You know that. You understand the devil does not want you in heaven. You have even identified the purpose of his lies. Yet, that does not mean he leaves you alone. He continues lying in order to lure you (and me) into an untrue belief. Why? So that he can use you to help him lead the whole world away from its heavenly Father (Revelation 12:9).
For the next three Sundays we will explore three devilish lies about your ministry. We start with a lie that stirs up sadness and worry. A lie we see, but may struggle to answer. The devil points at your ministry and says, “You are losing.”
It might appear that he is right. A recent [Pew Research] study surveyed the current landscape of Christianity in America. This study discovered that 51% of those born between 1925 and 1945 worship every week. Putting numbers to that, one out of every two people age 73 to 93[years-old] sit in a pew every Sunday. Of those born between 1980 and 1995 only 38% feel religion is important, and only 28% actually worship every Sunday. That means three out of every four people under age 35 find little reason to worship God.
The study also revealed that the members of congregations are getting older and the number of young individuals in worship is decreasing (http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/americas-changing-religious-landscape/). The makeup of your congregation reflects the accuracy of that study. Yet, not just your only; every American church struggles with this issue. The Methodist Church has lost 4.5-million members since 1964; roughly one out of every three raised Methodist have left. (https://www.christianpost.com/news/united-methodist-church-continues-to-decline-in-america-but-gains-in-africa-79384/) The Nazarene Church has increased membership in every nation except the United States; about 22,500 members have left over the past decade. (http://www.nazarene.org/sites/default/files/docs/GenSec/Statistics/2017AnnualStatistics.pdf) The Catholic Church still boasts high membership, but only one out of every four Catholics actually attend Mass each week. (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/11/06/the-number-of-u-s-catholics-has-grown-so-why-are-there-fewer-parishes/) Yes, one single church in your city might be adding members; however, no matter how you look at it, Christianity in America is shrinking.
Yet, God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” God makes a strong point in the original Greek wording. He uses five negatives (something English does not do often) to stress that something is absolutely impossible for him to do. Quite literally God says: “I will never ever desert you [it is impossible to do so], nor will I ever forsake you [it is impossible to do that].”
He cannot stress the point any more than that, can he? God promises that his Word will still exist in this world until the end of time (Matthew 24:35). God promises that his Word will still hit hearts and create faith (Isaiah 55:10-11). God promises that there will still be believers in the world when he returns (Matthew 24:22; Luke 18:8). God will never break his promise because it is impossible for God to lie (Numbers 23:19).
Yet, the devil deliberately tells you a different story. He points you (and me) to those sobering statistics. He slides right up next to you, pans the scene, and says: “Look, there are fewer people in church, fewer first-time guests, and fewer young people worshipping. Society is growing more godless. Even your church is shrinking. You are losing.” The devil wants you (and) me to consider God a liar.
You will see if that lie has penetrated your heart if you feel self-pity for your ministry. If we act as though Christianity will disappear in the world, we are calling God a liar. If we act as though God’s Word is not affecting hearts right now, we are calling God a liar. If we are afraid that no believers will remain at the end, we are calling God a liar! Do you realize that trusting the devil’s lie is actually calling the devil ‘trustworthy’ and God the ‘liar?’ (What a strange role reversal!)
That is why God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” It is absolutely impossible for God to abandon Christians on earth. How do you know? Because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Look back 2,000 years. See Jesus die for a world that could not trust its Creator. See him thrown into the dust of death because even believers doubted God would keep his Word. See him forsaken, that is, separated from God; God ignores Jesus’ cry for help and justice. Jesus is forsaken because this is what our sin deserves.
Look back 2,000 years and see Jesus pay your (and my) penalty for doubting our trustworthy God. See Jesus rise to declare that payment made in full. See him march into hell and tell the devil: “Devil, you have lost. You cannot accuse God’s people of deserving hell. I have removed their penalty.” See Jesus rise with good news: “I am going to prepare a place for you, and if I go, I will return to bring you with me” (John 14:2-3).
It is absolutely impossible for God to forget about you. Your baptism brought Jesus’ payment into your life. In baptism God welcomed you into his family. Jesus’ resurrection ‘yesterday’ proves that death is conquered. Jesus’ resurrection ‘today’ means that you who trust in Jesus as Savior stand on the winning side. Jesus’ resurrection means that you will live with him ‘forever’ in heaven.
Your world might have changed. The virtues of society might have changed. The makeup of your congregation might have changed, but its Savior has never changed. Jesus Christ Remains the Same. He will never forsake you. Since it is impossible for God to abandon you, it means He will always help you.
So, we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” If your nation was completely to lose its faith tomorrow, what could they do to you, the Christian? They could imprison you. They could rip down your church. They could kill you. They cannot stop God from raising you to life. They cannot keep you out of heaven. They cannot drag you down from heaven. They cannot stop you praising God forever. “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”
You stand on the right side of God Almighty. That means you can march forward with confidence, unafraid of whatever the future might hold. God has already revealed our future— eternal life— and nothing will prevent that eternal outcome!
Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Travel back in time to when this church was built— with trucks hauling building material and dozers pushing dirt. Can you picture the people building it? See their faces? See their age? See their family and job life?
Be sure, the devil worked on that group too. He told them, “There’s not enough people; it’s not worth building.” He said, “You don’t have enough money.” He warned, “You’re too rural; you don’t have a Pastor. Why bother?” He lied so that those then would stop their efforts and God’s Word would not be planted here. And if God’s Word were not planted here, then you would not hear it today. Yet, those hearts latched onto God’s promises. Those minds looked past what is seen and grasped the unseen promises of God.
Before a shovel ever hit the dirt, what was their motivation to build? They built this place in order to hear what God has done for them. To hear in the Word the Risen Jesus say, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19). To receive in baptism God’s promise that sin has been washed away and faith in the Savior created (Titus 3:5-6). To receive in the Lord’s Supper the assurance of forgiveness. You see, this church is not built for personal preference. This church exists to hear again what God has done for your eternal good.
The devil will always whisper: “American Christianity is shrinking. You are losing.” He lies for the purpose of leading you into this un-truth. He lies because if you believe this truth, then others might believe it too.
My friends, evaluate the purpose of your ministry through God’s eyes. Nowhere does God consider your church successful based on numbers. Catch that? Nowhere does God say that your congregation is succeeding only if it reaches a certain number. God simply says, “Let the one who has my word speak it faithfully” (Jeremiah 23:28). As you are able, preach the Word. Let God determine the results. Simply be faithful.
Sometimes God blesses faithfulness with numbers— more worship, more participate, membership increases, the building grows. That’s a blessing. It does not happen because you finally made God’s Word work.
Sometimes being faithful means you are blessed not with numbers (I wrote that intentionally). Yes, if you do not see growth on the outside, growth occurs on the inside. The blessing is that you have learned God’s promises better. You did not cave into pressure by sacrificing teaching for the sake of numbers. Your Jesus helps you by strengthening your reliance on him.
You see, the devil is a liar (John 8:44). He deliberately spews out untrue statements with the intention of leading you (and I) to believe something not true. He will point at numbers in the hopes of convincing you that your ministry is failing. He wants you to feel sad. He wants you to despair. He wants you to mope around because then you will feel no desire to share the message. God’s promises expose that lie for the deception it truly is. You are not losing. You never can because God will never forsake you. He always strengthens you spiritually with the Word. Then, he remains to always help you. Sometimes that help comes by putting you (and me) in our proper spot. It is not up to you to change hearts and make America more Christian. You don’t have the power to do that. God does. God simply gives you and me the job of sharing the Word.
Set your eyes on God’s promises. Imprinting on your head and heart the purpose of your ministry: Jesus Christ Remains the Same! He will never forsake you. He will always help you.