Discipleship | Families | Leadership | Small Groups

This week I’m hanging out with my students in Orlando, Florida, at Universal Studios for their spring break. Last night, during one of our small group sessions, I had a group of senior high boys and we talked about the importance of living your life from the inside out and having an authentic witness. The guys were extremely open and honest about their struggles with their faith, families, and flesh. Most of the guys expressed their desire to do what was right and live wholehearted for God, but they just felt like being a Christian had too many rules and restrictions.

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Many commented that they really understand where Paul was coming from in Romans 7:19 when he said, “For the good that I want to do, I don’t do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want to do.”  But one guy, Derrick, who is normally very quiet and reserved raised his hand and without reservation or any pause said, “I hate church! I hate everything about it and I hate that my mom makes me go! The more she forces religion on me, the more I’m disgusted with it!”

The room goes completely silent and in unison everyone turns and looks at me, wondering what on earth am I going to say and how would I respond.

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I looked Derrick straight in the eyes and I told him, “I really don’t care that you hate religion because being religious is not going to help you spend eternity with Jesus; having a relationship with Jesus is what God desires!” There was another moment of silence.

Many of the guys didn’t understand that being religious and having a relationship with God was two different things. They thought they were one and the same. I quickly realized that the reason why many of our guys were seemingly disengaged in our youth group was because they hated what they thought religion stood for and how hypocritical religious church people seem.  When I shared with them my faith journey and the fact that as a teenager I had a lot of the same issues, struggles, and questions, the mood in the room changed. They moved from being disengaged to being extremely intrigued and interested.

I explained to them that Jesus did not die on the cross for us to be religious, but he died on the cross so that we can have a relationship with him and be a part of his family and spend eternity with him. I told them that it wasn’t about being perfect every day but about being open to him coming into their hearts and to allow his Spirit to lead, guide, and direct them. I shared with them that as a married man my wedding ring on my finger communicates to other people that I am in a covenant relationship with my wife—but just because I may take it off doesn’t mean that the covenant that I have with my wife is dissolved.

Suddenly, they began to understand that even though they may not look like a Christian every day; when they give their life to Christ and enter into a covenant relationship with him, God honors that decision for a lifetime! It was a great night! God truly moved…and Derrick began to change!

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