The New Addiction

I received a communication from Daryl Nuss, CEO of the National Network of Youth Ministries, today and he informed me of a meeting he had with the president of Morality in Media, Pat Trueman and Josh McDowell. They met to discuss the influence of pornography on the younger generations in our churches and communities.

The research they shared was alarming. It wasn’t about the number of hits these sites receive or even the number of Christians using these sites. It was the research being done on the impact that viewing the porn sites were having on the physical systems of those viewing. Apparently, the creators of many of these sites have done their research on how to make these sites not only tempting but actually addicting. That’s right, physically addicting as in alcohol or drugs. Their market research shows that the porn czars are targeting the neurological systems of our youth so that a chemical response is created that the body immediately begins to crave.

With that knowledge at their command, they are targeting our cell phones, tablets and other media. In a campaign that employs professional distribution, they seek to make sure your child is exposed in some form to their trash. They don’t need many hits to be able to tap into your child’s maturation process. They only need to wait until you are not watching.

I will speak more later about the trends but the church of the future must reinvest itself into preparing our future generations to withstand the assault of the enemy and these who would use them for their profit. We know realize that we are sending them into a world that does not respect or even consider our spiritual purposes. Indeed, the enemy is at the gates and sometimes in our homes.

Join me this Sunday as we begin to take back our families and community by reviving our connection to God and His Kingdom. We will begin with the lost art of communicating to God how we feel about Him.

Like this and spread the word to your family and friends as we seek to take back what has been taken from us.


Lies About Christians

Nicole Cottrell is spot on in this blog:

believe about Christians?

Are all Christians judgmental jerks, out to convert you at the drop of a hat? Maybe, but not most of the ones I know.

Yet we all know there is a long history of people misunderstanding and flat out not knowing what Christians are really like.

I don’t want to pick a fight, but I do want to set the record straight.

Here are the top 5 lies about Christians, starting with our so-called “lack of intelligence…”

1. We are dumb.

This one really irks me, I’ll admit.

Many people, in my experience, (especially atheists) seem to think that in order to believe in God, somewhere along the line, you had to trade in your brain for a bowl of mush.

There is a perpetual misunderstanding, in which people equate faith with a lack of intelligence, logic, or both.

The truth is almost every Christian I know has not only had to spiritually and emotionally choose God but also intellectually reconcile their faith, as well.

Christianity does not create brainwashed individuals but rather individuals who have personally grappled with questions of eternity, moral sin, creation, and the like.

2. We are out to convert them.

This one is a long-standing lie. Many people believe that if a Christian is talking to them, being kind to them, offering to hang out with them, they must be trying to convert them.

Christians always have ulterior motives and are constantly on the lookout for ways to “win you to Jesus.”

The truth is, at least for me, I’m ashamed to admit that when I should be looking for spiritual conversations to open up, I’m usually being too self-focused to notice.

I often miss the opportunities God places in front of me to share about how awesome He is, because, well, I’m too busy talking about how awesome I am (or chocolate is, or my husband and kids are).

“Conversion” is a word not frequently used in Christianity, at least not as much as the call to genuinely show love to others.

3. We are always judging others and their actions.

This one hits close to home. I have people in my life who I am close with who assume that I am keeping some kind of list of their sins and then tallying them up for further evaluation.

Oh, she had a beer. One tally mark. Uh-huh, he just cussed. Three tally-marks.

I have actually had people tell me that when I say that I will pray for them, they take that to mean, “You are a sinner. I will pray for your eternal soul to be rescued from damnation.” Huh?

The truth is I’ll pray for you because I care about you, and because, although you don’t know it yet, God cares about you, too.

Christians, at least most of them, aren’t judging you. If they understand the Bible and live by it, they know that they are in no place to judge non-Christians.

They are specifically told in Scripture not to judge others outside of the church. If they are, well then, they are legalistic and plain wrong.

4. We are goodie-goodies.

I find this lie rather amusing, only because most of the Christians I know are anything but goodie-goodies.

They cuss, drink, smoke–sometimes. Sometimes, they actually lie, hurt people’s feelings, or act out of anger. Yes, they sin.

The truth is, however, and the difference is (and should be) that for those who call Christ King, those behaviors are generally the result of them stumbling into sin, not them freely swimming in it. And heck, many Christians have a past, which leads me to…

5. We don’t know what it’s like to not be a Christian.

Speaking from personal experience, I can attest to the fact that I know exactly what’s it’s like to not be a Christian.

The assumption here lies in the disbelief that every Christian was raised in a Christian home and converted at age 3, never looking back or questioning their faith.

The truth is we all have wildly different and varying stories of how and when we met Jesus. Some of us suffered in unhealthy, dysfunctional, even dangerous homes. Some of us were raised as nominal Christians and didn’t make our faith real until later on in life.

Some of us chose to follow Jesus, as adults, after years of searching and struggling. No two testimonies are the same, and many believers have known life before God, not just life with Him.

What Is Meditation?

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

In Discipline: The Glad Surrender, Elisabeth Elliot writes about the requirements of biblical meditation:

We have been discussing making an offering of the body, which is an act of worship … offered by mind and heart. The next thing we are to do is to let our minds be remade and our whole nature transformed.

We cannot do this by ourselves. It is the Holy Spirit who must do the work. But we must open our minds to that work, submit to His control, think on the things that matter rather than on the things that come to nothing in the end. Here again we see both the necessity of a sovereign God working in and through us and the responsibility of the disciple himself to adapt to what God wants to do.…

In times of prayer and meditation, do not try to think about nothing. “Set your mind,” Paul says, not, “Empty your mind.” Set it on Christ, not on earthly things. One phrase from God’s Word can be taken and repeated quietly, asking that we may be given … the spiritual power of wisdom and vision, by which there comes the knowledge of Him.

Make sure the place you select for your quiet time is relatively distraction free. Avoid putting God in a spiritual box. Instead, be open to the newness and joy He brings each day as you enter His throne room with praise.

Father, I enter Your throne room with praise. I bow before You in quietness. Transform my earthly nature as I submit to Your divine control.

A Quick Lesson on Money or the Lack of It

Have you ever noticed how everyone around you always seems to say the right things about money? They want to save up. They want to invest. They want to build an emergency fund. They want to be debt-free and give and tithe and drive used cars and cook at home and cut up all their credit cards and pay cash for everything. Yet the average American now owes somewhere around $10,000 just on credit cards. Something isn’t adding up.

People’s actions ultimately prove their attitudes, and their attitude toward money dictates how people relate to it, how they spend it, how it makes them feel and even whether or not it will be the issue that eventually splits their marriage up.

If you told me you loved to run, work out, lift weights, play basketball and exercise, but you were 60 pounds overweight, always sick, didn’t own a pair of running shoes and hadn’t been to a gym or a fitness club in a year, I would be tempted to think you were lying. If you tell yourself you’re disciplined with your money and are going to save up and spend less and stop eating out and cut back on luxuries while your credit card statements keep piling up—it’s time for a reality check. So let’s get really honest.

Attitudes and Actions

Here’s a short list of questions to help you discover your true attitude toward money:

1. On your credit cards, do you currently owe more than you make in a month?

2. Do you buy things to make yourself feel better? Do you get a good, settled feeling after you make a purchase?

3. Do you envy the lifestyle your friends have or the things they own? Do you fantasize about owning those same things and having that same lifestyle?

4. Do you eat out more than four times a week?

5. How much food do you have in your house?

6. In regard to entertainment, do you spend more than $250 per month on your cable bill, going to the movies, video games, downloads on iTunes or the latest technological toy? What about your cell phone bill? Ouch.

7. Do you immediately get defensive anytime someone begins to ask for your money—your church, a charity or a nonprofit organization? (This is a sure sign that you actually want to hold on to your money and that you have difficulty sharing your money with others, even those in dire need.)

8. Are you cheap when you leave a tip at a restaurant, thinking the server doesn’t really deserve the money and you could use it better somewhere else?

9. What percentage of your salary or income do you give away? This could be in the form of a tithe, donations, helping out a local charity and so on. (Donating old clothes you don’t wear to Goodwill or the Salvation Army doesn’t count.)

10. Do you ever have an internal struggle before you make a big purchase (try to talk yourself out of it, think of all the other things the money could be used for), or do you spend freely with little regret until hours or days later?

11. Do you fear what life would be like without the safety you think money brings you? Do you find yourself devoting more time to worrying about money than being concerned about people who have no job, no food, no health insurance or no one to love them and care for them?

12. Do you even know how much your monthly bills are, right off the top of your head? (These include health insurance, auto insurance, rent, tuition, credit-card payments, student loans, phone bill, water and power.) If you don’t know this amount automatically, you are in trouble, because it shows you are not paying attention to where your money goes each month.

13. Could you, in 30 seconds or less, summarize your basic budget? This includes how much you make, how much you save, how much you give and how much you pay out in bills and payments each month. If you can’t, then you don’t have a budget at all, even if you claim you do.

14. How long does it take you to pay a regular, basic bill? Do you let bills stack up on your desk? Do you open them when they arrive or put them off until after they are past due? How much do you pay a year in late fees due to fear, laziness or forgetfulness?

15. And finally … Right now, how much money do you have saved up? Add up what you have in your checking account, your savings account(s), IRAs, life-insurance policies, stocks, bonds, cash in coffee cans buried in the yard and loose change on your desk. Now, compare that number to what you currently owe, including all credit cards, student loans, car loans and any other outstanding debt. Which number is greater? By how much?

Where Do I Go from Here?

This list may have caused you some discomfort or even a fair amount of fear. Good—if that is what it takes to motivate you to action.

If you are in good shape, that’s great! Keep reading.

If you read those questions and felt like jumping off the roof of the bank (the one you owe your right arm and your firstborn child to), please don’t. There’s hope for you. It’s not too late to change. Not even close.

So here are some basic ideas, rules and mottos that have been tested over time by very wise (and usually older) people. They work, if you begin applying them now (sometimes step-by-step) and continue applying them for the rest of your life:

1. Spend less than you make.

2. Give or tithe 10 percent. Save 10 percent. Live off 80 percent.

3. Make a budget now. Then live by it.

4. Write down your financial goals. Frame them. Hang them in your house.

5. Destroy your credit cards.

6. Try to buy used cars. Don’t lease a car and don’t make car payments, ever.

7. Pay off debt deliberately and immediately, starting with the smallest debt and working your way toward the biggest.

8. Pay cash as often as possible.

9. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it. Period.

10. Stop eating out so often. Host more. Invite people over for game nights. Say "no" more.

11. If you don’t have one, get a job. Any job will do. Just start somewhere.

12. Sell all your junk. Craigslist, eBay, yard sales—sell, sell, sell!

13. Be ridiculously generous. Help people in need, and watch God bless you for your kindness.

14. Never, ever loan a friend money, skip work or buy a time-share.

15. Cancel your cable.

16. Get rid of all the unnecessary features on your phone (and don’t talk about being broke as you tweet from your iPhone).

17. Make coffee at home and stop paying five bucks for a cup of bad coffee at a trendy coffee shop.

18. Enjoy free things. The library. Walks in the park. A sunset. Water from the tap in your house, if possible.

19. Ask older couples to tell you about their biggest financial mistakes early in marriage. Write down what they tell you. Read it often. Then avoid doing it.

20. Read the Bible. It speaks of money more than 300 times. Obey the directives of Scripture, and dedicate your finances to God as a means to live and support the advance of the Gospel.

Super Bowl and John 3:16

Most Americans love football and faith. Mixing the two, NFL quarterback Tim Tebow has reinvigorated the debate about public expressions of religion. One of the controversies has been the Denver player’s common practice of writing biblical references—such as John 3:16—on the black marks beneath his eyes.

Yet, does the typical American even know what this reference means? Last year, the American Bible Society commissioned Barna Group to find out how well Americans understood various aspects of the Bible, including if they could identify what the numbers “3:16” mean. The question mentioned the phrase John 3:16 and asked people to identify, without any predetermined choices, what the “three” means.

Overall, nearly seven out of 10 Americans (68%) were able to identify without any prompting from the interviewers that the “three” in John 3:16 refers to the chapter where the biblical reference is found. More than three out of ten adults either gave an incorrect answer (15%) or ventured no guess (17%).

Among Mr. Tebow’s generational peers—Americans who are 18 to 27-year-olds—the basic understanding was even lower than the national average (61%).

Practicing Protestant Christians (80%) were more likely than were practicing Catholics (66%) to understand the reference. One of the surprises: a majority of people outside Christianity (59%), including those affiliated with another faith or atheists and agnostics, said they understood the “three” refers to the chapter.

In comparison with other things Americans know about the Bible, awareness of the chapter reference was comparatively strong. Slightly more Americans were able to identify correctly the first book in the Bible as Genesis (76%). But fewer were able to name the original languages of the Old Testament (Hebrew, named by 57%) or New Testament (Greek, by 27%).

David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, directed the study on behalf of the American Bible Society. He put the findings in context: “The controversy surrounding Mr. Tebow ends up affecting so many people because—whether they have an affinity for sports or not—most Americans have at least some knowledge of the Bible and connection to Christianity. Despite the pundits’ protestations, more Americans than one would expect know exactly what Tim is Tebow-ing about in the end zone.”

Read David Kinnaman’s blog post WHAT WIKI STATS SAYS ABOUT JOHN 3:16.

Reading the Bible is a Risk

There’s a difference between reading to just know more, and to know God.

Most Christians aren’t able to read the New Testament in Greek. But I assume most do read the Bible with the hope of actually understanding it. So what is the role of biblical scholarship for the average Christian trying to find God through the Scriptures?

The reality is we are vastly removed from the context of the Bible. It’s nearly impossible to read anything with complete objectivity. Our assumptions, perspectives and experiences drip onto the pages and coat the words we read. It’s vital to seek ways to move past ourselves as we read the Bible. If we don’t, we will likely misuse or simply miss the very truths we are trying to get at. We need to apply some degree of scholarship to our handling of Scripture.

Strength in numbers

The simplest way is to study the Bible in the context of a community. Every person who has anything to say about the Bible is ultimately issuing an opinion; an interpretation. The more interpretations we can collect, the more likely we are to move toward a clear understanding. I try to operate with the base assumption that there are people who know way more than I do. I seek out those people (whether in person or from a distance) and try to learn.

I was once listening to Rob Bell teach about Abraham and Isaac. That story always troubled me. I couldn’t reconcile the idea that God would ask Abraham to stab his son. Even though God already had a substitute in mind it seemed like a cruel test. But then I learned more about the context of that story. Bell explained in that religious atmosphere, one would have had no reason to question a deity who demanded child sacrifice. His interpretation was that God brought this instruction to Abraham and allowed him to believe He was just like gods of his fathers. But then God intervened and provided the substitute snagged on a bush. In this act He set Himself apart from the false gods that occupied Abraham’s life.

In this case, my understanding of the nature of God was at stake. I believe I was holding a misinterpretation. In other cases, we may not have a false interpretation but may be missing the magnitude of the text. For example, Jesus told His friends to take up a cross and follow Him. When we read that with only a vague mental image of what the cross was, we lack the context to allow this teaching to completely wreck us the way it should. In his book The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey suggested this statement would have leveled the first people who heard it. These people were not removed from the practice of crucifixion. They had certainly walked down roads lined with bodies pinned to wooden stakes; spectacles set out by the Romans to remind the people they were occupied. The invitation to carry a cross was and is far more weighty than we would think without knowing this context.

The risks of scholarship

Having affirmed the importance of biblical scholarship, there is another side to this discussion. There is a risk in all of this. It is possible to dissect a text so thoroughly that we can completely miss that which is beautiful, simple and even obvious. One can easily kill a poem by treating it like a specimen. There are some truths that can only be accessed by the heart.

The goal of our scholarship should be to know God more fully. Sometimes our motive lies elsewhere. Jesus’ words may be difficult to put into practice, but they are not usually difficult to understand. If I am seeking out various theological interpretations of His instruction to love my enemy, it may not be because I am looking for a deeper knowledge of God. It is more likely because I don’t want to love the person who belittled my career, insulted my religion, stole my possessions or worse. Often, our theological discussions can become a way of sidestepping the things God is asking us to do.

There is another false motive that is perhaps even more devious. For some of us, the desire to obtain biblical knowledge is driven simply by a desire for knowledge. Allow me to explain: Some of us do not study the Scriptures for the purpose of knowing God. We study them for the purpose of knowing more. We harbor a degree of superiority and pride in the fact that we are more knowledgeable than most. We seek to correct the interpretations of others, not to help them see God, but to establish our own authority. And if this is our motive, we are not likely to ever find God. For Jesus said: “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39-40, NIV).

It seems instead that God reveals Himself to the humble. Because Jesus also said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children” (Matthew 11:25, NIV).

Yes, the study of Scripture is risky. It’s a journey littered with fine lines and gray areas that invites a community to know a mysterious God. But it’s a risk always worth taking.

Amen, Eric Swenson from Indy. Amen.

We Should Be Ashamed of Ourselves

Just had to share these words from Tyler Charles, a Christian from Ohio.

Sometimes I wonder what people from other countries might assume about American life based on today’s most popular television shows. Is it fair to base one’s assumptions about a country upon the television programs it produces? Probably not. Television should not be the barometer for our culture … but then again, in a way, it sort of makes sense.

We’ve probably all drawn conclusions about our parents’ generation based on the popular TV shows from their day. After I watched re-runs of The Andy Griffith Show and I Love Lucy, it was clear they grew up in a time that was a little more modest, more reserved. Life was slower. Blander. Black and white.

Before you start thinking it (because you probably will), I’m really not a prude. I’m not averse to watching something that’s a little edgy or off-color. Two of my favorite television shows are Family Guy and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, neither of which will ever be lauded for its moral fortitude. So maybe, based on my own viewing habits, I have no right to question the merits of, I don’t know, all the programs airing on VH1 or Bravo … but there’s something about our preoccupation with reality TV that just makes me wince.

Before the riot erupts, let me make it clear that I’m not impugning all reality TV. American Idol, Survivor, Dancing with the Stars, Amazing Race and The Biggest Loser all get a pass from me (I don’t watch them, but I understand the appeal).

But an increasing number of reality shows are being devoted to celebrities (again, refer to VH1’s lineup)—including pseudo-celebrities who gain their fame from these reality shows (think The Hills). In other words, they’re famous because they’re famous—but the only thing they ever did to actually earn their fame was show up at a casting call and act ridiculous enough to convince an executive that people would watch their antics.

And we do.

Even when we don’t watch these shows, the pseudo-celebrities still infiltrate our lives. I’ve never watched Jersey Shore, but for some reason I know who Snooki and “The Situation” are. And why is it that I can name half the cast of The Hills even though I’ve never seen it? (Actually, I blame The Soup and Joel McHale for that.)

What does the success of shows like this say about our willingness to digest whatever garbage is marketed to us? What does it say about us that they can keep coming out with a new edition of the Real Housewives of … Wherever? Do that many of us really care about the lives of these real housewives?

And then there’s TMZ with its crew of paparazzi-journalists, waiting at airports with video cameras hoping to find a celebrity to harass—and then calling these encounters newsworthy. And we actually watch this. Why?

Why is it that the path to stardom for more than one celebrity can begin with the “leaking” of a sex tape—followed by the debut of their new reality show, which people invariably watch.

Speaking of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, do people in other countries wonder who they are and why we’re so concerned with “keeping up” with them? Because I still haven’t figured it out. And why should it be difficult to “keep up” with a group of people who aren’t really doing anything?

Everything I just wrote above, ditto for Paris Hilton and any of her television shows.

For those of you who think I’m just singling out a few of the most atrocious shows on television, I’m actually not. I’m just pointing out some of the atrocious shows that are popular. Otherwise, you can bet I would have mentioned Flavor of Love by now. Or I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here, For the Love of Ray J, Bad Girls Club or Bret Michael’s Tour Bus Full of Women Searching for a Father Figure and/or Attention (or whatever that spectacle was called).

Even the term “reality TV” has become disconcerting. Because it suggests the events are real or at least realistic. But reality TV isn’t real. And we all know this.

It pretends to be real, and we play along. So when one bachelor emerges from the limo and twenty-some women fall in love with him instantly, we watch and cheer for our favorite, hoping she will “win” the love of her life (along with the corresponding cash prize).

We might even tune in for the extravagance of their televised wedding a couple months after the finale. By the time they’ve separated six months later, we no longer care … because the next season has already started and we’re already consumed by the new faces, new twists, new controversies—and more of the same drama.

We tune in to a lot of different types of reality shows. Some are redemptive (like The Biggest Loser or Extreme Makeover: Home Edition); others manage to be entertaining without being completely sleazy (Survivor or Last Comic Standing, to name two). But many reality shows are just disasters—and that attracts us, too. It’s the same appeal that prompts us to tune in to the early weeks of American Idol just to see all the hacks who are convinced they can sing. Let’s be honest, it’s our interest in disasters that draws us to TMZ, Jersey Shore, The Hills and the destruction of what was once Jon & Kate Plus 8.

Even though I avoid a lot of this stuff, I’m not innocent either.

About a year ago, when the Tiger Woods scandal was still breaking news, I was driving in my car when the guys on the radio started sharing the latest details about his alleged indiscretions. I reached up to change the station … and then I stopped.

Did they just say they were going to play the voicemails he left for one of these women?

Sure enough, that’s exactly what they were about to do. So I reached out my hand again … and turned up the volume. I thought, There’s no way I’m going to miss this!

But when we get immersed in things like the Tiger scandal and reality shows that highlight and glorify our basest instincts (and our narcissism), when we’re infatuated by the intimate details about the lives of celebrities (and pseudo-celebrities), we’re like kids playing in a dumpster. Sure, it might be entertaining. It might be fun. But in the end, we end up covered in filth.

The shows my parents watched might seem bland to me. But I can’t imagine sitting down with my kids (assuming I eventually have some) in 20 years to watch re-runs of Jersey Shore, The Hills or Keeping up with the Kardashians.

I’d much rather be accused of watching something that seems slow than sleazy.

But maybe nothing will have changed between now and then. Maybe our kids will be watching the 35th season of Big Brother. Maybe the Kardashians’ kids will have their own reality show (and our kids will be trying their best to keep up with them). And maybe TMZ will be camping outside the houses of all the newest pseudo-celebrities with their cameras at the ready.

I sure hope not.

Television shows might not be the most accurate portrayal of our society, our culture, our generation. But what we choose to watch—what attracts us—says something. And we already have enough to be ashamed of. Let’s not share that shame with the next generation.

A New Pespective on Tebow

Alise Wright offers a new perspective on all the hype of Tebow after this last victory:

Tim Tebow brought the pain to my boys in Black and Gold this week, beating them in overtime with a huge 80-yard bomb that made it the quickest ending to an NFL overtime in history. And when it was over, he knelt down and prayed a prayer of thanks.

And that act probably caused more arguments on Facebook than the actual outcome of the game.

On one side, you have the folks who point to Tim Tebow’s success as proof of the sovereignty of God. Who see any criticism of his playing form as a criticism of his faith. Who trot out the "if he was a Muslim" argument, generally from the same people who pair "radical" with Muslim far more liberally than necessary.

On the other side, you have the critics. The folks who hate that Tebow uses his platform to proselytize. The ones who toss around Matthew 6:6 ad nauseam. The ones who seem just a little too eager to see him screw up.

Either way, we end up creating an idol. And idols are for one thing – to serve as a replacement for the god they represent.

It’s easy to see how the fans do that. His faith has become the stuff of legend. A Saturday Night Live skit becomes an example of religious persecution. Tim Tebow is the picture of all that is good and right and just. All praise Tebow.

And it’s the same from the critics. Tebow is every Christian that has ever been kind of a jerk. Any praise that he receives is strictly because of his over-the-top Christianity, not because he might actually be pretty good at his job. He represents all that is phony and shallow and annoying. All hate Tebow.

The thing is, Tebow is just this guy, you know? He plays a sport well. He wins some games; he loses some games. He goes to church. He uses his money to support various causes. He probably likes pizza. Someday, he’ll probably do pretty well on Dancing with the Stars. He likely sassed his mom at some point growing up.

He’s not the embodiment of anything; he’s a dude who plays football. Most of us don’t know much more about him than that (I tried to find information about the pizza thing, but came up empty. I’m just guessing, based on pizza’s extreme popularity, that he likes it.)

Turning people into idols or caricatures is really easy for us. We do it all the time. We do it with politicians. We do it with writers. We do it with pastors. We do it with any group or person that we don’t know. We elevate them to a position that they never asked for, and then we either worship them or knock them down.

In the meantime, we don’t even know if they like pizza. Or community. Or cats. Or flannel. Or piña coladas and getting caught in the rain.

If we don’t know that, we certainly can’t know every nuance of their character. Which makes them a poor representation of God, no matter how virtuous they are or are not.

God has provided us with one accurate representation of himself. If we want to start kneeling, let’s bow down to him. I’ll take a spot right next to Tim on that.

As long as he likes pizza He’s not the embodiment of anything; he’s a dude who plays football. Most of us don’t know much more about him than that (I tried to find information about the pizza thing, but came up empty. I’m just guessing, based on pizza’s extreme popularity, that he likes it.)

Turning people into idols or caricatures is really easy for us. We do it all the time. We do it with politicians. We do it with writers. We do it with pastors. We do it with any group or person that we don’t know. We elevate them to a position that they never asked for, and then we either worship them or knock them down.

In the meantime, we don’t even know if they like pizza. Or community. Or cats. Or flannel. Or piña coladas and getting caught in the rain.

If we don’t know that, we certainly can’t know every nuance of their character. Which makes them a poor representation of God, no matter how virtuous they are or are not.

God has provided us with one accurate representation of himself. If we want to start kneeling, let’s bow down to him. I’ll take a spot right next to Tim on that.

As long as he likes pizza.

What Is Really Happening in Church

Most Americans have first-hand experiences in churches or parishes. What happens, if anything, in the hearts and minds of those who attend? To explore this matter, Barna Group surveyed Americans who have attended a Christian church sometime in the past and discovered what they say about their experiences in these congregations.

Connecting with God
Connecting with God is perhaps the most important outcome facilitated by churches. Most people (66%) feel they have had “a real and personal connection” with God while attending church. However, that means one-third of those who have attended a church in the past have never felt God’s presence while in a congregational setting. Also, when asked about frequency, most of those who have attended church describe these encounters as rare. One-third of all adults in the country report connecting with God at least monthly (35%) via a congregational setting. Among those who attend church every week, 44% said they experience God’s presence every week and 18% do so on a monthly basis.

Experiencing Transformation
The survey also probed the degree to which people say their lives had been changed by attending church. Overall, one-quarter of Americans (26%) who had been to a church before said that their life had been changed or affected “greatly” by attending church. Another one-fourth (25%) described it as “somewhat” influential. Nearly half said their life had not changed at all as a result of churchgoing (46%).

Gaining New Insights
One of the most significant gaps uncovered by the research was the fact that most people cannot recall gaining any new spiritual insights the last time they attended church. Asked to think about their last church visit, three out of five church attenders (61%) said they could not remember a significant or important new insight or understanding related to faith. Even among those who attended church in the last week, half admitted they could not recall a significant insight they had gained.

Feeling Cared For
Another aspect of the research was to explore whether people feel connected with other human beings at church. The study revealed that nearly seven out of 10 respondents (68%) said when they attend church they feel “part of a group of people who are united in their beliefs and who take care of each other in practical ways.”

On the other hand, one-quarter (23%) of those with church experience selected the description that church feels “like a group sharing the same space in a public event but who were not connected in a real way.” One in 11 (9%) said they were simply “not sure.”

Helping the Poor
Finally, the study examined whether people believe their church prioritizes caring for the poor outside of the congregation. The survey asked respondents to consider the budget, activities, and encouragement of the church they usually attend and to rate how much of an emphasis is placed on serving the poor. In total, 40% of adults with church experience said caring for the poor was emphasized “a lot,” while 33% indicated it was “somewhat” of a priority.

Does Church Size Matter?
Many heated discussions occur about the optimal size for a church, but this data suggests that church experiences do not differ all that much based on the size of the church. For the most part, attenders of small, medium and larger churches described similar outcomes from their church engagement. Looking at moderate differences, attenders of mid-sized churches (defined as those with 100-299 adult attendees) were slightly less likely to report positive outcomes from church than were those attending larger and smaller congregations. Also, those attending larger churches (300+ attenders) were more likely than average to say they had gained new spiritual insight and understanding and that their church clearly prioritizes serving the poor.

Generational Experiences
Another noteworthy research finding is that older adults generally report the most favorable experiences at churches. This is not altogether surprising, but the level of disaffection of young adults is striking. The youngest generation—a segment Barna Group labels Mosaics, ages 18 to 27—is significantly less likely to describe positive outcomes while attending congregations. In particular, there were significant gaps between young adults and older adults when it came to feeling part of a group that cares for each other, experiencing God’s presence, knowing the church prioritizes assisting the poor, and being personally transformed.

Denominational Experiences
Barna also compared the experiences of Catholics, mainliners and non-mainline attenders. To control for differences in participation, the analysis of these data was limited to those who are “practicing Christians” —that is, those who go to church at least monthly and who say their religious faith is very important in their life. The research revealed that practicing Catholics generally had less positive outcomes in their congregational experiences than did Protestant attenders. Statistically speaking, non-mainline Protestants were only distinct from mainline Protestants in their likelihood of gaining a new spiritual insight at church.

Perspective on the Findings
David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, commented on the findings. “This research points to both good news and causes for concern. On the positive side, many churchgoers receive a diverse and rich set of inputs by being involved in a church or parish, most notably connecting with God and others.

“Yet, the research results are also a reminder that faith leaders cannot take these things for granted. Millions of active participants find their church experiences to be lacking. Entering the New Year, consider spending time thinking and praying how your faith community can identify, plan, and measure a deeper, more holistic set of experiences and outcomes so that people are not mere observers of ministry but genuine participants.”

Did God Save You to Fret?

We worry. We worry about the IRS and the SAT and the FBI.… We worry that we won’t have enough money, and when we have money we worry that we won’t manage it well. We worry that the world will end before the parking meter expires. We worry what the dog thinks if he sees us step out of the shower. We worry that someday we’ll learn that fat-free yogurt was fattening.

Honestly, now. Did God save you so you would fret? Would he teach you to walk just to watch you fall? Would he be nailed to the cross for your sins and then disregard your prayers? Come on. Is Scripture teasing us when it reads, “He has put his angels in charge of you to watch over you wherever you go”? (Ps. 91:11).

I don’t think so either.

In the Grip of Grace[1]

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