I can do all things, except keep a New Year’s resolution!

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(Image courtesy of ishowjw.com)

Many people are familiar with the well- known verse of Scripture: I can do all things through God who strengthens me. I have seen this verse on athlete’s equipment, on bumper stickers and billboards. It is often right in front of me and honestly, I believe it (almost always).

But…. if this Scripture is true (spoiler alert, it is!), why is it that I cannot seem to keep a New Year’s resolution. Try as I might, my firm commitment to lose weight by swearing off sweets turns into a good idea and finally to wishful thinking and waiting until next year. In talking with others, I find that the vast majority find themselves in the same boat in regard to these types of resolutions. The intentions are good, yet the ability to stay the course invariably goes away.

What is the answer? After all, God tells us we can do all things. But I have left the answer out: I can do all things, but only through God. I am sure that God wants me to watch what I eat so that I can worship God through ministry for years to come, but I need help to get there.

The problem is not with God, but with my stubbornness that continues to tell me I can do this or that thing on my own, thanks anyway, God. Personal history has revealed that in my own strength I will eventually wilt when confronted by ice cream or cookies.

So what is the answer? For me, I have to read that Philippians 4:13 in reverse: Through God’s strength, I can do everything. Reading it this way puts God first, exactly where God belongs in my heart and mind! Now I am better prepared to see God’s faithfulness toward me. And I am reminded that I need God to accomplish the good I set out to do!

Be encouraged my friends! Allow our human failing(s) to draw us ever nearer to the God who loves us all unconditionally.

Coming nearer to God will give us the opportunity to do everything God would have us do in 2022, so long as we stay aware of our need of God’s strength to do it.

Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

January 2020: The gyms are full again but the church is still mostly empty

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(image courtesy of blogmekrystal)

One of my buddies, who has been working out in a local gym for years, has a name for those folks who pack the place every year after the holidays: “Those January people.” He labels these well-meaning resolution makers through experience.  For as long as he has been bodybuilding, he has witnessed this annual event.  He calls them January people because, he claims, most of them will stop coming in by March.

I decided to see if there were statistics to back up his claim.  And sure enough, there is much documentation to support it.  One source said that up to 80% of the people who get a gym membership in January will have stopped using it within six months.  There seems to be a definite cycle at work here.  Most, if not all, national fitness businesses cite January as their peak month for the sale of memberships.

At least the gyms have a season where they experience more people coming in.  Christian churches in this land, for the most part, are not seeing any growth.  In fact and most sadly, the statistics prove out that church membership/attendance is waning faster than a new year resolution for fitness.

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Jeffery M. Jones, writing for Gallup.com, states that “Gallup finds the percentage of Americans who report belonging to a church … at an all-time low, averaging 50% in 2018.  U.S. church membership was 70% or higher from 1937 through 1976, falling modestly to an average of 68% in the 1970s through the 1990s. The past 20 years have seen an acceleration in the drop-off, with a 20-percentage-point decline since 1999.”

These numbers support what my wife Betsy and I see happening where we live in Central New York.  Our ministry work brings us to any number of churches in and around our city and area.  Sadly, each of these fellowships has seen their attendance figures lag.  This is happening in spite of the fact that the pastors and leadership of these churches we work with are faithful and devoted followers of Christ.

I’ve read and heard the many reasons for this decline.  I certainly can appreciate the fact that our world has changed and continues to at an accelerating rate.  Many people are working longer hours, leaving them with precious little time for anything else.  Others cite the extreme busyness of family schedules, which often take preference over regular Sunday worship time.  The list of reasons/excuses for not going to church is longer than ever.

Please understand that I write the above without an iota of judgment.  I am in the ‘people business,’ and have the privilege of knowing many folks who struggle through the hectic pace of life today.

If there is any judgment on my part, however, it is toward the church itself.  The drastically reduced numbers are due in large part to its inability/unwillingness to acknowledge the sweeping changes in our culture.

I also want to make it perfectly clear that I am not advocating whole-sale change of the church.  Today’s church, for the most part, is still the slow-moving organism it was 75 years ago.  The very demographics that make up the majority of them still in existence only adds to the problem.  By that I mean that the outreach programs of yesteryear are antiquated in today’s world.

Is there a solution to this decline? Is there any hope at all for the church to continue? Will it ever a significant part of a majority of people’s lives? Is there any hope?

My answer is a resounding YES! For evidence I ask you to consider how this entry began.  Each January we have documented proof that many, many people set out to make meaningful changes in their lives.  Be it weight loss, body toning or simply more social inter-action, throngs of folks flood the local fitness centers hoping to make these changes in themselves.  I conclude that it is in our nature to desire to make improvements in ourselves. We are not satisfied with our current state, and make, however fleeting, attempts to change our outward appearance.

Here in lies the opportunity for the church.  Am I suggesting that each one should include a weight room? Should congregants be encouraged to use stair masters or ride stationary bikes during the sermon? Of course not.

What I would suggest as the single best solution to the woes of the church is this: to proclaim the Name of Jesus Christ in all it undertakes.  Every church service, youth group meeting, outreach program, pod cast and every other thing it does must have the Risen Lord Jesus as its focus and reason for being.  Jesus is THE answer to all life’s problems.  In fact, if churches today would teach the truth of Scripture and model the love of God for ALL people, both inside and outside of its walls, it may well become the place where we could go to be truly transformed; from the inside out!

Jesus loved (and loves!) unconditionally.  He instituted His church to be that message bearer to all.  I believe that the local church doesn’t have to change to keep up with the times, but rather should immerse itself in what the Lord originally purposed for it: His love for all people.  In so doing, it too will experience the transformation that so many seek at the first of every new year.  As it does, the church will become the magnet that draws individuals to it.  May we all see the blessings of God on His church in the days and years to come. Amen!

Thanks for reading and as always, your thoughts, questions and concerns are welcome here.

Pastor Chuck

 

How are the New Year Resolutions Going?

Did you make some New Year Resolutions as 2018 turned into 2019? As I write this on January 7th, 2019, I hope you are still going strong if you did.  Unfortunately, statistics on long-term completion of these types of plans aren’t cause for much hope.  My own experience with ‘New Me’ in the New Year resolutions have helped compile the negative numbers.  Diets, exercise regimens and pronouncements to get and stay in touch with family members have all faded, usually before January becomes February.  I can readily relate to any of you who have experienced these same types of short-comings.

As I mulled over my dismal record of changing negative behaviors in my life, I recalled something the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans.  If you have read any of my stuff in the past, you may have recognized I use the New International Version in my studies.  This is my go-to translation, but that doesn’t keep me from reading others (something I highly recommend to all my Bible reading friends).

By doing this, I found what I needed to read this time in The Message, an easy to read, paraphrased version of the Bible.  The verses I read from the letter to the Romans are rendered like this in it: I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway.  My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions.  Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. (The Message; Romans 7:18-19)

This description fits me to a T! I feel a need to change something in me, whatever it is, as a new year looms.  I then start, usually with great enthusiasm and not a little hoopla, that This Time I am going to do this! I have neither learned from, or have simply forgotten my past mistakes, making success with this year’s resolutions a certainty.

As noted above, my decision to make a change for the better turns out to be flimsy.  Whatever storm of upset or disappointment comes my way knocks all the wind out of my gung-ho start.  Before long, it’s only a month (or weeks) into the new year and the old ways don’t seem so bad anymore as I slip comfortably back into them.

I know I am not alone in failing to keep New Year Resolutions.  I’m confident that as you read this, you can relate to my struggles.  It leaves the question: What to do with this information?  The first two ideas that came to me are negative ones that I don’t advise anyone to take, like maybe I just won’t try to change anything will be my new plan.  At least that way I only have to deal with the consequences of what my poor choices bring me as opposed to acknowledging another failure on top of going back to the original activity.

Second, and worse still, my warped mind has fantasized about making resolutions that will be easy to keep.  For example, this year I will gain weight.  That’s easy for me, and I have a long track record of success.  Pass the cookies and ice cream please!  Or perhaps I will resolve to continue to avoid exercise; another area of strength, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Thankfully, God’s Word is having a greater influence on my decision-making process these days than my ‘poor me, I just can’t do it’ whining is.  The verses we are considering today are truly helpful.  First, they identify our struggle; we want to do better, but we are largely unable to create these changes on our own.  They go on to explain why this is:  Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

With the understanding that something is broken inside of me that is causing my struggle(s), I’m then left with two distinct courses of action: Do nothing or do something about it.

I don’t recommend the first option.  Having tried it, nothing positive comes from it.  Lamenting that I can’t change (and adding, ‘No matter how hard I try,’ for sympathy), is really just giving up.  With this mind-set, I can rationalize to my heart’s content and wallow in self-pity until December comes again and enough guilt kicks in telling me to try, try again.  It is the perfect storm of a cycle I cannot break on my own.

Which leads to the highly recommended other option: making the change (yes singular, change) necessary to break the pattern.  It’s a simple solution, but necessarily an easy one; especially if pride prevents us from admitting our helplessness.

The answer is this: Have some humble pie; it has no calories and it will open the door of your heart and mind to receiving the perfect help that is always available.  I speak of course of our Loving God, who wants us to enjoy our relationship with Him to the fullest.  It starts by realizing He has to be the priority in this.  When you do that, many other things that have been out of alignment in your life will begin to straighten out.

As always, Jesus says it best.  In Chapter 6 of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus explains to a crowd of people that God the Father knows of all their concerns and is more than able to meet all their needs.  The Lord sums this all up by saying, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33 NIV)

God will indeed give you the desires of your heart, so long as your priorities are in proper order: God first, everything else after that! This is how many before us have learned to overcome the difficulties in their lives.  Trusting Jesus for salvation, as awesome as that is, only starts the life God has for us.  When we can humble ourselves to let Him have control over all the aspects of our lives, the need for a New Year Resolution becomes obsolete.  May we all experience this wonderful change that only God can orchestrate. Then we won’t have to swear off destructive, non-healthy behaviors, but instead ask only for more of Him in our life.  That is truly being done with the old to be filled with the new!

Thanks for reading!

Pastor Chuck