Does God Oppose My iPhone? Actually…Maybe He Does.

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It’s no secret that I’m a tech nerd. I get a contact high when I play with new gadgets. I get unreasonably excited when Apple announces a new product (iWatch? Don’t mind if I do). I upgrade to new operating systems too soon, which inevitably creates glitches on my computer. I probably Tweet too much and spend too much time browsing on Facebook (why do I care what Disney Prince you are?). In the words of Kip from Napoleon Dynamite, “I love technology.”

In fact, I love technology so much that I take my smartphone to church, because it has my Bible app on it.

But it also has Facebook, Twitter, email, text messages, and Angry Birds. There are times during worship or during the sermon when I will casually flip between the Bible app and Twitter. Why? Because I’m easily did you see that new movie with Matt Damon?

Sorry. I’m easily distracted. Because my phone is constantly alerting me to new, exciting, interesting things. A new email! Maybe I won something or a deported Iraqi prince wants to bestow his fortune upon me! A new text message! Maybe it’s a friend telling me that he has free U2 tickets! Must…look…at…my…phone.

Of course, when I’m staring at my screen I’m not paying attention to what is happening in the church service. Worship and text messaging don’t play well together. I’m either paying attention to the sermon or paying attention to the ESPN Sports Center headlines. It’s difficult to multitask and maintain a spirit of worship and wonder.

I recently read the following quote, which grabbed my attention:

When we are distracted from our covenant Lord and preoccupied with our own comforts and pleasures, something has gone seriously wrong with our worship.

John Frame, Worship In Spirit and Truth

Well then.

Maybe I need to rethink just how serious Sunday mornings are. In Matthew 18:20 Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Wow. When I join fellow believers in the name of Jesus, Jesus himself is in our midst. The risen Christ, the one whom all of heaven adores, the conquering king, is present with us. Remember that semi-smarmy old hymn that says, “He walks with me, he talks with me”? When we gather as believers, Jesus Christ really does join us in a unique and powerful way, ready to bless, strengthen, and encourage us.

If I could literally see Christ on Sunday mornings – if he was standing on stage behind the preacher – would I be bouncing around from my Bible to Twitter to Facebook to ESPN to Instagram?

“Jesus, it’s so wonderful to be with you! Thank you for all you’ve…oh, hold on for a sec. I just posted this really funny photo of a dog wearing a sombrero and a lot of people are liking it. Okay, what was I saying? Right. You’re really worthy of…dang it! Sorry, my friend has been texting me all morning. He wants to know if I’m coming over to watch the game. Now, where was I?”

I don’t think so. All distraction would be banished in the manifest presence of the risen Christ. I would be riveted. I would be bowed low. I would be overflowing with joy. I would be giving Jesus loud, lavish, undistracted praise. I would be hyper-focused on the glory, beauty, and majesty of Jesus.

I may not be able to see Christ, but he is still fully present on Sunday mornings. He is still worthy of my loudest, most focused, most passionate praise.

I’m pointing these words squarely at myself. I’m not going to be the shriveled old guy who clings to his tattered KJV Bible and rants about the dangers of technology. But maybe, just maybe, I need to leave my smartphone home from church.

The Church of the Loch Ness Monster

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I’ve always wanted the Loch Ness Monster to be real. I mean…who doesn’t? An ancient dinosaur haunting the murky depths of a Scottish lake – it would just make the world a better place.

A few years ago while were traveling in Scotland, my wife and I parked our rented car at the sacred center, the grand temple, of Nessie lore: the Loch Ness Centre. It was perfect – a stone building that looked like a hybrid between a castle and a Victorian hotel, with a battered yellow submersible vehicle, complete with periscope, parked in the front yard. I paid my entrance fee and entered the shrine with excitement – but it was short-lived excitement.

Room after room of multimedia displays, video footage, and scientific analysis, seemed to have one sole message: the Loch Ness Monster isn’t real. There’s not enough food in the loch to support so big a creature, the Nessie-hunting expeditions had flawed equipment or some other fatal error, the so-called “photos” could be explained away. It’s impossible for the Loch Ness Monster to exist. Stop by the gift store and pick up the official plush green Nessie toy, because that’s as close as you’re going to come to a “monster” here. I entered the shrine with excitement, but I left broken-hearted.

I exaggerate. (Slightly.) But hold that picture in your mind – a “church” that seems dedicated to proving the object of its “worship” doesn’t really exist – while hearing these words from the apostle Paul:

“His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms…” (Ephesians 3:10, NIV)

From the perspective of eternity, the true church of God, bought by the Lord Jesus Christ and formed by the Holy Spirit, has exactly the opposite effect as the Loch Ness Centre had on me. We prove his existence by our existence. There’s no other explanation for a group of sinful men and women who have joined together to worship God and love another! Once we were hateful and hated, Paul writes in Titus 3:3. And then God saved us and made us a people for his own possession (Titus 2:14). Once we were not a people. Now we are God’s people. Once we had not received mercy. Now we have been drenched in it (1 Pet. 2:10).

How do you know the Lord Jesus Christ is real, and all that he has promised to do is really happening? Next time you gather with your local church, look around. See the faces. Remember the stories of redemption each one represents, and remember your own story. How else could these stories have occurred except for Him?

+Photo by Draco2008

Do You See Sunday Gatherings As Sacred?

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+photo by silent shot

I gotta admit: I don’t always take Sundays seriously. Often times, attending church feels like another thing to put on the calendar, right along with doctor visits, school plays, running errands, and visiting the library. I have full weeks, and church is one more thing added to my full week. And so I go to church, do church-ish things, like sing and listen to a sermon, then go home and move on to the next thing. Oil changed? Check. Church? Check. Pay bills? Check.

But I was recently reminded that the gathering of believers on Sundays is a very sacred thing indeed. I would encourage you to slowly read the following quote by N.T. Wright:

In particular, the gospels (especially John) and the early practice of the church (as in Paul) reflect the very early understanding of the church that the first day of the week, the day of Easter, has become a sign within the present world and its temporal sequence that the life of the age to come has already broken in. Sunday, kept as a commemoration of Easter ever since that event itself (a quite remarkable phenomenon when you come to think about it), is not simply a legacy of Victorian values but a perpetual sign, joyfully renewed week by week, that all time belongs to God and stands under the renewing lordship of Jesus Christ.

Of course, worship should be “seven whole days, not one in seven.” Many Christians will find, for all kinds of reasons, that Sunday is a difficult day to attend long church services. But we should remind ourselves that the earliest Christians lived in a world where Sunday was the first day of the working week, much like our Monday, and that they valued its symbolism so highly that they were prepared to get up extra early both to celebrate Easter once again and to anticipate the final Eighth Day of Creation, the start of the new week, the day when God will renew all things.

Surprised by Hope (pp. 261-262).

In other words, every time we come together, we are experiencing the reality that the future kingdom of God has broken into our present, broken world, and we are anticipating the time when Jesus will return to make all things new.

When rednecks, white collars, blue collars, nerds, housewives, homeschoolers, and public schoolers gather together to worship Jesus, that is a small taste of the glorious friendship and fellowship we’ll experience in the new heaven and new earth.

When a black man, white man, Jewish woman, and a Korean teen all share the Lord’s Supper together, it’s a foretaste of the day when we will all tuck into the Feast of Lamb – a feast that will make Food Network’s thanksgiving dinner look like prison food.

Something very, very holy takes place when men and women gather together to worship in Jesus name. Every gathered church is like an outpost of the new kingdom, a bright beacon shining in the midst of a sinful world. Jesus himself dwells in our midst, and we experience a deep fellowship with Jesus and with others that is only possible because Jesus has risen from the dead. The kingdom of God has broken into the present, and we get to taste it every Sunday morning.

All of this raises the crucial question: Do we take the Sunday morning gathering seriously? 

How can you know if you take it seriously? Here are a few simple diagnostic questions to ask yourself:

  • Do I get sufficient sleep on Saturday night so that I can energetically worship, attentively listen, and joyfully serve on Sunday morning? (guilty as charged)
  • Do I wake up early enough on Sunday morning so that my morning is not frantic, stressful, and distracting?
  • Do I arrive at church early enough to drop of my children at class and be in the sanctuary before the service starts?
  • Do I turn off my phone during the service so that I am not tempted to text, Tweet, Facebook browse, or play fantasy football? (guilty as charged)
  • Do I stick around after the service long enough to actually engage with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ?

These questions are not intended to be a legalistic checklist which must be followed to the letter. Rather, the questions are simply intended to get us thinking about where our priorities lie.

I gotta admit: I don’t always take Sundays seriously. But I want that to change. Sundays are sacred.

Three Simple Ways To Bless The Socks Off Your Pastor

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Contrary to the popular conception of the pastor who only works one day a week (see Reverend Lovejoy from The Simpsons), real pastoral ministry is tough, draining, and emotionally taxing. It’s not for the faint of heart. It requires a unique combination of battle toughness and fatherly tenderness. A pastor is?closely connected to the lives of the people he serves, and vicariously experiences both the joy and heartbreak that his people experience. When a young man gets married, the pastor rejoices. When the same young man gets cancer, the pastor is heartbroken. When a couple has a child, the pastor is elated. When the same couple gets divorced five years later, the pastor is heartbroken.

Given the unique challenges of pastoral ministry, pastors desperately need encouragement. Encouragement is what keeps the pastor going. Encouragement is fuel for the pastoral engine. It’s like a spiritual adrenaline shot.

Because I’m not currently a pastor, I can write this post, which, in the past, would have seemed self-serving. So how can you encourage your pastor? Here are some simple ways.

PAY CLOSE ATTENTION TO HIS SERMONS, THEN THANK HIM FOR SPECIFIC ASPECTS OF HIS SERMONS

Preaching is a funny thing. A pastor can spend anywhere between 10 to 30 hours on a sermon. This sermon prep involves prayerfully wrestling through difficult passages (have you ever tried explaining Revelation?), figuring out how best to apply the passage to everyday life (what does an Ethiopian eunuch have in common with a stay at home mom?), and organizing the sermon in a coherent manner. On Sunday he stands up in front of his congregation and pours himself out for forty minutes, and then it’s over. Thirty hours of prep for a forty minute sermon. And he has to do the same thing again next week, and the week after that, and the week after that. It’s a joyful, exhausting, delighful, brutal grind.

If you want to bless your pastor, thank him very specifically for each sermon. Don’t simply say, “Lovely sermon pastor.” Instead, thank him for specific phrases, specific application points, and specific ways God used the sermon to change and challenge you. This specific encouragement will echo in his mind as he prepares his next sermon. Pay close attention, then thank your pastor specifically.

CHEERFULLY SUPPORT YOUR PASTOR’S LEADERSHIP

This doesn’t mean that you blindly support your pastor, no matter what decision he makes. This isn’t 1984, groupthink, follow the leader kind of support. It simply means that you maintain a general attitude of cheerful support toward your pastor, knowing that he is seeking to lead the church to the best of his ability, for the glory of God. I think this is the heart behind Hebrews 13:17, which says:

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

Do you want your pastor to experience joy? Then cheerfully submit to his?leadership. When you have the opportunity, thank your pastor for specific aspects of his leadership. Does your pastor place a strong leadership emphasis on sound doctrine? Thank him for that. Does your pastor place a strong leadership emphasis on evangelism? Thank him for that. Does your pastor place a strong leadership emphasis on mentoring others? Thank him for that. You can encourage your pastor by cheerfully supporting his leadership.

TAKE LEADERSHIP INITIATIVE

One of the things that constantly haunts pastors is the sense that there is always more to be done and not enough time to do it. There is more evangelism to be done, more Bible studies to be started, more homebound folks to visit, more community outreach to initiate. Most pastors are burdened by all they are leaving undone.

If you want to bless the socks off of your pastor, take the initiative in ministry. Instead of asking your pastor to start more Bible studies, ask your pastor if you can start a Bible study. Instead of asking your pastor to create?a prayer team, ask your pastor if you can start a prayer team. Instead of asking your pastor for more women’s ministry, ask your pastor if you can start a women’s ministry.

The work of ministry is not primarily done by pastors; it’s done by the members of the church. Ephesians 4:11-12 tells us that the pastor is supposed to equip the people in his church for the work of ministry:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…

Do you want to bless your pastor? Step up to the plate and take some initiative. Don’t blame your pastor for the absence of a particular ministry. Rather, be the one who starts that ministry.

Trust me: your pastor is desperate for encouragement. Pastoral ministry is often done behind the scenes, with little or no thanks. And Satan loves to discourage pastors, because few things are more dangerous than a faith-filled, thoroughly encouraged pastor. Encourage your pastor today. It’s for your good and his.

Why You Shouldn’t Give Up On The Church

 

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This?article was?originally Published at RelevantMagazine.com.

I grew up in the church. No really, I grew up in the church. I am a PK and spent countless hours in church and doing church activities. I am a church native and familiar with all its quirks and cultural oddities, with all its strengths, and with all its failings. As the son of prominent evangelical pastor, John Piper, I not only saw the inner workings of my own church I was exposed to church leaders from around the world and saw the good and the bad from their churches too.

Many people like me, who grew up immersed in church, have given up on it. Church is archaic, domineering, impersonal, hypocritical, irrelevant, contentious, petty, boring, and stale. It?s institutional instead of authentic and religious but not relational they say. I have seen all this in church and can agree that each accusation is true in instances. A PK sees all this up close and far too personally and feels each fault even more intensely. It really is enough to make one want to bail on church.

And I had my chance. Despite growing up steeped in sound Bible teaching and a loving context, I grew up empty in my soul. I believed but didn?t fully believe. I obeyed but kept parts of my life for myself, bits of dishonesty and secrecy. I knew Jesus and knew He was the only way to be saved from my sin, but I didn?t give my life to Him. In the end it blew up in my face and I was faced with the decision: stay in church and work through my mess or leave and be free. I stayed.

While leaving was an option, it was one that I looked at and saw emptiness. Sure, the church can cause a lot of pain and annoyance, but it?s where Jesus? people are connected. And really, that?s what it is about ? Jesus. That?s what made it so clear to me that staying was best.

The church is a messy place by nature. That?s what happens when a bunch of sinners come together anywhere. But it is a messy place designed by God to be his face to the World, and all those sinners reflect Him in unique ways. Nothing reflects God to the world like the church does. No, we don?t ?do? church 100% correctly, and we never will. No, church is not a perfect place. Yes, church displays the sins of all its people very publicly. But none of that changes what it is or can be.

To leave the church is to hurt yourself and to hurt others. I don?t mean hurt like a slap in the face (though in some cases it?s a bit like that). I mean hurt like malnourishment. We were created by God to connect with others and, in that connection, reveal more of Him to each other and to the world. When we depart we deprive ourselves of those aspects of God others reflect and we deprive them of those aspects we reflect. Leaving is starving our souls and others?.

Solitude is wonderful. But many things in life, maybe most things, are better enjoyed with others. Including God. That?s why we?re called to worship with others, to study with others, to pray with others. And church is the outlet for that, an imperfect outlet, but the outlet nonetheless. God wants us to experience Him to the fullest and that is done with others in song, in study, in reflection, in prayer, in tears, in confession in celebration ? with others, doing church.

Leaving the church is escapism. You may find stresses relieved and conflicts avoided. It may feel like a breath of fresh air to leave behind traditional stuffiness and legalistic hypocrisy. Even now, I often want to slap the stupid out of the church. It can be such a maddening collection of people. (And I suspect I contribute to the stupid that needs slapping just as often.) But none of that changes what it is: the organism of God?s presence and kingdom in the world. It is His means of connecting people to the gospel, to hope, to life. No matter your frustrations and hurts, it cannot be abandoned. You need it now whether or not you know it, and someday you will have a need nothing and no one else can meet. And the church will be where Jesus shows himself to you.

?photo credit: Bradley N. Weber via photopin cc

How Do You See The Saints?

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Have you ever said or thought this Bible verse:

As for the saints in the land, they are the annoying ones, in whom is all my irritation.

Or how about this one:

As for the saints in the land, they are the ones who are just so slow to change, who I get so tired of trying to help.

There are a hundred variations on that verse. We have special variations for our teens, and those who don?t look like us, those we?ve had a conflict with, those who talk too much, those who make a beeline for us every Sunday when they see us, those who make a beeline away from us when they see us, those?.you get the idea.

Sometimes it?s good to be reminded of the actual Bible verse:

As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight. PS 16:3

The NASB uses the phrase ?majestic ones? in this verse.

Yeah but Mark, you don?t know my church. ?Excellent ones?? ?Majestic ones?? Ones ?in whom is all my delight?? Not quite.

But that?s the way God sees his children. As the excellent ones, clothed with his Son?s righteousness. As the apples of his eye, the ones in whom is all his delight. God said of Israel: ?he who touches you touches the apple of his eye? (Zechariah 2:8). How much more does he love his blood-bought children – every single one of them – warts and all, weaknesses and all. He loves us despite our foibles and failures. He sees us in Christ and he is transforming us from one degree of glory to another. ?God sees us as his redeemed ones, his children, joint-heirs of Christ, his new creations, holy ones, his chosen race, a royal?priesthood, and his very own possession (1 Pe 2:9).

CS Lewis said if we could see each other as beautiful as we will be in heaven, we?d be tempted to worship each other.

If God sees his children as excellent ones and takes great?delight in each one, shouldn?t we? And especially if God sees you as one of his majestic ones, shouldn’t you do the same others? ?The next time you?re dreading going to your small group, think ?They are the excellent ones in whom is all my delight.? Or when that brother who is always struggling asks you for prayer think, ?You are one of God?s majestic ones.? The next time you?re tempted to be annoyed at your spouse, thank Jesus for giving you one his excellent ones and ask him to help you delight in them.

Ask God to help you see the saints as he sees them. Sure they are weak. Sure they mess up. Sure they might not always to be easy to be with. But they are God?s excellent ones in whom is all his delight. And you can delight in them too.

Do Prodigals Feel Welcome At Our Churches?

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We all know “prodigal” kids. Maybe you are a prodigal kid. The kid who grew up in church, went off to college, and proceeded to make a royal disaster of his life. The church girl who got pregnant at age 17. The pastor’s kid who started hanging with the wrong crowd and picked up a heroin habit.

In his kindness, God often brings a prodigal to the end of his rope. No money. Living on the street. Kicked out of college. A string of broken relationships. Tempted to eat food that is intended for pigs. You get the point. And when prodigals bottom out, they often return home and to the church.

When a prodigal returns to your church, what sort of welcome will he receive?

See here’s the thing about prodigals: they have baggage. (Of course, we all have baggage, we’re just a little better at hiding it.)

The prodigal needs to get a smoke in between the singing and the sermon.

The prodigal has tattoos that may not be “church friendly”.

The prodigal has a girlfriend who isn’t modesty approved.

The prodigal smells like beer.

The prodigal wears a t-shirt of a band that would not be played on a CCM top 40 station.

Will we stay away from the prodigal until he gets his life back together? Until he starts attending small group, stops smoking, and ditches the girlfriend? Until he starts talking the talk and walking the walk? Will we talk about the prodigal behind his back? Will we point out the prodigal to our children as an example of what happens when you disobey your parents?

Or will we embrace him? Laugh with him? Invite him over for dinner? Tell him how happy we are to see him? Take a real, concerted interest in his girlfriend? Shower him with love and affection and gratefulness?

The way welcome prodigals back to church says a lot about our knowledge of God, and a lot about our awareness of our own sinful tendencies, and a lot about our understanding of grace. And the way we welcome prodigals back to church has a significant impact on whether that prodigal keeps coming back to church.

But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ?Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.? But the father said to his servants, ?Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.? And they began to celebrate. (Luke 15:20-24 ESV)

Are Millennials Less Godly than Previous Generations?

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Young people are leaving the church at an alarming rate. At least that?s the narrative you hear over and over again. As the narrative goes, these godless, self-centered, me-first, consumerist millennials are abandoning the church, the body of Christ, for individualistic spirituality. No more will organized religion suffice for them. They are forsaking the faith of their fathers. We should be concerned, very concerned!

Assuming that young people are, in fact, leaving the church in droves it raises a question: are millennials more godless than previous generations? It seems like obvious answer is ?yes?; they?re leaving the church after all. But such a question deserves closer examination.

In decades past America was a traditionally churched, religious nation. A significant portion of society was religiously involved, and church was a cultural centerpiece. Those who grew up in explicitly religious families and contexts attended church out of habit. It was expected that come Sunday morning they would scrub behind their ears, put on their nice trousers and tie, and off to church they?d go. The power of cultural expectations was enormous. In entire swaths of the country a person was a pariah if he wasn’t a churchgoer. But no more. Sure, the Bible belt still exists, but the cultural pressure to be in church week in and week out has waned to near zero.

Along with waning cultural pressure, the respect for institutions has diminished among young people, and with it the respect for institutional leaders. While the good Reverend McGillicuddy might once have been a community icon and an authority figure in people?s personal lives he is no longer. Neither are churches community hubs (at least in white communities). Young people don?t look to institutions or their heads for instruction. The trust isn?t there.

And there is a reason trust is missing for the institutional church. For decades a gospel of moralism and legalism was taught in numerous churches. People attended because it was the ?right thing to do? and a way to ?get right with God.? The expectations placed on members were a particular brand of morality built around which things we don?t do (drink, cuss, smoke, watch certain movies, listen to certain music, etc.). It was a burdensome law, one nobody could keep. Many didn?t even try though they acted like it on Sundays. And while everyone knew it they kept on doing it. Except now young people won?t pretend any more or follow an institution so full of fakery. They don?t trust the hypocrisy and they reject the moralism.

So what is it young people are leaving behind? In many cases they are leaving a faux godliness. Millions of lost people, people hanging their hat on morality or mere attendance, populated the pews of the church in previous generations. They were just a lot harder to pick out than those who brazenly walk out the door, so hard we can?t even be sure how many there were.

To answer the question, no, millennials are not more godless. They?re just more obvious. People suffer from the same sin condition now that we have since Eden. This generation?s expression of it is to reject the hypocritical, cultural Christianity of yesteryear. But the hypocrisy that was subtle before, while easier to ignore, was not godlier. It was no more connected to the gospel and to regeneration that is walking away from church altogether. Yes, be concerned that young people are leaving the church, but be more concerned why. In many cases it isn?t because they reject Christ; it?s because they never found him at church either from the pulpit or the pews.

[Disclaimer: Writing anything about ?the church? is risky, as is writing anything about an entire generation of people. It requires writing in generalities and broad strokes. This is not intended to lump all churches, church-goers, and millennials into the same boat but rather to speak to tendencies and trends over the years.]

photo credit: guy with cameras?via photopin cc

Church Is For Messy People

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We tend to get dressed up for church. Depending on your denomination, getting dressed up might look like wearing a suit and tie or a dress. Or, getting dressed up might look like wearing your best pair of jeans and a collared shirt. We clean up before going to church. We shower and we brush our hair. We want to, at the least, look like we have it together. For the most part, we don’t go to church wearing yoga pants or sweatpants. We don’t roll out of bed and go straight to church.

I distinctly remember one Sunday when a man said to me something like, “When I look around, I see all these people who have their lives together. Meanwhile, my life is a mess.”

Church should be a place where messy people feel comfortable. When I say “messy people”, I don’t mean people who are willfully engaging in unrepentant sin. I mean people who are seeking to follow Jesus, but who often find themselves struggling, and falling, and failing. I’m talking about the weak, weary, and worn out.

  • I’m talking about the couple who is seeking the Lord, and yet their daughter is not a Christian, and is living with her boyfriend.
  • I’m talking about the young man who is following Jesus, yet also deals with deep depression and suicidal thoughts.
  • I’m talking about the woman who loves Jesus, yet also finds herself regularly struggling with homosexual desires.
  • I’m talking about the teenage boy who is trying to live for Jesus, yet also struggles with cutting himself.
  • I’m talking about the woman who has followed Jesus for many years, yet can’t come to church anymore because she is racked with arthritis and fibromyalgia.
  • I’m talking about the older single man who is faithfully following Jesus, yet regularly struggles with despair because he isn’t married.
  • I’m talking about the woman who walks with Christ, yet can’t seem to overcome her struggles with being overweight.
  • I’m talking about the young woman who is new to following Christ, and isn’t quite sure how to handle her struggle with bulimia.

How can we serve “messy” people? How can we make “messy” people feel welcome in our churches? Several ways.

Don’t act shocked when we see sin.?Unfortunately, we tend to act shocked when certain sins or struggles come to light. We aren’t surprised by pride or anger or impatience. But we are shocked when someone says they struggle with suicidal thoughts or homosexual desires or the desire to cut themselves. We are shocked when someone’s child gets caught with drugs. But we shouldn’t be shocked. Even as Christians, we still have a sinful nature. That sinful nature manifests itself in many different ways. We shouldn’t be shocked when we see sin. If we are shocked, it means we haven’t come face to face with the depravity that lurks in our own hearts.

Regularly acknowledge our own sins, failures, and weaknesses.?The truth is, nobody has it all together. All of us are desperate sinners in need of a mighty Savior. All of us are sick patients in need of a wise physician. I don’t struggle with an eating disorder, but I sure as heck have a whole lot of other struggles.

Regularly revel in the mighty power of Jesus.?We should talk about our sins and struggles, but we can’t stop there. We are weak and empty, but Jesus is mighty and full of grace. There is no struggle bigger than Jesus. There is no sin that cannot be conquered by the risen Savior. There is no failure that cannot be covered by the blood of Christ. We need to constantly remind ourselves that Jesus is bigger and better than we can imagine. The gospel is the power of God for salvation and sanctification.

Would “messy” people feel comfortable in your church? Or would they feel like there are certain struggles that they need to hide? The gospel allows us to openly confess our struggles. The gospel also gives us hope that our struggles will not define us. The gospel allows us to be “messy” and hopeful at the same time.

A Letter To Everyone Who Doesn’t Have A Valentine

Dear Friends,

Tomorrow is Valentines Day, also known as “Make Single People Feel Like Total Losers” Day. From the moment you wake up until the moment you fall asleep, you will be reminded that, for some inexplicable reason, you do not have a husband, wife, boyfriend, or girlfriend.

You will also be made to feel like a worthless piece of crap who will never be in a relationship and will end up hoarding cats at the end of your life. You may receive a call from your mother in which she:?1) Asks if you have any marriage prospects OR 2) Tries to match you up with someone.

I will not say that Jesus is your Valentine, because that is incredible cheesy and moderately creepy.

However, I do want to remind you of a few things.

  • Being single does not make you any less valuable or any less of a person. Jesus, the most human person to ever live, was single. You are valuable to God because you are his son or daughter. He treasures you because he made you in his image and bought you with his blood, not because you have a significant other. Tomorrow, find your identity and value in Christ, not in your current relational status. Your essential identity as a child of God does not change depending on your relational status. Tomorrow, feel God’s deep pleasure and delight in you.
  • Being single does not mean you are incomplete.?You are not half a person, half a Christian, or half a church member just because you are single. You are fully accepted and complete in Christ. God delights in you as you are, not as you will be once you are in a relationship.
  • Singleness is not a holding pattern.?Due to the well-meaning, yet often unhelpful remarks of others, you can be made to feel as if being single is some sort of in-between stage for your life. Almost as if you can’t effectively serve God until you are married with kids. This is a lie. Singleness is not a holding pattern, it’s a time for explosion. God wants your single years to be some of the most fruitful, God-honoring years of your life. Paul wished everyone could be single so that everyone could have single-minded devotion to the Lord. Don’t think of your single years as an in-between staging area for the rest of your life. Use tomorrow to strategize about how you can most effectively serve the Lord.
  • Your church needs you.?Unfortunately, going to church can be a regular reminder that you are still single. But as a married guy, I can confidently say that your church needs you. A church made up almost exclusively of ?married couples can’t function nearly as effectively as a church with a mix of married and single folks. You may be single, but you have particular God-given gifts and abilities that your church needs. Don’t deprive the members of your church of the gifts God has given you. Don’t believe the lie that church is only for married folks.
  • Turn your loneliness to prayer.?At some point tomorrow you will feel lonely. When those times come, turn to the Lord in prayer. Confess your loneliness to him, but also proclaim your trust in his goodness, kindness, and mercy. Thank God that he truly does care about every detail of your life, including your relationships. Ask God for the supernatural power to be content in all circumstances. Loneliness without prayer is fodder for temptation. Loneliness with prayer can create godliness.
  • Beware of unique temptations.?Because of your loneliness, you may be uniquely tempted tomorrow in regard to sexual impurity. Pornography might seem particularly appealing. Don’t give in. It will only end up hurting you and dishonoring the Lord.
  • Remember that marriage is not the end all.?I am so grateful that I am married. But as you know, marriage is not the thing that will ultimately satisfy you and solve all your problems. Only Jesus can satisfy our deepest longings. If you’re not content in your singleness you won’t be content when you are in a relationship.

I don’t write these things lightly. I know that Valentines Day is full of loneliness for single folks. I pray that tomorrow God will give you a double dose of divine joy.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some of those awful chalk hearts to eat.

Stephen