothing more than a few hundred dollars. Expectations unfulfilled...hopes dashed...dreams disappointed...label false!
I wonder how many professing Christians resemble that old violin. Most people will gladly wear the label "Christian," but sadly the quality of the craftsmanship often doesn't live up to the name. They may be convinced they are a priceless treasure, a genuine child of God, when in reality they are nothing more than a cheap imitation. “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.’” – Matthew 7:21.
The name “Christian” isn’t the only label we proudly display. One look at the average church directory would reveal we are a people seemingly obsessed with titles. Pastor, reverend, bishop, elder, deacon, apostle, prophet, and many other labels prominently adorn the front of our names. Again, tragically, the quality of the instrument often fails to match the name on the label. When others go to such celebrated pillars of the faith for help or look up to them as examples to emulate, expectations of true Christlikeness are far too often left unfulfilled. Hopes dashed...dreams disappointed...label false!
Why are we so enamored over titles? Why is it so difficult to look beyond the labels we wear? Why are we so easily taken in by them? The answer is we are too little enamored over Christ, and we are far too unfamiliar with the only genuinely perfect instrument, the only one who truly exemplifies all His titles. He is “Lord of Lords,” “King of Kings,” “Prince of Peace,” “Wonderful Counselor,” “Mighty God,” the “Righteous One,” the “Alpha and the Omega,” the “Beginning and the End,” the “Living Water,” the “Bread of Life.” I could go on and on listing the titles with which He is labeled in Scripture and every one has been proven genuine. Why would we look to anyone else no matter how impressive their title might be?
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” – Colossians 1:15-18. “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” – Philippians 2:10-11. “Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.” – Hebrews 3:1. The more we are familiar with the real thing the less chance we will have of being fooled by a cheap imitation.
As Christians we have a "Master Appraiser" who alone is qualified to determine whether our label is genuine. He will examine the design of our love. "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." – John 13:35. He will measure the dimensions of our fruit. "This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples." – John 15:8. He will compare our lives to His teaching. "...if you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples." – John 8:31. And He will listen to the sound of our voice to determine if it agrees with the faith of our heart. "For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved." – Romans 10:10. The Master's appraisal will determine our true value, not the way we label ourselves or the way others may label us. "The Lord knows those who are his..." – 2Timothy 2:19.
Now if you happen to be concerned about how your true value measures up, check this out. For those of us who accept God's free gift of grace through faith, our "Master Appraiser" is also the One who fashions us and remakes us in His image. "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works..." – Ephesians 2:10. As such, we bear the Master's label. God has “set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts..." – 2Corinthians 1:22. “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” – Romans 8:16. When God labels an instrument we can proudly and confidently wear His name and that makes us His children, His cherished creation, His treasure. Expectations fulfilled...hopes realized...dreams validated...label genuine...value priceless!

Bill, a child of God, the only label I desire


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