The Hopper Shopper

There was a time when a person could be born, grow up, get a job, and die without ever moving far from their home and the community where they were raised.  That is not true anymore.  The advent of modern transportation has made us a very nomadic society.  It is not unusual for one to move away from their home for schooling, to get a job, or get a promotion.  Times have changed.

Christians are caught in this cultural shift like everyone else.  When they move they carry their faith with them.  A new home and a new town mean a new search for a new congregation.  There are also those who for a host of reasons leave one church in a community in search of another.

I have been pastoring for a little more than five years.  If all those who had visited our church during that time were to show up next Sunday the fire marshal would have a heart attack.  I know that our church is not necessarily what some are looking for, I understand that.  But many have said they enjoy the worship, the message, and the spirit of our congregation.  I have pondered why some have stayed and others have simply moved on still searching.

As with most issues there are at least two perspectives to be considered and this one is no different.  On one hand we should give some thought to how churches should present an atmosphere to help those in search of a church home to connect.  On the other hand those in search of a church family should consider their attitude and what to expect from a prospective congregation.

The nomadic climate of our culture has created its own set of problems.  Probably chief among these is the sense of isolation one feels when immersed in a new community and the loneliness it generates.  Our nation has never been more populous, yet many have never felt lonelier.  It is the responsibility of the church to maintain an atmosphere that welcomes visitors, offers a safe haven from the world, and a place to connect.  This is a concern that the church cannot ignore if we truly care to reach those for whom Christ died.

Another cultural hallmark here in America is the sense of individualism that comes with the liberty we enjoy.  We are free to do as we please, so we do.  Many Christians in America are infected with this outlook.  They hop around from one church to another, and though they admit there is no perfect church they still insist on searching for a church that perfectly suits them.

They do not wish to worship as much as they wish to be entertained.  They do not wish to hear a message that will make them contemplate being changed into the image of Christ, but one that will make them feel comfortable where they are.  They are not looking for a church where they can serve, but a pew where they can sit.  Their search will be filled with frustration and they will render themselves useless insofar as the cause of Christ is concerned, because they are more interested in being served than they are in serving.

This attitude is contrary to that of Christ.  In the tenth chapter of Mark and verse forty-five Jesus said, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”  The Son of God considered Himself a servant.  If being a Christian means to be like Christ then there are many who need an attitude adjustment.

I have served in many church situations that were less than ideal.  I have done so because when I consider all that Christ has done for me, I am compelled by my gratitude to do something in His service.

Several Wednesday nights ago a woman was waiting by our church sign out by the road after the midweek service.  One of the elders, my wife and I were the last to leave.  This woman had parked her car and was waiting for us to exit.  She waved John, the elder, down as we were leaving.  I could not hear all their conversation, but did see him point in my direction and heard him say “he’s the pastor.”

As John drove off she sauntered back to me.  She never introduced herself.  As she puffed on a cigarette she told me “God was leading” her back to church and began to give me a laundry list of what she expected from a church she might attend.  “You don’t have a band do you?  Because I don’t believe in bands.”  I patiently answered her questions.  I have not seen her again.

I know this is an extreme example, but it is reflective of many hopper shoppers.

Those who are immature will hop from one church to another and shop for a place to worship; those who are mature in their faith will search for a place to serve.  There is a difference.  Some will hop and shop; some will have the nerve to serve.

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To Share or not to Share

Based on a recent survey of American church attendees LifeWay, an agency of the Southern Baptist Convention, said, “When it comes to discipleship, churchgoers struggle most with sharing Christ with non-Christians.”  LifeWay’s research department “found 80 percent of those who attend church one or more times a month, believe they have a personal responsibility to share their faith, but 61 percent have not told another person about how to become a Christian in the previous six months.”

I am sure these figures are not isolated to SBC churches.  I am confident all pastors want their people sharing their faith actively and effectively, but that does not appear to be the case.  If we believe there are a heaven to be gained and a hell to be shunned, then the burden is on the church to get the message out and the pastor cannot do it alone.  What are some of the obstacles to sharing our faith?

We have been told that one should never discuss “politics, religion, or sex” in polite company or social situations because of the controversial nature of each of these subjects.  We are told that one’s beliefs are a personal matter and should not be intruded upon.  These and similar thoughts pose a barrier for some in telling others of Christ, but the truth is there is a time and place for everything.  There are appropriate times to share our faith without being intrusive or obnoxious; God provides them.

As I pondered the reasons why many do not share their faith, three came quickly to mind.

One reason is some Christians either do not know or are unsure of how to share their faith.  I know because I once struggled with how to share the greatest story ever told and what Christ has done for me.  But I learned how to do one-on-one evangelism and you can too.  There are several methods and materials available to teach believers how to courteously and effectively share their faith.

Another reason some do not speak with others about their testimony is because they do not have one.  The program I learned requires the student to write out his testimony of his salvation experience so that it can be condensed and shared in two to three minutes.  The purpose of such an exercise is to formulate what your experience is in Christ, commit it to writing so that it can be condensed and articulated when witnessing to someone.

One of the interesting outcomes of this exercise is that some who were taking this course recognized they could not recall a time in their lives when they had given their life to Christ.  This led them to accepting Christ during the course.  They now had a testimony that could be committed to writing and now had this missing element added to their witnessing.

Some think going to church or merely giving mental assent to the historical existence of Christ is the same as trusting Christ and they are wrong.  It is only in trusting in the atoning work of Jesus Christ that someone can be transformed into a new creation.  As the song says, “My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.”

The last reason that crossed my mind is the one of most concern; some do not care that others are lost and don’t know Christ.  President of LifeWay Research, Ed Stetzer, said, “We often acknowledge the importance of prayer in people coming to faith in Christ, but we also found it has an impact on the person praying.”  I have often said prayer changes things and the thing that changes most when I pray is me.  One cannot pray for the lost in any meaningful way and remain unchanged when considering their plight.  I seriously question someone’s relationship to Christ who is unconcerned for those who do not know Him.

The responsibility and the privilege of fulfilling the Great Commission were not given to the institutions of education, industry or government.  They were given to the Church, and that means it was given to us who claim to be Christians.  It is my prayer that believers will take the words of Christ seriously.  Just as the best advertising is word-of-mouth, the best evangelizing is one-to-one.  To share or not to share, that is the question.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations,…(Matthew 28:19).”

The Meaning of Life

Does life exist after death?  That is the question John Martin Fischer, Riverside philosophy professor at the University of California, hopes to answer over the next three years.  And the John Templeton Foundation has given him a five million dollar grant to do it.  Fischer said, “I have frequently taught classes on death, immortality, and the meaning of life both at Yale University and UC Riverside.”  If his research manages to answer these questions conclusively, he stands to make a lot more than five million dollars.

According to the university “no comprehensive and rigorous, scientific study of global reports about near-death and other experiences” has been done.  Fischer hopes to rectify this.  “We will be very careful in documenting near-death experiences and other phenomena, trying to figure out if these offer plausible glimpses of an afterlife or are biologically induced illusions” he said in a statement.  Fischer promised their study would be “uncompromisingly scientifically rigorous.”  Really?

Modern science has for the most part ignored spiritual matters claiming nothing can be proven that we cannot engage with our five senses.  Fischer is now in essence saying he is going to use the scientific method to prove or disprove something modern science says is beyond its scope of inquiry.  It would not surprise me if after three years of “uncompromisingly scientifically rigorous” investigation, Fischer discovers our perceptions of the afterlife are “biologically induced illusions.”  But he has five million reasons to try and prove otherwise.

Another aspect addressed by this study is “how belief in immortality influences human behavior.”  I think this is something Fischer’s research may be able to actually quantify and maybe even qualify.  But ultimately his data gathering will be predicated on the viewpoints and beliefs of the various individual accounts and/or interviews.  Since the information studied will be so subjective, the best he can hope for is to draw some very general conclusions that will be heavily influenced by cultural considerations and various belief systems.  The only true objective truth derived from such a study will be that belief definitely affects behavior.  This is something that every sociologist worth his salt already knows, and what the bible already declares (Proverbs 23:7).

The John Templeton Foundation “serves as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality.”  I am sure the trustees of the foundation are trying to fulfill the wishes of Sir John Templeton when they consider the awarding of grants.  But it would seem to me that any organization that considers itself truly philanthropic should be more concerned with the practical everyday needs of mankind, than to waste its resources on a supposed scientific study that can in the end prove nothing, at least nothing that is not already known.

A third facet of this study is aimed at solving one of the mysteries that has stumped learned men throughout the ages.  What is the meaning of life?  Scientists and philosophers have wrestled with this question from the beginning of human history.  Our observation of natural phenomena seems to imply purpose, a reason for being.  This is not a purely religious consideration.  Philosophers have pondered the answer for millennia.  Fischer’s search into the meaning of life, and the John Templeton Foundation’s funding of it, is proof they do not think an answer has been found.  They believe we are still in the dark, and if they are still searching, I know they are.

I agree with what Rick Warren says in his best-selling book The Purpose Driven Life.  He writes, “you won’t discover your life’s meaning by looking within yourself.”  He makes the point that we did not create ourselves so we cannot within ourselves find our purpose for existing.  Only our Creator, Father God, has the answer.  If we cannot find the meaning of life within ourselves, we will not find it by studying others either.

Rick moves quickly to his point, “You were made by God and for God, and until you understand that, life will never make sense.”  This is the simple truth about why we exist; we exist for God and the complete answer can only be found in His manufacturer’s guide, the Bible.  In Ecclesiastes 12:13 King Solomon wrote, “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.”

You are no longer in the dark and you now have the answer to the five million dollar question, and you did not have to wait three years to learn the meaning of life.