I have to admit that I fancy myself an aficionado of church signs. Call it an occupational hazard, but whenever I’m driving through residential neighborhoods and come upon a local congregation, I can’t help but take a look at the marquis to see either the sermon title for that Sunday.
There are any one of a few dozen standard phrases that, let’s face it, go over the top on the cheese-meter. Come on, it’s just you and me here. We can be honest, can’t we? Have you driven by a church, read their sign, and just winced at its hokey-ness? Witness the following examples (and my deepest apologies if these have been found at your house of worship):
- God Responds To Knee Mail
- Soul Food Served Here
- Wal-Mart Isn’t The Only Saving Place
- In Case Of Rapture, This Building Will Be Unoccupied
- Forbidden Fruit Leads To Many Jams
- Can’t Sleep? Try Counting Your Blessings
- And the ever popular: Get Right Or Get Left
For years, many have suffered in silence. We believed ourselves to be the only ones, but no! You are not alone, my friend. Millions of people quietly concur.
We must, with all due reverence, take our stand and say “no” to “marquis mozzarella” in all its various forms. Before the uprising begins, however, I should like to address another popular example from church sign lore. Namely, “What’s Missing In C-H-__-__ -C-H?” The answer to the rhetorical question is “U – R.”
We have probably all seen this play-on-words at one time or another and, while it certainly fits with our previous examples, shouldn’t be dismissed too quickly.
Our culture is built around activity and achievement. Think about the last time you met someone for the first time and were getting acquainted. After you discovered their name, what is our next natural question? “What do you do?”
As a society, we (especially men) put a lot of identity in our performance and work. It means a lot to us. And that cultural benchmark has subtly worked its way to the pews and foyers of our churches. In some respects, I think we in the church have unwittingly made that a centerpiece of a member’s value. In our zeal for people to use their God-given talents and abilities, we have placed such a high premium on performance that we have unintentionally indicated to our church family that we love them more for what they do than who they are.
Sometimes the “U-R” is missing in church. We can become so program-driven and obsessed with maintaining the machinery of church that we forget her moving parts. If we’re not careful, people can become rectangles on a flowchart or insertions to the nursery schedule, rather than stories of God’s grace and sanctification.
When I was a senior in high school, my mother died of breast cancer in mid-January of that year. I pulled away from my involvement in the church choir to tend to my family and my own needs. Two weeks later, during a church service, the choir director turned to me and said, “So Matt, can you be at practice today? We could really use you for Easter.”
Though unintentional, the message sent was, “Put your grief on hold, Matt. We need a tenor.” That’s when the “you do” becomes more important than the “you are,” and I know as a minister that I’ve been guilty of it too.
As always, the Father is our ultimate guide and resource. When we spend time in His presence, He constantly reaffirms his love for us without regard to performance or accomplishment. He has a wonderful way of reminding us of our true value. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, the apostle speaks to the believers of their value because of Jesus’ sacrificial death. He announces to them and us:
- You are righteous – “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” (Romans 3:21-22 NIV)
- You are favored – “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” (Romans 5:1-2 NIV)
- You are justified – “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” (Romans 5:9 NIV)
- You are reconciled – “Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” (Romans 5:11 NIV)
- You are free – “But now that you have been set free from sin and have becomes slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.” (Romans 6:22 NIV)
- You are destined – “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1 NIV)
Ultimately, as a body of believers, we must endeavor to live life together, sharing in one another’s successes and failures, highs and lows. We must love each other lavishly, generously, and without hesitation. Why, because they have done so much for us? No. Because it is how we are loved.
What makes our brothers and sisters in Christ valuable is not their tithe, singing voice, teaching ability, administrative gifts, or people skills but their existence. The fact that “you are” is all the reason we need to prize and celebrate you. “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (Gal 6:10 NIV).” Rather than hoping “U-R” in church this Sunday, I pray “U-R” the church every day.