Does Church Attendance Matter?

“The church is like Noah’s ark. It stinks, but if you get out of it, you’ll drown.” ― Shane Claiborne

Church attendance among younger adults is on the decline

Attendance typically dips at this time but has historically increased once people marry and start families. But today, that number – the return to church – is also on the decline. People are waiting later to have children and more people in America today are living together, not married. Most Americans believe in cohabitation.

This means church attendance is declining in young adulthood and doesn’t seem to be bouncing back.  Add to this an increase in the number of young people in our society who claim to have no religious belief at all. This means that church attendance is on a general decline.

“When introverts go to church, we crave sanctuary in every sense of the word, as we flee from the disorienting distractions of twenty-first-century life. We desire to escape from superficial relationships, trivial communications and the constant noise that pervade our world, and find rest in the probing depths of God’s love.” ― Adam S. McHugh

But every indicator we have has always demonstrated that church attendance has tremendous benefits for both individuals and society. In an effort to spread the word, here are some of the personal benefits of attending church.  These aren’t religious or spiritual reasons – just physical, emotional and social benefits that help to explain why attending church is still a good idea.

  1. People who are a part of a church report that they experience better marriages in all kinds of ways
  2. Longer life (here on earth, even longer in heaven!)
  3. Lower blood pressure – religious practices and beliefs reduce stress and have a measurable effect on overall health
  4. Managing your daily time and overall life is easier for people who are a part of a church community. The routine and the commitment help with life management.
  5. Less susceptible to depression and suicide – especially when you get involved in helping other people through the ministry of your church
  6. Better sleep (not during the sermon!)
  7. Drink less, smoke less, use fewer recreational drugs and are less sexually promiscuous
  8. More friends and a larger support network – wait long enough on this earth and you’re going to desperately need this!
  9. Teenagers who attend with their family (or even on their own) do better in school both  academically and socially
  10. Getting up and going to a worship service and/or a Small Group each week provides a routine in your life, something that helps you to manage all of the unexpected chaos that comes your way.

“Then the singing enveloped me. It was furry and resonant, coming from everyone’s very heart. There was no sense of performance or judgment, only that the music was breath and food.” ― Anne Lamott

What’s on your list of why attending church is good idea?

Sources:

Aleteia

Tyler VanderWeele and John Siniff

Peter Haas

T. M. Luhrmann

The Health and Fitness Revolution

 

 

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Waiting Always Matters

“For a while” is a phrase whose length can’t be measured. At least by the person who’s waiting.” ― Haruki Murakami, South of the Border, West of the Sun

Waiting is a necessary part of living. How well have you mastered the skill of just waiting? Usually I’m very impatient. Sometimes, when I’m more thoughtful, I can sit down and wait for what I know will surely come (one way or another).

Think about all the waiting you have to do while you live your life…

  •  Waiting in line at the grocery store too long because you still can’t pick a fast moving line (there’s always someone ahead who’s going to dig out her checkbook, right?)
  • Waiting at the doctor’s office. Why did I schedule this appointment so late in the day when every other appointment is backed up?
  • Waiting in traffic, welcome to Houston. Hasn’t that road been under construction since Dolph Briscoe was governor?
  • Waiting for that baby to walk his first steps. What’s the hurry? He’ll be gone one day too soon. Enjoy every minute that he has to be carried about.
  • Waiting for an answer to that prayer you’ve been asking again and again. Makes you wonder, is God even listening to me anymore?

“I hated waiting. If I had one particular complaint, it was that my life seemed composed entirely of expectation. I expected — an arrival, an explanation, an apology. There had never been one, a fact I could have accepted, were it not true that, just when I had got used to the limits and dimensions of one moment, I was expelled into the next and made to wonder again if any shapes hid in its shadows.” ― Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping

I don’t need to remind you that you are living in the fastest society in the history of the world. We are bathed in fast information, fast work, fast food, fast schedules, fast relationships, fast transitions into adulthood and even fast thinking.

This world we’ve made has probably produced in us a razor thin tolerance for waiting. What’s the value in waiting and the time it takes from the fast life we think is normal? Psychologist Stephanie Brown has come to believe that we even fear waiting (slowing down).

“Waiting turns men into bears in a barn, and women into cats in a sack.” ― Robert Jordan, The Fires of Heaven

So often there are big things in life that we can’t fix ourselves. These are matters that must be left in the hands of God. Anyone who has waited on God knows how  agonizing, frustrating, and discouraging these times can be.

“One of the greatest strains in life is the strain of waiting for God.”  ― Oswald Chambers

When I’m in a situation that calls for a time of waiting for God’s will to come about there are a number of things to remember:

  1.  I really do want God’s plan and not my own.
  2.  Waiting can bring out the better in me. Sitting still, praying, reflecting and putting things into their right perspective always bears fruit.
  3.  Waiting calls for action on my part. When I wait on God I work with great effort at praying, writing, reading and reflecting. There is much to do while waiting.
  4.  Often, while waiting, I realize that what I thought I needed from God was a mistake. After serious spiritual reflection, I misunderstood my situation and what God was already busy doing.

I’m sure there are other great lessons that could be added to this list. I’m not there yet. I’ve got more waiting to do.

What about you? Are you waiting these days? Do you need to stop what you’re doing right now and start waiting? That’s where I am at this point in my life.

“Wait on the Lord” is a constant refrain in the Psalms, and it is a necessary word, for God often keeps us waiting. He is not in such a hurry as we are, and it is not his way to give more light on the future than we need for action in the present, or to guide us more than one step at a time. When in doubt, do nothing, but continue to wait on God. When action is needed, light will come.”  ― J.I. Packer, Knowing God

What Will Change You?

“If we don’t change, we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, we aren’t really living.”
― Anatole France

A new year is a good time to try something new. Typically, people decide to lose weight, exercise more or even stop smoking when they start a new year. If carried through, these new habits would certainly bring about dramatic changes. Some reports indicate that less than half make it past six months with these resolutions.

Is a New Year’s Resolution really going to change you?

Maybe change isn’t a once a year decision. Why not think about changes in your life as a daily way of living? Always in transition. Each day becoming a newer version of yourself.

We Americans can trip ourselves up too much with our thinking that change has to be absolute, it always between polar opposites and it’s got to be done right away to really count. We get discouraged too quickly.

God is also involved in this process. He is always faithful to bring about the transformation in us that He has promised. Often despite our own obstinance.

 I pray with great faith for you, because I’m fully convinced that the One who began this glorious work in you will faithfully continue the process of maturing you and will put his finishing touches to it until the unveiling of our Lord Jesus Christ!  (Philippians 1:6, The Passion Translation)

Does change for you have to be now or never?

Instead of thinking about change in your life as a quick fix, why not think about it as a slow turn in a better direction?

What kind of transformation is God is bringing about in your life? What are you resisting? Who are you becoming each day as you live like a disciple? I’ve got to carve out more time in my own life to pray for others. This has been an ongoing change for me for many years. It’s not a one time and it’s done decision, like getting a tattoo. I wake up each day and have to make choices. So do you.

I recently read about the Japanese philosophy called Wabi Sabi. It’s basic principles about life can be summarized like this:

  1. Nothing lasts
  2. Nothing is finished
  3. Nothing is perfect

The world all around us really is in constant change. Trying to get everything all nailed down and permanently fixed is an illusion. We grow, make mistakes, take wrong turns, learn, develop, and figure it out bit by bit. And then there’s all the other people we live and work with who are also experiencing constant change in their own lives. We are all floating down a churning river together. There’s something new around each bend.

Are you limiting change in your life to behaviors?

Maybe your attitude about something is a good place to start thinking about change?

“We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitudes.”  ― Charles R. Swindoll

What do you think?
Does this sound true?
What’s your attitude like when you run up against something impossible? A person who’s out to bring you harm? Too many mistakes that have caught up with you?

“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” ― George Bernard Shaw

Finally, and you already know this, change isn’t always pleasant.

  • We welcome change easier when we can see more clearly the end result. Shut down the negative self talk and replace with hopefulness.
  • Thinking about your future self is the flashlight that can lead you through discouragement. Imagine yourself as the person you want to be. That’s the most important step in becoming.
  • Rome wasn’t built in a day, be realistic with yourself. Surround yourself with others who will help give you a real picture of who you are becoming.
  • Think about change as a way of living, not a one time accomplishment. Keep a journal so you can map your journey.

“Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don’t know what work these conditions are doing inside you? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where all this is coming from and where it is going? Since you know, after all, that you are in the midst of transitions and you wished for nothing so much as to change. If there is anything unhealthy in your reactions, just bear in mind that sickness is the means by which an organism frees itself from what is alien; so one must simply help it to be sick, to have its whole sickness and to break out with it, since that is the way it gets better.” ― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

What’s Under Your Tree?

“In the old days, it was not called the Holiday Season; the Christians called it ‘Christmas’ and went to church; the Jews called it ‘Hanukkah’ and went to synagogue; the atheists went to parties and drank. People passing each other on the street would say ‘Merry Christmas!’ or ‘Happy Hanukkah!’ or (to the atheists) ‘Look out for the wall!” ― Dave Barry

“Peace is the only battle worth waging.” ― Albert Camus

Sometimes getting prepared for Christmas seems like waging war. There are gifts to think about, purchase, wrap, hide, remember and haul around. All that beautiful wrapping paper and ribbons to wad up and push into garbage bags. Dinners to plan, prepare and clear up (10 minutes later). So much decorating! Why is there all this traffic on the way to every social event?

I’m a professor, and in my house getting ready for the holiday season also means ending a semester with exams, papers and grading. So many loose ends to tie up. Why did so many students not worry about their grade until the last seconds? Happens every year since Plato I guess.

“One of the great disadvantages of hurry is that it takes such a long time.”  ― G.K. Chesterton

Our American version of Christmas can mess up your mind and heart if you’re not careful. Keep watch over your mood, how you treat others and what’s really important. Go to church, hear a Christmas musical, remember again what this all really means.

Loving others the way God loves us, every day, is the eternal gift that people never outgrow.

Are you starting to get every name checked off your list? Isn’t shopping online a wonderful new invention? Drawing names in a family also works well – dispersing the thoughtfulness more evenly and keeping the extravagance in check. I hate running around trying to fill up a bowl of obligation. Be certain to take the time to place under your tree gifts that matter. Something that conveys your own devotion not just a duty.

“Oh look, yet another Christmas TV special! How touching to have the meaning of Christmas brought to us by cola, fast food, and beer…. Who’d have ever guessed that product consumption, popular entertainment, and spirituality would mix so harmoniously? ” ― Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes)

Steal a few moments from all the commotion around the table and tell each other something important. Pray out loud. Hold hands. Go over and sit next that aunt with the funny hairdo. Ask her to tell you about her favorite Christmas memory. Before it’s too late, think about the people on your list who are alone during this time of year – and do something about it. Make sure that your tree of blessing is seen and shared by others.

“Are you willing to stoop down and consider the needs and desires of little children; to remember the weaknesses and loneliness of people who are growing old; to stop asking how much your friends love you, and to ask yourself if you love them enough; to bear in mind the things that other people have to bear on their hearts; to trim your lamp so that it will give more light and less smoke, and to carry it in front so that your shadow will fall behind you; to make a grave for your ugly thoughts and a garden for your kindly feelings, with the gate open? Are you willing to do these things for a day? Then you are ready to keep Christmas!” ― Henry Van Dyke

It really isn’t that complicated, it’s not hard, but it is like shoveling snow (I imagine). Buried beneath all the clutter are the simple gestures of kindness, humanity and love. Just open the gate of your life a little more this month. Let the peace on earth and good will toward all run out like escaped pet dogs. This year, let’s all look at our trees as if they were our last. Let’s not take anything for granted. Let’s number our days and make each one count.

“For many of us the great danger is not that we will renounce our faith. It is that we will become so distracted and rushed and preoccupied that we will settle for a mediocre version of it. We will just skim our lives instead of actually living them.”  ― John Ortberg

Stop every day during this season and wait, watch and listen. Find a corner to hide  in and reflect. Make sure that you don’t miss the train. There’s meaning all around you, but it can speed past if you aren’t watchful and mindful. Turn off the technology! Look carefully at your tree, is it ornamented with meaning? With objects of love and memory that you can share as often as anyone passes?

You remember the classic Shaker song (a dance number actually) that teaches so much about how to live in this world we’ve built for ourselves. It’s hard to imagine what the Shakers who first sang this in 1848 would think of today’s pace of life.

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ’round right.

Be sure to save a simple moment today and be free from your busy-ness and everything that doesn’t really matter.

Free yourself to make this Christmas count.

 

Who Are You When No One is Looking?

And you, beloved, are the light of the world. A city built on a hilltop cannot be hidden.  Similarly it would be silly to light a lamp and then hide it under a bowl. When someone lights a lamp, she puts it on a table or a desk or a chair, and the light illumines the entire house. You are like that illuminating light. Let your light shine everywhere you go, that you may illumine creation, so men and women everywhere may see your good actions, may see creation at its fullest, may see your devotion to Me, and may turn and praise your Father in heaven because of it.
                                                                                    – Matthew 5:14-16 (The Voice)

At the football stadium this year, before the game, the camera operator puts people’s images up on the giant screen. People are selected who are busy and not paying attention. It’s called the “oblivious camera” – with a timer ticking off how long it takes these unsuspecting “victims” to notice their images and actions projected on a 5000 square foot screen.

I often wonder if the camera operator is given any limits on who or what he can put on the screen during this little game.

As I sit here and watch students in class taking exams it’s always interesting to see what kinds of actions some do when they believe they’re all alone (in their head) yet sitting in a room full of others. Some will rub and scratch out of nervousness. There are all sorts of grooming rituals that take place, just mindless activity some do while thinking real hard. Cracking knuckles very loudly (mostly females), sniffing and snorting (no tissues), and so many different ways to stretch and yawn!

Did you know that yawning is contagious?

Since no one was taught handwriting in school anymore, it’s gruesome to watch all of the ways that students hold their pens and pencils while writing on an exam. It’s as if many had their hands broken and wrongly reset. Most are perfectly legible but there’s always a few examples that need to be sent over to the hieroglyphics department (we don’t have one of those, by the way).

Do you honestly believe that there’s any part of your own life that goes unnoticed by someone?

  • Parents with young children are always warned that little eyes are watching everything that goes on, be careful about what you say or do.
  • You just haven’t lived long enough if you haven’t heard a younger person telling you of some word or deed of yours they will never forget (I sure have!).
  • There are security cameras everywhere, monitoring most public locations.
  • What about that camera lense in your computer screen that’s aimed at you right now?
  • Sometimes, when it seems safe, I will walk past a screaming child in the store and say with much confidence, “Santa Claus is watching…”

When all goes haywire or you feel down in the dumps – just stop, sit still and repeat the truth to yourself, “God is watching me.” Don’t get up and run back into the fire until you’ve awakened to this truth. Let it be a light on each step you have to take.

His Eye is On The Sparrow (1905), Civilla Durfee Martin (1866-1948)

“Why should I feel discouraged?
Why should the shadows come?
Why should my heart be lonely
and long for heaven and home?
When Jesus is my portion?
My constant friend is he;
His eye is on the sparrow,
and I know he watches me.” 

God isn’t watching you in order to make fun, to find out what’s wrong, or to make you feel shame. He’s watching you because he loves you. When you decide to believe in Him and become His child, there’s nothing you are going to do that will drive Him away. Even as oblivious as you are at times, He is forever watching and caring for you.

“Should we not invariably act in this life as though the God whom our heart desires with its highest desire were watching our every action?” ― Maurice Maeterlinck

The Sound of That Bird

Don’t let the excitement of youth cause you to forget your Creator. Honor him in your youth before you grow old and say, “Life is not pleasant anymore.” Remember him before the light of the sun, moon, and stars is dim to your old eyes, and rain clouds continually darken your sky. Remember him before your legs—the guards of your house—start to tremble; and before your shoulders—the strong men—stoop. Remember him before your teeth—your few remaining servants—stop grinding; and before your eyes—the women looking through the windows—see dimly. Remember him before the door to life’s opportunities is closed and the sound of work fades. Now you rise at the first chirping of the birds, but then all their sounds will grow faint.  – Ecclesiastes 12:1-4

I hear a very loud bird chirping away each morning this week as I leave the house. He’s very excited to be awake and ready to catch that worm. Perhaps he’s searching for a date.

Time passes and there are opportunities now that won’t be here tomorrow.

Each night I put my head on the pillow and it seems I was just doing this a few minutes ago. I know that living isn’t passing by more quickly than it did in the past. What’s happening is I’m not as connected as I once was. Sitting in the dark theater not paying attention to the film and then suddenly the credits roll by. Time didn’t speed up. Disengagement made the present seem to pass by too fast.

In the West we are born into a culture that’s shaped to think about linear progress – moving forward, maybe a few steps backward. Standing still is really not an option.  When people find themselves stuck in neutral or pushed off the side of the road, it can cause a great deal of anxiety – this isn’t what’s supposed to happen, is it?

“There are many ways of going forward, but only one way of standing still.” 

― Franklin D. Roosevelt

I often wonder where I’m really going during this stage in my life?

Thinking about the progression of life, there are stages; childhood, adolescence, adulthood, old age. I think each can also be subdivided as well.  I read a stage theory from a guy named Mark Manson. He doesn’t seem to have any academic credentials and likes to cuss a lot (maybe that draws attention?).  Anyway his four stages of life struck me as worth thinking about; (1) mimicry, (2) self-discovery, (3) commitment and then (4) legacy.

I wonder where I am right now?  Sometimes I feel like I’m caught in the middle. Does unfinished business in one stage keeping me from fully passing to the next? Do I really want to venture into a “legacy” period of life? Then I hear that bird calling out each morning. Make today count for something.

It’s not like my life isn’t filled with activity. I’m heading off rapidly in some direction each day (who knows if it’s the right way?). There’s always something to do, somewhere to go, someone to meet. Yet, when I think about it, I spend a lot of time drifting in circles.  My life seems busy, but it’s not always going anywhere. That’s a problem.

“Now that it’s all over, what did you really do yesterday that’s worth mentioning?” ― Coleman Cox

I used to have big goals that drove me onward into the future. These no longer exist. For many reasons, they disappeared. Having something meaningful to accomplish, no matter how distant, always pull me through the dreary here and now and produce an expectancy about tomorrow.

Focusing on others instead of yourself, that’s the right path to walk each day. My life ought to be something I can give and do for those around me. I’m losing too many days to the past and the future.

“The timeless in you is aware of life’s timelessness. And knows that yesterday is but today’s memory and tomorrow is today’s dream.” ― Khalil Gibran

That bird each morning reminds me that here and now matters. There is something to do today. I am to open my eyes and look for the opportunity to practice my faith, heal wounds, speak truth, give sacrificially, and turn my cheek if need be.

I heard a benediction at the end of worship a few weeks ago. It was written by our pastor (I think) and it struck me between the eyes because it seemed to provide some assurance to all of us who are in transition and wondering where we are supposed to be going/doing right now:

Wherever you go, God is sending you.
Wherever you are, God has put you there.
God has a purpose in your being right where you are.
Christ, who indwells you by the power of his Spirit,
wants to do something in and through you.
Believe this and go in his grace, his love, his power.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
                                                                              Amen

Where Are You Heading These Days?

“Travel is glamorous only in retrospect.” Paul Theroux

I think I’ve decided that I like being there but I just don’t like the traveling part of the trip. Getting older is turning me into much more of an old fart every year. But journeys seem ever more important to me as years go by. As I progress down my own dirt road I realize how important it is to pay attention and how much has happened that I was just too inexperienced to notice.

“We shall never learn to feel and respect our real calling and destiny, unless we have taught ourselves to consider every thing as moonshine, compared with the education of the heart.” Sir Walter Scott

We are all traveling somewhere, somehow.

Friends have recently returned from a trip to Iceland – the pictures they posted were unbelievable. What a fantastic journey they took. Who would have thought all of that splendor in Iceland?

Another friend traveled for work to India, right after his visit to Iceland. What a contrast! He’s the world traveler from East Texas, chalking up incredible experiences in places most of us can’t even pronounce.

You’re traveling everyday, aren’t you? That automatic trip down the busy highway to work which lulls you into so many other thoughts.

What about those trips up and down the aisle at the grocery store? (or are you having it all delivered nowadays?)

My wife travels through each room in the house, two or three times every morning as she’s getting ready for the day. It’s like a Navajo fertility ritual. She’s done this for over thirty years. Doesn’t strike her as odd or bother her one bit.

Living in a giant city like Houston means that there are always new places to see – even though most of us get stuck in our same routine ruts.

Do you have time in your busy life to think about where you’re going on the inside? In all your travels, exotic and mundane, would you say that on the inside you’re experiencing progress – forward motion?

Put me on trial and examine me, O Eternal One! Search me through and through—from my deepest longings to every thought that crosses my mind. -Psalm 26:2

  1. When you talk to people, are you reciting the same script, over and over? You don’t sound like a broken record do you? Is it time for you to move on to some new ways of talking to people, especially people you love?
  2. Has your daily routine become thoughtless? Are you in automatic pilot most of the time? Do you look back and think about actions you should have taken, words you wished you’d said, time you’d taken to shut up and listen? Maybe there’s nothing wrong with you other than you’re not paying attention to the steps you take each day. The cool word today is being “Mindful” – or you could just stop and smell the roses more often. Your desk is always going to be on fire isn’t it?
  3. Haven’t you taken a trip in the car with several people and noticed how quickly everyone reaches for their device and tunes out of the immediate experience? Maybe that could be a metaphor for so many other aspects of life. Is your device that you’re clutching for dear life causing you to miss the train – the people, conversations and moment that are right in front of you? Any good trip takes some work; planning, packing, travel, waiting, etc.  Being with others usually takes work too. Being plugged into a device is so much easier isn’t it?

“I have been and still am a seeker, but I have ceased to question stars and books; I have begun to listen to the teaching my blood whispers to me.” Hermann Hesse Continue reading “Where Are You Heading These Days?”