Church · Gospel Life · LCMS · Living Hope

‘Young People Don’t Go to Church’

“Young people don’t go to church.”

Ask anyone in the church today, the common refrain about the state of the established church on earth is that younger people – millennials, Gen Z’ers, Gen X’ers – don’t have a regular worship life. They could be the “high holy day” Christians, showing up on Christmas Eve or Easter morning. Or they be part of the “well, I was baptized and I believe in God, so I don’t need a church” crowd.

As recent news shows, a growing number of younger people are not only rejecting regular worship, but are rejecting God.

Church, as an institution, is frowned upon by our culture. The pedophilia priest issue in the Roman Catholic Church stained the entire Christian Church. I’ve been called various evil things about my role as a “priest” and questioned as to why hasn’t “my church” done anything to stop the abuse of children, even though I am not a Roman Catholic priest, but I wear the same type of black clergy shirts with a plastic tab in the neck. Other churches including my own Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod are called out for holding onto beliefs that are archaic and don’t have a place in the modern world. “Why doesn’t your church have women pastors,” I am asked. “Why do you hate gays and transgendered people,” is thrown at me even though I nor my church doesn’t hate gays or transgendered people.

Yet, even in mainline churches who embrace a modern view of the culture within the church are finding out that they, too, are seeing fewer and fewer people in their churches every Sunday.

“Young people don’t go to church.”

So the question of the viability of individual smaller churches is growing within the Church as a whole. Small churches can’t afford regular clergy leadership or any of the modern ways of worshipping that larger church institutions are making due with today. These smaller places of worshipping God can’t do the things larger churches do because there isn’t a support system to make them a reality. Every year, thousands of smaller Christian churches close because making a financial go of it is impossible.

And everybody blames the young people who don’t go to church.

The church, as a whole, needs to take the time to ask themselves questions about how they worship, how they do ministry, how they teach, how they evangelize, and how they serve their neighbor before they reflexively jump to the easy answer to the church’s problems that “young people don’t go church.”

We need to really take time to look at our churches and how we operate. Have our churches become social clubs where people in our churches meet for coffee and cake every week and do little on outreaching into our communities?

My LCMS, on a local level, is struggling. Small churches are closing. Where our urban churches are located, they are barely hanging on. And in many urban centers, our LCMS churches have just given up.

Some have ideas in which to save the church. Smaller churches could close up and join other churches so they can form slightly larger churches. More people would be in the pews every weekend, giving the newer church a chance at making it for a while.

Another idea is to close smaller churches in the suburbs and make them come together with a larger church so that this new, much bigger church can support missions within the urban areas.

Yet within our struggling churches, the people have the answer to all their problems – young people just have to come to church.

Maybe it is time for a new way to look at our local churches and how we “do church.” We need to begin to question our local church governance and our how we center our lives and our mission on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The time of the social club church is at its end.

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Lifestyle Medicine vs. Pill-based Medicine

Last evening, I met someone at the fruit and vegetable store who just stopped following a paleo-caveman diet that a friend of his suggested he follow to lose weight. Yeah, he lost a ton of weight, but he told me that ever since starting the diet in September 2018, he felt terrible. I asked what he meant about feeling terrible, and he just looked at me and said, “I felt weak and constipated and tired. I felt terrible.”

After waking up feeling dizzy one day, he made an appointment with his doctor. Earlier yesterday, his test results came in. Apparently, his paleo-meat based diet was killing him. His cholesterol was through the roof. He has Type 2 diabetes. His A1C levels were extremely high. From his appointment a week before, he knew that his blood pressure was not good. “I was losing weight, but my diet was killing me.”

His doctor sent in a series of prescriptions to his local pharmacy, ordering him to start taking all the meds today. At work, he Googled some of the prescriptions and couldn’t believe the side effects. “When suicide is a side effect, I don’t want none of that.”

A co-worker suggested he follow a high fiber, plant-based diet. He was desperate because he didn’t want to be on pills and shots the rest of his life. So he went to Barnes and Noble and bought the “How Not to Die” book by Dr. Michael Greger. Last night was going to be his first plant-based meal, something that no doubt will shock his girlfriend. At the fruit and veggie store, he and I were looking at the apples when we met. “That last time I ate an apple was last summer.” I patted him on the back and said a prayer with him right in front of the gala apples display.

When I arrived home, I remembered a video that Dr. Greger produced for his Nutritionfacts.org website detailing using diet to reverse diseases caused by the standard American Western diet. Most doctors don’t treat the underlying cause of the diseases we have; instead, they treat the symptoms with pills to mitigate the issues caused by the disease.

As I wrote yesterday, one of the important aspects of our lives in Christ is that God wants our best in everything we say and do. If we treat our bodies poorly with bad diets that give us diseases, then are we truly being at our best?

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Our Best

As we see throughout the Bible, God’s people fail Him nearly every time. The people written about in Holy Scripture are not the greatest, most righteous people ever born. They are weak and sinful, not unlike all of us. But the stories found in God’s Word show us one important fact: It is God who wipes away our failures and makes us new in the regenerating waters of Baptism, the sacrifice of His Son at the cross, and our individual strengthening by the Holy Spirit.

Daily, God takes what is broken and makes it new. 

Evidence from Bible shows us this time and time again. Humanity was created in God’s image, but created lesser than the angels. As such, we’re not as strong physiologically and are prone to doing things that God doesn’t want us to do. However, God works His power through His Son and Spirit to make us new every day.

Refining and strengthening us through His love and grace everyday, we, God’s creation are built up to give to God and others one thing:

Our best.

He wants us to be our best in this life to love Him and others before anything. He wants us to walk faithfully on HIs path to show what it means to be a child of God. Jesus is asked about our lives and what God wants from us. His answer is simple:

(Jesus said) “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 

(Mark 12:30-31)

God’s great directive for us is to strive to be our best – to Him and to others. He doesn’t want half-hearted worship or loving people only when it suits us.

He wants our best always.

Though being our best is not easy. Sin destroys our drive to be our best. We’re not as faithful to God as He wants and never loving enough to those around us.

As a church, I believe we need to begin to study and reflect upon working towards being our best to God and to others. Our daily mission is to be better today than we were yesterday, showing God and others our loving commitment of our discipleship in Jesus.

To be better, this commitment of ours needs to be towards formulating a more passionate prayer life, living a more expressive life of love towards the entirety of the world, including ourselves, and living the joyful hope we have in Jesus. And when we do those things, we do it all to the glory of God.

Isn’t that what Pauls tells the Corinthians? “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

God wants us to be our best.

We, the church, need to rebuild our discipleship lives around giving and being our best. 

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“Rice” Is Not Rice

Louisiana State Sen. Francis Thompson, chairman of the state Senate agriculture committee, said he decided to push a bill to tackle rice labeling, as well as dairy and meat labeling, after meeting with farmer groups. He said he isn’t against cauliflower rice—in fact, he likes the taste—but said he wanted to make sure people weren’t confused.

(Wall Street Journal, April 30, 2019 – “In Louisiana, A Fight Over What’s Rice” )

Confusion?

When people use the phrase “califlower rice,” it means that what is in the package is cauliflower that has been riced. It isn’t white or brown or forbidden rice. It’s califlower that’s been riced.

To a state representative in Lousiana and the people of that great state, this whole “califlower rice” thing is confusing? I don’t think so. It is the politics of food. Those who grow rice or milk cows don’t want plant-based alternatives to call their products what the these farmers and ranchers call their products.

I mean, when you go to a restaurant that serves the Impossible Burger, you could honestly have some issues with understanding that Impossible Burgers come from plants and lab and not Bessie the Cow. When you read that the restaurant is serving an “Impossible Burger,” there is a chance you could think that this is the greatest cow-based burger in the history of planet Earth!

Or you could just read a little further and see that it is a plant-based burger, not from a cow.

That is why it is important to realize that reading is fundamental. Reading the front label on a milk carton is not like reading those legal rules we all skip over when signing up for stuff on the internet. Milk labels, rice labels, pasta labels, and even meat labels are all pretty easy and basic.

  • Oat milk is made from oats (says so on the entire front of a carton)
  • Beyond Meat’s “Beyond Sausage” is made from plants (says so right under the name on the package)
  • Chickpea pasta is made from chickpeas (says so when you’re staring at the package in the supermarket)

There shouldn’t be confusion. Companies actually use the words in the names of their products. I use Oatly oat milk – and they call it oat milk. I am not going to walk up to the cold case in the supermarket and scratch my head trying to figure out what is oat milk and what is not. The name is there.

The goat milk people put their product name on the label. Goat milk contains goat milk. There is no confusion there.

I think all milk that comes from a cow should be labeled as such. “Cow’s milk” in big letters. The time has come for the cow’s milk farmers and producers to step up to the plate, follow the lead of the goat and plant-based milk producers and fix their obvious “confusion” in labeling.

I wonder what this state representative will do with Banza, a company that produces pasta and rice made from chickpeas. To me, when you look at the front of their packages, they clearly label their product, stating in very clean languate that the pasta and rice inside their packages is made from chickpeas. Should the semonlina wheat farmers get all up in arms over this one?

I know, I know – as a pastor I shouldn’t get so seemingly frustrated at stuff like this. Really, it isn’t worth the stress.

Though, I am waiting for someone to complain about Lacinato kale – people call this plant “dinosaur kale.” Maybe some state represenative here in New Jersey can offer legislation banning the use of the term “dinosaur kale” since the kale doesn’t have any dinosaur in it.

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Eat Plants

Explaining the food lifestyle I follow is basically simple:

“I don’t eat anything that had a face or a mother.” 

My eating plan consists of plants – lots of them and in a huge variety. Leafy greens, fruit, beans, legumes, and seeds. 

On April 1st, I made a commitment to really focus on eating a true plant-based diet. I had fallen into the “vegan trap” of eating all of those high-in-fat vegan mock foods and piling on way too many nuts into my diet. What caused me to upgrade my vegan diet to a whole foods, plant-based diet? My scale.

On March 30th, I stood on the scale and looked down – I was abnormally obese, coming in at 262 pounds. For a guy of five foot, eight inches tall, this amounted to a BMI over over 39!! Holy cow! That Saturday morning I committed to reforming my diet, chucking all those mock burgers and fake chik’en from the freezer and replacing them with broccoli. All the “good oils” were poured down the drain and replaced with … nothing. Who really needs olive oil since it is 100% fat? The cashews, peanuts, and walnuts went to the squirrels. Trust me, they were thrilled to get them. 

Whole Foods recently reduced prices on various greens, so I stocked up. Part of my commitment is to eat two salads a day consisting of kale, spinach, and whatever other greens I could get. And I was off. It’s been less than a month and I’m down almost 12 pounds from March 30th.

When I mention to people that I have reformed my diet away from the mock-vegan meats and stuff and now center what I eat around greens, beans, and fruit, of course that elicits a series of questions that try to pin me down to show that what I eat is not healthy.

“What the hell does ‘I don’t eat anything that had a face or a mother’ mean?”

“Uh, I don’t eat anything that comes from an animal. And you shouldn’t use the word ‘hell.’ You’re taking the Lord’s name in vain.”

“OK. No more cursing in front of you, if using the word hell is an actual curse. Back to your diet. Do you mean that you don’t eat hamburgers or steak or KFC?”

“No.”

“What about a good beef stew?”

“Nope.”

“You gotta eat a hot dog or two? You’re a baseball fan.”

“Uh, while I am a Yankees fan, I don’t eat hot dogs.”

“What about cheese? You gotta eat pizza. You’re Italian.”

“No cheese. No dairy. No yogurt.”

“But you have to eat fish? Doctors say it is good for you, those Omega oils and stuff. Keeps your brain in good shape.”

“No fish, either. And you can get those omega oils from plants and seeds.”

“Seeds? Birds eat seeds. Humans eat steak. Where the hell do you get your protein?”

“The word ‘hell,’ again.”

“OK, OK.”

“Protein comes from plants.”

“Oh, come on! There isn’t enough real protein in lettuce!”

“I know this is shocking, but there is protein in vegetables, even in lettuce. Real, honest to goodness protein. Plus, I eat kale. And spinach. And Swiss chard.”

“So, you’re telling me that eating a bowl of green stuff is equal in protein to eating a steak?”

“No, the greens have less protein, but it is good protein since it doesn’t come from an animal. And you don’t need all that protein you get from eating animals.”

“That’s bull! You need protein for life. Didn’t you listen in health class in high school? Protein is the building blocks of life. Protein is best when it comes from a steak or chicken. That has all the protein chain-building things needed for muscle growth.”

“And green leafy vegetables have enough protein to satisfy any human being’s protein needs.”

“Come on! You admittedly get less protein and you don’t drink milk. Where are you getting your calcium from?”

“Kale. Oh, and other green leafy vegetables.”

“So you’re saying that there is calcium in kale? Milk has calcium and lots of it. And it tastes good on cereal and when you dunk an Oreo. Kale tastes terrible.”

“No, kale tastes good. But that’s an argument for another day. Let’s stick with milk: It comes from the mammary glands of a cow or a goat and designed for baby cows and goats to drink so they can grow up to become big cows and goats. It is not designed for human beings to drink. Why? It gives you all the hormones that baby cows and goats need to grow. And it is high in fat.”

“Are you calling me fat? But that’s why you drink skim milk. Less fat.”

“And what about the hormones?”

“Eh, who cares! Milk tastes great cold. Don’t you watch the Indianapolis 500? The winners get to chug milk. There isn’t anything more American than milk and the Indy 500.”

“Yeah. I love the Indy 500. But let’s be honest, if a vegan won the race, they’d probably forego the milk chugging unless it was almond or oat milk.”

“Oat milk? Almond milk? Hate to break it to you, but you can’t milk an almond or a bowl of oatmeal.”

“No, you can’t milk it the way you milk a cow. You create it from combining oats or almonds with water.”

“But that’s all that its in there, water and almonds. Where do you get your calcium?”

“The speciality milks are fortified with vitamins.”

“Ah-ha!! See! You can’t get anything from milking a bowl of oatmeal. All the good stuff needs to be added like calcium and Vitamin D.”

“You know that they add Vitamin D to cow’s milk, don’t you?”

“Well, yeah, but at least you don’t have to add calcium to it like you have to do with oatmeal milk.”

“That’s oat milk. It tastes great. You should try it.”

“Nah, I’m sticking with normal cow’s milk.”

“That’s milk baby cows need to grow up into big, fat cows.”

“Stop that!”

“I love oat milk. It tastes great on a bowl of oats and fruit.”

“Don’t you think it’s weird to pour oat milk over a bowl of oats?”

“Weird? Why?”

“Oat milk over oats? Wouldn’t be easier just to pour water over it?”

“You are making no sense.”

“OK. You say you get protein and vegetables from plants. But without eating meat or dairy, isn’t your diet dangerous?”

“Dangerous? To who?”

“You!! It doesn’t sound like a completely rounded diet. Not enough protein. No amino acids. Calcium from veggies and not milk.”

“So, you’re telling me that eating plants and only plants is less healthy than eating hamburgers or fried chicken?”

“Well, at least you’re getting enough protein.”

“Didn’t we already have this conversation?”

Church · Gospel Life · Living Hope

Abilities for the Church

Since I last wrote about using talents for the good of the Gospel, I started thinking about how to get this message across. In more established congregations, members may not be the most hyped up people when it comes to community outreach. Here at St. Matthew’s, we’re the same. A lot of our members are older, closer to retirement or wanting to move closer to family in other parts of the country rather than doing outreach here in the greater New Milford area. Others just haven’t done this type of work in the church before and they don’t know how to do it.

As I was pondering the importance of becoming a church whose core is bringing Jesus to people, it hit me: Not everyone is equipped to do this type of work, but they have other skills and abilities that can support and grow the church behind the scenes. In reality, a church doesn’t exist if it doesn’t have an active support group willing to do things to make the church stronger for new people and those already part of the church.

The important aspect of the wholeness of the church is that it works together to make discipleship essential. No one is greater than another. We are all equal in the eyes of God. Everyone has skills and talents that strengthen someone else’s faith and comfort level. Leadership doesn’t mean lording abilities over others; it means providing a vision and a dedication to make sure that all people inside the church are using their best abilities for the growth of God’s House.

Let’s say that someone in the church is great with kids. How can this person use this talent to help grow the church? People in the church can be terrific cooks or bakers or musicians or craftspeople. Others have great people skills or can come up with great ideas to enhance worship or the various ministries inside the church. Can these types of skills be used to make people feel comfortable and welcoming to new friends and potential disciples in the church?

Just because someone is not ready to outreach doesn’t mean they aren’t a vital part of the church! The individual talents we’re given can be used favorably for the spreading of the message of hope in Jesus Christ. Every ability each of us has can do just that! 

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Living Hope · Prayer

My Prayer Life Isn’t Great

I have to make an admission – my prayer life isn’t very vibrant.

This is terrible since I’m a pastor. You’d think of all the people on the planet, the last person to complain about their prayer life would be a clergyman.

Yet, my prayer life isn’t great.

I don’t pray enough. And when I pray, I feel as though I’m rushing through the petitions so I could get onto doing something else.

I’ve thought about setting aside time on my schedule to pray, kind of like saying, “Between 8 and 9 AM, all I’m going to do is meditate and pray.”

It sounds good, but it ain’t happening. Life gets hectic very fast.

But the hectic life is my fault. I don’t organize my time well enough. Honestly, I’ve never been great at organization when it comes to merging my personal and professional lives. I compartmentalize too much, setting up group times for stuff needing to get done so my personal life doesn’t crash around me and stuff that the pastor needs to get done.

And even with compartmentalizing, setting up “Prayer Time” never happens.

I think I need to pray for my prayer life.


This weekend in church, we’re praying for:

  • An end to senseless violence as another horrific shooting happened this week at a bar in California. Truthfully, I’m getting tired of adding these petitions in our weekend prayers every time when a crazy person shoots up a public gathering. The sadness of these events rips at our souls.
  • Sunday is Veteran’s Day and we’re going to remember the Veterans of our church, community, and nation.
  • That the weather gets better in California that will help curtail the wildfires that are burning up the landscape and ripping apart lives as great numbers of people and families are losing so much.
  • And, for the Church and all Christians. We need to be better people.

Of course, our regular petitions for the sick and needy, asking for greater faith so we can trust God more, and for our church’s leadership here in New Milford.