Give the Greatest Gift this Christmas!

Perhaps the greatest gift born again Christians can give at Christmas is to share the same Good News the shepherds did so many centuries ago.

But few Christians are sharing the Gospel, according to a new survey from the American Culture & Faith Institute (ACFI), and it may be having a negative impact on the number of born again believers as a whole—a trend that is concerning to the American Pastors Network.

The research uncovered two alarming facts. First, just one out of every five adults (21 percent) “strongly affirms a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs with people who hold different beliefs than they do.” And second, the proportion of adults who meet the born again criterion has been on a downward trajectory since 2010.

“At a time when Christians should be sharing the Gospel more than ever before, this study is not only discouraging, but the findings also have grave consequences for our culture,” said APN President Sam Rohrer. “Indeed, this is also distressing information for the church, and pastors must take up the charge to reverse these trends in our society by committing to preach the whole counsel of God and remain entrenched in the Word.

“If we believe that Christ can transform lives, bring peace in a storm, replace hate with love, and even reconcile the relationship with our enemies, shouldn’t we now more than ever share this Good News?” Rohrer asked. “If we don’t, no one else will.”

ACFI also reported that for the 15-year period from 1991 through 2005, an average of 40 percent of the adult population qualified as born again. That average rose slightly, to 44 percent, during the five years from 2006 to 2010. Since that time, however, the mean has plummeted to just 36 percent, with 2017 producing the lowest proportion of born again adults since well-known social science researcher George Barna began tracking the trends in 1991. The 2017 average indicates that just 31 percent of adults are born again, he wrote.

“This research also tells us that the outlook is not positive for the numbers of born again Christians to grow,” Rohrer added. “Older Americans are more likely to be born again, with the younger population consisting of much smaller numbers of born again Christians. Likewise, these millennial- and Generation X-aged parents will be raising children who will know less and less about confessing their sins to Jesus, asking Christ for forgiveness and looking forward to eternity with the Savior.”

Rohrer added that one way born again Christians can help spread the Gospel this Christmas season is to simply invite another person to a Christmas church service. A 2015 LifeWay Research survey found that six out of 10 Americans typically attend church at Christmastime. Among those who don’t attend at Christmas, a majority (57 percent) say they would likely attend—if someone they knew invited them.

For the research, Barna developed and continues to use a measure for “born again” that evaluates if a person has confessed their personal sin, asked Jesus Christ to save them, and believes they will live eternally in Heaven only because of His grace toward them. Read the full ACFI study here.

A National Dilemma: From Prestige to the Basements of Banishment

The headline for this past year could be “Guilty”—whether declared by court or by accusation. The worlds of government, business, media, entertainment and even the pulpit are not immune from the current casting of societal leaders from the pinnacles of prestige to the basements of banishment. This firestorm produces gusts of justice against those who are guilty, but also destructive winds of injustice for those falsely accused for personal gain. So, what do the guilty do? What do the innocent do? What does society do in response?

From where did this sudden societal outrage come? What is the motivation to expose certain unacceptable behaviors? What is considered acceptable behavior in our society today, and what will “proper behavior” be in years to come? Who decides?

We would like to believe that our nation is experiencing a genuine return to decency; but that assumption is false because the acknowledgement of God is nowhere in the public debate. His moral standards of good and evil found in the Bible are conspicuously absent from the national outrage.

There are two major competing supernatural forces that must be understood through spiritual insight found in the pages of Scripture. The primary force at work is God’s judgment on individuals, as well as on our nation at large. We are witnessing the truth of the biblical principles that “no sin is hidden that will not be made known” and “you will reap what you sow.”

God is calling attention to our sins as individuals and as a nation. Are we listening? This raging fire of accusation, mistrust and skepticism is consuming the soul of our society, which was built on trust, duty and integrity. If we humbly respond with repentance, it can be a cleansing fire of healing and restoration. However, if we ignore God’s warnings, the fire will destroy.

The competing force at work is the devil himself, who attacks all that is good. Aided by hypocritical enemies of truth and fanned by the reach of modern communications, the devil’s fire encourages denial or self-defense rather than repentance.

How does God want us to individually respond to the scandals all around us? Each of us must realize that we are guilty of ‘scandal’ in God’s eyes because we are sinners. How can we choose to be free from the bondage that sin holds on us? We must acknowledge that because God is our Creator and Judge, only He can define what is holy or evil. We need to realize that our own sin prevents us from entering into His presence. We need Jesus Christ to mediate for us through the ransom that He paid when He took the punishment for our sin on the cross. After our repentance of sin and our acceptance of Christ’s gift of salvation for us, God will transform our life from scandalous to sanctified.

Our other choice is to reject God by defying His right to determine what is right and wrong. If instead, we choose our own “god”—our self, government or some other ideology, then there is no hope of healing or transformation in our life.

How does God want us as a nation to respond to the sin that pervades every corner of society? We must reinstate Him as the Judge of all mankind. His laws must dictate what is right and wrong—rather than man-made rulings. God’s moral code—the Ten Commandments—should be the foundation of our national statutes. His sacred value of life must replace the humanistic value of life based on personal inconvenience of pregnancy, disabilities or old age.

We must again respect the honor that God gives to human sexuality. We must accept who He has made us to be—male or female. We must enjoy the pleasures of a sexual relationship within the bounds of marriage that God has established.

Our dependence on Him must be acknowledged through prayer in public as well as in private.

The swirling chaos of the cultural tempest should be no wonder. Many think that man has no purpose, has evolved with no soul and is answerable to no higher authority than one’s own mind. Without a God-given purpose, many pursue their own lusts and fleeting gratifications. Believing they are their own god, they believe they are the sole determiner of their actions. All of life becomes relative to their personal whims. Our lives are transformed when we understand that we not only answer to God, but we are put on Earth to honor Him in what we say and do!

We as a nation can no longer look to government or education to fix America’s destiny. We cannot depend on prosperity, economic growth or the ever-elusive goals of success to satisfy our needs. Even religion does not hold the key to transformation.

Only the mirror of God’s Word can reveal who we really are. Only the Bible reveals the attributes of the One True God, who both shows us our sin and offers forgiveness for it. Only in His Holy Scriptures do we find His promise of redemption, and of a transformed life!

America can only be transformed by conforming to God’s standard of right and wrong. Our cultural values must reflect His value of life and marriage. We must seek His guidance to restore true justice to the land. Because our nation is comprised of individuals working together, the transformation must start in our own hearts.

As we surrender our personal lives to God and allow Him to transform us, our nation can also be transformed. The clock is ticking; let us not waste another minute in turning back to Him!

This article was originally published by the Christian Post HERE.

Photo by Anthony Rao on Unsplash

Keeping Churches Safe at Christmas

Much like the stable and the manger kept the Christ child protected, and as the shepherds guarded their flocks in the fields by night, churches must now keep their congregations safe.

Many churches are considering safety measures they previously hadn’t thought about after a deadly shooting at a small Texas church last month rocked both that community and the nation. Suddenly, pastors and church leaders are thinking about safety—no matter the size of the church.

The American Pastors Network, the largest national network dedicated to equipping pastors to be a voice for truth in the public square, has been focusing on church security by guiding pastors in the wake of the Texas tragedy.

In 2015, LifeWay Research conducted a study to learn more about church attendance patterns during Christmastime, reported Christianity Today. Historically, Christmastime attracts more visitors than perhaps any other time of the year. In fact, for the survey, LifeWay found that six out of 10 Americans typically attend church at Christmastime. Among those who don’t attend at Christmas, a majority (57 percent) say they would likely attend if someone they knew invited them.

With these trends in mind, church leaders know they will welcome many visitors through the doors this month. And with church security front and center, some churches need a starting place to keep everyone inside the church safe.

“Over the past several weeks, leaders of the American Pastors Network have had many conversations with pastors who want to make safety a priority in their churches, but don’t know where to start,” said APN President Sam Rohrer. “We live in a time where we now must acknowledge the harsh reality that the church sanctuary does not shield us from the evils of this world. Especially knowing that more people will visit American churches this month perhaps than any other time of year, the American Pastors Network wants to help church leaders as they make plans that will keep churchgoers safe—and so that many visitors will feel welcomed and want to return in the new year.”

After having internal meetings and conference calls on the matter, and while addressing the topic on “Stand in the Gap Today,” the daily radio ministry of APN, leaders developed recommendations for churches to consider when it comes to the important matter of church security.

  1. Understand the biblical and moral responsibility of safety. It is the duty of pastors and church leadership to do all they can to protect the lives of those in the congregation.
  2. Develop and train a security team.Dedicate certain individuals, whether staff or volunteers, to undertake the important issue of security. Train these personnel how to identify potential threats and how to de-escalate potential threat situations. During services or functions, outfit the team in plain clothes.
  3. Perform a risk assessment.Where is the church vulnerable in its facility and grounds? Consider a community threat assessment as well.
  4. Implement security protocols.Consider these suggestions: 1) Lock doors after services begin; 2) Post security team members at entrances; 3) Conduct a regular, annual re-assessment of the security plan.
  5. Install security cameras.Consider video surveillance to document and record potential threats or incidents.
  6. Establish a medical response team.Mobilize medical personnel already within the congregation who can take action if injuries ever occur.
  7. Evaluate the legal parameters for security measures.Research insurance requirements and conduct a liability assessment. Identify state civil laws regarding security measures, which can vary from state to state.
  8. Create an evacuation plan.Be sure the security team knows how to best evacuate churchgoers of all ages and mobility ranges, and consider creating another key team to assist. Practice the plan through drills.
  9. Involve local law enforcement in the security plan.Tell local police departments and other emergency responders about the security plan, perhaps through an evening meeting. They may be able to offer additional suggestions or protocols.
  10. Communicate the new or existing security measures with the congregation.Members will appreciate knowing the church has a plan to keep them safe.