In three days, I enter my birthday month. There are two times in the year that I usually get very reflective. My birthday month and the end of the year. Today, as I sat down to finish some writing for one of my courses in my D. Min. journey, I was distracted. The distraction came from a verse I read in today's devotional. The verse was Genesis 12:1-3
Now the Lord had said to Abram, "Get out of your country, from your family and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing.
So, for a little context, before I sat down to do my "work", I was drinking my coffee thinking of a disappointment I had in trusting an organization that was supposed to help me and it turned out that they were not who they advertised themselves to be. At my age, I had already determined from life lessons that I would NOT stay in toxic environments. I would NOT do things that do not bring me joy. I would NOT hide the person I am just because some people are uncomfortable with women asking questions. Yet, this determination made me 'get out' of the affiliation but it essentially killed what my husband and I thought was the help we needed to get a dream off the ground.
I felt defeated. I felt sad. I felt angry. I felt let down. I felt alot of the things I have felt in that particular journey. But after a few weeks and now a few months, I feel great. I feel liberated. I feel excited. I feel energized for God's next thing for us. I don't even feel that experience was a waste because I learned a few things. And I felt the Holy Spirit softly speak to my heart and say, "all experiences where you are led to leave your comfort, to leave the box you have been confined to either by your own doing or others, is a step toward pursuing purpose." Ugh, I thought to myself. Can we get there without THAT!? But no, unfortunately, we can't.
The religious community has somehow brainwashed many to think that if God is with you, you won't have setbacks. But that is exactly how God gets you "out of the box" you are in! You can't have greatness without separation. In fact, greatness itself means to be separated from the norm. It means you stand out from the crowd. Your purpose in life is what makes you great (in God's eyes not necessarily in people's) but in order to accomplish that greatness you must be willing to accept separation of the things you thought were working for you. Sometimes you have to "get out" to "go up!"
The story of Abram reminded me of that today. The greatest threat to your future, my future is getting boxed in, is getting too comfortable, is the familiar. The familiar is the often subconscious thought that the predictable is the preferred path, what is expected of you is the better route and that the recognizable (in your church, your industry, your religion) is the best option. But uh, not always the case.
When God engaged Abram with the instructions for "his journey," the first thing He tells him to do is GET OUT. Usually those words do not instill confidence, motivation or inspiration from us do they? They usually cause fear. What will people think? What happens then? Can I make it on my own? Etc. But here is the thing, when God purposes to move you to whatever is coming next for you, it always requires an exodus from a former place of comfort and acceptability from the masses. Why does God do that? Because He knew Abram then, and us now, will never step into what He has for us without first stepping out of our complacency.
The beginning of promotion and elevation will sometimes look like failure and misfortune, but God is always up to something good in our lives. We have to believe that first before it can manifest in our life. We have to leave the familiar behind folks. If we dig in a little deeper, we see that he told him to get out of COUNTRY, FAMILY, FATHER'S HOUSE. Our country can be our environment, culture, subculture, our customs. Our family encompasses relatives, the broader community (church, work, etc), and those who surround ourselves with most. Our father's house could be the assumed or predetermined expectations. All these things shape our identity. But at some point you have to leave this place of shaping to be shaped by God according to His purposes for your life.
Leaving the familiar is leaving the place that is presently shaping you and stepping into a new realm with a plethora of new experiences God uses to reshape you for what you were born to do and contribute to this world we live in. Remember, in order to realize purpose you must become a "you" that you haven't met yet, and you can only do that when you leave the familiar. When you get out of the box others (or even you) created for yourself.
So today, I challenge you to GET OUT. A new you is waiting. In order to fulfill your purpose in life, you have to dwell in environments that unlock your potential and releases the creativity that God has placed inside of you. I can't wait to see the land that God will show me (as He told Abram). But I know it is in that place, I will discover Liz 3.0. The Liz that will be a blessing to others. I wish the same for you.
Something is happening in the life of the traditional church and it does not look good. Documentaries, books and studies have unveiled that there have been major changes in the pattern of church attendance in the last few years. The Gallup Organization reported, “Only 44 percent of Americans have confidence in the church or organized religion.” A Barna study showed that there has been a rise of churchlessness in America from 30% in the 1990s to 33% in the 2000s to 43% in 2014 with 33% of once active church goers no longer going.
Throughout the country and it is assumed even more so after the election of the 45th President, church people and church attendance have become unpopular and membership has been rapidly decreasing. What is even more interesting is that the trend is holding true no matter the location, denomination, worship style of a particular church, age groups or race. A 2014 Pew Study revealed that:
The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing. Moreover, these changes are taking place across the religious landscape, affecting all regions of the country and many demographic groups. While the drop in Christian affiliation is particularly pronounced among young adults, it is occurring among Americans of all ages. The same trends are seen among whites, blacks and Latinos; among both college graduates and adults with only a high school education; and among women as well as men.
The data confirms what many involved in ministry for years have been seeing if they are paying attention. The moral, social and spiritual lives of people in the United States is charging. Due to this change, church plants and smaller churches are struggling more than ever to even reach growth that can make them self-sustainable. Even mega-churches are losing their popularity because the constant need for money to maintain property and personnel for Sunday “performances” as they are viewed by many of those leaving the church is being questioned more and challenged outright with less giving. People are asking themselves what is the real purpose of the church? Pastors are asking themselves how can I revitalize the church? Observers who care about the future of the church are asking why are people leaving the church and can anything be done about it?
Certainly, there is a crisis being faced by the American church and a course of action needs to be taken. Not necessarily because the survival of the church as we know it is in danger (although it is) with church closings, pastoral firings and resignations, reduced budgets due to less money in the coffers but to try to be preventive instead of reactive. In researching this dilemma, the questions that arise, “What action needs to be taken so people don’t feel the need to leave their spiritual community?” and “How can a faith community address the concerns of those who already left?” The attempt to answer these questions can help churches of any structure think through what they can do and perhaps provide a model that will help people come back to the church, never leave the church, give church a try for the first time. Or better yet, find a way to introduce people to God without having them have to “do” traditional church at all or at first.
Churchlessness in America is happening at a fast pace. What are the causes? The few studies done thus far suggest that people are leaving because they don't see the church "being" the hands and feet of Jesus on a regular consistent basis yet they are always asking for money. Others say that they have formed little to no relationships in the church and if they did, they ended up being very badly hurt either by leadership, the pastor or other members. Finally, some have left because they said in order to keep their faith, they needed to leave the church.
Some pastoral leaders have their hands full with the ones that show up to their church and are not even paying attention to the ones on the fringes. In a very real way, the millions that have already left the church feel that they much rather BE the church and form non-traditional faith communities than go through the motions of church as usual and not feel connected to God, to people or to their communities. Stay tuned to what I find out as I will post here for those who care to have these populations on their radar.
 Bruce Nolan, “Gallup reports new low in religious confidence,” Religion News Service, July 16, 2012, accessed March 10, 2017, http://religionnews.com/2012/07/16/gallup-reports-new-low-in-religious-confidence/
 George Barna and David Kinnaman, Ed. Churchless: Understanding Today's Unchurched and How to Connect with Them (Illinois: Tyndale Momentum. 2014), Kindle. 48.
 Pew Research Center, “2014 Religious Landscape Study,” June 4-September 30, 2014, accessed March 10, 2017, http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/
There are many things that are good for the soul. I am an advocate for doing what makes your soul come alive. We might agree that traveling, spending time with friends, an art class, etc are good soul igniters but I want to add faith to the mix.
There have been many articles written in the past about faith and its correlation in making people better humans. Some call it the "science of belief". There is something that clicks in our souls when we have faith in something and many times (not all) it helps people do things they never would have attempted to do without said faith. Many times, it helps people have a better disposition in life because they have faith that what they see is not all there is to life.
I remember years ago, after the birth of my second son and the emotions my husband and I had about the entire ordeal of a premature birth (26 weeks), the subsequent operations (29 in total) and the hospital mishap that eventually would make my baby unable to live a normal life. We were both mad at God for a time. After all, we thought, if this is how you treat those who serve you, what's the benefit in that! One day, my husband had a conversation with a Rabbi who was also a patient of his and he asked my husband after a conversation they had, "how would you feel if you didn't believe in God?" My husband responded, "I wouldn't like it" to which the Rabbi said, "then continue to believe!"
We have both continued to believe and it was most certainly good for our souls. Not simply because it "felt good" to believe in a higher power but because it helped us make decisions and behave in certain ways that have proved to be very good for us and our family. In most cases, when you practice faith, you change and become a better person, you're joyful and thus, your soul is content.
When you practice faith, you stretch more in all areas.
When you practice faith, you work at reconciling relationships.
When you practice faith, you believe for the impossible and actually attempt it.
When you practice faith, you allow God to work in you so He can work through you.
When you practice faith, you become a more compassionate person.
When you practice faith, you are more forgiving.
When you practice faith, you try to make a difference in the world.
Granted, there are exceptions to the rule and not all people change for the better, if at all. I get that. But for the most part, having faith is good for the soul. So I simply suggest, you do all the things that make your soul come alive and if you haven't given faith in God a try, hook up with a faith-filled person and ask them, "tell me about your faith and your God!" I promise you, it will be good for your soul.