Is the Christian Church Dying?

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The pollsters tell us that in the last ten years, Christianity in America has declined by more than 10%. Of those who claim to be Christians, less than half report regular church attendance. Those who claim no affiliation with religion – the “nones” have increased – from only 6% in the early 1970’s to 22% in 2019. [1] Add to those reports the rise of hatred against Christianity and the trend for modern churches to turn away from biblical truth and you begin to wonder if the true church has a future at all. Is Christianity dying? Is the Christian church going to survive?

Christianity is by no means dying and the church will survive because her Head is Jesus Christ, the ultimate and eternal Victor. But the church and her children will take some difficult blows. Jesus warned His followers that the world would hate those who love Him, He said, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you” (John 15:20). When we become Christians and live like Christians, we will become offensive – not acceptable – to the world.

Perhaps the unpopularity of the Christian faith will be her saving grace. When being a Christian becomes a stigma instead of a tradition, only the most devoted to Christ will remain. Throughout the history of the church, God has often used persecution and oppression to purge and purify His people.

Jesus also said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (Matthew 5:11). When they were imprisoned and beaten for their testimony of Jesus, the Apostles were “rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name” (Acts 5:41). Persecution is on the horizon for the church in the U.S. – it’s already a reality in other parts of the world. Beloved holding fast to your faith in Jesus may be the hardest thing you ever do. But it will also be the sweetest. Be faithful to God, walk in His Truth, refuse to compromise the faith and the message, and trust Him to either stand in our defense or stand to receive us into heaven.

[1] https://www.pewforum.org/2019/10/17/in-u-s-decline-of-christianity-continues-at-rapid-pace/

God Bless Us Everyone!

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Ebenezer Scrooge was the quintessential Christmas grump. The light and fun of the season eluded him – or perhaps it’s more accurate to say he chased it off. He rejected every spark of happiness or celebration of the season and did his best to squash it for others. He was bitter, hard, greedy, and rude. Scrooge had no Christmas joy. What changed his attitude? When the Spirit of Christmas Future showed him the difference between the grief expressed at the death of Tiny Tim and the indifference at his own passing. Realizing that he would die a lonely death and no one would care, Scrooge determined to “honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

In a culture that regards “the holidays” as big business, what does it mean to “honor” Christmas? Is it singing non-offensive festive songs? Is it toy drives and food collections? Or does it mean actually saying the word Christmas – and emphasizing the first six letters? Is it posting “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” on all our social media accounts?

I think, perhaps old Ebenezer got it right. For Scrooge, honoring Christmas meant opening his heart (and his purse strings) to joy. And it meant sharing that joy with everyone he met. After his change of heart, Scrooge, Dickins said, suddenly discovered that “everything could yield him pleasure”[1] He understood that real joy wasn’t just for a season – it lasted all year long and included everything and everyone around him.

Beloved, does your joy gets packed away with the Christmas decorations? Then your joy is in a holiday on a calendar, not in the One we celebrate. Real joy is rooted in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Real joy comes from knowing that your sins are forgiven and you have eternal life in heaven. That is joy that carries you all through the year and through the ups and downs of life. I’ve heard it said that Christians are the only ones who can truly celebrate Christmas because they know the joy of redemption. If Christmas is only a season of joy, then you need to find the reason for the season and know the joy of Christ “all the year.”

[1] http://www.authorama.com/a-christmas-carol-6.html

Kanye and the Church

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What does it mean to be a “righteous person?” Merriam-Webster says that “righteous” means “to act in accord with divine or moral law.” In Scripture, it means to be “right.” But who sets the standards for “right” and “wrong?” In our culture, that standard shifts like a sheet caught in the wind. God gave His law and commandments so that His people would know exactly what He deems to be right and live accordingly. Righteous behavior was rewarded and unrighteousness was punished. In a previous post, I shared how the Prodigal Son would, according to Levitical law, be stoned to death when he returned home for rebelling against his father. Likewise, a woman who was found to not be a virgin when she married would also be stoned to death. The law stated: “She has done a disgraceful thing in Israel by being promiscuous while still in her Father’s house. You must purge the evil from among you” (Deuteronomy 22:20-21). According to the Law, this was the right way to deal with her.

So how is it that Joseph was called “a righteous man” when he decided to disobey this law? When Mary revealed her pregnancy to her fiancé, Joseph “did not want to expose [Mary] to public disgrace, [so] he had in mind to divorce her quietly” (Matthew 1:19). Joseph did not want Mary to endure what the law said she deserved. Yet the Scriptures called him righteous. Because Joseph opted for mercy over judgment. No wonder God chose him to be the earthly father who would raise His Son.

A popular entertainer professed to be a Christian recently and just dropped a full gospel album. He has a reputation as a foul-mouthed, wild, arrogant, rebellious guy, but now he says he is a follower of Christ. And the church has judged him and his claim by his past. Where is mercy? Where is righteousness? Who among us has the right to judge his faith? Shouldn’t we instead be proclaiming the saving power of Christ? If the angels are rejoicing that a sinner came to Jesus, why aren’t we? We have an opportunity to show the world the grace and mercy of God by embracing this man and his new-found faith – but we’re showing them that Heaven has slammed the door in his face. And theirs. Why would they want a God like that? The truth is, it took the same amount of holy blood to cleanse my sins as it did to cleanse his. And it takes the same grace to overcome my mistakes as a believer as it will to overcome his. If God can save a wretch like me, no one is outside of the reach of His salvation.

James said it clearly and boldly: “Judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!” (James 2:13).

I’m choosing righteousness here. I’m choosing the same mercy that was shown to me. I’m going to believe that my God can save. Anyone.

When Everyone’s a Philosopher, How Do You Know What’s True?

In this day of social media, everyone has an opinion and anyone with internet access and a keyboard can become an expert about everything from sports to food to politics to religion. Spend an hour on the web and you will know the deep thoughts of world leaders, celebrities, “influencers,” the media, the local yokel, and even the Kardashians. I’m guilty too, as I flood the cyber-world with biblical commentary. The delivery may be modern, but the idea of sharing ideas is as old as man. The trick is to figure out who’s ideas are worth listening to.

Paul warned the believers in Colossae: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy . . .” (Colossians 2:8). The Colossians were being led astray by false teachers who claimed that the secret to eternal life was a higher plane of knowledge – a knowledge that was superior to Christ and put one on the level with God. Their philosophies sounded right, but they were wrong, and anyone who listened was led astray. It wasn’t just a first-century problem. That warning still applies today. There are a lot of messages that sound like the Bible, but they are not the Word of God. There are a lot of teachings that sound like Jesus, but they are not the Son of God. They have shades of truth, but they are not the truth.  So how do you know what is true?

When bank tellers receive training to recognize counterfeit money, they are not schooled in every possible way that a bill can be counterfeited. Instead, they are taught every detail of a genuine bill, so that when someone presents money that is even a little off, they can spot it instantly. The key to recognizing a false bill is to know the real thing. The key to recognizing false teaching is to know the truth. Luke commended a group of believers in Berea because they listened to Paul’s teachings and “examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). They didn’t take Paul’s word for what God said; they checked it out in God’s Word.

I hope you do the same Beloved. I hope you take what your Bible teacher says, your Pastor, your favorite author or singer, even yours truly, and lay it beside the authoritative, infallible, inspired Word of the Living God to see if it agrees with what was spoken by the Spirit of God. And if it does not, you run from it and run to the truth. And if I said it, you call me out on it. I also hope that you are making Bible study – not just a five-minute devotional reading – a priority in your day. I hope you are digging in and soaking up the truth. I hope you are learning to recognize the ways and words of God so you are not “taken captive through hollow and deceptive philosophies . . .” I hope you know the Scriptures so intimately that anything just a shade off of the truth raises red flags in your spirit. There is far too much as stake to shrug your shoulders and reason that “it sounds okay to me.” Be a Berean. Know the truth. It’ll set you free.

Hollow Faith

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Waking up on Easter morning when I was a kid meant a new dress and new shoes and an Easter basket at the foot of my bed, loaded down with goodies. There were always jelly beans and marshmallow treats and a book about Jesus. There was usually a necklace or bracelet in mine, while my brothers got toy cars and trucks. But best of all – there was CHOCOLATE! Chocolate coins and chocolate eggs wrapped in thin foil that always tore when you tried to open them. And the bunny. The smiling chocolate Easter bunny who stared at me with his little frosting eyes and beckoned me to nibble on his ears. Oh, I could not resist his charms. One year I pulled my chocolate friend out of his cellophane home and bit down on his ear and got a shock. The chocolate caved in and broke apart because the bunny was hollow inside! Mama didn’t realize the bunnies she bought for us were not solid. My brothers and I felt cheated. We had counted on solid milk chocolate that we could gnaw on for several days. We got a thin veneer of chocolate that was gone before bedtime that day. There was no substance to our chocolate Easter bunnies, they were just a shell.

Paul warned believers to be on guard against “hollow and deceptive philosophies” (Colossians 2:8) of this world that will try to fool us and draw us away from the solid truth of Christ Jesus. They are a very real and present danger to the Christian. Unlike Christ, in whom is “all the fullness of [God]” (v. 9), they are empty and foolish and they crumble under the bite of real life. Unlike Christ, who is eternal, these philosophies have no substance and no staying power, they are founded on the shifting values and priorities of the world. Even in my lifetime “right and wrong” have been turned upside down by the culture. Hollow, worldly philosophies are ever-changing. “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). And unlike Christ who is the Truth, they are rooted in lies and deception. At their core they deny the reality of God and His authority and put humanity on the throne of existence (Romans 1:18-25). And the sad truth is, they are not limited to the world; they are prevalent in the church as well. In Paul’s day it was the “higher knowledge” gospel and the “Mosaic-law” gospel. Enemies of the Christianity held to secret knowledge as the way to God while the Jewish traditions demanded obedience to the Law of Moses, including circumcision. Today we have the “prosperity” gospel, the “social” gospel, the “humanitarian” gospel, the “political” gospel, and on and on. All of these are hollow shells of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Beloved, when the winds of hardship howl and the heat of spiritual battle rages, you need something more than a hollow, Easter-bunny faith. You need something you can depend on, something that will last. You need the solid truth of God, His Son, and His Word. You need a faith that will not crumble. You need the solid rock that is Jesus.

Amazing Grace

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Meditating this morning on Luke 1:26-30 and Gabriel’s words to Mary: “Greetings, you who are highly favored!” (vs 28) What was it about Mary that make her “highly favored?” Was it that she was a virgin? Hardly – there were many virgins in Israel. Was she somehow superior to other young women? The Scriptures don’t support that, even though the Roman Catholic Church teaches that she was.
Here’s the point we struggle with in the 21st century – it wasn’t about Mary at all. When we read the Bible we tend to focus heavily on the characters in the story because we are looking for something in them with which we can identify. “My favorite Bible character is Peter, because I can identity with him; we’re just alike.” I’ve said it myself about certain Bible people with whom I feel a “connection.” In the same way, we look at God and identify characteristics that highlight how He relates to us. And again, I’ve done it – my favorite attribute of God is His faithfulness, because He has been so very faithful to me. That is not wrong in and of itself, but it’s miss-focused. You and I need to see God for who He is, not who He is “to me.”
The Greek word “favor” means “grace.” Favor is a gift, a kindness, a blessing and it says nothing about the recipient, and everything about the Giver. When Gabriel spoke his greeting he wasn’t exalting Mary, he was highlighting the undeserved grace of God to her. We have a hard time wrapping our minds around that because we are a merit-based society. But there was really nothing special about Mary – God’s favor was purely His own choice. She received it in the same manner – praising Him for His grace, mercy and power (vs. 46-55). It is the same with our salvation. Despite what the church teaches, we don’t “choose to receive Jesus” – He chooses us to receive His grace – our only part is to respond in faith.
What’s your story with God Beloved? Do you recognize that you were chosen by nothing more or less than His grace? If we are in God’s blessed family it is all His doing, not yours or mine. Let’s refocus our spiritual understanding on this gift. It’s not about who we are – it’s all God’s Amazing Grace.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

You are winner. Smiling man looking in mirror and pointing on himself with help of his index fingers.

“Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill'” (John 6:26).

Yesterday we sang one of my favorite old hymns, “It is Well With My Soul,” and it moved me profoundly. The story behind this precious hymn is part of the reason why it touches my heart every time I sing it. Horatio Spafford, following the devastating loss of first his son, then his business, sent his wife and four daughters ahead by ship to Europe. On the way the ship sank and his daughters all perished. As he sailed to meet his grieving wife, Spafford wrote these words as the ship passed over the watery grave of his beloved children:

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,

It is well, it is well with my soul.

I compared it to modern Western Christian music and found today’s offerings wanting. I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in Christian media – music, books, articles, and messages – over the past few years.  It’s all becoming less about who God is and more about who I am in Him, and it places God in a secondary role.  The result is, rather than worshiping God, we are worshiping who we are because of God.  And rather than presenting God as one who is worthy of worship in His own right, we claim His worth is seen in our worth.  In the current “Christian” culture, the theme is, “No matter what happens, it’s all about who I am in Christ.”  And honestly, that’s what sells today.  But Spafford, with a broken heart said, “When sorrows like sea billows roll . . . It is well with my soul.” His sole focus was the eternal state of his soul, not his identity.  Reading the full song, he found all he needed in the rock-solid assurance of his salvation, in the sweet forgiveness of his sins, and the glorious promise of Christ’s return. Despite his hardships and grief, all that mattered was that it was well between himself and God.

Modern Christianity in the West has become self-absorbed and consumed with what God has done/can do for me, just like the crowd in John 6:26.  They were part of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the five thousand (John 6:1-13) and they wanted more.  Not more of Jesus, but more of what He could do for them.   In verse 27 Jesus told them essentially, don’t focus on what you want or need, but focus on “eternal life.”  Focus on Me.  Again, they came back with, “what will you do for us?” (v. 30).  He responded, not by telling them He would give them more bread, but by telling them: “I am the Bread of Life” (v. 35).  We are no different when we fail to see past what He can do for us to see who He is.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a fuddy-duddy who wants to spoil the celebration.  It is right to praise God’s faithfulness and goodness to us, but I find our acclamations seem to always turn the spotlight on ourselves and God becomes second to our “worth and identity.” The best-selling Christian books and “Bible” studies are written with a definite self-focus – all about finding “my worth, my value, my identity.”  We’ve begun to use God like a divine mirror, looking to Him to gaze on our own reflection when we should be so blinded by His brilliance and beauty that we can’t see ourselves at all.

I fell in love with Lauren Daigle’s song “You Say,” but I began to look closely at the lyrics and realized it’s completely “me-centered.” Over and over she says, “I believe what you say . . . about me.”  Look at the second verse:

The only thing that matters now is everything You think of me
Cause in You I find my worth, in You I find my identity

That honestly disturbs me – but it follows the trend of the day – the only thing that matter is who I am, not who God is.  (And I still love Lauren Daigle.)  Friend, we need a refresher course in humility and in the greatness of our God.  We need to realize that what matters is not what God thinks of me nor is it my worth and identity – it is God – only God, and His worth and identity. We need to hold Him up for the world to worship and adore, not to be the reflection of our own faces.

Beloved, who is God to you?  Is He the one who is worthy of worship and adoration?  Or is He the one who makes you worthy?  Is your life a reflection of Him, or is He a reflection of your identity?  Who does the world see when they look at you? May we seek to be nothing more than mirrors that reflect His beauty and His worthiness.

 

Check out this video of the Issacs singing, “It Is Well With My Soul”