Faking Grace Away

Do you ever fail?  I do. 

In the not so distant past, it used to be that people expected their pastors to be perfect.  The pastor had to exemplify the best.  Unfailing morality.  Upstanding ethics.  Uncompromising convictions.  Unquestionable theology.  Unwrinkled clothing.  But all that did was create a bunch of pastors who had to act fake around everyone else. 

Maybe you feel a similar pressure.  Everyone expects you to be perfect.  The perfect mom.  The perfect dad.  The perfect grandparent.  The perfect child.  The perfect student.  The perfect…you name it.  The list goes on and on.  The expectations that surround us are enough to smother us.   

Yet Jesus said, “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” [Matt 5:48 (ESV)].   Then the next day comes.  You wake up.  And the next thing you know, you’ve already messed up.  Another perfect day marred by your imperfection.  Be perfect.  Yeah, right.  A noble goal.  But why even try?  We know we’ll fail.

So we take the easy way.  We can always fake it.  That’s the easy path that we sometimes find ourselves walking down.  Everyone expects me to be perfect, so I’ll fake it.  I’ll act like I’m perfect.  Inside though, I’ll know that I am living a lie.  And at the end, we find that a path of being fake leads to loneliness and despair.  No, that’s not the path for us.  Despite its allure.  Despite its ease.  Faking perfection will only lead to a charade that emotionally and spiritually destroys us.  We might receive praise from those around us, but inside, we will know they aren’t celebrating us; they’re celebrating our lie, our ability to perform, the fake person we have come up with.     

There is another path.  It seems sort of crazy.  This path is harder to travel but way more satisfying.  It’s to be real yet still strive for perfection, knowing that we will not attain it on this side of the grave, but never giving up.  It’s to try to achieve an ideal that we know we cannot attain.  Irrational, yes.  Liberating, completely.

John wrote, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” [1 John 1:8-9 (ESV)].  Sin is imperfection.  It’s missing the mark.  And we are all sinners.  And we will remain sinners.  Nothing we can do will stop us from sinning.  Unless, of course, we want to deceive ourselves and be fake.  But that’s not the path for us. 

We don’t need to be perfect.  That’s where grace comes in.  Sometimes the people around us forget grace.  Unfortunately, sometimes the church forgets grace.  But the Bible never forgets grace.  God never forgets grace.  John went on, “If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” [1 John 1:7 (ESV)].  The blood of Jesus.  It’s seems a little archaic.  But it’s still as powerful today even if we are so far removed from understanding a culture that required blood sacrifices.  Jesus’ sacrifice cleanses us from all of our imperfections.  Everyone of them.  Even that one that you’re ashamed to acknowledge to yourself.  All of them, removed by Jesus.  The beautiful thing in that statement is that we no longer have to live a fake life.  We’re free.  Truly free.  We can have fellowship with one another.  That’s just churchy-speak for saying that we can really, truly, be real and be friends with one another. 

Striving for perfection is what our response to grace should be, even when we fail day after day, hour after hour.  In a small town like ours, we encounter a lot of people faking perfection.  We have fake neighbors.  We run across fake people around town.  We have fake co-workers.  And if we’re honest, we can find ourselves being fake.  All of this faking life makes us forget grace.  Yet grace will persist in trying to release us from all the fakeness.  That real person we run into, the one that is flawed and comfortable being flawed.  Oh, how they are a breath of fresh air in a toxic, phony world. 

We need to be that.  A breath of realness in a town of fakeness.  A light in the darkness.  Because even when we have tried to act like we are perfect and don’t need grace, God has never stopped offering us grace. 

Grace is so often misunderstood.  Some use it as a license to sin.  Others view grace as a weakness to rely on.  But living right in the center of God’s grace is where we can take off our mask, throw away all false pretenses, and be ourselves.  There, when we are real, we can encounter God.  The wonderful, forgiving, awe-inspiring, God.  So great that He’s the creator of the universe.  Yet so close that He loves the real you and me.  A God that freely gives us grace so that when we fail, we won’t give up.  A God so loving, that when we are down, we are constantly reminded that we can get back up and give it another shot.  A God, who, through grace, encourages us to be whom He has destined for us to be, with our faults and all.  A real God for real people like you and me.

Potholes 100,000th Hit!

Potholes received its 100,000th hit today!  Thanks to you, my readers.  It's been fun.  Here's to the next 100,000.

God Has No Grandchildren - A Challenge to Raise Our Children In Jesus

As a pastor, I run across people who want their children to be spiritually-minded, loving toward their neighbors, and in love with God.  These are great and noble goals for a parent to have.  They are better than wanting your child to be smart, a great athlete, or the most popular.  But when it comes down to it, we, as parents, invest in the lesser goals rather than the more important ones.  Unwittingly, due to the pressure of society, we do this to the detriment of our children’s souls.  We must remember that the most dangerous distractions are usually not the most obvious actions.  Danger waits in the good things, for when we focus on them, at the exclusion of the great things, we stray off course. 

We have been steered off course into thinking that the spirituality that was passed on to us will automatically transfer to our children without the investment that our parents, grandparents, neighbors, and teachers made in us.  On the other hand, maybe we didn’t have a spiritual life growing up, but we want our children to.  The harsh truth is that they will not be spiritually-minded unless we make the investment and model it ourselves. 

God has no grandchildren.  He only has children.

John wrote, “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” [John 1:9-13 (ESV)].

To be born of God.  This is what must happen to our children for them to be called “children of God.”  Total rebirth, dying to their old self, is the investment that it takes.  And it starts with us.  We must die to our old selves, the one where we believe that our intelligence, our sports, our cars, our house, our money, our job, and our popularity are the most important aspects to our life.  We must be born of God. 

Throughout history, churches have argued and fought over exactly what it takes to be born of God.  I am not going to go into that here.  What I want to briefly show is what your life will look like after you have been born of God. 

Jesus tells a story of the final judgment in Matthew 25.  In the story he talks about people who thought they were in with God.  I can imagine the dire face that many scornful churchgoers will face some day.  They will be like those people in Matthew 25 who are told that they do not know God because they have not fed the hungry, given water to the thirsty, helped the immigrant, given clothes to the naked, nourished the sick, and visited prisoners.  On the other hand are those who do know God and done those things. 

So if you want your children to be God’s children, take time out and invest in them spiritually.  Take them to church with you.  Study the Bible with them.  Pray with them.  Feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, help immigrants, give clothes away, nourish the sick, and visit prisoners with them.  They won’t just learn to be God’s child through wishful thinking.  It’s going to take hard work on your part.  Invest in your children spiritually more than you invest in their sports, their careers, or their education.  All of those things will fall in their proper place in a life that has its highest priority properly aligned. 

A Swiss government study published in 2000 showed that if a mother and father go to church regularly, 74% of their children will attend church as adults, with 33% of them regularly attending.  But if the mother goes without the father, only 39% of their children will attend church as adults, with only 2% of them regularly attending.  Where neither father nor mother attend church, only 19% of their children will attend church, with only 4% of them regularly attending.  What that tells me is that we, fathers, must step up. (from “The demographic characteristics of the linguistic and religious groups in Switzerland” by Werner Haug and Phillipe Warner of the Federal Statistical Office, Neuchatel. It appears in Volume 2 of Population Studies No. 31, a book titled The Demographic Characteristics of National Minorities in Certain European States, edited by Werner Haug and others, published by the Council of Europe Directorate General III, Social Cohesion, Strasbourg, January 2000.)

Now some will be thinking church attendance is irrelevant to spiritual growth.  That might be true at an unhealthy church.  But the writer of Hebrews wrote that the purpose of gathering together is to spur one another on toward love and good works.  If that is what happens at church, which is what should be happening at church, then the church gathering together is an  irreplaceable tool to encourage one another on to be who God destined for us to be.

God has no grandchildren, but he does want your grandchildren and children to be His children.  This happens through parents and grandparents stepping up and being the people God wants them to be.  I pray that you will find the strength to do that. 

Heresy, Rob Bell, Love Wins, Universalism, and the Christian Church

The problem in the "Rob Bell is now a heretic (although we already called him one when Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith was released)" is the confusion over the issues.  There are two significant issues at play, but people are dealing with them as if they are one.

The first issue is whether Bell a universalist.  A universalist is a person who believes that all people are saved in the end.  In the Christian perspective, this can take the approach that the blood of Jesus is for all humanity, whether they accept it or not.  Bell clearly answers, "No."  He is not a universalist.

But here is what Bell appears to be teaching.

He is a person that will accept a universalist as a brother or sister in Christ.

So the second issue is whether a universalist can be right with God.  Can a person be off on this issue and still have a relationship with Jesus?  In the interview, Bell was clear.  Our choices in this life are extremely relevant when we die, but he claims there is room in the Christian tradition for universalists.  He is not a universalist but will not condemn those who are.

For some reason, people can't separate the first issue from the second.  If Bell is going to be condemned for anything, it would be for accepting universalists as brothers and sisters in Jesus.  Maybe the issues shouldn't be separated because they might be equal "heresies."  Let's look at it.

It is similar to the baptism issue in Church of Christ/Christian Church circles.  For some it is an issue of division.  For most, it is not.  I fall into the it is not an issue of division camp.  I accept people as brothers and sisters in Jesus if they show fruit yet have not been baptized.  This does not stop me from teaching believer's baptism and its importance to all people who claim to be followers of Jesus.  Bell seems to be taking a similar approach with universalism. 

The pickle Bell finds himself in is that the anti-Bellers want him to defend being a universalist when he is isn't one. Due to this unfair situation, his answers appear weak because he is not defending what they have already concluded that he believes, universalism.  What he defended through the interview was that people can be universalists and still be Christians. Again, I will have to wait for my copy of the book that is scheduled to arrive today.  I am just going off of the interviews and publisher's hype. But I bet Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived won't even touch on Universalism. That subject was what the neo-reformed started attacking Bell on and Bashir went with it, but I wouldn't be surprised if the book doesn't even go there.

At the core, Bell is fighting for a principle that we, as Christian Church/Church of Christers, hold dear although we have a historical tendency to ignore. There is only a minimal set of essentials. It's not just our tradition.  The phrase "In essentials, unity.  In opinions, liberty.  In all things, love" goes back throughout church history and is not exclusive to our movement, but for a systematic theologian, that idea can be frustrating.  For them, all parts of a system of theology are important.  A systematic theologian develops a grand, comprehensive belief system that reaches the point where all teachings must be adhered to on all points in order for it to make sense.  It is like a house of cards.  You cannot just take one card out and have the house; it all crumbles because they were all constructed together depending on one another.  That is the way doctrine works in systematic theology.  It all builds together and the more irrelevant teachings must be adhered to because a few relevant teachings along with many more irrelevant teachings have been built on top of them.  Biblical theology takes a different approach.  It just takes the Bible at face value and refuses to construct a house of cards.  If one thought needs to be removed after further study, it is willingly removed because we don't have a whole system built using that belief.  Each belief must stand on its own in Scripture. 

The real Bell/Love Wins/Universalism debate should be on whether rejecting universalism is essential? Universalism goes against a few Scriptures. But I think most of us have changed views that we have held because we have been corrected by Scripture. I'm sure it will happen again some day for you and me. If we have to have perfect theology to be saved, then all of us are screwed.  Where is grace in that view?  Bell is not asking if universalism is right; he's asking whether it is an essential.  I think that is a good question.

I accept people as brothers and sisters who clearly go against some Scriptures I hold dear.  One of our core convictions at Riverside Christian Church is, "We believe in a minimal set of essentials in order to foster unity and freedom in Jesus."  There are a few issues there is absolutely no budging on.  Those are the essentials.  But the rest can be disagreed on for the sake of unity.  This is a thought that we have to always keep in check because we have this tendency to broaden the important issues until we have developed a scatterbrained systematic theology where everything is important.  From our beliefs at Riverside, we have two that stand against universalism.  "Forgiveness of sins and the promise of a meaningful and eternal life are available as a free gift of grace to those who believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord" (John 3:16).  "Jesus Christ is the one and only Son of God, who showed us how to live life to the fullest, died for our sins, and arose from the dead" (1 Corinthians 15: 1-8; John 3:16; John 10:10).  Those are essentials that we won't budge on.  But that does not mean that one cannot be a universalist and be saved.  A universalist, despite believing otherwise, can only be saved through surrendering their heart to Jesus.  Many universalists have done that, but they can do that and still be wrong on universalism.

It would be teaching false teaching to teach that everyone would go to heaven.  But that is not what Bell is teaching.  He appears to be teaching that people who believe everyone goes to heaven can be accepted as a brother or sister if they are in a relationship with Jesus.   

Churches have a tendency to make too many issues essential and that continues to divide us.  Bell seems to be fighting that.  To that, I say, "Keep up the good fight."   

(For further study on universalism, verses universalists use are Isaiah 45:15-25, Jonah 2, Matthew 12:40, Acts 3:19-26, Romans 5:12-21, 8:18-22, 10:8-18, 14:11, Ephesians 4:8-10, Philippian 2:10-11, I Peter 3:19, 4:6.  Verses against universalism are Isaiah 55:6-7, Matthew 11:28-30, Luke 18:18-30, 19:1-10, John 3:16-18, 6:37, 7:37, Acts 2:37-39, 3:19, 5:31, 17:30, Romans 2:4, 10:9-10, 2 Corinthians 5:19-20, 7:10, Ephesians 2:8-9, Hebrews 7:25, James 2:17, Revelation 3:19)

For the post that led up to this one: Rob Bell Dodged Only One Question.

Rob Bell Dodged Only One Question (and it was irrelevant to the discussion)

Martin Bashir interviewed Rob Bell as Rob was doing promotional interviews for his book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.

As you can see from the title of the Youtube clip, "Martin Bashir Makes Rob Bell Squirm", Rob Bell's critics thought Bashir hit a homerun.  Then I go read Justin Taylor's (one of the initial attackers of Rob Bell on this book) blog and see Taylor's readers all piling on.  The one comment that got me questioning the commenters was the statement that Bell dodged questions.  That isn't what I remembered of the interview, so I went and re-watched it.  You can watch the interview yourself, but I made a list of Bashir's questions and Bell's direct answer to those questions.  This is not a complete transcript, just one dealing with Bashir's questions and Bell's immediate answers.  Bell only dodged one question outside of the initial trap on the Japanese earthquake and tsunami.  
Bashir:  “Are you a universalist who believes that everyone can go to heaven regardless of how they respond to Christ on earth?

Bell:  “In regards to the question ‘are you a universalist’, I would say first and foremost, ‘No.’”  He even goes on to describe the accurate definition of universalists after that.  

Bashir:  “Is it irrelevant and is it immaterial about how one responds to Christ in this life in terms of determining one’s eternal destiny?”
Bell: “I think it is extremely important.”

Bashir: “Is it irrelevant as to how you respond to Christ in your life now to determine your eternal destiny?”

Bell: “It is terribly relevant.  It is terribly important.”  Then he goes on to explain.

Bashir: “Is it irrelevant and immaterial about how you respond to Christ now to determine to your eternal destiny?  Is that relevant or irrelevant?  Does it have a bearing or have no bearing?”

Bell: “I think it has tremendous bearing.”  Then he went on to have another explanation.
After four times being asked the same question Bell continued to give the same answer, but Bashir refuses to let him have that answer.  The critics say that Bell is a universalist, but his answering the questions as if he is not.  What was Bashir to do?

Bell is really is in a pickle here because the people who claim he is a universalist refuse to hear his real answer.  They want to hear him defend being a universalist.  But he can't because he isn't one. 

The interview goes on.
Bashir: “One critique of your book says this, 'There are dozens of problems with Love Wins. The history is inaccurate and the use of Scripture is indefensible.'  It’s true, isn’t it?"

Bell replied, “No, it’s not true.”  What was Bashir expecting there?  “Yes, you’re right.”  What a ridiculous, cornering question.

Bashir:  "Why do you choose, for example, to accept and promote the works of the early writer Origen and not, for example, Arius who took a view of Jesus' deity as him being not God.  Why do you select one and not the other?"  

Bell:  "Because first and foremost, I am a pastor.  I deal with real people in a real world asking and wrestling with these issues of faith."  A dodge.  But irrelevant to the argument coming from the Bell haters. 

Bashir: “According to this critic, 'It’s unbiblical and historically unreliable.'  That’s true.  Isn’t it?”

Bell: “No.”  He tried to continue but Bashir interrupted his answer.

Bashir: “Here comes Rob Bell.  He’s made a Christian Gospel for you.  And it’s perfectly palatable, much easier to swallow.  That’s what you’ve done.  Isn’t it?”

Bell: “No, I haven’t.  There is an entire chapter in the book on hell.  Throughout the book, over and over again, our choices matter.”  Then he goes on to explain. 

Bashir then thought he had Bell by asking: “How much of this book is you working out your own childhood experience of being brought up in a fairly cramped evangelical family and really finding that difficult as you became an adult?  How much of this is actually that?"

Bell: “I would totally own up to that in a heartbeat.” And he goes on to explain.  
Maybe people have problems with Bell going on and explaining his answers, but he only dodged one irrelevant question.

Large Government Jesus - Small Government Jesus

I recently read an article, Why Evangelicals Hate Jesus, from Phil Zuckerman, Professor of Sociology, Pitzer College in Claremont, CA.

I disagree with the author on many levels although his general point is right.  I agree that Christians often neglect the social issues that were a concern of Jesus.  I disagree when the author seems to replace the Republican Jesus with a Democratic Jesus.  

Zuckerman brought up the issue of gun control.  Biblically, there is no passage that stands up for or against gun regulation.  Now, we might be able to make good arguments against guns, but I have often said the the issue is more of a city versus rural issue.  Out here in the country, hunting is fairly common.  Killing a stray fox is sometimes a necessity.  Personally, I don't own a gun, but I have friends who would be more than willing to take care of a stray pest in my yard if the need arises.  In the city, the issue is much more extreme.  There really is no need for a gun except for shooting other people and defending one's self from corrupt government or crazy people. 

The author also deals with the idea that rich people are hated in Scripture.  They are not.  The author references, "Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God" [Matt 19:24 (ESV)].  Zuckerman fails to do the passage justice in its context.  Right after that passage referenced, Jesus taught, "When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, 'With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible'" [Matt 19:25-26 (ESV)].  It is impossible for a rich person to enter into the kingdom but what is impossible for man is possible with God.  It is not wrong to be rich; it's wrong to be rich while not being generous.  The rich need Jesus just as much as the poor to be right with God.  It might be a common misconception that one being wealthy means that they are right with God.  Jesus is denying that thought while providing hope for the wealthy at the same time.

Jesus did not preach socialism, but he did preach generosity.  The early church modeled a voluntary communal system, but it was never mandated although it is mandated that we are to help a brother or sister in need.  If we don't, then we don't love God (1 John 3:17).

The author confused being a follower of Jesus with holding a position on what sort of government we should have.  Jesus never addressed that issue.  Whether the government takes a more active social role, which I am fine with and often encourage. Or whether an individual is against large government, it does not make one more or less of a follower of Jesus.  We can be either big government or a small government Christians.  Both sides seem to make the mistake that their side is the only side that Jesus would be on.  My thought is that Jesus would not be on either side but remain a prophet proclaiming the call to love others as we love ourselves to both.  A person could be faithful to Jesus, against big government, and be passionate about loving the poor outside of the government.  Unfortunately, we get confused by the heartless conservatives who do not care for the poor, claim to follow Jesus, yet are not in step with his teachings.  While on the opposite side, we can see people who love the poor but refuse to acknowledge Jesus.

But Zuckerman is right in saying that being a follower of Jesus is much more important being saved from hell.  We follow Jesus, not for fire insurance, but because we really believe that Jesus is the best life to live.  Too often we get confused in thinking that following Jesus is all about getting to heaven.  It isn’t.  That is the frosting on the cake.  Following Jesus is about transforming this world.  In the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “Your will be done ON EARTH as it is in heaven.”    

And Zuckerman's last sentence is right on.
"Of course, conservative Americans have every right to support corporate greed, militarism, gun possession, and the death penalty, and to oppose welfare, food stamps, health care for those in need, etc. -- it is just strange and contradictory when they claim these positions as somehow "Christian." They aren't."
Opposing corporate greed, militarism, gun possession, the death penalty, welfare, food stamps, and health care does not require a person to take the large government position that the author seems to insinuate that it must.  (Except for the opposing the death penalty.  That one is inherently governmental and political in nature. Ironically, it's smaller government)  You can be a socially-conscious, small government follower of Jesus, but if you say that the government shouldn't be doing certain things to bring about social justice, you must be leading the charge in equipping and empowering the church to take up the slack.  You should be providing free medical clinics, food distribution, housing the homeless and training them, promoting peace, and preach out against the unfair profits on the backs of workers.  All this can be done outside of the government or within the government, but it needs to be done by follower of Jesus. 

The author made the mistake of linking achieving social justice within a large government to the teachings of Jesus. The real argument that Zuckerman needed to make is that social justice can only be achieved through the government.  I don't know if that point can be made.  Zuckerman did not even try.  The whole article was written under the false assumption that that point is already commonly held.  He must not have any small government Christian friends who are bringing justice about in their world. 

Obsessing Over Oddities - The Focus of a Life in Jesus and The False Assumption that Church Attendance is Declining in America

Recently, one of those Facebook chain messages - you know the kind that get repeated and repeated with the caveat at the end that you should also post on your page - appeared on many well-intentioned Christian status updates.  This one blamed the rising unemployment and increased gas prices in America on removing prayer from school and companies saying "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas".  

As you can see above, Ryan, an atheist friend of mine, posted that he thought it was outrageous.  I think I will have to side with the atheist on this one.  What Christians often fail to see is how ensnared in American materialism they have become.  There are more important things to life that than cheap gas and being employed.  For starters, its nice that we have created a society that has a social umbrella to keep the unemployed fed.  That's good, loving, Christian action happening all around us.  

The cheap gas, that some view as a blessing, could actually be a manifestation of our immorality, not a blessing for our faithfulness.  When people sin, they usually do it because they receive a buzz or a rush that keeps them doing it.  For us, the buzz might just be spending less money on gas.  Is the buzz worth it in the long term?  Is the gas really cheap even when it does not appear to cost much money at the pump?  How many lives have we paid (both through sacrificing and killing) for that cheap gas?  How much money have we spent to prop up unjust puppet dictators who would like to export to us?  How much treasure have we spent on our military to go around acting like the oil police in order to bring "stability" to those oil-producing nations?  All in the name of "cheap" gas.  Even free gas would not be cheap when you measure it by the societal impact we must pay to have it.  

On the other side of the coin, I probably disagree with my atheist friend.  God does bless and punish nations, but I don't think the standard He uses to measure faithfulness are school prayer and whether people say "Merry Christmas" rather than "Happy Holidays".  Those are just two external rituals that people who do not even believe in Him can participate in.  They do not even come close to transforming a society into a reflection of the kingdom of God.  The awe-inspiring, majestic, and powerful kingdom of God is morphed into a petty kingdom of beguiling issues.  Sadly, the Christian community gets so distracted and caught up in sideshows like the battle for prayer in school and "Merry Christmas" that we ignore that we have already ran to the bottom of the feared slippery slope in order to fight these petty battles.  Jesus would like us to use "how we love our neighbor" as the measuring stick for our faithfulness, not another well-intentioned, yet really meaningless, fight against or for the petty trend of the day.

One of the myths that caused the false conclusion that religion is losing influence in America is the belief that church attendance is on the decline in America.  Christianity Today's article, Three Church Growth Myths shows that isn't the case.  

Don't start cheering or sneering yet.  Church attendance was not really at 43% in 1999.  That's just what people claim.

A study from 1993, What the polls don't show: A closer look at U.S. church attendance, shows that the numbers cited in these surveys are skewed by people either projecting who they want to be in regard to church attendance or just outright lying.  What the authors of this study found was that there was a huge discrepancy from church attendance numbers and the percentage of people who say they are regular attenders.  They studied Ashtabula County in northeastern Ohio.  They conducted their own survey and found that 35.8% of Protestants claimed to have attended church in the last seven days.  They then contacted every church to ask their actual church attendance numbers.  The reality was that only 19.6% of Protestants actually attended.  They then studied Catholic numbers in various cities.  They showed a similar drop in claimed attendance versus actual attendance. 

Despite the popular thought that America was more Christian in the past, there is no evidence to support that claim.  A great Christian decline has not occurred from the mythological golden age of the 1950s until now.  That is not to say that a decline has not been felt more locally; there has been a decline in most mainline Protestant denominations, but the slack has been picked up by the surge in non-denominational churches and new denominational upstarts.  The church population has experienced been more of a shift than a decline, yet the church is keeping up with the population growth.  All studies show that around 40 percent say that they go to church.  Since they started counting the actual number in 1990, the survey numbers have still been right around that 40 percent level. One could logically assume that the same percentage of people were lying in all the church attendance surveys and conclude that church attendance has been the same in American since World War II.

Unfortunately, the Facebook status updates like the one that began this discussion are the result of a "world is out to get us" and "things are getting terrible" attitude that Christians identify with. Certain strains of Christianity foster this destructive attitude, but this is not the message that Jesus taught. It's really a shame because we - if what we claim to believe is true - should have the most blessed and joyful lives; lives that inspire us and others to live sacrificially and love others so that the world can be a better reflection of the kingdom of God.

Grace For The Broken (Like Us)

When standing at the precipice of grace, we like to step back.  For down there, in the grace, we fear lies death and destruction.  But in that fear rests true life.  We just have to be willing to give up on the judgment we currently cling to.

Paul wrote, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” [Romans 8:1 (ESV)].

When I was a kid, I used to pretend I was a superhero.  I had a cape that my mom made for me and would fly around the yard under that majestic, clear, blue country sky with my arms stretched out like I was Superman.  Those were the days of innocence.  Now, I know I was really running and only had a towel on my back that had an elastic strap sewed on.  Reality is often a downer.

At other times, I would attempt to use the force on a light switch to turn it off.  Or I would try to turn on the sink with the force.  I was never successful at using the force, but I had fun pretending.  And many of us, kids growing up in the 80s, did those same things.  That’s why the Super Bowl commercial with the kid pretending to be Darth Vader was so effective.  Many of us who are of the age to buy cars ran around pretending to use the force as kids.  We were superheroes.

But then real life caught up to us.  We started noticing flaws in the way we looked.  We started to recognize that others were better at some things than we were.  And the superhero charade wore off.  Reality crashed down.  For some, that reality crashing became too much.  That’s why suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15-24 year olds and the sixth leading cause of death for 5-14 year olds.  They’re learning to deal with their kryptonite for the first time, and their kryptonite is their own flaws and mortality, and, on those unfortunate and tragic times, kryptonite proves deadly.       

Those flaws and disappointments are no reason to give up.  We always have another dream waiting to be realized.  I remember when I was most down in life and ready to give up.  It only took about two hours with a friend, a Pepperoni Lover’s from Pizza Hut, and some Crash Test Dummies to figure out how to cope with things and to dream new dreams.  It might not happen that quickly for some, but there is never a reason to give up.  There is always hope in Jesus because there is no condemnation for the faults in your life when you are in him.  The death of dreams is always tremendously tragic.  It never gets easier.  But it’s when those first dreams smash into broken shards and are impossible to put back together that we can fail to realize that there is another dream just waiting to be noticed.  

Wake up, oh dreamer.  There is another day.  Another dream.  There is grace for all our mistakes.