Why Is A Generation Leaving Religion?

Neal Pollard

Pew Research Center recently revealed that “Four in ten millennials (those, according to this source, currently between 23 and 38) now say they are religiously unaffiliated”(fivethirtyeight.com). The data seems to indicate that “today’s younger generations may be leaving religion for good” (ibid.). A contemporary study put out by the American Enterprise Institute reveals at least three reasons why: (1) They didn’t have strong religious ties growing up, (2) Their spouses are more likely to be nonreligious, and (3) They feel religious institutions are not relevant for shaping the morality and religion (or nonreligion) of their children. Parental example, dating choices, and biblical literacy and faith, then, are major drivers in this discussion. 

Those polled revealed their thinking. A majority felt that religious people are less tolerant of others, less informed or even intelligent than their secular counterparts, and less necessary for shaping their family’s moral viewpoints. At least, reading this one study and the authors’ interpretation, it seems that leaving church is a deliberate lifestyle choice of people who at least sometimes are encouraged out the door by poor examples of faith. 

Notice the startling closing paragraph of the article, which states,

Of course, millennials’ religious trajectory isn’t set in stone — they may yet become more religious as they age. But it’s easier to return to something familiar later in life than to try something completely new. And if millennials don’t return to religion and instead begin raising a new generation with no religious background, the gulf between religious and secular America may grow even deeper (“Millennials Are Leaving Religion And Not Coming Back,” 12/12/19, Cox, Daniel, and Amelia Thompson-DeVeaux). 

I found it important to share those findings for these reasons:

  • It is a matter of crisis. People abandoning God’s Word and will is foreboding (Judges 2:10ff; 2 Timothy 3:1ff; 4:3-4; 2 Peter 3:3ff). It is happening, and it must matter to us. It does to God. 
  • It is a matter of correction. The home can change course if it is on the broad way. Individual Christians can improve their ethics and morality in public (Ephesians 4:25ff). Soul-conscious Christians can make the most of our opportunities to share Jesus in Christlike fashion (2 Timothy 2:24-26). We must change what we can change. 
  • It is a matter of consequence. A culture does not get where ours currently is as the result of sincere devotion to Christ and His Word. Hosea 4:6 is incredibly relevant. The law of sowing and reaping is immutable, for good and bad (Galatians 6:7-8). Whatever we exalt as guide is leading us somewhere.
  • It is a matter of courage. The only way I can see for this to change is for you and me to not just believe something or hold a conviction. The early Christians didn’t confine their faith to the holy huddles of the assemblies. They stood up for Jesus every day and every way. 

Two of my three sons are millennials and the third is only a couple of years too young to qualify. This is, largely, their generation. They and their faithful Christian peers are faced with reaching them, and they need our help. Talk to them and have honest conversation about how to raise your effectiveness together in stopping and reversing this exodus. This is not about preserving a comfortable lifestyle, which is threatened by sin (Proverbs 14:34). This is about preserving souls, which will face Jesus some day (Matthew 25:31ff). 

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The Bible And The College Cheating Scandal

Neal Pollard

One of the nation’s biggest news stories last week involved a college admissions scam that included several high-profile people, including at least two Hollywood actresses. A California man, Rick Singer, spearheaded a scheme to bribe coaches and administrators at such colleges as Yale, Stanford, Georgetown, USC, and other prestigious universities. The bribes bought these privileged High School students extra time to take the SAT and ACT, make fake athletic profiles, and substitutes to take their entrance exams for them. This has proven embarrassing for both the colleges and those breaching this most basic of ethical codes (via Foxnews.com, Madeline Farber). 

Someone observed that there is a bit of irony and hypocrisy in all of this. We feel outraged at this glaring lack of honesty and ethics, but students who attend these (and other) universities have been taught for decades that there is no such thing as absolute truth and an objective standard of right and wrong. Are we surprised when people live out the consequences of such world views? Remove a measurable, immutable standard, and anything goes! It disgusts us to see such values in action, but people of influence in our society have been pushing such values for a long time. 

In addition to its answers to all of life’s crucial questions, the Bible lays down an ethical code that is universal and logical. Its rules are blind to nationality, economic status, gender, age, or any other category one falls into he or she might appeal to as an exception. In fact, those who have more have greater expectations made of them (see Luke 12:48).  The Judgment Day will be eminently impartial. No one will manipulate the results. No one can sidestep heaven’s requirements for salvation without an eternal consequence. Just because one is religious leader does not mean that they are above the law of Christ. Again, there are higher standards for those who are in positions of leadership (Jas. 3:1; Heb. 13:17; 1 Tim. 4:16; etc.). 

It’s not at all surprising that a society which rejects God’s guidelines finds itself sinking into a moral and ethical abyss (cf. Prov. 14:34). But, it does go to show that no one wants to reap the harvest from sowing the seeds of sin. However, there is no way to avoid it (Hos. 8:7; Gal. 6:7-8). Our challenge is to live lives of consistency, exemplifying the benefits of respecting and adhering to God’s standards. Jesus calls such modeling “salt” and “light”which highlights God’s existence and relevance in our world (Mat. 5:13-16). 

We cannot keep others from being cheaters and liars, but we can show them a powerful alternative!

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“Vain Jangling”

Neal Pollard

The English language has done some changing in the 400-plus years since the King James Version was made available. Within its pages, you’ll find phrases like “straitened in your own bowels” (2 Cor. 6:12), “superfluity of naughtiness” (Jas. 1:21), “bloody flux” (Acts 28:8), “filthy lucre” (Ti. 1:7), and “the thick bosses of his bucklers” (Job 15:26). There is a beauty and picturesqueness to the Elizabethan English, though. One example of this is in 1 Timothy 1:6, which warns against “vain jangling.” To me, that’s a vivid way of translating a compound Greek word translated elsewhere as “fruitless discussions” (NASB), “idle talk” (NKJV), “vain discussion” (ESV), “meaningless talk” (NIV), and “empty talk” (MEV). Have you ever heard anyone jangling keys or coins in their pockets? It’s usually a nervous tic and mindless habit, but it can loud and annoying. In the 17th Century, the word meant to “talk excessively or  noisily, squabbling” (Apple Dictionary, 2.2.2).

In context, Paul gives the culprits, the creed, the consequence, the contrast, and the cause of this “vain jangling.” The culprits are “certain men” (1:3) or “some men” (1:6). Their creed is “strange doctrines” (1:3), “myths and endless genealogies” (1:4), and this “fruitless discussion” (vain jangling). The consequences are dire, as such will “give rise to mere speculation” (1:4). The contrasts are “the administration of God which is by faith” (1:4) and “instruction (in) love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1:5). The cause is revealed in verse 7, that “they want to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.” Paul had a particular circumstance in mind, but is there an application to us today?

In 2018, there are numerous platforms and avenues to communicate. It can be easy to forget that James’ warnings about the tongue are not limited to words which are audibly heard, but whatever we speak. I need to be cautious about being a religious noisemaker, banging and clanging with reckless abandon. My words have meaning, and they hold the power of spiritual life or death within them (Prov. 18:21). Thus, great restraint, copious forethought, and thoughtful execution ought to permeate my speech, wherever it is “heard.” Otherwise, I may simply be declaring my thoughtless ignorance, both uninvited and unwelcome, and come off sounding like three dollars of pennies churning in the pocket of a champion fidgeter.

Paul speaks of Christians as “ambassadors” for Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). We must represent Him righteously and accurately. We may be the first and only megaphone through which Christ is proclaimed, so let us speak accordingly. Let’s make Him proud, for His message is “words of sober truth” (Acts 26:25), not vain jangling.

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Alternate Realities

Neal Pollard

I don’t know when I first noticed it, but I’ve noticed that it has dramatically intensified in the last few years. We might call it the “CNN-Foxnews Dissonance” where a specific event is viewed, explained, and interpreted in such different ways that the observer is left believing that it could not be just one single event but two totally different events instead. The cultural divide in our country is distinctly felt, and it is baffling that the world could be seen in such different ways by people who coexist beside each other day by day. Environment partially explains it, where we grew up, who influences us, and what we value. However, what guides our life–our authority–is perhaps the biggest influence on how we see the world. All of us base our lives upon a premise, a purpose, and a prospect (i.e., where we came from, why we’re here, and where we’re going). This belief system materially effects how we see our world.

Your worldview effects:

  • The value you place on people, especially as compared to other living things (animals, plants, etc.)
  • The value you place on human life, especially the most vulnerable ones (the pre-born, mentally challenged, chronically ill, terminal, and elderly)
  • The value you place on other people, especially compared to your own rights, feelings, etc.
  • The value you place on objective truth (whether or not you believe it exists)
  • Your stance on moral and ethical matters involving human sexuality
  • Why and how you interact with people in your various relationships (work, school, family, friends, etc.)
  • How you think, talk, and act.

It’s no wonder that people see our culture and our world so differently from each other. It’s more a matter of perception than proximity.  What erases these typically harmful dissonances is a mutual willingness to submit to the supreme authority. If we let God through His Word tell us how to see the world and if we come to it truly determined to listen to Him without prejudice and hardened hearts, we can see eye to eye on anything that has ultimate meaning and impact. What divides us from each other may be ourselves as much as the other person–our view of God, His will, and our submission to it.

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Expectation Versus Euthanasia

Neal Pollard

She was born the year after the Civil War. Her mother died when she was three. Her father dropped her and her newborn sister off at the home of the widow of an army friend. Unable to care for the girls, the widow ultimately transferred care to a sweet, religious couple in the community. The girls spent happy years through their school days, but the older sister came to suffer from rheumatoid arthritis as a teenager. It steadily grew worse until she could not walk. Their adopted parents died within months of each other, and the young women were poor and had little prospect of earning money for themselves. Before her affliction, she had developed aspirations as a concert pianist and shown great promise as a poet and writer. Arthritis robbed her on the musical dreams, but she flourished as a poet and hymn writer. Rather than seek relief from her pain through suicide, she channeled her suffering into beautiful writing that continues to comfort others as it did in her lifetime. Ravi Zacharias summarized her suffering, saying, “Her body was embarrassed by incontinence, weakened by cancer, and twisted and deformed by rheumatoid arthritis. She was incapacitated for so long that according to one eyewitness she needed seven or eight pillows around her body just to cushion the raw sores she suffered from being bedridden” (“The Cry For A Reason In Suffering,” np; other information from The Story of Annie Johnson Flint, Rowland Bingham). Her poetry and songs are not riddled with bitterness or even soul-wrenching questions of why. You’ll find titles like “The Grace Of God,” “Not Down, But Through,” “Rest, Tired Heart,” “Grace Sufficient,” “He Giveth More Grace,” “He’s Helping Me Now,” and on the hopeful, positive compositions flow.

We have only one of her hymns in our song book, and it is entitled, “The World’s Bible.” These familiar words include the lines, “Christ has no hands but our hands to do His work today, He has no feet but our feet to lead men in the way….” I appreciate the living testimony Ms. Flint was of the way one who believes in Christ ought to respond to the tragedies and difficulties that can strike in this fallen world. I pray that I will never be wracked by such suffering, but if I do I would want the world to see the spirit in me that so many saw in her. Her life was one of trust in God’s sufficiency and strength through the darkest moments of life.

Our state (Colorado) was one of a few that has passed physician-assisted, right to die legislation in the recent election cycle. Besides the ethical slippery slope of people, even doctors and patients, selecting when to end life, there is in such an effort a failure to see the intrinsic value of life as well as God’s sovereign right over His creation. Ms. Flint’s situation makes us cringe in discomfort at first blush, but we see the refined beauty of a trusting heart to impart profound comfort despite life’s harshest turns. To persecuted Christians, Peter offers this hope for all strugglers when he writes, “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you” (1 Pet. 5:10; cf. 1 Pet. 1:6-7). Whatever the trial, we can choose life instead of death, trust in God rather than trust in our own thoughts. Let us live in triumphant expectation, no matter what we may have to endure for the moment (Rom. 8:38-39; Psa. 30:5).

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CHECK THOSE LOTTERY NUMBERS CLOSELY!

Neal Pollard

Today, we are finding out that three winning lottery tickets were sold in the record-setting Powerball jackpot, one in California, one in Florida, and one in Tennessee. Each ticket is worth $528.8 million dollars. That’s an attention-getting number.  Here are a few more.  $70.1 billion dollars, the amount Americans spend on lottery tickets every year (more than Americans spend on sports tickets, books, video games, movies, and music combined). $755. That’s the average per-capita spend on lottery tickets in South Dakota. $800. That’s the per-capita spend in Rhode Island, who holds the ignominious distinction of leading the nation in this category. $230. That’s the per-capita average spend of every man, woman, and child in the 43 states where the lottery is played. One-third and one-half.  The poorest third of households buy half of all lottery tickets (statistics via theatlantic.com, Derek Thompson, “Lotteries: America’s $70 Billion Shame”).

Newscasters often report on these jackpots and encourage viewers to “check the numbers.” Lottery commercials often vie with beer commercials as some of the more humorous, clever ones to be seen. In the media and public venues, lottery ticket purchasing is usually portrayed as a harmless, even exciting, diversion. Perhaps many have failed to look more closely at what these other numbers mean for a person’s ethics and morality.

John A. Hobson, in the January 1905 edition of International Journal of Ethics, examined “The Ethics Of Gambling.” In an examination of gambling, including lottery contests, Hobson observes:

Gambling involves the denial of all system in the appointment
of property: it plunges the mind in a world of anarchy where
things come upon one, and pass from one miraculously. It does
not so manifestly sin against the canons of justice as do other
bad modes of transfer, theft, fraud, sweating (sic.), for every one
is said to have an equal chance; but it inflicts a graver damage
on the intellect. Based as it is on an organised rejection of all
reason as a factor, it removes its devotees into a positive atmosphere
of miracles, and generates an emotional excitement that inhibits
those checks which reason more or less contrives to place upon
emotional extravagances. The essence of gambling consists in
an abandonment of reason, an inhibition of the factors of human
control (Vol. 15, No. 2, 138).

Hobson was looking at the underlying psyche of those so eager to gain as much as possible while exerting as little effort as possible. But he decries more than laziness. He puts his finger on the most dangerous aspect of things like playing the lottery—the Bible calls it “covetousness.” It is an irrational, often compulsive, attempt to obtain wealth.

The BDAG lexicon defines the covetous person as “one who desires to have more than is due, a greedy person, whose ways are judged to be extremely sinful by Christians and many others. In Hellenic society this was a violation of the basic principle of proportion and contrary to the idea of beneficent concern for the citizenry” (Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker, and Walter Bauer. A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature 2000 : n. pag. Print.). Greed is not confined to practices like playing the lottery, but it is legitimate for one to ask what motivates their play?

What is clear is what Scripture says about covetousness: it prevents one’s inheriting the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:10), it is idolatry which again prevents inheriting this kingdom (Eph. 5:5), it is a failure to love one’s neighbor (Rom. 13:9), and it is a defilement of the heart (Mark 7:22). Let’s make sure that greed and covetousness do not “have our number.”

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FAITH IN PEOPLE

Neal Pollard

There are some people with “trust issues.”  They are stuck in a negative frame of mind, believing the worst in others with little expectation that they will improve.  They may even castigate anyone who would encourage you to put faith in people.  Certainly, our greatest faith must always be in God.  He never fails, forsakes, or leaves us (Heb. 13:5-6), but people invariably do those things.  We cannot put more faith in people than God, listening to and following them when they contradict His will. That’s a false, wrong extreme, but so also is a cynicism that fundamentally, inherently distrusts people to do the right thing.  This does not mean that there are people in our lives who do not struggle with sin because we all do (Rom. 3:23).

Let me encourage you to have faith in God’s people. Why?

  • Jesus did.  He selected twelve men, salty fishermen, shady tax collectors, strident nationalists, and selfish materialists.  While the latter let Him down, the other eleven grew and accomplished much.  Jesus entrusted His mission to them (Mat. 28:18-20), having faith that they would accomplish it.  But, Jesus also had faith in others—the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, Zaccheus, Bartimaeus, Nicodemus, and so many others.  Some He put faith in failed Him and even left Him, but that did not ever stop Him from investing that faith in others.  Do you remember what He said to Peter after He had failed? “I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32; emph. mine).  That was faith in Peter!
  • It empowers others.  When somebody expresses faith in your ability to accomplish something, how do you respond?  When you are given responsibility with the explicit or tacit understanding that the giver believes in you, don’t you give it your all to live up to that trust?  2 Timothy 2:2 seems to imply this reaction is a natural consequence of being entrusted with something.
  • People live up (or down) to our expectations.  Have you ever had someone in your life who handled you this way:  “You’re no good!”; “You’ll never amount to anything!”; “You’re hopeless!”?  Maybe they don’t say it, but they convey it.  Preachers and teachers communicate the word through such a pessimistic prism. Leaders convey it in ways both spoken and unspoken.  Love “believes all things, hopes all things” (1 Cor. 13:7).
  • It brightens life.  Would you like to maintain a PMA (possible mental attitude)?  Never lose the ability to believe in others!  A glass half full approach is necessary to retaining an optimistic, hopeful way of life. I’m not saying to be delusional, but you can improve your own quality of life with a fundamental belief that most people, when they know what’s right, want to do what’s right.
  • It is biblical.   Paul had confidence in Philemon’s obedience (Phile. 1:21). He had confidence that Corinth would do the right thing (2 Cor. 2:3). He had confidence in Galatia’s doctrinal resilience (Gal. 5:10). He had confidence in Thessalonica’s continued faithfulness (2 Th. 3:4).  What an example, and oh how we should imitate him in this!

Teresa of Calcutta is often associated with certain verses found on the wall of her children’s home, even credited for authoring it. Kent Keith is the likely author.  In the composition, “Do It Anyway” (aka “The Paradoxical Commandments”), he notes that people will criticize and be petty.  He encourages doing good, loving, and serving anyway.  You can choose how you will spend your life, expecting the best or worst of others. May I urge you to have the most faith in God, but leave room for faith in people—especially God’s people! You will not regret it.

Why Don’t YOU “Stop The Violence”?

Neal Pollard

To borrow the words of our own Mike Bennett, “Excuse me?”  An AP story published this morning is so thick with irony it is palpable!  Two people were arrested and put in jail on Tuesday in Washington, Pennsylvania.  They were two community organizers “with a local Stop the Violence group” and they “severely beat a former roommate with whom they had a property dispute” (via FoxNews.com).  They “allegedly jumped the man as he was walking down the street on Tuesday. Police say the defendants kicked the victim as he was unconscious…” causing injuries too gruesome for me to describe here.  The female defendant “was still wearing the same ‘Stop the Violence’ T-shirt that she had on the night before when she led a march in the city protesting two recent shootings” (ibid.).  “The victim remains in critical condition” (ibid.).

Could there be a clearer example of hypocrisy from the world?  We have seen or heard of the environmentalist driving the gas-guzzling SUV and the televangelist having an adulterous affair, but the peace protestor beating up somebody?  That’s very unattractive!

It is also a reminder to us as Christians about practicing “true religion…unstained by the world” (Jas. 1:27).  Not only are we ineffective, we are counterproductive when we claim to wear the name of Christ and then defame it by our words and deeds.  What about mouths praising God in worship on Sunday profaning man at work on Monday?  What about hands shaking hands or embracing fellow Christians one day then typing in ungodly websites or texting someone not our spouse in sexually suggestive ways the next?  What about words of kindness to each other when we meet followed up by slandering speech about each other or those in the world when we are away from the assemblies?

The Bible warns against hypocrisy, saying “beware of it” (Luke 12:1), “let love be without it” (Rom. 12:9), “don’t be carried away by it” (Gal. 2:13), “eliminate it” (Jas. 3:17), and “put it aside” (1 Pet. 2:1).  It’s easy to see why.  Few things are more repelling and disgusting than to witness hypocrisy.  Let us consider that as we conduct our own lives before the watchful eyes of the world!

A Head Transplant?!

Neal Pollard

An Italian Neuroscientist, Sergio Canavero, announced this week that human head transplants are now possible!  I will spare you the gory details except to say it could happen within two years and should involve, in his opinion, someone who has a fully-functioning brain but who suffers from a severe bodily malady like progressive muscular dystrophies or genetic and metabolic disorders (“The Independent,” via Times Of India, 7/3/13).

We could debate the ethics of this, ponder whether Italian neuroscientists just have too much time on their hands, or discuss how realistic the possibility of this is.  We might also ask whether or not we should do something just because we have figured out how.  While the news out of Italy may seem like science fiction, there is a spiritual need for us to change our “head.”

Too many are riddled with guilt and beset by negative thinking and pessimism.  Christians ought not be fatalists.  That is a worldly point of view.  We have hope (Rom. 5:2) as well as the power of God (cf. Eph. 1:19) to help us cope.

Too many are consumed with lust and fleshly desires.  Christians should not be enslaved to such passions.  This is deadly and destructive.  God can help us, as we will it, to have a clean heart and new spirit within us (Ps. 51:10).

Too many are weighted down with jealousy and envy.  They cannot trust, even when they have no reason to suspect and distrust.  God can help us cope with these feelings and whatever drives them (cf. Gal. 5:24-26).

Too many are eaten up with anger, hatred, and bitterness.  The reverses of life, both real and imagined, can ruin our character.  We can feed our grudges until they become a gargantuan monster that turns on us and devours us.  God can help us cultivate a forgiving mind, letting go of resentment and allowing Him to transform us (Eph. 4:31-32).

You get the idea.  In our own individual ways, we are all “head cases.”  We have spiritual struggles in our hearts and minds, things that need changed into the image of Christ. Thank God that He is the Great Physician who has been successfully doing His superior kind of “head transplants” since the beginning of time!

“Thou Shalt Not Steal”

Neal Pollard

 

It is such a problem that there are companies who specialize in creating systems to monitor, prevent, and thereby punish it.  Statistics and estimates abound concerning the massive problem it is, not only in this nation but in businesses and corporations across the globe.  It goes by the name “time theft,” a term used to describe employees who steal time from their employers.  This can happen through a variety of ways:

  • Showing up late and/or leaving early.
  • Slowing down the work pace to get to overtime pay scales
  • Using company time to conduct another business
  • Using company time to conduct personal business (bill paying, checkbook reconciling, and other such activity that is not “made up”)
  • Excessive use of social media (Facebook, Twitter, web surfing, fantasy sports leagues, online games and quizzes, etc.)
  • Excessive personal phone time (whether voice or texting)
  • Taking long lunch hours and breaks
  • Daydreaming, excessive socializing with other employees, and even sleeping on the job.

No doubt, other items could be added to this list.  Acroprint of Raleigh, North Carolina, goes so far to say that such “occurs in every organization with a payroll.”  They also cite “a leading authority on employment issues” that asserts “the average employee ‘steals’ approximately 54 minutes per day, or 4.5 hours per week, from his/her employer”

(www.acroprint.com)!

Certainly, everyone of us has been guilty of that from time to time.  But, as Christians, we should be averse to making such the pattern and habit of our work ethic.  The Bible, in both testaments, warns against stealing.  Paul warned, “He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need” (Eph. 4:28). He also said, “We have regard for what is honorable, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men” (2 Cor. 8:21).

As Christians, we should work hard to avoid stealing anything, including time, from our employers.  We should also realize that all sin is ultimately against God.  None of us will do this perfectly, but may we make the proper use of our time so that our pay is earned rather than stolen!