What strikes me, though, is the doom-and-gloom that so often infects even Christian commentators when we start looking at national trends. As a part of a declining mainline denomination, I've lived with this mentality for decades. Church leaders often remind me of Eeyore, grimly hanging our heads and saying, "Thanks for noticin' me."
I can find no excuse for this mentality in the Bible. Biblically speaking, the church is growing, both in numbers and in spiritual depth. If we are not growing in these two ways, my guess is that we have missed some fundamental part of being the church.
So what do we do when financial cutbacks are required? What do we do when congregations close? What do we do when denominations have to cut back, lay off staff, sell buildings? Or on a personal level, as a Christian how do I deal with these same kinds of difficulties in my own life?
Here's one possibility. Ask yourself, "What is God up to?" God is not surprised by a recession, cutbacks, layoffs, or plummeting real estate prices. He is not wringing his hands saying, "What will happen to all my religious schools?" Maybe churches in this part of the world have gotten too enamored of our buildings, programs, endowments, and bottom lines. Maybe as individuals we have given in to the temptation to measure our success by how much stuff we've accumulated. When we start to see those material things drift away, what is God up to?
Same thing he's always doing. He's drawing people to himself, and sometimes that means kicking out the props people have been relying on instead of turning to him. The Old Testament image of God bothers a lot of people, but there's a lot of truth in it. God is still "a jealous God" who, because he loves us, will not allow any other god to take first place in our lives for very long. He will expose those idols for what they really are -- lies that will destroy us if we keep relying on them. In order to save us, he may have to strip away some of the garbage we've been relying on for so long.
What is God up to? His love is limitless, and he will not let anything -- wealth or poverty, fear or recession or anything else -- keep you away from him for long.