Archive for February, 2008

Earlier this week, I read the results of the most recent Pew Forum survey that studied the religious trends of Americans.  Over 35,000 people were interviewed for this survey, so it is a pretty extensive.  Although every survey, even those done by the best of researchers, have their shortcomings, the information gathered is always useful to some extent.  I would highly recommend that you check out the following two links, the first one to an article about the survey by the AP, and the second, a link to the study itself.  Following both links, I have included an article that I penned for this month’s church newsletter, in which I attempt to bridge the gap between the information of the survey and the Christian celebration of Easter later this month.  Enjoy!

AP article: http://ap.google.com/article/ALeqM5guse3kmCOLA20GA4f8GACkM6WWLAD8V3VG180

Pew Forum:  http://religions.pewforum.org/reports

Church Newsletter Article for March

Let me give you something to ponder this Easter (or Resurrection Day as I like to call it) season.  Survey data released on Monday February 25th from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life suggest some changing and even shocking trends in the “religious landscape” of America. The survey, which gathered responses from interviews with over 35,000 adults revealed that the religious landscape of America is changing drastically and rapidly.  Consider the following trends: 

·         Although Americans still identify themselves overwhelmingly as Christian (78%), those who identify themselves as “Protestant” are increasingly shrinking and will soon drop below the majority mark.  Currently only 51.9% of respondents identify themselves as “Protestant,” down from earlier surveys.    

·         27% of respondents identify themselves as “Evangelical Christians” making this the largest single “block” of Christian identity, with Catholicism following a close second. 

·         More than one-quarter of Americans have left the faith of their childhood for either another religion or for “no religion at all.”

·         One in four adults between 18-29 claim no affiliation with a religious institution.

·         12% of Americans refer to themselves as “unaffiliated,” meaning that they describe their religion as “nothing in particular.”  Within this group, we find that 4% of Americans identify themselves as Atheists or Agnostics. 

·         Among Protestants, nondenominational churches are growing, while Methodists and Baptists are showing the largest losses in population. 

·         Though Evangelicals labor tirelessly to reach the “lost” or “unconverted,” the reality shown in the survey is that most converts to Evangelical churches are those who were raised as Protestants. 

·         The two fastest growing religious groups (according to their rate of percentage growth) were the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Also, growth is steady among non-traditional world religions, including Buddhism (0.7%) and Islam (0.6%).   

So what does all of this information mean and why should we be concerned about this kind of data during this Easter season?  I make the following three observations based on the data:

1.  While cults and world religions continue to grow, vibrant, evangelical Christianity is shrinking in its impact and its ability to reach non-Christians and convince them of the truth of the gospel.  We’re simply not evangelizing the lost.  We seem to be failing in our duty to carry out the Great Commission.

2.  Fewer and fewer individuals who are raised in the Christian tradition are being discipled and retained in our churches.  Approximately one-quarter of the young-people raised in our (increasingly smaller) churches will (if these numbers hold true) eventually fall away from identifying themselves at Christ-followers and perhaps become part of the growing trend of ex-Christians identifying themselves with another major world-religion or even a cult. 

3.  The growing number of “unaffiliated” people in our country as well as those abandoning the faith of their childhood, should indicate to us that our churches are failing to provide the kind of vibrancy and vitality that give followers incentive to invest themselves into the long-term life of their church. 

This should sound the alarm for all of us to “wake-up” and realize that the next generation of Americans are not going to be satisfied with lifeless traditions.  For Christianity to be revived, it is going to take churches asking the question “what must we do to look like the vibrant, growing churches of the New Testament?” and then following those answers to wherever they may lead, no matter how painful the adjustments may be. 

Still, you may be reading this and wondering just how this relates at all to the Easter holiday.  The truest and most radical revival that the church could possibly experience today would be in the form of a recovery of the true power of the gospel.  Paul tells us that he was “not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation…” (Romans 1:16).  Paul truly believed that inherent in the message of the gospel was God’s power to change lives.  Do you believe that today? 

He went on later in his letter to the Corinthians to define just what this powerful “gospel” consisted of when he defined it as the message of how Christ Jesus “died for our sins…was buried…and rose again…and was seen by many…all according to the scriptures” (1 Cor 15:1-5, paraphrased).  In other words, the very events that surround the Easter celebration comprise the message that the Bible says has the “power” to completely change lives.  During the Easter week, we reflect heavily upon Christ’s suffering, death, burial and resurrection, but have you ever thought about how powerful the celebration of these events could be in your life?  Have you pondered how these truths could radically change someone close to you this Easter?  Have you ever thought of the power of these events to change the watching world?  As Americans watch Christians all around them celebrating Easter this month, will they be convinced by our adoration, worship and proclamation that this Jesus in whom we believe is worthy of their trust?  Will your love for Him inspire someone to want to know more about Jesus?  Or will the watching world see Christians who themselves do not really know the life-changing power of the very message they profess? 

You see friend, if we ever expect Americans to turn back to the truth of the Christian gospel, we must ask God to work through us to once again live out in our lives the gospel that we profess in our creeds and proclaim with our lips. 

So let’s do that this Resurrection holiday.  Let’s begin to change the “religious landscape” of America for the good by once again showing everyone around us the truth and the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Let’s do our part this Easter to change the trend of shrinking Christian influence by boldly living out the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. 



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Recently, due to a tragic event in our community, I and my wife felt impressed by the Spirit of God to offer a unique study to many of the ladies in our church and community.  A young couple who I know was expecting their first child.  This is a wonderful young Christian couple.  They are happily married and financially secure.  Only a few weeks away from the birth of their first child, tragically the child died in the womb.  There are couples in our church who know this couple very well and as I talked with them, they had no clue how to minister to this couple or what to say.  I attempted to reach out to them, but found it more effective under the circumstances to simply pass on to them a copy of John MacArthur’s Safe in the Arms of God.  This book deals scripturally and practically with the issue of child-loss in a very sensitive, biblical and thorough way.  As I re-read the book myself and then passed it on to my wife, we felt the need to have a study in which we attempted to equip members of our church to minister in the midst of this kind of crisis by knowing what to say (biblically) and how to say it (practically).  The result was a 3-4 week study that we began last week and continued Tuesday night.  Only about half of the women present were from our church.  The rest were from other churches who had heard that we were having this discussion group and wanted to come.   

To say that the class has been a success would be an understatement.  The first night, we had 10 ladies come to the discussion.  I listened as no fewer than 4 of those women present shared how they had themselves been through either a miscarriage or the loss of an infant.  It was very emotional and very needed.  Every woman in the room (I was the only man), each touched by this tragedy in some way or another, echoed the same sentiment over and over again.  Namely, that they had never heard this issue addressed from a Christian perspective.  Thus, they each shared that they knew not what to say in such a situation, and they didn’t know at all what the Bible really taught about the death of a child.  

Since the first night, I have had two older women in our church approach me and tell me that they were very thankful we were doing this study.  One was a grandmother who had been through a terrible ordeal in which her daughter gave birth to a child with health problems who suffered for about 3 years before dying.  Another older woman told me last week about her ordeal over 40 years ago in which she and her husband lost a 3 year old child to a sickness which the child was born with.  Both women echoed the sentiment that they had never really heard this issue addressed from a biblical or pastoral perspective, and they were both grateful that we were attempting to provide answers to hurting women.  

This ordeal brought to my attention the great need for the church to be equipped to deal with issues of life and death relating to children, miscarriage and barrenness.  Though I have been primarily teaching over the last 2 weeks, I have also been listening a lot to the women who have poured out their hearts about very emotional issues which they have never heard addressed from a biblical issue.  We have talked about childlessness, abortion, child-loss, barrenness, adoption, handicapped children, children born with sickness and the emotional depression surrounding these and other related issues.  I have learned more and more how these issues affect not only the women involved, but their husbands, children and extended families.  I have also learned that in these times of crises, having the right answers can be the difference between someone pulling close to God or turning away from Him completely. 

It has been such a blessing for everyone involved to know that the Bible does indeed address such issues.  MacArthur’s book (which I affirm and highly recommend on the subject) has given us biblical and theological answers to tough questions.  Most of all though, it has been a blessing for all involved to finally talk about such sensitive issues in a spiritually-affirming environment.

If we really believe that biblical Christianity is the correct worldview, then we must be prepared to answer every issue from a biblical perspective.  It has been eye-opening for me to hear from so many that these issues have been looked upon as “taboo” for so long.  Christians often attempt to offer comfort in the midst of these crises, but seldom have a fully-developed scriptural response to the difficult questions.  This study has helped us to discover that the Bible really is profitable for every situation that the Christian faces in life. 

Please pray for us as we continue to equip women to minister to others in the midst of tragedy.  Pray that God would help us to see His hand at work even in the midst of the great tragedies of life.    

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For the members of FBC Grayson who read my blog, I wanted to post a brief report from the Greenup Association of Baptists monthly meeting which took place tonight.  I often attend these meetings but seldom am called upon to give a report to anyone.  Since some members read this blog, I wanted to put the information up so that they could be informed without having to come to me and ask. 

I present the following:

1. Meeting took place at Rose Hill Baptist Church, Dr. Ronnie Mays, pastor of Rose Hill, preached in the pastor’s session from 1 Samuel about “Wounded people.” 

2. The meal was excellent, provided by the wonderful people of RHBC.

3. Before the executive session, there was a brief presentation from 3 brethren from the Greater Huntington Association asking for our associational involvement in an upcoming conference (Building Bridges) which is seeking to unify the three associations in the KYOVA region (Scioto Association, Greenup, and Greater Huntington) for greater cooperation in regional ministry.  The conference will be April 2-3 with Chuck Kelley, president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary as guest speaker. I plan to attend and have details for anyone interested. 

4. In the executive session, the following was discussed:

            a. The GAB’s monthly financial in-take for the month of January was $21,667.21, contributed by 34 churches of the 50 (?) in our association.  Expenses for the month totaled $10,262.59, leaving a total surplus for the month of $11,404.62.  Total GAB assets are $219,006.65, with $126,319.73 in the general checking account.

            b. There was no report from WMU but a reminder of the quarterly meeting on March 15 at Garner BC. 

            c. Report from Curt Smith with Disaster Relief demonstrated our association’s excellent involvement with Disaster Relief. Curt has been in New Orleans working this week, and our Associational team has remained very busy lately.  This is a ministry we can be proud of indeed, but there was also a desperate plea for more workers from the churches to get involved in our association’s Disaster Relief ministry.

            d. Brother Cathey was not present for a DOM report because of his mission trip to Africa.  We were urged to remember him and his traveling companions in our prayers as they minister in Africa. 

            e. The only item of business centered on an unpaid property-tax bill.  Trustees of the GAB are consulting with lawyers to see if we are responsible for this since the closing-company should have taken care of this when we purchased the associational property.  The executive committee went ahead and approved of $3,500 to pay the bill ASAP if we are indeed liable, but there was a strong feeling that we would not be liable for this bill. 

            f. Prayer concerns were shared and special prayer was offered for many.

            g. Meeting adjourned.

These minutes are not official, but are to the best of my recollection.  Please continue to pray for the work of the GAB and our church’s involvement in our association.      

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Superbowl parties seem to be a real source of contention in some circles.  Besides the fact that the NFL has “cracked down” on churches use of the Superbowl for ministry purposes, there are also many churches who feel that such an event is either unnecessary at best or heretical at worst.  In light of these pressures, many churches have abandoned the traditional Superbowl parties.  This year however, we did not.  And I for one am glad that we didn’t. 

Here’s how it all played out for us. 

We planned on having the party in advance, only with less fanfare and advertisement than in years past.  What made the decision easy for us was the fact that we have a wonderful Christian man in our church who also owns a huge local furniture/ appliance store and was willing to lend us a 55-inch television set thus keeping us within the legal limits established by the NFL.  As Sunday drew near and the excitement built, there was a bee-hive of activity as various sports-crazed men and women in our church made preparations that included a HUGE spread of food and a scrap-booking room for the ladies to hang-out in while their Neanderthal men passionately cheered and indulged themselves in armchair analysis of the best professional athletes in the world, second guessing Belicheck’s play-calls and questioning the abilities of men like Strahan and Brady.  This brings me to the first reason that I am glad we went ahead with the party.  It allowed me to delegate ministerial responsibility to individuals in my church who could use their gifts and interests to organize a church-related evangelistic function.  Some of these folks don’t or cannot come out for visitation.  Some are not prepared or comfortable in “personal evangelism” yet, but given the opportunity to serve in this capacity was good for their involvement in the body of Christ. 

At 6:00 on Sunday, I entered the sanctuary to lead the announcements, singing, and scripture reading in our traditional service.  We still had Sunday evening worship in the sanctuary for any who did not wish to attend the party, only I had a layman in the church prepared to preach that night so I could be at the party.  However, since the kickoff was not until 6:20, I figured I would try to show up and minister to both crowds.  In our sanctuary, there were a total of about 11 people.  Good people they were; perhaps even some of the best in our church.  Nonetheless, there were only 11 and the atmosphere was very stale to say the least.  I led the singing and tried to be upbeat, but felt as if the crowd were gazing at me with eyes of betrayal as I stood before them in my “#9 Palmer” jersey, leading songs of worship.  BTW… there’s nothing wrong with wearing one’s Bengals’ jersey to a SuperBowl party even though the Bengals aren’t in the game…it never hurts to dream.  

I left the sanctuary at 6:20 and went to the youth building across our campus, where the party was beginning and was amazed when I walked into the building.  There were so many people in the building you could hardly move.  We counted at least 85 present.  Without giving all the details, consider the following victories that came about as a result of the Superbowl party:

·         At least 20 or so of the people present were folks who had NEVER been to a church service of ours.  Most of them were teens, some adults, but all of them were unchurched and they were going to be spending the next 3-4 hours with a huge crowd of people from our church. 

·         At least one unchurched family from our community (their teenage children come on our bus-ministry) arrived with a gigantic tray of homemade ribs which she had been promising me for months.  Her ribs were a hit and many of our church people introduced themselves to her and connected with this family throughout the night.  Perhaps the foundations were laid for a long-term relationship between this family and our church. 

·         At half-time, we shut the TV down and had worship for a few minutes, followed by about 15 minutes of Bible-teaching by me.  At the end of my lesson, I presented the gospel and asked for anyone who was not a Christian to come see me tonight.  I told them that I wanted to talk to them.  Immediately after I prayed, a 13-year-old who was at our church for the first time came directly to me and said he wanted to talk.  I spent almost the entire 3rd quarter explaining the gospel in great depth to this young man who responded with many tears and an open heart.  He wants to become a Christian, and I am in the pastoral process of discerning his genuineness through the follow-up process.  His family is unchurched as well and a door has opened to reach them through this opportunity. 

·         I got to speak to an unwed couple pregnant with their first baby.  They generally will not attend church, but spent much time at the party talking to me and just getting comfortable with me.

·         There was great fun and fellowship and bonding all evening between many of the adults present, mostly members of our church getting to know one another better in a context outside of Sunday AM worship.  Also, the teenagers there (and there were many) spent much time getting “cross-acquainted” (one clique meeting and hanging out with another clique) and getting excited about some upcoming youth-group activities. 

I could share more stories, but I think the point has been made.  Much more ministry went on in the youth building that night than went on in the sanctuary. 

It is ironic that only one week prior to Superbowl Sunday, I preached on Luke 5:27-32 where Jesus dined with Levi and his “sinner” friends and received the condemnation of the Pharisees.  In this passage we have those amazing words condemning self-righteousness “those who are well have no need of a physician” (31) and the concluding words which remind us of the real nature of Jesus’ radical new approach to ministry, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (32)

In that sermon, I encouraged our folks to intentionally build relationships with the lost.  I encouraged them to embrace the broken and the alien over and above our religious ritual or our own traditional views of “righteousness.”   It is at times like this when a pastor is forced to search the soul of his church body and attempt to discern whether we are more concerned with people or propriety?  I’m glad we chose to love people over tradition and hope that this will become a distinguishing characteristic of our church in our community.  It is what will set us apart from the average church. 

 I wonder how many Christians all across America this past Sunday night gathered together in our usual “holy huddle” (sorry, I couldn’t resist the football analogy!) and missed the opportunity to party with the unchurched?  I for one, am glad that we continued our practice of having a Superbowl celebration. 

Just for the record…I was for the Giants all the way!  Not that I’m a Giants fan, but I found myself in the position of being a Patriots-hater.  Cheaters never win.  

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