OPENING ACTIVITY: Our ‘Gods’
Ask students what god or gods people put their trust in. Summarize their answers on a board or sheet of newsprint. One answer is the God of the Bible who is Jesus, God in the flesh. But people also make objects, people, or experiences their “gods.”
Although the number of people in America who believe in God seems to be on the decline, in some places in the world the number who believe Jesus is God is on the increase, as this week’s story explains.
OPENING STORY: [Read the story aloud or make copies and pass them around.]
WHO IS YOUR GOD?
Recent surveys of American religious beliefs by the Gallup Poll indicate that nearly 90% believe in God or in some kind of universal spirit. But while over 60% identify as being Protestant or Catholic, the number who identify themselves this way has been on the decline for decades. In 2000, for example, over 80% of Americans identified themselves in one of these two categories. What seems to be increasing is the number who do not identify with any religion at all. “None” was the response of 17% when asked what their religious preference; 8% said that in 2000. Americans’ beliefs in God, the devil, angels, and heaven have been on the decline as well along with their satisfaction with religion in general.
A 2010 survey by Pew Research indicated that about 32% of the world population identifies as being Christian. Although it’s thought that this percent will remain pretty much the same in the future, Pew projects that 40 million will convert to Christianity by 2050 while over 106 million will change to identify themselves as “unaffiliated,” leaving a net loss of over 60 million. What’s projected to increase significantly is those who follow Islam. In 2010, only 23% of the world identified themselves with this religion. It is believed that this will increase to about 31% in 2050 and that Islam will continue to be, as it already is today, the fastest growing religion in the world.
What these and other statistics suggest is that the number of people who believe that God, Jesus, or the Bible can supply the answers they need to live fulfilling lives or to give them purpose in life will continue to be on the decline, while many of those who become “unaffiliated” will end up not identifying with any religion at all.
What some of the unaffiliated may do is end up believing in the power of “self”—thinking that they can somehow manipulate or exploit the world around them in order to find the truth or fulfillment they seek. They may start to think like Neil Patel, Patrick Vlaskovits, and Jonas Koffler, co-authors of the bestselling book entitled, Hustle, the Power to Charge Your Life with Money, Meaning, and Momentum. The authors believe that “the right mix of momentum and money can lead us toward meaning” and that “most of us are not living our dreams.” They encourage people to examine “the strategies that can pull you out of the Cycles of Suck and help you clear your own best path to owning your own dream.”
Despite these discouraging and somewhat alarming stories about who or what people put their trust in, we also hear from countries where people are coming to Jesus in great numbers in spite of enormous difficulties. One of those countries is Iran. According to Stoyan Zaimov, a reporter for the Christian Post website, “The underground church movement in Iran is growing despite the regime’s crackdown on Christians. Hundreds are being baptized in large ceremonies and people are praising Jesus for saving them from despair and suicide.” William Stark, a regional manager for International Christian Concern, said that the house church movement has seen astounding growth “despite the intense persecution the house church movement faces from the government,” which sees “evangelical Christians in Iran as a threat to national security.” Elam Ministries says that the number of believers in Iran 20 years ago was estimated to be in the 2,000-5,000 range—today it’s estimated to be between 300,000 to 1 million.
Mark Howard of Elam Ministries says one reason people in Iran are coming to Jesus in such high numbers is their hunger and thirst for truth, a truth the have found exists only in the Lord. Another reason is disillusionment with the Iranian regime and with Islam in general. They point out the lack of improvement in their quality of their lives and “the violence committed by radical Islamists.” Some new converts have thanked God for “saving them from deep despair” and for how finding Christ has freed them from their past. One revealed that he had been suicidal before Christ saved him.
Although new Christians in Iran often face heavy oppression, the church there continues to grow. This, says William Stark, “is something that should give people hope.”
Now have your students form small groups to discuss these questions.
- Why do many people choose to put their faith in something or someone other than God?
- Why would people who have come to know Jesus drift away from their faith and put their trust in something or someone else?
- Why might it sometimes be easier for people outside the United States and other Western countries to put their faith in God?
(When you are finished with the questions, go on to Step 2 in your Adult Teacher’s Guide.)
Looking for Steps 2 & 3?
You can find Steps 2 and 3 in your teacher’s guide; your Step 4 appears below. To purchase a teacher's guide, please visit: Bible-in-Life or Echoes
LET GOD REIGN IN YOUR LIFE
No one can compare to—or compete with—our God. He came to dwell among us in Jesus, and we know from Jesus and the Bible what God is like. We know He is real, that He has created and still controls the world around us, and that He has done what is needed to redeem us from our sins. Our God is the only God. He reigns over the entire universe, and He is worthy of our trust. Since we have such a great and wonderful God, why would we not completely trust Him and let Him reign in our lives?
Have students return to the groups they formed in Step 1 to discuss the following questions:
- Where is God not reigning in your life?
- What do you need to do so that you are surrendering completely to Him?
Close the class by thanking God for the many ways He’s proven that He is the one and only God and that He reigns over the world. Pray that students will respond to their knowledge of this by totally surrendering their lives to Him.
THE BIBLE IN THE NEWS
Many practicing Christians are not reading their Bibles
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