Tuesday, July 10, 2018

American Christianity and the Dodo Bird

     If you listen to many voices in the mainstream media, it is only a matter of time before American Christianity goes the way of long-extinct Dodo bird.  We’re told that this nation is following in the secularizing footsteps of Western Europe where many once-prominent churches have become museums instead of houses of worship.
     A recent article touted this headline: “The Percentage of Young Adults with No Religious Affiliation Has Nearly Quadrupled Since 1986.”  If accurate, that’s scary, because the future of Christianity requires the passing on of the faith to each succeeding generation.  It appears there is a breakdown in this process.
     But upon further examination, the picture is not nearly so dire.  Earlier this year Harvard University published research that clearly demonstrates that America is a strong “exceptional outlier” to the secularization pattern that has happened elsewhere.  Yes, mainline denominations are in precipitous decline.  Churches that deny the historicity of Jesus, the reality of sin, the biblical view of marriage as only between two heterosexual adults, and ordain homosexual clergy are rapidly hemorrhaging members, many of whom are choosing churches that continue to stand for the orthodox and historic Christian faith.  In contrast, our own denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, has continued a pattern of slow, consistent growth, with an increase in total membership each of the last four years. 
     People are demonstrating with their feet that they care about theology and real, practical Christianity.  It’s a simple reality that those churches which have forsaken orthodox, biblical theology are experiencing dramatic decline.
     What of the rapid growth of the youthful “nones” – young adults with no religious connection?  Research indicates that of those young people who left the faith, only 11 percent said they had a strong faith in childhood.  The remaining 89 percent indicated that they came from a home where there was a weak adherence to faith and practice.  As one observer commented, “It’s not a news flash that kids don’t tend to hang onto what they never had in the first place.”
     The facts demonstrate that there remains a strong, vibrant Christian community in America.  The Harvard research found that the percentage of Americans who attend church more than weekly, pray daily, and believe the Bible to be a wholly reliable guide for their lives has remained absolutely consistent for at least the past 50 years.  And this is not a tiny percentage.  One-third of Americans pray multiple times a day – this in stark contrast to the average in other countries of one in 15.  Moreover, those who take their faith seriously, as a percentage of all religious people, have grown from 39 percent in 1989 to the current 47 percent.
     The bottom line is that God continues to build a strong Christian presence in this nation.  But that is no reason for complacency.  Instead, these trends highlight the urgency for Christian parents to devote themselves with renewed vigor to the mandate of Deuteronomy 6: “These words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children . . .”  And if you want your church to grow, remain unalterably committed to the historic Christian faith taught in the New Testament and recovered during the Reformation.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Descending toward Destruction

The Apostle Peter reminds his readers that God used the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as an object lesson for the future of humanity.  The text states that God turned the cities into ashes, “making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly” (2 Pet. 2:6).  In other words, if individuals, cities, or even whole nations, choose to live in a manner that flagrantly violates the moral law of God, they can expect similar treatment.  Now, as the Creator, God has many means at His disposal.  In the case of these two cities, He used fire and brimstone.  In the case of the Canaanites, He used Israel’s army.  Upon His own people, He used a plague of disease.  The means is inconsequential.  The divine purpose in doing so is unambiguous: to drive humanity to fear the Lord and to walk in His ways. We cannot devote ourselves to sinful lifestyles without suffering inevitable consequences.

In America today there is an urgent need to reconsider the lesson of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Recently a random sample of 1,000 adults was asked about certain family-related behaviors.  Large majorities endorsed such behaviors, either because they regard the actions as “morally acceptable” or because they don’t even rise to the level of being a moral issue.  In the latter perspective, the thinking is that each person can define right or wrong for himself as there is no absolute standard. 

Examples include the following: getting a divorce is acceptable to 77% of the respondents; sexual intercourse between unmarried male and female adults was approved by 71%; having a baby outside of marriage was acceptable to 69%, and viewing pornographic pictures and videos was unobjectionable to 58%.

George Barna, who directed the research, further noted that at least 15% and as much as 40% of American adults do not consider such behavior a moral issue at all.  These people believe they are free to do whatever is right in their own eyes, with no divine disapproval to be concerned about.

Beyond the concrete example that the destruction of these two cities presents is the general warning in Galatians 6:7: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.”  God has revealed His mind in the Scriptures for our benefit.  Let us take heed and proclaim this truth to our land while God grants us more time to repent and turn to Him for forgiveness and salvation through Christ.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Christian Response to Overt Evil

As Americans, and as Christians, we are reeling from the massacre at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, TX on Sunday.  We have more questions than answers.  We grieve for this tiny community which lost so many lives in an attack driven by unadulterated evil.

Last month these words of John Calvin, from nearly 5 centuries ago, came to my attention.  They remain sound advice for us who face tragedies of our own time.  In 2 Samuel 1 King David is grieving the loss of King Saul and his son, David’s beloved friend Jonathan.  Expanding upon the Scriptural account, Calvin comments as follows.

We can see how God is afflicting the world today. Even people who are strangers to us are related to us, because we are all made in the image of God, and have a common nature which should be a mutual bond of love and brotherhood. Then there is a far closer union between ourselves and the suffering of believers who are scattered here and there in all churches which God has chastened on every side.

Indeed, we see troubles everywhere; we see fires burning; we hear that the throats of poor innocent people have been cut; that they have been subjected to mockery and contempt, and that they are being led to the slaughter. We see the enemies of truth ready to annihilate everything, and we do not know what God is intending to do. Nevertheless, see how his sword is unsheathed. The fire, as I have said, is kindled and we do not know how far it will burn.

Let us thus allow ourselves to be genuinely touched by mourn­ing, anxiety and grief so that we will not be careless, hardened, or unfeeling over what our poor brothers are going through. Instead, let us have the kind of compassion towards them which members of the same body owe to one another. On the other hand, let us not give way to despair, like those who have become so grieved and full of lamentation that they refuse the remedy of consolation in God. Rather, let us confess our sins, knowing that our savior has not ceased to pour out his blessings upon us, even though we have sinned. Then, in the midst of our sorrows, let us recognize all our offenses so that he may show himself merciful to us, as he always has done to those who clearly take refuge in him.  (John Calvin, Sermon on 2 Samuel 11562).

The conflict with evil has not abated in 500 years.  May God help us to “mourn with those who mourn” while maintaining our confidence in the Lord’s sovereign purposes.  Let us support in our prayers those who have experienced such tragic loss at the hands of a madman.  And let us not fail to recognize the fragile grip we have on life in this world, how quickly it can be shattered, and how vital it is to make each moment count in light of eternity to come.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Cure for Doubt

A recent Barna research release indicates that approximately two-thirds of Christians have or currently face periods of doubt with regard to their faith and relationship with the Lord.  Precedent for dominating doubt goes all the way back to the first century,  One of Jesus’ specially chosen apostles would be forever nick-named “Doubting Thomas” because he refused to believe that Jesus had risen from the dead until he could personally see and touch him.

According to church tradition, Thomas overcame his doubts and eventually took the Gospel of Christ to the Indian subcontinent in AD 52, ministering in what are the present-day states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. There he baptized the first Christians of that region, founding what is now known as the Mar Thoma Church. 

How should Christians today deal with their doubts?  We no longer have the Lord physically present to reassure our wavering faith and dispel our doubts as did the Apostle Thomas.  But we do have a secure foundation upon which to rest our faith, quell our fears, and satisfy our questions.  And that is the biblical revelation of the character and purposes of God.

The Apostle Paul encouraged the Thessalonian Christians that God would ensure their establishment in the faith.  Furthermore, He would protect them from the onslaught of attacks from the evil one, designed to disrupt and destroy their faith in the Lord (2 Thess. 3:3).  Similarly, the Apostle Jude, using the same Greek word, assures his readers that God is able to keep them from stumbling in their faith and to eventually present them in a sinless, perfected state on the Day of Resurrection.

Left to our own strength and wills, we would have reason to worry and doubt our ability to follow the Lord to the end of this earthly pilgrimage.  But, thankfully, our long-term spiritual welfare rests upon the promises God has made to His own, not upon our own ability to navigate the temptations and spiritual minefields of this world.  So take heart, Christian, our faithful God will never give up on you.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

A Reason for Optimism

One would have to be living in a remote location untouched by the media to fail to grasp the seemingly inexorable drift into depravity which has overtaken our society in recent decades.  While we were always a nation of sinners, that sin is now more open and embraced than ever before.   In many ways our moral code has been turned on its head, with large segments of society embracing lifestyles which were once nearly universally condemned as evil

But a survey of 2,030 Americans from all fifty states, conducted by the American Bible Society during January and February of this year, provides some reason for hope.  81 percent of those surveyed stated their belief that morals are declining in America, a 5 percent increase from 2016.  39 percent blame corporate greed; 33 percent consider the entertainment industry the problem.  But 27 percent say it is due to lack of Bible reading.

Half of Americans are considered “Bible users,” and 81 percent are “Bible engaged,” “Bible friendly” or “Bible neutral” in contrast to the 19 percent that are either “Bible skeptic” or “Bible antagonistic.”  Moreover, 70 percent of Americans are confident the Bible can bring hope to America, as opposed to the 30% who place that hope in the president of the United States.

Presently 20 percent of Americans are “Bible engaged,” meaning they view the Bible as the inspired word of God and read the Bible at least four times a week.  38 percent are “Bible friendly,” who consider it God’s word but read it fewer than four times a week.  And there is some evidence that Bible skepticism may be declining.

Overall, we need greater engagement with the Word of God which is indeed “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit” (Heb. 4:12).  God’s truth makes plain the subtleties of sin and the deceptions of evil that have blinded men to the truth.  It is also the means by which God brings spiritual life to the lost souls of men and women (Rom. 10:17) and fully transforms them thereafter (John 17:17).

There should be no more important objective in your life than filling your mind with a steady diet of God’s word.  These days, Bible reading competes with texts, tweets, instant messages, and the lure of the information society that constantly woos us.  Caring for the state of your eternal soul calls upon you to prioritize time in God’s word on a daily basis.  Don’t sell your soul for the Pablum of the world when you can dine on that which is “sweeter than honey,” on truth that will endure forever.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Peace on Earth, Good Will among Men

This message of comfort and assurance sung by the angelic choir to the stunned shepherds outside of Bethlehem expresses the fulfillment of humanity’s quest for tranquility and well-being. 

While the inaugural performance of this hymn of praise debuted over two-thousand years ago, it seems that mankind is further than ever from realizing its message.

Whether you consider the political chaos and fractured nature of our own society so evident this election year, or whether you look abroad at the genocide and ethnic/religious cleansing being foisted upon Christian minorities in the Middle East and Africa – it is apparent that the bulk of humanity has failed to hear, comprehend, and appropriate the message of the gospel proclaimed at the birth of Jesus.

It seems that at least weekly we hear of tragic new examples of radicalized terrorists perpetrating their devotion to Jihad wherein murder and mayhem are cardinal doctrines of their perverted faith.  If ever there was a polar opposite of the Christmas message of peace and good will, it is seen in incidents of terror, such has struck the German Christmas market earlier this week.

Jesus taught that “by their fruits you shall know them.”  One could not ask for a clearer manifestation of the heart and soul of unbridled Islam than what has been made evident this week.  Furthermore, there is purportedly a list, circulating in Arabic, of American Christian churches to be targeted by Islamic terrorists this holiday seasons.

The good news is not only that Jesus came to this world 2000 years ago but that one day, in the sovereign purposes of God, the peace and good will proclaimed at His birth will become a reality throughout the earth.

Isaiah declared that men “shall beat their swords into plowshares   . . . nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”  The Prince of Peace will so rule that “of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end . . . the zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”

The peace and good will proclaimed by the angels at Bethlehem will be realized – not through a strong-armed dictatorship – but through the transforming power of the gospel, a message that changes men’s hearts from devotion to evil to bringing glory to God in the highest.

Let us rejoice in the peace we presently know because of the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.  And let us be diligent now and throughout 2017 in proclaiming the only lasting solution to the turmoil sweeping our land.  Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners and to transform their souls by the application of the gospel.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Our Incomprehensible God

The news was very difficult to read, much less understand.  Why would God ordain such a thing?  It all seemed such a waste from a Kingdom perspective.

We, who are committed to biblical orthodoxy and thus know that the Sovereign Lord governs His universe with His almighty arm, cannot countenance the possibility that tragedies occur outside of His determined will.  Yet, sometimes, we are utterly at a loss to explain the divine rationale.

Over thirty years ago Dr. James Dobson published a book titled, When God Doesn’t Make Sense.  As Christians, if we are honest, we will admit that at times God’s ways utterly mystify us.

God declared through His prophet Isaiah, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways … for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts” (55:9-10).  This truth was on bold display recently in Nebraska.

Just over a week ago the Pals family of five was killed in a car accident as they were on their way to train for missionary service in Japan.  Jamison and Kathryn, both 29, died with their three children: Ezra 3, Violet, 23 months, and Calvin, 2 ½ months.  An “inattentive and distracted” truck driver rammed “at a high rate of speed” into their minivan.  He is charged with five counts of felony motor vehicle homicide.

Three years ago, Jamison wrote a letter to Kathryne, encouraging her to embrace his vision of serving as a missionary in Japan.  He concluded, “It may costs us much, but would you have it any other way?  Whatever we lose will be worth it if we gain more of Christ …”  From an earthly perspective, the Pals lost everything.  But they now enjoy the presence of Christ, their mission having been completed.

God is glorified when His saints lay it all on the line in serving Him.  What may appear to be a setback is in reality another step forward.  Sinful, human irresponsibility redounds to the glory of God when Christians are seen serving Him selflessly and faithfully.  May God raise up, through their example, so many replacements for the Pals family that, in the end, much more will be accomplished to further the Kingdom than if the Pals had proceeded to Japan and served faithfully for decades.

God, give us faith to trust your plan … even when we "don’t get it."