Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Is Christianity Dying?

It's all over the news. The Pew Research Center's newest report has dropped, and the headlines are blaring.

"Christians drop, 'nones' soar in new religion portrait," USA Today proclaimed.
News Max declares, "Christianity Declines Sharply in US, Agnostics Growing."
The Los Angeles Times is a little more subtle: "U.S. has become notably less Christian."

The headlines are technically true. But are they accurate?

See, a lot of times with data, the "true truth" is lingering just beneath the surface. Are there fewer people who self-identify as Christian in America than there were a few years ago? Undeniably. But is the change because there are fewer people who are authentically following Jesus, or because the people who used to check "Christian" by default, are just more accurately reporting their true beliefs?

The data supports the second idea. As Russell Moore puts it, "We don't have more atheists in America. We have more honest atheists in America."

Or, as Ed Stetzer puts it, the nominals are becoming nones.

Here's an article that gives a solid perspective on the data from Mr. Stetzer. And here's one from Russell Moore that expands on Stetzer's concept that this Pew report is actually good news for the church.

I agree with Mr. Moore. We need fewer people who call themselves Christians, and more people who truly try to live like Jesus.


Friday, May 8, 2015

Surprised by Hope


Surprised By Hope:
Why Christians Flock to an Atheist's Films

I'll admit it. I really enjoy the Avengers' films, and most of the Marvel Universe pictures. Here's an interesting take on why I might like them so much (in addition to all the smashing up things and stuff like that).

Friday, April 17, 2015

Transform(180)

Once upon a time, I wrote a daily devotion and emailed it out to a couple hundred people or so. Some of them actually liked it and were less-than-happy when I got too busy to continue. We called the daily readings "The LightSwitch."
A couple years ago, I got a team together and we edited about six-months-worth of LightSwitches into a book that I e-published as Transform(180). Sold a few copies.
Yesterday on a whim, I corrected a couple mistakes readers had discovered and re-published it. I even lowered the price to $2.99.
If you're curious what they were like, I'll reprint one below. And if you'd like to get a copy for your Kindle Reader, here's the link.

An Ordinary Day

Focus Text: 1 Samuel 17:12-22

Key Verse:  Jesse said to his son David, “Take this ephah of roasted grain and these ten loaves of bread for your brothers and hurry to their camp.” (17)

Comments:
David never set out to kill a giant. 
He wasn’t even doing anything special. He was taking groceries to his brothers. Oh sure, it promised to be exciting. He might get to watch a battle (and what teenage boy wouldn’t find that cool--especially at a time when, instead of television, they watched sheep?)
But that was it. No plans for anything special. Just an ordinary teen running an ordinary errand—at least ordinary for 1000 B.C.
So, David left for his ordinary trip, but God had something extraordinary planned. And soon all the Israelites would know the name of the man God had anointed to be the next king. 
Now fast forward a millennia or so. An ordinary girl in an ordinary town living an ordinary life. But God had something else planned. And Mary went from ordinary girl to extraordinary mother-to-be in a matter of seconds.
Okay, fast forward another couple millennia, to twenty-first century America. An ordinary person just like you. Matter of fact, let’s just say it is you.
Of course, God could never use you to do anything extraordinary. I mean, just like me, you’re an ordinary person going about your ordinary life. Maybe even an ordinary, boring life.
But don’t get complacent. Keep your eyes open. Never doubt that God is capable of doing something extraordinary through you as you go about your ordinary life.
Even if you never set out to kill a giant.

Prayer:
[Father, help me to keep my eyes open to whatever you want to do through me today. Use me in any way you please, to accomplish whatever you desire.]

Monday, March 23, 2015

World Praying

Sunday, I mentioned some tools to help us do a better job praying for the Church throughout the world, and here they are. (Now that's how you write a blog opening.)
Operation World. I've linked the prayer calendar here, but there are lots of other resources if you want to surf the site. (Do we still surf web sites, or is that term outdated?) Also, if you click on one of the dates, you will get a lot of data. (And I mean A LOT.) If you don't want to geek out on all the data, scroll down to the Challenges for Prayer section. You can also purchase their book that takes you on an annual world tour of basically every nation, helping you understand the state of faith in that nation and giving prayer direction. The book changed my life.
Voice of the Martyrs. If you want gripping stories about what individual Christians are enduring throughout the world, this is your source. There is a monthly newsletter and ways to actually get involved to help as well.
Release International. More focused on groups than individuals, Release has a Daily Prayer Shield (that's where the link goes), as well as a lot of additional resources.
Open Doors USA. Their prayer calendar (linked) is a world tour of Church persecution--and victory. Among their resources are opportunities to travel overseas to provide assistance.
Window on the World. Angie Jones sent me this link to a book that helps you get your kids involved in praying for the world.
PrayerMate. This is the prayer app that I use. It's available on all three major platforms, and among it's cool features is the ability to subscribe to updates from quite a few mission groups, including Operation World, Release International and Open Doors USA. Even if you don't want to use the app for anything else, the daily prayer subscriptions make it worthwhile. And it's totally free.
Tags. One other thing I mentioned yesterday is, as you're getting dressed, read the label on the clothes and pray for the nation where your garments were made. Ten seconds of doing this can get your day started off thinking in a world-wide context.
And if you'd like to listen to the entire message from yesterday, it's here.
Have you found any other sources to help you do a better job praying for the world?

Monday, March 9, 2015

Worth the Trouble?

In his blog today, Seth Godin nails one of the reasons I think our church has grown while others have not. Our people truly believe our mission is so important we do things that many others think aren't worth the trouble. 

We sweat the small stuff. We greet people in the parking lot. We give first-time guests guided tours. We spend as much (actually more) energy on the kids on Sunday morning as we do the adults. Our keyboardist spends so much time getting her part right for one song that her family starts to hate that song. (True story from this Sunday.) The list just keeps going. 

As Seth puts it, "Seeking out the things that are more trouble than most people think they're worth is a powerful place to be."

And if, like us, you really believe the things we do for God are the most important things in the world, then doing the things other people think aren't worth the trouble is definitely worth it. 

Jesus, Matthew, and Heaven

Quick follow-up to something I mentioned in yesterday's message. I stated that I didn't believe Jesus ever used the word "heaven" in Matthew to describe the place where we go when we die, and that our future is always described as the Kingdom of Heaven (which is on earth).

Looks like I was basically correct, but wrong at the same time. Jesus did use the word "heaven" without the word "kingdom," (against my on-the-spot memory) quite a few times, but never to describe our eternal destination.

In Matthew Jesus refers to heaven without also mentioning the kingdom around 40 times. From His usage in Matthew, heaven is a) the place where God dwells, b) the place where the angels live, and c) the location of our eternal bank ("store up treasures in heaven" and stuff like that), and d) a general word corresponding to "up" or "sky."

The word is used similarly in the other Gospels, with John frequently referring to the fact that Jesus came down from heaven.

The whole message, which will explain why I brought it up in the first place, is here.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Seriously did not anticipate this. Russell Brand with some great insights on pornography.