Who are you wearing?
BY SEAN TERRY | JUNE 21, 2021
I was such a cynical teenager in 2008. [Creative writing exercise incoming]
Some local youth pastor whom I will never remember the name of presented himself in front of our collective mob of backslidden delinquents of the more apathetic variety during my Christian high school’s weekly chapel service. What motivated this poor man to attempt to soften our obstinate hearts, an effort seemingly as futile as getting the Ever Given unstuck from the Suez Canal with a garden trowel, was a complete mystery to me. Furthermore, there was no incentive in place for us to entertain this man’s platitudes, only to remain quiet and undisruptive, an insufficient at best list of prerequisites that had no power to peel apart my folded arms fortified in front of my chest like a breastplate, which only ever occasionally yielded to inspect my Motorola Razr in the right pocket of my sagging khaki pants. Besides, I worked hard to develop those muscular forearms, giving no credit to puberty or my father’s genetics, and it seemed pleasing to me that I should display these trophies whilst simultaneously burying my chin between them, obscuring my disheveled chinstrap I had perplexingly not yet realized was anything but attractive, yet also putting me in perfect position to discreetly take a nap shortly after lunch without it looking obvious. Unbeknownst to me this was impossible as I was incapable of suppressing the lawnmower-like sounds of my snores, a symptom of a developing sleep apnea that wouldn’t be given any kind of attention until a decade later. Meanwhile, this red-faced and thin-eyebrowed xennial naively marched his way into our den of irritated hyenas with the full intention to turn us into golden retrievers for Christ - a feat so humiliatingly improbable that the best possible outcome was his words would be met with stoicism, stares, and simply ignored, as opposed to facing the merciless wrath of this horde of lukewarm adolescents and their propensity to make any docile preacher cringe his sorry self back to his boring church that presumably met in a strip mall somewhere next to a laundromat. If there was one thing I had no amusement for it was a messenger that failed to impress me. I didn’t think it was too much to ask that my weekly lector have something to say that I hadn’t already heard before and perhaps could give me a kind of real advice that would serve me better in life than some redundant and uninspired cliches that hardly benefitted anyone in the room, including the one giving them, other than the purpose of wasting everyone’s time. I suspected all of these would-be revivalists envisioned their lessons leading to a melodramatic scene straight out of Facing the Giants, with dozens of students brought to their knees in ecstatic worship to God and repentance of their angsty teenage ways. Maybe even one of us would come forward afterwards and give him a hug, thanking him for his courageous devotion and confessing that our attitudes were initially so misguided and plagued with pride. What a marvelous sight it would be to see an entire auditorium of millennial prodigals trade their upcoming 4th hour class for a rapturous encounter with the Holy Spirit while the volunteer worship team haphazardly plays How Great Is Our God by Chris Tomlin in the background. So imagine what must have been God’s unmitigated shock when on this particular Tuesday the t-shirt and blazer garbed sky pilot with a receding hairline failed to hold onto my already faint attention through just his introduction. Having opened with an illustration so pretentious and egregiously lazy I felt justified in metaphorically getting off at the next mental bus stop and challenging myself to ignore literally every single word he spoke to us from that point on.
Like I said, I was a cynical teenager in 2008.
But what did this man say that so quickly turned me off towards him? He began by asking if any of us had watched any shows that featured celebrities walking along the red carpet. He then quickly transitioned into reminding us about the question the actresses are almost always asked: “Who are you wearing?” As soon as I heard him utter those words my quick wit kicked in and I instantly predicted the entirety of his message. Okay, got it. I’m supposed to wear Jesus. People should be able to look at me and know that I am clothed in godliness. Whatever.
It seemed like such a weak analogy to me that I just had no patience to listen to the rest of it. In fact, I thought I was doing myself a favor. I figured it must take a special kind of spiritual intelligence to not actually listen to a sermon because you already know what it is essentially about. The sooner I stopped listening, the sooner I could forget this guy ever bothered trying to teach me. Right?
Well . . . it has been 13 years and I still remember that illustration.
So I would like to apologize to that youth pastor, wherever and whoever he may be. I have not forgotten the one single point I heard from him. And now I am going to use it for this blog. He won.
Like it or not, what you wear can and will say a lot about you. How one presents themselves to the world can reveal what kind of values you harbor on the inside. Let’s face it, whenever we see how someone is dressed, we make a series of assumptions about them very quickly. And for the same reason we also spend much time preparing our own outfit each day.
While attending physical therapy one day for my injured back I struck up a conversation with a few of the techs. I jokingly made a suggestion that someone should start a new fashion line that specifically featured casts and braces. The pitch was maybe it would be cool to ironically wear a wrist brace, even if there wasn’t a real injury, as a way to get people to notice you. They could call it “injurewear” or something like that. I couldn’t help but point out how often others had stopped and said something to me because of the back brace I had to wear all the time. And I thoroughly enjoyed the extra attention I had been getting. It wasn’t obvious to me yet, but I had already started falling into the trap of making my injury a part of my identity.
Unfortunately, we often take the worst parts of life, and graft them to our soul so tightly that we mistakenly believe they are a part of our nature. The recently popular term “my truth” makes me roll my eyes (I know it isn’t a very respectful reaction, and I do admit I need to work on that). But part of me feels that qualifying one’s life experiences as objectively indisputable is a dangerous game to play. Allow me to be cynically blunt in a way that would make 2008 Sean happy: there is no such thing as “my truth,” there is simply the truth, while conversely there is “my perspective” on it.
John 14:16 NIV
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the TRUTH and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
As Christians we find ourselves in tension. We know that God is a healer, yet we still witness sickness and suffering (and back injuries). We know that God has made us a new creation through Jesus Christ, yet we are still living in these mortal bodies that crave sin. We know that God will never leave us or forsake us, but boy-oh-boy does it sometimes feel like He has! So it makes sense that we look at our present circumstances and determine them to be the full reality of things. It would be easy for me to find a lot of sympathy in wearing a back brace out in public. Putting it on spreads the message, “Look at me! Notice me! I need help!” and then proceed to wish I could keep that affirmation going long after the injury had healed. But I would have to be living a lie. And this is the problem with developing your own independent version of truth - if we are wrong, then we are living a lie.
In the Bible, Abraham had plenty of reasons to believe he would end up childless, but according to God, that was a lie. So despite his perception of the truth, he chose to trust in the Author of Truth.
As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not. Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.
Hopefully none of us have ever walked out of the house in the morning without any clothes on. For many reasons that wouldn’t be smart, but most importantly because it leaves us vulnerable. However, we often forget to clothe ourselves in the truth of God’s Word. Without it, we are vulnerable to all kinds of distractions and disruptions that can harm our beliefs. The truth of God’s Word is very powerful and effective. It gives us a new identity found in Christ, and not in our sinful past. It saves us from the lies of Satan. It brings new life to our hearts and directs our minds towards what is good. It is so potent, that even just one phrase can still stick with me 13 years later, despite my best efforts.
So next time you get dressed and look at yourself in the mirror, don’t forget to put on the uniform of one who has been redeemed by Christ. Because sometimes my eyes, or the mirror, don’t tell the truth - but our God always does!
Isaiah 61:10 ESV
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
Romans 13:14 ESV
But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.
2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
P.S. Never stop trying to teach young people about the Lord. It is more successful than you might think.