“Customer Announcement: We Have A Lost Child In The Culture”

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Are young people fleeing from the church?

I would guess, based on my observations, that 18-30 year olds are the smallest age group at my church. When I hear that anywhere between 45% and 75% of young people who grew up in the church leave by the end of their first year in college it only supports my concern that there’s an exodus of young people.

I would guess, based on my observations, that 18-30 year olds are the smallest age group at my church.

Having come across a few articles now that push back against this narrative I’m more skeptical and curious. And this is to my shame because I studied economics in college and I, of all people, should know that data doesn’t automatically give you the big picture. In fact, many researchers have looked at the data and have come to a different conclusion.

Bradley Wright pulls the data from the General Social Survey on those who identify as Evangelicals by age. The chart he produces shows that the percentage of people who are Evangelicals rises during the 1970s and declines in the 1990s, most sharply for the 18-29 age group. Today we are back to the same levels as the early 70s.

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Bradley also looks at how many Americans are Evangelicals or “Born-again” Christians. (As a pedantic side note I’d say that “born-again” and Christian are synonymous. If you’re not born again you’re not a Christian, but I digress). It hasn’t changed much in the last 40 years. There is a decline in religious affiliation (and a rise in the un-affiliated, or “nones”) but that is mostly affecting nominal mainline Christians and Evangelicals.

Ed Stetzer has also analyzed the data and does not believe it supports a pessimistic view. In commenting on the Pew Forum’s 2012 study which showed a rise in the number of people who have no religious affiliation (the “nones”), he said this:

The reality is that evangelicals have been relatively steady as a percent of the population over the last few years, however there is still great cause for concern here– and for action.

Conservative churches and institutions are holding up better but they still face challenges as more Americans move away from a biblical worldview, including church-going, Bible-reading Christians. There has been a growing movement of “New Calvinists” which has produced organizations like The Gospel Coalition and Together 4 The Gospel. Daniel Darling mentions that Southern Baptist Theological Seminary enrolls more students into their Masters of Divinity program than any other similar school.

The church has always thrived in hostile environments and will continue to do so. Jesus did say that He will build His church. I think we can take this as an opportunity to preach the gospel and show the stark contrasts between the cultural and biblical perspectives. If only a few more believers behaved as if they were confident that they are already victorious then we’d see some amazing changes take place.

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Lessons From Downton Abbey On Urban Ministry

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Many seminaries now offer an urban ministry studies program, which tells you that it has become an official fad.

Many people have moved from the suburbs to the inner cities, reversing the trend of the suburban flight. Cheaper homes, shorter commutes, and a love for all things hipster contribute to the migration and churches have not escaped the urban fever.

Many Christians are studying for urban ministry or joining churches and/or ministries that serve the inner city. It hasn’t quite become the cottage industry that youth ministry has attained but that may be just a matter of time. This is where the action is, where “real” ministry is taking place.

What drives the passion for urban ministry? Is it a desire to help the poor or is it something else?

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In my own hometown I’ve seen the gentrification of poor neighborhoods with the intent of development. Large swaths of people come in along with businesses that cater to that audience but they’re like foreigners. Some people may object to that but I’m not here to criticize the trend. It does make me wonder if Christians are going to an “urban” mission field or if they’re staying in the same cultural environment.

One problem I do have is that urban ministry reminds me of missions trips to Third World countries. I’ve seen too many people get excited adventures around the world but neglect the people in their own backyard. You don’t have to leave town to find opportunities to help people. I fear that the same desire to feel good about yourself is stronger than the desire to serve.

We should end urban ministry and continue ministering in the city. We should stop trying to end poverty and, instead, help poor people. The church can do much good if we deal with real people rather than artificial categories.

In a scene from Downton Abbey the chauffeur, Tom, is talking with a woman who shames him for being a part of an aristocratic family. She says that she doesn’t care much for “their type,” to which Tom responds, “I don’t believe in types. I believe in people.” Would that we believe likewise.

At Least I Didn’t Kill Nobody

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Grading on a curve always seemed like legalized cheating when I was a child. In school we were held to an absolute standard and you sank or swam with your grade. Every now and then we’d hear about this strange practice of curving your grade but it seemed like a strange custom from a primitive culture in some remote part of the world. Soon enough the practice would become as common as standing in line to buy coffee.

If curving the grade was a frequent occurrence in the past it has become an essential feature of the academic life. It’s no longer a matter of if the professor will curve but how. Often students will raise this question on the first day to find out the professor’s particular style of curving. It isn’t a corrective measure used sparingly but a routine part of massaging the numbers to make them look better.

You wonder why they haven’t already ditched grades and moved to a percentile scale where you’re just graded against other students in the class. That’s what curving really is. You’re being compared to everyone else rather than against a uniform standard. Most people seem to think this way when they judge themselves in spiritual terms.

For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.

For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if thou commit no adultery, yet if thou kill, thou art become a transgressor of the law.

James 2: 10-11

The gospel offends people so much because it directly challenges the universal belief that we are just fine the way we are, no need for improvement. If you measure up to your own standards then you’re simply lying to yourself and your standards are worthless. You are “curving” the moral grade far enough so that you can pass the test.

When you have an encounter with the living God in all His holiness all the excuses fall apart and you can’t help but realize that you are tainted and corrupt. Isaiah said as much when he saw the Lord sitting on His throne (Isaiah 6). Peter knew it when Jesus told him to cast the net on the other side of the boat (Luke 5). You cannot have such an experience and continue to believe the lie that you are righteous.

When you face God on His judgment seat you will either appeal to your righteousness or the righteousness of Christ. Only the latter will suffice to avert the wrath of God. No one will be able to claim ignorance because no one will have an excuse. And I can certainly guarantee you that no one will be asking God how He will curve the grade.

Churches: Segregated Now, Segregated Forever

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I noticed some interesting things about how people interacted with each other when I lived in South Carolina. In all kinds of social settings it was unremarkable to see blacks and whites together but come 11 AM on Sunday everyone went to their separate corners. It still is true that churches are can be some of the most segregated places in society. The funny thing is now I’m back in California and I’m a member of a predominantly black church.

I might be going out on a limb but it seems to me that most religions exist within a particular region, time, and people. What makes the gospel unique is that it is a universal message that is not bound by any culture, and yet we often fail to transcend our culture when it comes to our spiritual lives. Why are churches so segregated? Why so parochial?

As I was making my way through Jonah it dawned on me that this topic fits in with this story. The prophet resisted God’s calling to preach to the Ninevites because they were pagans. He knew (so he thought) that God was merciful and that if they repented then God would not destroy the city. He had the audacity to begrudge God of His compassion. Jonah’s people were God’s chosen (favored, in his opinion) people and, alone, deserving of His blessings. Peter had this same hang up and had to learn that God was no respecter of persons. As banal as that sounds to us that was quite the epiphany for the Jewish apostle.

The connection is that a parochial view of God leads us to think that we are the best and the greatest. We get puffed up as we confine ourselves to our insignificant corner of the world. Then we become indifferent or hostile to the outside world. This is when we must remember that God is the creator of all men and the respecter of none. His kingdom transcends every cultural and racial barrier.

Application time. How do we apply these lessons? Well, are you comfortable sharing the gospel with people from other cultural backgrounds? I’m not just talking about having enough confidence to be a witness but being able to converse with the person and show them the truth and relevance of the gospel. We’re not looking for people to just change the way they dress when they put their faith in Christ but we do expect to see a change in their heart.

It’s easy erase the distinction between gospel and culture but the Christian life properly lived comes in many forms. It’s easy to lump pagans and Christians together into the “foreigner” group but then we’d be judging by appearances. The real distinction is the fruit of their faith. We are looking for the qualities that the apostle described in 1 John to mark the true believer.

Your church may be homogenous and I don’t want to leave the impression that we need to set quotas as if this is a public university. Culture itself isn’t evil but we don’t want to be conformed to any given culture. Instead, we want the gospel to shape us and, in turn, influence our culture. We need to remember that the gospel is a universal message that transcends all boundaries. There is only one church with one Head, one faith, and one Holy Spirit who resides in all our hearts.

After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands;

And cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb.

Rev. 7:9-10

Stewardship Is Economics, Stupid!

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Stewardship is not about tithing or managing your money well. It is about the decisions you make regarding the resources God has entrusted to you. Those resources include time, talents, labor, knowledge, assets, spiritual gifts and people, as well as money. God has provided you with these blessings and you are supposed to use them in a way that pleases Him. When you have a biblical understanding of stewardship you will be able to surrender yourself to the will of God. You will see that stewardship is as much a spiritual exercise as it is a temporal one.

Stewardship ties in with economics because the latter is the study of how we allocate scarce resources. On the first day of Econ 101 you learn the fundamental problem that resources are scarce and our desires are insatiable. That means we have to set priorities and make budgets to gain the most satisfaction from the use of our time, money, and any other resource. This goes far beyond credit cards, retirement accounts, and how you save for a new home or car.

Christians need to understand economics then to be good stewards but they need to study it from a biblical worldview. There are a few principles we need to lay down as a foundation for a proper understanding of economics.

The earth is the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.

Psalm 24:1

Biblical stewardship is based on the principle that God owns everything. He has ownership rights over all creation and over us. An owner has the right to decide how to use his own property. He can use it however he pleases. The Lord created us for His good pleasure, to know Him and enjoy Him. All of creation is designed towards the ultimate goal of giving glory to God.

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Genesis 1:28

God commanded Adam and Eve to populate the Earth and exercise dominion over it. He wanted us to use our abilities to harness and exploit the maximum value from creation. Since the fall of Adam and Eve God has worked to redeem creation. In these latter days He is working through His church.

His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.

Matthew 25:21

Stewardship is important because it comes with responsibility and accountability. God calls us to live according to His will. We also know that a day of reckoning will come wherein we must give an account to Him of what we did in this life. In the various parables that Jesus told the master or lord always came back and took account of what the servants had done. Jesus will come back and judge our works. We need to be prepared for that day and be ready.

What Marcus Luttrell Teaches Us About Suffering

The story behind the film Lone Survivor teaches us a lot about how to deal with suffering. In that tense exchange in the interview Marcus Lutrell elucidates a very rare perspective on tragedy which Jake Tapper clearly doesn’t understand. In a sense, they are both representatives of two different viewpoints.

Under the pessimistic view all suffering is vain and is reflection of the vanity of life. For these people it represents the fatal flaw in any theistic worldview. Suffering does nothing but make our lives miserable and if there is a loving God then He’d never let it come into existence, much less eliminate it.

Luttrell made a very important point when he said that they didn’t question their mission and purpose just because an operation went sideways on them. They were in a combat zone doing a dangerous job and that was par for the course. More importantly, they were highly trained and eager to successfully complete the mission. SEALs are intense competitors and they thrive under incredible stress and pain.

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The rest of us can learn to shape our expectations based on their perspective. I believe much of our struggles are based on our expectations about what God owes us. It’s easy to say “Amen” when the preacher says to put our complete trust in God as our provider but when something near and dear to us is taken away we get desperate. We feel entitled to certain level of well-being and we see our faith as a means to maintain it.

Jesus offers us a simpler, but more empowering, view of life. He teaches us to look to God for our needs and be content and thankful that He has supplied them all. Life is not about material wealth (Luke 12:15) but about living by every word of God. When you have this perspective you’re not likely to get entangled with the cares of this life. You’re not likely to be consumed with a desire for more.

This biblical perspective also informs us that this life is full of troubles (John 16:33) and that we should not be surprised when bad things happen to us. Followers of Christ do not get immunity from pain and suffering. They do get the grace that enables them to be of good cheer in the midst of sorrow.

We know that tragedy can and will strike us at some point. We also know that God is able to sustain through every tribulation. If we keep things in perspective then we will not forget the goodness of the Lord towards us and His everlasting mercy. It’s important to always remember that because such gratitude shows us how to properly understand the hard times we endure. When you can praise and worship God in those times then you know you have succeeded.

What Does God Think Of The Minimum Wage?

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You’ve probably heard about the “living wage” in the minimum wage debate but you probably don’t know what it means. If you do know what it means then it’s likely that no one else defines it the way you do.

The idea is that workers need wages to support their families and only the government can mandate. Increasing the minimum wage will combat the inequality that God condemns in the scriptures. Christians, in particular, will make passionate arguments that appeal to our desire to help those less fortunate.

But does the Bible support this notion of a living wage? Is it really the kind thing to do? Why are we forced to choose between doing something, even if it may not work, and doing nothing?

Those who argue for a minimum/living wage will quote passages of Scripture such as James 5, Deuteronomy 24, Amos 8, and so on. In these verses, and many others, you will see that God is concerned with justice for the poor, needy, and vulnerable. He especially condemns the rich landowners who don’t pay their workers. What we don’t see is any guidance regarding the minimum wage.

The idea of the living wage sounds simple enough but how do you determine the amount? It’s easy to see how much the cost of living changes as you move from San Francisco to Omaha, Nebraska but you can also see it drop if you move an hour east of San Francisco to the Central Valley. A minimum wage in large states is difficult to do, to say nothing of a national wage.

To make things even more difficult we have to consider that no two workers are the same and so any given wage may support one worker but not another. A worker who has a wife and children will need a higher wage than someone who is single and childless. Someone who has a poor credit history may also need a higher wage to pay off debts. How can you mandate one wage that will work for everyone?

Another shortcoming is that minimum wage increases do not help the poor because the majority of poor Americans do not have jobs. This is the reason why most economists do not view this policy as an effective weapon against poverty. The 28 states that raised their minimum wage above the federal level between 2003 and 2007 did not reduce the level of poverty.

When I worked as a security guard for a year I started out making minimum wage ($8/hr) and a year later I was at a different company making $11.40/hr. I wasn’t a statistical anomaly. This happens all the time. We all know that no one ends up where they started and it would raise questions to hear of someone stuck in such a job. A normal life includes such hard beginnings and rites of passage whether it is work, college, or even marriage. What matters more than our current circumstances is the possibility of improving them.

Good intentions can lead to bad consequences. A proper understanding of the Bible teaches us to be concerned about justice for the poor and vulnerable but also compels us to recognize the complexity of the issue of wages that goes beyond simplistic prescriptions. To avoid God’s judgment we have to make decisions based on the right motives. There’s no law Congress could write that can compel us to love our neighbor.

Is Sarah Palin A Christmas Tree Idolator?

This post isn’t about Sara Palin, it’s about biblical illiteracy. Joy Reid is filling in for Ed Schultz the day after Christmas and is calling Palin out for hypocrisy regarding Christmas trees. She (mistakenly) reads Jeremiah 10:10 and draws the conclusion that Christmas trees are unbiblical.

For one thing, that wasn’t Jeremiah 10:10, but 10:3-5. It seems as if she delegates the research to someone else. If you’re going to make a tongue-in-cheek attack on someone you should probably pay attention to detail so you don’t look dumb.

The main problem, though, is that her interpretation is flawed. God is encouraging His people not to be afraid of their idolatrous enemies. The false gods cannot do anything to them because they are not real and have no power.

There are Christians who object to the whole practice involving Christmas trees because of their pagan connections but it is impossible to connect the practice with the idol worship described in Jeremiah 10. The idolators in the text cut down the trees to get the wood which they would fashion into all kinds of idols and decorate it with gold, silver, etc. The Christmas tree is a symbol because it is green even in the winter. That’s the way God created it so Christians should have no problem using it to express biblical truths simply because pagans pour their own meaning into it.

My impression is that she is cherry-picking verses in order to criticize Palin. Whatever the reason, she is reading something foreign into the text, which is called eisegesis. We want to draw the meaning out of the text (exegesis) in order to understand what we are reading. We certainly don’t want to use the text as a pretext to advance an agenda or preserve our prejudices.

Those who abuse the scriptures, in my belief, will face an especially harsh judgment. It is a very severe responsibility to handle the word of God that brings with it accountability. We want to make sure that we have all the tools we need to use it effectively. As Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3 the proper understanding of the word will help us fulfill our ultimate purpose in life.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

Why The Minimum Wage Can’t Be Biblical

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At the risk of being simplistic I would say that the argument in favor of raising the minimum wage is that it alleviates poverty and fosters an opportunity society. The main problem with this is that it is demonstrably false.

Not only is the minimum wage evil but it’s also stupid, and neither are biblical. It is an evil means to a righteous end which is to say that it is counterproductive. Christians need to get beyond the emotions and evaluate these issues with a clear head lest we do damage in the name of helping people.

Thomas Sowell, an economist with the Hoover Institution, has spent decades illustrating the consequences of stage-one thinking. It is where you do not think about the effects of a proposed solution to a problem beyond the immediate consequences. The minimum wage issue is a perfect example of this and it is especially problematic when Christians support such a law.

One of the basic principles of economics is that people tend to buy less of something at higher prices and more of it at lower prices. For some unexplained reason we are to believe that employers, the consumers in the labor market, will hire more labor as its price increases. If we are trying to help the poor then I do not see what is compassionate about making it harder for them to find a job.

The advocates for the minimum wage forget, if they ever knew, that you can legislate higher prices for labor but you cannot legislate higher productivity. That would be analogous to proposing a law setting a minimum price of gas at $10/gallon and expecting to see higher gas mileage. Goods and services don’t become more valuable simply because the law requires higher prices.

It is tragic to see the effects of government intervention in the black community. In the immediate years after World War II the unemployment rate among black teens, around 10%, was slightly less than it was among white teenagers. Since 1970, the unemployment rate for black teens has only dropped below 30% for a couple of years. Young black men between the ages of 18-25 are prime candidates for prison, especially when they have a lot of idle time on their hands and numerous bad influences.

Most advocates seem to be unaware of the history of minimum wage. In the U.S. and other countries, including Canada, South Africa, and Australia, the law was used as a means of excluding racial minorities to protect a privilege group. It made it difficult to hire Japanese workers who were willing to work for relatively lower wages in British Columbia, or blacks in South Africa.

Christians should know that the minimum wage can be used as a weapon of discrimination and ask themselves who is being excluded today. If people in the past saw this is a means of oppressing people then we have to ask if it is having the same effects today.

Pricing labor so high that it makes finding a job difficult is not the best way to help the poor. It keeps people out of the labor force at precisely the time they need to develop experience so that they can find better paying jobs later in life. No one ever got rich on a minimum wage job. It is condescending and cruel to tell people that they should expect to do no better. We can be more compassionate than that.

Phil Roberston And Hipster Christianity Don’t Mix

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The most important thing I’ve learned from the controversy surrounding Phil Robertson’s comments about homosexuality is that there is a cultural divide in the church between the urban and the rural. I think that this divide explains the criticism coming from Christians, even more so than disagreements over what he said.

The most common objection is that Phil’s confrontational style was offensive and not Christ-like. It runs afoul of the hipster approach to evangelism that sees unbelievers as people who are suffering because they don’t know that God loves them. For Christians to judge their lifestyle as sinful, in their view, brings condemnation down on their heads and pushes them away from God when we need to attract people to Him.

This relates to another complaint from Christians that this controversy is a distraction. They tell us that we need to focus on meeting the physical needs of the poor and those who are in need. For the hipster, evangelism is about sponsoring children in sub-Saharan Africa or handing out soup and sandwiches to homeless people downtown. Stirring up controversy is counterproductive to sharing the gospel.

We can easily answer these objections but the telling observation is that the Christian critics are simply embarrassed by Phil. The hipster Christian lives a very modern lifestyle, socially-conscious, passionate, and ambitious. He buys fair-trade coffee and the rest of his paleo-diet groceries at Trader Joe’s. Phil is far from that: crass, country, redneck, and patriarchal.

In the church there is an infatuation with urban culture and ministry. Urban is genuine and real whereas suburban and rural is fake. Urban ministry is where the real work of evangelism is taking place. It’s the wave of the future. Phil Robertson is history.

So like so many other fads, this fascination with urban culture will also pass. Too many Christians forget, or don’t understand, that we are in the midst of a spiritual war. They miss that in their frustration with all the attention the issue attracts. Jesus did not come to set up soup kitchens. His message called us to repentance at the arrival of the kingdom of heaven. It is about the reconciliation between God and man and the liberation from the bondage of sin.

To his credit, Phil is fighting the battle by speaking what the Bible says about sin when so many other Christians are doing nothing. What’s worse is that some Christians sit back and judge how he fights while they make no effort themselves, and that’s the real problem.