Friday, December 18, 2009

Spurgeon on the need for prayer

Here is the beginning of a sermon which was delivered 100 years and 1 week before I was born. Charles Haddon Spurgeon delivered this sermon in 1873. Here is how it begins:

"I thought of addressing you this morning upon the importance of prayer, and I designed earnestly to stir you up to pray for me and for the Lord's work in this place. Truly, I do not think I could have had a more weighty subject, or one which weighs more upon my soul. If I were only allowed to offer one request to you it would be this- "Brethren, pray for us:" do not restrain prayer: on the contrary, be abundant in intercession, for so, and so only, can our prosperity as a church be increased, or even continued."

I greatly desire that "our prosperity as a church be increased" and so I also urge you to pray in that direction.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

One Point Six Percent (1.6%)

A friend recently shared a DVD with me that contained a number of statistics regarding the church in America. It is interesting to see that 9% of Americans attended an evangelical church this past Sunday. According to this study, only 5% of Americans attend a Catholic church service in a given week. Throw in mainline denominations, orthodox, and any other type of religion and you get up to about 17% or 18% of the population attending a religious service during any given week. This information is challenging in that it shows the great need in our country to reach people for Christ.

An old saying declares that "figures don't lie, but liars figure." With that pithy wisdom in mind, I still decided to research my community more specifically. I was not surprised to learn that we are vastly different from the national averages. What did absolutely shock me is the lack of evangelicals.

I discovered was that 45% of the residents in Middlesex County, NJ are in some way associated with the Catholic Church. That does not mean that they attended mass last week, but only that they are on the membership role. After Catholic, the most statistically significant religious group in Middlesex County is "unclaimed." 40% of our population falls into this group, which includes people who don't go anywhere to church, but also some people who do. The 6% Jewish presence somehow falls into this "unclaimed" category, along with any adherents of Islam, Hinduism, cults, etc. That six percent of the population that is Jewish is equal to the combined number of evangelical protestants and mainline protestants. But unlike the majority of the country, mainline adherents are three times more common here than evangelicals. The evangelical presence comes in at just 1.6% of the population of our county (total population around 750,000, but only 12,000 people are claimed by evangelical churches). As a side note, neighboring Monmouth County, NJ has an almost identical breakdown of the percentages of people in each religious group.

What do these numbers mean to Christians in central New Jersey? First, it means that God has placed us in proximity to many people who need to hear the great news of salvation through Jesus Christ alone. The Catholic church does a good job of letting people know that they are sinners in need of salvation. Many people that we talk to grew up in the Catholic church and have not been back since. They already have an understanding and a respect for Jesus. They just need to hear that Jesus is all they need. Please don't misunderstand what I am saying. I absolutely believe that Catholics can be Christians, but I am concerned that too often the message of salvation is unclear in the Catholic church, or it is combined with works.

Second, these number reinforce the truth that most people you talk to about God are approaching the subject from a completely different point of view. They have no idea how to classify you since they run into so few people who believe like you do.

Third, we as evangelical Christians in central New Jersey have been placed into a position where we need to share the gospel. We need to grow in our own faith. We need to develop healthy churches where we can bring our friends and neighbors. We need to help more churches get started who will reach additional people with the life-changing message of Jesus.

The numbers are grim. But they are challenging as well. The numbers mean that you don't have to work very hard to find someone who needs to hear about Jesus. Let's ask God for His power to share His gospel to people that He will call into His family.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Christmas Ideas

So what do you get for the person who already has the "right" Study Bible? What about the person who needs to have their self-esteem lifted? Or that friend who believes in the prosperity gospel? The answer: A board game of Joel Osteen. Check it out:

It's sad to me that it is true. The article goes on to mention another "Christian" board game called "Big Daddy God." At least that one plays like Monopoly and has a lot of funny mis-translations from Chinese.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Rock Band

I went to a coffee house this afternoon in order to attend a get-together about effective blogging. After I had been there over an hour, a guy across the table asked what I did for a living. I told him that I am a pastor of a church in Old Bridge. His face immediately turned to stone. I was a little afraid that I had killed him. I wasn't sure if he was thinking about the swear words that had already been uttered during the meeting or if something else had paralyzed his facial muscles. I joked to another guy (who is involved with acting) about trying to read that facial expression. Just then, the stone face returned to flesh and blood. He explained that he was just shocked that I was a pastor- because I don't look like he expects a pastor to look. He had assumed that I was probably a manager of a rock group. How cool is that?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Small Churches Should Merge

I scrolled down through my Facebook updates this morning and noticed the statement: "Small Churches Should Merge." I checked it out to see what it said. It was posted by someone in my denomination. He apparently started a
Facebook Group, so I joined it. He was the first member. By adding me, there are now two members.

When I pastored a church in rural Pennsylvania I noticed that the very small community had a lot of similar churches. Back then I thought about the advantages of putting two or three of those churches togehter into a stronger church of 100-200 people. There would be a financial savings on the buildings. More workers would be available. The church could probably have a staff of two pastors instead of the one pastor that each church already had. I can see some benefits.

I recognize thaqt there are drawbacks to the ideas of churches merging. But I propose that the advantages probably outweigh the drawbacks. I'm interested in seeing this topic as a discussion. Please post your thoughts.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Outreach Ideas

For the past several months our church has subscribed to a list which reports the homes which have been sold in our area. After receiving these addresses, we then sent a letter describing our church and inviting people to come visit. After several months we have spent hundreds of dollars with no visible results. Consequently, we are ready to try a different approach.

Today I drove to several of the addresses on the new list. At each home I knocked on the door and was prepared to talk to the residents. Although our nation has an employment crisis, apparently that crisis is not affecting the people who have recently bought houses. None of the people I visited were home. Apparently they were working so they could afford their new mortgage payment. But when each of those people comes home tonight, they will be greeted with a nice coffee mug with our church name on it. Inside the coffee mug is a church flyer, a letter to them, and a business card.

Will this new approach work? I have no idea. But I appreciate that we are willing to try different things, and then if they don't work, we can move on to something else. Please share with me your ideas for inviting people in the community to church.

Only God can change a life. Only God can grow a church. Please pray that God will be pleased to work through our efforts and draw people to church.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Another Building Update- Again

Plans for the new church building continue to move forward. The Building Committee met last night. Some of the things to report are as follows:

The builder is about to send us a contract with the exact dollar amount for the building.

The lawyer wants us to get the paperwork finished to ensure that there are no wetlands on the property. The site engineer assures us that there are no wetlands, and they are in the process of doing the appropriate paperwork.

Once the paperwork for the wetlands is complete, the lawyer should have enough information from the engineer and architect to submit our permit application.

Various parking options from the engineer have been considered. The best option seems to be one which allows for a constant flow of traffic with no "logjams." For financial reasons, we might have to use a gravel parking lot at first, and plan for the pavement as a second phase.

The bank has been provided with our financial information and will be giving us an idea of how much they would loan us.

We are still very interested in solar panels. For financial reasons, they might have to be included in the second phase, but we want to plan for them from the beginning.

As can be seen, a lot of progress has been made and even more is expected in the near future. Please pray for the continued success of the planning, the submission and approval of the permits, and that the finances would be acquired to pay for the "Building To Serve."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Great Big Faith

I preached this past Sunday from the beginning of Hebrews 11. We looked at three characters from the beginning of the Bible who pleased God through their faith.

Abel had the faith to believe that God wanted to be approached a certain way. Abel not only believed mentally that God wanted him to worship with a sacrifice, Abel also acted on that belief. He demonstrated faith by offering the sacrifice that he rightly knew God wanted Him to offer. Abel's faith was one of simple obedience. We demonstrate similar faith when we recognize that God wants us to approach Him through the finished work of Jesus on the cross. Receiving Jesus as our sacrifice for sin is a similar type of faith to that of Abel.

Enoch was an unusal, though rarely mentioned, character in the Bible. He lived for God each day. One day God just took Enoch straight to heaven- no need to bother with death. God just gave Enoch that one-way ticket with no layovers. Enoch's faith doesn't seem particularly amazing to me. All we know about Him is that he lived for God in the way that he want about his routine every day. That doesn't sound special. In fact, it is so ordinary that any of us could do it as well. We imitate the faith of Enoch when we do what God wants us to do each day instead of doing what we want to do.

Noah is the guy who easily received the most press coverage in the Bible. If they had newspapers in Noah's day, he probably also made the front page regularly. Noah's faith required him to do something a lot bigger than Abel and Enoch had to do. In order for Noah to have faith in God he had to believe that God really was going to flood the world. Noah proved that he really believed God by building a boat. The boat took a long time to construct. It was probably expensive (just ask people who own boats today). People no doubt ridiculed Noah for building that monstrous boat in a place where it never rained and where there were no large bodies of water nearby. In addition to building the boat, Noah had to gather a lot of animals together and enough food to feed them all. I guess the cages for the lions had to be pretty strong- especially if there were some nice tender sheep in the next stall. As an aside, we are still wondering what Noah did about the woodpeckers. And I'm not sure why he brought along the mosquitos and spiders. I guess he did it because God told him to and because he really believed that God meant what he said.

Noah is an example to us of someone who proved that he really believed God. We might not ever face a situation that is as tough as the one that Noah faced, but let's make sure that we always believe that God means what He says. The way we believe God is by doing what He has already told us to do. That is true faith.