Do American Christians Want to Be the Church?


Church gone fuzzyFor all the handwringing about half-hearted evangelism and declining church attendance…

For all the lamentations about lack of community…

For all the conflicting PR about organic, emerging, institutional, house, simple, and traditional churches…

For all the grousing about spiritual gifts, cessationism, charismania, and talents…

And for all the preoccupation with politics, Kardashians, Dancing with the Stars winners/losers, sports fanaticism, the “right” schools, the future, the Consitutution, police states, ISIS, endless End Times “prophecies,” and every last minuscule thing that has precious little to do with being a Child of God…

I am increasingly concerned that Christians in America have no desire to be the Church. We just don’t.

We talk like we do, but it’s mostly talk.

I confess that this is true of me as well. I am not exempt. I talk big, but I struggle to find ways to make the things I talk about work. I think this is true of most people in America. Something must be done; now if someone would just do it…

It may also be true that the systems we have in place that make American Christianity what it is only complicate being a genuine Christian attempting to live as the genuine Church.

But Americans have a way of making the things they value most work and work well—which is why I wonder if we truly value being the Church.

Do we wake up and immediately ask God to make us the Church? Is that such a burning concern for us that we give it the priority it deserves?

It’s not that we don’t love God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit. It’s that we’re not so sure about people. The vertical still has value. The horizontal, not so much.

Let’s get real, though: If the horizontal isn’t there, is the vertical? Or are we fooling ourselves?

Then there are the endless battles…

For all the talk of trying to preserve the Church in America by taking on the culture and standing up for what is right, have we really preserved anything? Or did “fighting the good fight of Faith” lead us into the wrong battlefields, allowing our flanks to be decimated? Do we now find ourselves in a position where our soldiers are walking away and going back to their homes, weary and looking for something, anything, to distract them from realities they can no longer face because their wingmen went home too?

How many people out there are asking if they can do this anymore? How many have already decided they can’t?

Does anyone care?

Maybe this post is too grim. Maybe it’s not grim enough.

As for me, I think some people still care. I just don’t know if they have enough momentum to steer anyone else their way. Maybe the final outcome was always the remnant, and this is what it looks like.

I admit that I don’t have any answers beyond what I’ve posted here already on Cerulean Sanctum.

It just seems to me that somewhere we went off the rails, and instead of working to rectify the situation, we wandered off, distracted. Maybe this is the “powerful delusion” the Bible speaks of. Maybe we Americans who profess to know the Lord are falling under its spell too.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s not as dire as I think it may be. God knows I want to be wrong on this issue.

Do we Americans really care about being the Church? If we still do, how do we prove it?

Maybe you have an answer. If so, please comment.

Sad Stats and a Sobering Trend for the Church


Baseball is a game of numbers. Oddly, blogging can be also.

Now, I’m not a statistics hound when it comes to Cerulean Sanctum. I’m not analyzing every bit of data generated by the operation of this blog. Still, from time to time, I do check stats because they reveal the heartfelt questions of people on the Internet.

One trend I’ve noticed this year is the increasing number of search hits coming into this blog from people looking for guidance on what to do when someone they know walks away from God. Recently, searches in that vein have been moving up from nowhere to be in the top two or three for the last few months.

This blog post from late 2013 has been getting more than its share of hits lately:

When Someone You Love Turns Away from God

Say what you will about “lies, damned lies, and statistics,” but I see this as a warning couched in numbers.

Much has been made about the supposed weakening condition of Christianity in America. Some pundits who wish to diminish the handwringing have claimed that the folks who once attended church but now do not were not serious about their faith anyway.

But people tend to hang with others like themselves. “I can take it or leave it” Christians don’t tend to hang with the ardently devout. They befriend people who can take Christianity or leave it too. Those lukewarm folks are not the kind who care enough to scour the Internet for what to do about apostasy.

'Girl on Tracks' by Barta IVNo, I think the people coming here to find out what to do about prodigal friends and family are more serious believers. They’re distraught that someone they know and love, someone like them who once was a serious believer too, has seriously flown the sacred coop.

Are we seeing the first trickles of a genuine falling away?

It’s too early to say yes, but we Christians need to be on our watch, noting the signs of folks ready to give up on God.

Some Christians are so concerned about losses to the flock, they’re invoking anew an old idea, which is being dubbed The Benedict Option. To generate some search engine stats of your own, Google that phrase and check out the results.

I’ll be writing more on The Benedict Option in days to come.

Until that time, consider someone you know who might have walked away from the Lord, and pray for him or her.

When Someone You Love Turns Away from God


As I write this, we’re entering another holiday season. No time of the year is more intimidating for people who must deal with difficult family members. And no family member is more difficult than the one who once had a vibrant faith but has since turned away from God. For some, it’s even harder because it’s not the uncle they see once a year but a child, a spouse, or a parent. The holidays only deepen the sadness over that person’s ever-present lack of faith.

The Bible gives us a well-known story of a loved one who turned away from God:

And [Jesus] said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”‘ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate. “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'”
—Luke 15:11-32 ESV

What can you as a believer in Jesus do? I don’t claim to be an expert on this issue, but I will offer the following.

1. Understand that turning away from God is turning to self

The “oldest lie in the book”:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
—Genesis 3:1-5 ESV

Back in my youth, people who turned away from a Christian view of God often turned to other faiths. Today, in contrast, my experience is that most people who reject Jesus don’t go elsewhere. They instead reject all belief.

Or this is what they claim. Fact is, though, the “reject all belief” option doesn’t reject all belief. It instead accepts a belief that I can be my own god. Sound familiar? If anything, it’s the ultimate in self-centered thinking. When someone we love turns away from God, it is an act of extreme selfishness, and we must understand it as such.

2. Understand that turning away from God is a sin

Black sheep with white sheepRomans 14:23 makes it clear: “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” Don’t candy-coat another’s walking away or call  it by some romanticized nomenclature such as “going on a quest” or “finding herself.” This is a genuine battle, and it should never be excused or downplayed. Faithlessness is a sin.

3. Understand that you are likely NOT the one who will restore that lost person

As Americans, we want to fix problems. Something in our national psyche makes it impossible to sit still while a problem exists. We demand change. And if someone else won’t make change happen, then you and I will.

Don’t go there. In the story of the prodigal son, the father understood that whatever change would come over his lost child, he would not be the one responsible for it. Let God work in His timing in the life of a prodigal. Most likely, God will bring awareness, as was the case in the prodigal son.

4. Pray for that lost person

My advice for prayer is to pray that God would…

…break the power of sin in the prodigal’s life.

…run that prodigal to the end of his or her means.

…show the prodigal that he or she is incapable of assuming the role of God.

…show that prodigal that God alone fulfills.

…bring that prodigal back “home.”

5. Never stop praying for that lost person

Pray always. Never give up. Never, ever give up. The Bible does not say explicitly, but I believe that the father of the prodigal son never stopped praying for him. The father’s response to the son is exactly the kind one would expect from someone who never gave up on prayer.

6. Never stop showing lovingkindness to that lost person

Obviously, we love this person if we care enough to worry about his condition. But too often we resort to “tough love” when we should instead display lovingkindness. Always respond to the lost person with lovingkindness. You will be tested in this perpetually. Be kind, and never think that harshness will triumph. Sometimes, you may have to speak a difficult truth. Do so only when guided by God and not by your own desire to change the person. Again, you are likely NOT the change agent in that prodigal’s life. Instead of trying to be the hammer, be the place of safety.

7. Never stop trusting God

I cannot add to this:

This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him.
—Psalms 18:30 ESV

I don’t believe there is a believer in Jesus in this big country who lacks for a family prodigal. We are all in this together. If you know someone who is distraught from watching a loved one go astray, be there for that fellow believer. Perhaps you can pray for each other’s prodigals.

Never stop praying. And never, ever give up hope.