Friday, June 25, 2010
Young adults are flocking to mega-churches by the mega thousands. Many medium and smaller churches that surround mega-churches feel the drain as more and more of their young families slip away to the "big" church down the street. This is incredibly frustrating to surrounding churches. Some fear that mega-churches will eventually be all that we have left as young adults continue to flock to them. Will the success of mega-churches lead to the downfall of evangelicalism as we know it in America?
Recently a young man started attending our church in Vermont and he has given me a new perspective on the role of the mega-church in the life of American Evangelicalism. He has only been a believer for 18 months. He came to know Christ in a mega-church in Michigan. What appealed to him about the mega-church that he attended in Michigan was that he could slip in a side door and sit anonymously in the back without any pressure. No one knew his name. No one asked him to do anything. He could come when he wanted and not show up if he was busy. He described it as the "perfect way to listen to the Gospel and come to faith in Christ."
But after a while, some of the same things that seemed so perfect at first, seemed less perfect after a longer period of time. After awhile, it bothered him that no one knew his name or spoke to him or missed him when he was not there. In short, once he came to faith in Christ, he desired more than the mega-church could give him.
Just as he began to search for a more meaningful walk with Christ, he ended up moving to Vermont to finish his college education. He visited a number of churches in his town, each week with a growing sense of frustration. In one church he said they never talked about God a single time during the entire service. He said another church was worse than that. I can't quite imagine what is worse than a church that doesn't talk about God, but apparently such a thing exists somewhere in Central Vermont! He then heard from a friend that there was a Gospel preaching church down the road from us. He drove over to our town on a Sunday morning intending to visit that church, and through an odd situation, ended up at our church instead. Though our church is but a fraction of the size of the mega-church he attended in Michigan, he instantly fell in love with it.
What made him fall in love with a small church like ours? People talked to him. People asked him his name. People invited him to sit with them. The music was good, maybe not mega-church quality, but better than most small churches, and the sermon was an in depth explanation of scripture which included lots of practical ways to apply the scripture to daily life. And when he missed coming one weekend because he had a big project at school, several people noticed and reached out to him. That really made him feel special because so few of them had known him for very long.
In short, the very thing that made the mega-church attractive to him before he was a Christian became less attractive to him once he came to know Christ and began to grow in his faith. For a long time the conventional wisdom has been that smaller churches are "feeder" churches for larger churches around them. That may be true. But perhaps as time goes by, mega-churches will become feeder churches for the smaller congregations around them. That clearly has not happened yet. But as people realize they need a real sense of community which is difficult to find in a mega-church, perhaps they will begin to look with longing toward the smaller churches that exist in their community. Instead of being frustrated with mega-churches, maybe we should pray for them to be so successful in reaching young adults that they are overflowing their capacity and that those young adults will desire to move to a church that will know their name.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
This morning I was reading Exodus 5 as part of my devotional time. That passage tells the story of how Moses and Aaron went to the King of Egypt to ask him to let God's people go worship for three days in the desert. In verse two, Pharaoh responded, "Who is the Lord that I should obey Him by letting Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and what's more, I will not let Israel go." I was struck by both the honesty and the bluntness of Pharaoh's response. I could not help but relate his response to similar responses I have heard from young adults in post-Christian America.
At first glance one might want to commend Pharaoh for his honesty regarding his thoughts about God. He did not follow God. He did not pretend to know the Lord. Nor did he give lip service to a faith that had no meaning to him. Knowing what one believes about God is important for a variety of practical and spiritual reasons. Many non-religious young adults in America today have formed very strong opinions about God. Like Pharaoh, they are quite blunt in sharing their opinions with others. They do not believe in God. They have no intention of "obeying" Him. They refuse to give lip service to a faith that means nothing to them. They are to be commended for not being fake in their approach to faith.
However, upon deeper contemplation, one wonders why Pharaoh did not want to know something about this God that Moses and Aaron followed. After all, Pharaoh's people had cruelly enslaved the Israelites and attempted to crush them as a people, yet God had blessed the Israelites anyway. Every effort the Egyptians made to crush the Israelites only resulted in the Israelites become stronger and more populous. The miracles and provision of God for the Israelites had been ongoing for over 400 years at the time this scripture was written. Such things were accepted historical facts in that era. Moses himself was a testament of how God used circumstances and people to change the course of a person's life. One would think that Pharaoh would see all those clear signs of God's existence and perhaps at least ask Moses and Aaron some questions about this God that he did not follow.
Just as Pharaoh failed to see clear signs from God, many non-religious young Americans have likewise missed what God is doing in the world around them. They have become so narrow minded in their efforts to remove God from their lives, that they can no longer think rationally about the many "God-moments" that happen around them all the time. They want to explain them away as coincidence, or psychosis, or some other human explanation. But the supernatural cannot be explained using human reasoning. That is why it is called supernatural.
Pharaoh's refusal to even consider the facts led to his heart becoming hard. His hard heart led to a significant downfall in his own life and in his nation. Non-religious young adults in America might want to take note of that. They should attempt to be more broad minded in their thinking and consider the possibility that all the "God-moments" happening around them may actually be from God. And if God exists, perhaps they should take time to get to know Him.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
History of Father's Day
- Father's Day was first suggested by Sonora Dodd in 1910 in Spokane,
- Her father raised her alone because her mother had died when she was young.
- When others were celebrating Mother's Day, she could not take part since she did not have a mother.
- She wanted a similar event to honor fathers so she could express
her deep love to the father who worked so hard to raise her alone.
- She originally planned to celebrate the day on June 6 but the ministers in town who had agreed to help her with the project needed extra time to prepare special Father's Day sermons so they selected the 3rd Sunday of June.
- We still celebrate Father's Day on the third Sunday of June each year.
- Mrs. Dodd died in 1978 but was pleased that Father's Day had become a national celebration before her death.
Modern fatherhood is in trouble.
- The American family is falling apart.
- The divorce rate is approaching 50%
- 1/3 of all children in the U.S. live in homes without a father
- A growing number of children have no meaningful relationship with their father at all
- Children, especially boys, who do not have a good male role model have a higher risk for engaging in a number of self-destructive behaviors.
- The breakdown of the American family and the collapse of fatherhood in our culture carries over into the spiritual realm as well.
- Children, especially boys, who live in a home where the father does not attend church, are significantly less likely to attend church themselves as adults.
- Children who did not bond well with their earthly father have significantly more difficulty accepting the concept of a loving Heavenly Father.
- Children abused by a male have almost overwhelming difficulties accepting the love of a Heavenly Father.
- As difficult as it may be for some to accept, there is a Heavenly Father who does care about us and has a wonderful plan for our lives.
Psalm 40:5 - LORD my God, You have done many things— Your wonderful works and Your plans for us; none can compare with You. If I were to report and speak of them, they are more than can be told.
- Our earthly father may not have been all that we wanted him to be, but our Heavenly Father has big plans for us.
- We may wonder where God is when we go through difficult times in life.
- God is working behind the scenes in unexpected ways.
- It is often hard to see God at work in the midst of our pain, but He is there and He is working.
- When we look back later, we often see His hand more clearly than when we were going through the experience itself.
John 1:12-13 - But to all who did receive Him, He gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.
- Though all people are God's children in a general sense, some people have trusted Christ as Savior and developed a personal relationship with God.
- The people who develop this relationship are REALLY the children of God.
- Those who receive God as Father are given the RIGHT to be called his children.
- Though God wants everyone to accept His fatherhood, many will reject Him.
- We accept the fatherhood of God through a relationship with His Son Jesus Christ.
- Those who receive His fatherhood become his special children and discover a relationship with the ultimate father figure in the universe.
- Regardless of our relationship with our earthly father, God wants to fill the void in our lives as our Heavenly Father.
- We may feel that we are unworthy to be one of God's special children.
- Notice the passage says that we become His children because He desires it, not because we deserve it.
- God looked at all the billions of people on this planet and chose us to have a personal relationship with.
- Because God chose us, He did something inside of us to open our hearts and minds so we can come to know Him.
- Have we responded to the call of God and embraced Him as our Heavenly Father?
- If not, we should make Him our Father on this Father's Day by repenting of our sins and placing our faith in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
Joshua 1:8 - This book of instruction must not depart from your mouth; you are to recite it day and night, so that you may carefully observe everything written in it. For then you will prosper and succeed in whatever you do.
- It is God's desire for us to prosper and succeed in everything we do.
- God says that if we study the Bible and carefully follow its instructions for life, then we will have a prosperous and successful future.
- Numerous researchers have shown that following biblical principles leads to a more successful life.
- Scientists have now proven that prayer speeds healing after surgery and during treatments for cancer.
- Financial planners agree that following the principles of saving and generosity found in the Bible are good financial advice.
- There are a number of "healthy diets" on the market that are derived from Biblical principles.
- A number of relationship gurus draw their advice from the Bible.
- A Christian businessmen's group has proven that applying Christian principles to business increases profits.
- This does not mean that we will never have struggles or difficulties in life.
- It means that God will work through our struggles and difficulties to turn them into opportunities for prosperity and success.
Galatians 3:8 - Now the Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith and foretold the good news to Abraham, saying, All the nations will be blessed in you.
- God looked down through time and could see how Abraham's family would be a blessing to the world.
- God knew that Jesus would come from Abraham's family.
- Jesus Christ has changed the world.
- Just was God knew Abraham's future, God knew that WE would come to faith in Christ.
- God has a part for US to play in making the world a better place.
- God has some unique BIG thing that He wants each of us to accomplish in our lives.
- Are we working with God to make the world a better place or working against Him?
- Are we willing to step outside our comfort zone and let God use us to change the world?
- Though fatherhood in America may be in trouble, God has a plan for each of us that is bigger than all the statistics and difficulties facing fatherhood in our society.
- God's plan includes us becoming His special children through faith in His Son Jesus Christ.
- God's plan includes helping us have a prosperous and successful life as we put His Word into practice in our lives.
- God's plan includes helping us make the world a better place as we each accomplish some unique thing that only we can do.
- We must decide if we are willing to accept God's plan and work with it or if we want to fight against God's plan?
- Though fatherhood in America may be in trouble, God has a plan for each of us that is bigger than all the statistics and difficulties facing fatherhood in our society.
Friday, June 18, 2010
There was a time when people lived in their own little world and knew very little of what was happening outside their immediate family or local community. But now technology lets us communicate with people around the world in an instant and lets us watch live video of events happening around the world. This has given us a broader view of the world and made many things possible that were just unrealistic in previous generations. But it has also raised our expectations about the world around us and caused us to desire things and experiences that previous generations never dreamed of.
In the past we only heard a moderately good singer in our own community and thought it was wonderful. Now TV and the Internet let us hear world class singers that very few people can compete with. In the past the local high school sports jock was considered amazing. Now he pales in comparison to what professional athletes accomplish daily and are played over and over again on the sports networks. The local pastor's sermons used to be inspiring. Now we are comparing him to a TV or radio preacher and he rarely compares well. We see actors with perfects bodies, perfect hair, perfect clothes and perfect complexions and then we look in the mirror and often feel inadequate.
Technology has clearly raised our expectations to "perfect" levels. The problem with this is two-fold. First, very few of us have the ability to make the perfect dunk shot, or sing with perfect pitch, or have a perfect body. We are much less than perfect. In the past we only compared ourselves with those around us and we often felt we were at least average. But now we are comparing ourselves to the best of the best and feel very below average. This is an unfair comparison and we should not do it. But technology has exposed us to these seemingly perfect people, so it is hard not to see our shortcomings much more clearly.
This leads us to the second half of the problem, which is our motivation factor. When we were comparing ourselves to our siblings or next door neighbors, we knew that if we just tried hard enough, we could compete well. Maybe we would not always be the best at everything, but we knew that if we put forth the effort, we could do well enough to earn the respect of those around us. But now, the stakes have been raised to unrealistic levels. The bar for "success" is now so high that most of us know that we can't possibly become a "star" at most of the things in life that we really like. This destroys our motivation and sometimes we don't even feel it is even worth trying.
In essence, we have become unmotivated perfectionists. We want everything in life to be perfect like we see on TV or on the Internet, but since we know we can't be perfect we don't bother to try at all. Of course, when we don't try, then we really fail. Once we fail, that reinforces our idea that we can't succeed and we become trapped in a cycle of desiring perfection but being unmotivated to even attempt to achieve it. That can be a very depressing way to live.
The odd thing about all of this is that we are really are good at a lot of things. We may not be perfect, but we are good and we can accomplish a lot if we try. Perhaps we need to stop trying to be the next "star" and just try being the best "us" that we can be. We all are good at something even if we never make it on American Idol or write a best selling novel or have the perfect body. We should work hard doing the things that are important to us and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment that comes with hard work. We should stop comparing ourselves to the "perfect" people and do the best that we can in our little corner of the universe. We might accomplish a lot more than we thought we could.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
This week two friends of mine faced some difficult situations in their lives. Each of them had made a series of poor choices and eventually the consequences caught up to them. One of them is facing some financial challenges as result of his behavior. I really don't know how he is going to get out of the situation. It is way beyond any meager help I could give him. The other friend is not going to be able to achieve one of his goals in life as a result of his choices. I am hopeful that he can still work something out, but in the end, it will be up to him to decide just how hard he wants to work at it. And if his past efforts are any indication of his future endeavors, he might not even bother to try.
It is painful to watch them each go through these experiences because they are both really great guys. They have so many positive points about them and have accomplished much in their lives. But like all of us, they each have their particular weaknesses and those weaknesses caused them to make the poor choices they made. In each case they had friends and family that warned them what would happen if they continued down the road they were headed, but somehow they thought it would all work out in the end. But it didn't work out the way they had hoped and now they have to pay the price.
While some people might stand in judgment of them since at the deepest level it really is the result of their own actions, the situation causes me to reflect on my own life instead of judge them for theirs. The situation has caused me to ask: What blind spots do I have that I think I can just keep ignoring? When will those blind spots emerge some day and force me to change? Are people in my life trying to warn me right now about those areas and am I listening?
When we see others go through difficult experiences as a result of their poor choices, we should take it as a warning sign in our own lives. We should look in the mirror and ask what we can learn from their mistakes. That will help our life be better and will keep us from judging others just when they need us most.
Friday, June 11, 2010
The phone rang early in the morning as breakfast was being prepared. The shaky teenage voice on the other end said "Something is wrong with my mom, can you help?" Within minutes my wife was out of the house on the way to help. After several hours in the Emergency Room, we learned that the mom had a mild stroke. She spent several days in the hospital but made a full recovery.
The Facebook status said "Can't wait till he's gone." Later in the day it read "He's gone and we don't know where." Text messaging produced no response and the young man was incognito for several hours. When we came back to our home later in the day, there he was on the couch in our living room, safe and sound. We were glad he was safe but asked if he had called his parents and told them where he was. He did, and they said he could stay at our home overnight.
It was nearly midnight when the text message came through. A nervous 19 year old young man was worried about his sick family member. She really needed to see a doctor. They did not have a car. Could we take her to the hospital? A quick drive through the fog on a rainy night got the girl safely to the hospital for receive the care that was needed.
"I only got 8 hours of work last week," said the young adult, "I have not eaten all day." A trip to McDonald's and a swipe of the debit card through the machine fixed that right away and a meal was shared together as brothers in Christ.
These are but four examples of numerous real experiences my wife and I have had with young adults between the ages of 15-19 in the past six weeks. Many young adults are hurting. They don't know where to turn. While we may not be able to solve all their issues, many of them can be handled with a little bit of time and a whole lot of love.
When other churches ask me to share our methods with them of how our church has attracted so many young adults, I give them a number of answers. I tell them they need some upbeat music. I tell them they have to learn to listen. I tell them they need to be willing to tackle the tough questions and deep challenges of life. I tell them to let the young adults be involved in leadership. I tell them to use lots of technology and video. I tell them to make their sermons relevant to daily life. But mostly, I tell them to love young adults.
If our churches want to reach young adults, we must love young adults. Love is not just a word; it is a lifestyle. Love requires relational interaction with each other that produces positive results. Love is something that must be demonstrated through actions. Love is something that takes time, energy and effort. Love is something that cannot be faked for long. Love is the "secret" to reaching the next generation for Christ.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Sunday morning I awoke early and spent time outside on my porch reading the Bible and praying as part of my preparation to attend worship services later that day. During my time with the Lord I felt a burden to pray for my friend Ken, who I have not seen in several years. Ken and I stay in contact via email, but had not talked in several months.
I was not sure why I felt suddenly burdened to pray for Ken, but I obeyed the prompting of the Spirit and prayed. I sent Ken a message on Facebook letting him know I was praying for him that morning. Two days later I received an email reply to my Facebook message. Ken explained in his email how much it meant that I was praying for him at that particular time because he had been admitted to the hospital a few hours earlier with a possible heart attack. At the time I prayed he was anxiously awaiting a doctor to come in to consult with him. He is now back home and both he and I are thanking God for calling people to pray through the Spirit in Ken's time of need.
This experience reminded me afresh of the importance of listening to the Spirit. I wish that I always listened that closely to the Spirit. Regretfully, I often do not. Lord, help me to learn to listen to Your Spirit more closely. Amen.