Saturday, March 29, 2014

Snot on my armor

{A short Biblical theology of fashion}

In his mercy, God clothed Adam and Eve. The serpent promised that their eyes would be opened if they ate the fruit of the forbidden tree. The irony is that their eyes were opened—unto death. They stood there, naked. Fig leaves were not enough to cover their shame.

All of us—men and women—wear clothes, everyday. The Bible has so much to say about fashion and what we should wear. Except for the occasional mention of modesty, however, our theology of clothing is as thin as a shabby T-shirt in the winter storm.

Our Lord Jesus declares, it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person. What defiles a person, he says, proceeds from the heart. By the same principle, it is not what I put on my body that defiles me, my heart defiles me. I could be covered from head to toe and still be defiled. Living out a Biblical understanding of clothing is not about what I wear, but why I wear what I wear.

1. I wear clothes as a reminder of Adam and Eve's former glory.
Adam and Eve walked with God in Eden. They had nothing to prove, nothing to hide. Their lost their glory when they rebelled against God. When they felt shame for the first time, their impulse was to cover themselves, though their leafy garments were insufficient. God did not reprimand them for their desire to cover themselves. Instead, he clothed them with something far better — garments of skin that required the spilling of blood. Therefore, returning to our naked state is not an option. Our reality is now outside Eden. Therefore, we clothe ourselves.

2. I wear clothes as a confession that I am not who I ought to be.
The king of Nineveh took off his royal robe and covered himself with sackcloth and ashes. He commanded his people to do likewise.The Lord looked on the nation with mercy and forgave them of their sin. I put on clothes every morning as a prayer unto the Lord for mercy. I confess that I am a rebel, I cannot save myself. I am not enough. My clothes are my sackcloth and ashes, a sign of my repentance.

3. I wear clothes as a confession that Jesus Christ is my perfect covering.
I am hidden in the death and the life of my Lord Jesus Christ. I can stand before the Father's throne because he sees the perfect obedience of his Son. I put on my clothes — in remembrance of him. Christ is my perfect covering, my armor of light. Christ is my helmet of salvation. Christ is my breastplate of righteousness. Christ is my belt of truth. Christ is my combat boots, preparing me to preach the Gospel of peace. Christ is my shield. He gives me the sword of the Spirit, his living Word.

4. I wear clothes as a reminder of the Church's present labor and future glory.
The Lamb of God laid down his life for his Bride, the Church. His blood purchased her fine linen of righteousness, bright and pure. While we wait for his return, we, his royal priesthood, shall labor in our priestly garments. We wear our priestly robes in service of others, in the presence of God. Our robes could look like office attires, nurses' scrubs, hospital gowns, military uniforms, firefighters' suits, a chef's hat, prison uniforms, or — my blouse and jeans. My priestly garment is currently covered with paint, snot, a splash of bath water, mud, cream cheese, and I smell like chocolate cookies. Somewhat like the priestly garments in the Old Testament, without so much blood.

I like pretty clothes. But I don't like to admit I like pretty clothes, because I don't want people to think I am vain and superficial, though I can be. There is nothing wrong with wearing pretty things, because it is not what I put on my body that defiles me. My heart defiles me; idolatry defiles me. Wearing things (pretty or not, long or short) for my own glory defiles me. People may judge me according to my outward appearance, but the Lord sees my heart. The Lord sees why I wear what I wear; he sees my intentions, my motivations. And that's a scarier thought.

So, why do I wear what I wear?

I change out of my pajamas in the morning out of respect for my children as we begin our homeschool. I put on my favorite things on Sundays because I get to stand before God in the midst of his congregation. I feel weird about wearing cross necklaces because the cross is the sign of my death penalty that Christ has paid. And I feel weird about seeing my death penalty decorated in gold and hanging around my neck. I don't wear WWJD bracelets because I think they are ugly. And I prefer my priestly garments to be non-ugly.

But what do I know? I have snot on me.

When I love certain things a little too much, I ask myself, "Am I willing to give this away?" I am learning, slowly, to hold all things loosely. Fabric, faux-fur, and leather are merely shadows of what is to come.

I read recently a story about an 80-year-old farmer in North Korea. In the cloak of darkness, he goes on a boat and drops scripture leaflets along the coastline of the hermit kingdom. “I pray over every gospel leaflet I throw into the sea," he says. "I pray for those who will read them as they wash up on the shore. This is now my profession, the most important task of my life.”

For this reason, he goes out into the night wearing his nicely pressed suit and a tie around his neck. He puts on his best. He knows for whom he is dressed; he knows of whom he is wearing.

And so must I.

My updated thoughts on a biblical theology of clothing: The Gospel on Our Sleeves.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Flinging life away for love of him

Hans and I never lived in the same state until the day we got married. After the wedding, everyday was like a big date. We got to eat, work, and talk — face to face. We even got to decide how to spend our leisure time together. I know, crazy stuff. Hans knew what I loved. He took me out on walks; even on our shoestring budget, we tried a few new restaurants and museums. He was a lovely man.

And then, he taught me how to play strategy games.

I must confess, at first, I just didn't get it. I did not understand the benefits of staring at a board, or the computer screen, for hours upon hours. What were we accomplishing? How was this useful? What am I getting out of this? Did he not know that our dates were about me and revolved around my interests and for my benefit?


I disdain useless things and I have an irrational fear of being useless. Thinking about it makes my throat close and I can't breath. When I was pregnant, I couldn't stand my closet. I wanted to purge everything because nothing, not even the stretchy things, would fit. But Hans wisely told me to hold off on giving everything away, at least until the baby arrives.

I am my own idol. Even during some of my finer moments of serving others and keeping spiritual disciplines, I can be very concerned about myself and what's in it for me. Meditating on Mary's love for Jesus has been good for my soul.

Mary, and how she sat at Jesus' feet, listening to every word, watching every gesture, beholding every expression. Mary, and how she fell at his feet, weeping. How she broke and poured her alabaster jar of pure nard, on Jesus' feet. How she wiped Jesus' feet with her hair.

Mary's love for Jesus was so indiscreet, and even immodest. Hers was a love that was self-forgetting. She broke decorum and abandoned respectability. She used the crown of her head to wipe the dirt beneath his feet. Her worship of Jesus made people uncomfortable.

Mary placed herself at his feet. This is a pattern in Mary's relationship to Jesus. She was always at his feet. This was not a mutual exchange, not an equal give and take. This was not Mary helping Jesus out. This was worship.

Martha welcomed, served, and helped. Judas was an advocate for the poor. Mary did nothing useful of that sort. Yet, Jesus commended her, defended her. He called her sacrifice beautiful. Jesus was not saying hospitality was bad or feeding the poor was bad, but Jesus was distinguishing these works from Mary's worship. Unlike the others, Mary saw Jesus properly, so she responded properly — with homage and devotion.

Love takes us beyond ourselves. Of course, love can be helpful and practical, like receiving socks on Christmas morning. In fact, I love receiving socks for Christmas. But love can and should also be extravagant and unreasonable and sacrificial. For some birthdays, Hans would give me useful and practical gifts like my dutch oven and my chef's knife. For other birthdays, and especially for my non-birthdays, he would give me outrageous things, like a polka dot skirt. In the winter. He is a lovely man.

I am look forward to spring.

The only thing I bring to my salvation is my sin. Christ took my sin and death upon the cross, and in exchange, he gave me new life — with him. Therefore, I need to quit asking, "Am I being used by God?" Because, frankly, I am of no use to him at all.

The Father is looking for worshipers, like Mary, who are not the least bit concerned about themselves and what is in it for them. Because Mary surrendered herself, Jesus says her story would be told wherever the Gospel is proclaimed.

Consider this final passage by Howard Guinness in his book Sacrifice:
Where are the young men and women of this generation who will hold their lives cheap and be faithful even unto death? Where are those who will lose their lives for Christ’s sake, flinging them away for love of him? Where are those who will live dangerously and be reckless in his service? Where are his lovers, those who love him and the souls of men more than their own reputations or comfort or very life?

Nearly eight years later, Hans made a convert out of me. I love strategy games. It's a lot more fun now that I know what is in it for me.

A lot of wins.
Ha. Just kidding.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The dove returned

We heard last week that North Korea's supreme leader Kim Jong Un ordered the execution of 33 Christians. As we scoured the internet, we could only find bits and pieces of news, tainted with staged interviews and scripted press releases. From this distance, it is hard to distinguish truth from propaganda.

I found this sliver of information to be consistent in the reports: The 33 Christians were accused of planting 500 underground churches.

Our hearts swelled with a joyful sorrow.

Thirty-three. As it was in the days of Noah, the dove returned in the evening, bearing in her mouth a freshly plucked olive leaf. Ironically, the news of their death sentence is a sign of life — the Lord is at work. So, we receive this dire news with hope. The Body of Christ is alive in North Korea. Against all odds, the church is growing.

This is remarkable given the degree of persecution against Christians there. Following Christ comes at a great cost, sacrifices of many kinds. The "three-generation" policy makes North Korea the most brutal and suppressive regiment against Christianity in the world. Not only would the accused individual be sent to labor camps, but their families, their parents and children, would all be put away. Imagine having to watch your elderly parents and young children die of starvation and exhaustion — because you were found to be in possession of a gospel tract, or a few pages of the Bible.

The blood of God's children cries out from the ground. We must keep our brothers and sisters in our prayers. Pray not only for the 33 saints, but pray for their families, pray for the underground churches, pray for the pastors, and all the saints. Pray that they would be strong and courageous. Pray that they are somehow able to hear God's Word. Let us keep praying for them with all vigilance.

My sister Jean shared this hymn with us last week. She took an old hymn and gave it a new melody and a bridge. As I listened to it the first few times, I was filled with curiosity and admiration for Jean's gift. But as I started singing with her, this song really got to me.

So, I am sharing with you the soundtrack of my prayers for North Korea. I praise the Lord for their testimony, how they hastened to follow Christ, despite the many waters of persecution.

I am hastening, slowly.
Would you come with me? I would love your company.

Stanzas 1 & 2:
Resolved no longer to linger,
Charmed by the world's delight,
Things that are higher, things that are nobler,
These have allured my sight.

Resolved to go to the Savior,
Leaving my sin and strife;
He is the true One, He is the just One,
He hath the words of life.

I will hasten to Him,
Hasten so glad and free;
Jesus, greatest, highest,
I will come to Thee.

Stanzas 3 & 4:
Resolved to follow the Savior,
Faithful and true each day;
Heed what He sayeth, do what He willeth,
He is the living Way.

Resolved to enter the kingdom
Leaving the paths of sin;
Friends may oppose me, foes may beset me,
Still will I enter in.

I will hasten to Him,
Hasten so glad and free;
Jesus, greatest, highest,
I will come to Thee.

Stanza 5:
Resolved, and who will go with me?
Come, friends, without delay,
Taught by the Bible, led by the Spirit,
We'll walk the heav'nly way.

He's awaiting that glorious day
When His bride sees Him face to face
He's preparing her for that day
Dressed in white and adorned in grace
A queen readied for her place.
Shall we hasten to Him?
Hasten so glad and free;
Jesus, greatest, highest,
We will come to Thee.