That One Time I Preached a Sermon and Said We All Belong

Two weeks ago, I talked about loneliness. Last week, I talked about the difference between fitting in and belonging. Tonight, I want to wrap up this series by stating that thanks to God’s work through Jesus, we all belong. We no longer have to be alone; even though we may feel that way at times.

When I was talking about loneliness, I brought up the story of Elijah. He had a contest with the prophets of Baal and won! But after that, Elijah ran and hid. He was afraid of the queen. He thought his life was going to end. And when he found a cave to hide in, God came to him. God fed him. He provided for him. He even asked Elijah what was wrong.

And Elijah told him: I am done. I am exhausted. I give up. He goes on to also say I am the only one.

Have you felt that way before? Have you ever thought you were the only one left who was doing right? The only one in your life that actually cared anymore?

Have you ever been so overwhelmed with life’s circumstances that you were just ready to give up? Ever say, “I can’t do this anymore!”?

I don’t know about you, but when I get to one of those places, the first thing I usually do is isolate, just like I talked about a couple of weeks ago. I want others to hurt. I want revenge. I want to know other people are going through the same thing.

This is also why I work so hard at fitting in. I don’t want you to know I have that pain, so I dress up and put on a smiley face. I turn to my addiction to cover over the pain. I act like everything is all right. I put other people down so I that I can find myself with the end crowd.

Isn’t this all strange? We isolate by not allowing anyone to know how we are feeling, and then we do things we don’t really want to do so that we can fit in by taking the path of least resistance.

And we miss out on what God is offering.

Let’s read the story of Elijah’s encounter with God after the defeat of Baal’s prophets (I Kings 19:8-18).

Elijah got up and ate the food and drank the water. His body felt strong again, and he journeyed for 40 more days and 40 more nights to Horeb, God’s mountain where Moses received the Ten Directives. When he arrived at Horeb, he walked into a cave and rested for the night.

Eternal One (to Elijah): Why are you here, Elijah? What is it that you desire?

Elijah: 10 As you know, all my passion has been devoted to the Eternal One, the God of heavenly armies. The Israelites have abandoned Your covenant with them, they have torn down every single one of Your altars, and they have executed by the sword all those who prophesy in Your name. I am the last remaining prophet, and they now seek to execute me as well.

Eternal One: 11 Leave this cave, and go stand on the mountainside in My presence.

The Eternal passed by him. The mighty wind separated the mountains and crumbled every stone before the Eternal. This was not a divine wind, for the Eternal was not within this wind. After the wind passed through, an earthquakeshook the earthThis was not a divine quake, for the Eternal was not within this earthquake. 12-13 After the earthquake was over, there was a fire. This was not a divine fire, for the Eternal was not within this fire.

After the fire died out, there was nothing but the sound of a calm breeze. And through this breeze a gentle, quiet voice entered into Elijah’s ears. He covered his face with his cloak and went to the mouth of the cave. Suddenly, Elijah was surprised.

Eternal One: Why are you here, Elijah? What is it that you desire?

Elijah: 14 As you know, all my passion has been devoted to the Eternal God ofheavenly armies. The Israelites have abandoned Your covenant with them,they have torn down every one of Your altars, and they have executed all who prophesy in Your name by the sword. I am the last remaining prophet,and they now seek to execute me as well. They won’t stop.

Eternal One: 15 Travel back the same way you traveled here, but continuenorth to the desert of Damascus. There, I want you to anoint Hazael as Aram’s king, 16 Jehu (Nimshi’s son) as Israel’s king, and Elisha (Shaphat’s son from Abel-meholah) to replace you as prophet. 17 Jehu will execute anyone who escapes from Hazael, and Elisha will execute all who escape from Jehu.18 I will keep for Myself the 7,000 Israelites who have not bowed down to Baal or offered him kisses.


Did you notice that Elijah says the same thing twice? I have been devoted to You with all my passion! I have done everything! And I am the only one!

And notice God’s response: Go and stand outside and wait for my presence.

Mighty wind.  Not God.

Earthquake. Not God.

Fire. Not God.

Gentle whisper.

And Elijah had to hide his face.

And then God asks the exact same question. And Elijah gives the exact same answer. Only this time, I think Elijah whispers, or maybe sobs, out the answer.

And have you ever done that? Have you ever switched from anger to desperation when confronted with the presence of God?

Elijah is saying, “God, I’m the only one! I have done everything! And they still want to kill me! I wish I was dead!” And after God reveals Himself in a gentle whisper, Elijah is moved from his anger to clinging to God.

God responds by giving Elijah some things to do. Go and find these people. They will work with you. And there are 7000 people that you don’t know about who are just as passionately devoted to me as you are.

When we are in the midst of our loneliness, not only do we miss out on God, we miss out on God’s people that are all around us! I am certain that some of you here tonight feel all alone. Even though I know the love God has for you. Even though I know the love all of these people have for you, you still feel alone. And I hope you can hear the gentle whisper of God. I hope you can hear His voice telling you, “You belong.”

Over the last two weeks, I have asked all of you to write down on cards that thing that was keeping you separated from God. I have those cards with me tonight. I have read over them. Prayed over them. Shared them with the prayer team here at Freedom and they have prayed over them, too.

And I want to say a few things about these cards. The things that were written on here are painful. They are sad. They are real. They are common. Many people struggle with these same things, only so many people think they struggle alone. Also, these things aren’t just going away. Many of you will wake up tomorrow and still endure the same struggle.

But this is not the end of the story.

You are called. You belong. You are part of something much larger than you can imagine. You need to go and find others.

We are going to have a time of blessing. You will be reminded that you are a child of God. Hear God’s voice speaking to you; sometimes in a whisper. And you will be encouraged to go and seek others to come alongside us.

You belong here.

“You are a beloved child of God. You belong here. You are sent to go and find others and bring them here because they belong, too.”

That One Time I Preached a Sermon On Desire Being a Scary Thing

Alcoholics are often considered the life of the party. They are usually loud, sometimes obnoxious. They are silly, goofy, funny. They are the center of attention. Occasionally, you might get upset with them because you think they are just too much, but more often than not, people kind of laugh and chuckle and say things like, “That’s just Paul being Paul.”

But as weird as it sounds, most of those attention-grabbing, life of the party alcoholics are overwhelmed with an incredible feeling of loneliness. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that most addicts of any kind are people who feel incredibly lonely. A lot of addictive behavior grows out of the pain of isolation.

We don’t always get that. We think, since they are drawing so much attention, that they are comfortable. That they are good. But consider how this plays out:

Alcoholics and drug addicts are able to use their substance to overcome social anxiety and fit in.

People who self-harm are able to relieve their stress and hide their physical scars so they go out and be among people.

Those who are addicted to athletic performance can hit the gym or run a few miles or flex their muscles and rest on their on-the-field accomplishments to garner well-wishes from people they want to be around.

Students overly focused on grades are able to point to their class rank and say, “See? You need to be friends with me so I can help you succeed, too.”

Whatever it is we may be addicted to, it is often because we are covering up the pain we feel.

For years, I gave in to that temptation. People have often asked me why I drank so much. The answer is actually rather simple: there was too much noise in my head and alcohol shut it up. Of course, the more I drank, the worse the noise got (after sobering up). The guilt I felt made the noise even louder, so I had to drink more to quiet the noise which made me feel guiltier which led to…

You are all going through your daily lives with people who are living out that cycle.

And I dare say you are all going to church with people who are living it.

And what do those who are living out that cycle do? We try to fit in. We try to look good. We try to hide the hurt and the pain so that everyone will accept us. We want so badly to belong, but we are settling for fitting in.

Fitting in means we try to make ourselves according to thoughts and whims of others. Belonging means we are who we are.

Fitting in means we take the path of least resistance; we do what is easy to fit in or to be accepted. Belonging means we are true to who we are and we look out for others, even if it may cost us.

Fitting in means we take part in laughing at others or putting others down so that we don’t upset our friends. Belonging means we interrupt the laughter and mocking and say, “Let’s pray for this person, instead.” Or belonging might say, “Why are you making fun of them? Don’t you know I struggle in the same way?”

Fitting in means we participate in locker room talk, dirty jokes, sexually inappropriate language. Belonging means we comfort and befriend those who are put down. It means we uphold the value of men and women and don’t degrade them to nothing more than their sexual parts.

Fitting in means we retweet and share or like insults and vulgar statements, because after all, we’re just clicking it, it’s not like we actually typed it, right? Belonging means we stand up for the value of all humanity.

Fitting in means we show up for worship and attend classes and say all the right words when we are together. Belonging means we are vulnerable and we open up and truly share who we are with others. It means we create safe spaces for others to do the same.

We all have this desire. We want to be accepted. Now that looks different for each person. The ways we comfortably interact with groups changes depending on how we are made up. But that connection, that belonging, I believe it is something that is innate in all of us.

But desire is a dangerous thing. Because when we feel desire, when we feel that longing, we want to satisfy it. I had a desire to shut up the noise inside my head. I have had a desire in the past to fit in with the larger group so I would laugh at instead of stand up for.

Desire can lead us to want a close relationship with another person. If we don’t get that relationship, desire will often lead us to looking for intimacy in a bottle, or a needle, or a computer, or random people whose names we never know.

We need to be careful with desire. We need to learn how to direct that desire towards belonging, not just fitting in.

When I shared these lessons with the high school students this summer, some of the high school students also spoke. Jackson talked about this topic. He pointed out something that was a real shame. A lot of young people have a desire to belong. And they are finding it in gangs instead of churches.

Can I point out how convicting it was to hear an 18 year old call out the church for not doing as good a job as gangs do? We need to be creating places where people who desire to belong are welcome. We do that by being people who desire to belong by being open and vulnerable and loving with one another.

Consider this story in Galatians 2:9-14:

9When James, Cephas (whom you know as Peter), and John—three men purported to

be pillars among the Jewish believers—saw that God’s favor was upon me to fulfill this

calling, they welcomed and endorsed both Barnabas and me. They agreed that our ministries

would work as two hands, theirs advancing the mission of God among the Jews and

ours toward the outsider nations, all with the same message of redemption. 10In parting,

they requested we always remember to care for the poor among us, which was something

I was eager to do.

11But when Cephas came to Antioch, there was a problem. I got in his face and

exposed him in front of everyone. He was clearly wrong. 12Here’s what was going on:

before certain people from James arrived, Cephas used to share meals with the Gentile

outsiders. And then, after they showed up, Cephas suddenly became aloof and distanced

himself from the outsiders because he was afraid of those believers who thought circumcision

was necessary. 13The rest of the Jewish believers followed his lead, including Barnabas! Their

hypocritical behavior was so obvious—14their actions were not at all consistent with everything

the good news of our Lord represents. So I approached Cephas and told him in

plain sight of everyone: “If you, a Jew, have lived like the Gentile outsiders and not like

the Jews, then how can you turn around and urge the outsiders to start living like Jews?”

Peter wanted to fit in. So when he was with Gentiles, on his own, things were great. But when some Jews showed up who were more concerned with one particular act than with relationship with Jesus, Peter (who was a Jew) started fitting in with the Jews. He turned his back on the Gentiles because he was afraid the Jews would not accept him.

Peter chose fitting in over belonging. It’s addictive to fit in. Because it’s easy. Because it hides our own pain or shortcomings. Because we don’t think we have to work as hard to just fit in.

But my prayer for all of us is that we have a desire to belong. That means I can be open with you without fear or you turning your back on me. That means you can come to me with anything that is weighing you down. Belonging means you have someone to celebrate with you AND someone to cry with you. Belonging means that there will be times that no words need to be shared—you can just sit next to somebody in silence and it will be good.

Take that desire you feel and learn how to belong. The first step: greet people. Get to know their names. The second step: be willing to be open. Be that person we talked about last week: be the “me, too.”

Let us be people who belong.

That One Time I Preached a Sermon on Loneliness and Read Psalm 137 Out Loud

This is the manuscript of the sermon I preached at Freedom Fellowship on October 8. In order to overcome loneliness and find community, we must first acknowledge the loneliness we feel. This is Part 1 of a 3 week series.

Do you know when I feel the loneliest? Sunday morning during worship. Everyone is happy. Everyone is smiling. Everyone is looking good. And some days, that’s okay.

But some Sundays, that is almost unbearable. Because not only do I not feel that way, but I feel like I can’t tell anybody that I feel that way. I feel like everyone else gets to go write a Prayers for the People card and they will get it answered! But mine will just go unnoticed.

Let me say this again: it’s not true every week. But some weeks, some days, some Sundays there is something going on in my head, my heart, my soul, that is pulling me down until I feel like I can’t go any further. If something is off between my wife and me, I look at other married couples and wish that our marriage could be like theirs. If my children and I have argued during the week, I look at other parents and kids and wonder why my children aren’t as perfect as theirs.

And here’s the thing: I know they are having problems, too! I know because they have shared their struggles with me before.

But in that moment of my despair, it doesn’t really matter. In that moment, all I can think about is how awful I feel and how good everyone else looks. I take what is going on inside of me and compare it to what I can see on the outside of others, and I always come up lacking.

So some Sundays, I show up feeling great. I sing, I pray, I smile, I laugh, I am moved to tears, and through it all I feel closer to God and God’s people.

But other Sundays, I feel alone. I feel hurt. I feel like I have to hide what is going on inside of me. I still sing. I still pray. I still smile. I still laugh. I am still moved to tears. But through it all, I feel isolated and alone. And it bothers me that everyone else is doing so great.

Ever feel like that? Ever feel upset at or jealous of other people?

So have I.

So have God’s people for a long time.

Psalm 137:

By the rivers of Babylon,
we sat and wept
when we thought of Zion, our home, so far away.
On the branches of the willow trees,
we hung our harps and hid our hearts from the enemy.
And the men that surrounded us
made demands that we clap our hands and sing—
Songs of joy from days gone by,
songs from Zion, our home.
Such cruel men taunted us—haunted our memories.

How could we sing a song about the Eternal
in a land so foreign, while still tormented, brokenhearted, homesick?
Please don’t make us sing this song.
5-6 O Jerusalem, even still, don’t escape my memory.
I treasure you and your songs, even as I hide my harp from the enemy.
And if I can’t remember,
may I never sing a song again—
may my hands never play well again—
For what use would it be if I don’t remember Jerusalem
as my source of joy?

Remember, Eternal One, how the Edomites, our brothers, the descendants of Esau,
stood by and watched as Jerusalem fell.
Gloating, they said, “Destroy it;
tear it down to the ground,” when Jerusalem was being demolished.
O daughter of Babylon, you are destined for destruction!
Happy are those who pay you back for how you treated us
so you will no longer walk so proud.
Happy are those who dash your children against the rocks
so you will know how it feels.


“So that you will know how it feels.”

That is a painful, vengeful, spiteful statement and I hate to admit it but I have thought it before.

I want to explain a little bit about what is going on in this Psalm. This is not one we read often. If ever. I only know of one song based on the Psalm, and it is a relatively recent one. But it will likely never be sung in worship. This is not a passage we are going to hear read before the Lord’s Supper or the offering. It is violent. It is angry.

But it comes from a certain time and place. Israel has been cast off into Babylonian captivity. They no longer live in Israel, the Promised Land. They are now captives, exiles, living in a foreign country. And as if that’s not bad enough, their captors are taunting them:

“Hey, you Israelites. Play those songs you used to sing! Strum the harp, sing out loud! Sing about Zion and Yahweh!”

And their response is, “How can we sing? Those are songs of joy. We have no joy, only despair.”

Please don’t make us sing these songs. It hurts too much to be reminded of how good things used to be.

God’s people. Maybe they still believe He exists. Maybe they still believe He is the Creator. But they certainly feel abandoned. Isolated. Alone.

And so they call out in vengeance: No. We won’t sing those songs. We won’t entertain you. But we will remember. And we will hope you get what’s coming to you. We hope someone comes and takes everything away from you, even to the point of killing your children.

Now I know that’s extreme. But listen to what is at the core of what of what they are saying: “So that you will know how it feels.”

And on my worst days, I want others to feel as bad as I do.

On my worst days, I feel like Elijah. And not the “best of the prophets” or “defeat all of Baal’s prophets” Elijah, but run away and hide and say, “I’m the only one” Elijah.

You know that story, right? Elijah has this contest against the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. They call out to their gods to send fire to consume their sacrifice and nothing happens. They begin doing all sorts of crazy things trying to get their gods to respond. And this whole time Elijah is taunting them! “Maybe your god is asleep. Maybe he is using the bathroom. Try harder!”

And then Elijah digs a trench around his altar, covers his sacrifice with water until the trench is filled, then he calls out to God, and God sends fire to consume the sacrifice, the altar, and dry up all the water in the trench. And shortly after that, God sends rain for the first time in 3 and a half years.

Elijah was riding pretty high.

Until a day or two later. When the queen said she was going to kill him. And so Elijah runs and hides and when God comes to him, God says, “Elijah, what are you doing here?” Elijah’s answer is: “I am the only one.”

And there are days when I feel like Elijah: I am the only one.

And sometimes, I don’t want people to show up and tell me it will be all right. I don’t want people to remind me of how good God is.

I want someone to tell me they know what it means to be in my shoes.

I have heard that Bob Strader has told kids at the Youth Leadership Camps at Abilene Christian University that sometimes the most powerful words we can here are, “Me, too.” On those days when I am feeling really lost, lonely, and dejected, I don’t always want solutions. I want to hear someone say, “Me, too.”

Because I think the thing we forget is that the first step in overcoming loneliness is acknowledging that we experience it. There are days I am angry. There are days I am confused. There are days I am hopeless and in despair. There are days when I do not want to turn to God. There are days when I do not want my community to surround me.

And on those days, I don’t need solutions. I just need to the strength to say, “I am hurting.” And I need to hear you say, “Me, too.” That is a powerful message to hear.

Tonight, we are going to take some time to acknowledge our loneliness in a couple of ways. There will be people standing around that you can go to and ask for prayer. And I am going to ask all of you to do something for me. Up front, there are cards and pens/pencils. Please come and write what that thing is in your life. Write it on this card, with or without your name—either way is fine, and put it in this box. I am going to take these and pray over them. So come up, write those cards, and then go back to your seat, or go and ask someone to pray with you, or go and pray for someone else.

Also, there are several cards up here that say, “Me, Too.” Take a few of them with you. Know that there are people here tonight who can speak those words to you, but throughout the week, maybe you will run into somebody else who needs to hear those words. Hand them one of these cards. Take several.

The band will play during this time of prayer and we will be close our time together with a prayer after a little while.

Let’s pray.


Another Shooting: God, Forgive Us

Another shooting. Another tragedy. Several more victims. Several more families left torn apart. And still we argue.

God, forgive us.

Forgive us for being so consumed with violence.

Forgive us for failing to mourn with victims’ families because we are too busy arguing for our freedom.

Forgive us for sensationalizing and celebritizing people who commit heinous acts.

Forgive us for diverting necessary resources from those who struggle with their mental health.

Forgive us for proclaiming the Gospel of Fox News and not the Gospel of Christ.

Forgive us for treating the NRA as the Messiah.

Forgive us for thinking our political party is more important than the preservation of life.

Forgive us for thinking we can and should kill in the most creative ways possible.

Forgive us for prioritizing convenience over safety.

Forgive us for using tragedy as an excuse to continue insulting our President.

Forgive us for yelling at each other instead of crying with the victims.

Forgive us for thinking our identities lie with an elephant or a donkey instead of with the Lamb.

That One Time I Admitted I Don’t Know What I Believe

I don’t know what I believe.

Well, that’s only partially true. I know some of what I believe. I think.


I have not written a blog post in over a month. The last one I wrote was far and away the most read post I have ever written. It sparked a lot of conversation. Most of it positive. In fact, I did not experience anything that I would consider negative.

Uncomfortable? Certainly. But not negative.

One of the uncomfortable realizations that came out of my last post is this: I don’t have a well-stated theology of sexuality. Many people do. There are Christian authors like Gagnon who have done a lot of work and study and stated quite plainly how they believe in the traditional teaching on same sex attraction. There are those like Hays who almost apologetically come to the same conclusion as Gagnon. And then there are others, like Justin Lee or Matthew Vines who are able to articulate well and scripturally an almost opposite view of sexuality.

But this post is not about my view on sexuality. This post is about my view on not having a view.

Don’t get me wrong: there are some things I believe wholeheartedly.

I believe in God.

I believe He is the Creator (but I believe He can create any kind of way He wants to, so who knows how He did it? I don’t believe in the literal six day creation; especially since that is immediately contradicted in the next chapter).

I believe in Jesus. I believe in the virgin birth. I believe in the death, burial, and resurrection. I believe that because of Jesus we have redemption, freedom, and the opportunity for relationships that we do not deserve.

I believe in Holy Spirit being alive and active (does that mean speaking in tongues? Maybe. Does that mean the Bible is the gift of Holy Spirit and there is no current activity on this earth? Nope.)

Side note: I don’t really believe in the concept of “The Trinity,” but that’s another post for another day.

I believe community is important. I believe that can look like a few people in a home sharing a meal and praying together or a bunch of people in a building sharing life together or any other number of ways community forms in our world today. But community is vital for thriving and life is much better when we thrive and not just survive.

I believe we are called to take care of people who are cast aside by those in power. From the beginning of the Old Testament, those groups of people were listed as the orphan, the widow, the foreigners, the poor, and the imprisoned.

So in some ways, I do know what I believe.


There is a lot I cannot state so clearly, however.

I have already mentioned human sexuality. What does the Bible really say about same sex attraction and relationships? Just as importantly, what does it not say?

Another example would be the afterlife. I believe we have one promised to us. But what exactly is heaven? Or where?

I am a pacifist who hates the death penalty yet fully aware of the biblical passages used to support both.

On these and many other issues, I am theologically unsettled.

I grew up in a faith tradition that valued being certain. We had the ability to know truth and error, right and wrong, therefore we would always cling to everything that was true beyond a shadow of a doubt. Anyone who did not was regarded as a false teacher.

But even in that tradition, I was encouraged to ask questions. Many I know were not afforded that same luxury (thanks, Mom and Dad!). Yet even in my questioning, I felt this unstated belief that I would always end up exactly where I started.

Starting with my senior year in college, several events occurred which shook my faith in ways I never imagined:

  • Witnessing racist practices at my alma mater
  • Watching white privilege work during my ministry (before I even knew about that term)
  • Alcoholism and recovery
  • Working professionally outside of the church
  • The death of my brother
  • Attending funerals of children the same ages as my own

Beverly Ross once said, regarding the death of her daughter, “Jenny’s death was the earthquake that left me searching through the rubble trying to find the remnants of my faith.”

When I say that my faith has been shaken, it is because real life has crept in and stolen from me the convenience of having everything placed neatly on the shelf where I put it.

And you know what?

I am thankful.

Because what has happened is that I have started listening to people. For real. I mean, I always heard their words, but I was not listening. Now, I am listening. I am learning what it means to experience life lived from a different perspective than my own.

I am reading the Bible through a fresh lens. I have learned to ask a different set of questions. I have sought counsel from people who have devoted their lives to reading and studying.

I have expanded my borders. I have read and listened to people on polar opposite ends of perspective. I have also learned to shut some voices out. I have learned that it is okay to think about things from a completely different point of view. It’s even okay to consider some things that completely challenge everything I believe.

I have had conversations with people who can articulate their beliefs well. Some of those conversations have been uncomfortable. But they have always been a blessing.

For me to say that I am theologically unsettled means that I have been challenged and I have decided I will not accept things just because I always have.

Being unsettled can be a scary thing. But it is out of that place that renewal, rebirth, and rejuvenation can thrive. We should not run away from having our foundations shaken. We should not be afraid to be challenged. We should look forward to it as an opportunity for growth.

I am theologically unsettled. I invite you to join me.