Author: admin

10.18.22


Unstopping the Wells of Revival

And Abimelech said to Isaac, “Go away from us, for you are much mightier than we.” So Isaac departed from there and encamped in the Valley of Gerar and settled there. And Isaac dug again the wells of water that had been dug in the days of Abraham his father, which the Philistines had stopped after the death of Abraham. And he gave them the names that his father had given them. – Genesis 26:16-1

In Genesis 26, Isaac faced a matter of life and death. The Philistine King had exiled him and Isaac found himself in the Valley of Gerar, in the Negev desert. The problem facing him was existential; it was the problem of an absence of water. There were no functioning wells and no running water in this part of the Negev. Human beings can survive for weeks without food, but not without water. Without water, life is not possible. 

Like Isaac, the Church in the West faces an existential crisis. According to the headline of a September 2022 Christianity Today article, “The Decline of Christianity Shows No Sign of Stopping.”. The crisis the American church faces is not something we can fix with half-measures or strategic tweaks. We need life. We need hydration. We need God’s power to intervene and hydrate us spiritually. We need water and we need it now. 

What did Isaac do in the midst of his existential crisis? He did not try to innovate. He did not seek out new supplies of water. As Martyn Lloyd Jones said, “the man who innovates in a crisis is a fool.” What Isaac did was go back to the wells his father had dug before. Isaac recalled that his father had been in this same country before and knew to dig wells and find water. So he went back to Abraham’s wells which had sustained his people in the previous generation and he redug them. 

We need to go back as well to the water of the past. This is not the first time the church has found itself in a spiritual drought, in danger of dehydration and death. We have been here many times before. In the late 1700s, from the pinnacle of the French Enlightenment, Voltaire predicted that Christianity would be extinct in 100 years. Within a decade of that pronouncement the 2nd Great Awakening began. It lasted all the way until the Civil War. The Providence Revival of 1820 was one of the waves of this Great Awakening. The Church found water. 

This same source of spiritual life and power that revived the people of God in ages past is still available to us today, even if over the years in between, our Enemy has thrown rubbish in the wells. The water of life is still down there, in the very same place it was in past times of revival. We must do as Isaac did; we must excavate the ancient wells of revival through our prayers.

Sanctuary Church is setting aside every Tuesday as a day of fasting and prayer. Over the next several months, every Tuesday we will focus on redigging the wells of revival through our prayers. We will be identifying the barriers and rubbish that are keeping God’s people from the life and power of God and praying through these barriers until we once again find the water.

Next Steps

  • Consider setting aside 30 minutes a day to pray on Tuesdays, sign up to receive the weekly prompt.
  • Consider committing to some sort of fast on Tuesdays. Many of the leadership community are also fasting on Tuesdays.
  • Come to Altar Zoom Prayer times at 8am and 9am.

Prayer Prompts

  • Ask God to pour out the Spirit of prayer and intercession on you and the whole Church and sustain us in seeking him for revival on Tuesdays (and other days) 
  • Ask God to give you and the church sense of urgency and spiritual thirst for God
  • Ask God to activate the whole church in praying and seeking him for revival.

09.17.22


THE FUTURE OF OUR CREATIVE MINORITY

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. Deuteronomy 6:4-9

In our last reflection, we discussed how the early church became a creative minority within Israel and the rest of the Roman Empire and how God uses creative minorities as remnants that host and usher in revival for the surrounding culture. 

In this our final first seek reflection, we want to talk about a critical but often overlooked factor in how the early church went from 120 believers huddled in the upper room to a global movement that spread to multiple continents and took over the Roman Empire. 

It took time. In fact, it took nearly 300 years for Christianity to be made a legal religion in the Roman Empire. 300 years is somewhere in the ballpark of 12-15 generations. The patient ferment of the early church that spread exponentially through the Roman Empire took 12-15 generations to accomplish. And the faith had to be passed on to the next generation. 

The rise of Christianity was an intergenerational relay race. And because of this, the early Church, led by the Spirit, took very seriously the process of raising up and discipling each successive generation of believers. 

If we want to see the gospel and the Kingdom grow in a sustained way in our own time, not only will we need to recover our creative minority mojo, but we will need to take our children seriously, prioritizing their discipleship. According to the most recent Barna study, 50% of youth who are actively involved in church in high school will walk away from their faith after college. These are not good statistics. But as it turns out, in the same study, children whose parents talk about and practice faith in the home are much more likely to remain Christians as adults. 82% of them, to be exact. What is needed is intentionality, on the part of parents and the church, to prioritize the discipleship of the next generation. 

Think of it this way. Revival could come in our time, in this place…but if the church is not committed to raise up the next generation in the way of Jesus, the fruits of revival won’t go multi-generational. So from the beginning, as we seek God for revival, we need to decide if we want this revival to be a flash in the pan…or if we are interested in its fruits and effects going the distance and lasting many generations. And if we want this (which we should) we must prioritize the discipleship of the next generation.

When Moses entered the promised land, Israel was called to be a creative minority amidst the Canaanites, Jebusites, Hivites, Gergashites, Edomites, all the surrounding cultures. These cultures were polytheistic. They practiced fertility rites like ritual prostitution. They practiced child sacrifice. They did not know the LORD, Yahweh, the God of Israel and the one true God of the universe. Israel would have to function for many generations as a creative minority. So God gave Israel the law to help them do this. But then Moses commanded the people with these words:

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.[a] 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

The way a creative minority goes multiple generations is by talking about our faith and God with our children.

NEXT STEPS:

  1. If you have children, how have you been intentional (or not) in terms of talking about God with them. How have you been intentional (or not) in their discipleship?
  2. If you do not have biological or adopted children, who are your spiritual children? Who in the next generation is God calling you to invest in intentionally? To whom is he inviting you to entrust and pass on your faith?
  3. Who are some young people you can be praying for regularly?
  4. How could you support parents or the church in discipling young people?

Prayer Prompts:

Pray for the next generation, to know and love Jesus, to walk in the way of Jesus. 

Pray for young people in your life to have direct encounters with Jesus through the Holy Spirit.

Pray for the parents, pastors, and youth leaders in our church to be anointed and empowered and equipped to disciple young people.

Ask the LORD if he wants you to help out with ministry to young people.

Pray for other churches to be equipped and take seriously the discipleship of the next generation.

09.16.22


THE POWER OF A CREATIVE MINORITY

Acts 2:42-47

We have talked about what God did in the early church in revival. Today, we want to reflect on how God used the early church in the surrounding culture as an agent of renewal. Consider the uphill battle the church was facing. The upper room they prayed in before Pentecost was the same upper room used as a hideout for the disciples after Jesus’ was essentially…lynched by a mob. The same leaders that killed Jesus were looking for them. And they were a tiny persecuted minority in the midst of a vast, mighty, invincible Roman Empire. The early church was facing an existential crisis. Its back was against a wall. 

In our time, in New England, in Providence – the Church is facing a similar uphill battle. We have for some time been in a state of spiritual decline and are moving into what is known as post-Christian culture. Post-Christianity is a culture which has been in essence vaccinated against Christianity. It has developed a kind of immunity to the gospel. Mark Sayers says that post-Christian culture is marked by a desire to have “the Kingdom without the King.” 

The trends are not good, from a demographic perspective. Affiliation with Christianity is declining faster than at any time in our national history. And some of this is with good reason. The Church, from the Catholics to the Baptists, to celebrity pastors has faced scandal after scandal, leading to a widespread loss of trust and a crisis of spiritual authority. This in turn has led many Christians to deconstruct and lose their faith in recent years. 

What is the response of the people of God to this existential crisis? What will keep the Church from slowly withering away?

The Church has essentially five options.

  1. We can give up. We can slowly manage the inevitable decline of Christianity in the west. Trying to coast as long as we can on the inertia of the past until we close up shop. This doesn’t sound attractive…so what are the other options.
  2. 2. We can try harder. We can work smarter. We can be more strategic. We can import the insights from modern business theory to the church. We can ask for more out of our pastors and leaders. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. The only problem with this is that we are all exhausted. Especially pastors and church leaders. The rate of burnout is hitting historic highs…for many in society but especially those who are leading the church and carrying the emotional loads of so many others. Just try harder is actually a recipe for disaster. You can paddle as hard as you want…but you will never canoe over a mountain. 
  3. We can fight back. We can respond to the slow loss of the perks, power, and privileges of Christendom by trying to hold on as long as we can to power. We can try to place our hope in the political system to return us to some notion of past glory (even though we have never been a Christian nation). Like Peter in the Garden of Gethsemane, when we sense a threat to the faith, we can take up the sword. The Lord will say to us, however, what he said to Peter. “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the father has given me?” The reality is that the Kingdom never comes through force or politics, but through cross and resurrection.
  4. We can retreat and hide. We can run for the hills. We can pull ourselves away from meaningful engagement with the surrounding culture. This instinct is not altogether wrong. The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher explores the need for cloistering in times of spiritual decline. There is a holy circling of the wagons to go deeper in discipleship and hold onto our unique identity as believers in a culture that is caustic to historic Christianity. However, we can’t hide forever. The faith will die with us if we do. We cannot hide our light permanently under the bushel (Mt 5:13-16). Jesus did not hide from the world, he engaged it fully.
  5. We can camouflage. We can mix our faith so thoroughly with the spirit of the age so that it feels relevant and unthreatening to a secular world. Those aspects of our faith that are stumbling blocks to the post-Christian secular culture around us we can hide or abandon to try to make the faith as “up-to-date” as possible. The theological word for this is syncretism. The only problem with syncretism is that it is never honored by God in revival. Jesus said, “you are the salt of the earth…but if the salt loses its saltiness…its potency and distinctiveness, it is no longer useful for anything.” 

So…what can we do, as the people of God in the face of a secularizing culture in spiritual decline?

We can become a creative minority. In their book, Creative Minority, Heather Grizzle and Jon Tyson point out that, especially in seasons of spiritual decline, the church is called to be a creative minority that operates within the surrounding culture as a redemptive influence within it. The Bible is full of moments where the people of God became or acted as a creative minority. Daniel and his friends in Babylon. Israel among the nations of Canaan. And of course, the early church in the book of Acts. Before God sends revival, he raises up a creative minority…which he then empowers and positions and uses to bless and advance his Kingdom in the surrounding culture. 

A creative minority can be very small and still incredibly powerful in the hands of God. In the upper room before Pentecost, there were only 120 believers, praying and seeking God and waiting for the power of the Spirit. They were still but a tiny minority of Israel which was a backwater region of a Roman Empire which numbered 60 million souls. But by the fourth century, this creative minority had not only survived, but had grown (under persecution no less) to be by some estimates a third of the Roman Empire…20 million strong. A creative minority can start very small but grow very big and transform the surrounding environment. Jesus’ parable of the yeast…and the mustard seed…are creative minority parables. The Kingdom is like something very small, but very potent, that grows to be huge and impossible to miss.

As we look around today, what is the solution to the spiritual decline we see around us. God is calling his people, once again, to become a remnant he will use in revival. A creative minority like the early Church, that even under persecution, he will use as a redemptive influence in the surrounding culture. 

NEXT STEPS:

  1. What is your response to the decline of Christianity in America? In Providence? Is it apathy? Bewilderment? Despair? Or is it not something you commonly think about?
  2. What response do you identify most with to the decline of Christianity? Is it trying harder? Fighting back? Running away and hiding? Is it syncretism or jettisoning the parts of the faith that feel out of date or out of vogue? 
  3. What excites you about being part of a creative minority? What scares or frightens you?

Prayer Prompts:

  1. Pray for Sanctuary and other churches in Providence and New England to become creative minorities.
  2. Pray that churches and believers will “retain their saltiness,” holding on to historical Christian theology and practice, even when people think we are weird or strange or don’t fit in. Pray that we will be willing to be different and at times not to fit in. Pray for the children and the next generation to be willing to be made fun of, perhaps even persecuted, for being Christian. And that their relationship with Jesus will be strong enough to help them live in the tension of being in the world but not of the world.
  3. Pray that churches and believers, while being faithful to engage in politics, will stop placing our trust in our political system to save us. Pray that God will destroy any idolatry or ways that Christians have made unholy alliances with political parties or political systems. Pray that we will stop worshiping politics or parties and worship God alone. Pray that our bonds as Christians will triumph over political differences. Pray for any who have, in the name of Jesus, taken up the sword to repent and put down the sword. Pray that we will embrace the way of the cross as the only way to life and redemption.
  4. Pray for believers and churches whose temptation is just to escape from a world that seems like a slow moving trainwreck. Whose primary response is to disengage and find some sort of safe Christian bubble to hide in. Pray that God will cause us, in response to his love and mercy, to engage meaningfully with a broken world around us. 
  5. Pray that God will raise up a remnant in our time, and in the next generation, that he can use to steward and lead revival in our culture. That God will use the church as he did in the first three centuries of Christianity, to transform the world around through their patient ferment as a creative minority. 
  6. Pray for the Sanctuary Conference – that God will equip and inspire us as we hunger to be this kind of creative minority in a city that needs God, his redemptive power, and his love.