There is a lot happening in the world out there. And it's all good, or all bad, depending on your point of view. We know that the American economy is in bad shape. The recession/depression is expected to last until the end of 2009/2010/2011... Some think the economy will come back stronger, as it did after World War II. Some think America is going to drift into becoming an underdeveloped, powerless nation.
Some are predicting a cataclysmic event that will bring God's judgement on us. Others are foreseeing the collapse of evangelicalism within this generation. All the while the number of folks who identify themselves as Christian is decreasing and the number who identify with no religion is on the rise. Some say that America is heading down the same path that Europe has travelled.
Is our glass half empty? Is it half full? Or should we wonder who the heck has been drinking out of our glass? As a follower of Jesus, the Lord of lords and the King of kings, I believe that in the midst of all that is going on around me I can be confident in the goodness of my Father and his care for me. This doesn't mean that I just throw caution to the wind and continue to live as if the economy was humming along smoothly and there was no evil in the world. It just means that I know who is in charge and trust the Father to do what is right.
I also see a great opportunity for the Church to be the church. For so long the message of Jesus has been obscured by those who have attached it to realizing the American Dream, or by those who have made it a question of morality and being a "good" person. It has been reduced to a formula where a prayer is prayed and a set of propositions is assented to. Now, as more and more people reject the "gospel" of the modern church, the spiritual landscape seems to be moving toward what it was in the first century.
As the economy continues to slide, the church has an opportunity to show the love of God to those who are impacted by job loss, home foreclosures, etc. It's possible that churches will be more concerned about the hurting in their midst than the next building program. That concern may even spill over into the surrounding community. Some churches may be forced out of their facilities by the economic problems in their area. What would it look like if churches had more to give to the needy around them since there was no need to spend on upkeep of buildings?
As the American Dream fades, those who have attached themselves to Christianity for the sake of material prosperity will drop off, leaving those who are more committed followers of Christ. As this happens, those who are left can be discipled and taught what it really means to follow Jesus. As the number of Christians shrinks (possibly to a minority, as it has in Europe) there will be a more stark difference between believers and the rest of society. The hostility to the church from those in power may continue to grow, and it may actually become somewhat dangerous to proclaim allegiance to Christ above all else. It has happened and is happening around the world. What makes us think we are exempt?
While it may look like a grim future, remember what the church in the first century faced. They had no political, economic, or social power. They were seen as atheists and were considered enemies of the state. They were driven from their homes, imprisoned, beaten, and killed.
Yet, they turned the world upside down.
Now, is the glass half empty or half full?
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