It was sometime around 1985. I was at a meeting of a few hundred people in a church. Billy Graham was the speaker. Just after Mr. Graham began his talk, a man walked up the center aisle, apparently looking for a seat. The place was packed. He slowly walked all the way to the front. Not finding a seat, he sat on the floor just in front of the first row. He was dressed in dirty, torn clothing. Everyone in the place watched with interest, and, understandably some concern.
The ushers, who either missed the man’s entrance, or felt uncertain about what to do, finally took action. Four of the ushers walked to the front and escorted the man out. Billy Graham continued his address without a pause. There was a murmur across the audience. Listening to the whispers near me, some felt the man was a threat to Mr. Graham, and were glad to see the man taken out. Others were appalled that because of the man’s clothes, the ushers would act with prejudice.
Later, we learned that the ushers were also security people. We were told that there had been a threat on Dr. Graham’s life, and that the ushers had identified the man was harmless. We also learned that Billy Graham met with the man later and prayed for him…and apologized.
Today, dress codes in most churches are not even subconsciously relevant. Look around and you can see some men in suit coats and ties, a woman here or there with a full-length dress, those with casual, but “dressy” clothes, and some in blue jeans. Occasionally, you see sandals, tank tops, shorts, tight pants, low-cut blouses, NFL sweatshirts, or t-shirts with a religious message.
How do you react? Do you catch yourself making a judgment? What exactly is a “judgment”?
In the Bible, Jesus taught, “Don’t judge, unless you want God to judge you.” (Matthew 7:1). What was Jesus’ meaning? He was talking about anytime we make a conclusion about what people are like on the inside, based on what we see or hear on the outside. Since we can’t see inside like God does, conclusions should be left up to God.
Christmas is around the corner. It is one of the seasons of the year when many who don’t normally attend church visit a worship service. How will you react? Can you, at first glance, thank God that they are attending? Can you make sure you welcome everyone, no matter how they are dressed?
Jesus had an amazing approach to people. Everyone who came to Him felt welcomed, like they belonged. That included prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, a woman caught in adultery and noisy, unruly children. You see, Jesus knew that people need to feel like they belong, before they believe.
Two lessons: (1) how are you dressed? You can be dressed “down” to the level of distraction or, dressed “up” to a level that newcomers feel alienated or “out of place.” (2) What is in your heart? Your level of love for people will drive your behavior. The meaning of Christmas could be summarized in three words: “God is love.” Will your behavior be the same for everyone, no matter how they are dressed?
The real meaning of Christmas is focused on God, who doesn’t approach us with judgment. God knows our hearts, our thoughts, our motives. The message of Christmas is not about judgment. It’s all about love, acceptance, forgiveness, restoration, hope. Christmas is the declaration that God loved us so much He sent His only Son to be born in a shack, born to parents who were considered nobodies. The King of the universe, according to the Bible, is not hung up on palaces or clothes. He was, literally, hung up on a cross, with His outstretched arms declaring, “I love you all this much.” No wonder people, for over twenty centuries, with all sorts of dress codes, celebrate Christmas. Have a great Christmas, whatever you wear.
How does your church welcome people who may be dressed differently? We welcome your comments below.
Kent Hunter, founder of Church Doctor Ministries, is known as the Church Doctor. His most recent e-books are The Future Is Now and The J-Dog Journey, available at no cost. Contact him at (800) 626-8515, by email, Twitter, Facebook, or visit www.churchdoctor.org.