Stan May

... from the Pastor

THE DISTRESSING TREND AFFECTING CHURCHES TODAY

Church attendance is declining in US culture, and this tendency affects churches of every denomination. This decline is all the more distressing because the issue is not people dropping out of church but rather members attending less frequently. Thom Rainer explained: 

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The number one reason for the decline in church attendance is that members attend with less frequency than they did just a few years ago. Allow me to explain. If the frequency of attendance changes, then attendance will respond accordingly. For example, if 200 members attend every week the average attendance is, obviously, 200. But if one-half of those members miss only one out of four weeks, the attendance drops to 175.(1)

This distressing trend impacts all facets of church negatively, but the true losers are the members who skip. What do these members lose?

1. They lose the joy of regular corporate worship. Paul insists that only when the saints gather together do they truly understand the love of Christ: “that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be able to be filled with all the fulness of God” (Eph. 3:17b-19, NKJV). Regular corporate worship nourishes the soul and strengthens the heart in the daily walk with God. We need corporate worship; such worship supplies a facet of knowing God that personal intimacy alone cannot provide.

2. They lose the accountability of brothers and sisters. The body provides accountability that prevents all of us from becoming “Lone Ranger” Christians. The New Testament records over 50 “one another” commands; these cannot be practiced in a vacuum. The book of Proverbs warns, “A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; he rages against all wise judgment” (Prov. 18:1). Brothers and sisters hold me accountable, pray for me in my weakness, bless me by their strengths, and find support from me as I exercise my gifts toward them and in the body. The absent church member does not know who’s hurting and cannot share either hurts or joys. The body loses.

3. They lose the regular diet of hearing the Word preached. Nothing discourages a pastor more than preparing and preaching a message from the Word anointed by the Spirit to empty pews. Adding insult to this injury, sometimes members who missed the service will come the very next week with a “problem” that the sermon they missed answered. God’s Word is the true antidote to discouragement, temptation, and fear (among a host of other battles). When believers forfeit their opportunity to hear the Word of God, they invite for themselves battles that they are ill-equipped to fight. Regular, private reading of the Word is critical for daily growth, but God exalts the preaching of the Word among the people of God as essential for spiritual health and growth (2 Tim. 4:1-5).

4. They teach their children what they value. The main reason children drop out of church is not the lack of apologetics or doctrinal training they receive; rather, children abandon church because their parents teach them—by their lives—that it’s not important. Ministry Best Practices lists reasons why kids abandon the faith, and offers this gem as reason 4: “Their parents are hypocrites and come across as ‘softly-committed-but-seemingly-good- church-folks’ for many years. The kids see that there is no real joy, no real integrity to their parents’ faith, so they either a) reject the church and never come to faith, or b) they ditch the church for a while and journey out to find a more authentic expression of their faith.”(2) Either parents neglect the house of God, or they invalidate during the week by their lives what they profess on Sunday; both of these failures train their children that Jesus is just not that important. Some parents even let their children decide if they will go to church. On no other subject do parents give their children a say in the habits of life—not school, not eating, not even brushing teeth—yet parents give to children the decision over church attendance. This action alone reinforces to children that parents don’t consider it in any way essential.

5. They lose the reward of regular service to others in the body. One of God’s promises to His people is the possibility of future reward; reward is based on using what you have for the glory of God. Every time the body assembles, opportunities exist for believers to use their gifts, talents, time, and finances to bless and help others. When believers attend one or two services in the month, they forsake those opportunities, robbing others of needed blessings and robbing themselves of future reward. Infrequent attenders lose the impact their presence, service, and encouragement offer to others in the body.

6. They lose the effectiveness of gifts exercised and resources employed in the kingdom. Churches are kingdom entities; every church is an outpost for the kingdom of God, displaying His glory and ministering in His name. When believers fail to attend, they diminish their kingdom impact; their witness to the lost may be neutralized, and their gifts and resources may be shelved. One of Jesus’ warnings comes to the servant who buries the talent entrusted to him rather than using it in the public forum. How many believers miss the privilege of investing in the lives of others for the King’s sake because they won’t make the time to be with God’s people regularly?

Declining attendance at its heart is a spiritual problem of kingdom priorities. This article is a plea to every believer to invest fully in the kingdom of God through his or her local church. In a day of busyness in lesser things and apathy over the main thing, God’s people ought to lead the way to set their priority and first love on God and His people—the local church where He has placed them to use their gifts, build up others, serve the body, and worship Him in spirit and in truth.


1 Thom Rainer, “The Number One Reason for the Decline in Church Attendance and Five Ways to Address It,” The Christian Post, August 23, 2013, https://www.christianpost.com/news/the- number-one-reason-for-the-decline-in-church-attendance-and-five-ways-to-address- it-102882/ (accessed October 25, 2017).

2 “Why Do Kids Leave the Church?” Ministry Best Practices, http://www.ministrybestpractices.com/2012/08/why-do-kids-leave-church.html (accessed October 25, 2017), emphasis in original. 

...from the pastor

MY FAVORITE MARRIAGE COUNSELING VERSE

Sitting next to a pastor frightens some people. Last week I was flying to Richmond to teach missionaries, and I ended up sitting by a young woman. Eventually we talked, and she found out that I was a pastor. “Do you mind if I ask you a question?” She asked. “I’ve always wanted to ask a pastor; what do you think of interfaith marriage?” I told her my favorite verse for marriage counseling, and I asked her what that meant.  She admitted that, based on that verse, she could see that it would be problematic. 

My favorite verse for counseling couples about to be married, for counseling married couples, and for counseling people in marital issues, is found in Amos 3:3. The prophet writes, “Can two walk together, unless they are agreed?” The prophet is speaking about walking with God, and the clear answer is, “No.” Agreement with God is the foundational premise for a relationship with Him. He is right, and we must conform to His Word; when the Bible says, “Enoch walked with God,” it pictures a relationship of mutuality as Enoch listened to and heeded God.

Amos’s words speak volumes to marital relationships as well. Some assume that the heart of biblical teaching is submission and authority, but this is not the heart of marriage. Marriage at its heart is two people who have agreed to walk with God together; no marriage will work unless two people agree on the road they will travel and they way that they will journey on that road.

In light of this verse, it is no wonder that God commands believers not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers. They will pull in different directions, and the yoke will only create conflict. If one spouse is committed to going to heaven and the other spouse refuses to follow Christ, they will ultimately travel to two diametrically opposed destinations. The journey they take will only produce heartbreak and alienation unless one or the other renounces their path. The majority of such cases reveal that the unbeliever generally drags the believer down. 

Real marriage works best when two believers are yoked together in Christ to travel the same road of life—they commit to follow Christ as Lord and to serve Him together. They commit to rear their children in His ways, to serve together in a local church where their lives can reflect His love and their gifts can be exercised for His glory, and to seek Him together in prayer and the Word. They may occasionally disagree; then they employ biblical counsel to resolve that disagreement. The heart of marriage is joyful agreement with one another and God; such marriages fill life’s journey with joy and end well.

... from the Pastor

THE PATH OF REBELLION

2 Sam. 15:1-12

          Perhaps one of the saddest stories in the Bible is the story of Absalom. This young man literally “had it all.” He was handsome, wealthy, and powerful, and in line to become the next king. He could not wait on God, however, and tried to get what he thought God wanted his way. He rebelled against God and his father David. What does a young person in rebellion look like? Here are seven indicators of the path of rebellion in the life of a person.

 

A Rebellious Person will spend others’ wealth to promote himself (15:1). Absalom spent his father’s money to hire men to run before his chariot (something David never did). He had an attitude of entitlement that shouted, “I deserve it.” He also had an attitude of superiority that asserted, “I’m better than others.” These attitudes reinforced his rebellious heart and pushed him to spend money to “win friends and influence people”—money that was not his. Many today (in government and elsewhere) use other people’s money to win people, but that attitude only masks a heart of rebellion.

 

A Rebellious Person will criticize authorities to others to make his cause appear right (15:3-5). Absalom was happy to put himself in between his father and the people as a way to criticize his father and steal their affection. He listened to the grievances of others (15:2), and instead of honoring his father, he legitimized their gripes and presented himself as their champion. The Bible records that Absalom “stole the hearts” of the men of Israel; they weren’t his to take, but in his rebellion he won the hearts of others by a criticizing his dad behind his back while loving him to his face (2 Sam. 14:33).

 

A Rebellious Person will use a trusted position to win others to his side (15:6). Absalom’s role as one of David’s “chief ministers” (2 Sam. 8:18) gave him insight into kingdom workings and an entrance into the lives of others. While they may have come “to the king” for resolution, Absalom’s trusted position allowed him to insert himself between them and the king to win their loyalty and sow seeds of distrust toward his dad.

 

A Rebellious Person will lie about spiritual things to give his parents false assurance (15:7-8). Absalom lied about two spiritual things to gain his father’s trust: he lied about false vows that he had made, and he lied about coming back to “serve the LORD.” When I was in rebellion against my parents, I often used “church” things to deceive them and indulge evil habits and plans.

 

A Rebellious Person will sneak around to fulfill his desires (15:9-10). Absalom’s spies sent throughout the tribes reveal a heart of deception and rebellion; honest people don’t have to “sneak” around and use “spies.” Absalom’s rebellious heart caused him to engage in deceit on a grand scale.

 

A Rebellious Person will use others who are not involved to further his agenda (15:11). Absalom took 200 men from Jerusalem who went along “innocently” and didn’t know what was happening, but they made his rebellion look even more serious than it was. Rebels seek to involve others to justify their sin and promote their cause.

 

A Rebellious Person will cloak his sin in religious terms to justify his actions (15:12). “God told me to do it” is the motto of the rebellious; Absalom employs his father’s trusted counselor in his scheme, and Ahithophel, with an axe to grind because his granddaughter’s marriage was destroyed by David, gladly joins him. One truth played out again and again in Scripture is that evil men will always find counselors to approve of sin. There will always be someone—even a “religious leader”—who will help rebels justify their rebellion and cloak it religious terms.

 

A Rebellious Person will eventually pay the price for rebellion (2 Sam. 18:15). The price of rebellion is incredibly high. Absalom lost his kingdom, his wealth, his respect, and eventually his life. Rebellion ate away everything valuable. His example reminds every person of rebellion’s consequences (1 Sam. 15:22-23). God deals harshly with rebellion, but loves the repentant heart. Absalom would have had the kingdom had he only waited; rebellion cost it all. 

 

... from the pastor

Leadership Lessons from a Rejected Ruler

One of the great values of reading through the Bible every year is the insight God gives over time. Each year new light shines on the pages of the Word, and each year God exposes some truth—there all along—that He holds in hand for the one who “listens daily to [Him], watching daily at [His] gates, waiting at the posts of [His] doors” (Prov. 8H34). Saulʼs life offers lessons on leadership for those who learn by example and precept.

Saul had the honor of reigning as the first king of the united monarchy in Israel. He began well; he was humble, he was obedient, he was respectful of God and His prophet. He was the peopleʼs choice for king—tall, handsome, and wealthy (1 Sam. 9H2; 10H23). His life spiraled downward, however, in an ever-increasing trajectory of failure, sin, and blame that cost him his kingdom, his sons, and ultimately his life. Saulʼs legacy offers powerful lessons for those interested in leadership; sadly, they all are written in a minor key and all teach what not to do.

  1. 1  Saul started humbly, but eventually he began to believe his own press. He refused to wait on Samuel to offer sacrifices as God had commanded, and in his impatience offered the burnt offering for the battle. Samuel arrived immediately after he finished, rebuked him for his folly (1 Sam. 13H13), and told him that his kingdom would not continue, for Saul was not a man after Godʼs own heart (13H14). God honors the man who waits on Him rather than promoting himself.

  2. 2  Saul spoke foolishly in a public oath that hurt his people and endangered the life of his son. When Jonathan started a rout of the Philistines, Saul put the entire army under the threat of a curse, “Cursed is the man who eats any food until evening, before I have taken vengeance on my enemies” (1 Sam. 14H24). Both the curse itself and the emphasis in it     (“. . . I . . . my”) show a self-focus not befitting a monarch serving the living God. Had not the people intervened, it would have cost him the life of his son Jonathan (14H45). God honors the man who guards his words because he cares more about Godʼs honor than his own publicity.

  3. 3  Saul worried more about what men thought about him than what God told him to do. Samuel sent him to slay the Amalekites for attacking Israel when they came out of Egypt (15H2); he was to take neither prisoners nor prizes. He did not obey the Lord fully; instead, he blamed the people (15H21) for his failure to do what he knew God had commanded. His incomplete repentance further compounded his attitude; he only wanted to worship with Samuel so that he would be honored before men (15H30). No wonder Solomon later wrote, “The fear of man brings a snare” (Prov. 29H25). God honors the man who fears Him more than men and takes responsibility for his own sin.

  4. 4  Saul lost courage when he needed it most; Goliathʼs size—someone finally taller than Saul —showed up his cowardice as well as his lack of faith. His willingness to send a “youth” (1 Sam. 17H33) to fight a giant speaks volumes. Since God commands His leaders to be courageous (Deut. 31H6; Joshua 1H6, 7, 9), a failure in courage is a sin. God honors the man who chooses the courageous path even though he is trembling.

  5. 5  Saul let the green-eyed monster of jealousy devour his heart. Instead of rejoicing when David wrought victory for Israel, Saul demoted and finally chased away his best warrior at a time when Israel most needed strong-hearted soldiers for the battle. He whined over the singing of songs about David (1 Sam. 18H8), sought to kill him outright with a spear, and sent his soldiers to kill him at home. Each scheme failed, but Saulʼs preoccupation with David gave his enemies strongholds in the land (1 Sam. 23H1, 27; 28H1). God honors the man who rejoices when his companions succeed because he is busy building Godʼs kingdom and not his own.

  6. 6  Saul attacked and killed the servants of the Lord because they helped his “enemy” (1 Sam. 22). Saul had been reduced to appealing to pity (“there is not one of you who feels sorry for me”—22H8) from his soldiers in order to seek out David; when he found out where he had been, he killed the LORDʼs priests (22H18). Saulʼs jealousy had so corroded his heart and seared his conscience that he had no compunction to condemn, attack, and destroy God-called men and their families. God honors the man who honors His servants. He ascribed his own evil motives to the priestʼs innocent assistance, and brushed aside the priestʼs protestations of Davidʼs loyalty.

  7. 7  Saul confessed his folly only once, but once was enough; God provided David with a situation where Saul was exposed and David had opportunity, but David refrained from killing Saul (“Who can stretch out his hand against the LORDʼs anointed, and be guiltless?”—26H9). When Saul responded to Davidʼs kindness, he confessed, “I have played the fool” (26H21). He never said it again, but out it came, defining his reign and exposing his heart. God honors the man who so lives in the fear of the LORD that, though he does foolish things, does not end as a fool.

  8. 8  Saul sought the counsel of the world instead of God. Like men today who listen to lawyers, accountants, and stockbrokers rather than the Word of God, Saul turned to a medium to conduct a séance (28H8). Godʼs rebuke from this experience so unnerved him that he gave up; he went into battle without Godʼs protection or His leadership, and so brought defeat on his kingdom. God honors the man who treasures more the Word of God than all the counsel of man.

  9. 9  Saulʼs death testified to his failure; he died alone and abused, after the deaths of his sons and all his soldiers in one day (31H6). He deserted God to chase a loyal servant, so God deserted him. He was even killed by the very Philistines whom David had been defeating. Saulʼs rebellion cost him more than he had ever dreamed. His kingdom lasted only one generation; his reputation was tarnished forever by his sin; his only true mourner was the man whom he had pursued unjustly; and, his name became a synonym for poor leadership. God honors the man who may live in obscurity but obeys Him. As Adrian Rogers said time and again, “The faith that falters at the finish was faulty from the first.”

  10. 10  Saulʼs failure may be traced to his lack of Bible literacy. Saul failed at the outset because he did not listen to the Word of God with its clear instruction for kings. Had Saul bothered to read and copy the Book of the Law as God commanded kings to do through Moses (Deut. 17H18), he would have seen in both Exodus and Deuteronomy that God had sworn to have war forever with Amalek and that one day He would call upon His people to “blot out Amalek from remembrance on the earth” (Deut. 25H19). Further he would have also learned the behavior of kings and honored God rather than ending in disgrace. God honors the man who lives in His Word daily.

Learn the lessons Saul teaches, or perhaps become one who repeats them.