Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Formal Dress Not Required

Have you ever wondered where our dress codes come from and what they are? I found a web site the other day dedicated to telling the dress codes for occasions in different countries. Some suggest that these codes are set by each society or sub group in a society, in part to make a statement or to set themselves apart in some way. One thing that is clear is that these codes change with time.

Not so long ago a City of London business person was expected to wear smart business clothes, often a suit of  some sort. Today on a commuter train into London you will see all sorts of dress styles on business folks, casual is becoming more popular, smart less so. The other day I heard a radio report that in a recent survey a large percentage of women thought that wearing jeans to the office and even to weddings was perfectly OK.

I have to say that for weddings I still dress up a little and for my graduation from Spurgeon's college in London recently I wore a more formal outfit with a bow tie (I often wore these when in business). Perhaps a reflection of having, like many of my generation, to wear a school uniform - the great leveler of children and so wanting to be different.

My grand daughter was not as impressed with my gear as she might have been, but then she was the centre of attention for all of my family.

What about church going folks, is there a dress code, how do you know what it is and do you need to follow it? Well the answers is yes, no and maybe or maybe not. Certainty there is something of the wearing Sunday best culture in many Churches and for some it is an opportunity to dress up. However for others who wear more formal clothes all week they prefer to dress down and wear casual clothes. When I was in the Congo they tended to dress up and in fact liked the preacher to wear a smart outfit and tie for services in 30degC plus temperatures and high humidity. 

In some regards we can get too hung up on what we look like almost as if our clothes suggest something about how well we are with God, our dress code should not distract others from the reason for going - to come together and worship God. Don't get me wrong I know that some wear smart clothes to church as a sign of respect for God and there is nothing wrong with that so long as we don't make it a legal requirement and so exclude others who don't have or wear such outfits. Jeff Lucas talks about a girl who stopped going when others in the church told her that her Doc Martin boots were not godly in his book Creating a Prodigal Friendly Church.

Fortunately formal dress is not required to attend church. God is concerned with our heart attitudes more than the clothes that we wear to church, we can be the smartest dressed and yet live a life that denies what we say we believe, stealing, fighting, swearing, gossiping and so on. The heart attitude that we bring with us to church is formed and fashioned by the life we live in Christ, our prayer life, our service, our love and our study of his words to us.

Perhaps if we spent a little more time on these and came together for worship of God with a pure heart full of wonder at all that he has done with and through us, we would reflect something of God's glory and that would be our outer clothing?

This little blessing from the Northumbria community might help remind us

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you,
wherever He may send you.
May He guide you through the wilderness,
protect you through the storm.
May He bring you home rejoicing
at the wonders He has shown you.
May He bring you home rejoicing
once again into our doors.

If you want regular reminders of this bog - be a follower 

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Prayer - active participation or an excuse for doing nothing ...

Are you one of those people who always answers "I'm OK" when someone asks how you are? Perhaps it seems too personal to say something like "I'm having a bad time of it ..." since they may ask you to tell them more. On the other hand often, in my experience, people use this question as a throw away, they don't really want to know how you feel but it makes them feel better to have asked and anyway if you told them you are not doing well, they might not know how to cope with that.

If you are someone who asks the question not expecting an answer, how do you handle someone who tells you that life is not good or they have some illness or problem to face? Do you wilt under the barrage and cut down the conversation moving on to someone else as quickly as possible or respond with platitudes like "it's OK it can only get better" or "I know someone much worse off .." or do you ask them more, listening with a sense of care?

Its not easy to get it right but perhaps having a right attitude to both the asking after someone or responding to the question would help us all to engage better with each other, not getting or giving a life history of troubles but simply responding to a genuine question with some reality which allows sharing of issues and joys.

When someone in church says in response "I will pray for you" - do you expect them to do anything? I do, I am an optimist at heart and want to find the and see the best in everyone, if they say I will pray for you in that situation, I trust that they will.

Paul in letters he wrote to churches says "pray continually" and "... and always keep on praying for all the saints", reminding them and us that prayer is serious, talking with God for that person and their situation is a privilege not a duty or a bore. We should neither promise what we won't follow up on nor turn from offering to walk with that person in prayer or allow others to walk with us in prayer.

 So in the same way that I expect others to pray for me, I pray for them, keeping a note of who I am praying for and why for my daily prayer time. For me offering prayer is not an excuse to do nothing and pass on, it is a way to actively participate in a persons situation and life, bringing them before God and asking him to transform their situation or thanking him for the good things in that persons life.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Patience, but I want to know now!

In Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, there is a precocious little girl called Veronica Salt, used to getting her own way in whenever she wants, her watch phrase was "I want it now!". All who have read the book or seen the films (and if you haven't shame on you, head down to your local library and borrow a copy), will have laughed at her antics and yet, as is often the case with humour, we can find we are laughing at our own nature taken to an extreme. Are we ever really patient or like Veronica are we impatient to have whatever it is we want or desire or think we need .... NOW?

Patience is a virtue we hear others say and yet it is in such short supply in this day and age, the age of instant access to money, to shops (via the internet), to entertainment (TV) and to the things that might satisfy us. Take marriage and sex for example, today the attitude to sex and marriage is more a try before you buy, rather than being patient waiting first for the wedding and then for the wedding night. Something God intended to be special between a man and a women, something that should bond, unite and strengthen, turned into a must have now commodity rather than the culmination of a patiently grown, loving commitment for life, before God.

In a small way this is reflected in gardening, at my home in the early spring I had a large pruning job to do on the roses that grow against the front of the house. A careful slow and loving task, which if done badly can wreck the plant. Months of waiting are required to even see if the plant survived it, but now it is in full bloom, more than ever before, not all at once but some buds opened while others are still closed offering a tantalising suggestion of what is yet to come.

If you look closely you might see some more sowing with love and patience that will provide beauty later in the summer.

Patience is something I am learning a lot about at the moment having just gained a Theology degree at Spurgeons college in preparation for pastoral ministry, but as yet, God has not shown me where he is going to take me next. I could be impatient and jump at the first opportunity but it is far more important to wait for God to reveal his choice to me.

Patience is one of the things that the Apostle Paul writes about in relation to church life, as something that comes from walking a life with Christ (Gal 5:22) and something Christians are told to have with each other (Col 3:11-12), because as God knows, none of us are perfect. Our impatience can lead to hasty words or actions, badly formed or badly informed opinions and breaks in the wholeness of Christ's body, his Church. It is much harder to undo something and put it right than not to have got it wrong in the first place. Applying patient consideration of issues, actions, words can avoid so much upset.

God in his patience waits for us to want to spend time with him, to give up our lives to him so that we might receive back life in all of its fullness or abundance so that we might know the peace which he gives to all who patiently trust in him.

May the peace of God which passes all understanding be upon you ...

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Like a little child ...

Some things have to be experienced to be understood, having passed through the babies, children, teenagers phases with my own children, it has come as a real surprise to experience the same feelings, emotions and joys as I hold or interact with my grand-daughter Rebecca.

There is something about the look of innocence in her eyes as she looks at me, the joy when she smiles and even at the way she falls asleep as I or or my wife rock her in our arms and sing to her (good job she hasn't learned to know good from bad singing yet!). There is a trust there which is not about understanding or being in control but in simply not being able to do anything else except trust that we have her best interests at heart.

It seems to get harder as we get older, to trust, I mean, life has a habit of shaping us and in response we find it harder to trust so completely because we don't want someone else in charge of us. For many of us trusting in a God who often seems pretty remote to us is difficult, especially when that God says we should have faith like that of a little child (Matt 18:3), that is trust him completely. Pretty well impossible for most of us because we feel less secure letting God call the shots and prefer to do as we want with no restrictions.

How does trust work? Well in a simple way it works like this practically - I can't do something, I know someone who can, but to accept what that person can do for me I have to surrender some of my control/ independence and rely to some degree on that person. I have a friend who is a mountain walking / climbing expert, I (on a previous trip) refused to climb a mountain in Wales (Britain) as it looked too difficult for me and I felt I would not be in control in that environment. A few years later, same mountain, my friend persuaded me to trust him, surrender some of my independence and go with him up that mountain - I did and enjoyed it, reaching the top and going even further than I expected.

When Jesus died for us he did an extreme thing on our behalf, something we could not do for ourselves, restore what sin caused us to loose, our relationship with God. The problem for us is that we want to believe but on our terms, maintaining control. Trust me like a child trusts, Jesus tells us, and then you will become my disciples. Just as I would not do anything that would harm Rebecca, God tells us that he will not harm us but seeks our good (Matt 7:10). Learning to trust God as he deserves, in reality is the only way to really walk in faith and relationship with him. He loves us, we can trust him.