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At the height of it’s popularity, 1948, there were in excess of 4,000 drive-in theaters across America. Many of us can recall spending the night at the movies on the original big screen. Sometimes we sat listening from a silver box hanging on our door. Later, you could clip something to your antenna and listen through your stereo. What a step up! Some are old enough to remember when drive-ins included play grounds where kids could entertain themselves. And who can forget the dancing hot dog jumping into the bun! For some, there are a lot of memories attached to the drive-ins. But, alas, for many, drive-in movie theaters are themselves a memory.
Today there remain approximately 330 theaters in the country. In Arizona, only one remains, the West Wind Glendale 9. I have some memories from that place! It was here I saw Wrath of Khan, Rocky and Where the Buffalo Roams (not a great movie by the way). What got me thinking about drive-in movie theaters was seeing the former Apache Drive-in in Globe. I passed it on the way to Burton, Arizona for a conference. There it sat. The screen still stands, as does the snack bar and projection building. Though the weeds have over taken where the cars once parked, you can still see the poles for the speakers. As I looked at the place, I grew nostalgic. It was kind of cool that at a place with multiple screens, you could peak in on other movies without having the purchase another ticket.
What led to the demise of the drive-in theater? Simple, the increasing quality of walk-in movie theaters. When people realized they could have the same experience at a walk-in theater, drive-ins started declining. Now, in general, people don’t even consider the possibility of waiting until dark and sitting in their car on a warm or chilly evening, when they can go to an air conditioned/heated theater at any time of the day and experience superior sound and optics.
But, get this, what happened to drive-ins, is transpiring in walk-ins as well. Since the 60s attendance at walk-in theaters has been on the decline. Over the last 10 years attendance at the movies has decline by over a million people. Why? Because of varying methods of consuming movies. Now people can entertain themselves at their homes, with a high quality image and phenomenal sound.
What is interesting to note is that over the last 70 plus years, despite the changing venues and methods of consumption, one thing has remained. People’s desire for entertainment. Most no longer go to drive-ins, but they still wish to see movies. They aren’t going to walk-ins as much as they used to, but, people still watch movies at home or on a portable device. They may not buy DVDs as once was the case. However, the amount of gigabytes of entertainment that is streamed continues to rise. People want their movies and TV shows. They’ve just altered the method of delivery.
It has been said of the movie industry that attendance at walk-ins over the last 50 years has been stagnant or declining. As a ministry leader, does this sound familiar? We are constantly bombarded with news of the majority of churches facing the same phenomena. For many decades, people have been reluctant to show up on Sunday nights. Even fewer on Wednesday. But, now we are witnessing a decline in the prime time hour of Sunday mornings. We take this to mean that people are not interested in God or things spiritual. I don’t believe this to be the case.
Like with entertainment, people continue to be interested in the spiritual. A search of internet data reveals this. They may not turn to orthodox spirituality. But, people are still seeking an answer to the spiritual aspect of life. Problem is, Christianity is not the only option presented for answering their questions, for filling their void. People seeking answers will encounter Buddhism, Wicca, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Transcendental Meditation, Ba’hi, Scientology or any other host of pseudo-religious systems. But the fact of the matter is, people still have questions and interest in the non-corporeal, the spiritual.
Those who turn to God as revealed by His son Jesus, will not necessarily seek Him in the ways previous generations have. They may meet in a house church or on a time other than Sunday morning. They may not show up to Sunday School, but they’ll gather with a small group in their homes. People looking for answers may be inclined to push back more and not accept the religious platitudes which were once accepted without question. Instead, they seek deeper more meaningful answers to their questions. But, however they approach the issue, they still seek truth and an encounter with God. People will never give up the search for God, even if they aren’t sure that He is who they are seeking.
As disciples of Jesus, we are resources of spiritual life, not advocates for a particular method of distribution for someone to find eternal life. Maybe when you came to know Jesus, it was during a two-week revival accompanied by a fantastic song leader. Possibly the case with you is discipleship is a group of men similar to your age meeting in a classroom on Sunday mornings at a church building. This helps you experience new life. But, those were simply the means of finding Jesus. They are not a sacred path all must walk in order to find him.
A lady once commented to me about how people “texting in church” disturbed her. Then I pointed out that some folks, such as my wife, consume the Bible on their phones. You could see her wheels turning and she responded “Oh, I never considered that.” The “times, they are a changin,” there is no mistaking that. Unless we, as followers of Jesus, embrace our responsibility to be salt and light and cease from being advocates for a time long past, we will fail to fulfill our responsibility to make disciples.
People may not come to church. But, if we are faithful to our Lord, people will continue to come to God and discover that new quality of life He provides.
The Grand Canyon is one of my favorite places. A friend and I visited the South Rim recently, and spent the day among the hundreds of other tourists milling about. We rode the shuttle to a couple of the lookout points. We stopped by one of the museums, and wandered through the park store located at the visitor center. Visitors from everywhere were able to shop for souvenirs, eat dinner, rent bicycles, or spend the night at the lodge.
There was so much activity along the rim that the canyon itself almost seemed to be beside the point. The people we saw had a much different experience from the ones who were there to hike the canyon – the people who actually decided to get off the rim and go deeper.
Luke’s gospel details the events of Jesus’ ministry. People from all over heard about how he had cast out demons, healed the sick, and preached about the kingdom of God. At one point the crowd was pressing in so much that Jesus climbed in a boat and had them push it out from the shore so he would have the space to teach them.
As Luke describes the growing crowds, you can almost feel the tension when he says, “But the news about Him spread even more, and large crowds would come together to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. Yet He often withdrew to deserted places and prayed.” (Luke 5:15-16)
I think for ministry leaders it would be easy for us to see the crowds, and feel the pressure to fix things, or put out fires, or deal with whatever the crisis of the day was. The description of us might look more like, “she felt like she needed to step away and pray, yet the crowd was so large, and the needs were great.”
If we have been leading for any length of time, we often become too proficient for our own good. We know how to lead a Bible study, or write a sermon, and so it would be easy for us to do those things out of habit or out of duty, rather than to go deeper and to explore the ways God is trying to speak into our lives.
How intentional are you about seeking time alone with God? Of course there are very real and very big needs in ministry. True ministry, though, grows out of intimacy with God. God desires to spend time with us. He desires to shape us through time with him and his word. Our service to others grows out of that time with God. It should never replace it.
Dale Clayton came to Yuma to pastor a church that was in decline. They were looking to their next pastor as being the one who would produce the growth that the church needed. During the first two years, the church showed some signs of growth. There was excitement and anticipation about what God was about to do. Then, just two years later, Dale resigned from the church, feeling frustrated and defeated - not sure that he would ever pastor again!
The good news was that Dale was not alone! There were pastors in the community who cared deeply for him and his family. They had supported him in his tenure as pastor and as he resigned from his position of leadership. Dale and his family quickly joined a sister church in our community. It was a place of acceptance, caring and healing for them. Dale says this church family had the greatest impact on him, his wife and son, allowing them to be refreshed in their relationship with God. He was also supported by Arizona Baptist Children’s Services through Leader Care. Don Vickers is the Leader Care Facilitator in the Yuma area. He was privileged to meet with Dale to offer support and encouragement in those difficult days and the years following.
Dale and his wife have done a variety of things since that time to support their needs. It has not always been easy. There have been times when he questioned why God brought them to Yuma in the first place. But now, three years later, Dale and his family are on the move. Dale is going back to pastor once again! He, along with his family, is excited about what God has planned. Dale believes that in these last few years God has taught him many things that has prepared him for this new role.
Dale is a testimony of hope beyond resignation. If you find yourself in a similar position, take heart, God still has a plan and a place for you! Dale would encourage you to find a good church home for you and your family. He would tell you that the relationships you had as a pastor are still there for you today. That there are places of support like Arizona Baptist Children’s Services that stand ready to help you during your difficult days!
Jesus Speaking, "But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you." - Luke 6:28I was perusing Facebook this morning and came upon an entry responding to the recent antics of Kathy Griffin. The post stated that Kathy Griffin, at an Emmy Award banquet, referred to the Emmy and reportedly said, "Suck it, Jesus. This is my god now!" The person who posted this meme declared that as a Christian-American (an interesting way to identify oneself as a Jesus-follower) this individual has the right to "refuse to watch any show that she may be on or purchase tickets to any event at which she would perform."
Okay, I suppose such an action is this person's "right." However, it was what was called for next that got my attention. This person wrote, "If you pass this on, you will truly have stood up for Jesus Christ."
I guess this is what "standing up for Jesus Christ" looks like in a social media age in America. Passing along a meme and boycotting a person or organization has taken its place of honor alongside such heinous experienced as being stoned, ridiculed and martyred rather than renouncing one's faith and allegiance in Jesus. This just didn't sit well with me.
Why you might ask (then again, maybe you don't)? I have two reasons for my reaction. First, Jesus told His disciples, "Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you” (Luke 6:27.) Whoever originated the Kathy Griffin post said nothing about loving, benefiting, profiting or blessing her. It was all about giving Kathy what this person believes she deserves, punishment for daring to defame the name of Jesus.
Why shouldn't Kathy Griffin say what she did? She's not a believer (before you judge me, check out 1 Corinthians 12:3). Kathy Griffin does not live her life in obedience to the One True God. She lives her life in pursuit of her god, fame, recognition and notoriety. She declared that herself when she said, "This [the Emmy] is my god now!" Kathy Griffin's statement reveals her heart. She has no place for God. Nor does she have knowledge of God. Had she, Kathy griffin would not have said what she did.
But, what do the actions called for the post's author reveal of that person's heart? Rather than calling on "Christians" to be obedient to their Master and pray for Kathy Griffin, instead of asking that Jesus-followers who surround Kathy Griffin (undoubtedly there are some) to show her God's love, this person asks those who profess to believe in Jesus and His Kingdom to punish Ms. Griffin. This is as wrong an action as what Kathy Griffin is being castigated for! Kathy Griffin's actions do not honor God. Neither does behaving in a manner Jesus has clearly told His followers not to do.
Which brings me to my second point, how those who claim to live after the pattern and teachings of Jesus behave in this world. In Paul's second letter to the Corinthians he writes, "Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses" (2 Corinthians 10:3-4). As born-again from above creatures, ones who experience daily the new life God offers, we need to conduct ourselves by the standards of God's Kingdom and not by those of this fiefdom. For a time, we live on this plane, the experience of the body. But, the Spirit that lives inside every disciple lives by the nature of God Himself. The Spirit of God seeks to lead us according to the statues and commands of The Kingdom, not the whims and values of this realm.
As a child of God, the laws of this land and the dictates of my human experience are not the guiding factors of my behavior. At least, they are not supposed to be. It is not acceptable for me to respond in kind to a lost society or unredeemed individuals. If I do, how are they to know the reality of God? Whenever I drink to relax my anxiety, spend to satisfy my yearnings, bully to get my way or any number of other behaviors we label "normal," I tell those who see me, "God is not real. He is not a life altering force." It is only when I live a life that is contrary to the majority, but consistent with The One that people are confronted with truth.
Yes, as I live in the nature of God, like Paul, I will be ridiculed. Like James, I will face opposition. Like countless others who have tied their lives to Jesus, I will endure loss. Like Jesus, I may even face death. But, I will do so revealing the very nature of God to people who do not know Him. I will show those individuals who live after their own desires and appetites that God is worth considering and is not to be discarded. If they don't? Then I live faithfully before The One who judges the living and the dead (1 Peter 4:1-8) and it is He whose opinion matters.
Keep in mind, this world is coming to judgment. So are the majority of people who have, are or will live in it. People like Kathy Griffin will have their delight and joy, only to find that an Emmy doesn't impress the real God. With suffering and sadness, they will have to declare the authority of God and endure His rejection.
But, let it not be the people who say they love God who likewise must endure sorrow and grief. When we recount to Him how we have lived, let it bring a smile to God's face and warm His heart. Let our words, relationships and daily interactions with people be seasoned with His grace and nature. For it is not our theology, piety, church buildings or morality that declares to others the reality of God. It is His very person living in us!