Wednesday, September 07, 2005


"At this my heart pounds and leaps from its place. Listen! Listen to the roar of his voice, to the rumbling that comes from his mouth. He unleashes his lightning beneath the whole heaven and sends it to the ends of the earth. After that comes the sound of his roar; he thunders with his majestic voice. When his voice resounds, he holds nothing back. God's voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding." --Job 37:1-5

A few weeks ago, just before the church service, two elderly ladies motioned me over. Sweet ladies, faithful. I was a little taken aback to learn they were unhappy with me.

You see, I had some coffee in a travel mug, and I was wearing a Hawaiian shirt. They felt it was too casual for church, the coffee and the shirt. They meant well. They feel a sacredness in coming to church. (As they should, for He is there).

They also said something about how Jesus cast the money changers out of the temple because they were being disrespectful.

I think they were just feeling a little rebellious. A week earlier our pastor had spoken about how we sometimes focus on the wrong things, such as how people are dressed, or if they bring coffee with them to church. He also said something about all the stuff we owned and that he thought it would be great if we dragged all the things we don’t need down to the church, had a big sale, and gave the money to the poor. (I think that is where the money changers allusion comes in. It didn’t fit in real well, but they needed to work it in somehow.)

These little old ladies were taking a stand against the potential corrupting slide that may come from the relaxing of an unspoken dress code. They were striking a blow for the LORD, drawing a line in the sand, placing a little chip on their thin arthritic shoulders and daring me to knock it off. Kind of cute.

There are two points to this little interaction. First, they are wrong. Secondly, they are right.

They are right because we do feel too relaxed sometimes. We are coming to church and He is there. Right there! The living God, maker of all things, my creator, my savior. It is difficult to wrap my mind around the idea, but when I really consider who He is, I tremble. Sometimes during worship I shed a tear. This sounds a little melodramatic, I know. But I’m not talking about some fairy tale here. I feel Him near and it frightens me. It frightens me and it warms me.

Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm. He said: "Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth's foundation? Tell me, if you understand.” -- Job 38:1-4

We often show more enthusiasm at a basketball game than when we “worship” the maker of all things. So, my mug of coffee (I mix cocoa in it!) does seem a little casual. As for the Hawaiian shirt, it is brightly colored and does not connote a very serious attitude.

So, they are right. Church is where mortality intersects with immortality. Sinful beings are confronted with holiness. It is best to set the coffee carefully down, and look inward and upward.

But they are also wrong. There is something else happening in church. It is community. It is a joyful celebration. I see my friends there, my church family. There I am loved, and wanted. This is the church that has recently set aside its own discomfort, hurts, inconveniences from a fire my son started so they could embrace me and my family. This is a place where I am loved, and I’m not a conformist either. In some ways I am a square peg in this church. Some people think outside of the box; I’ve friends there who laughingly say I have trouble finding the box. I am loved.

I was so sorry about what had happened this summer. I kept trying to find ways to make things right. To apologize, to atone for what my child had done. Finally, our pastor told me flat out to stop saying “I’m so sorry.” And I did. I kept thinking it for a while. But it finally sunk in. The damage to the church is far bigger than me. I cannot fix it. And it is wrong to try. They are my family. It hurt them to see me hurting.

And then something wonderful happened. I started to laugh. I laugh all the time now. It’s nuts, I know. But it is all too big for me. And when things get to be too much, I laugh.

Today was our first day back at work (I’m a teacher.) Golly, what a schedule! I have four different classes to prep for each day. I have two after school programs I will run each week. I have a study skills program that I will teach next week and monitor the students’ for eight more weeks. I counted up seven meetings a month that I will be attending. It’s nuts! (LOL!)

I laugh! I laughed every time today I thought about my overwhelming schedule. And the reason I laugh is. . . because it is NOT overwhelming. No matter what comes, no matter what is asked of me, He will be there with me. He will give me all I need.

My hands itch, the skin is flaking, peeling, splitting, bleeding. It’s funny! Why should I concern myself over an itch when He is near?! That back ache still nags, but it is no problem at all. Just a small discomfort. (I hurt much worse when I think about New Orleans.)

Ah. . . but I digress. My point is slightly to the left of this situation. I want to consider those little old ladies some more. They may wish for me to wear a tie, and to be a little more serious about my worship (I am a tad demonstrative). But I think our pastor was right on target about how we worry about the wrong things. Let’s look closely at those in church. Maybe we are a little bit casual in our dress, but there is a hugely conservative dress code still in full force.

I don’t see anyone with facial tattoos there. There may be, here or there, a nose with a stud in it, worn by some teen desperately trying to prove how individual she is. But I don’t see any tongue piercings, or brandings, or anything truly out of the ordinary.

I don’t see anyone who is clearly a drug addict. No one I know of is a former prostitute or drug trafficker. They are all good, clean people.

Not the sort of people Jesus went out to dinner with.

He went to and ate with all the wrong people.

My aunt came up to visit a couple of weeks ago (she lives 1,000 miles away). She and her friend brought their two dogs and were on a road trip to see the northwest. I was thinking about inviting them to church when I learned that they were heading south again on Sunday morning to meet up with folks in northern California.

The reason I was thinking about asking them instead of just asking is because they are lesbians.

I wasn’t sure how they would feel in our church. I wasn’t sure how the church would feel about them.

I’m not saying that we should water down our faith so that everyone should feel comfortable. I strongly believe that if my faith does not challenge me, if it isn’t bigger than me, then it is worthless. Fortunately my LORD is much bigger than me and I find Him quite challenging. (LOL)

What I am saying is that if I feel comfortable, loved in church, that is a good thing. But I should not let the nice clothes, the wholesome affection, the atmosphere of a close family lead me to forget something very important.

Clothes are just clothes. The important thing is hearts. I need to look at the people in my neighborhood and love them. Period. Just love them. That includes the guy who tore off his roof nine months ago and hasn’t opened up the roofing packages to fix the biggest eyesore in the neighborhood. That includes the trio of lesbians that live a block and a half from me. That includes the teen walking around town with the dramatic velvet cape and heavy mascara. That includes the odd homeless guy who mumbles to himself and smells terrible. These people are also my brothers and sisters. They need to know that they are loved, wanted, respected.

As for the Hawaiian shirt. . . well, it is a little bright, but it is clean, it is one of the nicest shirts I own, and it covers a heart that beats for our LORD. I don’t feel bad about the coffee as I chat with my spiritual siblings before service, but when it comes time to worship, I am focussed only on Him, not my homemade mocha.

The early church met in peoples’ homes. They met where they lived. Where they disciplined their children. Where they raised their children. Where they made their children. It is where their friends came to see them. It is where they wept for loved ones lost, and sang praises for loved ones gained. It is where they held each other tight, and it is where they laughed.

It’s just the kind of place Jesus liked to visit.


Phil said...

Thankyou :)

I like your weblog.

Phil xxx

David said...

Being the husband of a teacher I know where you come from. Overworked, under paid and under appreciated.

I do remember the times when women were not allowed to wear pants to church, but I do think some are too casual when they attend.

Dorothy said...

Dear sir
I noticed your comment on my website so i decided to come to yours. It is very nice to see other christians online. My mother has a blog dedicated to the lord and it's exciting to see others. I have to say though you were talking about how God is there in church and it is a sacred thing and i believe that but u must go further. God is with us all the time can't put him in a box and say he's here just in this church. He hears our prayers no matter where we are. His presence is definately stronger when the body of Christ gathers together in church, but he still is with us always. I just wanted to comment about that and say i like your website. Oh yeah it's okay you wore a hawaiian shirt i dont think god minds!

~m2~ said...

dear servant, i love this post. i believe God meets us right where we are, and if He was here in the flesh with us, He'd ask for a croissant to go with the coffee (and hot chocolate mix :)

we cannot keep Him in a box. He is too big and i, for one, am extremely appreciative that He cannot be. how small my world would be.


bjk said...

You said a mouthful...a delicious and chewy one...thought you might enjoy this article as well....

bjk said...

You said a mouthful...a delicious and chewy one...thought you might enjoy this article as well....

G~ said...

Boy, this post hits home with me. Looooong story, but suffice to say my family has suffered thru a similar kind of legalism. Which is not exactly what the little old ladies were exhibiting!! No, what we dealt with was mean and very much a 'superior' attitude about who was righteous enough to participate in the church service.

*whew!* Thank God, our marriage and our family survived that episode and I can finally, after 3 yrs, look back on it w/o shaking with anger. I can even feel sorrow for the deceptiveness in that church and pastor's life. *sigh*

Anyhow...I like the way you've looked at this. Because I agree 100%!! The little ladies were both right and wrong.

There's a fine line there. We have to show a reverence and honor, but not get too caught up in the things WE think indicate reverence and honor in others.

Very good, deep post.

Thanks so much for sharing it!!


Tamara said...

Wow - what a post you & God had for me today. So much to think about.

I have great empathy for your teaching load, and still do. Twice a week, I leave my full time job and go teach a night class at the college (I used to teach full-time). Class preps and new terms are a real bear of a time. It seems our calendar is completely different from other people's.

As far as church and dress go, my husband and I so indentify. We both grew up in churches where blue jeans would never be worn, and where men wore ties and women usually wore skirts and dresses. Our church now has a "traditional" and a "contemporary" service. We go to the contemporary one - and many young men our age wear ripped shorts, t-shirts, and Birkenstock sandals. My husband still wears his casual dress pants, dress shirt, and tie. There is one other man in that service who always wears his shirt and tie too, and he calls my husband his "tie-buddy". They agree that we do need to polish up a bit more for God if we have the means - and give him our best.

My father feels the same way about the way people have started to dress at his church - short and sandals are becomming more common for the men. Girls run around in clothes small enough to fit a hampster.

He asked, "If the president of the United States were coming to your church, how would you dress?" It made me think. God is there (and everywhere as well, I know) in our church every day, and yet I'm sure I don't bother to show him enough respect. Sure, I think God loves your Hawaiian shirt - if you don it in joy and admiration to him and consider that giving your best to him.

As for the guy in my Sunday School class who wears the ripped shorts adn Birkenstocks - I do not care to see his nasty toes on Sunday. I guess God doesn't mind mis toes, but I do.


Thanks for the post today! You are a real blessing.

van.diesel said...

Great post! I am on staff at a church and work mainly with college and twentysomethings. My mode of dress is not always, shall we say, "professional..." Similar to those ladies in you post, there are those in our congregation who are more traditional and don't particularly think casual dress is appropriate attire for church. I'm working through it. :-)

HeyJules said...

After being away from church for almost 25 years one of my first thoughts about going back to one involved "what if I don't have anything nice enough to wear?"

What if THAT had been what kept me away another 25 years? Thank GOD (and I mean that literally!) I found a church who opens their doors by what is in your heart and not what is on your back.

I agree - be respectful of God's house - but then again,the whole world is God's house to me.

Fred said...

Whew - you gave me a lot to think about with this post.

I fully agree - my faith needs to challenge me. I must always be inquisitive about it to always learn more.

Thanks for a great post.

Anonymous said...


You commented on my blog a few weeks ago, and I finally am getting back to you. Life can be so entirely hectic. I like what I've read so far and I hope to be returning.

Giggle Fritz

QueenBee said...

Loved this post! I do understand the perspective of dressing in a way to show respect. But I've never been able to align it with my belief. I don't think God cares what we wear on our bodies - I think He cares what we wear in our hearts. I don't want to see girls wearing shirts that show their bellies - but I don't want to see that ANYWHERE, not just in church. Sometimes I wonder what our congregation would like if people wore less fancy clothes - I wonder how many others might come who can't afford to dress nicer than they do. I wonder if we don't sometimes alienate people b/c they don't own "church clothes". Ofcourse, our contemporary service is pretty laid back and blue jeans are normal there. anyway, great post.

Joash Chan said...

One time a pastor shared with us how the worship team were arguing about the dress code... Someone said, "We are here to meet the King of Kings. Shouldn't we be at our best?"... Then the punch line came... "Do you put on a suit and tie when you have your devotion at home?" Haha...

Great post, friend. I think you had fun writing it as much as I had fun reading it...

David said...

I so need another one of your posts when you get the time.

Lorna said...

brilliant post

why have I been away from here for so long ??? sigh :(

be blessed :)
and keep challenging those boxes. Draw the line in the sand where Jesus would !!!