Friday, March 27, 2009

Open & Closed Doors

Jim Gordon (Grace-Elgin) just posted a helpful essay on church growth and decline during persecution.

Here it is in its entirety:

My latest posts have been dealing with the letters to the 7 churches in Revelation 2 & 3. Have you ever wondered why they died? The thought came to me very powerfully several years ago when I visited the imposing site of ancient Ephesus. What a great experience! I couldn't believe I was walking where the Apostle Paul had walked. When I looked over the sight from the top of the hill I thought, "This is history! I'm passing through life but here before me is history."

I've often thought about what may have happened there. Recently I found an answer that is beginning to make sense as I ponder it. Philip Jenkins, author of The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand -Year Golden Age of the Church in Middle East, Africa, and Asia - and How it Died(How's that for a title?!), answers our question in a post called The Other Side of Church Growth. You can read the entire interview here. The first 3 questions get to heart of the matter.

What causes church death?
In no case that I can see does a church simply fade away through indifference. What kills a church is persecution. What kills a church is armed force, usually in the interest of another religion or an antireligious ideology, and sometimes that may mean the destruction or removal of a particular ethnic community that practices Christianity. So churches die by force. They are killed.

But what about the old saying, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church"?
That was said by Tertullian, who came from the church in North Africa, where the church vanished. If you were to look at the healthiest part of Christianity right around the year 400 or 500, you might well look at North Africa, roughly what we call Tunisia and Algeria. It was the land of Augustine. Then the Arabs, the Muslims, arrive. They conquer Carthage in a.d. 698, and 100 years later—I don't say there were no Christians there, but there certainly was only a tiny, tiny number. That church dies.

Why does persecution sometimes strengthen a church and other times wipe it out?
The difference is how far the church establishes itself among the mass of people and doesn't just become the church of a particular segment, a class or ethnic group. In North Africa, it's basically the church of Romans and Latin-speakers, as opposed to the church of peasants, with whom the Romans don't have much connection. When the Romans go, Christianity goes with them.
But Christianity establishes itself very early as a religion of the ordinary, everyday people in Egypt as things get translated into Coptic. As a result, after almost 1,400 years under Muslim rule, there is still a thriving Coptic church that represents [perhaps] 10 percent of the Egyptian people—which I would personally put forward as the greatest example of Christian survival in history.

Jenkins closes with some remarks we should all consider as we think about the history of the church,

My concern is that when we write Christian history, so often it's a matter of, "Let's look at this expansion, and let's look at this growth and new opportunity." We're not really seeing the doors that are closing.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I Hunger and I Thirst

In light of our recent series through Exodus, I wanted to direct your attention to a hymn that we (to my knowledge) have never sung at Grace. It fits perfectly with Pastor David's sermons from the last few weeks.

I Hunger and I Thirst #430 Trinity Hymnal

I hunger and I thirst; Jesus my manna be;

ye living waters, burst out of the rock for me

Thou bruised and broken Bread, my life-long needs supply;

as living souls are fed, O feed me, or I die.

Thou true life-giving Vine, let me thy sweetness prove;

renew my life with thine, refresh my soul with love.

Rough paths my feet have trod, since first their course began;

Feed me, thou Bread of God, help me, thou Son of Man.

For still the desert lies my thirsting soul before;

O living waters rise within me evermore.

John S. B. Monsell, 1866

Friday, March 13, 2009

Genesis 3 Personal Ministry

In Paul Tripp's Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands he lists five principles that we can draw from Genesis 3 to develop a biblical understanding of personal ministry. They are:
  1. Thoughts, opinions, advice, and relationships are always agenda setting. Though we may be unaware of it, we daily advise each other what to desire think and do.
  2. Advice is always moral, defining right and wrong, true and false, good and bad, wise and foolish.
  3. We should hunger for the simple dependence of Genesis 1, where everything people thought, said, and did was based solely on the words of God.
  4. The voices of the world appeal to a core delusion in sinful hearts, the desire to be God, able to understand and live life on our own. We need people in our lives who love us enough to call us back to a life with God at the center.
  5. We need the words of God (Scripture) to make sense out of life. We need to listen for the one reliable voice of the Creator. HIs Word alone can cut through the confusion of the world’s philosophy and our own foolishness to make us truly wise. Real knowledge begins with knowing him. Wisdom is the fruit of worship, and received on bended knee. It is the product of a life lived in submission to the One who is wisdom, Christ.”

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Joni Eareckson Tada

Pastor David referenced this post from Justin Taylor about Joni Eareckson Tada today in his sermon.

Here is the video Justin links to where Joni talks about 5 minutes in.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

The Lord's Pantry Is Stocked Full

This quote from Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661) is taken from The Loveliness of Christ which is on the book table:

"There is as much in our Lord's pantry as will satisfy all his [children], and as much wine in his cellar as will quench all their thirst. Hunger on; for there is meat in hunger for Christ: go never from him, but [trouble] him (who yet is pleased with the importunity of hungry souls) with a dishful of hungry desires, till he fill you; and if he delay yet come not you away, albeit you should fall a-swoon at his feet" (p.4)

"Everyday we may see some new thing in Christ. His love hath neither brim nor bottom." (p.viii)

Monday, March 2, 2009

Dinnertime Conversation and Devotions

The Life Together Blog posted this helpful article for parents doing devotions around the table:

Mark Driscoll gives a realistic approach to doing family devotions at dinnertime:

Step 1. Eat dinner with your entire family regularly.
Step 2. Mom and Dad sit next to one another to lead the family discussion.
Step 3. Open the meal by asking if there is anyone or anything to pray for.
Step 4. Someone opens in prayer and covers any requests. This task should be rotated among family members so that different people take turns learning to pray aloud.
Step 5. Start eating and discuss how everyone’s day went.
Step 6. Have a Bible in front of the parents in a translation that is age-appropriate for the kids’ reading level. Have someone (parent or child) open the Bible, and assign a portion to read aloud while everyone is eating and listening.
Step 7. Parents should note key words and themes in the passage and explain them to the kids on an age-appropriate level.
Step 8. Ask questions about the passage. You may want to begin with having your children summarize what was read—retelling the story or passage outline. Then, ask the following questions: What does this passage teach us about God? What does it say about us or about how God sees us? What does it teach us about our relationships with others?
Step 9. Let the conversation happen naturally, listen carefully to the kids, let them answer the questions, and fill in whatever they miss or lovingly and gently correct whatever they get wrong so as to help them.
Step 10. If the Scriptures convict you of sin, repent as you need to your family, and share appropriately honest parts of your life story so the kids can see Jesus’ work in your life and your need for him too. This demonstrates gospel humility to them.
Step 11. At the end of dinner, ask the kids if they have any questions for you.
Step 12. If you miss a night, or if conversation gets off track, or if your family occasionally just wants to talk about something else, don’t stress—it’s inevitable.

Adapted from “Family Dinner Bible Studies” by Mark Driscoll in Trial: 8 Witnesses from 1 & 2 Peter, a study guide. (Mars Hill Church, 2009), pages 69-70.