There was a time in the United States when Church membership and participation were expected. If you wanted to be a well respected part of your community, you were expected to join and be a part of a church in that community. It was a badge of honor to serve on a board or be a trustee. To be seen sitting in a pew with your family was to be seen as an upright and respectable member of society.
Those days are long gone. In the past few decades we have seen staggering statistics from well respected groups like the Barna Group tell us that church membership, attendance and giving are continuing to decline across our nation. We also see that traditional views on morality are growing farther and farther from what we would consider orthodox biblical truth.
Barna recently released new research that shows that our young people are leaving the church even more than in years past. In 2011 we found that 59% of Young Adults raised in church had left active participation in the faith; and now that number has risen to 64% nationwide.
All of this is bad, right? Well, maybe. In truth, some of those who USED to go to church were there for all the wrong reasons. They were there to be seen, to be recognized and to gain respect or influence. They may have been in the pew, but their heart wasn't really in it. Culture said church was important, even if the person couldn't have cared less.
Now, a time of pruning seems to have come. In John 15, Jesus used the analogy of a gardener who prunes back their vines in order to produce even more fruit in the future. To be sure, pruning is painful at the time. Cutting off parts of a vine that seem healthy in order to eventually gain in the long run seems risky; but it is the key to future growth. What isn't pruned will grow wild and unwieldy. Pruning, in the hands of an expert, is the prudent decision.
The American church is in a time of pruning. Those who were in it for the wrong reasons and leaving; and those who remain...while fewer in number, will be those who truly desire to stay.
Cultural Christianity as we know it may be dying; but true Christianity may just be getting ready for the harvest!
On Sunday, July 4, we will join together with several other area churches for a Community Worship Service at Biddle Park at 3 pm. I am very excited about this opportunity and have worked hard to organize this event because I believe that ultimately all churches who claim Jesus as Lord and the word of God as their source of authority are more united than we are divided.
I know that we disagree with other denominations on certain areas of doctrine and I know that we might baptize a little differently or take communion a little differently, and these are important topics; but they pale in comparison to the things that unite us...namely faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
So I hope you will join us on the 4th for this special service bringing together churches of various backgrounds into one worship service. Let's show our community that we are people of "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" as Paul explained in Ephesians 4:5. We are united in Christ!
In Jesus' name,
I was 8 years old when I first heard the "I'm Third" motto at summer camp. This simple idea revolutionized my life. They told me to put "God first, others second and yourself third."
At first my instinct was to push back. I thought, that means I'll be last! But this isn't true. Nobody is last if everyone is third. While I might put others ahead of myself, they put me ahead of themselves and we all end up second.
Once my cabinmates and I had fully accepted this idea, we sought to live third in lots of little ways. We all wanted to do the jobs where we could serve others. We wanted to set the table or clear the dishes at a meal. We wanted to feed the pigs in the minibarn or help collect the stray balls after tennis clinic. We were putting this idea of being third into practice.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul tells us to "do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves."
If a group of 8 year old boys can understand this concept, surely so can we. We must prioritize our lives so that God is first. God must be the center, must be the priority and we must learn to live in such a way that God and His Kingdom are not an afterthought; but our deepest desire.
Then we must put others next. We must humble ourselves so that our naturally born selfishness is starved out and our inner compassion is brought forward.
Finally, we are third. You may also push back and worry that this means you, and your desires will be last; but this isn't true. God loves you deeply and has already shown his great love to you countless times. Others, especially in our church community, care for you and will work to help you if you let them.
I pray you will learn to live third. It changed my life.
As a slightly rebellious teenager I used to play little jokes on people, just for fun. For example, I used to shout out in a crowded place "Hey, you with the shoes" and see who would turn around (because they were all wearing shoes). I thought I was pretty funny.
Jesus often uses a phrase that we also find in the book of Revelation, "He who has ears to hear" (Matthew 11:15 and many others). On the surface, this is a strange statement because most people have ears (with the unfortunate exception of the guy who had his ear cut off by Peter (Matthew 26:51)...but don't worry, Jesus healed his ear. Why would Jesus say this?
Well, it doesn't really have anything to do with if you have ears, it's more of a question of are you listening? Are you paying attention? I have ears and good hearing, but sometimes, if I am watching football, I don't hear what my wife is saying. I am not paying attention, not focused on what she said.
Jesus is asking, are you paying attention? In Revelation 2-3, the scriptures that we are studying in our current series "The Seven," the phrase "He who has ears to hear" is used over and over by John. He wonders, are we paying attention? Are we focused on what the Spirit has to say? God is speaking, but are we really listening?
So turn up those hearing aids and focus in...the Spirit is speaking.