In an interesting January 23, 2018 on-line article by the Family Research Council, Tony Perkins notes that researchers have been trying to get a read on the state of Christianity in America. That is, they are trying to determine whether Christianity is growing or dying out in the U.S. Up until now, reports have been saying that Christianity is on the way out as the major religion of our nation. After years of hearing the same dire predictions, even churchgoers probably assumed the country's faith had dwindled. The headlines have constantly talked about declining church attendance and the millennials' rejection of faith. But are these stories true?
A recent Harvard University study shows that U.S. Christianity isn't only alive, but growing. It's a surprising thing to swallow with the media's drumbeat of declining Christian influence, but powerful new statistics point to a resurgence of the faith that the media has seemed to dismiss. In a lengthy commentary by Glenn Stanton in The Federalist, he pours over the data and explains, "Not only did their examination find no support for this secularization in terms of actual practice and belief, the researchers proclaim that religion continues to enjoy 'persistent and exceptional intensity' in America. These researchers hold our nation 'remains an exceptional outlier and potential counter example to the secularization thesis.'"
Believe it or not, the authors of Harvard's report "found that the percentage of church-attending Americans relative to overall population is more than four times greater today than it was in 1776." In fact, Stanton points out, "The number of attendees has continued to rise each and every decade over our nation's history right up until the present day."
Despite the hemorrhaging of mainline congregations, most analysts say the brunt of the losses are liberal churches. "When the so-called 'progressive' churches question the historicity of Jesus, deny the reality of sin, support abortion, ordain clergy in same-sex relationships and perform their marriages, people desiring real Christianity head elsewhere," Stanton reminds people. "Fact: evangelical churches gain five new congregants exiled from the liberal churches for every one they lose for any reason. They also do a better job of retaining believers from childhood to adulthood than do mainline churches."
Christianity is shifting not dying. The number of people who read their Bible, go to church weekly, and pray regularly has been "steel-bar constant" for the last half-century. "Patently persistent," as Harvard calls it. It also happens to be in astounding contrast to other nations. "Attending services more than once a week continues to be twice as high among Americans compared to the next highest-attending industrial country, and three times higher than the average comparable nation."
What about the doom and gloom we keep hearing about millennials leaving the church? Is the next generation as lost as the media makes it out to be? Yes and no. One thing to keep in mind about Pew's research and others', Stanton cautions, is that a lot of these millennials who are "abandoning their faith" didn't have much to begin with. "Pew reports that of young adults who left their faith, only 11 percent said they had a strong faith in childhood while 89 percent said they came from a home that had a very weak faith in belief and practice." Questioning your beliefs, he points out, is also just part of the maturation process.
So the next time you hear that Christianity is "going the way of the Yellow Pages," don't buy it. Some people only argue that to disparage and diminish you. Don't let them. Rather than listen to their words, listen to the words of Jesus who said, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). Stay strong, Christian! As long as there are Christians living out their faith every day, faith is alive and well in America!
Working together to win together with you,
On the day after Christmas I saw a Facebook post depicting a crying child standing in front of a Christmas tree. I thought that maybe the child didn’t get what they wanted for Christmas, or that maybe their new favorite toy already had broken. It was neither. The caption along with the image said, “364 days left until Christmas!” In a recent conversation with a member of our church, the member shared how it’s always a little depressing after Christmas, because all of the anticipation and preparation leading up to Christmas is over in about ten minutes; now everything goes back to normal.
In Luke 2 we read of the time when angels broke into the silence and mundaneness of the shepherds’ routine to announce the good news that our Savior had been born. What a spectacular and exhilarating experience for them. No doubt, they would remember that moment for the rest of their lives. They excitedly went to Bethlehem to witness the Christ who had been born, and then they spread the news of what had been told them about him (2:16-17). But in Luke 2:15 it says, “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven….” We love excitement and the thrill of something new. But how do you handle the more routine things of life? The thrill of the moment did not last forever, even for the shepherds. The angels were there, but eventually (and quickly) they left.
In January it always seems like the angels are gone. The lights and decorations are taken down; the excitement of Christmas is over, and the cold days of winter settle in. Resolutions that were made for the New Year are quickly forgotten or easily broken. But we would do well to remember that character is the ability to stay with a resolution long after the mood in which the resolution was made, has left. Consistency and faithfulness matter more than charisma and dazzle.
As we enter into the New Year, it’s important that our expectations be realistic. Angels don’t appear very often, and we should not expect them to. Every day cannot be expected to be super exciting, thrilling, and a spiritual high. We are expected to be faithful in the routines when life isn’t as exciting, for these are the times when God most often works. So, continue to be kind to others, attend church, serve the needy, discipline your desires, practice a daily quiet time, and give generously of your resources. Be tender, loving, and patient with your spouse. Show up for work on time even when it’s cold outside. Whatever you do, give it your best even though others around you are not.
For the shepherds the angels were there and then they were gone. Yet Luke 2:20 tells us, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen….” They were changed, yes, but they returned to the same ‘ole, same ‘ole, living lives of faithfulness.
Let’s do the same.
Normally, the idea of powered exoskeletons evokes images of futuristic super soldiers, given massive boosts of strength and agility thanks to their motorized outerwear. In the November 29, 2017 devotion from Our Daily Bread, David McCasland shares about the R70i Age Suit, an exoskeleton that is put on and which makes you feel like you are 40 years older. The Age Suit was designed to help caregivers better understand their patients and to empathize with what it is like to experience aging by adding on weight, restricting movement, and simulating a number of age-related conditions that give users a feel for the types of medical issues people have as they grow older.
In an online article (Jan 8, 2016) from www.theverge.com, Loren Grush tells about her experience testing out the Age Suit. She put on a VR-type headset that demonstrated ailments concerning eyesight. The headset blurred and distorted her vision to simulate cataracts or macular degeneration. Then she was fitted with headphones that mimicked what the world would sound like if she had hearing problems. One such problem, aphasia, makes you feel as if everything you say is echoed back to you. The result was that she slurred her speech when she talked.
Next, Grush donned an exoskeleton that wrapped her body, demonstrating how mobility becomes limited in old age. Motors surrounding her joints added resistance to her arms and legs, simulating what rheumatoid arthritis and degenerating muscles are like. She nearly fell over when she tried to walk. No wonder the elderly often use walkers or canes. Even when her limbs were unrestricted again, she still had an extra 40 pounds weighing her down from the suit itself, a reminder that most people generally gain weight when they grow older since they cannot get adequate exercise due to movement restriction and pain.
Thinking about the R70i Age Suit reminds me of what God did for us at Christmastime when he left the glory of Heaven to be born as a frail baby who would go through life in order to fully empathize with and experience our human condition. Hebrews 2:17-18 tells us that Jesus was made like us, “fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”
As you marvel in this season at God’s willingness to show great empathy and compassion for you at Christmastime by coming to stand with you, may you become like him, standing with others during their time of need—not just in this season of Christmas, but every day throughout the year.
Working together with you to proclaim the Reason for the season,
One of the mysteries of our culture is that we are the most privileged and prosperous people who have ever lived on the face of the earth, and yet many Americans are not happy. We have more of everything, and yet we’re not content. Even when good things happen we figure out why it wasn’t good enough.
For example, back in 2004 the Oprah Winfrey Show celebrated its 19th season. It was airing in 109 countries around the world, and Oprah wanted to do something really special to show her appreciation. Do you remember what she did? The 276 audience members that special day were selected because friends or family had written about their need for a new car. One couple had 400,000 miles on their two vehicles, and one mom wrote in that her son drove a car that looked like it had been in a gunfight. Oprah began her show that day by calling 11 people out of the audience onto the stage. She gave each of them a new Pontiac G6.
Then Oprah distributed a gift box to everyone in the audience, telling them that one of them contained the keys to a 12th new car. And whoever got the box with the keys in it would get the 12th car. When the audience opened the boxes, each one had a set of keys in it. Oprah jumped up and down and yelled, “Everybody gets a car…everybody gets a car…everybody gets a car!” There wa pandemonium as everyone yelled and hugged each other. Then they went out into the parking lot of Oprah’s Harpo Studios, and there were all the cars, all decorated with giant red bows.
But an interesting thing happened in the days and months after the give-away. People who received brand new cars started complaining, because even though the local taxes and licensing fees were covered as a part of the gift, the IRS was adding the $28,000 value of the car to the income of all those who received a free car. That meant they had to pay more taxes, and they didn’t like it. Their car insurance increased, and they didn’t like it. Some of the angry winners thought they should be given extra cash to cover these expenses as well. Many ended up not so grateful.
Maybe you’ve been grumbling and complaining lately. Maybe you’ve said, “Lord, I’m struggling; show me what I have to be thankful for.” As we enter into the season of Thanksgiving I want to encourage you to develop and cultivate a grateful heart. Focus on what you have, not on what you don’t have. Focus on being a blessing, not on getting a blessing. And focus on eternity, not on the things of earth. In 1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 the Apostle Paul exhorts us with these words: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.”
Working together with you to remember that God is good,
In a recent conversation with a doctor about religion and politics, he said to me that God doesn’t want us to love only those who are “on our side.” We are to serve faithfully all who are in need, and the truest extent of Christ’s love is shown when we still love and serve those with whom we disagree. The problem is that quite often we are quick to write people off as unworthy of our love. He then noted that God is neither Republican nor Democrat.
American culture and politics these days seems so volatile and violent, so extremely polarizing, with people vehemently and angrily on one side or the other. Followers of Christ sometimes get sucked into this volatility when they assume that in order to be a “proper committed Christian” you must be on the side of conservatism and the Republicans. It would be an error to think that nobody who is Democrat with liberal tendencies could possibly be a Christian. Believe it or not, God is Lord of members of both political parties.
This raises a question in my mind: “What is the role of Christian faith in politics? Is there one? Should religion and politics ever mix?” In a recent on-line newsletter I subscribe to, called The American Patriot’s Daily Almanac, by Bill Bennett and John T.E. Cribb, a portion of President George Washington’s farewell address was discussed. I found it very interesting that the first President of the United States understood the important role of religion in our nation, and that he saw clearly how it makes a difference not only in the lives of citizens, but also those who lead us.
The newsletter noted that in a world still ruled by kings, President George Washington’s decision to not seek a third term clearly signaled that the United States would be governed by the people, not any ruler-for-life. Washington’s Farewell Address – really an open letter to the American people – appeared in newspapers on September 19, 1796. The president reminded his fellow citizens that national strength rests on the pillars of private morality, especially religion. The word he used to describe those pillars of American democracy is not “optional” or “desirable” or “helpful”; it is “indispensable.”
Here is an excerpt from Washington’s farewell address: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. ’Tis substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule indeed extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?”
I understand that in a religiously pluralistic culture such as what we live in today, one might ask, “But whose religion and morality should we follow?” Others believe that there is no place whatsoever for religion in politics or anything public. It seems that America is experimenting with all sorts and kinds of religion and morality, non-religion and immorality; and trying to embrace them all as if all beliefs are equal and equally good. I get it that this becomes a complicated thing to figure out, nevertheless, as a follower of the God we read of in the Bible, I recognize that the Christian principles presented in the message of the Gospel lead to life that flourishes, both now and in eternity. And when Washington states in his farewell address that religion and morality are indispensable supports to political prosperity, he’s thinking of religion and morality as proclaimed in the Bible…and that’s the kind of pillar that can support and guide anyone well, whether Democrat or Republican.
Working together with you to influence our culture for Jesus,
|Community Christian Church||
FROM TYLER'S DESK