All the research indicates the same thing. More and more young people are shying away from attending church on Sundays. They’re feeling it’s become old school and irrelevant.
Of course, the reality is, it’s not just young people, but people of all ages who have determined to ditch church for greener pastures. And I kind of get it.
Listening to music that might not be anywhere near my preferred musical style, followed by a lengthy monologue — even a relatively interesting one — and then after all that, being asked to fork over some of my hard-earned cash. That kind of sounds like a recipe for disaster in today’s fast-paced, attention grabbing, economically challenged world.
Who wants this anymore? This is supposed to build up our spirits and give us strength to face life’s challenges? How does that work?
I’m going to take a stab at responding to these questions. More than that, I’m going to take on the even more daunting task of challenging you to make getting back to church on Sundays your number 1 New Year’s resolution.
In Old Testament times, the children of Israel had been serving a sentence of exile that lasted — for many of them — over 70 years. When they finally returned from Babylon to their homeland, they were so grateful to be home that they demanded their “pastor” Ezra come out, read the Bible, and teach them.
The sermon lasted something like 6 hours. Yikes!
But something strange happened. The people listened like their lives depended on it. The people stood still, perked their ears up, and asked themselves, “How is this relevant to me? How does it apply to my life?”
What they heard from God’s word brought them to their knees. It grounded them in divine, spiritual reality. It rang true in their hearts and compared favorably to their life’s experiences. “Amen!” (“This is absolutely true!”) sprang from their lips.
So many people were eager to learn that they broke into small groups where they could ask their questions, and have other teachers respond. The Levites dove back into the Bible and worked with the people, explaining the meaning so they could be clear on what God was telling them.
Then their leader Nehemiah stood up and reminded them why they had so strenuously sought to have Ezra and the Levites teach them. It was to bring them out of their grief and restore their strength.
And where would that strength come from? God’s words and promises would remind them always. The joy they receive from the Lord would be their strength. God’s love, mercy, grace, the Lord’s peace, provision and protection — these would be their joy. And that joy would be their daily strength.
Who doesn’t need peace, joy and strength in their lives? My challenge to you this New Year’s is simply this: Take a serious look at the Israelites’ example. They believed the Bible’s teaching would give them these things and they gave God a chance to make good on his promises.
How about you? Will you give God a chance to make good on his promises in 2016?
It might just lead to surprising new strength for you in this new year!
“All the people came together as one in the square before the Water Gate. They told Ezra the teacher of the Law to bring out the Book of the Law of Moses, which the Lord had commanded for Israel.
So on the first day of the seventh month Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, which was made up of men and women and all who were able to understand. He read it aloud from daybreak till noon as he faced the square before the Water Gate in the presence of the men, women and others who could understand. And all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.
Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, ‘Amen! Amen!’ Then they bowed down and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground.
The Levites… instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read.
Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength'” (Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-8, 10, NIV).
Lord Jesus, let your joy — the joy of the Lord — be my strength. Help me to stay faithful to you and your word in the coming year, and grant me your Holy Spirit so that I may live in your love, forgiveness and power in the coming year.
Our Bible reading for Sunday, December 27, is Nehemiah 7:4 – 8:18, Revelation 18:17 – 19:10 and Psalm 148:1-6.
Header image based on "2016 Calendar..." by Jeff Djevdet, CC By 2.0