Reforming church, culture and our city

Reforming church, culture and our city

Posts Tagged ‘Jesus

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

No One Lives An Uncommitted Life

leave a comment »

“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

with one comment

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

A Time To Chart New Maps In Our City

with 3 comments

Not only are there two ways to live in life – as a church, there are also always two ways to do ministry in our city. We’re either investing our lives in building the ministry of the gospel in our city or we’re happy being comfortable and safe where we’re building up our own little patch in the city of Sydney. It’s always worth asking … what are you building – who are you following?

grassIf your focus in the Christian life or even as a church is on your little patch in life (and honestly that’s all it is … a little patch of grass), and some have larger patches than others in nicer suburbs, the reality is that its still only a patch of grass in God’s scheme. This is the reality as Peter puts it, “All men are like grass, and all their glory (their work) is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” And then we read that, “this is the word that was preached to you – this is the word that saved you“. (1 Peter 1:24-25)

crossThere’s nothing you build in this city that’ll last – grass grows and fades and withers, but it’s only the Word of God, the Word of the Gospel that saves, that’ll stands forever in our city. I want to make sure that we keep investing and building in what will last beyond our lifetime in this city. Personally, and as a church, what matters is growing the Word of the Gospel in our city. In fact, we’re believers today in the city of Sydney, because the apostles first preached the gospel in Jerusalem 2000 years ago.

In fact, the book of Acts is really a testimony to the living, enduring and growing Word of the Gospel. You read in Acts 1:8 where Jesus says to his apostles, “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.” And today the Word of God is still going out to the ends of the earth in the lives of men and women who have received the gospel. Nations rise and fall, empires come and go, buildings are built and demolished, but the Word of the Gospel will always stand. In fact the growth of the gospel has never depended on the size of a church congregation or its facilities. The pattern you see in Acts is one where as the gospel is preached and received, there you see churches planted in those communities. Some churches meeting in homes, others in public lecture halls, still others in the outdoors.

crossesWhat are we building and growing in our city? My vision has always been to grow a church not bound by walls, by tradition, by fear, by comfort, but a church with a vision to raise the next generation and to plant Bible believing, Jesus loving, Spirit empowered, gospel proclaiming, mission minded churches across the city of Sydney. In 2005 I cast that vision of sailing the deep waters which led to us starting GracePoint at Auburn. That was part of the start of a vision to plant churches across the city of Sydney: to be a church without walls, looking to plant 7 new churches in 13 years. It’s a vision I’m still committed to.

NCDBetween 1994 and 1996, the Institute for Church Development in Germany conducted a research project surveying 1000 churches in 32 countries (published by Charles Schwarz in Natural Church Development.) Churches were categorized into sets of 1-100, 100-200, 200-300 etc. They found that churches in the 1-100 category increased an average of 32 new people over the past 5 years; churches in the 100-200 category also increased an average of 32 new people; churches in the 200-300 category averaged 39 new people; and churches in the 300-400 category increased an average of 25 people (C. Schwarz, Natural Church Development. p.47.) And that means ‘a small church wins just as many people for Christ as a large one, and what’s more, two churches with 200 worshippers on Sundays would win twice as many new people as one church with 400 in attendance.‘ (Schwarz, p.47)

What about churches with more than 1000 people? They found that the smallest churches (with an average attendance of 51) won an average of 32 new people in the past five years, while mega-churches (with an average attendance of 2,856) won 112 new persons over the same 5 years.

In raw numbers it means that a mega-church wins more people than a single small church. But, if you keep in mind that a mega-church is 56 times the size of a small church, then the following calculations shows you the potential of the two groups more realistically. ‘If instead of a single church with 2,856 people worshipping we had 56 churches, each with 51 worshippers, these churches would, statistically, win 1,792 new people within five years – 16 times the number the mega-church would win.‘ (Schwarz, p.48)

matchThe effectiveness of small churches in terms of growth is statistically, 1,600 percent greater than that of mega-churches. The myth is that big is better. What we need are more Bible believing, Jesus loving, Spirit empowered, gospel proclaiming, mission minded churches planted across our city. Research also found that statistically more people are mobilized to use their gifts to serve in a smaller church than in a larger churches. If you look at our growth at GracePoint we fall into the small church category. When we started with our first congregation between 2000 and 2003 we grew from an average of 45 to 95 people attending our service (a growth of 50 new people in our service through evangelistic and transfer growth).

I believe we grow the ministry of the gospel best in our city by planting new churches or congregations. As each church plant grows and develops, we begin to plant new churches in different suburbs, which in turn eventually plants new churches themselves. And apart from achieving a much more effective rate of growth evangelistically reaching people groups across the city of Sydney, a smaller group allows for much greater involvement of people in terms of using their gifts in serving, less red-tape and structures to worry about, a much greater ability to maintain focus, and a much more personal church.

We can actually reach people across Sydney more effectively by planting new churches. You plant the first one, and then in 4-5 years time when you have a stable and strong congregation, you plant another new church in a different suburb, one out of our evening congregation, and one out of our morning congregation. If we did this, potentially by 2013 we could have 400 people spread across 4 churches or congregations, with all 4 churches ready to plant another 4 new churches.

cplantPersonally I believe it’s time to sail the deep waters again, to chart out new maps as a church in our city. We musn’t be bound by walls, by tradition, by fear, by comfort. We’re called to love Jesus and his mission, and people in our city. We’re called to be a church with a vision to raise the next generation and to plant Bible believing, Jesus loving, Spirit empowered, gospel proclaiming, mission minded churches across the city of Sydney.