God Has Seen You Naked

Going_to_Sunday_school_at_the_Baptist_Church._Lejunior,_Harlan_County,_Kentucky._-_NARA_-_541344My parents have some of those photos from the 1970s where my brother and I are dressed up in super-fly J.C.Penney leisure suits for Easter Sunday. It’s one of those pictures where you thought your outfit was really dope … But 40 years later you look like a dope from Awkward Family Photos. Here’s a sample:

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Before you laugh too hard, I bet you have some of these awesome photos back in the dark recesses of your parent’s closet too. And I’m not above calling your parents to get my hands on them.

I grew up believing that what you wore to church matters. For me, it really didn’t come from my parents … It came from my church culture where the motto about clothing was “give God your best” or “wear your Sunday best.” And that meant occasionally rocking out a baby blue leisure suit. While the church where I grew up wasn’t the most conservative one of the block, there was still a dominant perception that what you wore to church mattered. The church choir wore those hot unisex choir robes … The pastor wore the really itchy looking wool suit (even in the summertime) … Even the musicians on stage wore jackets and ties. It was a far cry from the modern hipster landscape of contemporary worship leaders wearing graphic t-shirts, Rob Bell glasses, well-worn jeans, flip-flops and white belts.

If you look at photos from the 1950s, you realize that it wasn’t too long ago that the philosophy of “Sunday best” dominated our churches. Most states had “Blue Laws” that prohibited stores from opening on Sundays, so that entire families could go worship in their local churches together. Mothers would spend their Saturdays preparing elaborate meals for both Saturday and Sunday. Men and boys wore heavy suit jackets and stylish hats and sweat profusely through long worship services without air conditioning. Ladies were decked out in their finest dresses, high heels, hats and gloves. Sunday worship was the center of attention … Not Sunday football.

Today, the only place closed on Sunday is Chic-Fil-A, and I’ll admit that I’ve absentmindedly driven to a Chic-Fil-A after Sunday worship and then felt like a complete idiot. And I wouldn’t even have the foggiest idea where to buy a fedora for church.

In the 1990s, the combination of “worship wars” and the increasing acceptance of the “business casual” dress code in most workplaces effectively killed the 1950s “Sunday best” approach to church attire. Some churches made this effort an intentional move to appear culturally relevant. Other churches unintentionally changed their dress code when their membership shifted to a younger population. The suits simply died out when the population that revered them did. Middle aged pastors are now wearing untucked graphic t-shirts, jeans and horn rimmed glasses to blend in with the casual church trend. Even at funerals and weddings, I’ve noticed that the younger generation is wearing more “business casual” and dramatically fewer suits and ties.

Despite the cultural shift away from “Sunday best,” there are still lingering hints of this approach in most church-going households. Don’t believe me? Just look in your closet. Think about all of the different categories of clothes in your closet. There’s the “bum-around” clothes: The sweatpants and comfortable t-shirt that you wear on a lazy Saturday morning while lounging on the couch while catching up on Shark Week. There’s your pajamas: The comfortable outfit that you wear to bed and the occasional late night trip to Wal-Mart to pick up a prescription. And then there’s the “church” clothes: The one suit hanging in the back of our closets that we singularly reserve for church on Sundays. Not to mention work clothes/uniforms, school clothes/uniforms or the million other occasions that our wives consider. The “bum-around” clothes are not for church and vice versa. Our segregation of clothing betrays our lingering belief that you can’t just wear any old thing to church.

And there are other inklings of our lingering belief that what you wear to church matters:

  • Have you ever told your child or grandchild: “That’s not appropriate to wear in church?”
  • Have you ever had to explain the difference between “good” jeans and play jeans?
  • Or have you ever had to explain to a teenager why a tank top might be appropriate to wear to church on Wednesday night but not on Sunday morning?
  • Have you ever worn a jacket or sweater to cover-up an outfit that you would normally wear outside of church without said cover-up?
  • What about the afore-mentioned “special” outfit for Easter or Christmas?

In these cases, our actions seem to indicate that we DO still hold on to a lingering conviction that what we wear to church really does matter. In this manner, we all seem to be guilty of holding tighter to the traditions of man over the commands of God (Mark 7:8). If we were to truly admit it, most Christians remain confused about whether church clothes really matter or not.

Based on this confusion, let’s take a look at what the Bible actually says about clothing:

  1. Be Modest: In 1 Timothy 2:9-10, the apostle Paul essentially tells ladies to keep their junk inside the trunk. The actual passage states: “Women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.” More or less, he’s telling the ladies not to dress like a prostitute, which is something I’ve repeatedly overheard shotgun-wielding fathers tell their teenage girls when I worked in youth ministry. In terms of clothing, we should consider whether that outfit (or lack of one) will draw eyes and attention away from Christ. The first thing that you should notice about a woman is the size of her good works for the sake of Gospel. Of course, the guiding principle would apply to men as well: Don’t dress like a stripper from Magic Mike. Here’s the key question: Are you boasting in Christ alone or in how good you (think you) look?
  2. Don’t Be Vain: You’re so vain … You probably think this verse is about you: “Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious” (1 Peter 3:3-4). In similar force to 1 Timothy 2:9-10, the apostle Peter urges restraint in dress to avoid vanity. God places more value in our inner beauty than our external adornment. Dressing purely to impress others should be eschewed. Here’s the key question: Are you dressing to make yourself the center of attention? Or are you allowing Christ to be the center of worship and adoration?
  3. Don’t Show Partiality: James 2:1-4 conveys a horrific church situation where the well-dressed wealthy were given prized front row seats in worship and the poor were hidden from sight. Imagine a church that was utterly embarrassed by how their poor worshippers dressed … Or a church that was starstruck the caliber of jewelry and golden rings being worn by the rich. Sadly, I’ve attended that type of church. I’ve seen many churches grumble and complain that a non-believer wore a ragged beer t-shirt and hole-filled jeans to church instead of welcome and share the Gospel with that non-believer. We must remember that there is no favoritism in “love your neighbor as yourself” (James 2:8). Even if someone wears dingy, decrepit clothing unworthy of even Goodwill, that person is still loved and valued by our Savior (1 Timothy 2:4). Thus, we must love and value them as Christ does instead of treating them as an embarrassment or a burden.

Of course, we can’t do a blog on clothing without addressing the bizarre legalistic quagmire of Deuteronomy 22:5: “A woman shall not wear a man’s garment, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord your God.” While the passage deems cross-dressing to be a sin (sorry Monty Python fans), legalistic Christians take the passage one step further by arguing that women cannot wear pants because – you know – pants are a dude thing. The problem with this legalistic interpretation is that the definition of menswear is extraordinarily culturally constrained. Case in point: Women have been wearing pants in the United States ever since actresses like Marlene Deitrich and Katherine Hepburn scandalously wore them in movies in the 1930s. In 2013, no one sees a woman in khakis walking down the street and says: “Hey! She’s a cross-dresser!” The main point is that God created gender, God deemed gender good and gender should be celebrated. But gender appropriate clothing varies based on time, location and culture. Good luck telling the ginormous Scotsman wearing the kilt that he’s a cross-dresser.

Above all things, believers must remember that the heart truly matters to God. Consider God’s words to the prophet Samuel as he was sent out to anoint a king: “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). The biggest problem with the “Sunday best” philosophy of clothing is the belief that God is somehow pleased with our sacrifices of clothing. This is not true. We cannot please God with any of our works – including how we dress. What good is wearing the finest suit possible if it merely covers up a corrupt heart that refuses to bow down to the true and living God? God values our broken and repentant hearts – not the finery of our clothing and jewelry (Joel 2:13).

Unfortunately, I’ve frequently heard this counter-argument in favor of “Sunday best”: If you’re going to dress well to visit the President of the United States, then certainly you would dress well for the Creator of the Universe. Well, the President hasn’t seen you naked … But God has. That’s right: God has seen you naked. The President doesn’t know the character of your heart … But God does. God knows our inner most thoughts … He knows ever action before we even take a step. He knows the number of hairs on our heads … He knows our name. God knows us: Baggage, hang-ups, problems, issues and everything. He’s seen us at our darkest and our worst and still loves us so. He witnesses our every bitter and angry tantrum and still wraps His arms of love around us. There is no article of clothing that we could wear to make Him love us more than He already does. He knows our hearts. You can’t fool God.

God has already seen you naked: Physically, spiritually and emotionally. And all of the finest clothing in the world isn’t going to alter His love for you.

What A Wonderful World

blood-sun-1600x900My daughter was covered in blood. Blood flowed like a dripping faucet from her nose painting her chest and covering her legs like a blanket. The bathtub water was turning a sickening pink color as the blood plumed out in the water like an oil slick. Droplets of blood spattered the shower wall like a scene from C.S.I.

Twenty minutes in, I could not get my daughter’s nosebleed that began during bath-time to stop gushing. As I continued to tightly pinch her nose with a paper towel, my little girl started shivering and then began to mutter something under her breath. I then recognized it as a repeated prayer of reassurance: “God is with me … God is with me … God is with me …” I realized that she was getting extremely freaked out at the mountain of paper towels covered in her own blood and I stopped to pray with her for healing. As my wife and I began to frantically discuss whether we needed to make an ER run, the blood flow finally started to dissipate.

Thirty minutes of blood.

The world is not supposed to be this way.

There’s a certain child-like naivety and wonder to the Louis Armstrong song “What A Wonderful World” with all its talk of skies of blue and clouds of white. Every color from the Crayola box correctly painted within the proper lines as it should be … Everything bright and beautiful as God intended. And then the red of blood mars the trees of green. The sweet song of the birds gets overcome by the awful screams of horror. We try to live in our peaceful little bubbles of self-imposed serenity, but evil repeatedly crashes in like an uninvited houseguest. Evil stalks us like our shadows. Ever present … Never truly gone. Any moment of joy can quickly erode into never-ending horror. Any monument can quickly collapse in rubble. Any ordinary bath-time can turn into a bloody mess. Diaphanous we are.

I can’t help but to watch yesterday’s Boston Marathon bombings through these lenses. In a society that relishes moral ambiguity, “evil” is an extraordinarily appropriate word to describe the gruesome murder of children at a sporting event. Blown off body parts and blood stained sidewalks are patently evil. The panic and fear of bewildered families is unswervingly evil. From the alcohol-fueled sexual assault of Steubenville, WV to the mass shooting of 1st graders in Newtown, CT, the headlines have been gripped with events that can only be described in black and white terms as unequivocally evil. The worldview that people are generally good and our world is continually improving into a post-modern utopia simply does not correlate with backpacks filled with bombs and ball bearings.

Immediately following the bombing, comedian Patton Oswalt made the following statement via Facebook: “This is a giant planet and we’re lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they’re pointed towards darkness. But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We’d have eaten ourselves alive long ago.” That statement has now gone viral with more than 260,000 likes and 200,000 shares on Facebook.

Make no mistake: This statement by Oswalt is wrong and contrary to the Gospel.

Considering the world to be hunky-dory with the exception of a couple rotten eggs is the functional equivalent of covering your eyes to blot out the sun. If we look squarely at the horror of the Boston Marathon bombing, we are confronted with the raw power of a world awash with a tsunami of incoherence and trauma. Has anyone honestly looked at the face of cancer, Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis or asthma and said that the world is better off with these diseases? Has anyone watched the casket of a loved one slowly lowered into the ground at a cemetery and thought that all was right with the world? Has anyone witnessed the aftermath of a hideous violent crime, such as rape, sexual molestation, pedophelia, home invasion or murder, and thought that the world is full of wonderful people? Has anyone seen families with children begging for a hot meal and considered why an overwhelming number continue to be in need? What about the millions still being daily sold into sex slavery crying out for justice and freedom? How about the sheer horror and violence of 9/11, Tianamen Square, Syria, Hiroshima, Rwanda, Darfur or Joseph Kony? How about the enslavement of addiction? How about the stigma of racism? The truth is obvious: This world is horribly broken. We are like fish in a small bowl who realize that we are meant for the ocean. Trapped in a decaying and limited body, we realize that we are meant for something more … something eternal.

The words of the apostle Paul in Romans 8:18-25 also resonate with me a million times more than Patton Oswalt’s:

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:18-25)

If we look and listen closely with unbiased ears, we can hear our world collectively creaking and groaning … Crying out for redemption and restoration. We try to donate, pontificate, politicize and regulate ourselves out of the evil found within the world but it’s like carpeting over a rotten floor. Sooner or later, everything will collapse.

At this point, you might be thinking: This is a depressed and hopeless man writing this blog.

Not true. I have so much hope.

Our hope is not that people can overcome the darkness of this world … But Christ can. A God-sized problem requires a God-sized solution. The hope of the Gospel is that God can and will make our world wonderful again. The 1915 hymn This Is My Father’s World gloriously proclaims: “Though the wrong oft seems so strong, God is the ruler yet.” Oh, how marvelously true: The suffering of this world can seem so all-consuming and heartbreakingly powerful … But the reality is that God is stronger. Through the resurrection of Christ, God proved that He is stronger than sin, death and any of the brokenness of this world. And God is revealing to us a glory that is far beyond our comprehension. A future hope without pain, suffering, tears, illness or death. And – yes – there will be no more crime. There will be no more need for courts or prisons because evil has been vanquished once and for all by Christ. The darkness of the world might humble and cause us to momentarily despair, but the darkness will never overcome the hope that is found in Christ. The darkness doesn’t stand a chance against the light of Christ.

Oh how I long for the day that Christ will come! And when He has vanquished the maddening evil of the world once and for all, I will truly sing at the top of my lungs: “What a marvelous Savior! What a wonderful world!”

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1:5