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What Helps Americans Grow Their Faith?

Sunday, July 14, 2019

A survey by the Barna Group asked a group of respondents about the key components in growing their faith. The top five answers were prayer, family, friends, reading Scripture, and having children. Did you notice something missing in the list? The church is not there. In fact, it didn’t even make it into the top ten answers. This seems to fit right in with other trends experts are observing about American church attendance. Now in the minority, only 49% of respondents said church attendance is “somewhat” or “very important.” 51% said “it is not too” or “not at all important.” This applies to Americans of all ages. When we drill down to younger people, only 20% of Americans under age 30 believe church attendance is important. 35% of those under age 30 now take an anti-church stance.  When asked why they’ve quit attending, 40% said, “I find God elsewhere.” 35% said, “Church is not relevant to me personally.” It is becoming more common to hear people explain their desire to be spiritual, not religious. They believe they can have God without the church and pick and choose what spiritual things suit them.  (For more read Americans Divided on the Importance of Church. https://www.barna.com/research/americans-divided-on-the-importance-of-church/)

What was your reaction as you read this? Do you think all is lost, or is there hope that those who quit attending will return at a later stage of life? No matter how you answer, the challenge is real. Our young people are at a much lower baseline for church participants and commitment than previous generations. The fastest religious group in the country are what is now being referred to as the “nones.”

That is why it is very important to be talking about evangelism and church growth. How can the church navigate the cultural waters of our day? One of the ways we can become a magnet for attracting the lost is through authentic and genuine relationships with people inside and outside the church. Today we’ll be discussing four characteristics of active membership in the local congregation. People want to be connected, but they don’t want to be hurt in doing so. They won't be interested in our preaching or teaching until they see us personally exhibiting the love of Jesus day in and day out. We need to strive for lives of consistency, discipline, and humility, Romans 12.3. We need to elevate compassion and communication skills to a higher priority, Colossians 4.5-6; 1 Peter 3.15. And, we need to be willing to be intentional by making time to mentor and disciple others in the ways of Christ, Ephesians 5.16; 1 Thessalonians 5.11. If you’ve been passive in your relationship with the local church, thinking your responsibility ends with 90 minutes per week at services, now is the time to step up. You can make a difference and play a role in the spiritual and numerical growth of our Kettering family. Today, you’ll see some ways you can get involved.

What is one thing you can do this week to become more active in the role you play here?

— Matthew Allen

What Made Jesus So Different?

Monday, July 08, 2019

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

— Mark 10.42–45

What is the modern, academic view of Jesus? Some assert that Jesus was just a Jewish revolutionary, stirring up Jews against Romans. Others believe Jesus was just one in a line of extraordinary teachers like Confucius or Muhammad. They would have us to believe He was only a great moral teacher and nothing more. Obviously, this is not how Scripture records the life of the Son of God. What made Jesus so different? What set Him apart?

Mark 10.42-45 demonstrates a key difference between Jesus and the others. Christianity is not of human origin. In human matters, what Jesus taught is completely unheard of. No man ever told his disciples he did not want them to serve him. What man would sacrifice his life on behalf of others? These verses force us to conclude that, either Jesus is the Son of God, with supernatural power and dignity, or He was a raving lunatic.

Mark 10.45 is a call to follow Jesus and live like He did - but there is much more.

The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.

He came to give His life as a ransom and He continues to minister to us today. He carries us through the trials of life. He is alive and is there for each of us right now! For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham, Hebrews 2.16. The gospel is indeed good news! Jesus is all the help and power we need! He is our Redeemer, our Helper, and He serves us each day. Have you let Him serve you?

— Matthew Allen

A Persistent Faith

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Over the last five Sundays we have talked about faith in action, as seen in the majority of the miracles in Matthew 8-9. In fact, all of the healings in Matthew 9 are characterized by the persistence of those approaching Jesus. The paralytic and his four friends cut a hole in a roof to get him in front of Christ. They remained engaged, didn’t give up when difficulty came, and found a way. In Matthew 9.18, Jairus implored Jesus, even after his daughter died. He was asking Jesus to do the impossible. The woman with the issue of blood ignored the crowds and as she pushed through to touch the fringe of Jesus’ garment she kept saying to herself if I only touch his garment, I will be made well, 9.21.

In today’s lesson the theme of persistence continues with the two blind men who followed Jesus on the way back to his house after the raising of Jairus’ daughter. 9.28 says they literally followed Jesus inside. Now, that’s determination! Would we go that far?

Something that will allow us to go beyond all we think we can do is dependency on Jesus. I believe this is something especially challenging in a culture where self-determination is seen as a  virtue. While I’m not suggesting we throw away personal responsibility and the hard work that often comes with it, I do believe we waste a good amount of energy trying to handle things only on our own. You will fail every time if you rely just on yourself. Life is hard and to navigate it successfully, we have to rely on a power greater than ourselves. This is especially true when it comes to our spiritual needs.

When adversity comes, will you demonstrate the tenacity to keep going? You may personally run out of strength, but you serve a God with unlimited power, insight, and resources, who is willing to work for your success. Paul experienced this, and so can you. Paul struggled with many things, but he did it with all His energy that He powerfully works within me, Colossians 1.29. Remember Ephesians 3.20-21 where it is said that the power within us enables us to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think.

The key to a faith in action is persistence. Even if you feel like giving up or walking away, dig deep, surrender to God in prayer, and keep going. God will be with you. Remember what is in the definition of faith: without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him, Hebrews 11.6.

— Matthew Allen

Harmonizing Matthew 9.18; Mark 5.22; Luke 8.41

Sunday, June 23, 2019

When we read the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) we must remember they are written with differing audiences in mind and from the perspectives of three unique men. Sometimes there are small differences between their accounts, but nothing so substantial as to change the impact of meaning of the story. In today’s sermon text we observe a supposed discrepancy between Matthew 9.18 and Mark 5.22 / Luke 8.41.

Matthew records the words of Jairus: my daughter has just died. Mark says that Jairus said, my little daughter is at the point of death. Luke writes she was dying. So which is it? Was she dead or alive?

Here is a possible way to order the events for harmony:

  1. Jairus comes … falls at His feet and implores Jesus: my little daughter is at the point of death. See Mark 5.22-23 and Luke 8.41-42a.
  2. Luke 8.42b - Jesus begins to head to Jairus’ house.
  3. Luke 8.43-48 / Mark 5.25-34 - The woman with the issue of blood interrupts Jesus, who is on His way to heal the little girl.
  4. Luke 8.49 / Mark 5.35 - Servants approach, informing Jairus that his daughter has died and not to trouble Jesus.
  5. Matthew 8.18 - Now, Jairus says his daughter has just died.
  6. Mark 8.36 / Luke 8.50 - Jesus tells Jairus: Do not fear, only believe.
  7. Matthew 8.23 / Mark 8.37 / Luke 8.51 - Jesus arrives at the house and raises the girl from the dead.

Others just suggest that Jairus’ statement in Matthew 9.18 is just a figure of speech, my daughter is as good as dead, etc. I won’t bore you with the other explanations I found, but I don’t think this so-called discrepancy is something we should lose sleep over.

No matter how you read the synoptics, the basic story is the same. Our Savior is willing to condescend to our greatest needs. When life comes at you hard, will you allow your desperation to drive you to Jesus? He’ll supply you with your greatest needs. Will you trust Him?

— Matthew Allen

Live as a Citizen of the Kingdom

Sunday, June 16, 2019

There is so much to appreciate about our times of worship at Kettering. They are reverent, inspiring, and uplifting. I felt that way Wednesday evening after Jim Grushon prayed, specifically mentioning some of our older members by name and one of our shepherds who had surgery the next day. In his prayer, Jim spoke of the hope ungirding their lives because of their knowledge that this world is not their home. I think as we grow older that realization becomes a little more clear every day. This world is not our home.

In Philippians 1.27 Paul wrote, …let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ. In the original language, the words manner of life mean “to live as a citizen.” The emphasis here of course, is not as a citizen of earth, but as a citizen of heaven - the kingdom of God. I believe Paul intentionally chose this word because it carried great meaning in the Greco-Roman world.

Romans were very political. To be a Roman citizen was the highest honor. Philippi was a Roman colony, of which it was very proud. The city had a Roman mindset, attitude, and lifestyle. It had a refined culture. It’s citizens spoke Latin and dressed in Roman ways. People wore Roman names. They were very deeply into being Roman citizens. Also, living in that culture meant that a person did not live for oneself. It was about the good of the state and living in partnership with society. Individual citizens developed their talents, abilities, and skills for the sake of everyone.

When Paul says live as a citizen, it was something that would have resonated with the Philippians. He certainly wrote it in the context of Christianity. Will you live like a citizen in God's kingdom?

  • Will you love for the good of others, placing yourself in second place?
  • Will you live with a sense of pride in who you are identified with? Never forget you wear the name of Christ.
  • Will you live in a manner consistent with the values of the place you call home?

That Paul was thinking of heaven when he told the Philippians to live as a citizen, is clear when we read, But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself, 3.20-21.

You have been called to live in a partnership with other Christians. To live as a citizen inside a spiritual kingdom. To be governed by God’s laws, which consist of righteousness, faith, love, service, and worship.

Does this describe you?

— Matthew Allen

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