Friday, August 28, 2020

Future Of The Church

I read some stats a couple of days ago from the Barna Group. Barna is a well respected spiritual research group that has been around for some time. There was one particular stat that jumped out at me. Their research showed 1 out 5 churches would close their doors over the next 18 months. That is quite an astounding number of closures over a relatively short period of time. 

The reason given for the closures is the effects of the coronavirus. Many churches have not yet reopened for in person services. For those traditional churches who have returned to in person services in their buildings it has been struggle. 

Most of the struggle comes down to finances. You see, even while the buildings were closed the monthly expenses remained. The electric, water, sewer bills along with insurance had to be paid. Salaries, if there is paid staff, had to be paid. 

In regards to giving, it is sort of an "out of sight, out of mind" thing. As you can imagine, many church folks were impacted in some way by COVID-19. Many were laid off from their jobs. Those who were still working, in many cases, had their hours cut. This resulted in less household income for them to meet the needs of their families. They had to cut somewhere to put food on their tables and keep the lights on. Giving was one of those places that was easy to forget about or cut. Less money coming in has resulted in financial hardships for many churches. 

Some churches have yet to reopen. Instead, they have taken creative approaches to ministry for the safety of the congregation. Many have gone to virtual church services. They use various social media platforms to stream their church services. They have developed ways to give online. While this has been a help, in many cases overall giving is down considerably. 

Some churches have reopened with restrictions regarding social distancing along with other health mandates. Statistics show, on average, about 25% - 50% of attendees have returned. Some don't feel safe in returning yet due to COVOD-19. Some choose to watch the service being streamed from the safety of their homes. 

One thing is for certain - the way church is done is forever changed. I believe we will continue to see more churches opt for virtually streaming their services. I believe online giving will continue to be encouraged. You will be able to submit any prayer requests you may have online. All of these are good things, in my opinion.

With all this in mind, it is certainly easy to see how it is possible that 1 in 5 churches will close their doors over the next 18 months. It could be even more.

Here's the good news in all this. No matter how many traditional churches close  it will not affect God's church. God's church will never close! 

God's church is not confined to a building. His church is anywhere His people are. There doesn't have to be a great number of people. There doesn't have to be an organized service as it's come to be known today. God's people are free to minister to one another. Yes, we certainly do need one another (I wrote about that in a previous post). There are no Lone Rangers in the kingdom of God. We can meet in a park, restaurant or a living room. We can sing, share and discuss God's Word. The opportunities are unlimited. 

Makes you wonder what God might have in store for us, huh?

Until next time...enjoy the journey!


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Friday, August 21, 2020

It's A Faith Walk!

 I believe far too many of us attempt to walk our journey in our own strength. We try to make certain we control what we do and even how it's done. If some things work out for us along way we think we are something else. If some of the things don't work out then we just assume they were not meant to be. 

We want to figure it out ourselves. Some people are "nuts and bolts" kind of people. They want to work out the details. Some like to micro-manage situations. We oftentimes do this to the exclusion of God and His will for us. 

It's a faith walk! Or at least it is supposed to be. Paul, the apostle, wrote to the church at Corinth, "We walk by faith not by sight" (2 Corinthians 5:7). Paul goes on to write to the Galatians, "...the righteous will live by faith" (Galatians 3:11 CSB). We also learn in 1 Timothy 1:4 that God's plan operates by faith. Are you beginning to see a theme?

Since this journey is a faith walk, it would be a good idea to define what "faith" is. We find a good definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1 (CSB) "Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen". Faith sees what isn't there as though it is. Faith defies natural logic. Our faith is in God. 

We also learn in Hebrews 11:6 "Now without faith it is impossible to please God, since the one who draws near to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him". In this verse we learn that without faith it is impossible to please God. The writer didn't say improbable  or might not be able to please God. He said it's impossible. So now we see the importance of faith in our journey. It truly is a faith walk.

If you need some help in developing your faith walk I would encourage you to read Hebrews 11. I call this chapter "God's Hall of Faith". It will strengthen your faith as you see how God came on the scene and helped and blessed those who walked in faith. 

Until next time...enjoy the journey!


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Friday, August 14, 2020

The Nominal Christian

 There is a lot of emphasis on numbers today. There is competition all around us. Its all about the numbers. This has taken root in the church, as well. There is competition among churches as to who has the largest membership roll or who has the largest number of people in attendance on Sunday morning. It seems we want to bring the ministry down to mere numbers. What a sad commentary for the church!

Nominal followers were the greatest obstructions to the ministry of Jesus when He was here on this earth - and they still are today. Their interests were being entertained by His miracles (Matthew 16:1), finding opportunities to criticize Him (Matthew 22:15-16) and getting something for nothing (John 6:26).

Judas was one of the original twelve disciples, but Peter said of him, "he was numbered with us" (Acts 1:17). He was just a number. You see, Judas wanted to be a disciple of Jesus without complete departure from the world and its ways. Judas attempted to serve God and money (Matthew 6:24). His tongue was pious and his heart was greedy (John 12:1-8).

"He was". This could be said of many today. Once he was a person of prayer, but now? Once, she was faithful in gathering together for service, but now? Once he was a joyful Christian, but now? The most miserable person you will ever run across is the one who, at one time, served God with all his/her being, but now no longer does. They can't help but be miserable. 

Again, Peter said of Judas, "he had obtained part of this ministry" (Acts 1:17). Judas' part of the ministry was no less than the others'. Heaven's resources were at his disposal. He was witness as well as partaker of the many miracles performed at the hand of Jesus as well as by His disciples. He could have had an eternal mansion (John 14:3-3). What happened? What became of Judas? Like every self-centered life he came to his end with a little silver and a plot of ground bought with his sin. A lot of good those things did him. 

Let us ask ourselves this question, "Am I just a nominal Christian?" Is my church participation and service to God genuine or is it "put on" so as to keep others from nagging me? Do I find it difficult to do the things of God or am I ready, willing and eager to do the will of God?

I challenge you today to make your calling and election sure (1 Peter 1:10). Be saved and know it. Have a "know so" salvation. We must make a greater effort to follow God's will - not our will (Luke 22:42). We should take a greater interest in one another and be available for one another in times of need as well as in times of rejoicing (Galatians 6:1-2). We should be encouragers. As children of God, we ought to have a greater interest in the unsaved (1 Corinthians 9:22-27). Instead of "canned" prayers, we must take a fervent approach to God in prayer if we truly desire to see God answer our prayers. Of course, we must take a greater interest in Bible study (2 Timothy 3:16). I dare say, the local television listings are more familiar to most people, even Christians, than the Bible. 

As the great preacher Billy Sunday once said, "It's time to quit fiddling with religion and do something to bring the world to Christ!"

Until next time...enjoy the journey!


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Friday, August 7, 2020

Grumbling, Complaining and Backbiting

Grumbling, complaining and backbiting.

These are three words and actions we see everywhere today. We see it in business. We see it in families. Sadly it's even in the church today. 
Have you ever spent time around a person who is constantly grumbling, complaining and backbiting? It will wear you out. It will get on your last nerve. It can even put you in a bad mood. 

Some say it's simply human nature to display these characteristics. Perhaps that's true to the extent we are born with a sinful nature. 

The Bible has some things to say about these attributes so many have today. Lets take a look at what God says. 

We know that grumbling and complaining undermine the peace, joy, patience and other fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) we, as believers are to experience. It can certainly harm our Christian testimony to others, as well. Why would they want what we have if all we do is grumble and complain about others as well as our circumstances. When we complain we are essentially saying we don't like what God is doing or allowing to be done in our lives. We are saying we don't trust Him to do what is right in our lives. Often when we grumble and complain we are focused on the wrong things (James 4:1-3). Paul, the apostle, writes to the Philippian church to guard it's witness by not complaining. We read in Philippians 2:14-15, "Do everything without grumbling and arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure children of God who are faultless in a crooked and perverted generation, among whom you shine like stars in the world."  Perhaps our complaints would better be lifted up to God in prayer. 

In regards to backbiting, we need to look at what it means. By definition, backbiting means "to say mean or spiteful things about a person (such as someone who is not present)". To backbite is to gossip about someone behind his or her back. Negative or malicious talk may feel good for a moment, while you get something off your chest, but ultimately it does no good and can actually do great harm, even separating close friends. Backbiting is contrary to love. There is no place in the Christian life for backbiting. 

Truthfully, these things annoy me, personally. These things do nothing to edify, exhort or encourage. Instead, they tear down and rip apart. 

Why do we do such things? Perhaps to intentionally hurt someone who has hurt us. We do it to be vindictive. Jesus said, "For the mouth speaks from the overflow of the heart" (Matthew 12:34). We speak what's in our heart. Perhaps that is the issue - these things have taken root in our heart. 

What is the answer? Prayer is the key. Ask God to change our hearts. He can give us a new heart. He can change our attitudes. Ask God to help you see others through His eyes. That will change your life.

Until next time...enjoy the journey!


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