BIGGEST ISSUES OF THE DAY
I’ve been thinking about how Jesus addresses some of the biggest needs of the day through our church.
First, the bad news. Life in America today is full of challenges, and many things are getting worse. Families are breaking up at record pace, generational conflicts worsen, incarceration levels are at record highs, the environment is deteriorating and drug addictions are increasing (1). People are lonelier and don't know neighbors as well as we used to. In this difficult day, the old forms of community are being abandoned in favor of new ones (such as internet groups) that do not replace their value. Some families are strengthening but many are not (2). Even the old solutions of good politics, impartial news media, and unbiased higher education are hard to find these days.
How did we get here? I believe these moral indicators point to a societal problem, but even more than that to a spiritual problem. There is a spiritual disconnect. Less people now say they feel close to God. On top of this, more and more Americans are identifying as “None”--no religious identification. While some may see this as exciting news, I see it as a further breakdown in community, as American life becomes increasingly individualistic. Divided, we are weak.
In spite of all this, the church is doing well! In the U.S., churches are being planted in new areas and new ways, and more and more immigrants are now being reached through new church starts.
The Church of Jesus is becoming more diverse and united, and it is growing strongly around the world. Studies have even recently shown something we’ve known for a long time: just having a quiet time with God and being involved in a church makes a huge difference in a person's life.(3)
That last point was recently proven in a surprising way. Two researchers went to New York City churches and streets to interview people of all kinds. They found that prayer and going to church made a big difference in peoples' lives. It didn't matter who was Protestant or Catholic, or what race you were. Couples that prayed together stayed together. Families that attended church together didn't break apart. They also found that church-goers were much more likely to be gainfully employed and less likely to be imprisoned. All of them reported higher-quality relationships. Part of the reason having a church family was such a benefit is because each church had a sense of what it means to live rightly before God, and they communicated that to each other. This direction really helped the weak among them to make life choices and get the help they needed. And then the church folks supported each other as a family should. The study was conducted by a Catholic and atheist together, which is one good way to get an unbiased result. Though the study was based in New York, I believe the results speak for all of us.
We believe Jesus' love is the answer to all the world's problems! And we believe more than that. Through his atoning death, Jesus offers forgiveness. His resurrection life is more than just a quick fix to a temporary societal problem, but the source for all human flourishing in this world and the next (2 Corinthians 5:17). Through Jesus' sacrifice everyone can be reconciled to God, and that is His desire (2 Peter 3:9). “We implore you, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20b). This is the church’s task: to live in the Spirit and invite others to do the same. We believe the lordship of Jesus is the foundation for families flourishing, communities uniting, and people growing! So the answer to our problems starts inside each of us. Thank you, Christians, for being a part of the solution.
~ Pastor Eric
(3) REVEAL study 2008, reported in Leadership Journal, sum 2015 p43; Wilcox and Wolfinger's new book Soul Mates, reported in Christianity Today, April 2106 p58-59