According to the Religion News Network, donations to American churches totaled $124.52 billion in 2018. This reflected a 1.5% decline from the previous year (3.9% when adjusted for inflation).
Last year Americans spent $75.38 billion on their pets. The report from the American Pet Products Association stated the amount increased 3.8% from 2018 (fortune.com).
Ponder these figures for a few moments.
Money spent in the United States on dogs, cats, parrots, gerbils and other assorted critters totaled 60% of the donations to churches, synagogues, mosques, and other assorted religions.
I love my dog, Sam, who epitomizes unconditional love. I have often pointed out that “God” spelled backwards is “dog.”
Average United Methodists give less than 2.5% of their annual income to the church.
Maybe it’s time we made giving to God our pet project.
The Pew Research Center recently published an exhaustive review of 49,719 online sermons. The study found the median length of a homily was 37 minutes; however, the time varied based on tradition. Mainline Protestant sermons averaged 25 minutes while evangelical Protestants lasted 39 minutes. Historically black Protestant churches topped the list at 54 minutes.
Based on the results, I am a below average preacher!
My sermons typically last 18 to 22 minutes. However, some congregants have assured me that they SEEM to last much longer. That’s a compliment, right?
Seminary professors and clergy mentors attempted to teach me the art of proclaiming the gospel. However, my father gave me the best advice of all. He looked me solemnly in the eye and said, “Remember, son, the mind can absorb only what the bottom can endure!”
Wise words from a wise man.
I take solace in the fact that many of Jesus’ recorded parables and sermons were quite short. With the exception of “The Sermon on the Mount” and “The Sermon on the Plain,” the Lord delivered most of his messages with an economy of words.
Based on Jesus’ example, I am content to be a below average preacher.
Help us to live as those who are prepared to die.
And when our days here are accomplished,
enable us to die as those who go forth to live,
so that living or dying, our life may be in you,
and that nothing in life or in death will be able to separate us
from your great love in Christ Jesus our Lord.
(Services of Death and Resurrection in The United Methodist Book of Worship)
Albert Einstein taught the world that time is relative. You don’t have to comprehend the math to appreciate the concept. Time flies when you’re having fun, and the seconds creep when you’re having dental work!
I’ve seen the same theorem at work in church life.
- People punctually arrive at school and work on weekdays. The same persons straggle into worship 10+ minutes late on Sundays.
- In November, I attended the UGA/Tech football game with 55,000 close friends who filled the stadium for three hours. However, church members get antsy if a worship service lasts more than an hour.
- TV devotees binge watch shows for countless hours; but the idea of spending an hour in Bible study or prayer appears daunting.
- Parents religiously ensure their children attend athletic practices, dance recitals, Scout meetings, academic events, and tutoring sessions. Many of these same children will not be present at Sunday School or youth group.
In his book, All In, Mark Batterson wrote, “We all want to spend eternity with God. We just don’t want to spend time with God.”
Time is relative.
Eternity is not.
Sue Allen, Director of Women’s Ministries at Northside Church, recently published a devotional that I’m sharing with permission.
The omnipresent God whose name is not distant but nearer to us than we can imagine. God is not alien to the circumstances of our lives but comes to us in them. It is relatively
easy to meet God in moments of joy or bliss. In these situations, we correctly count ourselves blessed.
The challenge is to believe that God is also true — and to know God’s presence — in the midst of doubt, depression, anxiety, conflict or failure. But the God who is Immanuel is equally in those moments we would never choose as in those we would always gladly choose.
Richard Rohr reminds us that “we cannot attain the presence of God. We’re already totally in the presence of God. What is absent is our awareness” (David Benner’s The Gift of Being Yourself, 41).
Immanuel. What a beautiful name. God with us.
On January 1, many of us made New Year’s resolutions. During the holidays, we overindulged in too much of too much. The birth of a New Year inspired plans of diet, exercise, and thriftiness.
Resolutions born at midnight on December 31st, however, seldom survive the first weeks of January. Habit is a hard master to overthrow. By mid-month, the new and improved model greatly resembles the old and not so improved model!
We can scoff at the idea of spontaneous resolutions leading to lasting change. However, we serve a God of fresh starts and second chances. Today can be different from yesterday; and tomorrow can be different from today.
In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul declares: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” Our “re-creation” in Christ is both event and process as we grow into the image of our Savior.
Jesus began his ministry preaching the message, “The time has come, the kingdom of God is at hand, repent, and believe in the gospel.” The time has come for repentance rather than resolutions. This year can be new in more than name alone!