Truth keeps me smiling. It's not about being happy either, because happiness is circumstantial and often momentary. It's not about facts either. They're hard to measure and are just as prone to sudden shifts as our moods. No, truth is eternal and grows something more permanent in my soul. it is joy. That's the reason for the smile. Joy unbounding, as they say.
Five truths keep that smile on my face regardless of the facts---statistics, weather forecasts, hormones, win/loss records, balance sheets, or headlines. They exist apart from what is happening around me. My top five are---
1. I am His and nothing can take me away from Him.
2. When the final trumpet sounds I am with Him in victory forever.
3. Nothing will prevail against His church, though some churches will die.
4. His promises will sustain me regardless of the circumstances.
5. He is always working in my life and is always with me.
So, we don't have to dress-up life or put a happy face on it. It is what it is and He is doing something in us that guides and guards us even when the times are hard.
Being an old accountant by training and experience, there's this affinity for numbers. As a result I spend some time reviewing and studying them, especially those related to the spiritual life of our nation and the SBC tribe more particularly. Because of my five core truths the numbers don't frighten me or throw me into a panic. Once again, they are what they are and eternal truth reminds me of outcomes. Still, I see no need to re-cast them into more appealing terms and will, to the day I die, attempt to reverse any of them that are on a more downward slope right now.
It's more than a little disconcerting to note how many of our real-time statistics are being spun in a more positive manner. OK, 1500 pastors aren't leaving the ministry every month. That's a relief and an answer to prayer. But, to say that the number is only 300 misses the point entirely. We should be grieved if the actual number was one. Thankfully fewer pastor and ministry families are negatively affected by the pressures and stresses of ministry than the dated stats indicate. Still, if one ministry couple ends up in divorce court because of unrealistic expectations or the usual list of church abuses, that's too many for me. Studying the latest Pew Research about Christianity in America creates the same kinds of dilemmas. What a blessing to know that the reductions in church attendance is only among the nominals and nones, the people we're supposed to be reaching and discipling, and not among the more serious believers.
Attending the 195th annual meeting of the South Carolina Baptist Convention this week gives me pause over the statistics, the happy faces, eternal truth, and genuine joy. Don't get me wrong. As an eternal optimist and generally positive person I see the value and virtue of presenting information in a more up-beat manner. We should all be grateful to the people who provide accurate, up-to-date data. But, seriously kids, we better grow up fast and get the facts right so we can deal with them in a forthright and direct way.
Last night I spent some time studying a brilliant analysis of SBC giving patterns written October 5, 2015, by Will Hall, Message Editor of the Baptist Message, The News Journal of Louisiana Baptists. You can read the article by clicking here. There's plenty of statistics, excellent comparisons, factual assessment, and a bold challenge to biblical integrity. What is more, it wasn't adorned with smiley faces. It was straight-forward and honest. The information didn't discourage me. It created personal resolve and ignited new passions for strengthening our demographic base.
Smiley faces usually equate to happy times. At least, that's the world standard. But, it's not my standard and shouldn't be what drives His people in any context. No, the smile on my face is a reflection of the deep joy in my heart regardless of what is happening around me. That joy sustained our family through thirty-four years of pastoral ministry and some very challenging times. You see, that joy is hopeful---
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the
power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.
Romans 15:13, ESV
We abound in hope by what He is doing in us, and not by what is happening around us. Because we are abounding in hope, we can smile at all the numbers and facts.