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I’ve been a pastor for ten years. During the last decade, there have been countless blogs, books, and articles talking about how the church is in decline. I’ve also read a lot from people in my generation who are writing off the church altogether for a variety of reasons.

While there is no perfect church, and churches no longer hold the central place in the culture they once did, I’m incredibly optimistic about the future of the church. Not just the church I pastor, I believe churches all across the country have an incredible opportunity.

I realize this is just a reflection on my experience, but in the last six months, we have seen numerous people come to our church for the first time. I get a chance to meet a lot of them and I love those conversations.

I’m always curious to know how they heard about our church and what initially brought them in. If they are a repeat guest, I’ll ask what caused them to come back.

The more of these conversations I have, the more stories I hear about people either re-engaging with the church after having been on a bit of a hiatus or they’re exploring Jesus and the church for the first time. No matter what their previous church experience has been, people keep telling me that what they’ve appreciated about our church is the authenticity of the people and our expression of worship.

I don’t write this as a boast or brag about our church, but rather as a reflection that there are many people out there who are craving an authentic and real spiritual experience. Based on the conversations that I’m having with people, there are those who are taking stock of their own lives and starting to ask deep questions about what they are experiencing and whether or not there is more to life.

This greatly encourages me. There is a ripe harvest field. There is a generation of people who are seeking and wanting to know what’s real. So before we give up on the church altogether, remember what Paul writes in Philippians 1:6, “That he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion.” That’s not only true of individuals, it’s also true of the church.

Maybe as a culture, and even the body of Christ, we’ve given up on the church, but God certainly hasn’t. And for me, that’s all I need to know.

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Not that long ago, I was in a restaurant bathroom about ready to go back to my table and finish lunch with my family. Standing at the sink, I stuck my hand under the soap dispenser and soap automatically dropped into my hand.

I started rubbing my hands together to spread out the soap and I put them under the faucet, but nothing happened. No water came out, not even a drop.

I concluded that my hands weren’t in the right spot to activate the sensor. So, as they were clasped together, I started to move them around. Slightly to the right. Slightly to the left. Up. Down.

Nothing. No water.

Then, I unclasped my hands and moved them around, thinking I had a better chance to activate the sensor if they weren’t connected together. Still, nothing.

Concluding that the sensor on the faucet was broken I moved to the sink next to me and tried again. But the result was the same.

Starting to get frustrated, with soap dripping off my hands, I gave one last-ditch effort. I put one hand underneath one faucet, and another hand underneath the other faucet, and moved them faster and more vigorously.

Still, no water came out! About ready to walk out of the bathroom to make a complaint to the restaurant owner, I made a huge realization. The faucet was not an automatic faucet! It was a manual faucet that I had to turn on with my own hand.

I felt stupid and foolish. I also felt bad for all the mean things I was thinking about the restaurant manager and employees. I regained my cool while rinsing off my hands. But then, almost went through the exact same cycle when it came to drying them.

I stuck my hands underneath the paper towel dispenser expecting the paper towel to automatically slide out, but nothing happened. I was just about to start flailing my hands around when I thought to myself, “Check and see if there’s a lever.” Sure enough, there was.

As I left the bathroom and walked back to my table, I was struck by what had just happened to me. I realized how much I’ve been conditioned for convenience. I’m conditioned for things to be immediate, automatic, and easy. I expect quick and fantastic results with little to no effort.

And, if I’m honest with myself, it’s not just with faucets and paper towel dispensers in bathrooms. Nor is it confined to the convenience of microwaves, fast food, the internet in my pocket, Amazon Prime, or the countless other ways I expect things to be done for me. It’s also true in my relationship with Jesus.

There are times I expect following Jesus to be easy and convenient. I pray and expect Jesus will answer my prayers the way I want. I get surprised when life is difficult and things aren’t going my way.

I love the verse about giving Jesus all our heavy burdens and receiving rest from him (Matt. 11:28-29). But that’s only part of it. Jesus says quite a bit about how following him is difficult. He describes it as a narrow road (Matt. 7:14). He says that following him is costly (Luke 14:25ff). He says that people may turn on you and hate you (Matt. 10:22). And that those who want to be his disciples must first surrender everything and pick up their cross (Luke 9:23).

Following Jesus isn’t about ease and convenience. It’s not about passivity or having a prepackaged spirituality prepared for you. Nor is it about saying a prayer in order to get out of hell when you die. It’s about a relationship with Jesus. And just like any other relationship, it requires intentional engagement. It takes effort.

In John 17, during a prayer, Jesus says that eternal life is knowing God through Christ. It’s not primarily getting into heaven when we die. Nor is it necessarily about living forever. It’s about knowing Jesus, walking with Him, serving alongside Him, and engaging with Him the same way we would with our spouse, children, or a good friend.

As a pastor, I see a lot of people who engage in Christianity by simply attending church. They show up on Sunday, go through the motions, and then go home. The same could be said about their engagement with a small group or with the Bible. And just like putting your hands under a manual faucet won’t get your hands wet, walking into a church won’t automatically make you spiritual or lead to spiritual growth.

So, I guess this leads to the question, how are you currently engaging with Jesus? Are you expecting the relational work to be done for you? Or are you taking the initiative to turn on the faucet?

 

 

 

 

 

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Recently I read an article about life-long conversations with your kids about certain issues. Currently, I feel like I’m starting one of the conversations with my 6-year-old.

We have the privilege of walking our kids to school. There are no buses in our district. It’s each family’s responsibility to get their own kids to school, and we live close enough to walk. We walk every day, whether it’s 75 degrees and sunny or 2 below and snowy.  We walk because it gives me an uninterrupted 10 minutes each way every day with my daughter.

We do a variety of things during our walking time. We review spelling words for Friday’s spelling test. We talk about things that happened at home while getting ready for school, and the fun or interesting things that she’ll be doing in class that day.

But I want to be intentional with this time. Even though it’s only 10 minutes a day, over the course of a 180-day school year that’s 1,800 minutes, or 30 hours of conversation.

So, each day somewhere along the way to school I ask her three simple questions.

  1. What’s true about you?
  2. Who are you?
  3. How are you going to live today?

Because I ask her these questions every day she knows the answers I’m looking for.

  1. I’m loved.
  2. I’m kind and compassionate.
  3. Today I’m gonna be a good leader, listener, and friend.

Now, truth be told, about fifty percent of the time her answers are quick and rote. The other fifty percent of the time we are able to expand on one of these questions and go a little bit deeper. For example:

Me: How are you going to live today?

Kate: I’m gonna be a good leader, listener, and friend.

Me: Does anyone in your class need someone to be their friend today?

Kate: Yes.

Me: Who? And how can you be a good friend to them?

Even though sometimes she’s simply going through the motions with the answers, my hope is that through these conversations I’m instilling in her an identity, and understanding of who she is and who she’s called to be.

I believe that we’re all created to find our sense of identity and being in a source outside ourselves (even though our culture may say otherwise). I believe that source was intended to be God. However, we oftentimes live with a distorted view of who God is. We tend to believe that God doesn’t have our best interest at heart, that God is holding out on us, that He desires to punish us with every chance he gets. Therefore, we don’t look to God to discover who we are. Instead, we end up going to other sources.

Some people go to relationships. Others, throw themselves into their careers. And others look to accomplishments and degrees.

Essentially, we can either achieve an identity – it’s something we attain and sustain. Or we can receive an identity. We can have someone else give it to us (i.e. Jesus).

Honestly, I don’t know if I’m doing it the right way with Kate, but I’m attempting to give her an identity and sense of meaning. I’m trying to help her see that she is loved no matter what she does or doesn’t do in life. I’m hoping that she will grow to rest in that love, and therefore, have the ability to love others. My desire is that she would grow up strong and courageous, that she would be a different kind of leader in the world, one who can listen well and put other people first.

That’s who I hope she’s becoming. And I know there’s no guarantee that my attempt to shape her identity will work. And if it does work, it will take a lifetime for her to understand it. I’m 35 years old and there are plenty of days that I seek to achieve an identity rather than receive one from God. I need continual reminders of who I am and I know she does too. That’s why we try to have that conversation every day.

So, what about you? What’s true about you? Who are you? And how are you going to live today?

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