Sobering New Year News

2518555653_74b1c3da18Susan Jacoby, the author of The Age of American Unreason and a writer for the Washington Post, is celebrating the top developments in American secularism in 2009.  They are as follows:

#1: In April, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reported that those with no religious affiliation—the unchurched–were the fastest-growing group in the American religious landscape. More than 16 percent said they belonged to no church and identified with no religious group. Jacoby responded to this development by saying, “I consider this an extremely positive development, because those who identify with no religion—whatever their beliefs or non-beliefs about the existence of a supreme being—are least likely to support religious intrusion on government and are least vulnerable to appeals from right-wing religion.”

#2: In his inaugural address, President Obama mentioned nonbelievers as a group of Americans worthy of respect. This is the first time a president, in a major address, has gone beyond the usual litany of respect for Americans of various religious faith and included Americans who reject religion.

#3: One of the first actions of the Obama administration was to overturn the Bush administration’s policies banning research on new embryonic stem cell lines.

#4: Predictions that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 would bring about a “return to religion” proved unfounded. Church attendance spiked briefly in the first month after 9/11, after which the drop-off in churchgoing, and the rise of the unaffiliated, has continued until today.

If you’re a Christian, then these developments ought to concern you.  But more than that, these developments ought to motivate you to live out your faith in 2010 with renewed vigor.  There is great spiritual need right where you live.  May God grant you the faith and strength to live missionally in the coming year.

Happy New Year!

What Does the Future Hold for This Church?

IMG00541-20091221-1444IMG00542-20091221-1445I’ve been to several church conferences where I’ve heard it said again and again, “Churches need to change and evolve or else they’re going to become obsolete and culturally irrelevant.”  The struggle for us pastors is deciding what needs to change and what things from the past we should hang on to.  When I saw these church signs at a local church, it caused me to pause and wonder, “With this attitude, how long will this church last?  Can it survive the next 10 to 20 years with its outspoken commitment to ‘no contemporary services’ and ‘preaching, practicing, and promoting old time religion’?”  What do you think?

My Favorite Movies of 2009

district9_picIt’s the end of the year, and everyone (and their brother) is producing their list of the top movies of 2009.  I recently read Time Magazine’s 2009 Top 10 Movie List and was unimpressed.  Of their top 10, I’ve only seen two (District 9 and The Hurt Locker), and their top three movies are animated (Fantastic Mr. Fox, Up, and The Princess and the Frog).  Yuck!

So, for what it’s worth, I offer you my top 5 movies of 2009 (plus a couple other random designations).

#1 District 9
Hands-down, the best movie of the year.  So good that I wrote a blog about it after seeing it.  No need to explain.  Just read the blog!

#2 The Blind Side
I’m not much of a Sandra Bullock fan, and I hate the Baltimore Ravens, but this movie was great.  It’s the true story of Michael Oher, a homeless boy who became an All American football player and first round NFL draft pick (Ravens) with the help of a caring woman and her family.  The movie is well done, Sandra Bullock is very likable, and the story is truly inspiring.

#3 Terminator Salvation
Go ahead.  Call me shallow, but I thought this movie was good.  The critics didn’t like it very much, but I thought the storyline blended well with the first three Terminator films.  I’m a sucker for good sci-fi, and the Terminator franchise is one of my favorites.

#4 500 Days of Summer
Let me go on the record and say that I can’t stand chick-flicks, but this one was different.  It’s a well-acted romantic comedy about a woman who doesn’t believe true love exists and the young man who falls for her.  Nominated for two Golden Globes including Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, it is the exception (not the rule) when it comes to chick flicks.  In other words, it’s good enough that a man can enjoy it and still retain his manhood!

#5 The Hurt Locker
Honestly, this was a hard spot for me to fill.  The top four were easy to name.  Number 5 was not.  The Hurt Locker is about an elite Army bomb squad unit who attempts to safely detonate bombs in Iraq.  It’s one of those movies you only want to see once because it’s so realistic and disturbing.  You don’t walk out of the theater talking about how good it was because of that, but it was really well done.

Top 2009 movie I just can’t bring myself to watch: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
The movie brought-in over $400 million at the box office this year, but I just don’t have any desire to see it.  I saw the first one and although the special effects were pretty cool, I thought the storyline and the attempt at humor were just bad enough to eclipse anything good that was in it.

Biggest Disappointment of 2009: The Soloist
A movie with a great premise: A Los Angeles journalist befriends a homeless Julliard-trained musician while looking for a new article for the paper.  A movie with really good actors: Jamie Fox and Robert Downey, Jr.  But, a movie that fell flat on its face.

Worst Movie of 2009: The Invention of Lying
So bad I wrote a blog on it.  Funny premise, but completely offensive to Christians.  If the movie would have treated Islam like it did Christianity, heads would have rolled (literally).

Random Thoughts About Tiger Woods

tiger-woods-familyWhat a mess Tiger Woods has gotten himself into.  I’m a sports junkie, so I’ve been following his situation closely.  Actually, I have no choice as Tiger’s unfolding story is featured on every sports and news outlet known to man.  Wanna see the football highlights from this past weekend?  Gotta wade through Tiger’s mess first.  Wanna catch the latest basketball scores?  Gotta see the latest developments from Tiger’s life first.  Anyway, he and his family have not only been on my TV set lately; they’ve been on my mind lately too.

Thus, I offer you some of my random thoughts about Tiger…

I only watch golf because of him, and I’m sure that there are many more like me.  Professional golf is going to take a huge hit without him.

Tiger has made hundreds of millions of dollars so far in his career, but he is going to lose millions as well because of this.  I was watching the numbers he has lost so far flash across the TV screen today and was saddened…not for him but for the amount of money that companies have spent for him to endorse their products.  Money that could be used for much greater and nobler purposes.  Capitalism and materialism at its worst.

Tiger’s transgressions are many, and he will forever be hounded by them in the public eye.  Although I do not condone his behavior at all, I do feel for him.  I sure wouldn’t want my dirty laundry hung out for the entire world to see.  I guess the old saying that “you live and die by the sword” is true in this case.

I just hate the fact that children are involved in this mess.  They’re very young, but the implications of this will haunt them the rest of their lives.  My heart breaks for them.

My heart breaks for Tiger’s wife, Elin.  People are saying that she should have known that infidelity would be a risk when marrying someone as famous as Tiger Woods.  That’s garbage.  She evidently took Tiger at his word when he said “I do” to her, and Tiger should have been man enough to deliver on his word.  No one should be expected to expect infidelity from their spouse.

Although I don’t expect it to, I sure pray that their marriage survives.  It’s tragic anytime anyone’s marriage ends, celebrity or not.  Tiger has been a “poster child” for many things.  It sure would be incredibly refreshing and redemptive if he and Elin were to become poster children for marriage and family reconciliation.

May Tiger put as much focus and hard work into making things right at home as he has over the years making things right on the golf course.

The State of Modern Christianity

Rick Warren draws our attention to some interesting – and profound – facts about modern Christianity.  Here’s what he says…

The last 50 years has seen the greatest redistribution of a religion ever in the history of the world. For instance, in 1900, 71% of all, ‘Christians’ lived in Europe; by 2000, it had declined to just 28% who claimed to Christians. Far fewer go to church. Conversely, in 1900, only 10% of all people in Africa (10 million) were Christians vs. over 50% (360 million) today. That is a complete turnaround on a continent that’s never, ever been seen or done in history.

I may surprise some when I say that there are by far more Christians in China than in America. There are more Presbyterians in Ghana than in Scotland, where they were founded by John Knox. There are more Baptists in the India state of Nagaland than in the American South. There are more Anglicans in Kenya or Uganda or Rwanda or Nigeria than in England. There are 2 million Anglicans in England compared to 17 million in Nigeria. Last Sunday, more Christians went to church in China than all of Europe combined. That is a fundamental shift.

If you want to know the future of Christianity, it is the developing world. It’s Africa, Latin America and Asia.

(Pew Forum Weekly 11/20/09)

Christmas Shopping at Wal-Mart?

Heading out to Wal-Mart to do some Christmas shopping?  If so, consider these facts…

Americans spend $36,000,000 at Wal-Mart every hour of every day.  This works out to $20,928 profit every minute.

It sells more from January 1 to St. Patrick’s Day (3/17) than Target sells all year.

Wal-Mart is bigger than Home Depot + Kroger + Target + Sears + Costco + K-Mart combined.

It employs 1.6 million people and is the nation’s largest private employer. It is also the largest company in the history of the world.

Wal-Mart now sells more food than Kroger & Safeway combined, and did this in only 15 years. During this same period, 31 supermarket chains sought bankruptcy. It now sells more food than any other store in the world.

Wal-Mart has approx. 3,900 stores in the U.S. (1,906 are Super Centers).

90% of all Americans live within 15 miles of a Wal-Mart.

(Foster Network 10/09)

Texting the Christmas Message

revwardIf you had only 160 characters to communicate the message of Christmas, what would you say?  Rev. Matt Ward is the pastor of Emmanuel Café Church at the University of Leeds in England, and he’s decided to text his Christmas sermon to his congregation because most are students who will be home for the holiday.

Because Café Church caters mostly to college students, Ward says that he’s never with his flock during major Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter. “This is a bit of a challenge for a church community but there are still ways to celebrate ‘together’, even when we’re not in the same place at the same time, he recently told christiantoday.com.

“I thought a Christmas Day message would be one way of doing it, but what can say about the Incarnation of Jesus within those sort of text limits?! I haven’t attempted it yet in Twitter’s 140 characters. That really would be a challenge.”

His Christmas text sermon reads: Christmas. A time of being with family, gr8 or not. Even in a manger Jesus is born in the heart of family. Whatever 2day brings remember Emmanuel, God IS with us.

What would you write if you had to communicate a Christmas message in 160 characters?