Thoughts About the Pew Report on Declining Christianity in America

If you haven't already heard about it second-hand, the Pew Research Center released a report this week that shows fewer people identifying as Christian than in the past here in the United States.  You can read it yourself, here: http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/. Much has been said about the report by Christians who cite it as further proof that our nation is shambles and only getting worse.  However, a closer look might reveal some hope for those of us who hold true to the Church and are invested in seeing that it thrives.  My thoughts:

1.  For most of the 20th Century, there were people who joined churches in order to fit in.  It was a smart thing to do if you had friends, families, neighbors, or coworkers in the Church.  Many of these folks didn't necessarily buy in to the doctrine of the church, and frankly, the Church didn't bother too much to teach it to them in many cases.  That's all changed in the 21st Century.  The rise of non-Christian culture in the U.S. means that, for perhaps the first time in our country, it's comfortable, even in small midwestern towns, to not go to church at all.  There is strength and numbers, and no longer do people feel like outsiders for not attending a church.  My take is that it's a good thing to have people be honest.  I've heard far too many times that it's better to have these people in church, in hopes that maybe it would rub off on them, with no real effort at transformation of this demographic. I disagree. At least now the Church can be honest and recognize that we need to be intentional about explaining what we believe to others who do not believe the same.

2.  Churches that uphold the traditional doctrine of the church seem to be faring the best. Surprisingly, this and other studies show that denominations that acquiesce to social pressure, particularly around issues of sexuality, lose members at a far more rapid rate than those who hold firm to the classic teachings of the last 2000 years of church doctrine and history.  While we are all well served personally and corporately to be more loving to divorcees, those who cohabitate, and, yes, practicing homosexuals, churches that teach that these are no longer sin, have seen steeper declines in membership recent years.  An argument could (should?) be made for other denominations not to follow in their paths for practical reasons, let alone what the New Testament teaches.

3.  It's important to remember that on the whole more people around the world are, and will continue to, seek God. It was only a month ago that Pew released a report on religion the world over (http://www.pewforum.org/2015/04/02/religious-projections-2010-2050/). The chief idea competing for individual's attention with the Christian faith isn't atheism/agnosticism, it's the Muslim faith.  As Christians, we have an opportunity to reach out to and influence those who are seeking God, and help them to find Jesus.  This is a much better position than what Western secular media might have us to believe.  People all over the world want to know about the God we know, and there is an opportunity to share with them.

Yes, it might take effort to find reasons for optimism in a report subtitled, "Christians Decline Sharply as Share of Population," but I think there are indeed reasons to be hopeful right now.

On Logical Thinking and Sanctification

"Today many people are attempting to use their mental capacity and logical thinking to obtain sanctification, yet this is nothing but a religious fabrication. They believe that if they just mentally put themselves on the altar and believe the altar provides the gift of sanctification, they can then logically conclude they are fully sanctified. Then they go happily on their way, expressing their flippant, theological babble about the “deep” things of God. 
Yet the heartstrings of their old nature have not been broken, and their unyielding character, which they inherited from Adam, has not been ground to powder. Their soul has not throbbed with the lonely, gushing groans of Gethsemane. Having no scars from their death on Calvary, they will exhibit nothing of the soft, sweet, gentle, restful, victorious, overflowing and triumphant life that flows like a spring morning from an empty tomb."
From L.B. Cowan's, Streams in the Desert.

Accountability: Discipline of Study

Last Wednesday, a friend in my weekly sharing group challenged me to study harder in the next week.  On Saturday, I heard the same message again, this time from Dad, and others.

I am humbled to admit how much I appreciate what I studied this week, and that it wasn't my own idea.

I supposed it's still my immaturity, but I can't make sense of how adding a discipline makes the rest of my time better, not harder.

For me, the lesson isn't about the importance of study, it's about the importance of humble accountability.  I know I can't take credit for the things that a few men encourage me to do week after week.  I'm a better man for that hour spent.

If you don't have a group like this, seek one out.  If you'd like, I'd be happy to talk to you about mine.

Word Games

In elementary school I was knocked out of the school-wide geography bee in the final round, when asked for the correct word for a person who leaves one country for another.  I answered "emigrant," but the scorer heard "immigrant," and I was out.  There wasn't any opportunity to explain myself, and I was a bit embarrassed that I hadn't enunciated clearly enough, and thus lost on a technicality.  The answer they were looking for was "refugee."  I still remember thinking at the time that there wasn't enough information in the question to infer that the person was leaving under duress, and had to be a refugee.

It's strange to me that I still remember that story.  It's stranger still that it has gone from a silly anecdote about the stresses of a child in school, to a very important question for us as Americans in the 21st Century.

So as North Americans, what do we call a person who has fled one country for another?  If they're Syrian, we probably call them refugees.  Likely the same if the are from Afghanistan, Burma, or Somalia.  There are millions of people from these people living in refugee camps.  Our country sends tremendous amounts of real and financial aid to the countries that are housing them.  Most churches around the world pray for these people, and many try and fund solutions to meet their basic needs and address the underlying problems.

What, then, do we call the people who flee Central American countries to Texas, Arizona, and other border states?  Can we admit to ourselves that we have refugees living in detention camps in the United States?  Does it change our feelings about these people if they are fleeing war, gangs, poverty, sex trafficking, labor exploitation, or other atrocities?  Do we stop to consider that most of these people aren't choosing a path of convenience, but are escaping a life we can barely imagine?  Do we care if they are children, teens, single mothers, or families?

As Americans, it's time to stop talking about the "Illegal Immigration" problem, and start talking about how we can help these very real refugees that we work so hard to either turn away or imprison.  One day, we'll each face our Father in Heaven, and I assume that eloquent discourse about whether the strangers in our midst are "illegal aliens" or "refugees" will seem kind of silly.  Of course, no one is excited about having refugees in their state or country!  Much worse must it be to actually BE a refugee in a country that doesn't want you there.  There are no technicalities that relieve us from our responsibilities to love and care for each other; calling people by another name might ease our guilt about the situation, but doesn't change the reality of it.

Remembering Lewis

50 Years ago today, a man that has re-shaped eternity passed away.  Very few writers have impacted me at different stages of life as he has.  Even today, vibrant societies are named in his honor, to both study the truths he shared, and make it a priority to share those same truths with others.

In the scope of time, while politicians and leaders fall into obscurity, I do believe that future children will come to love God more, theologians to consider him greater, and lay people to understand him better, because of the writings he left behind.

Today, I'm thankful for C.S. Lewis' life and writings.  I can't imagine a world where men smarter than me didn't write down their thoughts, in ways that I could understand the very nature of God, better than I could before.

Amazon Prime

If you've not already tried, here's a link for a 30-day trial period on Amazon Prime.  We use it at home and work, for things as varied as tools, cleaners, parts, and yes- books.  The streaming movies are handy too, with lots of free options for the kids included, and new releases for a reasonable charge.

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I Walked a Mile With Pleasure

I walked a mile with Pleasure;
She chatted all the way;
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.
I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And ne’er a word said she;
But oh, the things I learned from her,
When Sorrow walked with me.
-Robert Browning Hamilton