Friday, August 26, 2016

I want real, do you?

I loved my church growing up. Prayer nights, retreats, conventions, missions trips, local outreach events, bus rides, friendships.

After graduating high school I jumped right into Bible college with a heart wide open. I took it all in. Every last drop. Pulling all-nighters studying for tests, going out for coffee doing theology homework, outreaches to poverty stricken areas of Minneapolis, worship nights, chapels, spontaneous dance parties with girls in the dorm, thought provoking discussions about anything and everything, mission trips to Ghana, West Africa and a nine month mission internship to Cambodia. And then of course, falling in love with the man of my dreams right before graduation topped it off as perfection ;)

I married SuperDan six months after my college graduation and had already been working as an administrative assistant the minute that diploma hit my hand. I was ready to take on the "real world". After being married four months we felt called to take a ministry position as youth pastors and we moved over five hours away from our friends and college campus to start a new chapter in our lives.

It didn't hit me right away, but slowly I started to realize that "real life" was quite different than youth group and Bible college. First of all, I wasn't surrounded by hundreds of Jesus loving radical friends anymore. Loneliness was a strange feeling that I wasn't accustomed to. We were on a wonderful church staff and had an amazing congregation to share life with, but it just wasn't the same as the days of my youth.

All of a sudden instead of receiving the fun and training, we were the ones giving it. We were the ones in charge. So much responsibility was placed upon our shoulders. I was in charge of the youth group drama team and worship team. I preached once in a while and led a girls Bible study during the week. I helped SuperDan plan retreats and missions trips. He was my teammate and partner in ministry. All those years of being surrounded by hundreds of fellow teens and young people in my childhood church and Bible college started to fade into my distant memories. Where were all my buddies staying up until 5am playing on the worship team with me during the nights of prayer and worship on campus? Where were my fellow classmates who joined in on theology discussions deep into the night? Where were my teammates who served the Somali community in the heart of Minneapolis with me? Where were my closest friends to go out to coffee and laugh and giggle about college life together? We had all graduated and scattered across the globe. We all had our callings and purposes that God had lead us to fulfill. We weren't meant to stay huddled together forever.

I missed my youth group friends and college classmates. Real life wasn't as fun. Real life was hard. Real life was a bit mundane. And it was hard to swallow.

As I search the scriptures and study the life of the heroes of faith in the Bible and history over the years, I have started to realize that maybe my interpretation of Christianity was a bit skewed. I was so used to constant entertainment, fun, adventures, radical actions of faith, and deep Christian fellowship that I didn't know what life was like without it.

Instead of being filled up after attending college worship chapel, it was up to me to turn on the worship music in my living room and sing. Instead of being fed the word in theology class and Sunday services it was up to me to study the scriptures in depth on my own without someone to engage in discussion together. Instead of being in a room full of hundreds of young people my age I was now the leader in charge of teenagers longing for guidance and strength. Instead of coffee dates studying and laughing together with my roommate, I was taking students out for coffee asking them about their lives and offering my counsel and discipleship. Instead of walking into a classroom with fellow ministry minded friends, I was planning Bible studies and fun nights for teenage girls. Instead of praying with hundreds of other young people during prayer nights and chapels, I had SuperDan as my teammate and partner as we prayed together daily.

The days turned into months, and the months turned into years. SuperDan and I have crossed the ocean and back. Now here we are with three littles and are still in ministry together. Those memories of youth group and Bible college continue to bring a smile to my face. But those were different days. The past ten years of my life have been life-altering.

The real world was quite a shock and a bit of a slap in the face, I won't deny that. But on the other hand, it has given me a taste of what Christianity really looks like around the world.

Can you imagine what life is like for a persecuted Christian in a foreign country who has been thrown into jail? Maybe they've been there for weeks, or maybe they've been there for years. Maybe they are missing out on their children's lives and no longer have regular communication with other believers. I imagine most of them would not have access to a Bible or live worship music. I picture them on their knees in a dark, cold, damp prison cell singing a cappella praises to the Lord. I wonder if they struggle to share their faith with fellow prison mates (if they are allowed to see others) or their prison guards?

Can you imagine what life is like for the underground Christian in countries where Christianity is forbidden? They most likely have to share a Bible and possibly have the pages ripped out and distributed amongst themselves in case their houses are searched. They have to sing quietly and meet in small groups as to not draw attention to themselves from local police.

I wonder, sometimes, if we have painted the wrong picture for ourselves in the American church. We expect entertainment and a show, complete with pomp and circumstance to keep us engaged. We desire to be fed and blessed, week by week, without giving or sacrificing ourselves much at all. I am preaching to myself here, as I am slowly in the process of changing my viewpoint of church over the years.

Real life is hard. When you first get married and have kids you don't realize all the tasks and chores that will make up most of your time. Dishes need to be washed, floors need to be scrubbed, carpets need to be vacuumed, laundry needs to be folded, beds need to be made, dinners need to be cooked, cars need to be filled with gas, snowy driveways need to be shoveled, grass needs to be cut. Need I say more? Real life as an adult is quite different than life as a child. It all seemed so easy when we were younger. But we had no clue what real life consisted of. We had no idea how hard our parents worked to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads. Now that we are adults, we understand.

Real life isn't always glamorous. Yes, there are amazing times. There are fun times. There are moments so beautiful they take your breath away. But there are also hard times. Real life can be mundane. Tedious. Boring. Monotonous. Does that mean we jump out of a marriage or parenting role just because real life isn't as glamorous as we expected? Does that mean we give our kids away to someone else to raise because we are cleaning up way too much poop and pee than we previously thought?

I wonder.

Why do we expect church life to be any different than real life?

Yes, there are thrilling and amazing moments in church. God is such a mystery and we could never contain Him or put Him in a box. If we allow the Spirit to move, we never know how He will show up or what He has in store. But there are also sacred, quiet moments in church. Moments where we sing and pray but feel a holy stillness. Worship to the Lord is still worship no matter how many people are singing or how loud the music is.

Same with our personal devotion time reading the word and praying. We won't always feel goosebumps and hear God's voice speaking to our soul. We won't always have a revelation or cry tears of joy when we feel His presence.

Sometimes He feels silent and distant. Sometimes nothing out of the ordinary happens when we gather together with other believers. Sometimes there are miracles and healings and sometimes there are not.

Do we give up on church and meeting together with fellow believers just because it doesn't feel a certain way? Do you give up on your marriage, friends, or children just because some days are more mundane than others?

I wonder.

My youth pastor used to say when I was a teenager, "Discipline leads to desire." He taught us that if we didn't feel like going to church, reading our Bible, or praying, to do it anyway. He showed us to continue pushing through the hard, dry moments because eventually we will feel His presence and have the desire to hear His Word come alive through scripture and prayer.

Sometimes I don't feel like cleaning the kitchen or doing laundry, but I know my family depends on it. Sometimes I don't feel like cooking dinner or giving the children a bath, but I know my family depends on it.

Sometimes I don't feel like leading worship at church, but I know my church family depends on it. Sometimes I don't feel like coming to church, but I know my church family depends on it. Sometimes I don't feel like getting involved and planning events, but I know my church family depends on it. Sometimes I don't feel like opening up my heart and sharing the ups and downs of my life with others, but I know my church family depends on it.

Real life is real life, friends. And real church is real life. Sometimes we will have amazing, mountaintop experiences where we feel God moving in powerful ways. And sometimes we will have moments where we feel like we are just going through the motions and God is silent, but we continue anyway. God is always there. He never leaves us. Sometimes He speaks, sometimes He doesn't. Who are we to question the sovereignty of God? If we read the book of Job we see God giving quite the lecture to Job and his friends for questioning Him.

I'm afraid we have lost track of what church is meant to be.

It is not a place to be entertained and fed. It is a place to bring our gifts and our talents and our lives to bless and serve one another. It is a place to seek the Lord together and encourage one another in the faith. It is a time to challenge each other to go out and preach the gospel to all nations. It is a place to equip ourselves to go out into a lost and hurting world and share His truth with those who have yet to hear it.

Real life and real church. I want them both.

The ups, and the downs. I want them both.

The good times and the bad, I want them both.

The fabulous and the mundane, I want them both.

I want real.

Do you?

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