Author Archives: Dr. Terry Ellis

Trust + Obedience = Peace

“We have peace with God.” Romans 5:1

What a way to run an incarnation!

The coming of God in the flesh is one of the great moments in history, right up there with Creation and the resurrection. Yet so much about the birth of the Messiah is puzzling, surprising, even outlandish.

The casting appears all wrong. A peasant girl. A carpenter. The setting is puzzling. Bethlehem was full of surly, out-of-town tax payers. This is before Hampton Inn, Holiday Inn Express, even Motel 6. The inns were booked.

So full was the city that Joseph and Mary couldn’t find anywhere to stay, even though Mary was about 39½ weeks along, and had just traveled about 80 miles ON A DONKEY! That trip would have taken about two weeks or so. You’d think that God would pull a few strings here. The incarnation was swaddled in uncertainty.

Yet the theme of the second week of Advent is peace, and the candle we light is called “The Bethlehem Candle.” Who planned this? Nothing about the first Christmas in Bethlehem was peaceful, unless you look at it through God’s eyes.

Look at it through God’s eyes and you see a plan. You see the outworking of salvation. You see Him meeting every need. You see love. You see hope. Right there in the middle of all that chaos you find God’s peace.

God’s peace is like a steady, dependable line through the sine curves of life. The good and bad will oscillate back and forth. If you tie yourself to that chaotic rhythm then you’re going to be alternately high, then low. Over and over again. You’ll be just like everyone in Bethlehem that first Christmas.

Everyone, that is, except Mary and Joseph. I’m sure they went through moments of panic. No one is immune to the sine curves. But they had a basic trust in God and a fundamental commitment to obedience. Trust plus obedience equals peace.

I think most people reading this GraceWave trust God. The alternative seems foolish. It’s the obedience part that trips us up.

Obedience is stillness when everything around you is swirling. Obedience is silence when the world is shouting. Obedience is refusing to wrestle with every disagreeable circumstance. Obedience is stepping aside when someone throws dirt at you.

So when will you be still this week? Or silent? Who, or what, do you need to stop wrestling with? Or let go of?

God’s job is not to make life easy, but His job is to give you peace. So find the time and the will during your busy Bethlehem days to trust and obey. Then you will find peace.

Grace (and peace),

Dr. Terry Ellis

December 11, 2018

Hope

“And this hope does not disappoint because God’s love has been poured into our hearts.” Romans 5:5

Are you hopeful? Honestly, I fear hope is on the decline. All of our little handheld computers, and otherwise, are too often little more than the amygdala’s megaphone shouting all of our fears, angers, and frustrations to an itchy-eared audience. We broadcast our caustic emotions and create and ongoing expectation of imminent apocalypse. Hope is lost, or at least severely muted.

Hope, however, is the theme of the first week of Advent, and hope is most needed where it appears most absent. In fact, hope loves to show up where it is least expected.

The  Christmas carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” is a great example. Longfellow opens with his typical optimism. The Christmas-day bells remind the world of “peace on earth, good will to men.” The second stanza is even better, for he hears that sweet refrain in his heart. So far so good.

But the tone changes dramatically in the third stanza. Longfellow turned from the hope of heaven to the misery of the moment, and those moments were genuinely miserable. Written in 1864, Civil War ravaged the country, and the future of the UnitedStates was sorely in doubt. No wonder Longfellow wrote “And in despair, I bowed my head, there is no peace on earth, I said. For hate is strong, and mocks the song, of peace on earth, goodwill to men.”

Now there’s The Realist! Hatred was strong. Any wooly-headed optimist who suggested something higher and better may well have been mocked and ridiculed. Such is the sad, predictable refrain of The Realist.

Frankly, it takes no particular intellect or creativity to sound doom. The world alwayshas enough bad in it for despair to set in. There’s plenty of hatred today. And anger. And resentment. All seven deadly sins are alive and well. If you want a reason for despair, then click on the front page of your favorite news outlet.

Thank God for the fourth stanza! Longfellow turned back to the heavens and penned, “Then peeled the bells more loud and sweet, God is not dead nor doth He sleep; the wrong shall fail, the right prevail, with peace on earth, good will to men.”

Hope, real hope, is always grounded in God’s character and providence. That’s the ultimate Reality. Connect hope to worldly metrics, like health, wealth, relationships, performance etc. and you will be disappointed, for life is hard. Focus on God and hope becomes the candle of your soul.

Trust God to make all things right in His time, and you’ll find hope. As for the despairing world around you? In the words of St. Francis, where there is despair, we bring hope.

Grace and peace,

Dr. Terry Ellis

December 3, 2018

Drop the Reins

“The Lord is my shepherd.” Psalm 23:1

Do you know what to do if you get lost while riding a horse?

Neither did I until I heard this story from an acquaintance.

Alicia is an avid and experienced rider. She and a friend took their own horses to an unfamiliar piece of land. It was many acres, with rolling hills, woods, and water. All the elements to make for a fine morning excursion.

After riding for more than an hour, they became disoriented. After a few uncertain efforts to find the right way they realized they could be wandering around for quite a while. At this point, Alicia’s friend said, “drop the reins.” They both did, and the horses confidently made their way back to the barn.

“Drop the reins.”

Life is full of unfamiliar territory. We often find ourselves in situations where we simply don’t know how to make things better, how to help someone else, or how to solve a thorny problem. In fact, many times our efforts to arrange and control matters and people, even benevolently, results in more chaos.

What do we do then? Usually we grip the reins of life more tightly, jerking this way and that. Certain that if we just increase our frenetic efforts then somehow everything will turn out all right. After all, “I am the master of my fate! The captain of my soul!”

Not really.

One of the most uncomfortable discoveries in life is realizing how little control you have over so many things, including careers, health, children, spouses, etc. In fact, if it’s on the outside of you, then you need to forget controlling it.

I’ve too often wrangled life, sometimes getting my way, but not feeling any lasting peace from all the battles. Only when I let God lead do I find my way home. When I drop the reins means I  stop worrying so much, and I start trusting more. I accept that God is in charge of my life and this world. Not me.

The Bible, as it often does, presents us with a beautiful paradox. On the one hand we are to ask, seek, and knock. We are to strive, pursue, and build. But we are also to trust, abide, wait, and lose. Jesus’ most common invitation to disciples is “follow me.” A follower doesn’t lead. A follower follows. If the Lord is my shepherd, then I relinquish the right to determine which pasture I want Him to lead me to.

Some of my golden dreams have tarnished. Some people have let me down. I’m not as strong, wise, or influential as I might have been. But I’ve discovered that my desperate wanting inevitably led me to disappointment. When I want, I get lost. When I let God lead, I do not want. I drop the reins, and He leads me home.

Grace,

Dr. Terry Ellis                                                                                                                         November 30, 2018

God's Got This

“Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” 1 Thessalonians 5:18

A few years ago while going through a period of uncertainty and fear I called a good friend of mine, Bill Hamm, and said simply, “Bill, I’m just afraid.” He replied, “Terry, God’s got this.”

God’s got this.

The best theology is simple, and you can’t get much simpler than “God’s got this.” Those words at that time allayed my fear, renewed my trust, and calmed my heart. The outworking of that particular “this” still took some time, but “God’s got this” reminded me then and reminds me today that in all the truly important ways, God is in control of my life and this world. Because of that, I can relax in the rhythms of His grace and take it easy.

I’m writing this on Thanksgiving Day, a day on which we are to particularly remember that the spiritual discipline of thanksgiving is grounded in a fundamental trust in God’s providence. We look back and see how God’s gracious hand has guided us. We look to the present and realize that we are surrounded by a bounty that is truly astounding by any reasonable standard. We look to the future with an abiding trust that as God has acted in the past, He will act in the future.

And that covers every present and future “this.”

What is your “this” today? What is the event, relationship or circumstance that has stolen or threatened your peace? As a prayer and confession of faith say quietly “God’s got this.”

I don’t know that we ever actually articulate the words, but many times we live with an attitude of “my ‘this’ is too big, too frightening, too entrenched. It keeps returning. The solution can’t be as simple as “’God’s got this.’”

As with so many deep and abiding truths, we tend to believe them except when we really need to embrace or apply them. If your “this” really is huge and overwhelming doesn’t that mean you really need to say “God’s got this” instead of dismissing or neglecting it?

Lincoln declared a national holiday of Thanksgiving in 1863. You don’t have to be a history buff to recall what was going on in our country in 1863. Civil War (could there be a more oxymoronic phrase?!?) ravaged the country. The outcome was in doubt and the future of our nation hung in the balance. Lincoln realized something we need to remember, thanksgiving is most necessary when it seems most difficult.

“God’s got this” is not conditional. It goes right to the heart of what Paul meant when he wrote, “Be thankful in all circumstances.” Not some circumstances. Not pleasant circumstances. Not mildly challenging circumstances. ALL circumstances.

A final observation. Note that Paul did not say be thankful “for” all circumstances. Some of your circumstances are terrible beyond description. You don’t need to be thankful for those. But even in those extreme circumstances be thankful to God. He is with you. He’ll take care of you. God’s will for you is that you let God be God.

Think now of your challenging “this.” Now say it: God’s got this.

Grace,

Dr. Terry Ellis                                                                                                                         November 22, 2018

Living in the Meantime

“The Lord made a covenant with us at Horeb…”         Deuteronomy 5:2

I wrote last week that God always speaks, but He usually whispers. However, you may be in a situation where you want a rushing mighty wind not a gentle breeze. Earthquake, fire, and wind are preferable to the still small voice. You want His voice to be louder than the noise of your crisis.

In the Bible God sometimes does shout His answers. A divided sea, a healing, an exorcism, a stilled storm, a resurrection. It appears to happen all the time in Scripture. Why should today be different? What we don’t realize is that between the pages of two miracles in the Bible may be months, years, decades, or more. People lived long stretches “in the meantime.”

At the close of his life Moses addressed the people, and he began by reminding them of all the clear ways God had spoken to them. There were unmistakable events in their history that they had to remember during the quiet whispers of the meantime.

We’re certainly not wrong to want something clear and concrete where we can say “THAT was God!” I believe God does provide those mountain-top-clarity moments and then we tend to forget them in the long periods of the meantime. We need to hold on to our sacred memories.

Isak Dinesan wrote a story about a man who became a rich author early in life. “Like most people to whom wealth and fame happen unexpectedly, the young man developed significant adjustment problems. He had written out of poverty about poverty, but now he was rich and felt isolated from the condition and the people who had given him his first book. He was estranged from his wife, from God and even from himself. He wandered all night in the streets of Amsterdam, trying to sort things out. He decided that he would never write again and gave away the manuscript of a new book he was writing.

“About at the end of his rope, he was considering suicide when suddenly, he felt overcome with the presence of God. God seemed to speak to him directly that he should write again, ‘not for the public this time, or for the critics, but for me.’ ‘Can I be certain of that?’ he asked. ‘Not always’ said the Lord. ‘You will not be certain of it all the time. But I tell you now that it is so. You will have to hold on to that.’”

You’ve had a moment, at least, when you were sure. The clouds parted, the window opened, the noise died away, and you KNEW it was God. You have to hold on to that. To get you through the long stretches of God’s whispers when fear and doubt are likely to set in, you have to hold to that.

When were you sure? What was the moment? Was it in a sanctuary? Your den? Driving in the car? In the words of a friend? A walk in a forest? God has spoken to you. Remember that moment right now. That was real. That was God. Your faith now is not in vain. You’re right to believe. It’s called perseverance, an important facet of faith.

Now hold on to that.

Grace,

Dr. Terry Ellis

November 11, 2018

Speak Lord, for We Are Listening

“The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.” 1 Samuel 3:1

This verse is sad and familiar. God created Israel, and all of us, to be in close fellowship with Him. Yet a dreadful silence had descended upon the people. I wonder if they noticed?

It’s not unusual to hear someone suggest that God is silent. In America’s Four GodsPaul Froese and Christopher Bader write that one of the four main ways people view God is distant and uncommunicative. Interestingly, this group tends to have more years of education. I’ll leave that little detail for a future edition of GraceWaves.

The Bible, however, uniformly presents God as constantly speaking. God’s voice created the universe and all that is in it, except for man and woman whom He formed with His fingers from the dust of the earth (a powerful, personal, and deeply tender image). Psalm 19 marvelously claims that “day to day pours forth speech…their voice goes out through all the earth” (v. 2-4). The Gospel of John begins with the Word that was God and with God from the beginning before becoming flesh. The Word created all things and later became flesh so that He could speak to us first-hand.

The Hebrews conceived of the spoken word as a unit of sovereign energy, though they would not have used that kind of language. When it was spoken, something happened. This is why the idea of blessing is so important to them. Words somehow shape a destiny. So, if God is involved in our lives, then He must be speaking, for that is His nature.

Yet we can all relate to the feeling that God’s word is a rarity in our lives. After all when was the last time you heard from God?

Yet he speaks, and that is a tremendously hopeful thought! The trouble with hearing Him lies in our reception, not His transmission. Strip away the barrage and clatter of the world, and the even louder noise in our heads, and you will hear God.

Our constant challenge is this: the world shouts, but God whispers. Always. Find a time to be still and you will hear the subtle sighs of God. Scripture, prayer, worship, the words of faithful friends, nature, etc. are all means through which God speaks. All of these “work” if we give them a chance.

Though this chapter of 1 Samuel begins with such despondency. it ends with plea and a promise that all of us can embrace this week. In the quiet watches of the night God called his name, and Samuel replied, “Speak Lord, for Your servant is listening.”

Let that your prayer this week. Ask God to specifically address some area of struggle in your life. Then listen. The word of God is NOT rare these days. And a quick final assurance, God’s speaking to you depends not at all upon your worthiness, but on your willingness. That is grace.

Grace,

Dr. Terry Ellis

November 4, 2018

Want to Fly Far, Far Away?

[Having grown weary of deadlines for 30+ years I took a break from GraceWaves for a while. Many thanks to all of you who encouraged its return. I look forward again to our weekly encounters. Grace always…]

“O that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. Truly I would flee far away; I would lodge in the wilderness.” Psalm 55:6

Forrest Gump fans will remember the moving scene where little Jenny flees from her abusive father and hides in a corn field with Forrest. She kneels down and says “Pray with me Forrest! Pray with me!! God, make me a bird so I can fly far, far away from here. God make me a bird so I can fly far, far away from here.”

Turns out a psalm may be the inspiration for that little prayer.

David never hesitated to pour out his complaints and voice his fears. In fact, “Laments” constitute an entire category of the Psalms, and David is the author of most of them. Psalm 55 is a long grumble about the treachery of former friends and allies. David is hurt but also genuinely afraid. Words and phrases like “fear and trembling,” “distraught,” “anguish,” even “horror” pepper the stanzas. You also find a heavy dose of vindictive vitriol.

Crushed and overwhelmed, he wrote “O that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. Truly I would flee far away; I would lodge in the wilderness.”

Turns out this desire is pretty common. My mother used to say, “stop the world, I want to get off!” That was the name of a Broadway production from the early 60’s, but I don’t know if that was her source. Stress and pressure often produce a desire to escape.

Psychologists creatively call it escapism. A little is fine, of course. Give me a rainy day and a good book, and I’ll check out for a while. Too much escapism leads to avoidance. We live in an age with a truly awful combination of our naturally endless capacity for distraction and an avalanche of distractors. We’re a Candy Crush generation (or football, or porn, or Facebook, etc.), and that can’t be good for the soul.

What are you avoiding right now? What’s the stress that makes you want to grow wings and fly far, far away? Go ahead and name it. Now take it to God in prayer.

Psalm 55 is a good model for you. David named his fear and called upon God “evening and morning and noon” (v. 17). The result? David voiced a renewed faith. “Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you.” (v. 22). He ended with a final resolve “But I will trust in You” (v. 23).

The world is not going to stop because we find it unpleasant. Nor will we grow wings to fly away. Fly away to where? God has a better way, and His focus is always on the deepest need of our souls. He’s with every Jenny in every cornfield, just as He was with David every painful and joyful step of the way. He is there with you. Have faith, trust Him, and give Him your burden. He will give you enough grace to face today.

Grace,

Dr. Terry Ellis

October 29, 2018

Surveying the Wondrous Cross

Surveying the Wondrous Cross

“For God so loved you…” John 3:16

As we make our way to Easter let's take a look at the central idea of this most holy of weeks. The cross stands at the same time as a horrible and beautiful reminder. It is the crossroads of human brokenness and God's grace. The cross is the answer to the very question of our existence as humans.

On one side we have the problem that, in a word, is sin. Most people would be surprised to find out that there are more than a dozen words for sin in the New Testament. The most familiar to many Christians is the term hamartia. When Paul wrote “all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23) he used this word.

As most anyone with even a modest Sunday School background can tell you, it means “to miss the mark.” The usual illustration is of an archer who fails to hit the target. This words implies that there is a target to miss. It also implies that someone is intentionally attempting to hit the target.

Both of these observations are important in a culture where many people question even the existence of a mark. Not surprisingly, when you do away with a target, you tend to do away with the bow and arrow. Forgive my brief digression, but when we neglect to even try to define righteousness, much less attempt to reach it, is it any wonder that we end up with an even messier problem?

When we lose our connection to vast spiritual resources, we become what Elton Trueblood described as a cut-flower culture. We have no roots. Cut flowers look good for a couple of days, perhaps three if we really look after them. But soon they begin to wither.

Signs of withering surround us. The brokenness of our world is but a reflection of the brokenness of souls and the disconnection we have from The One who created us and loves us. What’s more, the farther from the target we miss, the worse the problem becomes. That brokenness, my brokenness, is the result of sin.

This separation takes us to the heart of why it’s so important to understand sin. Sin is not just a breaking of a rule. It hurts us. God’s opposition to sin is not a petty tantrum because we’ve broken His laws. He sees the pain we cause ourselves and others. One of God’s great graces is protecting us from seeing the full extent of the damage we do by missing the mark. This explains why God, who can see the full extent, will go to a cross to bridge this terrible gap and heal our souls.

We really can’t talk about any true solution to any problem in our society without a reasonable understanding and acceptance of the reality of sin. No other word will do.

The psychiatrist Karl Menninger in Whatever Became of Sin? wrote, “There is sin…which cannot be buried under verbal artifacts such as disease, delinquency, or deviancy.  There is immorality.  There is unethical behavior.  There is wrongdoing.”  His concern in 1973 was that the sense of personal moral responsibility was faint and growing fainter.  He predicted that if people would confront sin in their lives the result would be less depression, not more.

So the cross, I argue, is first a reminder of the very nature of our problem. Sin is a reality. Its existence is clearly portrayed or assumed on every page of the Bible.

But let’s move to the solution side of the question. The cross stands for forgiveness. We’ve lost the public-relations battle to some degree because people think the Christian religion is simply about sin. This is not true. The focus of the Bible is forgiveness. The entire book, written by 40 or so authors over a span of 1000 years, in three languages, and in a myriad of cultures, is a unified presentation of God’s effort to solve our problem. And the cross is God’s solution.

Why a cross? The cross is both an illustration of what God has always done and an objective action that removes sin.

God always forgives. One of the most incisive verses in the Bible comes right after He expelled Adam and Eve from the garden. “The Lord God made for Adam and his wife garments of skins, and clothed them.” (Gen. 3:21). This action is practically tender, but it also foreshadows the ultimate covering of sin in the cross. God always forgives.

Why isn’t it enough to simply forgive? Why the cross? Because forgiveness is ALWAYS costly. Most of our “forgivings” are too light to feel this cost, but ask the man whose daughter was murdered, yet forgives the two men who sit in prison serving a life sentence for that crime if forgiveness is costly. His tears are a powerful testimony to the costliness of forgiveness.

Forgiveness implies accepting, at the very core of our existence, the pain of the offense. It is not approval of the act, or agreement with the act. Painful, costly acceptance necessitates suffering in order to remove the obstacle between an individual and the target. The sacrificial system reflects this. The cross perfects it.

Do take time this week to survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died. As you do, repeat the verse that better sums up God’s motive and desire than any other. But substitute your name for whosoever. “God so loved ______ that He gave His only Son. That if ________ believes in Him, he/she shall have eternal life.”

Grace and peace,

Dr. Terry Ellis

March 25, 2018

God's Holy Madness

"Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.'" Genesis 1:26

Many Christians, at some level, fear they’re unworthy and damaged goods. They accept with the top of their heads the truth of God’s grace, but the idea has never quite worked its way down to their core. They suspect God could better spend his time on people with a stronger faith. They feel they have been disqualified by some brokenness in their lives.

Well, in case you haven’t noticed, every single one of the great characters you read about in the Bible had some kind of great challenge to overcome, some great character flaw. From a human perspective they would be unworthy, possessed of disabling inadequacy.

It’s truly astounding to read the Bible this way. We find David the murderous adulterer. Paul the persecutor of the church. Peter the denier. Thomas the doubter. Just about anyone in the Bible we know anything about in depth is deeply flawed. And frankly, most of them went through a time when they feared their damage disqualified them from God’s favor. Only when they accepted their brokenness and combined it with God’s grace did they became a man after God’s own heart, the apostle to the Gentiles, the first Pope, or the missionary to India.

So accepting personal brokenness is certainly the first step in recovering any sense of self-worth, and on the heels of that confession needs to come the recognition that you're not alone. Again, the Bible is unsparingly clear about the clay feet of its most notable characters. If you're broken, welcome to the human race.

But ultimately we are not the key to our own recovery. God is. And realizing how God feels about you is critically important. It is here that the idea of the “image of God” is especially helpful.

Every human being carries within him or her the image of God. It is the part of us that is most divine. We can cover it up, ignore it, run from it into a foreign country, but nowhere in the Bible do we ever find that we can lose the image. Whenever, in our brokenness, we have a sense of longing for God, it is that image that draws us back to Him. God appeals to that image, restores it to prominence, and enables us to move forward.

Think of God's image as His vision for you. The image is what God made you to be. The image is what God restores through grace. Remembering the image is a key to joyful living.

Man of La Mancha, based on the Don Quixote story by Cervantes, depicts an aging nobleman who is struck by what one writer has called a “holy madness.” He sees himself as a strong medieval knight; his humble servant is a proud squire. And most ironically he sees a common prostitute named Aldonza as the lovely Lady Dulcinea. Aldonza protests from the beginning, “I am no one! I am nothing!”

As funny as the premise is, the real story is not about an old man rattling about in a suit of armor with an old horse and a servant. The real story is about the transforming effect this man’s holy madness had on the people around him. Later in the story when Quixote was very sick and losing his “vision,” Aldonza came to his bedside to plead that he somehow recover the vision that transformed her. She needed his belief in her and came to rely on it.

God has a holy madness in which He loves us in spite of our worst and would even die to restore us to our best. He longs to make the image rise up from the ashes of a burned-out and burned-up life. He can do this. And we need His belief in us and must rely on it.

Original sin is a reality. It scars us all and eventually leaves all of our cultures in ashes. But the original image endures too, and is far more important. We struggle too long and too much with sins that have been forgiven. Guilt, shame, fear, and doubt cloud our days, and it’s so unnecessary because the image endures.

God’s vision of you, His holy madness, can transform you and make you hope again. He loves you and is proud of the image He created in you.  That’s what He sees when He regards you. By His grace He can mend every flaw and give you a glimpse of the glory of that image. That holy, unimaginable, even scandalous madness is God's vision of who you really are.

I think our common, fundamental, theological pursuit is striving to agree with God. Completely accepting the fact that we are radically accepted by God is transforming. It creates relief, joy, and even transforms the way we look at other people who bear the image.

So agree with God this week. He has a vision of who you are and is committed to bringing out that image purely and finally.

Grace,

Dr. Terry Ellis

February 11, 2018

Why I Still Wear a Suit to Church

“And they shall make the ephod of gold, of blue and purple, and scarlet stuff, and of fine twined linen, skillfully worked.” Exodus 28:6

Let me begin by saying I don’t have to wear a suit to church any more. For nearly 35 years as a pastor I dressed in suits and ties to preach and lead worship services. I can’t say it was ever demanded of me, but I knew it was expected and would have caused a minor stir among some people who were ceaselessly looking for reasons to engage in or promote a minor stir. Not having to wear a suit and tie is today a minor benefit of no longer being a pastor.

I note here that among those benefits I number most highly is not feeling responsible for the temperature in the sanctuary or the condition of the plumbing in the lady’s restroom on Sunday morning. I get to sit beside Leslie in a worship service now, blithely unaware of all the minor physical-plant issues that will absolutely prevent a significant percentage of people from worshiping God the Creator of Heaven and Earth. My new calling has benefits.

But I still wear a suit to church, almost always, even though it’s not required or expected. This morning as I dressed I thought about the reasons why.

Without question I still retain a good measure of respect for “wearing your Sunday best.” I’m sure it’s part of the software installed early by my dedicated Baptist family. Men wore suits. Ladies nice dresses. Even white gloves. I often polished my shoes on Saturday night.

Wearing your Sunday best, or Sabbath best, is an old tradition, dating back to Old Testament times. The priests wore special garments for their activities in the tabernacle and later in the Temple. Aaron, the first high priest, wore an ephod that God personally designed. It was an apron of sorts with various accoutrements, very finely described by God and executed by skilled seamstresses.

They wore these clothes because they served in a holy place, on a holy day. The word “holy,” in both Hebrew and Greek, means something that is set apart. A holy thing is different, a reminder that God is different.

I don’t own an ephod, but my enduring commitment to suits and ties is a minor nod to my conviction that some places, days, and times are holy. These are all sacred to me, a word that denotes a way in which God especially dispenses His grace.

Look at it this way: If I were thirsty I would go to the places water was available. If I knew that taps were only turned on at certain times I would be there at those times. If I knew I had to bring a cup to get a drink, I would be sure to bring the cup. All of this I would do because I need the water.

Please read carefully. God doesn’t withhold grace from me if I don’t go to church on Sunday or if I wear a Grateful Dead tee-shirt when I do go. But isn’t it possible that God created in me, in all of us, a certain rhythm of grace that resonates especially when my mind, eyes, and ears are focused on Him? And that certain places, times, and things serve more effectively to sharpen that focus?

When I sit in a sanctuary I’m more likely to feel God’s presence. When I set aside a time to pray and meditate in the morning I’m more likely to be aware of God’s grace in my life. When I observe Advent or Lent or Holy Week I’m more likely to have a new insight into the theological meaning behind those events.

We live in an age that pushes sacred things further to the edge. My wearing a suit is a small effort to try to keep sacred things in the fabric of my life, if you will. It’s my way of saying this is a special day, I’m going to a special place, and I want to acknowledge both of those things in the details of my preparation and attendance.

Frankly, I remember times when people who dressed in their Sunday best looked askance at someone who dressed too casually. Funny thing today is that some people look askance at me when I dress up, as if I’m focusing on externals. As in all things, opinions can vary but judgment is prohibited.

I merely ask you to think about what is sacred in your life. You certainly do not have to wear a suit to church on Sunday. There should be no dress code! But how do you acknowledge your need for sacred places, times, and things? Space doesn’t permit me to review the growing science that has revealed a neurological basis for faith and belief, but trust me, every one of us has a spiritual neural network that responds to prayer, meditation, worship, and silence. Sacred places, things, and times are not only good for your soul, they’re good for your health. Literally.

Seek out the sacred. Create spaces in your life, daily, that are devoted to the sacred. Next Sunday I may well stand beside a young man in sandals, shorts, and an untucked Hawaiian shirt. I will almost certainly be wearing a dark pin-strip suit with a Windsor knot tie, and French Cut Toe Cap dress shoes. But we will each in our own way be saying that before we embark on a too-secular week, we need a sacred start.

Grace,

Dr. Terry Ellis

February 4, 2018