#liveitup

Hashtags are an interesting way to view the human psyche.  In a moment of life what would a person consider worth saying #liveitup about?  I researched this question via twitter last week and found some interesting posts.

The most common post was about birthdays which makes sense.  However, another common post to #liveitup, was about someone’s death.  Remembering people in birth and death remind us of the same thing it seems…#liveitup.  Other posts were about food and vacations.  The last common post were life quotes.  I found these interesting because I found them to be terrible life quotes that made no sense.  “Time Move Fast Life Don’t” or “Things do not happen because of change.  Change happens because of things.”  #liveitup.  Not sure these are going to help you #liveitup, but it is a view into the human psyche about what it means to #liveitup.

I did find it interesting that I was at least 100 tweets into my research before I found one that had anything to do with God or forgiveness or grace.  Nothing of any spiritual depth in the #liveitup discussion.  Even when I did find God in the discussion, the thoughts were not that deep or accurate.

All of this to ask you, what do you think about when you consider what it means to #liveitup?  What does that mean to you?  Would it be about birthdays and restaurants or would it be deeper than that?

I challenge you to consider the prophecy concerning Jesus from Isaiah 61.  Jesus reads the prophecy in Nazareth and declares it fulfilled in their hearing.  Jesus claims to be the fulfillment of the prophecy that he is the one that will bind up the brokenhearted, give liberty to the captive, bring good news to the poor, and open the prison of those in bondage.  These truths found in Isaiah 61:1-4 are rich in truth.

A person who will #liveitup does more than know the promises they haveThey have the promises they know.  There is a big difference between knowing a promise and having it.  The difference is well articulated in Isaiah 61:10-11 as the prophecy turns to the words of the brokenhearted whose hearts are mended, the captive who is liberated, and poor that have heard the good news.  These people greatly rejoice in the Lord and their souls exult in their God.  They are clothed in garments of salvation and they gladly wear the robe of his righteousness.  They know the promises of God and they have them in their life.

Being freed is a gift.  Living free is a choice.

If you are going to #liveitup you must accept the reality of God’s great gift of love and grace and gladly #liveitup.  The gift has been given.  He has paid the price for your soul so that it will exult him.  He has paid the price of your unrighteousness so that you might wear that robe of righteousness.

The question is, “will you?”  You must choose it.  Each of us must choose this great hope on our first day.  Our first day of faith.  The day where we come to grips with what Jesus has done for us (if you want to consider this read Isaiah 53).  The day we confess that Jesus is Lord.  The day we choose Christ Himself.  We choose it the first day but then we must choose it every day.  Every day we must choose to live God’s grace fresh and new.  We must choose to exult him with our soul and to greatly rejoice in the Lord.  We must choose to gratefully wear the garment of salvation and robe of righteousness.

I challenge you to #liveitup.  Live this grace of God boldly and proudly.  Live it gratefully and graciously.  But live it.  And #liveitup!

Racing from Mardi Gras to Good Friday

mambo medal

Mardi Gras is intended to mark the start of journey towards Easter.  How did a cheap medal cost me so much and how did a journey help me overcome some unhealthy comparisons in life?  I’d like to share a part of my race in hopes that it will encourage you to run yours.  Before you bow out because you don’t like running or you’re not in the mood for a physical accomplishment, just come along for the run to be amused a little at my expense.

I signed-up for Mardi Gras Mambo as motivation to get in shape.  In reality I knew if I spent some money to race I would not waste-it by backing out.  Insuring I didn’t back down worked, motivating myself to train for the race did not.  Prior to race day I had run a few miles, but nothing close to a 10K.  Mildly irritated at my failure to train I chose the console myself with a simple goal of completing the entire 6.4 miles without walking.  Apparently the way these races work is to line at the start in pace groups, groups of people that can run a particular speed for the entirety of the race.  I found my group and began to get a little excited; I felt good and the people around me were full of energy.  My goal for the day was simple; start at pace I could handle and finish at the same speed.  My mind was filled with, “I can do this!”  just about the time the race announcer started a countdown.  The pace group behind me got excited and began to cheer.  Their excitement drew me in so I turn around to enjoy the moment only to stare down their pace group sign.

starthere

I was proud every time I told people I was running in a 10K and I was proud 10 seconds earlier for pushing myself to do something bigger than I had ever done.  However, when I saw the sign “All Walkers Start Here”, nothing about my run seemed very spectacular.  It was sad to line up in the 12 min/mile group where I thought I could be successful and it no longer felt good enough.  But, I gave myself a pep talk and a quick reminder that the goal of the day was simple, finish at the pace I started.  I was ready to conquer the course again and it was time to move on.  It was a cool day and I moved along with my group well.  In fact I even passed a few people who had started in the groups ahead.  My world was once again right.

Let me break in here with a little history.  One of my lifelong disappointments has been not finishing well.  Whether it was starting a school project that I did not leave myself enough time to finish, tiring out in the fourth quarter of a football game, not following through with the details of a work project or not following through with disciplines that will help me grow spiritually; I struggle to finish well.  In some ways I was running the race to overcome my struggle.

Back to the race.  Around mile four I was very tired when God and I began a conversation, prayer, about wanting to finish well.  If you have ever had a good conversation with God you know it can be a quite an energizing experience.  Quickly my mind was filled with, “I can do this!” In fact I was running a few seconds faster than my target pace when out of nowhere this happened.

stroller

In fact it happened twice.  Two moms passed me pushing strollers and just chatting about how nice it was to be out on an easy jog.  Defeated; what I was aiming to accomplish felt insignificant and the pain in my legs no longer seemed worth the effort.  I did the only thing I knew.  I hung my head, stared at the ground and tried like never before to forget that anyone else was running this race but me.  In that moment I believe God helped me focus on my race and avoid comparing it to the one set out for anyone else.

Paul encouraged the Philippian church to run the race of life like this, “…But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way…” [Philippians 3:13-15]

I finished the Mardi Gras Mambo, and this Good Friday I am incredibly thankful that the God-man Jesus Christ ran the race marked out for Him.  It is Jesus’ willful obedience to pay the highest cost that gives us each and eternal goal to cling to this Friday.  That cheap medal hanging on my wall cost me my pride, but it is a marker on a day that I matured a little in my thinking.  I may not be able to run as fast or as far as others, but today I am a little better at keeping my head down and running my race; straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God.

A Kingdom Without A King?

The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:6-9, ESV)

What a scene, huh? Jesus of Nazareth was in town– and boy, were people ever excited to see Him. Many had likely heard of Him- His authoritative teaching, His stunning miracles, His incredible ability to confound His opponents with unrivaled wisdom- but for many gathered here, this was their first glimpse at the man who was turning all of Israel upside down. The anticipation in the air- What would He say? What would He do? What was in store?- was undoubtedly palpable.

Imagine, then, how shocking it must have been that just days later, not far from road on which Jesus entered Jerusalem so triumphantly, that the same rabid crowds would gather again- but this time, with a very different message. From “Glory to God in the highest” to “crucify Him- and give us a murderer instead,” it was a steep and stunning fall. So what happened? Why the sharp, dramatic shift in tone? And what does this all have to do with us today?

To understand the context of the first Easter, a brief history lesson is in order. The Israelites of Jesus’ day were an oppressed people. Far from their glory days under Kings David and Solomon in the Old Testament, they were now occupied and overruled, subjects of the hated Roman Empire. As you might imagine, this was far from a popular situation. The Israelites wanted the pagan Romans out– and as quickly as possible. They were looking for someone to bring their nation, their people, back to the days of old.

This insatiable desire led them to read their Scripture- the Old Testament Law and Prophets, at that point- through a very specific lens. When they read the countless, breathless promises of a coming King, a long expected Deliverer, many had a particular kind of King in mind- one who would, once and for all, throw off the wrongful rule of the Romans and re-establish Israel as God’s chosen, blessed people. They were after a Kingdom all right- their Kingdom.

When Jesus burst onto the scene, it seemed the wait was over. He seemed to be the man– the answer to all their prayers, the fulfillment of all God’s promises. This is what they were celebrating in unfettered exuberance on that roadside in Jerusalem. Quickly, though, they realized that Jesus had not come to free them from their human oppressors, but instead from something much deeper, and much more oppressive- their own sinfulness, their own bent to enthrone and worship themselves instead of God.

And so, they turned on Jesus- they turned hard. Egged on by the jealous and hostile religious leaders of the day, the people angrily condemned Jesus to die. How dare He tell us that the problem isn’t the Romans, but us?! They wanted Jesus on their terms, and when they couldn’t have Him like that, they didn’t want Him at all. They wanted the Kingdom without the one rightful King.

But lest we be too quick to judge those who have come before us, we must recognize that 2,000+ years later, we are tempted in precisely the same way as the ancient Israelites. We, too, have certain expectations of Jesus, and of the “kingdom” that He will bring us. He don’t necessarily talk about it in expressly political terms. Instead, we focus on modern concepts like “inner peace” or a “sense of purpose.” In our more crass (but probably honest) moments, we look to Jesus to make us healthy, wealthy, successful, and as comfortable as possible. Honestly, that all sounds great to us- because most of us see our current circumstances as the greatest problem we face. And if Jesus can lay a divine smackdown on that, we’re all in with Him. “Glory to God in the highest”…right?

Jesus, though, isn’t all that interested in fulfilling our “American dream,” our 21st century self-fulfillment fantasy. While many of the things we look to Jesus to do are well within His reach- and often are byproducts of a right relationship with Him (that sense of peace and purpose, for example)- we will never find the Kingdom which He came to bring until we look for it in the Person of the King. In our zeal for everything Jesus can do for us, we are prone to do the same thing that the Israelites did long ago- that is, to miss the greatest Treasure of all. But Jesus won’t be co-opted for our personal gain. He won’t allow us to turn Him into something He was never intended to be. He loves us far too much to allow us to sell Him that far short.

As we walk through this Passion Week and look ahead toward Easter, ask yourself this probing question- Are you seeking a Kingdom without a King? Are you more interested in and allured by what Jesus can accomplish in your circumstances than you are in what He can do in your soul? Do the Cross and empty tomb ring hollow to you- or at least more hollow than a bigger bank account or a less stressful situation at home or work? It isn’t that Jesus doesn’t care anything about these things; it’s simply that He desires more than you than what you can see right in front of you. As one of His closest followers records in Matthew 6:33, it is only when “Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness” that “all these things will be added unto us.” So what are you “seeking first”- the Kingdom, or the King?

I have something I need to tell you.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. [Romans 8: 1-2]

Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. [Hebrews 10:22]

My son Isaac (almost 6 years old) has some qualities I envy. He is very, very honest. But not the kind of “kid honesty” that demoralizes people- like many kids have. “Dad, you look and smell funny.” Not that kind of honesty.

Ike2
This kid is honest about himself. About his own failures. He admits his faults. When he and his brothers do something he knows is wrong, he actually comes to me and lets me know. Meanwhile, my other boys are running for their lives, jumping fences into neighbors’ yards, trying to camouflage themselves with sticks, mud & debris.

But Isaac? I don’t even have to stumble upon the mess he has made. He comes to me.

This trait of his definitely benefits me. It keeps me from losing my temper. But even more, this trait of his benefits him. His admission of guilt magnifies my love for him and keeps him from shame (but not discipline- that’s another blog post).

Here is what God is teaching me through my boy He has entrusted to me: God deeply desire us to come to Him with our failures. Too often we wait until we’ve been “found out.”

We are guilty, but we need not be ashamed.

You see, shame is not the same as guilt. Guilt says, “What you did was bad.” Shame says, “What you did was bad, so you must be a bad person.”

Shame is not the same as regret. Regret says, “If I could go back and do things differently, I’d do this … or that.” Shame says, “I’ll never get it right. I’m a failure.”

Guilt is connected to our behavior, while shame is connected to our identity. While guilt draws us toward God, shame sends us away from God.

God cares about what you do. He does. But remember this: what you do doesn’t determine who you are. Who you are determines what you do. And God is at war for your heart first, because therein lies who you are.

You are not defined by your feelings. You are not defined by the opinions of others. You are not defined by your circumstances. You are not defined by your successes. You are not defined by the car you drive, or the money you make, or the house you own.

And you most definitely aren’t defined by your failures. You are defined by our Father who is rich in mercy and slow to anger. You are defined by Jesus and everything He’s done for you. You are defined by the powerful Holy Spirit that lives in you.

So, child of God, run to Him with your guilt. Don’t run away from Him in shame. Don’t run from the church in shame. He is faithful and just to forgive you. He will remind you who you are. And only then can you do what He desires for you to do.

The Dishonor of Non-Honor

Honor is a big deal in the Bible.

It is the first command with a promise.  “Honor your father and mother and your days will be long upon the face of the Earth.”

It is the New Testament ethic for love in relationships.  “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.”

It is the Heavenly declaration of worship.  “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”

The Parable of the Talents is one of the most pointed and clear teachings of Jesus on honor.  (Matthew 25:14-30)  The story is a description of the Kingdom of Heaven.  The master or owner leaves his servants (or stewards) in charge of his property while on a journey.  The master fully entrusts them to honor him with what he leaves them and fully expects them to honor what they are given by investing it wisely.  Two servants were faithful with what they were given and doubled their master’s investments.  One buried his and did nothing with it. The first two are greatly rewarded.  The latter is stripped of what he has and is cast out in the deep darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.

We often pass over the first two and focus only on the latter.  These two were rewarded, greatly.  They were rewarded with living in the joy of their master, not under indebtedness to their master.  The reward was worth whatever sacrifice they had made.  No one knows what choices they had made along the way to sacrifice for the honor of the master, yet they had also benefited from this profit.  It had provided for them all along, yet they chose to not misuse the trust given them but to honor the master with diligent investment.  The master provided both current provision and eternal reward, for those who honored him.

We typically focus on the servant who does not wisely invest his talent.  This man hides it.  He protects himself instead of honoring his master.  Oddly enough, if we treat the parable with integrity, what exactly does he do that dishonors the master?  He gives him back exactly what he gave him.  He did not lose one penny (or drachma).  The master received back in full everything he gave this servant, yet he considered him wicked and lazy.  Why?

When the servant chose to not honor the master he actually chose to dishonor the master.  Non-honor is dishonor.  We, too often, believe that living a life in which God is not dishonored is the same thing as living a life that brings God honor.  It is not.

This servant not only lost out on the reward, he had already lost out on the blessings.  He knew no blessings of his master.  The other servants had lived well off of the provision found out of the faithful stewardship of what the master blessed them with.  The wicked servant used his own provision and survived.  He not only missed out on the reward at the end, he missed out on the provision along the way.  So do we.

Did God give you the talent (musical, artistic, speaking, sports, etc.) he gave you simply so you would not dishonor him with it or so that you would honor him with it?

Did God bless you with that annual salary so you could not dishonor him with it or so you could honor him with it?

Did God give you a spouse so you could not dishonor him/her or so you could honor him/her?

Did God give you the gift to teach or of hospitality so you could use it for purposes that do not dishonor Him or so that you could honor him?

Honor is the answer.  Stop giving the minimum you think is allowable and pretending that is honor.  Honor requires others before you and above you.

You honor God with everything or your honor him with nothing.

Leading like Jesus – How to Handle Difficult People without Giving Up

Leadership is a tricky thing. If this weren’t so, then bookstores would be much more spacious, having eliminated the need for so many tricks, tips, techniques and disciplines toward being a good leader or observing how good leaders operate. If leadership of paid employees is daunting, leadership of volunteers might seem, at times, impossible. Within the church, this leadership issue is complicated by a multifaceted objective to accomplish the mission, meet volunteers where they are and help them grow spiritually, and maintain a level of excellence that reflects well on the church and the worthiness of the work. So often, after so many disappointments, so many invitations, so many opportunities, and so much frustration, a Christian leader will yield to the temptation to just give up on a fellow follower of Jesus. “They shouldn’t still be on spiritual milk,” that leader might say. “Jesus shook the dust off of his sandals when people refused to respond.” These are true, but let’s take a closer look at how Jesus really handled difficult volunteers – Peter, Thomas, and Judas.

Peter – the “all in, then nowhere to be found” guy

Jesus had many followers, but only three were in his inner group. One of those three, Simon Peter, was quite the character. You’ve probably seen this guy in your ministry. Once he trusted in Jesus, the rest of the world better look out. Not afraid to speak up. Not afraid to jump out of the boat and walk on water. Not afraid to pull a sword against soldiers to defend Jesus. The first to clearly confess that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. The one to stand at Pentacost and preach a sermon to which thousands would respond. It’s easy to see that Peter was a valuable asset to the Kingdom.

But valuable and easy are two different things. Though Peter was faithful and brazen enough to jump out of the boat and go to Jesus on the sea, he wasn’t consistent enough to make it all the way to Jesus without doubting, sinking, and needing physical salvation. Not afraid to pull a sword against soldiers, but not consistent enough to admit to being a Jesus follower among commoners – even a servant girl. Bold enough to preach salvation to all of the people at Pentecost from all of their respective nations, but not consistent enough to eat the same foods with Jews that he would eat with Gentiles. Peter, at times, was all over the map.

So how did Jesus handle Peter? He pulled him in close. He entrusted his most important explanations of his most important teachings to him. He did grab his hand in the water. He didn’t just forgive Peter of his denials, He renewed His calling for Peter to feed Jesus’ sheep – to be the minister Jesus had prepared him to be. After this, Peter saw it a privilege to be beaten for Jesus’ sake.

How can we lead the all-in, all-out person like Jesus did? Pull him in closer. Give her more responsibility. Help him understand how crucial to the mission he is. Most importantly, let her fail and be ready to restore and re-engage.

Thomas – the “I’m in, but I’ve got some issues” guy

Poor Thomas. He gave up everything to follow Jesus, yet we still call him “Doubting Thomas.” That said, he did have some issues worth noting. In John 11, when Jesus heard about Lazarus’ illness, His disciples warned Him not to go back because the Jews would stone Him. But Jesus was set on returning to raise Lazarus from the dead. At this point, Thomas says something interesting: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” Did Thomas mean, let us go with Jesus that we may be stoned with Jesus? That would have been a brave, loyal thing to say. Or did he say with reluctance, let us go that we may die just like Lazarus is dead? Though one seems more courageous than the other, neither speaks of the confidence that should be present in the presence of Jesus. Jesus didn’t say anything about dying – Thomas came up with that himself.

In John 14, Jesus says that He’s going to prepare a place for His disciples and that they know the way to where He’s going. Leave it to Thomas to pipe in, “We don’t know where you’re going, so how are we supposed to know the way?” And most famously, in John 20, Jesus appears to the disciples but Thomas isn’t there at the time. So what is Thomas’ reaction when the others – his closest friends – tell him the great news? “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” (v.25 ESV)

How did Jesus handle the guy that always seemed to have a question – an issue? He appeared again to his disciples when Thomas was present. “Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” (v.27,28 ESV)

So how did Jesus handle Thomas? He gave him more evidence than the others. Did Thomas deserve the right to actually touch Jesus’ hands and side? No, the others apparently believed without this level of verification. But we can see from later accounts that Thomas continued in his belief hereafter.

How do we handle genuine doubters and people that have legitimate issues with plans? Give them more information – not because they deserve it, but because they are valuable in the mission and you truly want them onboard. Go out of your way to meet with them one-on-one if this might help them resolve their doubts and go all-in on the mission moving forward.

Judas – the “I’m in, but not really” guy

Jesus only picked twelve guys to closely lead during His limited ministry here on earth. One of those twelve guys was named Judas Iscariot. He was the money-handler for the disciples – a trustee, so to speak. But physically following Jesus and managing the money are as far as we can go with praise of Judas. Judas was a thief even before his famous betrayal of Jesus. When Mary was “wasting” expensive oil on Jesus’ feet, Judas protested and it was noted that he was a thief and helped himself to what was in the money bag. Of course, Judas later betrayed Jesus to the Jewish High Priest for 30 pieces of silver.

Though Judas’ story is familiar, we still might learn from how Jesus dealt with him. Judas was a regular participant. Judas had responsibilities and importance. Of the hundreds who followed Jesus, Judas was counted among the twelve. But Jesus was not fooled and does not hesitate to be straightforward with Judas. When Judas protested Mary’s use of oil, Jesus told Judas to leave her alone (Jn. 12:7). During the Lord’s Supper, when the devil had already put it in Judas’ heart to betray Jesus, Jesus identified him as a betrayer and told him to quickly do what he was going to do (Jn. 13:27). Jesus didn’t beat around the bush with Judas. Judas followed Jesus but wasn’t a Jesus follower. He heard Jesus’ teaching, but didn’t trust in or act according to Jesus teachings. Judas was in, but not really.

Jesus spoke to Judas bluntly. He did not treat Judas as one of His children (Jn. 13:18). He didn’t refuse Judas’ presence, but He also didn’t assume Judas’ devotion. Judas was counted among the number of Jesus’ disciples without really being Jesus’ disciple – one who learns from a teacher.

The Judas guy can be dangerous – to the point of death in Jesus’ case. But the Judas guy has no real power. Even Judas’ treachery led directly to the most spectacular exhibition of God’s glory on earth. We must pray that Judas guy is really Saul guy – a very religious unbeliever who is changed by God and used for his whole life. But we must not ignore the spiritual deadness or fail to speak honestly about what we see.

Even as I write this blog, I am encouraged by Jesus’ treatment of difficult personalities. The reason I’m so encouraged is because the majority of my frustration comes from Peter and Thomas people – who both proved to be fruitful in ministry. This helps me realize that if I’m a little less Peter-like in my patience with them, God can grow us both!

 

Image By Tabitha Kaylee Hawk [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The First, Most Important Question You Should Ask About Your Church

It was August 2002, on the high plains of Waco, Texas. I was 18 years old, a freshman at Baylor University, and 500 miles from my all-my-life home of South Louisiana. I still have vivid memories of saying goodbye to my parents as they got in the car and left me, for the first time, on my own with the responsibility to make some substantial choices for myself.

Those choices and questions were obviously many, but one that still stands out starkly in my mind is this- Where and how do I find a good church? And what do I do when I get there? For every day of my 18+ years up to that point, that wasn’t a choice I had to make or a question I had to answer. I simply went with Mom and Dad- Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, Wednesday evenings too, with the occasional extra opportunity thrown in too. Yes, we were one of those families, and despite what you may have heard about those families, my experience was fantastic- and incredibly formational to who I am today. I wouldn’t trade what my parents taught and modeled when it comes to the value of the local church in the life of a Jesus follower for anything.

But back in Waco, in those fading summer days of 2002, I didn’t have anyone to answer my question for me. I had to go out and find what I was looking for. To make a not-that-long-anyway story even shorter, it didn’t take me long to connect to a great church with a great community of Jesus-loving college students and adult leaders. Over the next four years, the people I met there would invite me, encourage me, challenge me, and occasionally make me uncomfortable (in the best way) as they sought to spur me on in my now-adult faith in Jesus. The experience was invaluable.

Now, as a pastor, I’m on the other side, encountering many people on a day-to-day basis who are asking the same questions I was- Where can I find a good church? And what am I supposed to do when I get there? And unfortunately, I’m concerned in far too many cases- not only for first timers, but also for “long timers”- the first question people are asking to “filter” their choices regarding the local church is setting them up for failure before they even begin.

This question is one of enjoyment, generally phrased like this- How much do I enjoy it? On the surface, this doesn’t seem like a bad question to ask; it actually seems pretty wise to consider. And to be fair, it is a question that has its place. Certainly no one is out looking for a church family which they find to be lifeless, meaningless, and miserable. But beneath the surface of this seemingly innocuous approach lies a mindset that can often undermine the place of the local church in our lives- and our joy in being a part of her.

Here’s what I mean- Often, we interact with the local church much like we interact with our favorite restaurant. We like the “menu” (e.g. preaching, music, kids’ programs); we appreciate the quality service; we get to know the other “regulars”; we even have our favorite places to sit! If any of these variables were to change in our favorite restaurant- say, they took our favorite item off the menu, or our favorite server found a job elsewhere- we would likely just find another place to eat. Substitute “restaurant” with grocery store, salon, gym, etc, and you have a pretty accurate picture of how we function in a consumer-centered culture.

So what’s the problem, then, and how does this impact our view of the church? Breathing the air of our consumer culture, we very naturally- almost unthinkingly- ask the church to treat us as our favorite restaurant does. “Keep my favorite items on the menu.” “Make sure the service is always up to par.” “Don’t let anyone else sit in ‘my seat’!” You get the idea. And when the first, most important question we ask of the church has everything to do with our enjoyment, we quickly become disillusioned by things- and people– that fail to meet our expectations (which they always, eventually, inevitably will). And because we are so accustomed to responding to such disappointments by just filling in that “gap” with some other seemingly promising alternative, we jump from church to church to church- and in some cases, tragically and most destructively, to no local church at all. And in the end, it is our soul that suffers the loss.

I’m more and more convinced that we need to shift our first question- from one of enjoyment, to one of engagement. Rather than asking first, How much do I enjoy it?, we ought to consider, How much can I engage? Rather than approaching with a consumer mindset- which almost always eventually becomes a critical mindset- we should approach the church with the perspective of a contributor. That doesn’t mean that sound, biblical preaching (or quality ministry to kids and students, or compelling opportunities to worship, grow, etc) aren’t important; it simply means that rather than expending our energy pointing out all the church’s problems, we commit to rolling up our sleeves with our brothers and sisters in Jesus to become an integral part of the solution. Rather than backing away from these tensions, we choose to lean in, taking our place in the “body of Christ,” as 1 Corinthians 12 calls it, or the “household of God,” as it is defined in Ephesians 2.

In your favorite restaurant, or grocery store, or salon, or gym, you likely don’t have that opportunity- or that responsibility. But in the local church, you undeniably, absolutely do. Enjoyment isn’t a bad thing, but it is never enough; God has put us together for far more than just that. Examine your heart today; ask God to show you how have applied consumeristic standards to your life in the local church; and consider what it would look like to ask that first, most important question instead- How can I engage?

Returning to Waco one last time, the truth is, I didn’t really know what I was doing when I looked for a church for the first time. I knew it was important, but I didn’t really know how important. I knew it could be beneficial, but I didn’t really know how beneficial. It was only by God’s grace that He connected me quickly to people who would invite me to walk with them as they walked with Jesus and taught me how to do the same in a brand new season of my life. They invited me to do more than enjoy the church; they invited and challenged me to engage. I invite you now to do the same.