The Demise or Evangelicalization of the American Church?

Respected leader Bob Buford highlights diverse perspective on recent reports proclaiming the decline of Christianity

Here’s the article from Exponential entitled Is It “The Big Drop”? Or Is the U.S. Church Becoming More Evangelical than Ever?

I expect most of us have been seeing the media barrage reporting on the drop in the number of Christians in the United States. About a week ago in its May 12, 2015 issue,  The New York Times ran a piece with the headline “Big Drop in Share of Americans Calling Themselves Christian.” 

In the first two paragraphs of this very well-written and comprehensive piece, reporter/editor David Leonhardt writes:

“The Christian share of adults in the United States has declined sharply since 2007, affecting nearly all major Christian traditions and denominations, and crossing age, race and region, according to an extensive survey by the Pew Research Center.

“Seventy-one percent of American adults were Christian in 2014, the lowest estimate from any sizable survey to date, and a decline of 5 million adults and 8 percentage points since a similar Pew survey in 2007.”

This shift is happening nationwide, Leonhardt observes, not just the typically spiritually desolate Northwest and Northeast. He quotes Alan Cooperman, the director of religion research at the Pew Research Center and the lead editor of the report: “The decline is taking place in every region of the country, including the Bible Belt.”

However, Cooperman points out that attrition was most substantial among mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics, who have declined in absolute numbers and as a share of the population since 2007 … “Not all religions or even Christian traditions declined so markedly,” he said. “The number of evangelical Protestants dipped only slightly as a share of the population, by 1 percentage point, and actually increased in raw numbers.

Maybe the news isn’t so doomsday after all.

Two days later after the New York Times piece appeared, The Washington Post ran a guest editorial by LifeWay Research Executive Director Ed Stetzer. In his article, Stetzer offered a contrasting perspective on the recent report’s findings. Here’s an excerpt from his piece:

“In 2013, South Carolina evangelical megachurch NewSpring Church baptized more than 6,500 people while worship attendance grew by nearly 10,000 more than the year before. The same year the entire Episcopal Church in the United States produced only around 12,000 adult confirmations with an attendance drop of more than 27,400 from the previous year.

“The stark figures of one church compared to an entire denomination suggest noteworthy trends and scope of the changing church in America. Continue reading The Demise or Evangelicalization of the American Church?

Redeeming Martha: A New Spin on an Old Story

I’ve heard a dozen sermons and given my own share on the story of Jesus at the home of Mary and Martha. I think they’ve all been a bit too hard on Martha and overlooked a potential danger for Mary types out there. Let’s take another look at this well known story. It’s found in Luke 10:38-42:

38 As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. 40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.”41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! 42 There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.”

The typical sermon celebrates Mary’s singleminded devotion to Jesus while rebuking Martha for being too distracted with less important chores. Mary is interested in the “spiritual” acts of Bible teaching and prayer. Martha is focused on the less “spiritual” tasks of the kitchen.

The conclusion: Devoted Christians should be more like Mary and less like Martha. Spiritually mature people are found leading Bible studies and prayer meetings, not preparing a meal for dinner guests.

Right? Wrong.

I’m now convinced that the ideal Christian is not choosing Mary over Martha, but rather becoming a powerful, rightly ordered combination of the two. Continue reading Redeeming Martha: A New Spin on an Old Story

Constantly Buzzed: Teens & Technology

As the school year wraps up, I’m reminded of my youth pastor days. Here’s a repost from 2009. 

I’m typing this blog from my laptop while text messaging, checking my email, listening to my Ipod, updating my Twitter and sipping an iced mocha. I’m totally wired and buzzed — both from caffeine and all the electrical cords juicing all my gadgets. Just another over-stimulated day in the “technopolis” of the 21st century world.

As I wrap up another year of high school ministry one thing is for certain: teenagers are too busy, involved in too many things, trying to please too many people—all this while trapped in a fast-paced, over-stimulated world of hypertechnology and seeing no easy way out of this vast web of over-connectivity.

I’m researching the power of culture and media technology in preparation for two messages I’m giving this weekend to senior high students at a missions retreat. I’m speaking on the topic of “Discipleship of the Mind” based on the popular movie trilogy, “The Matrix.” The book I’m reading is A Matrix of Meanings: Finding God in Pop Culture by Craig Detweiler and Barry Taylor. Here’s some insights from the chapter I’m currently reading.

Jeremy Rifkin, author of The Age of Access, notes, “The techno gurus promised us that instant access would lighten our loads and give us back more time. Is it possible, instead, that the nanosecond culture is enslaving us in a web of ever-accelerating connections from which there seems to be no escape?” Continue reading Constantly Buzzed: Teens & Technology

Good Night David Letterman

Tonight is David Letterman’s final show.

I remember when I first started watching Letterman. It was around 1993 and I was about 14 years old and spending the week at my cousin Tasha’s house. That week we watched him every night and I was hooked for the rest of my high school days.

I had a funny bedtime routine as a teenager. I would pour a huge bowl of Musselman’s apple sauce, go to my room and watch Letterman while inhaling apple sauce. I would then do as many push-ups as I could during each commercial break. I credit my record breaking basketball career to this bedtime formula…especially any upper body strength I imagined I once had! Haha. (Ask my mom how she kept us stocked with applesauce when I went through a big jar every 2 nights!)

Its a strange kind of tribute that David Letterman was the last face I saw before I turned out the lights most nights back then. I probably should have been going to bed earlier but I think laughter is equally good for one’s health.

These were the “glory days” of musical taste development — the mid-90s!  I remember setting the VCR to tape performances by Dave Matthews Band, R.E.M., Blues Traveler, Pearl Jam, and others. I watched those old videos well into college and still pull them out in nostalgic moods.

Now, I drifted away from Letterman in the 2000s and have not watched him for many years now. But he was my late night funny man of choice those formative years. I’ve been watching some throwback footage these past weeks as his show comes to a close, and I’ve been reminded just how funny and brilliant he was in his prime. (See a classic old bit with Rupert Jee annoying people below.)

Thanks for all the bed time laughs, push-up inspiration and helping me put down all those bowls of apple sauce.

So, for the last time, good night David Letterman!

EPHESIANS 16: Biker Gangs at the Cross (2:14-18)

This morning’s news headline reads:

9 DEAD, 270 CHARGED IN TEXAS BIKER BRAWL

WACO, Tex. — In the denim-and-leather world of Texas motorcycle gangs, the Bandidos and the Cossacks are warring tribes in an unforgiving landscape. Both originated in Texas in the 1960s. But the Bandidos were first, in 1966, with the Cossacks forming in 1969….The feud formed the backdrop of the shootout here on Sunday afternoon, when a gathering intended to discuss bikers’ rights and how to work on issues of mutual concern erupted into gunfire that left nine bikers dead and 18 others wounded.

On Monday, about 170 bikers were charged with engaging in organized crime linked to capital murder….The shootout provided a glimpse of the sometimes competing agendas — power and influence, a desire to avoid public confrontations and a code of never backing down in a fight — that turned the meeting of hundreds of bikers into a blood bath.

You would think the human race would eventually grow up and get beyond the toddler-like “I had it first” macho-macho turf war mentality. Sadly, many bearded men still act like little tikes fighting over toys in the sandbox — the sandboxes have just gotten bigger and they’ve traded plastic shovels for firearms and switchblades.

But such stories are good reminders of just how stubborn, prideful and destructive our grudges and divisions can be. We need this level of hostility in view when we read Paul’s bold declaration today in Ephesians 2:14-18:

Jesus has made things up between us so that we’re now together on this, both non-Jewish outsiders and Jewish insiders. He tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance. He repealed the law code that had become so clogged with fine print and footnotes that it hindered more than it helped. Then he started over. Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody.

Christ brought us together through his death on the cross. The Cross got us to embrace, and that was the end of the hostility. Christ came and preached peace to you outsiders and peace to us insiders. He treated us as equals, and so made us equals. Through him we both share the same Spirit and have equal access to the Father” (2:14-18 The Message).

The cross has a way of disarming our misdirected animosity and unmasking the evil in our own mirrors. Jesus came to show Jew and non-Jew alike that the other gang was not their true enemy. Rather the sin in every human heart was the real enemy to be defeated. As its been rightly said, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross” and “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

Imagine Jesus coming to Waco on a Harley on the day of this brawl, and just before the first punch was thrown he stepped in between the gangs, pulled out a notepad and said: Continue reading EPHESIANS 16: Biker Gangs at the Cross (2:14-18)

RUSH HOUR 7: Road Signs & Warning Lights

SIGNS, SIGNS, EVERYWHERE THERE’S SIGNS

“They’re not just for decoration.”  That’s what I tell my beginning drivers as they nervously drive down the road with tunnel vision, never reading the myriad of signs lining the roadside.  Signs warn us of potential hazards ahead.  They inform us of services up the road.  They regulate traffic flow in order to keep everyone safe.  But they only work if people read them and obey them!

Likewise, God has given us many traffic laws and signs to ensure us safe travel through life.  They warn us of dead end streets.  They set limits and prohibit reckless living.  They bring safety and blessings if we obey them.  If we ignore them, we may find ourselves upside down in a ditch—or worse.   Listen to the words of Moses: Continue reading RUSH HOUR 7: Road Signs & Warning Lights

Puzzle Pieces & Box Covers

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”

(Phil. 2:5)

puzzle_pieces300x199Have you ever tried putting together a puzzle without having the box cover to show you what the finished product is supposed to look like?  Without the cover picture we only a jumble of pieces that might, taken individually, give us a small taste of beauty, but nevertheless leave one wondering what larger, more beautiful whole they are supposed to be forming.

The individual and corporate life of the Christian is much the same.  Our lives often feel like a bunch of pieces we’re trying to put fit together to form something worth looking at.  In truth, we are each incomplete puzzles in the hands of God. Paul tells us elsewhere, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Eph. 2:10).  That is, God in Christ is taking all of the broken, fragmented pieces of our old lives and transforming them by the Spirit and carefully putting us back together again like a precious puzzle that will serve it’s intended purpose.  The finished product will be individuals forming a worldwide community of people who display God’s glory and divine artistry.  

Instead of a puzzle, Paul uses the similar metaphor of individuals being fit together like building blocks to form God’s Holy Temple wherein His presence dwells: Continue reading Puzzle Pieces & Box Covers

Reports from the intersection of faith & everyday life .

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