I’m enjoying my last morning in Australia. I woke up about as early as usual, around 6am, threw on some clothes, and went for a walk around downtown Perth. It’s sunny and warm even this early in the morning, and the nearness to the water gives the whole city a beachy feel. It’s beautiful here.
The people are beautiful here as well. Everyone seems so put together. Even at this early hour, professional men and women are walking to work, dressed in sharp, neat business attire. I briefly feel self conscious walking among them, having just rolled out of bed and thrown on a disciple t shirt and a beanie. Then I sit at a coffee shop and decide to just take in the moment (isn’t there always something to take in?).
Australians seem to care deeply about how they present themselves. Most are fit and well groomed, and always dress sharply. Just now I saw a businessman walk by me, headed to work wearing a tailored suit, carrying a packed lunch in one hand, and a pair of running shoes in the other. I can only surmise he plans to go for a run on his lunch break. This is exactly the kind of lifestyle so many Australians seem to subscribe to.
In North America we love casual. We love t shirts and shorts and sneakers. Most of us avoid dressing up if we can help it. How many times have I heard someone say (or said myself), “well at least I don’t have to wear a suit every day.” If we see someone in a suit, we assume it’s against their will, that this person must have been forced into a career where he’s forced to wear a suit. Surely he’d rather be in shorts and flip flops.
We apply these same principles to our church lives. I grew up in a church that was proudly “come as you are!” Ripped jeans, biker jackets, short shorts, whatever. No doubt when my parents’ generation started these churches, it was in reaction to the legalism and traditionalism of their parents’ generation. They didn’t want to be a part of a church that forced them to dress a certain way on Sundays. I can understand the sentiment. I might have felt the same way if I grew up the way they did.
The churches my Dad pastored were more of the “anything goes” type churches. In addition to the casual dress, anyone in the congregation was free to speak up at any moment, with a prophetic word, question, or shout of affirmation. Again, I am sure this is a response to the fact that my parents generation grew up in churches where the activity was quite one-sided. The ministers preached, the congregation listened.
When I was 17, I moved out on my own and began to search for a church of my own as well. I checked out a Pentecostal church, Baptist church, and several others. I ended up getting involved in a Harvest Bible Chapel, which is an offshoot of the baptist church, but I also began attending a Sunday night youth service in Toronto.
These youth services were held in an ancient church downtown, and they were unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. It was emphasized that God was HOLY, and not someone to be approached lightly. Scriptures were read with care and detail, and the point was clearly made that these writings were SACRED. The word of God given to men. There was a heaviness to it all. An appropriate heaviness. I realized that all these years I’d been thinking of God as a vending machine. Put praise and worship in, get good things out. A convenient arrangement.
There at those services I saw an aspect of God’s nature I had missed until that point. The Sacred. The Holy.
A few days ago the guys and I traveled to the southernmost tip of the Albany area, and saw these incredible rock formations on the coast. There are massive cliffs, and the sea comes crashing into them with incredible force. The experience was humbling. I approached the edge of the cliffs with care, and awe. There is one place where you can climb underneath a section of the cliff face, where you’re literally standing under millions of tons of rock. Just feet away massive waves are slamming into the rocks. I was struck by the sheer scale of the forces I was in proximity to. Beyond comprehension. I couldn’t help but feel that approaching God is like this. With awe. Not with fear, but with awareness of the bigness of it all…. How easily I could be crushed, swept away, or buried, in a moments notice.
I don’t mean this to be any kind of indictment of charismatic churches. I merely mean to say that having grown up in one point of view, I appreciated experiencing others. There’s got to be a balance to it all. If I had grown up in a more traditional church, I’m sure I would have sought out a place with more freedom. Most of us crave new points of view when we come of age.
I’m continually amazed by a God who has absolutely no reason to do things only one way. He is bigger than that. He cares about what is in our hearts more than anything. Our outward expressions are a beautiful union between who He is, and who we are. We all share a need for salvation, but beyond that human beings are so wonderfully different from each other. No wonder our walks with Jesus can look so different.
I am thankful for a world full of different points of view. I love stepping into other people’s perspective for moments. There continues to be so much to learn.