Reforming church, culture and our city

Reforming church, culture and our city

Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

My friend Andrew’s exegesis of “Confucianism” …

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A terrific series of short blogs on understanding confucianism by my friend Andrew. This is a must if you are a leader in the Chinese church or a missionary working in an Asian setting. As an English pastor in a Chinese church, to work missionally means exegeting the culture we are both working with and reaching. The complexity of this in a Chinese church is that we are working with OBC’s (Overseas Born Chinese) while trying to reach ABC’s (Australian Born Chinese). Clash of cultures, values, philosophy of ministry? You can expect it. As Christian leaders in ministry we are to not just teach the gospel; we are to not just guard the gospel; we are to also point out the lies and what is false around us (Titus 1:9) in both OBC and ABC culture.

If you want to better understand the OBC mind and the culture that often implicitly shapes their thinking, have a read of Andrew’s blog on confucianism by clicking here.

You can find Andrew’s regular blogs at Andrew’s Space on my blogroll.

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Coffee musings: God & Godlessness …

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Was sitting in a coffee shop at Rhodes on my day off reading Bernard Salt’s The Big Picture: Life, Work and Relationships In The 21st Century. This is definitely a must read for those wanting to reach our city, engage culture and plant churches. Bernard Salt, if you aren’t aware is an Australian economist who advises corporate Australia on consumer, cultural and demographic trends.

One of the things he points out is that Australia is not the god-fearing nation it once was. In the 1901 census, less than 1% of Aussie’s said that they had ‘no religion’. 100 years later that has risen to 18%. I looked up the recent 2006 census at the ABS, which points out that 3,706,550 people said that they had ‘no religion’ out of a total population of 19,855,288. That’s 18.6% of the Australian population who believe in absolutely nothing. The number could be actually be higher given that an additional 2,223,957 people state that they have no religious affiliation, and most people unthinkingly tick the census box that aligns with their childhood religious affiliations. At the very least 30% or one-third of the Australian population have no religion. Personally I believe it’s higher as the vast majority of people who call themselves ‘Christians’ don’t actually belong or go to church on any given Sunday.

Take the Anglican church as an example from the 2001 NCLS survey on church attendance. Only 177,700 (11.7%) of those calling themselves Anglicans in Australia actually attend church on a weekly basis, even though 1,341,103 people called themselves Anglican. In fact, the NCLS survey points out that weekly attendance in 2001 would be about 1,660,000 for Anglican, Catholic and Protestant churches. This equates to 8.8% of a population of 18,769,249. As I have often said, we live in a post-Christian culture.

Bernard raises the question of “what do you think happens when a society moves over 100 years from a position where almost everyone is a ‘believer’ to a position where the majority believe in nothing?” His answer is simple and honest. If the majority of people are no longer convinced of life after death, or if they no longer believe in divine accountability or judgment, they will begin to focus on the present, and live for the here and now. He says that, “the interests – and pleasures – of the individual would rise and replace the interests and well being of the broader community, which he points out has been the story of the second half of the 20th century in Australia. In other words, in our culture there has been a move towards an individualism that doesn’t just focus on the now, but is primarily concerned with our own personal pleasures and comfort, or as Bernard puts it, the flourishing of a culture of ‘high consumerism and self-gratification’.

I love the way he puts it,

“By 1987, Hollywood would deliver unto us a philosopher who encapsulated a bold new way of thinking. The messianic Gordon Gekko was a champion of, rather than an apologist for, a virginally pure and commercial form of hedonism. Gekko’s message was simple, ‘Greed is good.’ In less than a decade, Gekko would send forth four of his finest female New York disciples, to advance the noble cause of wantonness, in Sex and the City. And verily they did gather up the poor, the lonely, the downtrodden, those in desperate need of designer shoes, and offer then hope and a way forward” p.47

Hedonism he points out is the new religion in our cities which places self and lifestyle above everything else. It is living by the mantra that says, ‘if it feels good do it’. And Hedonist seek relief from their inner torment in those dens of self-gratification – our shopping malls, our luxury good stores, our “bulky goods stores, where you can hear wailing and gnashing of teeth, ‘I want that apartment and I want it fully furnished right now.’ And after they are spent, they rest.

Living in post-Christian Sydney, it’s important for us to realize as missionaries in our city, that this is our mission field.

Generation Next …

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Last last week I stumbled upon a useful report titled, “How Young People View Their Lives, Futures and Politics: A PORTRAIT OF “GENERATION NEXT”. Put out by the PEW Research Center for People and the Press last year in the US, I think it’s a must read not just for those of us in Youth ministry, but those of us who pastor churches if we are to be missional in reaching people. While the survey was done in the US, it would be fair to say that youth culture in Sydney is not far behind. Living in post-Christian Sydney (where 4 in every 100 people are Bible believing Christians), unless we understand the tribes we are trying to reach for Jesus, we will not speak their language or or engage them in culturally relevant ways.

Here are some of the report’s finding’s of this particular tribe … ‘Generation Next’. You can download the detailed report by clicking on the link above.

Generation Next is made up of 18-25 year-olds (born between 1981 and 1988).

  • They use technology and the internet to connect with people in new and distinctive ways. Text messaging, instant messaging and email keep them in constant contact with friends. About half say they sent or received a text message over the phone in the past day, approximately double the proportion of those ages 26-40.
  • They are the “Look at Me” generation. Social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and MyYearbook allow individuals to post a personal profile complete with photos and descriptions of interests and hobbies. A majority of Gen Nexters have used one of these social networking sites, and more than four-in-ten have created a personal profile.
  • Their embrace of new technology has made them uniquely aware of its advantages and disadvantages. They are more likely than older adults to say these cyber-tools make it easier for them to make new friends and help them to stay close to old friends and family. But more than eight-in-ten also acknowledge that these tools “make people lazier.
  • They maintain close contact with parents and family. Roughly eight-in-ten say they talked to their parents in the past day. Nearly three-in-four see their parents at least once a week, and half say they see their parents daily. One reason: money. About three-quarters of Gen Nexters say their parents have helped them financially in the past year.
  • One-in-five members of Generation Next say they have no religious affiliation or are atheist or agnostic, nearly double the proportion of young people who said that in the late 1980s. And just 4% of Gen Nexters say people in their generation view becoming more spiritual as their most important goal in life
  • Asked about the life goals of those in their age group, most Gen Nexters say their generation’s top goals are fortune and fame. Roughly eight-in-ten say people in their generation think getting rich is either the most important, or second most important, goal in their lives. About half say that becoming famous also is valued highly by fellow Gen Nexters.

Written by eugenehor

July 28, 2008 at 3:59 am

Pax Facebook

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A good friend of mine Jason Lau has put down his thoughts on the challenges of globalization as we compare our world to the 1st C Roman world. Check out his thoughts on “Pax Facebook – A new global world order on an iPhone

Have just realized that some of you can’t get to his note if you’re not his friend on Facebook and have reproduced Jason’s note here – my guest blogger, Jason Lau on Pax Facebook 🙂

Globalisation and a new world order on an iPhone, how did we get here? And what does it all mean?

I had a good discussion with our church leaders and pastor tonight about growing the church, and how we can live out Jesus’ command and mission for the church in a global, urban and post-secular world.

The conversation also got me thinking although we live in a very different world to 1st Century A.D. Rome, how similar the different times are. The paradigm gets bigger as our world gets smaller. Globalisation has made this all possible.

In a lot of ways, we are like Rome was. Rome controlled the ancient civilised world and established its ‘Pax Romana’. The Roman Empire lived in a time of ‘relative peace’ between 27 B.C. and 180 A.D. Using its military power connected by it’s famous Roman roads to make sure it was able to stamp it’s authority and control. These same roads connected cultures and economies. People of different nations were able to intermingle, different ethnic cultures were crossing boundaries, and it became a flourishing cosmopolitan economy. It also was a time when it was accepted that it was a pluralist society.

Similiarly to Rome, we live in a very cosmopolitan city, or even global , where there is ‘relative peace’ among a pluralistic society. Our global networks pave roads which connect our cultures and economies. The world economy ‘controls’ this world through it’s global financial networks. Now we see a massive shift in people of different nations who are able to intermingle instantly across the globe. Different ethnic cultures are blurring boundaries and creating fusion sub cultures, and it became a flourishing cosmopolitan economy. We are also in a time when it is accepted as a result of the infusion of cultures, that we live in a pluralist society.

In the 20th Century, there were other lesser instances of this historical model. Firstly the the UK established its ‘Pax Britannica” through global colonisation, then the United States established it’s ‘Pax Americana’ through spreading its influence through its massive defence network. Furthermore, the US established its form of democracy as its template and using both as a net to establish its economic power. Both models were much more ‘uniform’ than the Roman model.

However, the US also spawned the Internet from a defence network called ARPA in the 1960-60s. The late 20th Century also saw the growth of the international air travel network. These two factors I believe are the two key foundations of making true globalisation possible.

We are seeing a 21st Century resurgence of the Roman model on a global scale. These days our countries connect and control people and economies using the new roads, based on our global networks.

The scariest feeling I had of globalisation was my first experience of using my Blackberry overseas. The fact that I could step off a plane in Singapore, and talk to someone in Sydney to continue my job and check my e-mails as if I had never left. The feeling was eerie.

And that’s why I say the Smartphone in my hand is a symbol of globalisation.

However, in a lot of ways, the ‘global village’ is more like a set of global hubs where they are so connected, physical boundaries don’t matter much any more. Urban hubs and lifelines of our networks are focussed on the key life lines of the economy, like New York, Tokyo, Singapore, London, Sydney etc. And ironically by far, these cities in a lot of ways are far more connected to each other in the new global world much more than even to some major cities in the countries themselves!

So it’s no wonder that we might laugh about regional Australia, but it is actually a big problem not having them connected with the new roads properly. They become global back waters. Longer term they will be severely disadvantaged and more disconnected from this new world order.

Anyway, some thoughts I thought I was share. I actually haven’t fully absorbed how a more connected ‘global urban village’ on Facebook that I can connect to on my Windows Mobile Smartphone (unfortunately no iPhone for me) really means yet, but guess that’s a story for another day… Jason Lau (guest blogger)

Written by eugenehor

July 24, 2008 at 2:36 pm

Easter in Sydney

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Three things come to mind when people in our city think of Easter – the long weekend, chocolate easter eggs and the Easter show. On the odd occasion people will connect Easter with Jesus. If pushed they might even say that it’s about the death of Jesus. Easter was originally celebrated as a one of two ‘holy’ days that Christians observed i.e. days that Christians set aside to remember, reflect and celebrate aspects of Jesus life and work. What in our day is a public holiday to kick back, relax and have a barbeque, was actually a ‘holyday’ set aside to remember Jesus’ life and work. In fact, Easter was not necessarily a joyful or festive celebration. Beginning on Friday you recall Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, before you celebrate his resurrection on Sunday. Easter was an opportunity to remember the death and resurrection of Jesus.

That should be no surprise as the death and resurrection of Jesus is at the heart of what Christians have always believed. Christianity is not about learning to be a morally good person; it’s not about doing good works to earn your way into heaven; it’s not about what we do. Authentic Christianity is all about what Jesus has done, in particular, his death and resurrection for me.

At Easter we remind ourselves of very important news, good news that saves: that Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, and that he was raised to life on the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Cor.15:3-4). We’re reminded that there is nothing we can do to pay or to make up for or to take away our sins. We are sinful and rebellious people i.e. we are people who have lived our lives ignoring our creator, choosing to live lives our own way, with no regard for what God thinks and says. That is at the heart of our sin and rebellion, which puts us under God’s right and fair judgment. If you’re living life apart from God, you are condemned, under his judgment and in danger of hell. And that’s the reason why Jesus died. He died as our substitute taking our place on the cross, bearing our judgment and punishment for us. He died in my place and your place, for our sin and rebellion. A great exchange takes place at the cross where Jesus died.

But Jesus’ death wouldn’t be very significant if he remained in the grave would he. There would be nothing special about someone who died and remained buried. Jesus was buried, but he also rose from the dead three days after, a demonstration of not just his power over death itself, but of God’s approval of Jesus’ death for our sin. The resurrection of Jesus is the guarantee that our sin and rebellion are forgiven; that our judgment has been dealt with; that we are no longer condemned; and that death will not be the last word for us. He is alive and risen, and is the man God has chosen to rule and judge our city and our world.

Authentic Christianity celebrates and remembers what Jesus has done, in particular, his death for our sin and his resurrection from the dead. We are reminded at Easter that we are sinful and rebellious people who cannot do anything to save ourselves. We are reminded at Easter that we are under God’s judgment and in danger of hell. We are reminded at Easter that Jesus died as a substitute for our sin and rebellion, taking on himself God’s judgment to save us. We are reminded at Easter that without Jesus we are condemned. We are reminded at Easter that Jesus has risen from the dead and is now the ruler and judge of our city and our world. We are reminded at Easter that not only do we need Jesus, our city needs Jesus.

The great tragedy this Easter, is that in our city the vast majority of people will remain under God’s judgment, condemned and destined for hell because they have never heard an authentic Christian message; they have never acknowledged their sin; and they have never acknowledged their need for Jesus.

How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!

Rom.10:15

Written by eugenehor

March 19, 2008 at 2:33 pm

No One Lives An Uncommitted Life

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“No one lives an uncommitted life.” Even the person who is lazy is a committed person i.e. committed to laziness. We’re brought up in a culture of commitment (from parents who are seeking to instill a commitment to the family, studies or values – to a culture that tells us to be committed to a our personal development and careers). No one lives an uncommitted life – because everyone is committed to something, someone or some way in life. Commitment is not a bad thing and is to be valued, but as followers of Jesus, it must be asked, ‘what are you committed to in life?’ What controls your commitments in life? Look at your ambitions and priorities, your family, your use of time and money, and your relationships – are they shaped by a commitment to follow Jesus?

Paul in 2 Cor.5:10-6:2 was a man shaped by two events that shaped his commitment to Jesus and his mission. Firstly, Paul understood that as a follower of Jesus he was accountable for the way he lived his life. He makes clear that there is a judgment where we must ALL appear before Jesus to give an account. His desire to please Jesus and to see people come to know Jesus was grounded in the knowledge that it will be Jesus who will one day judge all people (Paul included). Paul had a healthy fear of judgment in his life – a judgment that held him accountable, and a judgment that he knew people around him would also one day face. And so he makes it his commitment to persuade others to join him in fearing Jesus, in living a life that pleases Jesus and in being reconciled to Jesus.

Secondly
, Paul understood that as a follower of Jesus he was personally loved by Jesus, who died so that he might live. “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died” – 2 Cor.5:14. We often forget that Paul was not always a Christian. He was an angry, violent, legalistic, self-sufficient man (1 Tim.2:12-16; Gal.1:13, 23; Acts 22:8; 26:19). And like those around him, Paul was under God’s judgment, destined for hell. Then Jesus saved him and transformed him. It’s Paul’s experience of the love and saving power of Jesus that transforms and directs his commitments in life. From one under judgment and hell, to one saved by Jesus, who is now a man accountable to Jesus and his mission because others are still under judgment, who is now ‘compelled’ or ‘constrained’ by Jesus’ love for him in life.

If there was a profound truth that summed up Paul’s personal relationship and commitment to Jesus – it would be ‘Jesus loves me’. If you were to interview Paul and asked him what is the most profound truth you’ve discovered in your Christian life? He would say – Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong. They are weak but he is strong / Jesus loves me, he who died. Heaven’s gate to open wide. He will wash away my sin. Let his little child come in. / Jesus loves me, he will stay. Close beside me all the way. If I love him when I die. He will take me home on high (Anna B. Warner, 1860). His life was constrained, shaped, directed, marked, overwhelmed, won over by Jesus’ love for him. Is yours?

No one lives an uncommitted life – what or who are you deeply committed to?

Written by eugenehor

March 7, 2008 at 2:29 pm

A View Of History In This City

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Our view of history shapes the way we look at life, how we live and how we understand circumstances and events in our world. Some people believe that history is cyclical – life is a cyclical. There’s nothing new – because history repeats itself in an endless cycle. Others believe that history is linear. History and life is linear with a beginning and an end. Then there are others who hold to a chaotic view of history. History and life is nothing more than a series of events that are left to chance, a series of random disconnected events with no beginning, end meaning.

windowAnd so when you look at life you’re faced with 3 possible windows. Am I stuck in a never ending cycle beyond my control? Am I moving forward towards some ultimate goal or ultimate end? Or am I living a series of random disconnected events that just happen without beginning, end or purpose?

I shared last week from the pulpit that there is a Biblical and Christian view of history and life. The Christian view of history and life is that it’s linear and purposeful moving towards a plan put in place by God himself. The Christian view of history is that there’s an unifying story that’s being played out in history and life that cuts across every nation, culture, people and language group – it’s going somewhere … it’s not a random series of events … and all that happens in history and life in our city is moving towards a plan put in place by God himself. There’s a story that unites us in this city.

broken faceFirstly, the Christian view of history is that something is wrong with us, our society, our city and our world. Even in an affluent and modern city like ours brokenness is self-evident, from local council corruption, to 30,000 homeless on our streets, to 31,000 abortions each year. Nationally, 40% of marriages in our country ends in divorce, and we spend more on our pets (2.3 billion) than on overseas aid (2 billion). Something is wrong with us, our city and our world. The Bible calls it the consequences of sin i.e. the consequences of living life in a society and culture that has rejected God. What we see and experience of brokenness around us is the outworking of a culture and society that has turned its back on God. (Rom.1:18-32)

crossSecondly, the Christian view of history is that God is not absent, but is involved, in control, working out his purposes in history to save us, to fix us, to redeem our culture, to renew society, to transform our broken cities and world. And he’s doing it in a man called Jesus who 2000 years ago died on the cross for our sins, who rose again from the dead, and who now rules as God’s appointed right hand man in our lives, our city and our world … who is gathering to himself a people, building a new and transformed society and culture, a city within our city, called the church. Everything in history and life converges and centres on Jesus who comes to save and to transform those living life without God, caught up in sin and brokenness. (Acts 2:21-36; 4:12)

There is a story being played out on the stage of history, in our lives and in our city. We live in a broken world, because we’re broken people who have rejected the God who made us and ignored his way in life. We all need saving, and God acts to save us in Jesus by sending him to die for our sins, to conquer death by raising him from the dead, and to be the one who now rules over all. And right now Jesus continues to save and gather his people, building a new and transformed city within our city called the church; a city where his love, compassion, forgiveness, justice and mercy rule; a city on a hill, a church whose light cannot be hidden in a city that desperately needs saving. You and I are that city, and the story is still being played out today.

Written by eugenehor

March 5, 2008 at 11:24 pm