Talent is Overrated

So you want to serve the Lord, but you don’t play an instrument and you don’t sing. You don’t feel as though you are especially talented at anything. You wonder what is your purpose in the kingdom and whether or not you have a purpose at all. I submit to you that serving the Lord is not about being especially talented, rather it is about how you invest the gift that has been granted to you by the Master.
Let’s take a look at the parable of the talents that Jesus told in Matthew 25:14-30. It is the story of a lord who left his place to go on a long journey. As a shrewd businessman, he did not want his money lying idle while he was away, so before leaving, he divided up eight talents among three servants with the idea that they would carry on business in his absence. To one servant he gave five talents, to another, he gave two, and to another, he gave one. The first two servants invested and doubled the money that the master gave them. The third was afraid of failure and decided to hide the one talent he was given for safe keeping.
When the master returned, he called for an accounting of the servant’s talents. The first two were rewarded for their service to the master and were granted the esteemed title of “Good and Faithful Servant.” The third was harshly chastised and rebuked for his lack of passion for the master’s business. His one talent was taken away and given to the first servant, and then he was cast into the darkness as a judgment for his lack of enterprise. 
The difference between the first two servants was not in the amount of talent they started with. Verse 15 says that each servant was granted talents, “according to their ability.” This means that even though they were granted different amounts of talent, the master’s expectations of each servant was equal. The difference was not the amount with which they started, but the passion with which they went about the master’s business. 
Jesus told this parable to teach His followers about the Kingdom of God. Jesus is the Lord who would leave this world to go on a long journey. His plan was to grant His servants certain gifts, to each according to their own ability, so that while away on His journey, they could invest in and grow His kingdom. Upon His return, He would call for an accounting of how His servants invested the gifts (talents) they had been given. Each would be judged, not according to the gifts with which they started, but according to the passion with which they went about the Master’s business. 
For you and me, this parable is both an encouragement and a warning. The encouragement is that while we might not feel especially gifted, there is always room to grow. The first two servants doubled their talents. All it took was a little passion and investment. The third servant, even though he was not especially talented, had the potential to do the same had he not been crippled with fear. 
Jesus told this story that His followers would know that when He ascended to the Father, He did not leave them empty-handed. He has given you something… some talent. He might not have given you five talents, but you at least have one. Whatever it is, however small or insignificant it is, the gift is yours and you have the potential to at least double the amount of talent that was originally invested in you. All you need is a little passion and grit. If you will make the investment, then you too will hear the words, “well done good and faithful servant.”
The warning of the parable is that if you are crippled by fear or if you refuse to passionately invest the gift that has been given you, then you run the risk of being judged a “wicked servant.” Not serving the Master with your gifts reveals that you don’t really know the Master. It reveals that you do not believe that He will return, nor that you will have to give an account. 
If you do not feel especially talented, make sure your feelings are not rooted in the fear of failure. If you are a follower of Jesus, then you have been given a gift. Make sure you invest it for His glory.


Resolve to Grow in 2019

As 2018 now comes to a close and we begin looking forward to 2019, it is time to take stock of where you are and set some goals for this next lap around the sun. No matter where you are, intellectually, physically, spiritually, and socially, now, you have the potential to advance. I want to encourage you t make a resolution to grow in at least one of these areas in 2019. 
Even Jesus experienced growth over His life. Luke 2:52 says, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.” What, you thought He came here with wisdom and stature and favor with God and man? No, Jesus was fully human in addition to being fully divine. He had the full experience of the human life. He became who He was because He followed His Father’s leadership and the outcome He experienced was growth in every area of His life.
If you are a human being, then you know that you cannot grow unless you set goals. Even Jesus had to set goals. How do you think He was able to increase in wisdom? I’ll tell you… He studied God’s word. He committed scripture to memory. He sought wisdom to understand the times in which He lived. This served Him well during the most difficult and trying times of His life on earth. 
Your wilderness is coming. Are you ready for it? Could you stand to grow in wisdom? Most of us could. What will you do to grow in wisdom in 2019? Will you watch the same mind-numbing television programs, read the same books, magazines, and blogs? Or will you spend more time in God’s word, read more Christ-centered (or at least educational) material, watch programs and visit websites that will cause you to grow in wisdom and prepare for life’s challenges?
How do you think that Jesus was able to increase in “stature?” By the way, this Greek word can also be translated “age” or “lifespan.” Jesus did not count equality with God as a reason to sit around lazily age. He was physically active and healthy. He took care of His body. Someone (with a lot more time than me) calculated, based on His travels in the book of Mark, that Jesus could walk a 14-minute mile. I don’t know if you have ever tried to walk a 14-min mile, but I have and I can tell you that it is difficult especially over the kind of distances that He traveled (20 to sometimes 50 miles).
How about you? What are you doing now to take care of the body that has been graciously given you? In what ways can you grow? In what ways can you improve your lifespan (stature)? One might say, “Well, I can’t really do much. I mean when it’s my time, then it’s my time.” Maybe, but what about the time that He does give you? Will the way you are currently eating and exercising improve your physical ability to serve Him if He gives you another 20 years, or will it diminish your physical availability to the Lord?
Jesus also grew spiritual (favor with God) and socially (favor with man). In addition to spending time in the word, He spent time in prayer. He sought the Father’s will for His life. He had a top-level goal of bringing honor and glory to the Father. Because of this, He built and maintained relationships with actual people. He taught. He encouraged. He admonished. He fellowshipped. His spiritual growth gave way to social growth which made Him able to accomplish the task that the Father laid out for Him.
What about you? How is your prayer life? Could it stand to grow? Have you made it your top-level spiritual goal to bring honor and glory to God? Are you living like you have a purpose to fulfill on this earth?
What about your social wellbeing? What is the condition of your closest relationships? Do you have a ministry? Are you serving others in some way? Could you stand to grow in your availability to be there or others?
I hope you will set some goals for growth in 2019. Maybe it is overwhelming to try to grow in every aspect of your life. Just pick one area. Set a specific measurable goal. Write it down, and get after it in the strength He supplies.


A Christmas Truce

Last week I listened to an Audible original book entitled Christmas Eve 1914. It documents the story of a day-long ceasefire between English B Company and German enemies along one section of the frontline in World War I. It was a most moving story, one that made me long for a day when warring parties could cease their squabbling at least for a short time in celebration of the birth of the Prince of Peace. 
Here is a summary of the story: In late 1914, B Company was brought in to relieve their comrades along one section of the Belgian trench. Most of these replacements were veterans coming off of R&R, but one named Beecher was a young green officer on his very first tour. 
Beecher was a scared teenage boy. In an effort to connect with his fellow soldiers, he shared that he was a celebrated soloist in the choir back home. To prove this, he broke into a rendition of his signature Christmas solo of Silent Night. When his ambitious lieutenant, Swinburn, heard the singing, he harshly reprimanded the young man. He shamed him for not knowing that Silent Night was a German carol and for putting the lives of his fellow soldiers in danger. 
The soldiers soon learned that they would be a conducting a surprise offensive on the Germans. They wouldn’t expect such an offensive on Christmas Eve. With these plans, need came to conduct a recon mission on the German trench. Beecher was chosen to accompany another officer, Zachardo, on the recon mission. Beecher was killed just a few feet into “no-man’s land.”
It was custom for a soldier going out on recon to write a letter home to his family upon learning of his mission. Swinburn, upon reading Beecher’s letter, became very convicted for sending the inexperienced boy out only to be slaughtered just beyond the trench. Beecher’s death sent Swinburn into a suicidal spiral, and he prepared to recklessly launch the offensive without adequate recon or planning. 
While they readied the new machine gun, capable of firing 500 rounds per minute and delivered just in time for the fight, B Company saw movement on the German line. German soldiers were coming out of the trench carrying what looked to be torches. B Company scrambled to their firing positions. Every man was ready along with the new machine gun. They awaited the order to open fire.
Suddenly, someone noticed that the torches were not torches at all, but rather Christmas trees. That revelation brought silence to the English trench. The silence revealed that not only were the Germans carrying Christmas trees… they were also singing. Silent night was the tune. 
The captain of the German company explained that they had heard the sweetest singing coming from the trench earlier. It had stirred the hearts of the men. He wondered if they could negotiate a short ceasefire in order to bury their dead comrades lying between the two trenches. The two leaders agreed.
After burying the dead, including young Beecher, the two sides agreed to take Christmas day off from fighting. They exchanged gifts—cigarettes, chocolate, buttons from their coats, and warm greetings. One soldier related, “Yesterday if you had asked me to tell you about the German soldier, I would have told you about his rifle and his grenades. After today though,” he went on, “I can tell you about his laugh and his love for his family and country.” 
Of course, the war went on afterward. It was necessary that the conflict between the nations be resolved, but the brief respite in killing one another helped both sides to see the need for peace, and to honor the Prince of Peace. 
My heart yearns for such a respite. I realize that debates will not be resolved without the passionate expression of ideas. It is necessary that problems be confronted, and with that comes emotional confrontations with human agents responsible for the problems. But please, for one Christmas day, could we call a ceasefire? Could we seek to know one another? Could we climb out of our trenches, meet in no man’s land, grapple with the wounds we have inflicted on one another, unite around the peace that God gives (even if you don’t believe it is God who gives it)? We may, like the English and German soldiers, find that there is no other way to resolve our differences except to continue fighting, but is it not worth a try?


The Gospel of Christmas

To really celebrate Christmas, you must understand the gospel (the good news) of Christmas. The gospel of Christmas does not begin when Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The gospel of Christmas began before the beginning of anything when the earth was formless and void, and the Godhead spoke into the chaos, ‘Let there be light.’
You cannot understand Christmas without considering creation. He created the heavens and the earth in six days before resting on the seventh. The crown of His creation was mankind, who was created in His image to rule over what He had made in the same way that He (God Himself) ruled over the universe. In mankind, God designed a creature to whom He could relate. One who would be like Him.
Mankind proved to be a poor manager of creation. When given a choice, our ancestors chose wrongly. Rather than worship God alone, they chose to listen to the serpent, who was the embodiment of Satan, who promised them that they could become like God. In-other-words they chose to worship themselves rather than to worship God or to seek Him for wisdom in their task to rule the creation.
As a result of their failure, they fell from God’s grace. All of creation fell with them. The whole earth descended into chaos once again as God, who once declared all that He had made very good, pronounced judgment on mankind. But even as He handed down the judgment, He also made a promise that a savior would come, born of woman, who would set everything back in order once again.
For thousands of years, mankind awaited a savior. There were many who came and who seemed to fit the bill. It could have been Abel, but he was murdered by Cain. Then there was Noah, who became a sort of a Neo-savior, but not the promised one. Then came Abraham, whom God called out to be the father of His nation, but he died and proved not to be the savior, nor was his promised son Isaac, or his son Jacob, or Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph. Many more good men came including Moses, Joshua (whose name means “he delivers”), Gideon, Samson, Samuel, Saul, David, Solomon, along with other kings and wise men. They all died and proved not to be the One who would rescue mankind and creation from destruction.
All of creation continued to groan like a woman in the pangs of childbirth. The whole world longed for the Savior who would come. Meanwhile, the prophets continually encouraged them that the Savior was on the way. The prophets, in speaking God’s judgment on the world continued to reiterate the promise of God and give details as to how the Savior would come, what manner of life He would live, and how He would suffer on behalf of the people in order to reconcile them to God and to one another. 
The period of waiting ended on the night that a virgin gave birth to a son in Bethlehem just as the prophets foretold. This baby boy was different from all who came before Him in the fact that He fulfilled every prophecy and promise of God. His birth was heralded by the angels. He was worshipped by the lowest of shepherds and the wisest of wise men. He was given the name Jesus. He held the titles, Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, and Immanuel (God With Us). 
Jesus was raised by Joseph and Mary. He became a man. Though He was God in the flesh, He was also fully human. He was tempted in every way. He experienced every human emotion including fear, sadness, joy, despair, and anger, but He never fell short of the glory of God. Thus He lived the human life to perfection.
He died upon the cross as a penalty for sin, but not for sins of His own. No, He took our sin upon Himself and accepted the punishment of God for us. Then, three days after His death and burial, He was raised from the dead in victory. This proved beyond all doubt that He was that one who was promised in Genesis 3. It proved He was the Son of God and thus the King of kings and the Lord of lords. 
The gospel of Christmas is that all who receive Him as King of their lives and believe on His name are given the right to be called children of God. 


Fighting Fear and Finding Courage

Most people believe that courage is an innate quality; you either have it or you don’t. Thousands of years of military history tells us that this is not true. Courage is a quality of character that is learned, developed over a lifetime of channeling fear and dread in a more sophisticated way to avoid cowering before the enemy in a time of battle. Nowhere is this truth better communicated than in the life of Joshua.
Joshua was not an innately courageous man.  Joshua learned to be courageous by remembering his past victories, channeling fear, and relentlessly believing in the promise of God. We can, likewise, develop the courage to carry us through difficult battles and find victory in the face of seemingly certain defeat.
1. Joshua found courage by remembering his previous victories. In Exodus 17, he was called upon to lead a battle against the Amalekites. It was a serious hard-fought battle that could have been easily lost. Had it not been for Moses, Aaron, and Hur’s work of prayer on the hilltop, all would have been lost and the Exodus halted. After Joshua’s defeat of Amalek, God commanded Moses to write a memorial in the book and recite it in Joshua’s hearing. He also built an altar and called it, “The Lord is My Banner.”
You should be able to remember some harrowing battle where you emerged victoriously. Remember that it was the Lord that brought you through. It was recorded in His book. That victory is proof that even the most harrowing of battles, the banner of the Lord flies over you, and there is nothing that can harm you. Recite those memories of victories back to yourself, and find the courage to lean into the battle and keep fighting the good fight. 
2. Joshua found courage by channeling his fear and transforming it into courage. There is at least one instance recorded in scripture where Joshua was gripped by fear. In Numbers 11, when Moses appointed elders to help him lead the people, the elders began to prophesy in sight of all the people. This shook Joshua, who had grown to trust in Moses’ leadership alone. Now there was change afoot. He begged Moses to make them stop but this was to no avail. Joshua had to lean into courage in this moment and trust in God’s plan.
During seasons of change, you will not be able to avoid the creep of fear. You will pray, to no avail, for God would make it stop. You will interpret your fear as a lack of courage which will lead you to even greater fear. Remember this in those moments: courage is not the lack of fear. Courage is the channeling of fear in a more sophisticated manner—in a manner that is constructive rather than destructive. When the season of fear seems to be unending and relentless, this is the time when you learn what it is to be courageous. Let your fear lead you to cling to your Lord, and allow him to do the needed work in your heart so that you can stand on two feet and enter the battle once again. 
3. Joshua found courage by relentlessly believing in the promise of God. God made a promise to Joshua, first through His servant Moses, and then to Joshua face to face that He would be with him (Deuteronomy 31:7-8, Joshua 1:1-9). He promised that He would go before Joshua, that victory was sure, and that he had no reason to fear or be dismayed. Scripture records that Joshua trusted in this promise to the very end of his life and thus gained the promised victory. 
What has God promised you? Jesus promised that there is nowhere that you go where He will not be by your side (Matthew 28:20). He promised not to leave us as orphans, but to come to us in our time of need (John 14:18). Even if you lose your battle and with it your earthly life, He will be there in heaven waiting for you in the place that He has prepared beforehand (John 14:1-4). He told us not to fear, for He had already overcome the world (John 16:33). If God is for us, then no enemy can stand against us. If He would sacrifice His only Son to rescue us from sin, how can we not also trust Him to save us in our daily struggles (Romans 8:31-32)?


What is an Ambassador for Christ?

2 Corinthians 5:11-21 is a passage well known to teach about the reconciliation of God and mankind. Verse 21 may be the most concise summation of the gospel, besides John 3:16. What often gets dropped in the teaching of this passage is the call for the reconciled ones to be ambassadors for Christ and the description of what it looks like to be an ambassador of Christ. 
The Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul gives three very specific attributes of an ambassador for Christ. Grab your Bible and walk with me through this passage (really go get your Bible or open the app on your phone because I do not have room here to write out all the verses).
1. An ambassador for Christ is one who is controlled by the love of Christ. Read 2 Corinthians 5:11-15. 
Paul and his comrades were most misunderstood. In fact, one of the main reasons that Paul wrote this particular letter to the Corinthians was to defend himself against these misunderstandings. Some thought he was crazy and beside himself. Others thought that he was the real deal. In this passage, Paul made it clear that it mattered not to him what people think. If he was crazy, then he was crazy for God. If he was found genuine, then that meant that some people were going to get saved. 
It’s the love of Christ, not the approval of others, that really drove him and his fellow believers. They saw the world in a very binary manner. Jesus had died for all, therefore every single person they encountered had also died. Their every acquaintance was either dead in their sins, or dead in Christ. If they were dead in Christ, then that meant that they would also be raised in Him. If they were dead in their sins, then that meant that they needed to hear the gospel, die to themselves, and receive the hope of the resurrection. This mission to tell the world about Jesus was the guiding principle of their life. This is what it looked like to be an ambassador for Christ. 
2. An ambassador for Christ is one who sees fellow Christians as Christ. Read 2 Corinthians 5:16-17.
When the ambassadors met people, they saw their faces like an avid reader sees the cover of a book. The ambassadors were unflinching when they heard their stories of struggles with sin. These were matters of the flesh. What Paul and ambassadors like him were concerned about was their spirits. What mattered was whether or not they were in Christ. 
Verse 17 is often quoted to someone who is sinning to encourage them to stop. It’s often followed by something like, “you’re a new creature now act like it.” That is not what the Spirit is communicating here. He is telling us that as ambassadors we should regard people the way they are regarded by God. If you are in Christ, then God sees Christ in you and His righteousness that has been graciously applied to you. This is the way an ambassador should view their brothers and sisters, and this is a way to keep our brothers and sisters encouraged.
3. An ambassador for Christ is one who is entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation. Read 2 Corinthians 5:18-21
Far too often, people skip through verses 18-20 to get to 21. That is a huge mistake. Look at verse 18 again. It has two parts separated by the conjunction “and.” The clause before the conjunction “Christ reconciled us to Himself” speaks directly to the hope we have in Christ. What comes after the conjunction speaks to what has been given to us as a result, “the ministry of reconciliation.”
Look at verse 19 and you see the same thing. There are two ideas joined by the conjunction “and.” “God was reconciling the world unto Himself…, and entrusting us with the ministry of reconciliation.” Do you see that the fact that we have been “entrusted” with an ambassadorship is just as important as the fact that we have been reconciled to God?
Spend some time meditating on this truth. The Godhead could have chosen to use any number of means to get the gospel message to the ends of the earth. You are the one He chose. He could have sent an angel. He could have written it in the sky. Instead, he chose to use the reconciled ones as His ambassadors. What a responsibility! What a blessing!


Everyone needs to know a missionary.

Last week, the nation was shocked by the killing of missionary John Chau as he attempted to reach the most unreached of people groups, the Sentinelese people, who live on the Andamans Islands in Asia. Chau was killed on just his second contact with the Sentinelese. He has been called crazy, a criminal, and a white colonialist among other labels, but the most accurate title for John Chau is “missionary.”


Many people were surprised that this man would so recklessly risk his life just to share the message of the gospel with this group of unreached people. His bravery did not shock me in the least, because I know a handful of missionaries and this is their course of life. Firefighters go into burning buildings to save the lives of those in peril. Law enforcement officers run towards danger while everyone else runs away. So also, missionaries go into the darkest places, places no one else will go, in hopes of bringing light and life to those who dwell in darkness.


John Chau is an extraordinary person, but he is not the first to give his life as a martyr. He is one of many that you can and should read about. I encourage you to pick up and read Nik Ripken’s book, The Insanity of God, to learn more about the missionary way of life. Better yet, I encourage you to get to know some missionaries personally, as I have because they have so much to add to your own walk with Christ.


Missionaries love Jesus, and they love people. They are not fond of the title “missionary.” They’d prefer the title “Christian,” because they are, above all, followers of Christ. They are so blown away by the difference Christ has made in their lives that they cannot help but speak of Him to others. The darker the place, the more they want to go there and shine the light of Christ.


A missionary friend who works with Muslims in East Africa once told me, “There is no such thing as a ‘closed place.’ Jesus has opened every door. It is only a matter of being willing to pay the price required for walking through that door. There is no price I am not willing to pay if He calls.”


Missionaries are wise. They see the world not as a collection of objects, but as a collection of stories. Like Moses, indeed like Christ, they leave comfortable places of privilege in order to lead under-privileged people enslaved to sin into a brighter more hopeful place. They seek to make it their life story to change and brighten the stories of others.


One missionary friend in Cuba told me upon my visit there, “I believe in the effectiveness of a pastor’s fervent prayer. To me, there is nothing more beautiful, more powerful, than when a pastor is on his knees before God praying for the church.” He made that the story of our trip. In every village we visited, he had me pray for the churches of the village. He believed that much in the effectiveness of prayer to bring change.


Missionaries talk more about Jesus than anything else. Most of them have some skill that helps to meet a need in the people they serve. One of my missionary friends is a farmer and teaches the people he serves how to get the most out of the land. Another is a teacher and a counselor and serves people by helping them with their problems. Another is a very talented musician. Their gifts are different, but their singular aim is to introduce all people to the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.


On one trip to East Africa, I met a coffee buyer. He was an interesting fellow from South Africa. I got lost in my interest in him. I asked him no less than forty questions about the coffee business. Afterward, my missionary friend who listened in on the conversation challenged me, “Why were you more interested in talking about coffee than you were about that man’s soul?” Ouch!


If you have an opportunity to go on a mission trip with your church, then GO! Not only will you have an opportunity to do a great work in the name of Jesus, but you will also have a great opportunity to get to know a missionary. This will help to center your life in the only thing that really matters, doing the Great Commission.


What is the best thing that could ever happen to you?

A lot of people would say that winning a mega million jackpot is the best thing that could ever happen to them. They would not have to worry about working for the rest of their life. They could give to charity, buy a house, and just relax and enjoy the rest of their lives.
Many studies have been done on people who win the lottery. You might be surprised to know that those lottery winners do not turn out to be very happy in the long-run. Two things happen to spoil their happiness over winning: First, friends, family, and relatives come out of the woodwork and pester them for money. Second, in the same way, that a person with a disability adapts to their handicap, so also a person with great wealth adapts to and grows used to being wealthy. When wealth comes suddenly, they are very happy at first, and then their windfall becomes less fulfilling to them as life goes on.  
Other people might say that the best thing that could happen to them would be to see their children do well. I would love to see both my children grow up to be fine adults, get great jobs, marry Christians, give me grandchildren, and make me proud. I confess it is difficult for me to think of anything greater happening to me.  
But I’m wise enough to know that I have very little control over what they do as adults. Their mother and I can do our best to raise them right, but what they do as adults is their decision. It is also not right for us to put pressure on them to become the people we want them to be. They have to find themselves. They have to seek the Lord’s will for their lives. Their mother and I have a responsibility to encourage them along, but we cannot control their lives once they leave adolescence.  
Some people would say that the best thing that could happen to them is to live a long happy life. Others would say to advance to the highest levels of their career. Perhaps some would say to marry well, to earn a PhD., to own a vacation home, or to retire in Florida. It is fine to hope for all of these things, and it is important to set goals. In fact, studies show that people who set goals and work toward them tend to be happier people regardless of whether they reach those goals.
What I hope to get you to see, though, is that if you have believed in Jesus, then the best thing that could ever happen to you has already happened. Becoming a follower of Jesus is better than winning the mega million lottery because the reward lasts infinitely longer. Hoping to become the creature He designed you to become to the praise of His glory is better than hoping for your children to become all that you may dream because becoming who you are in Christ is not a far-fetched dream. It’s a guarantee according to Romans 8:29-30.  
The Apostle Paul’s joy in life had nothing to do with making this world his home. He said, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14). He said, “I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:26-27). At the end of his life, he said, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness that the Lord, the righteous judge, will award me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).  
This Thanksgiving season, I encourage you to give thanks for your salvation through the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. If you have it, then you have something to live for. Not only that, you have a goal to work toward. Making it to the end of your life, finishing the race, keeping the faith, fighting the good fight are goals that are well within your reach. In fact, you are guaranteed to reach them, if you keep your eyes on Him. 


It’s time to sound the alarm on the decline in the American church

When it comes to the decline in church involvement and the church’s influence over the culture, I say it is time to sound the alarm. We can no longer ignore the trends. We desperately need an awakening. 
Studies cited in David Olsen’s book The American Church in Crisis show that church attendance and involvement was in steep decline between 1990 and 2005. During that time period, even though a healthy majority claimed to be of the Christian faith, only 17 percent of them could be found in a worship service on any given Sunday by the end of 2005. More recently, generational researcher and psychology professor at San Diego State University, Jean Twenge, observed in her book iGen that today’s youth and their parents are drastically less religious than their grandparents. 
Some will ask “hasn’t this always been the case.” Yes, but the line grafts showing the religiosity of the boomer generation versus the most recent generation has widened from a deep valley to a vast canyon. If the current trend persists, America will be looking more like Europe very soon with empty church buildings littering every neighborhood. 
Perhaps you think I am overly alarmist. I encourage you to pay attention to the language and behavior of the young people in your life. It is not just that fewer Americans attend church. Twenge points out that, “[While] Boomers and GenX’ers were perfectly happy to be religious while they were young; [the latest generation] is less religious even in beliefs that do not require religious institutions; fewer Americans believe in God or pray; fewer, not more, young adults are spiritual; the number who do not participate in religion has doubled.”
Today, fewer young people lying to researchers when asked about their faith and spirituality. More and more Americans are perfectly happy not believing in God at all. More are content to believe that there is no God who cares about them and wants a relationship with them. More are content to find their community online with less face to face social interaction. They are more active in the pursuit of extrinsic goals like money, fame, prestige than intrinsic goals like being a good neighbor, lending a helping hand, and caring for their communities. 
There is a revolution afoot. Recent technological advances, a greater concern for emotional safety, and a general anxiety about the future of our economy have given way to a new generation of Americans who have fewer friends, a smaller tolerance for opposing viewpoints, and more of a survival mentality in their thinking about the future. This leads them to see the church as outdated, abusive in its adherence to the Bible, and unconcerned for the difficulties facing the majority of Americans. I’m not saying that this is an accurate perception only that this perception is what is driving the current trend toward a churchless society. 
What is the answer? It is certainly not to water-down the truth of Scripture as this would be a huge mistake leading to more not less decline. The preaching of the truth is not what is driving people from the church, rather, it is our lack of love while preaching the truth that turns them off. We need to realize that our children are scared. When you are scared, the thing you need most is to know that people care. They do not think that the church cares, therefore they don’t think that Jesus cares. 
If lost people have no real Christian influence in their lives, then all they will know of Jesus is what they read online or see in the news. Most of the information they consume about the church focuses on what we are against rather than who we worship. Is it any wonder why they aren’t flocking to the church for the safety they seek?
This generation needs to hear that there is safety in truth. Comfort, healing, and peace are found only in the arms of the Savior. To remain on the current path will lead to them facing the judgment of God. The same can be said for the church.
We can no longer bury our heads in the sand. It is time to wake up. It is time to give a care. If we really believe that ours is a message of hope, then we had better get to sharing it with those in need of hope before we lose yet another generation.


Who is iGen?

Let’s talk about our children. Over the last month, I have read 4 books that yield a very startling insight into the culture of American youth. Here they are in the order in which I read them: The Vanishing American Adult, by Nebraska Senator and former university president Ben Sasse, The Coddling of the American Mind, by social psychologist Johnathan Haidt and policy expert Greg Lukianoff, Them: Why we hate each other and how to heal, also by Ben Sasse, and iGen, by generational researcher and professor of psychology at San Diego State Jean Twenge.
Sasse, Haidt, Lukianoff, and Twenge come from a diverse political background. Sasse is a Republican senator and ultra-conservative. Lukianoff is a libertarian. Haidt is liberal, and Twenge doesn’t say. What is interesting, though, is that virtually all of their analyses of today’s youth are in agreement.
Here’s what we know about the generation born between 1995 and 2012 (the one Twenge has named iGen, or the “internet generation”) compared to earlier generations. They are growing up slower. They spend more time interacting online rather than in person. They are less rebellious, waiting longer to try alcohol or have sex. They are less religious. They read less and spend less time on homework. They are more depressed, require drastically more mental health treatment, attempt or consider suicide more often, and are less able to react to difficult situations in a healthy way. What’s more? These findings are across all regions of the country (including the south) and across all religions, and across all races, and across all socioeconomic statuses.
The rise in the availability of the internet along with the proliferation of social media platforms has sparked a revolution in our country. This revolution, not unlike the industrial revolution of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is having a profound effect on our youth. iGen is the first generation to grow up with the internet in their pocket or within arm’s reach 24/7. This is shaping their brains, in both good and bad ways, and thus it is shaping the future of our country and our church.
I read these books because I care about our children. Their experience is so different from mine. Gone are the days when we can say things like, “well I was a kid like you once too, now let me tell you how to deal with that bully…” Their experience is so unique that we will never be able to understand what they are dealing with unless we talk to them and look at the findings of researchers who are talking to them. 
In addition, these four books (particularly Sasse’s two) give great advice on how to help our children through this revolutionary season. There are things that parents should do like limiting their screen time, giving them more responsibility for household chores, teaching them how to think differently in order to combat negative feelings, and encouraging them to read more. These authors really help to show why these parenting changes will work.
Jesus said, “let the little children come to me” (Matthew 19:14). We should make bringing our children to Jesus a priority. However, bringing our children to Jesus is much more difficult today than it was just a few years ago. I encourage parents to pray earnestly for their children, to be intentional in discipling their children, and to read books like these.