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Take the Bait

We ought to go to church. I’ll share a little story that illustrates that. But first, a story of the preacher who did not go to church.

A rabbi, a priest, and a minister walk into a bar. The bartender looks up and says, “What is this, a joke?”

Yes, that would be a joke indeed. The idea that the rabbi, priest, and minister would be in a bar – instead of at church – is a joke. But unfortunately, this is too common a practice – not for rabbis, priests, and ministers – but for the rest of us.

Here’s the little story that illustrates that fact. Johnny arrived to Sunday School late. Miss Watkins, his teacher, knew that Johnny was usually very punctual and asked him if anything was wrong. Johnny said no, that he had gone fishing with his dad, but a couple hours ago, his dad told him to leave the lake and go to church.

Miss Watkins was very impressed and asked the lad if his dad had explained to him why it was more important for him to go to church than stay at the lake, fishing.

Johnny replied, “Yes, he did. Dad said he didn’t have enough bait left for both of us.”

What about you? Every Sunday, the world will present you with a thousand excuses to skip church. Follow Johnny’s example. Don’t take the bait.

Stuck

The 19th century evangelist, D.L. Moody, loved to tell the story of a man who was asked by his ten-year-old son, “Daddy, why don’t you ever go to church with us?”

The father replied, “I don’t need to go to church, son. My faith is established.”

Later that same day the man drove his horses out of the barn and hitched them to the buggy. As he and his son drove out of the yard, the horses became mired in a mud hole. The man tried in vain to extricate them, whereupon the boy observed, “They’re not going anywhere, Daddy. I believe they’re established.”

The Bible warns us, “Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together, as has become the habit of many.”

In America, that is so true! Most Americans skip church regularly. They come to church disguised as empty pews. I was raised going to church consistently, every Christmas and Easter.

Most of us think we are “established,” but we are really “mired in a hole.” We aren’t going anywhere. This Sunday, that can change for you. If you like, you can even go to church on your horse.

The Rushmore Report: A Growing Number of Americans Love Jesus but Don’t Go to Church

While an increasing number of Americans are reportedly abandoning the institutional church and its defined boundary markers of religious identity, many Americans still believe in God and practice faith outside its walls, a new Barna study has found. The Barna survey has looked into the “fascinating segment of American population who “loves Jesus but not the church.” These are their surprising findings.

One-tenth of the population comprises those who self-identify as Christian and who strongly agree that their religious faith is very important to their lives, but are “dechurched,” meaning they have attended church in the past, but haven’t done so in the last six months or more. Barna adds that only seven percent belonged in this category in 2004.

More than 60 percent of the people in this group are women, and 80 percent are not millennials. “This group also appears to be mostly white (63%) and concentrated in the South (33%), Midwest (30%), and West (25%), with very few hailing from the Northeast (13%),” the study reveals.

“This group represents an important and growing avenue of ministry for churches,” says Roxanne Stone, editor in chief of Barna Group. “Particularly if you live in a more churched area of the country, it’s more than likely you have a significant number of these disaffected Christians in your neighborhoods. They still love Jesus, still believe in Scripture and most of the tenets of their Christian faith. But they have lost faith in the church.”

What’s more, their beliefs about God are more orthodox than the general population, even rivaling their church-going counterparts, the study shows.

“For instance, they strongly believe there is only one God (93% compared to all U.S. adults at 59% and practicing Christians at 90%), affirm that “God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and the perfect creator of the universe who rules the world today (94%, compared to all U.S. adults at 57% and practicing Christians at 85%).”

Furthermore, while they might not be comfortable with the church, this group still maintains a very positive view of religion, the study adds.

“When asked whether they believe religion is mostly harmful, their response once again stood out from the general population, and aligned with their church-going counterparts. However, only 55 percent disagree that all religions basically teach the same thing, compared with 86 percent of evangelicals.

The study notes that this group falls outside of the characterization of “spiritual but not religious” folks. “But unlike practicing Christians and evangelicals, this spirituality is deeply personal – even private – with many preferring to keep spiritual matters to themselves: only two in five say they talk with their friends about spiritual matters often.”

“The critical message that churches need to offer this group is a reason for churches to exist at all,” Stone concludes. “What is it that the church can offer their faith that they can’t get on their own? Christians need to be able to say to these people – and to answer for themselves – that there is a unique way you can find God only in church. And that faith does not survive or thrive in solitude.”

About the Author

Anugrah Kumar is a writer for The Christian Post.

The Rushmore Report: Michael Strahan on Who Will Be in Heaven

When sports stars and famous actors speak out on politics and religion, people notice. That’s why mega-star Michael Strahan made news with his recent declaration, on ABC’s morning show, on who will be in heaven. The NFL hall-of-famer didn’t stop there. He offered a new definition of the church. I like Michael Strahan. But what he said – if he really believes it – is scary.

1. Multiple roads to heaven

First, let’s consider what the TV star said about heaven. Strahan said, “There are so many different religions,” but “they are all the same,” offering “many ways to the same heaven.” He continued, “There’re so many different religions that they all end up boiling down to the same thing, but at some point in my heart of hearts, I think we’ll all end up in heaven.”

Theologians call this universalism. The idea goes like this. God is an all-loving being who will, at the end of the day, welcome into heaven all who have ever been born, because his grace is the ultimate response to our sin.

If Strahan is right, Jesus is a liar. He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). If all roads lead to heaven, Jesus lied by saying he was the only way.

If Strahan is right, God is the worst father who ever lived. He sent his Son on a death march to the unnecessary cross – if Strahan is right. Since all roads lead to heaven, why let Jesus die as though this was the only way?

But Strahan is not right. There is one way to God and that way is through his Son, Jesus Christ.

2. New definition of church

When asked on air if he goes to church, Strahan said, “On occasion . . . I mean, I’m pretty much working six days a week and then football on Sunday.” Then he excused, “I’m always at church because sometimes church can be in a state of mind.”

The Greek word for that is bologna. Each believer makes up a part of the church. We, the church, are Christ’s bride and some day he will return for his church. At that same time, some will be left behind and not be in heaven. The church is not a “state of mind,” but rather a body of blood-bought, faith-filled, regenerated and Spirit-sealed believers in Jesus Christ – the only way to heaven.

I like Michael Strahan. He was a great football player. He is a wonderful entertainer. Of course, when it comes to getting to heaven and the subject of “church,” he has a right to his opinion. And I don’t doubt his sincerity.

But on the most important issues man will ever face – issues of eternal life – Michael Strahan is sincerely wrong.

The Rushmore Report: Pastor Fired for Alcohol Abuse Returns to Pulpit

In July 2016, pastor Perry Noble was fired from NewSpring Church in South Carolina, a megachurch he founded. Last Sunday, Noble returned to the pulpit at another megachurch, Elevation Church, in North Carolina, at the invitation of pastor Steven Furtick. This leads to a difficult question. Should Perry Noble, fired for personal behavior, be allowed back into the pulpit?

In a Facebook post, Noble thanked Furtick for standing by him during his darkest hours. “In July 2016 I thought I would never preach again! I allowed myself to be deceived by the enemy and depended on alcohol more than Jesus! However . . . during this entire time, Steven Furtick hasn’t been someone who ‘had my back,’ but rather has stood by my side and been a source of encouragement and friendship, and has been willing to tell me what I needed to hear.”

Following the Saturday night service, Noble continued, “Last night he allowed me the honor of returning to preaching on the stage at Elevation – and what I thought was dead came to life again. In life the ‘who’ that stands with you really does matter – and I am more thankful for Steven and Holly than they could ever imagine.”

But should a disgraced pastor who was fired for his own addictive behaviors be allowed back into a pulpit – any pulpit?

Noble addressed that. “Jesus brings dead things back to life – if you are doubting or disbelieving, I understand – I’ve been there. However, if you are dead, then God is not done. His plans for you are still greater than you could have ever imagined!”

When NewSpring, a church of 30,000 people, dismissed Noble, they cited his “unfortunate choices and decisions,” and placed him under psychiatric care.

Last month, Noble hinted at a return to ministry. He says he has completed successful rehab and suggests biblical precedence for a quick return to ministry in the persons of the Apostles Peter and Paul, who each made grave mistakes, but preached the Gospel soon after.

“Peter denied Christ, and 50 days later he preached the Gospel to Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost,” he noted. “Paul, who was murdering Christians, came to Christ in Acts 9 and immediately starting preaching the Gospel.”

Noble’s message was received by a standing ovation of worshipers at Elevation Church. But the debate will not end there.

Should Perry Noble have been allowed back into the pulpit? Do his admitted “bad choices” and addictions disqualify him from ministry on a public stage?

That is a discussion for another day. It is not my desire to judge Perry or Steven, nor to attempt to offer black-and-white conclusions in matters that remain gray in the Scriptures. But I will say this. I have met both Perry and Steven, at various conferences in their churches. I found both men to be genuine, transparent, and authentic. To say Perry Noble is permanently disqualified from public ministry is to say both men missed God on this one. I, for one, am not willing to go there.

When choosing between grace and law, I tend to choose grace. Whether my position is the product of my theological training, godly wisdom, or my own personal failings, I can’t say for sure. But I do know this. When I read Perry’s closing statement on the matter, it felt right.

“If God has put something in your heart, don’t sit around and wait for the approval of people who don’t believe in you in the first place. Do what God called you to do.”

The Rushmore Report: Ivanka Trump’s Amazing Statement of Faith

Ivanka Trump has made an amazing statement of her faith – by moving into a new neighborhood. With her husband Jared Kushner, Ivanka has moved to a new home in Washington’s Kalorama neighborhood. It is not the home itself, but its precise location on Tracy Place NW Street, that makes the statement. And you won’t believe why she picked that location.

As Orthodox Jews who observe the Sabbath each Saturday, Ivanka and Jared abstain from driving, riding buses or trains, or using electronics. Hence, they had to pick a house within walking distance of a synagogue. And their synagogue of choice is Kesher Israel, about 1/2 mile from their new home, putting it within walking distance.

When I was a child, like everyone else, I walked 100 miles to school every day. But I rode the bus to church. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I walked a zillion miles in the mall. But I drive my car when it’s time for church. When I’m at the beach, I walk for miles in the hot sand in search of yet another shell. But I drive my car when it’s time for church.

A good measure of how much you love someplace is how far you are willing to walk in order to get there. So I applaud Ivanka and Jared. Not only are they willing to walk 1/2 mile to express their faith and worship their God – they let their worship dictate where they will live.

Rather than making worship a part of their lives, they have made their lives a part of their worship.

Bryant McGill said, “The problem with self-made men is that they worship their creator.” Ivanka and Jared have reminded us that God-made men worship their Creator – whether it is convenient or not.

We live in a day when little league, dance class, and trips to the beach take clear priority over going to church. It is assumed that when soccer conflicts with Sunday worship, our kids will bow before the net rather than the cross. We don’t think twice about missing church. The most active church members are the ones who drive their comfortable air-conditioned cars to church twice a month.

Most of us complain if we don’t get a good spot in the parking lot when we pull into church. God forbid we should have to walk across an entire parking lot to worship God.

So the next time you gripe about having to walk across a parking lot for Jesus, think of Ivanka and Jared – walking across a subdivision.

Very few of us would even think about including church and worship in the equation as we find a new home. Even fewer of us would walk 1/2 mile to get to church. And we wonder why a watching world is not so impressed with the passion of our faith.

 

Football and Church

Note the contrasts between the average football fan’s worship of a pigskin and the average Christian’s worship of God. Football fans pay a hefty sum to park their cars and walk a long distance to the stadium. The churchgoer expects free parking close to the building. Football contests are noisy with loud cheering and the enthusiasm of the fans. The churchgoer sits in grim silence, and objects to loud music. Football stadium seats are narrow, backless, and assigned. The churchgoer hates a hard pew and insists on a particular seat.

Football games always last well past three hours, and if they go into overtime, fans consider it a bonus. The churchgoer expects worship to take only an hour. If the service goes into overtime, the churchgoer displays great movements of agitation and frustration.

Actually, things don’t have to be that way. At my church, season tickets are free, and if you come early enough, you can sit in the same seat every week. Our seats are comfortable, the music is excellent, and the home team (Jesus) wins every time. And we try to keep it to an hour. By any measure, the best arena you will ever attend is the one down the street with the steeple.

With the new year dawning, find a place of worship. Thenew year starts on Sunday. Make it count.

Why You Need to Join a Church

I hear it all the time. “I don’t need a church. I can worship God alone and serve him on my own.” That would be great if it weren’t so terrible. You cannot fulfill God’s purpose for your life on your own. You simply weren’t designed that way. Life is not a solo act. You were created for community. The only way you can fulfill God’s perfect plan for your life is with people in your life who are giving you spiritual input. You need a church family.

Why? Because the church helps you center your life around God.

God didn’t put you on Earth to live a self-centered life. His purpose for you is to build your life with him at the core. You were planned for God’s pleasure. He made you to love you, and he wants you to love him back. God says, “I want to be the hub of your heart. I want to be the focus of your attention. I want to be the center of your life. I want to be the axis of your existence.”

The Bible says, “Christ’s love has the first and last word in everything we do. Our firm decision is to work from this focused center” (2 Corinthians 5:14 MSG).

How can you tell when Christ is at the center of your life? You stop worrying. Philippians 4:6-7 says, “It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.” There’s a word for this: worship. Whenever you focus your life on God, that’s called worship. And worship is the antidote for worry. If you want to worry less, worship more.

When are we supposed to worship? The Bible says, “You have six days when you can do your work, but the seventh day of each week is holy because it belongs to me. No matter where you live, you must rest on the Sabbath and come together for worship” (Leviticus 23:3 CEV). God says once a week I want you to come together to re-focus, re-calibrate, and re-center you life on me.

Where are you supposed to do it? Acts 2:46 tells us that “they worshiped together regularly at the temple” (TLB).

Can you see that God meant for you to be a part of a church family? When you are, it helps you focus and center your life around God so that you can fulfill his purpose for your life.

The Rushmore Report: Ben Affleck Goes to Church

Ben Affleck stepped in for his estranged wife Jennifer Garner’s duty of taking their three children to church on Sundays. Garner could not take the children to the church this time because she is attending the world premier of her drama “Wakefield” at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado. This was not the first time the famous actor was spotted in church.

Affleck was in casuals and sported stubble as he looked after the children, according to Daily Mail, that posted pictures of the actor’s outing. The 44-year-old – who was in the U.K. shooting for “Justice League” – wore a black leather bomber jacket over an olive green T-shirt. He teamed up with blue trousers and beige sneakers.

According to Daily Mail, Affleck returned to Los Angeles on Friday night. His former spouse, Garner, recently faced rumors about her fourth pregnancy and being spotted in loose-fitting clothes. However, neither of the two addressed the rumors.

Garner and Affleck announced their separation last June, ending 10 years of marriage. Since then, the two have been seen together on several occasions, leading to speculation that they are working to resolve their differences and getting back together. The two were also reported to have held off their divorce as they have not yet filed their divorce papers. However, those reports went unsubstantiated.

As for church, Jennifer Garner takes the kids every Sunday she is in town. She was raised in church from her days as a young child. Affleck, on the other hand, has not traditionally been a “church” man. Raised an Episcopalian, he now embraces “Western cultural spirituality.” Their children have been baptized into the Methodist church, which matches Garner’s religious heritage. Though she is clearly the spiritual leader in the family, Affleck has slowly come to embrace the importance of their children having a foundation of faith.

About the Author

Vishakha Sonawane is a reporter for the International Business Times. Based in Bangalore, India, she has done freelance writing for mainstream newspapers throughout Europe and Asia.

A Few Good Men

One of the great movies of recent years was A Few Good Men. Jack Nicholson played the role of Colonel Nathan R. Jessup. In a courtroom scene, he bellowed to Tom Cruise, “You can’t handle the truth!”

The same could be said of the modern church. You want the truth? I’m afraid most of us can’t handle the truth. But here it is. Forty-six percent of people in their twenties say Christians get on their nerves. And only five percent of them are drawn to a church that bears a denominational name.

But most churches fall into one of two categories. We are a “checkmark church,” where we check off “I went to church today.” Or we are a “clown church,” driven by entertainment. And as a result, the church is losing ground.

We are like the Black Plague. In 1664, only a few cases were reported. By 1665, 590 died. And within a few years, 100 million were dead. Disease is like decay. It happens slowly.

The modern church must awaken to today’s reality. The world is hungry for Jesus. It’s not Jesus they don’t like; it’s the church. The way most of us are “doing church” isn’t working anymore. Does that make you angry? I told you, “You can’t handle the truth!”

Jesus said, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).