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Not far from my home is a large billboard showing the face of a man with a bright shiny smile. Two simple words are splashed alongside that perfect smile: “Want Braces?”

Each time I drive by that sign, I have to smile and reply, “No, not really.” Three of our four children had braces (one even twice) and yet none wanted them. They wanted straight teeth and a beautiful smile, but they did not want braces. I don’t really know anyone who wants the pain and trouble of braces. Most people only want the perfect smile.

That billboard made me laugh, but it also got me thinking about how so much of life is like braces. We want the benefit but not the pain. I would like to be trimmer and healthier, but I really do not want to eat less and exercise more. I’d love to speak Spanish but have no desire to study it. Like most people I know, I want the rewards but not the work.

It reminds me of my walk with God. I desire to be close to God but am often too busy for devotions. I want his presence in my life, but I don’t want to slow down and listen. My desire to be spiritually alive and vital can be outweighed by my desire to avoid hard work.

Recently, some of our denominational leaders were discussing healthy churches and what could be done to encourage and even help churches to become more like the church Luke describes in Acts 2. As I listened, I remembered that billboard. I realized that churches are much like us: they want the benefits of being healthy but not the work.

We all want to be caring, loving communities of faith, experiencing the presence and blessings of God. But we forget that the cost of being disciples is high—very high. How did Jesus put it? He said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26).

Those are tough words from a loving Savior. It seems to me that those words are Jesus’ way of saying, “Want braces?”

Does the Christian Reformed Church truly desire to be a church of Jesus’ disciples? I know we say that we do, but are we ready to pay the cost? Are we prepared for the pain?

I have been told that in North America many people are leaving the church. I can’t help but wonder if one reason is that the church has lost its edge. In our desire to make Christianity attractive, have we tried to make it easy? Being a Christian is not supposed to be easy. It is about being a servant. It is about sacrifice, the way of the cross.

If we want to share the bright, shining smile of God, then when Jesus asks, “Want braces?” we can only respond with a resounding “Yes!”

In this new year of 2008, I invite you to resolve with me to come to Jesus and be his disciple.

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