The people at Pew Research keep tabs on the religious landscape of our nation. Their 2018 study revealed why fewer people are attending religious services these days. You can review their statistics and study findings by clicking here. Of course, the number one reason people aren't attending churches, synagogues, cathedrals, mosques, and other places of worship is not finding the holy grail. Up front is the truth that fewer Americans are people of faith, especially organized faith. That is not to say that most Americans have no values. Still three in ten of those surveyed indicate that they have no belief system and therefore do not attend organized services of worship. Good grief. The mission field is next door or across the street.
Time and convenience figure greatly in the statistical profiles of those surveyed. And, if we're the least bit observant of the world around us it makes some sense. The other day I counted the vans and pick-up trucks hauling yard maintenance equipment on the main traffic venues around Charleston and North Charleston. I lost count after a while. Evidently Americans value their days off to the extent they'd rather pay someone to care for their lawns than do it themselves. Mmmmm. Another level of convenience alters our work week and time away from the nine to five.
There's more. it's easier and more convenient to own a storage space than to clean out the stuff that overflows our closets, attics, and garages. And, in another direction, have you noticed the number of eating establishments that provide delivery services, the retail world that does the shopping for you and will deliver purchased items to your car? Shoot. When Harriet ordered groceries from one of our major retailers they tracked her arrival on the computer to have her items placed in the car promptly when she arrived. Many concerns have instant check-out systems with all of our data stored so that we can shop fast and receive our particulars, even intimate clothing apparel, in a matter of days, sometimes overnight. Surprise! You don't have to leave the house.
It's a world hyping their goods and services with convenience as a main selling point. And, suddenly, it's just not convenient to attend religious services. As a pastor for nearly forty years this may be the greatest challenge for churches these days. As a result, we now have multiple services at odd hours throughout the week to provide some level of responsiveness to the fickle leanings and convenience of culture.
And, truly, the practices of faith are just not always convenient, or easy. In our Christian tradition you only have to search Scripture to understand the realities of grace, the time commitment of a personal devotional life, functioning in the Body of Christ, and faith in the family. The life of faith is rewarding and filled with spiritual blessings, but not always convenient. Make note of these Scriptures about living the life God planned for his people---
If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and
children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.
Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For
which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost,
whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is
not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and
was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not
sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who
comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way
off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace.
Luke 14: 25-32, ESV
For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are
Matthew 7: 14, ESV
Is the Christian life convenient? Not hardly. But the blessings of this life are abundant and clear. Look no further that the Beatitudes to grasp many of them---
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who
mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for
they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom
of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds
of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in
heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Matthew 5: 2-12, ESV
The reality of faith is that living the life God planned for us is often inconvenient, at times even hard. Get real. Prayer, worship, learning, devotions, service, and fellowship come to us through sacrifice, commitment, self-denial, confession, repentance, and many other inconvenient sounding terms. But, the blessings of that life are eternal, far greater than the few Bible verses I can list here.
More this week.
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