Thanksgiving and the $1,500 Sandwich

I found this video from “How to Make Everything” a while back on The AtlanticIn it, Andy George attempts to make a sandwich completely from scratch. He grows his own vegetables, makes his own salt from ocean water, milks a cow to make cheese, grinds his own flour from wheat, collects his own honey, and slaughters his own chicken. It takes him 6 months and costs him $1,500.

The closing scene says it all. Andy George takes one bite of his sandwich, says with a grimace, “It’s not bad,” then drops his head into his hands and laughs (or is he crying?) at the absurdity of his experiment. In a follow up video one person tastes the sandwich and says, “It tastes like a cork board dipped in lemon juice.” One kid takes a bite and immediately spits it out.

The lesson from the experiment is simple. It takes a village to make a sandwich. We need each other. In truth, Andy George took several short cuts. If he really wanted to make his sandwich from scratch he would have to build his own home with his own furniture so he would have a place to cook and enjoy his meal. He would have to create his own source of heat/energy. He would have to make his own cookware and utensils (after mining his own minerals to melt into metal). We need farmers, butchers, bakers, chefs, utility workers, lumberjacks, miners, craftsmen, carpenters, electricians, and more just to make a simple sandwich. Aren’t you glad you don’t need to eat a $1,500 sandwich?

It takes a village to create a thankful heart as well. The apostle Paul understood this well. This is why he spent so much time at the beginning of his letters giving thanks for the churches he was addressing.

First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world. (Romans 1:8)

I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge (Corinthians 1:4-5)

For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers (Ephesians 1:15-16)

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. (Philippians 1:3-5)

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints (Colossians 1:3-4)

We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. (2 Thessalonians 1:3)

Where would we be without the church? Without the church we would be forced to figure out our faith on our own. We would have to go through life’s struggles alone. We would have no one to challenge us when we were being stubborn. We would have no one to teach us when we were in error. We would have no one to encourage us when we were feeling overwhelmed. Our faith would be all about ourselves, instead of this vibrant living thing connected to the faith, well-being, and spiritual (im)maturity of others. We would never learn how to forgive, how to love, how to be selfless, how to be patient, how to be courageous, how to be gentle, or how to be humble without the church.

The church, warts and all, gives us far more blessings than we could possibly enjoy by ourselves. Without her our faith would taste like a cork board dipped in lemon juice. Take time this Thanksgiving to give thanks for your church. Give thanks for what God is doing in other people’s lives. Give thanks for the ways people serve you every Sunday. Give thanks for the opportunities you have every Sunday to serve them back. Give thanks for the people you sit next to week after week as you seek God’s presence, His blessing, His mercy, and His power.

New Life Fremont, I thank God for you every day! You remind me that I am a sinner in need of grace, forgive me when I fail you, inspire me by your love for Christ, encourage me by your acts of service, and push me to seek more and more of God’s presence, blessing, mercy, and power in my life, our church, and in our city.

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Should Christians Celebrate Halloween?

Halloween can be a polarizing time of year for Christians. Some Christians believe that Halloween is inherently evil while others believe that it is harmless. Some churches prohibit their members from celebrating Halloween, some churches offer fun Halloween night alternatives (Reformation Nights, Fall Festivals, etc.), some churches encourage their members to “redeem” Halloween.

What is a Christian to do? Should you dress up? Should you give out candy? Should you go trick or treating with your children?

Well let me tip my hand by stating that we do not offer a Halloween alternative at New Life. We don’t tell our members to “redeem” Halloween either. We believe the question that should dominate every Christian’s heart and mind during this season is not “Should I celebrate Halloween?” but “How can I love God and neighbor?” Christians have the liberty to love God and neighbor by celebrating Halloween or without celebrating Halloween. This is not an ethical question. It is a question of conscience.

Biblical Principles

1. Halloween is no more inherently evil than Christmas.

Paul’s instructions to the Christians in first century Corinth is very instructive:

“Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that ‘an idol has no real existence,’ and that ‘there is no God but one.’ For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth – as indeed there are many ‘gods’ and many ‘lords’ – yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” (1 Corinthians 8:4-6)

If you bought food at the public market during the first century, there was a good chance that it had been offered at a pagan temple to some pagan deity. Some Christians believed it was evil to eat food that had been offered to idols. Others believed eating food that had been offered to idols was harmless. The church in Corinth was divided.

Paul told the Corinthians that there is nothing inherently evil about food offered to idols. Christians could eat food from the public markets with a clear conscience. Why? Because the false gods represented by the local idols don’t really exist!

Paul didn’t tell the Christians at Corinth to “redeem” the food. He just told them that they could eat it with a clear conscience. There is no “holy” food or “unholy” food. There is just food, and all food comes from God.

Is Halloween a pagan holiday that needs to be avoided? Is it a medieval Christian holiday (“All Saints Eve” or “All Hallows Eve”) that should be redeemed? History suggests Halloween has roots in both paganism and medieval Christianity. However, the Bible suggests that it is neither pagan (since there are no real pagan gods) nor Christian.

In this sense, Halloween is no more evil than Christmas or Easter. Christmas and Easter also have roots in paganism and medieval Christianity. The Bible  never commands us to celebrate “All Hallows Eve,” “All Saints Day,” or even Christmas or Easter for that matter. The only day that the Bible commands us to celebrate is the Lord’s Day (Sunday).

As long as you are not worshipping Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or Samhain, there is nothing wrong with celebrating Christmas, Easter, or Halloween. You can enjoy these holidays the way you would savor a good meal made with ingredients once offered to idols.

2. Don’t violate your conscience.

“However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.” (1 Corinthians 8:7)

Paul recognizes that some Christians might still feel guilty eating food that’s been offered to idols. In this case, Paul says Christians should not go against their conscience. Your conscience comes from your desire to do what is right. When you go against your conscience, you train yourself to ignore your desire to do right. You train yourself to not care about right or wrong. You train yourself to not care about God. It is never a good idea to go against your conscience.

3. Don’t judge people who celebrate Halloween.

“Food will not commend us to God.” (1 Corinthians 8:8a)

Paul is not a legalist. If you feel guilty about eating food offered to idols you shouldn’t do it. But you need to realize that avoiding that food does not make you more mature in your faith, more obedient to God, or more loved by God. In fact, it means you have a weak conscience (1 Corinthians 8:7). Therefore, anyone who makes the tough decision to avoid food offered to idols should be humble about their decision.

It may be difficult to explain to your kids that they can’t go trick or treating when other kids in the neighborhood (or even in your church) get to go trick or treating. It is so much easier to tell them that you are right and they are wrong. But don’t pass judgment on others. You are not making an ethical decision. You are making a decision of conscience.

4. Don’t judge people who won’t celebrate Halloween.

“We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” (1 Corinthians 8:8b-9)

It is also easy to look down on people who aren’t celebrating Halloween. You have the freedom to celebrate Halloween, but your Christian liberty does not make you better. You need to be humble. You should not look down on people with sensitive consciences. You should not try to pressure them to celebrate Halloween with you. If you have the freedom to celebrate Halloween, they have the freedom not to celebrate Halloween. Do whatever you can to encourage them.

What should you do this Halloween?

1. Whatever you do, make sure you are driven by love not fear.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” (1 John 4:18)

Christian obedience is not motivated by fear; it is motivated by love. Remember that your identity is in Christ. When y0u think about how you want to spend Halloween, start with the truth that you are richly loved by God. Then figure out how you can love him back!

2. Consider how you can love your neighbors.

Once a year, your neighbors invite you and everyone else in the neighborhood to knock on their doors. This is a really great opportunity to get to know your neighbors. One the biggest reasons I take my kids trick or treating and pass out candy at my home is so we can get to know our neighbors better.

If you choose not to celebrate Halloween, consider staying home to pass out candy. Or leave a bowl of candy out while you go to your Halloween night alternative at church.

3. Whatever you do, have fun!

Let the thought of loving God and loving your neighbors dominate your heart and mind. He has saved you from your sins. Neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord! (Romans 8:38-39)

Whether you celebrate Halloween, go to a Halloween alternative, or stay in and watch a movie, have fun and glorify Jesus! Don’t hole yourself in your house with the lights out. Fall is a beautiful time of year. Enjoy what God has given you in creation and redemption, and consider how you can share that joy with others!

A Christian Halloween Poem

This great video captures how Christians can celebrate the silliness of Halloween and glorify Jesus!

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7 Lessons from Lance Armstrong, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens

Lance Armstrong, Barry Bonds, and Roger Clemens are back in the news. Now that the allegations of using performance enhancing drugs is old news, the media is buzzing with debate about their legacy. How should we remember their accomplishments? Is there a possibility for redemption or forgiveness at this point? What can we learn from this era? Here are seven lessons that I have learned:

1. Winning is not everything.

In the end, we want success to mean something. We want to be able to say that winners are successful because they deserve it. When that trust is violated, the experience of winning itself is cheapened and lost.

2. No hero is heroic all the time.

We want to believe in the possibility of heroism. So we lionize our heroes. We make them into saints. We rationalize away their flaws. The truth is that no one can live up to their reputation, good or bad. No victory is completely pure. There is no such thing as a truly level playing field. As Malcolm Gladwell shows us so convincingly in his book Outliers, there are always a host of factors outside anyone’s control when a person experiences success.

3. No cheater cheats all the time.

The words sociopath, arrogant, and cheater come up over and over again whenever the legacy of Armstrong, Bonds, and Clemens is debated. But no cheater cheats all the time. Yes, some people cheat more than others. But even the worst cheaters understand that life cannot be sustained through cheating. There needs to be some honesty somewhere. Somewhere, there needs to be trust. Labeling these people as cheaters may give us the moral distance to judge them, but the truth is that they are probably a lot more like us than we’d like to admit.

4. Shrines are by nature, unforgiving.

When an athlete is inducted to the Hall of Fame we say that they have been “enshrined.” You can argue that the Hall is just a museum, but the fact remains that there is something reverential about the place.

They don’t admit mediocre players into the Baseball Hall of Fame because the Hall represents pure baseball excellence. The Tour de France is supposed to represent pure cycling excellence. Shrines are by nature unforgiving.

At it’s essence, the debate over how we should remember our athletic heroes from the PED era is about the possibility of offering forgiveness in an unforgiving institution.

5. True forgiveness is undeserved.

Who has the right to forgive our athletic heroes? What does forgiveness look like? Is it the chance to compete again? Is it the chance to redeem themselves on some other stage? Is it a qualified admittance into the hallowed shrine of their chosen sport? Is it popular support?

Lost in our musings is the reality that true forgiveness is always undeserved. The moment you say, “I deserve another chance” you are no longer looking for forgiveness but recognition. Someone seeking true forgiveness is not defiant or defensive but transparent, humble, and penitent.

6. Redemption is a better story than recognition.

One of the interesting storylines in Lance Armstrong’s fall is how some of his Livestrong supporters continue to stand by him (not his organization but the people who wear his yellow bracelet). There was nothing dishonest about his victory over cancer. Armstrong didn’t conspire to deny, mask, or hide his cancer. He admitted his sickness and fought it. He came back from cancer. He was not supposed to survive, but he did. Lance Armstrong would not be Lance Armstrong without his cancer. He gave hope to legions of people hoping to survive cancer – people hoping for redemption.

7. The only hero who deserves a place in the shrine gave it up for us.

None of us can have it all. None of us are as good as we look. None of us are as bad as we look. None of us deserve to enter any shrine. All of us want forgiveness. All of us want redemption.

This is what makes Jesus such a compelling person. He is the one person who doesn’t need forgiveness. He is the one person who belongs in the true and eternal shrine – heaven. He is the archetypal hero. Yet His greatest accomplishment is not making it in the shrine, but giving up the shrine, being crucified, and rising from the grave to open the shrine to undeserving sinners. When our sins are exposed, Jesus offers us forgiveness in an unforgiving institution by crying out, don’t crucify them, crucify me! He is the only hero we can safely worship.

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God in our imperfect Christmas

Last week I took my kids to see Christmas lights at a local park. When we piled into the van everyone was happy. Ten minutes in everyone was screaming and crying. We were stuck in traffic and it would be over an hour before we would actually get to see any lights. How did a tradition that was supposed to bring us joy bring us so much frustration and sorrow?

One of the ironies of Christmas is that it is often all our effort to have a perfect Christmas that actually makes us really unhappy. We’re unhappy because we are trying too hard to be happy. It’s not just with Christmas. The harder we try to be happy the more unhappy we become.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with Christmas cheer or trying to be happy. But we need to see God in our unhappiness as much if not more than we do in our happiness. We need to worship God; not our happiness.

What are the things that are making you unhappy these days? Is it your work? Your marriage? Your children? Your politics? Your in-laws? Your social life? Your finances? The real problem is not your unhappiness; it is the fact that you can’t see God in your unhappiness. Somewhere you stopped being a person deeply loved by God who happened to have marriage problems and you became someone with marriage problems who happened to be loved by God. The change was subtle. It is not as if you stopped believing in God or even stopped believing in the gospel. The gospel just stopped mattering as much to you as it once did. The gospel was not enough.

Over 2000 years ago, Joseph received the crushing news that Mary, his betrothed, was pregnant. He knew that he was not the father so it could only mean one thing. She had cheated on him. Imagine his hurt and his shame. He thought he knew her. He thought she loved and respected him. He had trusted her. There was no way he could trust her again. He could have forgiven her and gone through with the marriage, but the pain was too deep. He decided to divorce her.

In ancient Israel a marriage engagement was just marriage without the marriage bed. Joseph and Mary’s engagement would have looked a lot like a wedding ceremony. Joseph didn’t propose in some quiet romantic place filled with personal meaning. He proposed before their friends and family as witnesses and signed a marriage license. The only way to break off the engagement would be by filing for divorce. When cheating was involved it was customary to make the divorce very public, like the adulterous woman in John 8 who was brought out before the whole town to receive her punishment. Joseph decided not to do that. He decided to have a quite private divorce.

Joseph’s honor must have made the divorce all the more painful. Joseph was not wealthy, or educated, or influential, but he was honorable. He knew right from wrong. He treated others as he would want to be treated. All his hopes for a good marriage were being crushed. He didn’t ask for this baby. But somehow God would use this same baby, the symbol of everything that was going wrong in Joseph’s life, to make everything go right.

One night an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream. Matthew uses an important Greek word translated, “behold.” Today it might be translated, “whoa.” The angel told him, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)

The gospel was literally impregnated in Joseph’s fiancé. Joseph never asked for this baby. He never could. How could Joseph ask God to come down into the womb of Mary? How could Joseph ask God to become one of us? How could Joseph ask God to go through everything we go through? How could Joseph ask God to become our substitute? How could Joseph ask God to die on a cross? There is no way Joseph could have asked for this. There is no way we could have asked for this. But God gave it. God looked down at all our sin and brokenness, everything that makes us sad, everything that harms us, everything that leads to death, and instead of turning away God got closer. He came down as close as He possibly could to live among us.

In the midst of the crushing loss and shame of divorce God impregnated Joseph with hope. On the outside nothing changed. Mary was still pregnant. The scandal surrounding her pregnancy would linger. Jesus was often referred to in public as Mary’s child instead of Joseph’s child (Mark 6:3). Not everyone bought the story that the Holy Spirit had overshadowed Mary’s womb to conceive the Son of God. But none of that mattered anymore. Joseph knew God was with him.

The gospel impregnates us, taking us somewhere none of us would choose, to show us that life could be so much better than we ever dreamed.

Not everything will go our way in this life. We will not be the people we want to be. People will not be the way we want them to be. Christmas, like our life, is imperfect and it’s ok because God is with us in our sins, our pain, and our failures.

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What does your gratitude tell you about yourself?

Around this time of year my children bring home artwork depicting all the things they are thankful for. When I see that mom and dad are right up there with food and toys I feel good about myself. I’ve done my job. My kids appreciate me (for now). I don’t say it out loud, or even quietly to myself, but deep down I’m pretty happy to be me.

Thanksgiving is a time of year when Americans count their blessings. Ironically, counting our blessings can be exhausting. We have to brave holiday traffic. We need to get the house ready for guests and cook like we’ve never cooked all year. The children need to be clean and well behaved. Our family needs to be happy or at least polite. We need to create a perfect family memory so we can remember how blessed we are. Why is feeling blessed such hard work?

The feeling of blessedness during Thanksgiving is not only exhausting; it is elusive. Some of us can’t think of any reasons we should be happy about our lives. Some of us are separated from our loved ones this year. Some of us have experienced loss. Some of us are nursing broken hearts. Some of us can’t afford to create an idyllic Thanksgiving memory. Why is counting our blessings so depressing?

The problem is that our gratitude is all about ourselves. We are like the Pharisee in Luke 18:11, who prayed, “I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”

Our gratitude tells us a lot about ourselves. If you drew a picture of the things you are thankful for, what would they be? A picture filled with food, toys, and people that make us feel good about ourselves betrays a heart that loves self above everyone else. It would be a lot simpler to draw a big self-portrait.

Sadly, selfishness creates immense pressure and crushing disappointment. I need to work hard to fill that picture with reminders of how awesome I am. When the reminders are not there I feel worthless.

Jesus changes our gratitude. Anyone can be grateful for work, money, comfort, family, friends, and good times. Only Jesus can make us grateful for failure, poverty, difficult people, loneliness, brokenness, sickness, or even death.

This transformation happens when we acknowledge that our greatest blessing is not in being ourselves, but being in Christ. The wealthy and poor have the same blessing in Christ. Jesus shows us that the successful and struggling, the popular and lonely, the moral and immoral are each blessed according to the riches of God’s grace not their individual achievements. Jesus sets us free from the crippling search for blessings in ourselves so we can find the humbling discovery of true blessedness in Himself. He declares we are loved, not because of who we are, but because of who He is. His blessings will not exhaust us or crush us; it will affirm us and give us rest.

We need to be like the tax collector, who would not even lift up his eyes, beat his breast, and cried out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13). Jesus tells us that he, not the Pharisee, went home justified. “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14).

Yes, give thanks for the good things in your life. But give even greater thanks for the hard things in your life. Jesus is just that good.

What are some other things for which only Jesus can make you grateful?

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Prayer is a Love Language

In the early 1990s Gary Chapman wrote a book called The Five Love Languages. In this book, Chapman developed the idea that everyone feels loved in different ways. Some people feel particularly loved by verbal affirmation. Others feel loved by physical touch and affection. Still others feel loved by practical assistance with tasks and chores. Everyone has a different “love language.”

Sometimes we don’t feel loved even though people are trying to love us. The problem is that they don’t understand our “love language.” People are helping us with tasks when what we really want is verbal affirmation. They are offering a hug when what we really want is some help with the chores. Speaking different “love languages” can be really frustrating, especially in a marriage.

Speaking the same “love language” on the other hand can be powerful. The last time I was in Tijuana (around five years ago) I had a 45 minute conversation with a local in Spanish. I have never studied Spanish. All the Spanish I know I’ve picked up from watching T.V. and movies. I know maybe ten words in Spanish. This conversation was hard work. He demonstrated incredible patience with me. He knew I was not speaking my native tongue. I took a real interest in speaking his language and wasn’t shy about asking questions. In my garbled, fumbling Spanish we managed to talk about God, Christ, family, work, soccer, the weather, food, and growing old. There were moments we just didn’t understand each other, but when we did it felt almost magical.

Prayer is a Love Language. God loves to hear us pray and He loves answering our prayers.

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 7:7-11)

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. (James 1:5)

The trouble is that prayer often feels like a foreign language. We don’t know what to say. We actually feel like we are giving more than we are receiving. We even wonder if God is listening. Frankly, we feel like prayer is a waste of time.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. (Psalm 22:1-2)

We think of prayer as God’s language, not ours. But there is a big difference between learning a foreign language and learning a forgotten language. My children are third generation Korean Americans. Since my wife and I speak English at home, Korean has become a forgotten language. Lately my oldest has expressed a growing interest in learning how to speak Korean. She is not thinking about her future career opportunities; she just wants to understand her heritage and communicate more freely with her grandmother.

Prayer is a forgotten language. We’ve grown so comfortable with God’s absence that we feel really uncomfortable in His presence. But God is patient. He wants to teach us how to pray again (as Adam and Eve once did in the Garden). Prayer is our love language just as much as it is God’s love language.

Through prayer God wants to communicate how much He loves us. When we learn to listen we will feel more loved than we ever dreamed.

I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him. (Psalm 22:22-24)

As we fumble with our words in our prayers we will experience magical moments when we understand God and are understood by God. Through prayer we will discover that God knows how to love us better than we know how to love ourselves.

When we pray, we are not praying to a stranger or foreigner. We are praying to our Father in heaven, who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all (Romans 8:32). How will he not also with him graciously give us all things? More than anything else, prayer is about being loved by God. Prayer is a mercy in itself and a means of grace. It is not always easy to pray. Sometimes it is hard to understand God. Sometimes we feel misunderstood by God. Prayer is hard work but it is always worth the effort.

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Don’t Worship Your Church!

There is a fine line between loving your church and worshiping your church. Worshiping your church hurts people. It will hurt you and people around you. So how do you know if you are worshiping your church? You might be worshiping your church if…

1. You expect too much from your church.

There is no place for sin in your church. It is valid to be saddened by sin; but you are crushed and disillusioned by it. You want your church to be sinless. You do not see the righteousness of Jesus covering your sinful church. Sinners (i.e., everybody) feel judged by you. You are unwilling to forgive people or show them grace. You punish people with messy lives. Sadly, where there is no room for sin there is also no room for Jesus. Jesus didn’t come for the righteous but for sinners (Matt 9:13).

2. You expect too little from your church.

You are too comfortable with sin in your church. You understand the importance of God’s grace; but you don’t believe in its power. You don’t expect yourself to change. You don’t expect people to change. You don’t expect your church to make much of a difference in the world. You are regularly bored at church and people feel like they can’t depend on you. You ignore the messiness in people’s lives. Sadly, where there is no room for holiness, there is also no room for Jesus. Jesus cannot be powerful enough to forgive us unless he is also powerful enough to change us (Rom 6:1-4).

3. You treat visitors like they have the cooties.

You don’t come to church to meet visitors, you come to see your friends. You might occasionally say hello or make polite conversation with a visitor, but you don’t try very hard to get to know them. You are not looking for new friends. Visitors often feel like they are eavesdropping on your conversation. It doesn’t bother you too much when visitors don’t come back. You get how God loves you and your friends, but you have trouble getting how much God loves other people. Sadly, we deny God’s impartial love for us when we fail to show impartial love to others (James 2:8-9).

4. You treat visitors like they are “the only single girl in a room full of ready-to-marry bachelors.”

Your face lights up when you see a new visitor at church. Your mission is to convince them to come back next Sunday. You want the visitor to get to know your church more than you want to get to know the visitor. You are warm and friendly, but visitors feel used and smothered. When you find out that they are visiting from out of town or that they are not really looking for a church, you lose interest. You are crushed when visitors don’t come back. You get how God loves other people, but you have trouble getting how much God loves you. The more you try to “get love” from visitors (by convincing them to come back) the less you love them. You will never be satisfied in the security of God’s grace until you stop trying to find security in the validation of other people (Gal 6:9-10).

What are some of the ways you have seen people hurt by the church?

What are some of the ways you have hurt people by worshiping your church?

[Note: This post was originally conceived as the first of two parts, but I just haven’t gotten around to writing it. It may appear in the future as a separate post, but for now I am going to move on to other things.]

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