Reforming church, culture and our city

Reforming church, culture and our city

Archive for the ‘Church ‘Reformation’’ Category

A Portrait Of Dorian Gray … in each one of us

with 2 comments

The Picture of Dorian Gray is a novel by Oscar Wilde. It’s the story of Dorian Gray, a young man so physically attractive that he draws the attention of an artist who desires to make him the subject of his portrait. He tells Dorian that he’s never seen a face more attractive and pure. And when the painting is finished, as Dorian looks at his portrait, he’s taken in and deceived by the attractiveness and beauty of his own looks. So taken in and so deceived by his external appearance, that he begins to live a life of secret pursuits and self-indulgence. His external appearance remains untainted and pure, hiding a life of wickedness. Even murder leaves his physical appearance untouched. The years of hidden wickedness pass and one day, alone and suspicious, he uncovers the portrait he had kept hidden for so many years. And as he looks upon his portrait, he’s shocked by the ugly and hideous face that he now sees. The portrait now bears the scars of a life of hidden wickedness. Afraid of being found out, he hides the portrait, but his act comes to an end as the artist enters.

Seeing Dorian’s portrait, he realizes what has happened in Dorian’s life. He is overcome with grief and pleads with Dorian to turn his life around and seek God’s forgiveness. “Does it not say somewhere” he pleads, “Come now let us reason together. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. Though they are red as crimson, they shall be as white as wool.” But Dorian will not listen and in a fit of rage and anger he silences that voice with a knife. Reaching for the knife once again Dorian decides once and for all to destroy his portrait – removing the only visible sign and evidence of secret life of wickedness. The moment he plunges the knife into his portrait, the portrait returns to its beauty, and a disfigured and unrecognisable Dorian Gray lies stabbed to death on the floor.

The Picture of Dorian Gray you could say is a parable highlighting our problem. Many of us are deceived by our external appearance, that hides a darkness within. On the surface beauty, religion, morality, good works but beneath the surface, a deep seated self-centeredness and independence that has rejected our creator and God. We look alright, but we’re rebels in God’s world, choosing to live our way only for ourselves. Beauty on the outside that hides an ugliness within. And that’s the reason why Jesus died. He died to pay the penalty for our rebellion. He died to take the punishment for our rebellion. He was punished so that we might be forgiven. At the cross a great exchange takes place, where the innocent (Jesus) takes the place of the guilty (you and me) so that we might be right with our creator and God. God made Jesus who had no sin to take our sin for us, so that in him we might be right with God (2 Cor.5:21).

Appearances can be deceiving, and sometimes we deceive ourselves thinking that we’re good people. We think we don’t need God, and we certainly don’t think we need Jesus.  We’re not when you look at what lies within. You and I need Jesus to save us from ourselves and from the judgment we deserve for rejecting our creator and God.

Advertisements

5 Books I’m Currently Reading

with one comment

Written by eugenehor

August 1, 2008 at 12:10 am

What Will It Mean For Us To Grow The Gospel In Our City?

with one comment

Just this week our cell group leaders and I spent some time looking at a strategy for ministry in the New Testament raising the question, “what will it mean for us to grow the gospel of Jesus in our city?” Presently there are 4,100,000 in our city, out of which 3,850,000 are unreached. We live in a city where 96% of people are unreached. To put that in perspective, only 3 in every 100 people in our city are Bible believing Christians. On any given Sunday, less than 15,000 Chinese are at church. Currently there are just over 292,000 Chinese in our city, out of which 277,000 are unreached. We live in a city where 95% of Chinese are unreached. To put that in perspective, only 5 in every 100 Chinese people in our city are Bible believing Christians. The reality that we need to realize as a church is that we live in a secular city that desperately needs more mission minded Christians and churches planted.

In fact, when you turn to the New Testatment you discover that part of the strategy for reaching people in the cities was church multiplication. As you read Acts 14:21-28, you discover that church planting was part of the dna of the early church. It was part of the normal practice and life of the church. Wherever Paul went, he evangelised, he discipled and he started churches. Often, he was sent by other churches to do just that (Acts 13:1-3) The tendency for churches today is to focus on preaching, teaching, evangelism, discipleship, prayer, and to see church planting as the optional extra that we pursue when we run out of space. Tim Keller in his article on church multiplication points out that you see in Paul a strategy of Christian formation and Church formation wherever he went.

You discover as you look at Paul’s ministry in this passage that wherever he went he engaged in evangelism, where he ‘preached’ the gospel to that city (v.21). He doesn’t use the word ‘kerusso’ – preach, but the world ‘evangelizdomenoi’ i.e he ‘gospeled’ the city. Paul ‘gospelled’ the gospel to that city, which was more than just preaching sermons. He goes out and takes the gospel to people. The movement is always to take the gospel out to people where they are at. When you look at Acts you often see Paul gospelling in many different settings: in synagogues (Acts 17:1-2), in small groups (Acts 20:7ff; 16:32), in the market-places (Acts 17:17), in rented halls (Acts 19:9), or even just talking to people one on one (Acts 20:20-21). He saw himself as a missionary and wherever he went that was his mission field. You also discover that wherever he went he also instructed, where he ‘strengthened and encouraged’ new believers in the faith (v.21b-22). He taught them and grounded them in the Christian faith i.e. he spent time discipling them. It’s interesting to note that what Paul does here is consistent with Jesus’ great commission in Matthew 28:18-20.

Having done this you see that whenever believers are gospeled and instructed in these cities, you also find that they are gathered together (Acts 14:27; 15:30) to be the church. You effectively see the formation of new churches wherever evangelism and instruction takes place. You also see leaders picked and set apart to lead those churches (v.23). Paul we are told appoints elders to lead who take on the role of teaching and shepherding that particular group of gathered people. He didn’t start a denomination, but instead empowered them for ministry and mission, and committed them to Jesus. They had their own leadership, and were responsible for their own ministry. When Paul started with them they were “disciples” (v.22), but when he left them, they were “churches” (v.23).

This was the consistent pattern of ministry that you discover in the New Testament. We go out to gospel the unreached in our city wherever God sends us and wherever they are: in the café, in the shopping malls, in our workplaces, in our universities, at the hairdresser, at home. You and I are missionaries in this city. And when people come to know Jesus, we are to spend time discipling them, grounding them in the Christian faith teaching them to follow and trust the words and work of Jesus. And where we see people saved across our city, we are to gather them to be the church, whether in new small groups where they live, whether in new Sunday worship services we plant, or whether in existing churches around them.

What Do You Do When You Disagree With Your Church Leaders?

with 5 comments

Every so often I get asked by people about what they should do if they disagree with their church’s leadership (or deacons or elders whatever tradition you come out from). One very useful way to approach this is to take an open hand/closed hand approach.

You have to work out what is an open hand issue and a closed hand issue for yourself. Open hand issues are those things which are negotiable and are a matter of style, preference and wisdom. Closed hand issues are those things which are not negotiable and are issues of biblical authority. That being said, whether an issue falls into one of these categories also depends on a church’s leadership and beliefs (even tradition in some churches) … and also an individual believers beliefs. In our church, there are several things which we consider closed hand issues which you’ll see below – which under God we believe is Biblically faithful. Whether those who church with us accept that is another matter – but as I have been saying these days in our baptism/confirmation/membership class – this is where our English senior leadership sits Biblically on these issues, so if people want to church with us, serve with us, then they have to at the very least be comfortable with our leaderships position on these closed hand issues, which we believe are faithful Biblically (if you can’t agree with it, then you’re better of churching in another place where you’re more comfortable).

“

That being said, in our church we allow for differences in how we give expression to what we believe to be the Biblical teaching on issues such as women in leadership e.g. we affirm male headship and we believe that Jesus’ senior leaders/elders should be men, but that doesn’t mean that women cannot publicly teach or lead, because even as they do that, they are doing this under the visible headship of those of us in senior leadership consistent with 1 Cor.11.

We are a church governed by the Word, united/centered on Jesus & his atoning work, led by Jesus’’ senior leaders who are men, equipping all God’s people for His ministry and mission. Some matters for me are closed hand issues and others are open hand issues in leading our church. But as believers we also need to work out personally under God as we study the Scriptures what are closed/open hand issues for ourselves.

So in answering the question, I think whether a person stays and continues in ministry with a church would depend on whether having studied the Scriptures themselves and sought counsel on an issue, they can agree with their church’s position on the issue or issues in question. If you are wondering whether you should leave your church, you have to work out whether you consider it a closed hand or an open hand issue. My take is that if it’s a closed hand issue for you, then it’s highly unlikely you should stay as it will lead to you working against your conscience Biblically, and it will also eventually lead to a disrespect for your church’s leadership. Instead of working with them, you’ll end up working against them.

Luther at the Diet of Worms

Luther at the Diet of Worms

As Luther would say when confronted and challenged – “Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason — I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other — my conscience is captive to the word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I can do nothing else. God help me.” Ultimately our supreme standard and authority is the Word of God – and I would ask nothing more of believers than their obedience to it, which means that after carefully study of the issues in question they have to decide whether it will be a closed hand or open hand issue for them, and act accordingly. Submission to a church’s leadership does not mean by passing the authority of the Scriptures because ultimately a church’s leadership is to be submitted to as long as they are faithful to the Scriptures.

It’s always important to remember that our unity must be around God’’s revealed truth: closed hand vs. open hand; some issues are a matter of conscience and preference, so we need to be discerning and generous in our relationships; we need to always let the Scriptures speak and inform our decision making when it comes to issues at church and how we do church.

World Youth Day in Sydney

leave a comment »

World Youth Day 08 has raised the question of what’s the difference between our church and the Roman Catholic church. The difference lies in how the following question is answered: ‘how does God justify or make right sinful men and women?’ This was the question that split the church in the 16th century that today sets apart Protestants from Roman Catholics. As Bible believing Christians we believe that sinful men and women are made right with God by faith alone in the atoning death of Jesus alone for their sins. Church tradition, religious practices or good works in any form cannot and will not make you right with God. In Galatians 2:15-16 we’re told that our works cannot make us right with God, but faith in the work of Jesus alone that makes us right with God. To be ‘justified’ is to be declared right with God, and there Paul tells us that, ‘a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ.’

You and I Paul says are declared right with God because of what Jesus alone has done. What has he done for us? Earlier on in Galatians 1:4 we’re told that he died for our sins i.e. he died to pay the penalty for our failure to perfectly obey God’s law; he bears the consequences for our rebellion towards God; he takes the punishment for our sin. Basically what happens in justification, is that you and I stand in God’s court of law before him under his judgment, but in justifying you, God rules in your favour and acquits you. God declares that you are now right with him. And God is able to do this because Jesus substitutes for you i.e. at the cross where he died he took your place; he took your guilty sentence; he bore the consequences of your sins; he died for you so that you and I might go free. He died in your place so that you might be forgiven and declared in a right relationship with God. And all we are asked to do is to trust or have faith in what Jesus alone has done and completed in his atoning death to be justified or made right with God.

When Roman Catholics speak of justification or being made right with God, they believe that it’s a process rather than a once off work that Jesus has completed. They believe that God infuses grace into you that begins a spiritual or moral change, and that over your lifetime as you co-operate with God you will be justified. Being made right with God is one where you contribute to this process, which is why for Roman Catholics the sacraments (certain church practices) are essential, because the sacraments such as baptism, communion, penance are all means to more grace that will help you along the way towards justification. Being right with God for a Roman Catholic depends on their continued obedience. Instead of trusting in the work of Jesus alone, you end up trusting in Jesus and your work to be right with God.

What divides Biblical Christianity from Roman Catholicism is in that little word ‘alone’. Because ultimately it comes down to whether we are trusting in the finished work of Jesus alone to save us, or whether we are trusting in Jesus and our works to save us. We are justified or declared right with God by God’s grace alone, through faith alone in the death of Jesus alone for our sins (Eph.2:1-10; Phil.3:1-9; Rom.3:21-26)

Written by eugenehor

July 16, 2008 at 3:44 pm

Baptism …

leave a comment »

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to revisit ‘baptism’ with some of our regulars at GracePoint preparing for baptism. It’s been both refreshing and challenging in reminding me of the importance of baptism for those who are followers Jesus. One of the questions people at church have often asked me is, ‘why should I get baptized?’ The answer is simply, because Jesus commanded it (Matt.28:18-20). And in obedience to Jesus command we see that whenever the first disciples of Jesus preached the gospel and men and women responded, they were baptized. Right after Peter preached at Pentecost and people believed, he baptized them (Acts 2:38-41). When the Philippian jailer believed, Paul baptized him and his whole family in the middle of the night (Acts 16:29-34). When the Ethiopian eunuch was converted, Philip baptized him in the desert (Acts 8:34-38). To neglect baptism is to disregard the command of Jesus, and to reject the sign of the gospel that God himself gives us for our benefit.

What many Christians fail to realize is that baptism is a sign of the saving work of Jesus in cleansing, forgiving and bringing us new life. Baptism is not my act of repentance, and neither does it signify repentance. In fact, in the New Testament, baptism is used as a sign of our being buried with Christ so as to share his risen life; being born again; having our sins washed away; having God’s judgment dealt with and being adopted into God’s family (Rom.6:3-4; John 3:5; Acts 22:16; 1 Cor.6:9-11l 1 Pet.3:21; Gal.3:27-29). Baptism is a sign of the saving work of Jesus! (Col.2:11-15) Baptism is not something that we should ignore if we’re Bible believing and Jesus loving Christians. That’s not to say that baptism saves you or that you are any less spiritual if you aren’t baptized. We’re saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Jesus alone (Eph.2:8-9)

But I would still ask the question, ‘why aren’t you baptized?’ Because baptism was not only commanded by Jesus, but also given for your benefit as an outward sign to symbolize an inward spiritual reality for those of you who have repented and trusted in Jesus and his saving work – a sign of the gospel’s promise to save or a sign of God’s salvation in cleansing, forgiving and giving you new life. Like a wedding ring that’s given with promises, every time a Christian looks at their baptism, it is a sign that serves as a reminder to them of God’s saving work in Jesus in saving them, cleansing them, forgiving them, and giving them new life.

As I said to those preparing for baptism, ‘baptism is God’s gift to you – a visible sign of the gospel that he gives you to encourage you, to strengthen you, to remind you of what Jesus has done for you’. When you are baptized, you are baptized on the authority of Jesus who is Lord of all things and holds all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt.28:19), effectively saying you belong to Him. When you are baptized, you are receiving the visible sign of God’s saving work in Jesus and what he’s done in cleansing, forgiving and giving you new life.

Let me encourage you if you haven’t been baptized, to do so, in obedience to the command of Jesus and for your own benefit and encouragement as a disciple of Jesus.

Written by eugenehor

June 27, 2008 at 2:47 pm

Following The Right Kind Of Leaders

leave a comment »

It’s crucial that we understand the Bible’s teaching on leadership rather than take our cues from our culture. Firstly, we must recognize that the church is not a company or a business. It’s not even an organization. The church is the body of Jesus where He is the head; the bride of Christ where He is the groom; a building of living stones where He is the cornerstone. The church is the gathering that Jesus died for and gathered (Acts 20:28). We are people who belong to Jesus, and set apart for Jesus in our city. As such we must take our cues on leadership not from our culture, but from God’s Word as a church. We are a Bible believing, Word-driven church. And the predominant criteria for leadership in the church is their character and ability to teach God’s word – leadership that is built on truth and godliness as exemplified in their home, in their relationships inside and outside the church, and in their teaching (Titus 1:5-9; 1 Timothy 3:1-7). Good leaders know their Bibles, are able to teach it to others, and live out what they believe and teach. It is evident to all around them.

Secondly, if we are to build a church that will fulfill the mission of Jesus in our city and world – it will take the right kind of leadership. It’s important that we grow the right kind of leaders, but it’s also important that we follow the right kind of leaders. It’s important that we model our lives on the good leaders. Because ultimately in the church what you see in your leaders is what we should all aspire to – because leaders are supposed to be models of what it means love and follow Jesus in life. As Paul said to the church in Corinth, ‘follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ’ (1 Cor.11:1). Who do you model your life of in our church community? Who do you follow as examples in the way you make decisions, and in the way you think of your career or study? Who impresses you as a leader? Are you looking to and following the right kind of leaders?

If you’re a father – who models for you what it means to manage your home or love your children as a Christian father? If you’re a wife – who models for you what it means to love your husband as a Christian wife? If you’re a working professional – who models for you what it means to be a Christian in the marketplace or how you should view your career? If you’re a student – who models for you what it means to be a Christian at university or how you should view your studies? The more important questions is – are the people you’re following or modeling your life after, the right kind of leaders?

It is absolutely crucial that we build our lives on the right kind of leadership – good leadership … Biblical leadership. To do anything less is to build our Christian lives on sinking sand. In 1 Tim.4:11, Paul tells Timothy to set an example to those at church in his speech, life, love, faith and purity. Why? Because the way Timothy leads in what he teaches and how he lives has eternal significance. He will either be a bad example leading people away from Jesus, or a good and faithful one leading people to Jesus (1 Tim.4:15-16). We need both good leaders to teach us and model the Christian life for us, but we also need to be discerning in making sure that we are actually following the right kind of leaders as well. Who are you following?

Written by eugenehor

June 1, 2008 at 2:36 pm