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Tim Challies

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Can We Enjoy Heaven Knowing Loved Ones Are in Hell
October 08, 2016

Heaven is far too perfect, far too sinless, far too other for us to imagine in our fallen minds. Our attempts to put brush to canvas have led to depictions of cherubs on clouds, idyllic colors of dawn, Christ as a blinding light, a faceless adoring throng. Some of these attempts to capture heaven’s splendors are beautiful and even captivating, yet we know they are also incomplete. They are, at best, the barest reflection of what awaits. Our imaginations must always fall short of heaven’s glorious perfections.

Revelation 21:4 assures us that in heaven God himself will wipe away our tears, that there will be no death, no sorrow, no crying, and no pain. There is a deeply comforting certainty in our future—a certainty of joy, bliss, comfort, peace, love, and perfection. However, those of us with non-believing family members and friends can find this certainty an area of intense struggle. Why? Because we know that not everyone will be there with us. Many we love today will have an eternal experience of pain, torment, and separation. How could we ever enjoy heaven if our loved ones are in hell? R.C. Sproul tackled this question at a Ligonier Ministries conference years ago and I appreciate his answer.

Sproul begins by recounting a humorous moment from his seminary days. After attending an event in which a speaker unabashedly tore away at Reformed doctrine, young Sproul, disturbed by what he heard, quipped to his professor, “If John Calvin would have heard that sermon, he would have turned over in his grave.” His professor gravely responded, “Young man, don’t you know that nothing can disturb the felicity John Calvin is experiencing right now?”

He reflected little on their interaction, but shortly after heard that same professor’s answer to how a Christian can enjoy heaven knowing of loved ones in hell: “You will be so sanctified that you will be able to see your own mother in hell and rejoice knowing that God’s perfect justice is being carried out.” Sproul’s knee-jerk reaction was to scoff, even laugh, at the lunacy of such a statement.

At face value his professor’s answer felt wrong, insensitive even. However, if we can be certain that our future in heaven is one of undisturbed joy and that at the sight of God’s perfect justice our hearts will cry in adoration, nothing, not even the just fate of the unsaved friend or family member, will disturb our gladness.

Why, then, does our knee-jerk reaction match Sproul’s on this side of eternity? Sproul provides three answers:

We do not know God. That is, we do not really know God. We do not know him as he actually is. We especially don’t know him as the God who is holy, holy, holy. In fact, we are often even offended by his holiness, as if it is an ignoble or capricious trait. We cannot imagine how we could be content in heaven while loved ones are in hell because our knowledge of God is too small.

We do not know ourselves. We do not know God as we ought but we also don’t know ourselves as we ought. Try as we might, we remain oblivious to how truly heinous our sin is, how truly filthy we are in the sight of God, and how incredible our salvation is. It is so human for us to sin that we may even feel as if God is somehow obligated to forgive us. We need better self-knowledge—the kind God gives by his Spirit through his Word. We cannot imagine how we could be content in heaven while loved ones are in hell because we do not know ourselves as well as we ought.

We do not know what glorification means. The last link of the Golden Chain of Romans 8:28-30 is glorification. Though we tend to focus most on predestination and justification, they are simply the means to that great end of glorification. We ought to long for the day when we are glorified, when we and everything else is purified of all traces of sin. Heaven is so much more than the absence of death and deterioration—it is also the absence of sin. Can you imagine a place where there is no sin? Do you look forward to a place of no sin? That is our hope! We cannot imagine how we could be content in heaven while loved ones are in hell because we think too little of the beauty of glorification.

Until we are glorified, our sympathies will rest more easily with human beings than with God—his glory and perfect justice. But as Sproul explains in his talk, “once sin is removed from my life… and I love the Lord my God with all of my heart and all of my soul in undiluted perfection, my compassion, my love, my concern will be much more for the vindication of God’s holiness than for a corrupt fallen kinsmen of mine.” And so we pray for the lost, we share the gospel with them, we plead for their souls. And all the while we trust in the God who is good and who does only what is good.

Daddy How Do I Look
October 07, 2016

Daddy, how do I look?”

Eyes sparkling. Cheeks glowing. Is that a touch of makeup, a little something to accentuate the green of her eyes? Since when has she been wearing makeup? She twirls daintily on silver shoes, hair streaming, dress floating.

“Daddy, how do I look?”

She looks thirteen or twenty-three. She’s so big and so tiny, so old and so young, so wise and so innocent. When did she grow up? Wasn’t it just yesterday that she was born, this morning that she took her first steps, this afternoon that she learned her ABCs? How can she already be graduating to high school? What happened to all the years, all the days, all the moments? I thought they would go by so much slower. I wish I had known.

“Daddy, how do I look?”

I’d die for her. Does she know that? Does it even matter? I’d throw myself in front of a bus for her. I’d take a bullet. I’d do anything to keep her safe, to protect her from harm. I’m her daddy and it’s my duty. I’m her daddy and it’s my joy to love her fiercely, to love her gently, to love her without any contradiction between the two. I do. In that moment I do.

“Daddy, how do I look?”

This world is too dark for the likes of her. She’s too sweet, too tiny, too good, too pure. How will she make her way? How will she survive? How will she navigate the mess we’ve made here. God, protect her. God, keep her. She’s yours anyway, right? She’s mine for a day and yours for eternity. Bless her. Remember her. Don’t forget about her. Don’t neglect her. Please.

“Daddy, how do I look?”

A tear, a smile: “You look perfect.”

No One Else Is Coming
October 06, 2016

Sometimes it’s the little lines that get you, the parentheticals, the throw-aways. I heard one a few days ago: “No one else is coming.” It’s what you say when you realize that a responsibility has now fallen to you. You were hoping and waiting for backup, for reinforcements, for someone—anyone—else. But then you realize: No one else is coming. So you roll up your sleeves and get to work.

Earlier this week I was in Barlanark, a grey and gritty neighborhood in Glasgow. Barlanark is properly a scheme, one of nearly 100 dotting Scotland’s most populated city. What’s a scheme, you ask? A scheme is a social housing development, a place where most of the homes are owned by the government and distributed to the poor. It’s a place bearing all the marks of hard poverty—shattered families, absentee fathers, deep addictions, and a near-complete absence of the gospel. Thousands of people live in the homes and apartments of Barlanark. Only the smallest majority, maybe one half of one percent, know Jesus.

I was there to visit the Petes. A number of years ago, a local lad named Pete came to Barlanark to begin an outreach to the youth. He soon hired a second Pete and for a number of years they collaborated in building relationships with the youth, telling them about Jesus. They grew to have a real love for the people of that community. Though the work was slow and grueling, though it took its toll on them and their families, they saw some measure of success, they saw God’s hand of blessing.

The Petes

But the Petes came to understand there was a limitation on that work. If they were going to reach Barlanark—to really reach it with the gospel, to see the gospel take root, to see lives transformed—there needed to be a church there. It couldn’t be a church near the scheme or around the scheme. It had to be a church in the scheme—a Barlanark church for Barlanark people. They worked, waited, prayed, and hoped. They waited for a church planter to develop a heart for their neighborhood, to come with a calling, a mandate, a core team. But after a while they had to face it: “We realized, no one else is coming.”

And in that way they were called—called to the work of planting a church in one of Scotland’s most impoverished neighborhoods. The church will open soon—Easter perhaps, or early summer. It will be called Hope Community Church Barlanark and it will be that Barlanark church for Barlanark people. Already they’ve found office space in the very heart of the scheme, within the community center, if you can believe it. They hold prayer meetings there every morning, they host groups for moms and tots, they invite people to study the Bible, they tell people about Jesus. There has been a response—a small but real response. Some have heard the gospel and believed. Some have heard the gospel and begun to listen, to consider its claims. The work is slow, but it’s real. It’s happening. God is moving.

The Petes have found help in their work. An organization called 20schemes has come alongside them to provide care, mentoring, resources, oversight. 20schemes has a vision to see the gospel impact Scotland’s schemes and they are now working with the Petes and their growing core team to see them form a church. That church can use support, and especially the kind of support that comes when an established church partners with a new one—prayer, finance, and mission teams. If you’re interested in helping the gospel reach Scotland’s poorest people, why don’t you get in touch with 20schemes? Why don’t you join a vision trip, visit Barlanark, and see what the Lord is doing?

God gave the Petes a desire to care for the kids of Barlanark. That desire grew into a love for those kids, for their families, for their neighborhoods. That love grew into a calling—a calling to plant and pastor a church right there in that scheme. I wonder if God would give you a burden to support them or even to join them in their work. Or maybe, just maybe, he’s calling someone like you to yet another of the hundreds of schemes that don’t have any gospel witness. Because at this point, no one else is coming.

This video is a couple of years old so a wee bit outdated, but it introduces the Petes, their work, and their accents:

Those Exquisite Forms of Love That Do Not Speak Your Language
October 05, 2016

The book has been out for years, and by this time just about every Christian has been introduced to the “love language” parlance. We know that love languages refer to the varied ways people give and receive love. Some feel loved when they receive affection, others when they receive gifts or affirming words. There are five of these languages and most of us have been taught to rank them in order of personal preference. Well and good. God has created us in different ways and vive la difference.

Still, one of the most helpful things I ever learned about love languages came not from the book but from a critical review. In an issue of The Journal of Biblical Counseling David Powlison expressed a mix of admiration and concern for the love languages, and even years after I first read his comments, one of the central critiques stands out: “The love language model does not highlight those exquisite forms of love that do not ‘speak your language’.” That packs a powerful punch. Let me explain how.

When we are honest about love languages, we admit they are prone to begin to speak with a “dark and greedy growl.” Here’s how it works for me: I am never far from making my preferred love language the ultimate expression or even proof of my wife’s love for me. When I have it I feel loved; when I lack it I feel unloved. It takes surprisingly little time for “I feel most loved when you are affectionate with me” to become “I don’t feel loved unless you are affectionate with me” to degenerate all the way to “You need to speak my language if you expect me to love you in return.” For another person, “I feel cherished when we spend quality time together” may soon become, “I feel loved when you drop everything to focus on me, are completely understanding, give me unconditional love, agree with all my opinions, and never disagree with me, question me, or interrupt me.” These are good languages filtered through a bad heart.

That is one genuine concern and every marriage counsellor has run into it: “I just don’t feel loved.” But there is a related issue—the one that Powlison highlights in his review. When I demand that people speak my preferred love language, when it becomes the one way I receive love, I unnecessarily narrow my experience of love. I miss out on all of those “exquisite forms of love that do not ‘speak my language’.” Sure, I experience the language I prefer, and it is good to be loved this way! But I miss out on so many others including the ones others may most love to speak. The challenge and joy of love languages is not in demanding someone else learn to speak my language or manipulating them until they learn to do so. It is in learning how to speak other languages, to receive love in new ways. As long as I am satisfied with only the language I prefer, I miss out on the joy of those other four languages and the millions of others that exist beyond the reductionist categories.

It helps to think about it this way: God speaks a language that doesn’t suit any of our natural preferences. He didn’t woo or win us by condescending to our preferred language, but by teaching us a whole new one. Powlison says, “You and I need to learn a new language if we are to become fit to live with each other and with God. The greatest love ever shown does not speak the instinctively self-centered language of the recipients of such love. In fundamental ways, the love of Christ speaks contrary to your ‘love language’ and ‘felt needs’.” God loved us so much he spoke a language we didn’t want to hear, and we learned to receive it as the best language of all. There are other languages we need to learn that will teach us more truths, deeper truths, about love.

It is God’s grace that keeps us from such narrow views of love, from receiving love according to only our preferences. Yes, we all have a preferred language. But there is joy to be had beyond it. Says Powlison, “God’s grace aims to destroy the lordship of the five love languages, even while teaching us to speak the countless love languages with greater fluency.”


3 Quick Questions Before Quitting Your Church
October 03, 2016

We all know there are times and circumstances in which the only right course of action is to leave a church. If the church leadership has apostatized or proven themselves unqualified for ministry, if they are preaching a false gospel, if they have surrendered to the culture, we need to get out. We can leave these churches boldly and without looking back, shaking the dust from our feet.

But more often than not, we leave churches for what we might consider discretionary reasons. We don’t need to leave, but choose to leave. And we typically do this when we feel weary of the people, when we feel like they aren’t interested in us anymore, when relationships feel cool rather than warm, when we feel like we need a fresh start.

I wonder if you are in such a place right now—you are part of a church but feeling restless, ready to move on. Maybe you’ve attended another church a time or two and are finding yourself drawn to that congregation, to those people. It’s not always wrong to leave a church under such circumstances, but before you do, I would want to ask three important questions, all of which I’ve asked many times as an elder and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church:

Here’s the first question: Have you been praying for the people of this church? Your love for others grows in direction proportion to your prayer for them. As you pray for people, you find that you love them. You are called to pray for your enemies in the hope that they will become your brothers and sisters and for strangers in the hope that they will become your friends. How much more, then, are you to pray for your fellow church members? When you don’t pray for the people in your church you may soon find your heart cooling toward them. Once your love cools you may find yourself blaming them for your discontentment when really it began within you. Before you leave a church, first determine that you will take a period of time to pray—to pray for the people specifically and by name. Then see if your heart remains cool and distant.

Here’s the second question: Have you been serving the people of this church? Your love for others grows hand-in-hand with your service to them. As you do love toward others you naturally feel love toward others. Too many Christians prefer to be served rather than looking for every opportunity to serve. They gauge their emotional response to the church by the actions others have taken or not taken toward them. Yet God’s first call to us is not to be served but to serve (Mark 10:45, Philippians 2:5-11). The more we imitate Christ in his selfless service, the more our love grows warm. Before you leave a church, first determine that you will take a period of time to serve that church—to creatively seek out opportunities to serve and surprise. Then see if your heart remains cool and distant.

And one last question: Have you been with the people of this church? Have you been there on Sunday morning, and if you have, have you been all-in, looking for people to speak to, new people to meet, coffee to brew, chairs to stack? Have you been at the Sunday evening or mid-week services, or the prayer meetings, or the small groups? If everyone else in the church is getting together three times a week while you parachute for a quick Sunday morning fix, you will necessarily feel like an outsider looking in. You need to embrace the whole life of a church, not just the one main gathering. Before you leave a church, first determine that for a time you will commit to it all the way. Then see if your heart remains cool and distant.

Under many circumstances we have freedom before God to move from one church to another. In some cases this is a necessary course of action while in others it is a sinful course of action. Most of the time, though it is discretionary, depending on the particulars, the circumstances, the heart. Before you make such a move, do consider the questions: Have you been praying for the people of the church? Have you been serving the people of the church? Have you been with the people of the church? Love grows cold where there is no prayer. Love grows cold where there is no service and no togetherness. In other words, love grows cold where there is no love—no expression of love through prayer, through deeds, through fellowship.

October 02, 2016

It has been nearly a year since I laid the comments section to rest and begin inviting letters to the editor in its stead. It has been a blessing to receive so many hundreds of letters over the past year and to be able to share the best of them. Here are a few from the past couple of weeks.

Comments on Are You Going to Hurt Me?

Tim, thank you for writing the “Are You Going to Hurt Me” article. It brings to light the tension I have long felt as a woman, runner, (recovering) feminist, and friend of many good men.

As a woman, I walk around knowing that 50% of the population could hurt me if they so choose. Although I am strong for a girl, I am weak compared to men. Yes, I work out regularly, I lift heavy weights, I run, I do everything “right,” but I am weak. At best, I hope to be able to defend myself long enough to survive, to get away, or to get help; that is all.

As a believer, I walk around knowing I am equal in worth to men. I have strong parents who loved me and taught me true self-confidence, I am a daughter of the King. I have unique skills and talents because I am a woman that neither diminish nor are greater than a man’s unique skills and talents.

As a (recovering) feminist, I fight the lie that I have to be the same as men to be valuable. I fight the temptation to turn a blind eye to the unique image bearing of men and women. I want to be the strong, unafraid, woman confidently striding down the street or running down the dark path, but I am not. My ears are pricked, I eyes are peeled, and I’m always a little afraid.

As a friend, daughter, sister-in-Christ to many good men, I walk around with the security of knowing there are good, godly men who desire to protect me – even when I don’t want it. They care for me emotionally and yes, even physically. I know men who go out of their way to make me feel secure when I am running alone—they step to the side, they speak, their eyes do not linger with a lustful hunger. These men speak kindly, they walk me to my car, they hold doors—not because I am incapable, not because I can never walk alone to my car, but because they care. They remind me that my hope is not in myself, it’s not even in them, my hope is in the God who they reflect—the one who cares for me when I am alone and afraid.

Thank you for bringing this simple issue to light. It is a reality for many women and we need good men in all areas of our life.
—Taylor B, Greenville, SC


Sometimes I hate this world we’ve made. My wife says that even in our quiet neighbourhood she sometimes thinks these thoughts as she’s going for a walk in broad daylight and sees an unknown man walking. May Christ come back quickly.
—Mark C, St. Thomas, ON


I’m currently in counseling after having an incident where a man followed me around in a Walmart and then out to my car. It left me shaken and unnerved, and now when I walk outside, I cross to the other side of the street or change my path if I see other men walking/running nearby in the same direction. There are nightmares and startled responses, and I am suffering PTSD because this actually called up two earlier events in which I’ve been sexually assaulted. I cried as I read this article and thank you for being a man who loves and cares deeply for the needs of women, the hurting and the broken. Thanks for your love and that you are a sensitive Christian leader for those whose trust has been violated. Thanks for being a good picture of Christ Jesus, who heals and binds up the brokenhearted, and calls all of us to care for one another, weep for one another, and reminds us that we can always trust in the Father. Let us overcome evil with good.
—Beth L, OK


Wow. Thank you writing this article. It brought tears to my eyes as I recalled all the times I have prayed in a desperate panic for safety when I suddenly found myself alone and in a remote or vacant area. There have been too many fear-laden instances to count in my 34 years of experiences—and I consider myself a very careful and mindful individual when it comes to safety. While out on a run, I have turned around and quickly sprinted away more than twice because a man driving a pick up truck suddenly pulled over right in front of me on a less-populated street. You’re right: The fear IS real. Thank you for encouraging our brothers to start with at least looking for and acknowledging it. It is always a huge comfort to me to know that the men in my life (husband, father, father and brother in laws, pastor) are looking out for my safety.
—Emily A, Roseville CA

Comments on Christian Men and Their Video Games

Thank you so much for providing a refreshing, clear and morally/theologically balanced view of video games. Rather than submit to the petty bashing and equivocations that many of your Reformed Brethren resort to, you have risen above and given a perspective both balanced and personal.
—Aaron S, Brisbane, Australia


I’m so glad I sold my PS4 system a few months ago. I know that if I owned it now, your article would be all the rationalization I would need to continue in a losing fight to idolatry. The problem isn’t in your article’s content. I agree with everything you wrote; however, I constantly struggled with playing too much. Thanks for your thoughts, but I’m even more thankful for the conviction of the Spirit and a community of fellow brothers-in-Christ that help me accountable to sell the system.
—Tyson B, Torrance, CA


I’m thankful that you’ve touched on the topic of video games. In my earliest years of being a part of the church, I faced much condemnation and didn’t feel like it was valid. It can be quite a difficult topic to wrestle with and explain, and often has been confusing to me how many people easily justify sports (playing or spectating) but are quick to dismiss video games as entertainment. Although you’ve written about casual gaming, the one extension which could be discussed is competitive gaming (many elements are identical to physical sports). I’m one who has previously aspired to the world of competitive e-sports for the glory of God and I’m certain that we are in a generation of gamers where there is no presence of Christian athletes. It’s my prayer often that more people would try to understand the beauty that video games can bring, and enjoy it, but not get consumed in this tempting realm.
—Andrew K, Toronto, ON

Comments on Is Seminary Necessary?

As one who did attend seminary (for an M.A. in Christian Counseling) I can attest to the fact that, without such preparation, my ministry may have been reduced to parroting what others have written/spoken/taught from the pulpit. It certainly helps to know one’s theology to confront questions which might prove harmful to a congregant, if left unanswered, from a biblical point of view. Also, there seems to be an abundance of “canned” sermons from which a pastor can choose to preach, however, each pastor should have an even rudimentary understanding of how to interpret Scripture in its proper context and with an eye towards understanding both the intent and spirit of the passage. I did attend a church in my former hometown for several years whose pastor was not seminary trained but, because of his upbringing and studiousness, knew the Bible and its context better than many seminary trained pastors I’ve heard or seen. Seminary, then, may not be necessary but, I believe, is advisable.
—Justin M, El Paso, TX

Why Does the Universe Look So Old
October 01, 2016

When it comes to the age of the universe, Christians find themselves in a bit of a conundrum. At least, those Christians do who hold to a traditional interpretation of the first two chapters of Genesis—an interpretation that leads them to believe the universe is something less than the billions of years indicated by contemporary understandings of the scientific data. Those, like me, who hold to a six-day understanding of creation have to face this question: Why does the universe look so old? Why does it look older than it actually is? This is a question Dr. Albert Mohler took on at a Ligonier Ministries conference several years ago and his response was (and remains) helpful to me.

Before I comment on his answer, I want to point out that all Christians, no matter their interpretation of the opening chapters of Scripture, have difficult questions to face as they attempt to strike harmony between Scripture and science or, better, between God’s book of special revelation and God’s book of natural revelation. Those who believe the universe is ancient have to grapple with the existence of death before the fall, for example, or why the creation account is so clearly laid out as if it all takes place in six literal days. It is not only young earth creationists who have to admit the existence of difficult questions.

As Dr. Mohler considers the age of the universe he tells why he is drawn to the six-day view: “In our effort to be most faithful to the scriptures and most accountable to the grand narrative of the gospel, an understanding of creation in terms of 24-hour calendar days and a young earth entails far fewer complications, far fewer theological problems, and actually is the most straightforward and uncomplicated reading of the text as we come to understand God telling us how the universe came to be and what it means and why it matters.”

But why, then, if the universe is so young, does it look so old? His first answer is this: The universe looks old because the Creator made it whole. Accordingly to a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 and 2, God did not create a universe that began in an infant or primordial state before maturing over billions of years, but a universe that actually began in a state of maturity. When it was still young it already looked mature because this was God’s design. Indeed, this was the case with the first human being. “When he made Adam, Adam was not a fetus; Adam was a man; he had the appearance of a man. By our understanding that would’ve required time for Adam to get old but not by the sovereign creative power of God.” Adam and Eve were created whole, mature, grown up, and were placed in a garden that was also whole, mature, and grown up. “The garden was not merely seeds; it was a fertile, fecund, mature garden. The Genesis account clearly claims that God creates and makes things whole.” There is our first answer, that the universe looks old because God created it to look old. This was design, not deception, just as was the case for Adam, the human being who had no history, no parents, no infancy, no childhood.

The second answer is this: The universe looks old because it bears the effects of sin. Sin is an evil intruder into the world and one that brought about God’s judgment. This judgment was expressed in the catastrophe of the great worldwide flood and in a million lesser catastrophes since. These catastrophes have marked, stained, and scarred all that God created. We bear the effects of sin in our tired eyes, wrinkled skin, and aching bones, and in equivalent ways the earth is marked and marred by sin. Paul says in Romans 8 that the world is groaning, “And in its groaning it does look old. It gives us empirical evidence of the reality of sin.” The universe looks old rather than young to display the evidence and consequences of sin, for once we see this we are but a short distance from considering the joy, necessity, and beauty of redemption. A suffering world is crying out for the deliverance that will come.

To my mind these are compelling answers, though they are admittedly somewhat speculative in that neither one can appeal directly to chapter or verse. I will give the final word to Dr. Mohler: “At the end of the day, if I’m asked the question ‘why does the universe look so old?’ I’m simply left with the reality that the universe is telling the story of the glory of God. Why does it look so old? Well that, in terms of any more elaborate answer, is known only to the Ancient of Days. And that is where we are left.”

Is It Time To Declare a Name Amnesty Sunday
September 30, 2016

It’s probably a silly idea. It’s probably the kind of thing we came up with late on a Friday afternoon and laughed about before realizing, “Actually, maybe there’s something to this.” Somehow it became a bit of a tradition for Grace Fellowship Church and, even better, one we rather enjoy. We call it “Name Amnesty Sunday” and we hold one every few months. Let me tell you how it works and how it might benefit your church.

You’ve had the experience. I know you have. You’ve seen new people at church and meant to meet them, but never got around to it. Now they’ve been attending for 3 or 4 months and you know it will be just plain awkward to march up to them to introduce yourself. After all, what kind of a church member, or church leader even, waits that long before making introductions?

Maybe it’s worse than that. Maybe you met them the week they first visited, you spent a few minutes chatting and getting to know them, then walked away and realized, “I’ve already forgotten their names.” Now you’re in that cringe-worthy spot where you nod or wave or say “hello” every Sunday while hoping they don’t figure out that you’ve forgotten who they are.

Or maybe you don’t even remember whether or not you’ve met them. You have a vague memory of meeting them or someone like them, but is it possible you’re remembering intention rather than reality? Now you find it easier just to keep your distance.

What can you do? You can declare a Name Amnesty Sunday.

A Name Amnesty Sunday begins with an announcement the week before so it doesn’t take everyone by surprise. “We have declared next Sunday a Name Amnesty Sunday.” On the day itself, every person who walks into the church is given a name tag the moment they arrive. It may be a little awkward for visitors, but it can be explained away easily enough: “This week we are having everyone wear a name tag so they can learn each other’s names.” We often have the teen girls in charge of writing out the “Hello My Name Is” tags.

An announcement early in the service explains it. “This is a Name Amnesty Sunday. This means you are free to ask anyone their name without shame or embarrassment. If you don’t know someone’s name even though you should, or if you’ve forgotten their name even though they told it to you, you are absolved from all blame and all awkwardness. If someone doesn’t know your name, you are not allowed to hold it against them. You must grant them amnesty. Now go and find someone whose name you don’t know and introduce yourself.”

And, sure enough, you soon hear the conversations. “Hi there. I know we’ve met but I’ve forgotten your name.” “I’m sorry. I’ve been meaning to come over and introduce myself but, you know how it goes…” 

Silly? Yeah, kind of. Effective? Yeah, that too. It’s an effective means of allowing people off the hook, of allowing people to connect who might otherwise find a convenient excuse not to. Maybe your church would benefit from declaring its own Name Amnesty Sunday.