Years ago, during a 45-minute drive to and from work, I listened to Christian teaching tapes and to popular Christian artists to learn more about my faith and deepen my relationship with God. One of my favorite singers was Sandi Patty. Sandi had a voice that reached the stratosphere and her songs combined great melodies and beautiful lyrics of praise to God.

Later, there were rumors of marital problems and divorce as Sandi disappeared from the Christian music scene. In her book, “Broken on the Back Row: A Journey through Grace and Forgiveness,” Sandi described an awful marriage, intense loneliness and many mistakes. Yet during the ordeal she never completely walked away from God. But Patty did wonder if God still loved her. Sandi wanted and knew she needed to go to church but couldn’t face the pain of going back. So, for several years, on Sunday morning, Sandi Patty, a world renowned Christian singer stayed home.

There are many people like Sandi Patty: sincere about their belief in God but wondering if they could ever attend worship services again. Would they be welcomed back with open arms?

One Sunday, Sandi decided to go by herself and check out a church in another part of town. She quietly sat on the back row, scared someone would recognize her but hoping she would hear something that would give her hope. Would God provide answers to find her way back?

As the service started, Sandi scrunched down in her pew hoping that somehow, she wouldn’t be noticed. Maybe everyone would be so focused on talking to each other, they would miss seeing her. After the initial announcements, the minister said something that would change Sandi Patty’s life forever.

“If you’re visiting with us today, we’re so glad you’re here. There are people all around who would like to know your name, if you want to tell them. We want you to know that the God we serve lives within these walls and outside these walls too. But maybe you’ve been visiting with us this morning and you’re not ready to tell anyone your name. Maybe all you want to do is sit on the back row and cry. That’s OK. We want you to know that the God we serve knows how to find you there. He hasn’t forgotten about you. We serve the God of second chances of new beginnings. We serve the God who sets His children free.”

The minister would later say, he had no idea why he said those words and he certainly did not know Sandi Patty was sitting on the back row. Yet – those words of welcome and the welcoming spirit of that church enabled Sandi to once again renew her relationship with God and with the church.

How we welcome others whether into our home, at work or at church, says a lot about who we are:

“This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’—and I am the worst of them all. But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:15-16)

When Paul wrote this advice to a young preacher named Timothy, he didn’t emphasize his scholarly background or the logic of his beliefs although they are important. Paul talked about the God who had mercy on him so that Christ could use him as a prime example when reaching out to others.

One church reaching out to others with a warm welcome and a spirit of grace is what brought Sandi Patty back into a deeper relationship with God. One church made a difference in her life. One church can make a difference in your life as well. Whether you are part of a church looking to become more welcoming or you are someone looking for encouragement to come back to God’s church, this message is for you.

“If you’re visiting with us today, we’re so glad you’re here. There are people all around who would like to know your name, if you want to tell them. We want you to know that the God we serve lives within these walls and outside these walls too. But maybe you’ve been visiting with us this morning and you’re not ready to tell anyone your name. Maybe all you want to do is sit on the back row and cry. That’s OK. We want you to know that the God we serve knows how to find you there. He hasn’t forgotten about you. We serve the God of second chances of new beginnings. We serve the God who sets his children free.”

Amen.


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