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Posts Tagged ‘Church’

In God’s gates

Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. Psalm 100:4 (NKJV)

A new study finds that faith or religion can do more to provide “sustained happiness” than other types of social activities, like taking a class, volunteering for charity, or even playing sports.  Writing for TODAY, Eun Kyung Kim[i] explains that “Going to church, mosque or synagogue regularly often provides a more reliable boost in mental welfare than belonging to an active group like a book club, political organization or a sports team.”

According to researcher Mauricio Avendano of the London School of Economics (LSE) and Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands. “The church appears to play a very important social role in keeping depression at bay and also as a coping mechanism during periods of illness in later life.”  American psychologist Jennifer Harstein added that religion tends to have longer lasting power than other types of activities for many people.  Religion has permanence in our life.  As she said, “Our religious affiliation is something that’s longer term. You can go, you can leave, it’s always there.  It’s sustained, like the happiness, whereas a sports group ends. It might be seasonal. Or a volunteer opportunity might end.”

While sports, politics, or hobbies can play an important role in our lives, religion tends to reach a deeper level for us.  As Harstein explained, “We know that spirituality is something that really helps people feel like they find that higher power, they find that center, that groundedness”

The study from LSE study also found that religion also helped ease symptoms of depression and help the sick cope better with their illness. One of the reasons this is so is because houses of worship often help lessen burdens for people.  When we go to church we get to present our burdens to God, and share them with people who care about us and who pray, support, and encourage us.  That gives us a powerful boost even in the most discouraging of circumstances.  This is something that social clubs, sports, or politics can’t ever do for us.

Father God, may I be blessed as I enter within your gates weekly, and may I also be a helper to those that come to your courts for help.

[i] http://www.today.com/health/study-religion-faith-can-help-provide-sustained-happiness-t39036

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More divorce?

Some Pharisees came to test him. They asked, “Can a husband divorce his wife?” Mark 10:2 (GW)

 

Evidently conservative Christians are not only failing to live up to their pro-family standards of marriage, they are giving the rest of the world a pretty bad example.  The findings of authors Jennifer Glass and Philip Levchak[i] in the area of marriage are provocative and should give us all as parents and as a church some very important messages. They conclude that, “the results here show that communities with large concentrations of conservative Protestants actually produce higher divorce rates than others, both because conservative Protestants themselves exhibit higher divorce risk and because individuals in communities dominated by conservative Protestants face higher divorce risks.”

The question we need to ask ourselves is, “why would conservative churches have a higher divorce rate?’  Glass and Levchak point to evidence that conservative Protestants and their communities encourage young people to marry and have children earlier, sometimes before their educations are completed.  As a result, these early-marrying couples face a double dilemma of learning to live together, and for probably raising children together, while also struggling to get by in an economy that is increasingly tough on those who don’t finish college.

Glass and Levchak speculate that perhaps other conservative Protestant norms may contribute to undermine stable marriages. For instance, the stand against premarital sex and abortion, which might encourage earlier marriage and childbearing, and the disdain for religiously “mixed” marriages, combine to create a mixture of ingredients which, paradoxically, may undermine the very thing conservative Protestants are trying to strengthen.

What is the lesson for us?  Encourage delaying marriage until after college; this will allow for more growth and maturity as well as a better financial start and future for the couple.

 

Father God, help us to be careful not to encourage early marriage for our children lest we be setting them up for a weak beginning and a possible end to their marriage.

[i] http://family-studies.org/findings-on-red-and-blue-divorce-are-not-exactly-black-and-white/?utm_source=IFS+Main+List&utm_campaign=2a9c99d99a-Newsletter_17_small_list_1_23_2014&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_c06b05f1ff-2a9c99d99a-104541745

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Church Attendance Matters

Scripture: Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. Heb 10:25 NIV

Observation: The Greek, “episunagoge,” is only found here and 2Th 2:1 (the gathering together of the elect to Christ at His coming, Mt 24:31). The assembling or gathering of ourselves for Christian communion in private and public, is an earnest of our being gathered together to Him at His appearing. Union is strength; continual assemblings together beget and foster love, and give good opportunities for “provoking to good works,” by “exhorting one another” (Heb 3:13). Ignatius says, “When ye frequently, and in numbers meet together, the powers of Satan are overthrown, and his mischief is neutralized by your likemindedness in the faith.” To neglect such assemblings together might end in apostasy at last. He avoids the Greek term “sunagoge,” as suggesting the Jewish synagogue meetings (compare Rev 2:9). [Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., & Brown, D. (1997). Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible. Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.]

Application: How important is it for the family to attend church together on a regular basis? Does it matter who goes to church with their children, their mom, their dad, neither, or both? Research done in Switzerland has shown that it is critically important! In fact, the religious practice of the father of the family determines the future attendance or absence from church by the children. The results show a dramatic differential between the relative impact of a father’s church attendance and a mother’s church attendance. This what research in Switzerland showed:
* If both father and mother attended church regularly then 33 per cent of their children became regular churchgoers, a further 41 per cent irregular attenders and about a quarter not practicing at all.
* If the mother was a regular church attender but the father irregular then only 3 per cent of their children became regular church attenders, 59 per cent irregular attenders and 38 per cent non-attenders.
* If the father was non-practising and the mother regular only 2 per cent of children were regular and 37 per cent irregular church attenders. 61 per cent did not attend church at all.
* Surprisingly, if the father is a regular church attender the children’s religious practice varied in an inverse relationship to their mothers’ practice. If the mother was regular 33 per cent of children were regular. If she was an irregular attender then 38 per cent of children were regular. If the mother was non-practising then 44 per cent of children became regular attenders.
* Even when the father is an irregular attender and the mother non- practicing 25 per cent of the children were regular attenders and 23 per cent irregular attenders.
In short, if a father does not go to church, no matter how regular the mother is in her religious practice, only one child in 50 becomes a regular church attender. But if a father attends regularly then regardless of the practice of the mother at least one child in three will become a regular church attender. [http://www.ad2000.com.au/articles/2002/sep2002p8_1115.html
http://trushare.com/83APR02/AP02LOW.htm%5D
Father, if you love your children and want them to grow up attending church regularly don’‘t neglect church attendance yourself – make it part of your weekly family practice.

A Prayer You May Say: Father God, bless us, as fathers, that we may serve as an example to our children by our regular exercises of our faith, including church attendance together as a family. And bless us with the joy of seeing our children grow up loving you and serving you all their lives.

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Scripture: Now both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. (John 2:2 NKJV)

Observation: As Jesus began His public ministry, the first event recorded was both a celebration and a miraculous event. Cana is a small town, not too far from Nazareth, where Jesus had grown up with His mother, Mary, and her husband, Joseph. It was during this wedding that the wedding coordinator realized they ran out of wine, which somehow was made known to Mary. As far as we know, Jesus had not performed any miracles (unless Mary had witnessed some), so the wedding coordinator was not asking for one. Whether Mary was asking Jesus to perform a miracle or not, Jesus sensed her concern, and that of the wedding party, and turned the water into fresh wine. By this act, not only did He save those some embarrassment, but also saved the newlywed couple disappointment as their married life was just beginning.

Application: Thousands of couples get married every week. Many of these wish to have the wedding ceremony performed at a church and by a pastor or priest, because they are members they are Christian, at least in word if not in practice. Some church wedding rituals are very elaborate while others have a more simple service. Nevertheless, most Christian couples wish to have God’s blessing, and the blessing and recognition of the church, as they begin their wedded life together.
In Cana, Jesus and His disciples were invited to join in the festivities of the newlywed couple. My guess is that they never could have imagined that by inviting Jesus, from the nearby town of Nazareth, they were in reality inviting the very Son of God to grace them with His presence. There are two important lessons to learn from this story:
1. The couple getting married needs to invite God into their wedding ceremony and be aware of His presence during that special service. Weddings, for many, have become more of a show than a spiritual experience. Some choose to be married while skydiving, or scuba diving. Others want to have it at the place where they first met, whether the subway or at a Wal-Mart. Others yet dress up as they were attending a costume party. But Christian couples must approach this day with the full realization they are coming before the presence of the God of the universe, their Creator, and their Redeemer. It is a solemn event, marked with the joy of His presence, but also with the reality that by becoming one flesh they are also exemplifying the union of Christ and His bride, the church.
2. Many couples invite God into their wedding, but seldom into their marriage. God’s presence should not be only during the hour or so of the wedding ceremony but every hour of the life of this couple and family. Therefore, we need to invite God into our personal life and into our couple and family life every day, and live in the awareness of His presence in our relationship every hour and every minute.
Invite God to your wedding. . . and to your marriage daily.

Prayer: Our God and Father, thank You that in our marriage we tell everyone not only of our love for each other but of the love of Jesus for His bride, the church. We invite You to come into our marriage again today and to remain with us each and every day of our lives.

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Scripture: Discipline your children, and they will give you rest; they will give delight to your heart.  (Prov 29:17 NRSV)
Observation: Vs. 16 and 18 of this chapter of proverbs refer to the discipline of children.  Discipline and discipleship come from the same root word and include education, training and correction.
Application: Several books I have read recently emphasize the fact that parents have the primary responsibility for the spiritual growth of their children.  Another way of saying this is that the responsibility for discipling children and preparing them for eternity falls on their parents’ lap.  As parents, we cannot relegate that responsibility to anyone else. And yet, more and more parents are doing just that – neglecting their role and delegating others to raise their children.     I did a little bit of math and was astonished at the results:
Hours in one year (365 days X 24 hours) = 8760

Hours spent in church each year =   200

Hours spent sleeping each year = 2920

Hours spent in school each year = 1100

Hours spent with parents/friends = 4540

Several things jumped at me immediately:

1. Even for those families that spend a lot of time at church (more than three hours each week), the total number of hours a child spends at church each year barely amounts to about 200.  That being the case, we cannot expect the church to have the strongest spiritual influence on your children, even if the sermons are good, even if Sabbath School is great, even if the church has a great youth program or even a youth pastor, even if the church has a lot of youth-oriented programs or activities.

2. Because children spend about 1100 hours a year in school, we can’t minimize the influence of the school in the spiritual life of a child – for good or for bad.  That’s why I have encouraged parents in previous blogs to have their children in an Adventist school where the opportunities to learn about God are greater than in public school where, and to not present their children to the public school altar where teachers, staff, and fellow students have such strong influence in undermining Biblical principles, doctrines, and beliefs.

3. Even adding time spent at church, at school, and sleeping, they don’t equal the number of hours that parents have to spend with their children.  Obviously, I don’t know that it would be healthy for parent or child to spend every one of those 4540 hours together, but if parents were intentional in spending just 1/4 of those hours, or 1135 hours, that would be about 21 hours each week, or on average 3 hours each day.  Those three hours could be spent in prayer, bible study, conversation, help with homework, work around the house (together), playing games, in some community project, visiting the sick, elderly, or house-bound, and in so many other activities together.  That’s probably what Moses referred to when he wrote: “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. {7} Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deu 6:6-7 NIV)  Staring today, make an effort to spend time, quality and quantity, with your children.  You will influence them for eternity.

Prayer: Father, help me to spend time with my children and to not allow anything else to rob me of that special gift only I can give them which could mean their life and salvation.

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Already Gone

A few months back someone recommended a book to me.  The name of the book is “Already Gone: Why Your Kids will quit church and what you can do to stop it” by Ken Ham and Brit Beemer
Among the things they write in their book, they state that since 1969, 1500 churches in England have closed.  They also quote George Barna:
“A majority of twenty-somethings – 61% of today’s young adults – had been churched at one point during their teen years but they are now spiritually disengaged (i.e., not actively attending church, reading the Bible, or praying).
Ham and Beemer conducted their own study which led them to conclude that:
“We are losing many more people by middle school and many more by high school than we will ever lose in college.” p.32
“Many parents will fork out big bucks to send these students to Christian colleges, hoping to protect them in their faith.  But the fact is, they’re already gone.” p.32
In their study, they found about those who no longer believe that all of the accounts and stories in the Bible are true, that:
– 39.8% first had doubts in middle school
– 43.7% first had their doubts in high school
– 10.6% had their first doubts during college
To what does they attribute this? Two reasons:
1. The acceptance of Theistic Evolution by the church.
Theistic Evolution basically teaches that God used evolution to bring the different life forms into being.  That evolution happened over very long periods of time, much longer than. . . seven literal days.
In the late 18th century and early 19th century the scientific community in Europe began to propagate the theory of evolution, and what happened next was that many leaders of the church of England led the churches to believe the idea that the earth is millions or billions of years old and to try to reconcile this idea with the Bible.
Obviously, the way to do this was to reinterpret the days of creation as long periods of time.  Others adopted the “gap theory” explaining that there was a gap of millions of years between the first two verses of Genesis.
So here’s Ham and Beemer’s conclusion on this point:
“Effectively, the church basically hands over the history of the universe to the secular educational institutions, and concentrates on the spiritual and moral aspects of Christianity.  The church actually disconnects the Bible from the real world.  The children . . . in the churches are really taught that in the church, one doesn’t deal with geology, biology, and so on – that is for school.  In church we talk about Jesus – we deal with doctrines and we study moral and spiritual matters – but anything pertaining to understanding geology, astronomy, anthropology, and so forth is left in school.” p.78
“Please understand this!  Ninety percent of children from church homes attend public/government schools.  There, by and large, they are taught a biological, anthropological, geological, and astronomical history of the universe that totally contradicts the Bible’s account of creation, the Flood, and the Tower of Babel.” p.78
[By the way, I strongly recommend you rent and watch the movie “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.  With and by Ben Stein]
2. Attendance to Sunday School.
“Sunday school is actually more likely to be detrimental to the spiritual and moral health of our children.” p.38
His argument is that in Sunday School children are taught stories from the Bible, but because what they learn in public school totally contradicts the creation account, children actually begin to accept the fact that the Bible is not credible and therefore it is irrelevant in their lives.
I don’t believe they goes far or deep enough in their conclusions.
On point number 2 – Sunday School by its very nature, being on Sunday, undermines the Bible.  We can’t conclude the same about Sabbath School because Sabbath School, by its very nature, affirms the creation story, and thus validates the Bible.
But point number is more troublesome because so many of our own parents are sacrificing their children at the public school altar and then, when they begin to show signs of disconnect with the church, they want their kids to go to one of our colleges or universities.  The majority, by this point, don’t even want to go to an Adventist college or university – they conclude they are too restrictive, too conservative, etc.  In addition, their friends are going to public colleges. . .
But even those that attend an Adventist college already face a huge challenge.  Ham and Beemer conclude:
“A Christian college experience can be a very positive thing for a growing Christian’s faith.  But the numbers indicate that parents must look at their children’s early years in elementary and middle school to make sure they are prepared to defend their faith.  Because if they don’t, before they even get to college, they are already gone.” p.91-92
Whenever I hear that we’re spending too much money at the conference for Adventist education or for Adventist schools I can’t help but think of this book and ask myself, what is the price for our children’s eternal salvation?
As parents, am I willing to provide my kids with a large screen, flat panel, high definition TV, but not with the opportunity and the environment where my kids will have the best chance at salvation?
Do I want them to get the best education taxes can offer even if that means placing my kids in an environment where they will hear things which will cause them to question or doubt the validity of the Bible?
When I hear about the quality of education Adventist schools offer, compared to what the public schools offer, why do we still believe what they offer is better than what we have?
Every year I see the scores from national standardized tests and consistently they show that students in Adventist schools perform better than students in public schools, and yet many parents continue to buy into the lie that public schools are better than Adventist schools, and they have taught their children that Adventist schools are not as good as public schools and they are too expensive to boot. . . no wonder their children don’t want to attend our schools, following a myth instead of reality.
From the time our daughters were old enough to understand we taught them about the blessings of Adventist education, and we made it clear that they only had one choice until after college: Either they attended a church school, or they would have to have their mom and dad for their teachers.  Faced with that choice, they never, ever brought up the possibility of attending a public school.  Once you provide the choice of the “forbidden fruit” – public school – children will do anything to eat of that fruit.
I always said, when I get to heaven, if my girls are not there because they chose not to be, I want to face my God and tell Him – I provided them with everything they needed to have the best chance at salvation.  If I put them in public school, and don’t take them to church, and don’t spend time praying with them and studying the Bible with them at home, what will I tell my God?
We have our schools to provide our children with the best chance for them to come to know Jesus.  That chance, complemented with the work of the church and of the parents at home, will give them the best chance at salvation.
“Our ideas of education take too narrow and too low a range. There is need of a broader scope, a higher aim. True education means more than the pursual of a certain course of study. It means more than a preparation for the life that now is. It has to do with the whole being, and with the whole period of existence possible to man. It is the harmonious development of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual powers. It prepares the student for the joy of service in this world and for the higher joy of wider service in the world to come.”  {Ellen G. White, Education, p. 13}
“To restore in man the image of his Maker, to bring him back to the perfection in which he was created, to promote the development of body, mind, and soul, that the divine purpose in his creation might be realized–this was to be the work of redemption. This is the object of education, the great object of life.”  {Ibid, p.15}
True education, such as is offered in our schools – or should be offered, if it is not – should bring us all to the first four words of the Bible: “In the beginning GOD…”  because that is what everything is all about, to Him we owe it all, and to Him we’re preparing to go.  And no sacrifice is too big to make to ensure our children come to the same conclusion.
“In the beginning GOD.”

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I’m always fascinated by our attempts at circumventing what God tells us in His Word and still pretend we are following His will.  Matthew 18 is a case in point.  Just to refresh our minds, here’s the text as found in the New King James version of the Bible:

“Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. “But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that ‘by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.’ “And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. (Mat 18:15-17 NKJV)

The process for reconciliation, as set by Jesus, is very simple.

1. “If your brother (or sister) sins against you…”  This is the first qualifier, which is why Jesus begins with the word “if.”
2. “Go and tell him/her his/her fault between you and him/her alone.”
Jesus didn’t say: “Write him/her a note,” “Tell someone else to tell him/her,” “Print the offense in the local newspaper,” or anything of the kind.  Furthermore, Jesus didn’t say, “Send him/her an anonymous note.”  Jesus made it very clear that the offended party has the responsibility to “GO” and “TELL” him/her, and no one else, “ALONE.”
3. If he/she will not hear, then TAKE with you one or two.  The action of “taking” one or two others makes it clear again that the offended party must be intentional and take the steps necessary to deal with the situation personally.
4. If he/she refuses to hear them, TELL it to THE CHURCH.  It is not appropriate to tell anybody else, much less the entire world, of the other person’s offense.  Tell the church, deal with it among the community of believers, because the goal is not punishment but restoration.
5. However, if he/she refuses to listen even to the church, even then Jesus does not authorize spreading the news of the offense or the incident with anybody or everybody else.   The Seventh-day Adventist Commentary, volume 5, explains: “By refusing the counsel of the church the erring member has severed himself from its fellowship (DA 441). This does not mean that he should be despised or shunned or neglected. Efforts should now be put forth for the erring member as for any nonmember.”

Before the internet was invented, those who wanted to circumvent Jesus’ instructions would relay on either gossip, which is a clear violation of the ninth commandment, or they would send anonymous letters to confront, or rather attack, the receiver.  In this internet age when we don’t send letters or greetings cards but prefer an e-mail (or a text message), anonymity has gone to a new level, particularly when it comes to dealing with personal problems we have with other people.  As I look at Matthew 18, if Jesus were living in our day I don’t believe He would say, “if anyone says or does something that hurts you, send him/her an e-mail, but don’t sign your name or use your own e-mail account so they can’t tell who you are.  If they don’t listen to you, send an e-mail to anyone on your distribution list and tell them about what they did to you and tell them that you ‘confronted’ them.  And if they still don’t come to you to apologize and beg for your forgiveness, then post it on Facebook, MySpace, or any other social network site for the whole world to see; that should teach them!”  And yet, that seems to be the approach that followers of Jesus want to take today – anonymous e-mails, or posts in blogs like this, rather than a personal visit (Jesus did say “go”) or at the very least a phone call, telling the person they are calling their name and what particular situation they are speaking of, and giving them a chance to listen, to respond, and if warranted, to apologize and have a chance to make things right.

Throughout my career I have received those anonymous letters, but fortunately early on I learned not to even bother reading them.  I figure, if they don’t have the decency and strength of character to tell me their concerns to my face then they are not worth reading. . . so, if there was no name or return address they went straight to the round file (the garbage can).  Nowadays, occasionally I receive an e-mail or someone posts a message on one of my blogs, with no name from the sender.  Not only that, but as is the case when there’s a blatant violation of the Matthew 18 principle, they do not mention a specific incident or concern but rather they make a global accusation.  I have learned to not bother responding but simply deleting it and it’s out of my computer, out of cyberspace, and out of my mind.  However, for the person who sent it, it is still unfinished business before God.

My plea through this blog is to follow Jesus’ principles as found in Matthew 18 and not hide behind a screen and keyboard while feelings toward someone else are preventing you from having a close relationship with God.  After all, the Scriptures say (1 John 4:20 NRSV) “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”

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