Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The road to revival

In 100 AD there were 25,000 Christians in the world. By 310, there were 20 million. Christianity became the dominant religion of Rome even though they were largely an underground without political power or centralized structure. Somehow they managed to turn a hostile government to their favor.

Fast forward to the 20th Century. Mao Zedong wants to purge China of all Western influence, including Christianity. He deported foreign missionaries and ministers, took ceased all church property, killed all senior leaders and outlawed church gatherings. At this time the church had been well-established in China with two million members. When contact with the Western world was re-established in the 80's the Chinese church had grown to 60 million. At the dawn of the 21st Century membership grew to 80 million.

Like the early church, they lacked professional clergy, formal training and centralized organization. Also, like the early church, they operated underground moving person to person. Neither movement tried to enact legislation that required nonbelievers to behave like Christians. Neither movement tried to gain political power

In his book, “The Forgotten Ways,” Alan Hirsh observes that revivals begin on the fringes of society among the poor and marginalized. It seldom (if at all) starts at the center. In fact, when the institutional church begins its inevitable decline, there is usually a vibrant grass-roots movement forming.

The established church in America wants to reach the middle class, family values types; the “soccer moms.” Most churches are competing for this segment. The result is that only 18% of the US population attend church. What about the other 82%? What about the 40% of San Antonians who claim no religious belief; the “nones?”

The contemporary church growth movement sought to make it easy for people to go to church. Recommendations included sticking to your own people group, using music that appeals to your demographic, parking lot attendants, and excellent children & youth programs. No cross bearing nor sacrifice. Forty years later, church attendance decline continues.

George Barna predicts, in “Revolution,” that the church will lose 50% of its attendance in the first quarter of the 21st Century. COVID-19 may have accelerated and increased the decline. In 2008, The Christian Century (5/6/08) reported that 3700 churches close every year. These tend to be inner city and rural churches but also include failed new church starts.

Hirsh recommends reseeding an established church with new, grass-roots folks who will respect the needs of the old guard. Perhaps several new church starts and/or parachurch groups can share space paying rent to help with the utilities and maintenance.

Frank Tillapaugh, in “Unleashing the Church,” states that we need a marriage between the established church and the parachurch. I would replace the term “parachurch” with any organization that is doing Kingdom work, even those that don't identify as faith-based.

We need to get back to the methodology that helped the early church, the 20th Century Chinese church, and many others to become disciple making machines. There is no short cut; no easy way. There is only people who know going to people who need to know Jesus.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Foot washing today

Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet,
you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things,you will be blessed if you do them.
John 13:14-17 (NIV)

In John 13 we read that Jesus washed the disciple's feet. An unpleasant but ordinary task usually performed by a servant. Jesus set the example for all of us who call ourselves His followers. Churches that practice foot washing today have turned into a religious ritual that could be missing the point. The story below is a demonstration of humility and service that illustrates Jesus' point. It is taken from the journal of one of our deacons.

A day of ministry…

About 3:45 pm I got a call from a disabled woman. She thinks she might have a dead rat in her house. My husband and I arrived at 4:30 pm. When we walked in the door we could smell the dead rat, plus lots of dog feces in 2 of the 3 bedrooms.

My husband picked up the glue trap in the bedroom (with dead rat attached,) disposed of it and, then, picked up all the dog feces in the house.

I talked with the disabled woman while picking up lots of trash in the floor of her bedroom  and put her mattress cover in the washing machine, while my husband mopped the 2 dog-poop rooms, the bathroom, and the hallway.

I pulled the kitchen trash bag out the container, which smelled like dead rat. I looked in and there was a rat in the bottom of the container – I screamed! Then my husband looked inside discovered two rats in there – a dead one, and a live one that was eating the dead rat’s head. He took the container outside, killed the live one, and threw them both away. I washed out the kitchen trash can.

Next, we mopped the bedroom because there was a trail of diarrhea on the floor. I sat and listened to the woman while my husband washed her dishes.

I put out a fresh bowl of water for her dogs, swept up all the rat feces in the kitchen floor, then mopped it.

We went to the corner store to get her some Gatorade and, then, moved her laundry from the washer to the dryer. 
After dinner at Whataburger, we went to Walmart to buy a 2 weeks supply of Gatorade and more rat traps for the woman we are helping (she always gives me her debit card when I shop for her).  When we delivered it to her house, I got the sheets and mattress pad out of the dryer and made her bed while my husband set out 8 rat traps in the house.

I think we left her house around 8:30 pm.

Verily I say unto you,
Inasmuch as ye have done it unto
one of the least of these my brethren,
ye have done it unto me.

Matthew 25:40 (KJV)

Note: This disabled woman is currently undergoing chemotherapy. She is unable to walk her dogs and, so, they often do their business inside but they are her only companions. Baptist Temple is seeking ways to help her in her time of need.


Monday, August 24, 2020

How did we get here?

Just about every church, denomination and business wrote a 2020 vision statement at the turn of the century. What could be more poetic? I'm sure the plans included growth, efficiency and technology upgrades but no one planned for a future that included the COVID-19 plague, rioting and a nation divided politically.

God created the world and on the sixth day. He looked around and said it was good. He'd created humanity in His own image and told them. “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” (Genesis 1:27-28)

He had one rule and the first humans broke it. As a result a curse fell on them and all creation. War, disease, pestilence, violence and exploitation would become the way of the land. (Genesis 3)

Later we are reminded that humanity was created in the image of God but Adam “had a son in his own likeness, in his own image.” (Genesis 5:3)

Evil multiplied and filled the earth. God regretted creating humanity and destroyed it in a flood but Noah found favor and was saved with his family along with a remnant of all creation. (Genesis 6:11-14)

Thoughts of the end of the world proliferate at times like this. The world seems to be ripe for Christ's return. We hear of wars and rumors of wars, hunger, natural disasters, immorality... It sure feels like the end is near.

After Jesus' resurrection, the disciples gathered around the risen, triumphant savior and asked, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8)

God's plan has always involved blessing humanity. Following the flood, he declared again that humans were made in God's image and issued a new order to multiply. (Genesis 9:6-7) When called Abraham, God said, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:1-3)

When the time was right (Galatians 4:4), God sent His Son into the world. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it. (John 3:16-17)

When become followers of Christ we become new creations (born again.) God reconciles us to Himself through Jesus Christ and turns over to us this ministry of reconciling the world to Him. We are Christ's ambassadors. (2 Corinthians 5:17-20)

In times like these we a-re called to continue to be Jesus' witnesses, obeying his call to “make disciples.” (Matthew 28:18-20)