CLOTHES DO NOT MAKE THE MAN
We have likely heard the expression, “Clothes make the man.” But, it just isn’t true. Not that what we wear is unimportant, but the critical thing is the one inside the garment. Put a self-absorbed, cynical man in a tailor-made suit and he will just be a well-dressed jerk. Put a humble, kind man in a worn and tattered outfit and the quality of his life will overcome the appearance.
Too often, the church focuses on (and even fights over) the external appearance of the church. We think if we can change the structure of the organization, have a larger attendance, bigger buildings and budgets, a new style of music (or return to the old style), and the like, that we will be a successful church. Again, these matters are not insignificant. Change may need to happen, but all these things can change externally—policies, personnel, procedures, programming—and our church be an empty suit!
What God is after is transformation—an internal revolution—that will, of course, lead to an external difference. But, it starts in the heart—and until such a radical realignment of our thoughts, emotions and will toward loving God and loving people occurs—we will never be any different. We will fritter away our opportunity and waste our energy on dressing up—keeping up appearances—and fail to impact our world.
It starts with me. As a leader in the church, am I mostly hot air, or is there a heart, hot for God that marks me? It is a sobering thing to consider that I may have served as a pastor for thirty years—during which time I have learned new ways of doing things, having honed my skills as a “professional,” but be no closer to God and no more like Christ than when I began this journey. Perhaps I am being too introspective and too harsh in that judgment, but if I am not ruthless in my evaluation and relentless in my pursuit of whole-hearted devotion then transformation is impossible.
During the nearly decade and a half of shepherding this flock, we have seen some changes. You might like them; you might not. Some may think them too many; others not enough. Those are not my concerns this morning as I write this. My fear is that most of these changes are external and that at the core we are no different than when we started down this road together. The more things change, the more they stay the same. Is this the tragic reality?
What can be done? We choose to modify the externals—polish them and perfect them—because that involves a lesser price. We know that transformation is costly—it is a willingness to deny self and die to who we are and what we want in order to be raised to walk in a new and higher way. It is “bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor.10:5). It is letting “this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil.2:5). It is to, “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth…” and losing our life in “Christ who is our life” (Col.3:2-4). That high price tag is why we often choose external change rather than internal transformation.
When you dress for church tomorrow, put on your body that which would honor God, whether it be a business suit or blue jeans. Much more importantly, “put off the old man with his deeds, and…put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him” (Col.3:9b-10). That’s transformation. That’s what I’m praying for. Let it begin with me.