Nov 11, 2015

The Decline of Christianity in America

[This is the "paper" that I delivered to a group of students (from South Georgia State College) and other citizens from the community of Coffee County, Georgia.  I did not go into every point in depth (due to time restraints), but hopefully it will encourage readers to think.]

            On the topic of the decline of Christianity in America, I must state that it is a truth that cannot be disavowed by those who claim to be adherents of this particular religion.  Though it is not necessarily a major jump, there are numbers that show it is in a steady decline, especially for those who are in the millennial generation.  If anyone believes that this topic is a falsehood, then you would not have to go far, all you would have to do is go to the vast number of churches in Coffee County, Georgia, and ask them the number of converts that they have seen in the past year.  Then, you can ask the Christian groups or clubs on South Georgia State’s campus and see how many students are actively involved with their meetings or group activities.  But it is also not just about the numbers; it is not just about the converts, it is also about the way that people are truly living when they claim to be Christian.  Therefore, you can ask any number of people about the behavior and actions committed by supposed Christians and see if they cannot immediately tell you about actions that are not in alignment with some of precepts that are stated in Christian beliefs.  So, personal anecdotes may give us some insight in the lack of robust Christian influence in the times in which we live, but there has been research done to back this assertion.  You can look up information and studies done by Lifeway Research, a branch of the Southern Baptist Convention, or the Pew Research Center, which is a think tank, based in Washington, D.C., that gives statistics on the trends that are shaping the United States and the world.  These words were found from a study on the Pew Research Center’s website from November 3, 2015:

The share of U.S. adults who say they believe in God, while still remarkably high by comparison with other advanced industrial countries, has declined modestly, from approximately 92% to 89%, since Pew Research Center conducted its first Landscape Study in 2007.  The share of Americans who say they are “absolutely certain” God exists has dropped more sharply, from 71% in 2007 to 63% in 2014. And the percentages who say they pray every day, attend religious services regularly and consider religion to be very important in their lives also have ticked down by small but statistically significant margins.

The falloff in traditional religious beliefs and practices coincides with changes in the religious composition of the U.S. public. A growing share of Americans are religiously unaffiliated, including some who self-identify as atheists or agnostics as well as many who describe their religion as “nothing in particular.” Altogether, the religiously unaffiliated (also called the “nones”) now account for 23% of the adult population, up from 16% in 2007.

Pew Research Center surveys consistently show that not all religious “nones” are nonbelievers. In fact, the majority of Americans without a religious affiliation say they believe in God. As a group, however, the “nones” are far less religiously observant than Americans who identify with a specific faith. And, as the “nones” have grown in size, they also have become even less observant than they were when the original Religious Landscape Study was conducted in 2007. The growth of the “nones” as a share of the population, coupled with their declining levels of religious observance, is tugging down the nation’s overall rates of religious belief and practice.  (http://www.pewforum.org/2015/11/03/u-s-public-becoming-less-religious/)

Then, I found an article from the Lifeway Research titled, “American ‘Millenials’ are Spiritually Diverse,” that recorded these words back on April 27, 2010:

Two-thirds of American “Millennials” – those born between 1980 and 1991 – call themselves Christian, but far fewer pray or read the Bible daily, attend weekly worship services, or hold to historical positions on the Bible and its teachings.

These are the findings from a wide-ranging August 2009 LifeWay Research study of 1,200 Millennials in the United States.

The study found that 65 percent of Millennials identify themselves as Christian, while 14 percent say they are atheist or agnostic, 14 percent list no religious preference, and 8 percent claim other religions.

Thirty-one percent of Millennials pray by themselves at least once a day, while 20 percent never pray. Only 8 percent pray with others on a daily basis, compared with 65 percent that rarely or never pray with other people.

In response to the question: “You read the Bible, Torah, Koran, or other sacred writings,” 67 percent of Millennials say they rarely or never do. Only 8 percent read the Bible or other sacred texts on a daily basis, although, in total, 21 percent do so at least once a week, and 34 percent do so at least once a month.

One in four Millennials attends religious worship services once a week or more, but two out of three rarely or never visit a church, synagogue, mosque or temple.

Twenty percent meet with others at least monthly in a small group to study the Bible or other sacred texts, but 80 percent rarely or never do so. A slight majority (53 percent) disagree (strongly or somewhat) that the Bible is the written Word of God and is totally accurate in all it teaches.

“The research shows us that religion and its practices are decreasing and becoming increasingly privatized among the Millennial generation,” said Thom Rainer, president of LifeWay Christian Resources. “With fewer people attending worship services or praying with other faith adherents, it is not surprising that the religious landscape of our culture is changing with the maturation of the Millennials.”  (http://www.lifewayresearch.com/2010/04/27/lifeway-research-finds-american-millennials-are-spiritually-diverse/)

So, even the research is showing that there is a clear shift in holding to so-called Christian values.

            Now, the reason or reasons for this change, I believe, are many.  I do not see one specific factor that is sweeping Christianity under the rug so-to-speak, but many issues, although I will deal with what I believe to be one major cause at length in a moment.  One factor that Christianity may be in decline is due to the direction of the culture and many young people being influenced by reality television shows, music, and other celebrities and their many ideologies.  Another factor that may be put forth by some irreligious people (and this is just one because there are many atheist thinkers with a wide array of arguments that they believe shakes the foundations of religious institutions) would be that religion’s decline is due to humanity’s evolution.  Some may argue that mankind positing belief in a God was a part of mankind’s lack of understanding or gaps in his knowledge of the universe and humanity’s origins.  Therefore, they may believe that the more empirical evidence that we have for naturalism, which may be defined as “a philosophical viewpoint according to which everything arises from natural properties and causes, and supernatural or spiritual explanations are excluded or discounted (I got this definition from an Oxford online dictionary),” the less there is a need to posit there being a God when certain data is being interpreted as not affirming any belief in a supernatural Creator.

            Now, even with the previous two factors adding some fuel, it is my honest belief that what is causing Christianity to experience some small flames is in some cases its devotees appear to be not completely sold out to what they believe, so they compartmentalize their supposed faith for specific days of the week and not every day of their life; representing it in a way that others may see as hateful (as has been shown in some major historical moments); or the divisions that it seems to cause among so many of its believers.  If you take notice to the factors that I am putting out, then you will notice that all of these are relational issues.  Now, I hate to sound demeaning to Christianity, but if I may look at it as a “product” for sale for a moment.  In order for a salesman to push his product for people to buy, he must make his product sound better than the competitor’s.  Also, the salesman must look the part, look good, sound good, and give the feeling that he uses his product himself, so much so, he may claim that he is a new person from having used it.  Well, in some ways, the adherent of Christianity, the follower of Christ, should be as committed and as convicted about their faith as the salesman is about his product, and even more so, if the Christian believes that there are eternal implications to accepting their faith as truth.  The Christian then cannot go about life and the relationships in some sort of boring routine.  If you have read even a bit about Jesus and His life, you will see that He took people very seriously.  He loved His disciples.  He healed the sick.  He blessed prostitutes when others wanted to stone them.  So, He truly shows by His actions and His Words that He……valued people.  When people think back about the history of Christianity in America, they think about those who claimed Christianity as having backed slavery, they think about those who were said to have been Christians as looking down on women’s rights, denying minorities’ rights, high rates of divorce, hateful speech, molestation cases, among other so-called sins.  Now, hypocrisy does not necessarily make a belief system false, but it does cause others to see it as unworthy of their time and invaluable to society’s issues.  So, even if Christianity is true, the lives of its believers are what will give it lasting power for generations to come.

            I will conclude with a quote from the great Mahatma Gandhi, the leader of the Indian independence movement, who believed in nonviolent civil disobedience and had a huge influence over Dr. Martin Luther King.  Gandhi was once to have said: “I like your Christ, but I don’t like your Christian.  Your Christian is so unlike your Christ!”  This was and is a powerful statement to any person that says that they follow Jesus.  Jesus was unlike those around Him, even those who considered themselves to be religious and following God’s Law.  Therefore, the Christian ought to be unlike the world around him or her, if he or she is to be truly a follower of this Jesus.  So then, maybe, the Christianity that is in decline, will give way to a Christianity that is truly a replica of the Jesus of old and not a man-molded Christianity filled with abhorrent things.

Nov 5, 2015

The Beauty Of God and The Beauty Of Being In Christ [Sermon]

[With this post, I decided to put up the very words of my second sermon and the link to the sermon below, so everyone may listen to it and read it at the same time.  I just hope that these words may bless someone to the glory of God.]

Sermon Link:  https://archive.org/details/01TheBeautyOfGodAndTheBeautyOfBeingInChrist

THE BEAUTY OF GOD AND THE BEAUTY OF BEING IN CHRIST (Sun., Sept. 13, 2015 – 6pm)

Tonight, this message will be more topical than expository in approach because it is my sincere hope to leave you all with a sense of urgency, about the importance of having a relationship with God that captivates you.  Also, when you and I are truly abiding in Christ, it then becomes supernaturally natural for us to express the beauty of God in a way that is for His glory alone (I say ‘supernaturally’ because it is of God and ‘natural’ because although it is something by God, it has manifest itself in us in such a way that it is not contrived by us and we do not have to conscientiously think it out or put forth some amazing effort to show it).  For example, let’s say that your spirit is a car and in need to filled up, it is what God fills you up with that will keep your spiritual motor running without you having to make it happen yourself.  You see: one thing that makes God beautiful is that He causes us to bear much fruit when we abide in Him.  Meditate on Jesus’ Words from John 15:

“I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.

By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.

“As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. 10 If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.

11 “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.

Brothers and sisters, please check to see if you are bearing this kind of fruit and if you are having this kind of joy, if the answer comes back to “No,” then please get on your knees and ask the Lord: “Why my life does not reflect these things?!”

            I continuously suggest to my Sunday school class, and others that I speak to, that we ought to desire an eternally captivating relationship with our Christ, not just temporary changes that come from following certain precepts set forth by God.  This message has been placed on my heart, I believe, because we have seen, and we see, so many lukewarm folk in the Church and/or leaving the Church.  I believe the degree of lukewarm-ness in any life is due to a lack of understanding the abundant life that is Christ and finding temporary pleasures elsewhere as opposed to the lasting satisfaction the soul receives from the Savior.  Think about it: “When you find something good that you like, or even love, you tend to go to it time and time again.”  You might say that when you are near it, you tend to surrender to its calling.  So much so, it becomes evident to others that you have a deep affection for that very thing.  Think of it like this:

“Now, Ladies, please do not answer this question.  I have heard what can happen to a man that mistakenly asks this very question to women.  Gentlemen, you do not have to raise your hand, but the question is this: ‘How many of you would be considered overweight’?”

Now, besides the fact that you and I should desire to grow in discipline in our eating habits and our health, one may say that you have never left a table without getting your fill.  Someone might say that you would never be caught leaving a table without being satisfied.  Another might say that you have returned for 2nds and 3rds and maybe even 4ths, until you had room for no more.  Lastly, if you are like me, you probably can no longer hide your gut, which means it is visible that you are overweight and you like eating until you are satisfied.  Now, let’s translate this picture to the Christian life and the all-satisfying power of Jesus the Christ.  When you and I abide in Christ, He will give us more than enough to keep us satisfied, and sometimes more than we can hold.  Was it not David that said, in Psalm 23: “You [God] anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.”?  It is this satisfaction or “meal” that you and I will then see that we cannot get anywhere else.  We may then be like Peter, who was responding to Jesus’ question to the disciples about them leaving him like the others that had already done so, when Peter said in John 6:68-69:

68 But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

You see then we will want to go again and again to Jesus to be fed by Him.  Be fed by Him through His Word, through Prayer, through Praise and Worship, and through the Fellowship of other Like-Minded Believers.  When you are filled with an overflow of Christ being so Abundant in your life, for the Glory of God, others will take notice of how “overweight” you are with the things of a Mighty and Magnificent God.  If you are a parent, it is vitally important that you show your child that it is a delight to know Jesus as one’s personal Savior.  I think many parents have raised their children up to know the commandments, to know many legalistic traditions, to know the Great Commission by heart, to learn a lot of Bible stories, and to “go to church.”  But they forget to tell them that you don’t go to church; you are the Church, and when you fall in humble adoration of God, you don’t have to wait until Sunday to Worship Him, you can praise Him and Worship Him whenever and wherever.

            Whenever I read of some supposed famous person that “left organized religion because it was too confining or restricting,” it continuously saddens me that there was a possibility that they were not shown the freedom that is found in Jesus Christ.  Many folks come to worship services for so many wrong reasons that are not founded or based in Scripture, so they end up leaving for some weak and emotional reason.  It is not that their motive is not understandable in some instances, but that same motive tends to lack understanding of what faith and hope in Christ is.  You see when our relationship with God is out of order, then our faith and our theology crumbles under the weight of misguided emotions and inane falsehoods.  I would hope that more of us would tell folks like those “famous people” that even in Scripture, you will see that it was just not rules to be followed for the faithful, it was Who [God] it was that set the rules in place.  “Rules” or precepts that were also designed to give us freedom from pain and freedom from fleeting earthly pleasures that lead to sin, and to keep us holy and pure and desiring a holy union and alliance with our most Righteous Creator.  I am loving, going back through the Psalms in my own private reading and seeing how King David would fail and would rise in his own walk with God.  You can look at Psalms 51 and see that after Nathan the prophet calls David out on his sin with Bathsheba, David knew to Whom [God] he needed to turn to and to Whom it was that illuminated his heart and gave him life.

1 Have mercy upon me, O God,

According to Your lovingkindness;

According to the multitude of Your tender mercies,

Blot out my transgressions.

2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,

And cleanse me from my sin.

3 For I acknowledge my transgressions,

And my sin is always before me.

4 Against You, You only, have I sinned,

And done this evil in Your sight—

That You may be found just when You speak,

And blameless when You judge.

5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,

And in sin my mother conceived me.

6 Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts,

And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

8 Make me hear joy and gladness,

That the bones You have broken may rejoice.

9 Hide Your face from my sins,

And blot out all my iniquities.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God,

And renew a steadfast spirit within me.

11 Do not cast me away from Your presence,

And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.

12 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,

And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.

13 Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,

And sinners shall be converted to You.

But did you catch that 13th verse?  It is not just for us to receive this beauty of God for ourselves, when you become captivated by all that God is, and all that He does for you, and all that He has done for you, and all that He will do for you, and all that you are and find in the Christ, you become convicted about others hearing and knowing this Truth as well.

[Thinking about the 13th verse causes me to go back to memories of my grandmothers when I was a child.  Every Sunday we were at worship.  As a matter of fact, it wasn’t even a question back then.  You went over to Grandma’s house; you were going to worship on Sunday.  Of course, it took me years to realize that it was not just going to worship on Sunday, but living out worship throughout the week.  I was blessed as a child that I had four godly women – my grandmothers, my mother, and my 2nd mother - that had and have today amazing voices that love singing of the mercies of God.  There were days during the work week that these ladies enjoyed singing God’s praises and sharing with me about God’s Word and showing me what it meant to humble one’s self on his knees in prayer.  Then, like a fool, I got older and I left the Church and wanted to enjoy those pleasures of the world like the prodigal son.  And it is interesting that another woman would come along and show me what it is to be converted to God.  This woman, like my grandmothers and my mothers before her, has a wonderful voice and enjoys the Lord and being in the Lord daily and God revealed Himself to me again through her and I have got to Thank Him for providing me with Julia Phillips as my wife for the rest of my life’s journey.  So, I am grateful to God for my earthly father, who is a godly man after the Lord’s heart, but I also have to praise God for these 5 women that desired to teach me, a true Transgressor, the ways of my God.]

Watching joyful Christian people, who were not perfect in and of themselves, encouraged me to know God deeply.  I had to know what is it that caused David to write in Psalm 19:

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the Lord are 
right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the Lord is 
clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they 
than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward.

You and I should point others to the truth that is only in our Lord by having our words and our actions match.  Joy-filled speech and joyful living has a way of catching people’s attention, only let it be to God’s glory!

            So, the beauty of God lies in the unbelievably liberating freedom found only in Christ and His beauty lies in His willingness to connect with us for our benefit.  Because for you to even desire to be in an eternally-captivating relationship with God, an invitation from God has to be given, and how big of an invitation could you ever receive than the one being held up, on the Cross.  Have you ever thought about how fascinating it is: that the Creator of the known and unknown parts of the Universe desires to love you as your Heavenly Father?  He’s not just some Deity sitting back in some sort of cosmic recliner, as some early philosophers believed, and letting us foolish mortals just have our way on this planet.  He is God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, the Creator, with a Divine Will, and an Overwhelming, Omnipotent Love, which sees through the dirt of his creation and finds Himself a lost little jewel.  Baffles my small mind, and I know that it strikes people as amazing as well.  It made me think of a Christian singer named Lauren Daigle singing:

I am guilty

Ashamed of what I've done, what I've become

These hands are dirty

I dare not lift them up to the Holy one

You plead my cause, you right my wrongs

You break my chains, you overcome

You gave your life to give me mine

You say that I am free

How can it be, how can it be?

Clearly this is beautiful to the Christian who has been humbled enough to know that they are in need of saving and the God that is bigger than their imagination is the one for the Job.  Or what about when Francesca Battistelli sings:

I don't need my name in lights

I'm famous in my Father's eyes

Make no mistake

He knows my name

I'm not living for applause

I'm already so adored

It's all His stage

He knows my name

The singer is to sing, and the Christian is to live, these words out loud and joyfully.  What else can a person do when they realize they serve a living God in all of His Majesty and Holiness, but reveal it to others!  We may reveal our love for God in different ways!  George Handel, the German composer of classical music who lived during the 18th century, revealed it by writing his great oratorio, Messiah, and Michelangelo, a legendary painter and sculptor, amongst other things, who lived during the 15th and 16th centuries, created a work or art for all to see for ages to come in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican.  It is not all about how you show the beauty of God in your life, but it is that you show it.

            In conclusion, the beauty of God is revealed in Christ’s working and abiding in us in His Miraculous Ways.  This beauty becomes the source for us to draw inspiration, transformation, and sanctification from, as we are molded into Christ’s image.  May we all turn back and remember the God that we serve, grab hold of His Beauty to never let go, and may it radiate from us and draw people to imitate us only as we imitate Christ!  Amen!