Legalism

Legalism likes to look good.  It has too.  No one is going to believe you are better than them if you don’t look the part.

And to be honest I’ve struggled with whether or not this whole suit thing wasn’t just some twisted practice of legalism.  After all I do look good…

Actually, there have been some struggles and doubts in mind at different points in this process.  I’ve chosen one piece of the Old Testament law, which wasn’t even given for non-Jewish people, and decided to take it on; but only after giving it my own modern make over.  This could seem a little presumptuous.  But I tell myself it’s ok, after all it’s for Jesus.  Yes, for Jesus, the one who said not to do good works to be seen by others (Matt. 6:1 paraphrase).

So, has this just been some showy parade of legalism which God has despised?  I hope not.  Truthfully, I don’t believe it has.  Here is why.

Legalism and showy spiritual living are really issues of the heart.  They are expressions of a deeper issue.  They speak of a heart that is depending on itself, the approval of others, or both to find its worth and justify its existence.   Here we must make others feel less in order to make ourselves feel bigger, better, or valued.

But that doesn’t mean every expression of religious practice is guided by these messed up desires.  Legalism likes to look good, but just looking good doesn’t make it legalistic.  If it did every person who has ever been known as Godly, Christian, or moral would be in trouble.  While we don’t do acts of service to be seen it doesn’t mean no one can ever see our acts of service.  In fact Jesus said his followers would be known by our fruits, and fruit shows.  The question becomes, is what’s showing trying to impress others or bring me closer to God?  With the suits I know it has been the latter.

How often do we look at our motives in things though?  Could it be some of what we consider the best things we do are done for the wrong reasons?  What does that mean for us?

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Aside

When suits get old…

Well, this seems to be about the halfway point in my little journey.  So far it has been, wait for…

If you are waiting for me to say legendary you’ll be waiting for a long time.  Halfway through and it feels like eternity, only longer, more than it does legendary.   I’m growing tired of the suit.  I want choices back.  I want the freedom to wear whatever I want.  The suit is supposed to be reminding me of a life centered around God, and yet I can catch myself thinking of how glad I will be to be rid of it more than I let it focus me.  So why not just quit?  Glad you asked!

Aside from the fact that I’m stubborn, I am learning something else here;  about discipline and spiritual growth.  Actually, there it is.  I’m being reminded spiritual growth takes discipline.  Maybe that is why things like committed times of prayer, daily Bible reading, regular rest, times of silence, journaling, etc are all called spiritual disciplines.  A discipline is something you keep at despite how you feel about it because you know its good for you.  These things are like spiritual suits.

Let’s be honest most people don’t like to wake up early, spend time in silent prayer, then journal about it.  I much prefer to sleep in and then drink coffee.  We aren’t big on giving up some down time to read the Bible and reflect on what God is teaching us.  All of these things feel about as natural and comfortable as my suits do.  But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do them.

Following Jesus takes some discipline sometimes.  It means we choose some things that aren’t comfortable for us, and not just for the short term or until the novelty wears off.  And we choose them because we know they are good for us, God will use them to shape us and make us like him.

So, are there any spiritual suits in your life?

Dressing for success

Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.  You never get a second chance at a first impression.  The clothes make the man.

Then again, looks can be deceiving, and you should never judge a book by its cover.

Seems clear as mud right? (Ok I promise no more cliches).  But seriously, which is it?  I think we all want to say we evaluate people on who they really are, not just what they look like or what they wear.  The truth is we aren’t always very good at it.  External stuff matters to us; sometimes more than we’d like to admit.

I’ve heard it both ways over the last few weeks.  I’m overdressed, this doesn’t seem to fit my personality, and when will you be back to regular clothes?  Then there is the crowd that is thrilled with this new style.  They hope it will become a permanent thing.  Perhaps I might even inspire others to raise the bar in their personal wardrobe choices.  I can tell you already this will not become a “thing”.  Nor do I encourage others to make it one.  But we all have our opinions about what “good” fashion and dress is.  Unfortunately one of the arenas where this plays out is Sunday morning at church.

“Man looks on the outward appearance but, the Lord looks on the heart” (I Samuel 16:7b ESV)

God is not impressed with our dress.  The clothes don’t make us to him; in fact he originally made us with out them.  And he knew us from before we were formed, so we passed first impressions a while ago.  Still, sometimes we persist with this idea that we must dress a certain way to come to church.  I’ve seen it in things as simple as passing comments, to whispered judgements, all the way up to rude confrontation.  I don’t know where it comes from.

What I do know is Jesus seems more interested in what’s inside, and in welcoming the weary, the weak, sinners, and down trodden to come and find hope, peace, and rest in him.  He never seems very impressed with what any one is wearing.

I know this sounds a little hypocritical coming from the guy who is dressing up as a spiritual exercise.  I’ve struggled with that and have learned some things I hope to share soon.  For now though it seemed like a good time to state, I know my dress doesn’t impress God, and it shouldn’t impress you either.  Just like someone else’s attire shouldn’t impress or upset you when they come to worship God.  It’s not what He’s looking at, and as hard as it is, we need to learn to do the same.

Standing out

I was sure by now I would have some horror story of a complete and total meltdown which would wreck a suit and send me racing for the nearest 24 hour emergency dry cleaner.  They have those right?  After all I live with an adorable 6 month old.  There is daily hourly potential for some form of mess to end up all over.  But so far so good.  Which just leaves me on edge, knowing it’s not if, it’s when.

So far the hardest part has been dealing with the questions.  Not that it is all that hard.  I knew they would come.  Still, I’m not doing this to be seen or noticed.  The suit is to remind me, and challenge me.  So, while I don’t mind answering questions, I don’t want to seem like I’m putting on a show.

I’m not a flashy guy.  I don’t like to stand out.  I’m not trying to hide from anyone or anything, but I’m also not trying to get everyone to look at me.  My fashion choices reflect my preference.  I’m all about a good plain t-shirt with no writing on it.  A nice muted color is ideal.  It should also not be a deep V-neck, but that’s another post.

After a few days in suits though I’m finding this is impossible.  When you choose to wear something different from everyone else people notice and they comment.  No one has been mean, in fact they have been most complimentary.  But again, I don’t like to stand out, it doesn’t matter if it is good or bad attention.

It makes me wonder; where else does standing out make me uncomfortable?  Does it impact my relationship with God?  Do I choose to blend in and remain muted in expressing my faith in other areas simply to avoid drawing attention?  Not that I advocate performing acts of service for attention.  That is another thing entirely.  But is it possible the complete opposite exists, and that is just as dangerous?  Could I miss out on doing anything simply so I can maintain my comfort and anonymity?

Suit up

Inspired by the musings and endeavors of Bryan Dupuis, I’m going to try an experiment.  A challenge maybe, but definitely something different, at least for me.  Everyday for the next 40 days (also known as Lent) I will be wearing a suit.  Why, you may ask?  More likely your saying who cares.  Either way I will tell you.

In the Old Testament the Jewish people were required to wear special garments with tassels on them.  God designed and directed every aspect of their lives right down to the clothes they wore.  It was meant to remind them in everything, and be a visible sign for others, they worshipped Jehovah.  As I read this I couldn’t help but wonder what it would look like to do this today.  The more I thought about it the more I wanted to give it a try.

So I came up with suits.  Again, why, or who cares?  I don’t wear suits.  Ever.  I know for many of you this is life as usual.  But not me.  I’m used to having the freedom to throw on my jeans and go, it’s one of the perks of being in student ministry.  So this will be different for me, and in being different will remind me of the God I worship, the same God who commanded tassels.  It will also be pretty different to most people around me and so, hopefully, will do the same for others, much like the tassels.

I know there are all kinds of contradictions, potential for legalism, and possibly a good measure of down right stupidity in here.  I plan on writing about that and anything else I learn throughout the journey, so stay tuned.

For now I just want to share my basic guidelines for accountability and clarity:

1. In following the Lenten tradition I will practice this 6 days out of 7.  However, since Sunday is a work day for me I will take my rest day on Saturday.  This is mostly practical since it is the day I spend playing with two little girls who would wreck my suits, I’m not trying to go broke on new suits here.

2. I will wear a suit as my main outfit for each day.  Anything I would normally change clothes for like yard work, going to the gym, or sleeping I will still change for.  Again not trying to destroy the few suits I have.  And really do you care what I wear to bed?

3. I make no promise on the tie.  It will undoubtedly go with the suit most days, but if you see me without, I never promised.

So here we go, though I’m not sure how it will go.  I’ll let you know.