Monthly Archives: December 2009

Lessons from Iran

From a book review by David Mays of Iran: Open Hearts in a Closed Land by Mark Bradley, Authentic, 2007

While the Iranian government is actively strangling the established churches, the underground churches are growing.  Its continued growth is likely for three reasons.  One, it is very secretive and hidden from authorities.  Two, the churches are very active and vibrant.  Most have never been in a church building, so Christianity grows up around the Scripture, spreads by relationships, and takes on natural cultural forms.  Three, new members recognize the urgency of telling others and take on a sense of ownership very quickly.

While Christianity fades in the West, it is flourishing elsewhere…including very difficult places such as Iran where the law stipulates execution for Muslims converting to other religions.  Do you see the lessons Iranian disciples can teach us?

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Filed under church, Islam, Jesus Christ, Kingdom Growth, Middle East, Missions/Evangelism

Guest Blog from Jerry Starling

My friend and brother in Christ, Jerry Starling, is a former missionary to New Zealand and has proclaimed the gospel in Arkansas, Alabama, Florida, Ohio, and Michigan.  He now works with Eastern European Mission as Regional Coordinator for Florida.  He writes a blog, Committed to Truth which you can find here. He writes about the work of Ukrainian Alexander Prokopchuk…a great example of a what we are discussing on this blog.

Most of my life I’ve wanted to see a church grow and prosper without either a church building or a paid preacher. Finally, as I’m nearing the end of my seventh decade of life, I have seen this — in the church-planting activities of Alexander Prokopchuk in Ukraine.

This brother (Sasha, as he is affectionately known) preaches on a national TV program. He offers some free literature each week, and receives an average of 300 requests for material weekly. Each request is promptly answered, including the introductory lesson of a Bible Correspondence Course. Thousands have completed his courses over the past half–dozen years — and hundreds have obeyed the gospel. These are scattered all over the country — a family here, two or three families there, a group of a dozen or so studying together in another place. These scattered groups are taught how to start a church in their own homes.

To strengthen them and inspire them, a seminar is offered each year. “Newbies” are invited — along with some other recent converts who have previously attended a seminar and who are doing what all of them are taught to do at the seminar:

1. Worship, even if it is only “two or three gathered in Jesus’ name.”
2. Tell other people what you are doing and why.
3. Make a difference in your community by showing the love of Jesus.

They are shown a very practical way of doing this through working with the many government-sponsored orphanages found throughout Ukraine. This work with the orphans parallels the work of the ancient church in rescuing children who were “exposed” to die when the father did not want them. In the ancient world, only the “pimps” and the Christians would offer these children shelter — the pimps for their own ungodly purposes and the Christians for the glory of God.

In Ukraine, the “graduates” of the government orphanages, shown the door on their 16th birthday, have a grim future. In the first year, 20% commit suicide. Of those who survive five years, 80% of the boys are in organized crime and 50% of the girls are prostitutes.

But the orphans touched by the Christians have a different future. Not only do the Christians work with them in the orphanages, many become foster parents and even “adopt” children into their own families. The impact of this God-filled life-style is making an impact on the peoples of Ukraine. Though all of this is done quietly with no national fanfare, people are seeing it — and coming to Jesus.

I was privileged to visit one of those seminars last September. It was the most inspirational event I have ever attended. There were between four and five hundred people present — and every person hung on every word that was being said. Simple, real gospel messages were delivered — and some of the more recent converts told of their experiences in their own cities.

New Christians left with the feeling, “These people are just like me. If they can do this, so can I with God’s help.” I met a coal miner who has started three congregations in his town — and who is making a real difference in his community with his work with orphans (including taking some of them into his own home).

A lot of money is being poured into this work — but it is not going for a paid preacher in every little congregation and a building for them to meet in. Rather, it is going to the preaching of the word on TV, in printed material, and at the seminars. Where there is a cluster of students, Sasha goes to meet them, and get them started in the Way.

Eastern European Mission, a ministry I work with as a fund-raiser in my home state of Florida, helps in this work by providing the means for the work – but, as I said, what we provide goes into the teaching and preaching of the Word, not into building a clergy class or a nation-wide series of church buildings, each with a struggling group of saints who are barely hanging on – as I have seen in most mission work I have observed, both as a “missionary” and a supporter of missions.

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Filed under Christlikeness, church, Community, Good & Evil, Jesus Christ, Kingdom Growth, Missions/Evangelism, Preaching/Teaching

The Fading of Western Christianity

For a video of this post go here

The term “Western Christianity” doesn’t quite encompass all it should.  By “Western Christianity” I mean the Christianity of Europe, North America, New Zealand and Australia.  These are areas dominated by Europeans and their descendents.  In these regions, the gears of Christianity have shifted into reverse.

This is not the case in the rest of the world.  The kingdom is exploding in the Southern latitudes.  Adherents in Africa, Asia and South America are quickly outnumbering their European spiritual siblings.  It may be long after I am gone, but I worry that the same malaise that afflicts the Western church will, in time, infect the kingdom there as well.

I say this because in too many cases we missionaries have recreated a “Western” manifestation of Christianity duly adopted by non-Western churches.  Yes, they look good now, but what happens when their nations eventually and inevitably possess the material wealth and secular education and outlook of their former missionaries’ homelands?  The time to think about this is now.

How does the kingdom flourish in a secular, materialistic culture?  That’s the question we must answer right now in the West for the sake of the kingdom here and in the two-thirds world.  We must ask that question because Western Christianity is not flourishing now.  It’s fading.  Does that bother you like it does me?

It seems to me we have three choices: (1) we can ignore the problem and pretend it doesn’t exist, (2) we can keep insanely applying the same old ineffective measures or, (3) we can back off, take a hard look at what Jesus told us to do and just do it.

Of course, number three is my choice.  Why don’t we take an honest look at what we are doing (or not doing) now and answer the question, “Are we really doing what Jesus told us to do?”  It seems to me that we are so involved in peripheral matters that we have neglected (or just ignored) the core matters.

If Jesus or Peter or Paul suddenly made a surprise visit to survey the followers of Christ today, what would they think about our professional staffs, buildings, schools and all the other tangential things on which we concentrate?  And all this while the people around us are separate from Christ, strangers to the covenants of promise, without hope, without God and continually straying like sheep?  Be honest now!

Am I on the right track here?  Let me know what you think.

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Filed under church, Jesus Christ, Kingdom Growth

Lunch with Dad at Table Fifteen

I see wheelchairs everywhere…some leg-powered some arm-powered.  The room is packed with people waiting expectantly for food.  A few have dozed off, chin on bibs.  One lady has her head on the table…seemingly lifeless.  There’s not much conversation.  Recorded Christmas music issues from a boom box balanced on a wooden podium in the background.

I observe two sorts of staff: indifferent and attentive…the attentive ones passing out an occasional hug to grateful residents.

The diners come in all shapes, sizes and conditions…some with their wits, some obviously without.  As far as I can tell everyone except the staff is white…no blacks or Hispanics in sight.

We are joined at table 15 by Mary…impatient for her food.  Soon she will be impatient to be taken back to her room complaining of back pain.  I try to talk to her but she is not in the mood.

Behind us an orderly softly sings Christmas carols with each phrase in a different key.

Finally, the trays begin arriving and the lady who had her head on the table comes to life and begins doing slow-motion wheelchair wheelies.

The food is nutritious and good.  I am grateful.

As lunch is consumed (not in whole but the part) the diners disappear one-by-one back into the maze of halls to find their rooms.

Is this my future?  I don’t aspire to lunch or any other meal in such circumstances.   Nevertheless, if Jesus tarries it is probably the lot of many of us.  Maybe I’ll be the one with my head on the table.  Even so, come Lord Jesus!

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Filed under Aging, Health Care, Nursing Home, Random Thoughts