Contemporary Culture

Finding Happiness (Part 3): Financial Control

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The third ingredient contributing to our everyday happiness (read part 1) is financial control.

Money isn't everything but having enough to meet our own needs as well as to give away to others can create a sense of happiness and freedom in our lives. This has nothing to do with our 'net worth' or waiting until we get that next raise or bonus. It's about how we are managing the resources we currently have. Money is a terrific servant but it can be a cruel taskmaster if we allow it control us. 

Thankfully, we don't have to wait until we have more money. We can start having a sense of financial control ... beginning today. It's about having a common-sense plan that's based on hard work, saving, controlling our expenses, paying down our debts and investing wisely. Anxiety can disappear and, in a matter of time, you can know what it is to be financially free.

Unfortunately, we don't automatically have the financial acumen we need for life when we graduate from high school. Sure, we know a little math and maybe a bit about economics, but young people today often don't learn the keys to good financial management while growing up, unless their parents took the time to teach them and model the way. Thankfully, there are tools and resources to help us acquire the knowledge that we need. And it's never too late to learn.

A few helpful resources for Australians are:

Yes, for less than $60 you can acquire all the knowledge and skills you need to gain financial control. That's well worth it.

Did you know that (all are recent statistics from Scott Pape's book mentioned above):

  • The majority of Australians pay $515 a year in bank fees. Over 10 years, that's $5,150, enough money to take you on a really good holiday somewhere!
  • Your super fund can gobble up a third of your savings in fees. Approximately 90% of Australians don't choose where their super money is invested, so they end up in their fund's default option.
  • The average wage in Australia is $78,832 (the top 0.28% of the richest people in the world by income) yet 62% of us believe we can't afford to buy everything we really need.
  • Australians on average live in the biggest homes in the world. And we need a lot of stuff to fill those homes. And we are one of the biggest waste producers in the world - second only to the USA.
  • Australia has the highest rate of household debt in the world. 
  • Only 7% of Australians have the right amount of insurance. 
  • Most Australians aren't ready to retire financially. Although having the richest people on the planet, one in three retirees lives in poverty due to the high cost of living and many run out of savings 13 years before they die ... one of the worst results in the world.

Thankfully, it doesn't have to be that way. People are often destroyed through lack of knowledge. That's why it is important to "get wisdom". Get around people who know more than you do and be humble enough to ask questions. Be willing to learn. Have a teachable attitude. You can learn anything ... if you only give it a go.

Your money is just that - YOUR money. You got out of bed in the morning, went to work, and earned your paycheck. Why not learn to manage those resources better so you can achieve a greater degree of financial control? It is possible. You can do it. I'll be cheering you on. You'll be glad you did.

P.S. For some more insights on the topic of finance, be sure to check my 3 BLOG posts on Money Talks.


Finding Happiness (Part 2): Strong Personal Relationships

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The second factor that contributes to our happiness (read Part 1) is Strong Personal Relationships.

Each of us is born into a family and a desire for a sense of belonging is a part of what it means to be human. Although the introverts among us tend to be energized by solitude and alone time, most people enjoy meaningful conversation and are enriched by good friendships.

In many ways, relationships are spatial. Most people have lots of acquaintances, many 'friends' or people they know more about or do life together with, but usually only a few close or best friends. Like circles of friendship, the former are further away emotionally while the latter are in close proximity. The key is knowing who is where and how best your constellation of relationships functions in a healthy manner - for everyone concerned. 

We find close friends by first being friendly with lots of people - enlarging our circle of acquaintances. Out of these casual connections, we often find people with common interests or who are of a 'kindred spirit' where there is a mutuality of commonality and enjoyment. With time and effort, close friendships can emerge. And what a gift a good friend is! Of course, to have friends one must be friendly and it is often in giving to others that we also receive. 

How are your relationships going? Who are your friends? Who needs to be closer? Who should you be creating some distance from at the moment (not that you become rude to them but that their proximity is not benefiting either of you)? 

What could you do to strengthen your existing friendships? What conversation do you need to have to take things to a deeper level?

What steps could you take to make some new friends? Where could you meet people with common values and interests?

In most relationships, we get out of them what we put into them. True love thinks about how the other person wants to be treated then grabs the initiative and treats them that way. It's called the "Golden Rule" and it enhances all relationships. 

Tomorrow: Financial Control

For some additional BLOG post around the theme of relationships, see also:


Finding Happiness (Part 1): A Sense of Purpose

Finding-Happiness

Are you happy? 

What does happiness really look like?

Australia's longest running and most comprehensive survey on happiness is conducted by the Australian Unity Wellbeing Index. After 15 years of detailed research, the author of the survey, Deakin University Emeritus Professor Bob Cummins, says he's finally cracked the code to wellbeing, which he has dubbed the ‘golden triangle of happiness':

  1. A sense of purpose.
  2. Strong personal relationships.
  3. Financial control.

Let's take a look at each of these:

A Sense of Purpose

Deep inside of each one of us is a need for a sense of purpose and meaning. What are we living for? What is life all about? Why should we even get out of bed in the morning? Good questions! 

A lot of people simply pursue pleasure (more fun!), possessions (more stuff!) and prestige (more popularity!). Is it any wonder, because the media and our culture bombard us every day with these values. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with these pursuits. It's just worth pausing and asking if they are worth making the central purpose of our life. 

Pleasure doesn't last that long and before you know it, we need another fix. 

All stuff eventually breaks down and wears out and before you know it we want something newer or better (thanks to the relentless efforts of the multi-billion dollar marketing industry). Years of detailed research proves quite convincingly that once you earn over a certain amount a year, money won't make you much happier. Is it really worth the time and effort to pursue outward symbols of success - owning an expensive home, in an expensive suburb, and driving an expensive car to drop the kids off at an expensive school? Many people bite off more than they can chew. They work more. They stress more. They fight more. Is it really worth it?

Prestige can be elusive too. We can be with the 'in crowd' one day and forgotten the next. If our sense of worth and identity is based on what other people think about us, we will always be vulnerable and at risk to the whims of people's fickle opinions. 

So what are you living for? What is the purpose of your life? These are BIG questions. And it's worth pulling aside from the rat race, even if just for an hour or two, to consider and reflect on them deeply. Life's way too short to be climbing the so-called ladder of success only to get to the top and find it was leaning against the wrong wall.

Tomorrow: Strong Personal Relationships.

Here are a few other BLOG posts that might be helpful as you reflect on your sense of purpose:


Who have you been eating with?

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One day Jesus was having dinner at the home of one of the top Pharisees (the religious leaders of his day). As always, there was some lively and interesting conversation around the dinner table. Near the end of this meal, this happened ...

Luke 14:12-14. Jesus turned to the host. "The next time you put on a dinner, don't just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors, the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. You'll be — and experience — a blessing. They won't be able to return the favor, but the favor will be returned — oh, how it will be returned! — at the resurrection of God's people."

Who have you been eating with lately? 


Taming the Email Monster (Part 4)

EmailMonstersmallSo how do we manage all that incoming email? Here are a few tips:

1. Make Your Email Inbox an 'In' Box.

Make your email Inbox a processing station, not a holding station. Imagine if you left all your paper letters in your physical letter box at the front of your house for weeks on end. What a mess it would be! See you email inbox the same way. How many email are there right now? 50, 100, 500, 1000, more? Learn to process items as soon as possible and get that inbox to empty.

2. Set Up a Simple Folder Filing System.

Within your email inbox you can create additional folders (just like drawers within a physical filing cabinet). Just select 'File/New/Folder' within your email program and give the new folder a name. You might want to include folders for various projects, people or categories such as: Urgent, Waiting, Reading, Events, Finance, etc. etc.

3. Use a Process for Handling Email.

For each email that arrives, make an immediate choice to:

  1. Delete it, if it of no use or interest to you.
  2. Do it - if it will take 2 minutes or less.
  3. Delegate it - to someone better suited to respond to it.
  4. Defer it - set a time in your Calendar, flag it, make it a Task, or put it in your ‘Reading’ folder (CCs are fyi). 

Touch emails only once and never open an email without processing it. 

Another idea is to right-click on an email and see a host of options, including 'flagging' it for follow up later, creating a 'rule' as to how you'd like your email application to handle that kind of email. Also, check out the various 'view' options available to you.

 4. Set Some Specific Times to Look at and Respond to Emails.

Depending on your work or personal role, maybe having some time to check email first thing in the morning, at lunch then and before the day ends is best for you. Either way, have some 'email free' hours each day. Turn off those sound notifications. Don't multi-task, it merely causes distraction, lowering your productivity. Go offline if that helps. If someone needs to get in touch with you urgently, they can always text or call you. 

I hope that these posts about email have been helpful. There is much more to life than sitting in front of a computer or digital screen. Get outside and smell the roses and don't forget that life is about loving God and people. That's best done 'live' - in person. Be fully present with people and put that phone away for a while. You'll be fine.


Taming the Email Monster (Part 3)

EmailMonstersmallLet's face it, we all send emails to other people and add to their inbox. So let's talk today about how to write effective emails.

1. Don't Over-Communicate by Email. 

As we have already noted, a big source of stress for people, especially at work, is the sheer volume of emails they receive. So, before you begin writing an email, ask yourself: "Is this really necessary?” Sometimes, it is better to speak directly to the person by phone or in person.

Email is not as secure as you might want it to be, particularly as people may forward emails without thinking to delete the conversation history. So avoid sharing sensitive or personal information in an email, and don't write about anything that you, or the subject of your email, wouldn't like to see plastered on a billboard by your office. Also, work email accounts are the employer’s property.

Whenever possible, deliver bad news in person. This helps you to communicate with empathy, compassion, and understanding, and to make amends if your message has been taken the wrong way.

Remember the protocal in regards to whose email address to put where: 

  • TO: only send to the person who is to take action on your email.
  • CC: (courtesy copy) is simply 'for your interest'. No is response required. It's for their reference only. A person can read, delete or file the email.
  • BCC: (blind copy) is for use when sending an email to a private distribution list.

2. Make Good Use of Subject Lines.

A newspaper headline has two functions: it grabs your attention and it summarises the article, so that you can decide whether to read it or not. The subject line of your email message should do the same thing. Use an informative Subject Line - referring to a project, action, or important date. A blank subject line is likely to be overlooked or rejected as “spam”. Use few well-chosen words to tell recipient what email is about.

A well-written subject line delivers most important information without the recipient having to open the email. It also serves as prompt that reminds recipients every time they glance at their inbox.

3. Keep Email Messages Clear and Brief.

Keep your sentences short and to the point. The body of each email should be direct and informative plus contain all the pertinent information. Email is free, so send a separate email for each topic. Ideally, limit emails to one subject. Keep it to one screen (1-2 paragraphs). Avoid long drawn out emails. Short and simple is better. Combine several, related points into one email. Use bullet points or numbers. Most importantly, be clear on what action orresponse you want. 

4. Be Polite and Check Your Tone.

Emails are less formal than traditional letters but your messages reflect you (your values, professionalism, and attention to detail). Recipients may decide to print emails and share them with others, so always be polite.

When we meet people face-to-face, we use the other person's body language, vocal tone, and facial expressions to assess how they feel. Email robs us of this information, and this means that we can't tell when people have misunderstood our messages. Your choice of words, sentence length, punctuation, and capitalisation can easily be misinterpreted without visual and auditory cues. Think about how your email "feels" emotionally. If your intentions or emotions could be misunderstood, find a less ambiguous way to phrase your words. Without empathy, misunderstanding often results. 

5. Proofread. 

Finally, before you hit "send," take a moment to review your email for spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes. Your email messages are as much a part of your reputation and rapport as the clothes you wear (hopefully, you look in the mirror before you head out the door each morning!), so it looks bad to send out a message that contains typos. As you proofread, pay careful attention to the length of your email. People are more likely to read short, concise emails than long, rambling ones, so make sure that your emails are as short as possible, without excluding necessary information. 

Next: Managing Email Effectively.


Taming the Email Monster (Part 2)

EmailMonstersmallYesterday, we briefly referred to the exponential changes that have taken place over the last 500 years in the way we communicate with one another.

Today let's talk about some of the challenges of email.

1. We often feel expected to reply immediately. Have you ever had someone ask you if you got their email - yesterday? Long gone is the era where it took 10 days for a letter to a arrive from overseas and you had a few weeks to respond and send a reply!

2. Online messages interrupt our day. Most workers dread the Monday morning over-flowing email inbox. Many people now receive over 50 emails every day and it is estimated that the average office worker receives 80 emails daily. Reading and responding to them all takes a long time. Our work can easily take a back seat and we can get behind on our projects. The average American worker is interrupted 11 times per hour, costing an overall loss of of $600 billion to industry. We often stay up late just to catch up.

3. Emails create the stress of new tasks and information. This overload of continual and relentless inflow can be exhausting, even affecting people's sleep patterns. Nowadays, we read less and spend less time with our loved ones.

4. Email can become highly addictive, like a drug. Any repetitive behaviour can lead to compulsive behaviour, including email checking. It alters our brains and causes attention or concentration span disruption. A recent survey of average response time revealed a rate of 104 seconds. Amazingly, 70% of people responded in just 7 seconds! How many times a day do you pick up your phone to check your email? Have you ever experienced 'email withdrawal'?

Email can be very helpful when used properly and controlled. If not … we start to feel overwhelmed.

Next: How do we tame the email monster??


Taming the Email Monster (Part 1)

EmailMonstersmallLet's do a quick tour of how communication has changed over the last 500 years.

  • In Britain in 1500, only 5-10% of the population could read or write. Wow! What did they do. They probably talked to each other - sharing stories in person.

  • Postcards took off in 1871, resulting in what TIME magazine called an ‘epidemic’.

  • In 1840, the average American sent 3 letters a year; in 1900, that number rose to 69.

  • The telegraph changed everything. A message could be sent across the Atlantic in a matter of hours rather than the 5 weeks it took for 'snail mail' to arrive.

  •  This peaked in 1945 with 240 million telegrams a year.

  • In 2007, just over 60 years later, emails globally hit 35 trillion (10,000x higher than the peak of the telegram). Email communication is easier, faster (pretty much instantaneous) and cheaper (basically 'free').

Email has completely changed the way we communicate and has made life easier in countless ways … BUT it's come at a price.

Next: The Challenges of Email.

[Source: The Tyranny of Email: The 4,000 Year Journey to Your Inbox by John Freeman]


The Impact of Poker Machines in Australia

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TONIGHT at 9.30pm on ABC TV, Ka-Ching Pokie Nation will screen across Australia

By all reports, it is a shocking report into the way that poker machines are placing a terrible cost on our society. There is stunning new evidence that pokie addiction functions in exactly the same way as heroin, cocaine or ice. This product has not just been licensed by the State but spread irresponsibly throughout Australia for the profit of the gambling industry, not to mention State Treasuries.

PLEASE help us lift awareness about poker machines by:
  1. Watching Ka-Ching tonight and encouraging others to watch it to. You can see and share Ka-Ching's trailer here. 
  2. Live tweeting during the event with the hashtag #kaching so that we can contribute a distinctly Christian voice to the conversation. 
  3. Stay tuned for next steps we can all take as part of an alliance of more than 40 community groups committed to addressing the problem.
“The problem we have is that [poker machines] are everywhere,” says Ms Keogh. “We’ve got 20 per cent of the worlds’ machines, and five times per capita more than the United States, and it’s really causing a lot of damage.”
 
Ms Keogh says that when it comes to poker machines, the gambling industry continues to talk about “problem gamblers”, casting blame on the user and diverting conversation away from the product itself.
 
“Roughly 30 per cent of people who play [the pokies] end up with a problem. If any other product caused 30 per cent of people to get sick we would actually look at the product rather than blaming the person,” she says.

[From Bible Society article]


How's Your Cultural Intelligence?

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The apostle Paul worked hard to relate to a wide variety of people. Have a read of this from his letter to the church at Corinth in the first century:

1 Corinthians 9:19-23. Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose–living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized––whoever. I didn't take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ––but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I've become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God–saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn't just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it. Message Bible

As followers of Christ, we are to the same. This means learning to relate to people of different personalities, background, educational level, religious belief, age, gender and race. When it comes to race and nationality, we now live in a truly 'global village'. Yet people living in different localities still have their unique manners and customs.

Over the last month, for the purpose of both holidays and ministry, I have had the privilege of travelling to Russia (St Petersburg and Moscow), Sweden (Uppsala), Poland, Ethiopia (Addis Ababa) and United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi). What a whirlwind it has been yet what an enjoyable experience visiting different places and meeting different people.

Cultural differences include (noted by David Livermore):

  • Individualistic versus Collectivist.
  • Low verses High Power Distance.
  • Cooperative verses Competitive.
  • Punctuality verses Relationships.
  • Direct verses Indirect.
  • Being verses Doing. 
  • Particularist verses Universalist.
  • Neutral verses Affective.
  • Tight verses Loose.

These differences can be seen across a wide range of cultures, including Anglo, Germanic, Easter European, Asian (with many differences between regions), Latin American, African, and Arab ... just to name a few.

A simple example is my recent experience with Indigenous Australians. When two men from Western descent greet each other, after exchanging names, their next question is always something like, "So what do you do?" We derive our primary identity from our work - our doing. In contrast, when two indigenous men meet, after exchanging names, their next question is more likely to be "Who's your mob?" In other words, tell me about your family. In their culture, your family and tribe are the source of your identity - your being. What a difference this makes in how people from these two different go about their daily lives!

Not everyone will travel, like I have had the opportunity to do, but people from different cultures are everywhere around us - in our neighbourhoods, our schools, our workplaces and our churches. Everyone of us should seek to understand people who are different, so we can better love and appreciate them, do life together with them with appreciation, and share the love of Jesus with them in meaningful ways.

Every time I travel to a new place, I do a few things to prepare myself:

1. Read as much as I can about the history, demographics, and local culture. Wikipedia as well as various travel guides are a good source of up-to-date information.

2. Learn about the people - their values, language, interests, education and well-being.

3. Study various maps to understand the geographical area and it proximity to other places.

4. Read about the state of Christian faith in a particular area, as well as the other local religious beliefs. Operation World is an excellent resource for this.

I am always enriched the more I know and understand about the people I am visiting and connecting with. 

Here's some recommended further reading for those who are interested in learning more:


Global Megatrends: Seven Patterns of Change Shaping Our Future

GlobalWe live in a time of rapid change. Yesterday is gone. Today is momentary. Tomorrow is never far away, though never guaranteed. We are called to live in the present, while learning from history and yet looking toward a better tomorrow. Our God is the one who was, who is, and who is to come. The Great I AM - past, present and future are all one to Him.

Futurists study the future, yet no one can fully predict what it will be like.

Stefan Hajkowicz has been thinking for the last twenty years about how people plan for an uncertain future. With training in economics, geography and decision theory, Stefan is one of CSIRO’s leading thinkers about trends, shocks and scenarios in the coming decades. His work led to the creation of the newly established CSIRO Futures research unit – a team of dedicated scientists working to unveil the future and inform people’s choices. Stefan now works as a principal scientist at CSIRO in Brisbane and is in demand worldwide as a speaker, strategist and consultant.

His latest book Global Megatrends reveals his most recent research as he unpacks seven patterns of change that are shaping the future. They include:

  • A scarcity of natural resources.
  • The challenge to protect biodiversity and the global climate.
  • Rapid economic growth and urbanisation in Asia and the developing world.
  • Changing demographics and an ageing population.
  • The impact of new digital technologies.
  • Consumer expectations for services, experiences and social interaction.
  • An imperative to innovate. 

Megatrends are gradual yet powerful trajectories of change that have the potential to throw companies, individuals and societies into freefall. In this book, Hajkowicz identifies these seven patterns of global change and tells a story about how the world will change over the next 20 years. The book captures the thinking of many dedicated scientists and researchers who have devoted their careers to exploring and understanding change. The change heralded by megatrends lies beyond our direct control but not beyond our influence. By getting a picture of how the world is changing and what these megatrends are, we can alter our destiny.

"My interest is in the future because I am going to spend the rest of my life there." Charles F. Kettering

"The leaders of Issacher had understanding of the times, to know what Israel should do." 1Chronicles 12:32.

Tomorrow's coming. What do you see?


Mars Hill - The Marketplace

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Paul at Athens

The apostle Paul gives us an insightful example as to how to engage with our culture during his time in the pagan city of ancient Athens as recorded in Acts 17. He spent time in the synagogue, in the marketplace and then was invited to the Areopagus to engage with the philosophers there. These places can represent three different environments or spaces in our own world today.

  1. The first space is the synagogue, which is where Jews and God-fearing Greeks gathered (vs.16-17). These are people who believe in God and share a common language, experience and belief system. This space can refer to the church community today or to a Christian organisation. It is where we share much in common with the people around us, including similar faith, beliefs, customs and language.
  2. Paul also spent time in the marketplace (vs.17).  This was the area outside the synagogue where people went about their daily life and work. There is less common ground here as there is a range of competing beliefs and insider language doesn't connect. This space can refer to the marketplace today, the places outside of the church community where we work and do life. This is where most Christians spend the majority of their time. The challenge is to connect and bring the good news of Jesus to people in this space in a language they can understand.
  3. The third space Paul went was the Areopagus (also called 'Mars Hill'). The people he had influenced in the marketplace invited him there (vs.18-34). He entered another world because of the interest he had created. Here Paul shared the good news of Jesus but never once quoted an Old Testament text, although his comments were based strongly on a biblical worldview. Despite his initial anger at their idolatry, he chose to build rapport with his audience by commending them for their spirituality and he even quoted some local Greek poets.

The result? Some people sneered or mocked, especially when hearing about the resurrection, others wanted to hear more, while others put their faith in Jesus (vs.32-34). We see these same responses today when people hear the Gospel.

There is much we can learn from Paul in living out his faith in these three very different environments, each of which has relevance for us. Today, we will focus on the marketplace.

The Marketplace

Most people spend over half of their waking hours in the ‘workplace’. Everyone works, whether we get paid or not, including students, stay-at-home parents, and retirees. God himself is a worker (Gen.2:1-3; John 5:17) and we are created in his image to work as his representatives on the earth (Gen.2:15). Work, despite the effects of the curse, is to have dignity, value and meaning. Unfortunately, we have been affected by a dualism that divides between the ‘sacred’ (the synagogue) and the ‘secular’ (the marketplace) when in reality all of life is sacred and part of God’s domain (see Col.3:17). God is just as interested in our Mondays as he is in our Sundays!

A few years ago, in our teaching series entitled Your Work God’s Work, we looked at a theology of work. The purpose of work is to: (1) glorify God, (2) serve people, (3) provide for meaningful contribution, and (4) generate wealth. Of course, work isn’t everything. You are not your job. We need to balance work with the other aspects of our life, including family, church, rest and recreation. However, because of the importance of work, how we work really matters (see Col.3:22 – 4:6). Qualities such as diligence, integrity and love usually lead to opportunities to share our faith in Jesus with ‘outsiders’. Each of us needs to be ready to give an answer (Greek apologia, from which we derive the concept of Christian Apologetics) for the hope we have (1 Peter 3:15).

When speaking to these pagan people, Paul stated that, “God is not far from any one of us” (Acts 17:27). This directly challenges the concept of certain people being “far from God”. The truth is that God is close to each person and we simply need to pray for them to awake to the reality of God’s existence and love for them. This is usually a process and occurs over a period of time. Our part to play is simply to join the work God is already doing in people’s hearts and lives.

The first Christians preached the same Gospel of Jesus Christ (1Cor.15:11) yet they expressed it in significantly different ways depending on their audience. For instance, Matthew emphasises ‘the kingdom’ while John focuses on ‘eternal life’ and Paul on ‘justification’. These are not different gospels. Contextualisation requires us to think about how the good news of Jesus meets the needs of a particular person, as well as how it confronts their idols (things they pursue to meet those needs but that, in the end, don’t truly satisfy).

Reflection Questions

  1. One approach to evangelism is to invite unchurched people into the ‘first space’. What kind of person is this applicable to? What kind of person may never come straight into a ‘first space’ gathering? What ways could we can make the ‘first space’ more welcoming and meaningful to outsiders?
  2. The majority of our church congregation spends a great deal of their time and energy in the ‘second space’. How can the church better equip people to fulfil God’s purpose for them in this space? What are some keys to them receiving more ‘third space’ opportunities?
  3. Reflect on a ‘third space’ experience you may have had? How did it happen and what was it like? What are some practical ways we can become more comfortable in communicating in ‘third space’ environments?
  4. What are some of the biggest challenges you face each week as a Christian in the workplace?
  5. Take the Workaholic Test. How did you score?
  6. In what ways does the Gospel meet the needs and confront the idols of the people in our world? Consider aspects such as the human longing for intimacy, meaning, purpose, belonging, and contribution.
  7. Conversion is sometimes described as an ‘awakening’. Reflect on your own coming to faith: was it an alarm clock conversion (like Paul on the road to Damascus) or a gradual waking up to the reality of God? How can this inform our evangelistic efforts?
  8. Consider the varied response to Paul’s message at Athens (Acts 17:32-34) and the parable Jesus told of the seed and the different soils (Matthew 13:1-23). How can we draw encouragement from this?

Also, check out Halftime Australia.


Mars Hill - Engaging Culture

Mars Hill Graphic 1080

We live in a rapidly changing culture that often seems at odds with the character of God's kingdom. Some Christians choose to reject the surrounding culture, escaping to live separate lives. Others seem to embrace the culture uncritically and end up no different than the world around them. Could it be that a better approach is to engage with the culture - to be in the world but not of it. The apostle Paul modelled this exceptionally well during his time in Athens, especially at Mars Hill - a place full of idols, altars and pagan philosophers. Where is your Mars Hill and how well are you engaging with it? That's what we'll be talking about this month at CityLife.

Here is a summary of week 1 - a message given by Josiah Conner.

Engaging Culture

Change your culture; or your culture will change you (Acts 17:22)

Embrace/Escape: We are often pulled to blindly embrace or escape our culture

There is a tension that we all find ourselves in. It emerges out of this question: What does it mean to be in the world but not of the world?

At times we can be pushed to two extremes. Firstly, we can think the best thing is to escape our world and surround ourselves with safe and good people. The second extreme is to blindly embrace the world uncritically. Neither of these is what Christ has called us to do.

1. What examples have you seen of Christians trying to escape the world? What are some reasons for and against this?

2. What are some examples of Christians trying to embrace the world? What are some reasons for and against this?

3. Consider which of these extremes you find yourself drawn to in this season of life and why.

Bible: The Bible reveals how God plans to reveal His wisdom through the church.

The Bible shows how God created the world good (Gen 1) but humanity took the good things of God and used them outside of His purpose, wreaking havoc on everything (Gen 3). But God set about redeeming the world back to its original purpose by calling humanity to be part of His redemption story. He called Abram to leave His culture and create a counter-culture (Gen 12). He called Israel out of Egypt and made a covenant with them so they would be holy (Ex 19). He called people like Daniel to be an example in a foreign culture (Dan 1).

Jesus steps into the tension (escapist/embrace) and shows us humanity’s purpose. Jesus was in the world but not of the world (John 1:4, Luke 7:34, John 15:18). He also called His followers to do the same (Matt 5:14, John 17:9, Mark 16:15).

4. What does it mean to be in the world but not of the world?

Paul: Paul models a third way of relating to the world: Engagement. Paul shows in Acts 17 a way of relating to the culture without embracing or escaping: Engagement. Paul was in the world but not of the world. Read Acts 17:16-34.

5. What observations do you make from Paul’s sermon?

6. Why did Paul quote one of their poets?

Engage: The Holy Spirit helps us take the good of culture and leave the rest.

We are called to change our culture and not be changed by our culture. Jesus does not call us out of the world but he does call the world out of us. We can engage our culture by using the tools that God has given us to engage our culture with:

     a) Scripture: The scriptures are a light to helps us navigate the culture.

7. Read Ps 119:105: How can we better embed this in our lives?

8. What movies are out that are about the scriptures? Can we use them to point to Jesus?

    b) Reconciliation: The culture has the good waiting for us to call it out

9. Read 2 Cor 5:17-20: What does it mean to be ministers of reconciliation?

10. Many people say there are 7 Spheres of culture: Religion, Family, Government, Media, Arts/Entertainment, Education, Business. How can Christians better engage these areas?

    c) Spirit: We are to be led by the Spirit in engaging our culture

11. Read Gal 5:16-26: What does it mean to be in step with the Spirit? 

[Notes by Josiah Conner - @josiahconner]


Minimalism - the Power of Simplicity

Simplify2
Life left to itself tends to become more and more complex and cluttered. It takes a concerted effort to reverse the trend - to simplify, to become a minimalist. 

Some thoughts worth reflecting on:

  • Could the best way to organise your stuff be to get rid of the heap of it?
  • How might your life be better if you had less?
  • What would it look like to get rid of your excess and enjoy the remainder more? 
  • Our physical world represents our internal state. Dealing with the external can affects the internal. Do you suffer from mental clutter?
  • Is it time for you to create a 'not to do' list rather than continuing to add more and more tasks that you will never get around to doing anyway?

Jesus once said: “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own" (Luke 12:15. NLT)

Do you feel like you need to simplify? Here is some reading you might find stimulating and challenging from a range of authors and thinkers:

Some final words from Jesus:

John 14:27. “I am leaving you with a gift— peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid." NLT

May you know that peace in your life today.


Looking for a Baby Name?

Baby-name-surprised

Looking for a baby name?

In 2014, around 1 in 10 Australian babies were given one of the Top 10 most popular baby names; a total of 30,581 babies. There were more than 2,189 boys named Oliver and 1,796 girls names Olivia last year. 

Keeping the top spot from 2013 is Oliver, the top boy baby name in Australia for 2014 having overtaken Jack and William which were 1st in 2011 and 2012 respectively. 

Oliver was the top boys’ name in all 6 states (NSW, VIC, QLD, SA, WA, TAS) while William was the top boy baby name in the 2 territories (NT, ACT).

There were 230 more instances of Oliver than William, an increase on the margin of 37 from 2013. In 2014, there were 2,189 boys named Oliver, 1,959 named William and 1,841 named Jack which is a decrease for both William and Jack on 2013. 

Olivia, with 1,796 occurrences is the top girl baby name in Australia for 2014, taking the top spot from Charlotte which is now in 2nd place. Charlotte was the most popular girls’ name from 2011-2013 but has now fallen behind by 123 occurrences.

Olivia was the most popular baby girls’ name in the three most populous states (NSW, VIC, QLD) while Charlotte was top in SA, TAS and NT with the names Emily and Amelia being the most popular in WA and the ACT respectively. 

Top 10 Boys' Name Trends and Insights

Although Jack is no longer the top choice for the top boy baby name, it is currently in 3rd place and sitting in 5th place is Jackson/Jaxon/Jaxson. This underlines the fact that the strength and popularity of the name still exists since combining the totals of those names would put it in 1st place, almost 1,200 occurrences more than Oliver. 

9 out of the top 10 boys’ names held onto their top 10 ranking with Cooper dropping 7 spots from 10th in 2013 down to 17th in 2014 and Alex/Alexander rising from 15th to 9th during the same time period. None of top 5 names changed positions but James and Ethan both dropped 2 places with Thomas and Lucas both rising up the chart. 

Top 10 Girls' Name Trends and Insights

All of the top 10 girls’ names from 2013 have held on to a top 10 ranking in 2014. Olivia, Mia, Amelia, Sofia/Sophia and Sophie all improved on their 2013 ranking with Charlotte, Ava, Emily and Ruby being the ones which have dropped. Chloe was the only name to retain the same ranking. 

8 New Boys' and 9 New Girls' Names Enter the Top 100

In 2014, 8 new boys’ names and 9 new girls’ names have entered the top 100 list. 

The names Harvey, Gabriel, Muhammad, Phoenix, Theodore, Maxwell, Carter and Fletcher have entered the list for the boys’ at the expense of Jesse, Seth, Parker, Darcy, Jett, Lewis and Jonathan. 

As for the girls; Frankie, Eleanor, Emilia, Hazel, Lexi, Elise, Sadie, Natalie and Lacey have entered the top 100 with; Samantha, Eve, Daisy, Nevaeh, Skye, Indigo, Caitlin, Leah and Mikayla dropping out of the list. 

Significant Leaps and Declines

Within the boys’ top 100 list, there are 18 names which have bettered their 2013 rank by 10 or more spots, 11 which have dropped 10 or more spots and 8 which have been unchanged. 

Maxwell was the most improved boys’ name, climbing 41 spots to 97th bellowed by Fletcher, up 26 spots to 99th and Harvey, up 20 spots to 84th. On the other end of the spectrum, Braxton has fallen 31 spots down to 77th followed by Mitchell, down 22 spots to 83rd and Nathaniel, down 21 spots to squeeze into the list in 100th position

In the Top 100 girls’ names, there were only 8 names which lost 10 or more spots and 13 which gained 10 or more with 10 keeping their position from 2013. 

Hazel gained a huge 63 spots to be 88th followed by Eleanor which increased a more modest 31 places to be 84th and Ariana, up 27 spots to 73rd. Chelsea and Amelie both dropped 15 places to be 64th and 95th respectively and Mackenzie and Eliza both dropped 14 places to be 56th and 81st respectively.

Choose wisely :)

Source: McCrindle Research


Life is not about ME!

Selfie-stick

Every year a new word is added to the English dictionary.

In 2014, it was 'shirt-front', thanks to our Prime Minister, Mr Tony Abbott. In 2013, it was 'selfie'. Yes, taking a self portrait. Doesn't that capture the spirit of our age! We even have selfie sticks to get a better view of ourselves and the latest technological invention is selfie drones who can fly around and give us an even more 3 dimensional experience of ourselves.

Yet, the truth is that life is not about ME! It’s about GOD and OTHERS. I am happiest when those priorities are the focus of my story. Jesus calls us to adopt a giving stance rather than a getting mode of existence.

Matthew 16:24-26. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?"


Church Attendance in Australia (McCrindle Research)

Church-Attendance-ThumbAustralia has more churches (13,000) than schools (9,500), and more Australians attend a church service each week (1.8 million) than there are people in South Australia (1.6 million).

And while the latest Census results show that Christianity is the religion with which most Australians identify (61.1%), well above the second most popular religion in Australia, Buddhism (2.5%), less than one in seven of the Australians who ticked “Christianity” on their census form regularly attend a church.

Easter is a time of the year when church attendance increases, but what do the 92% of Australians who are not regular church attendees think of churches, and churchgoing in 2013? Check out Mark McCrindle's recent BLOG post for the latest infographic which shares the data, as well as additional information about perceived community needs. 

See also:


Year-in-Review: Barna's Top 10 Findings from 2014

10

Every December, Barna Group compiles its top findings and trends from research conducted in the USA in the past year. From legalizing marijuana to increasing secularization trends to America’s complicated relationship with sports — 2014 was an interesting year. 

1. Bible Skepticism Is Now Tied with Bible Engagement.

2. Young Adults Question the Value of Their College Degree.

3. Global Poverty Is on the Decline, but Almost No One Believes It.

4. Millennials Want a Church to Feel Like a Church.

5. Protestants Like Pope Francis, Too.

6. Americans Favor Legalizing Pot but Believe It’s Morally Wrong to Use It.

7. Practicing Christian Millennials Maintain a High View of Scripture.

8. Americans Say They Care Too Much About Sports.

9. Moms Are Stressed Out and Tired, but Satisfied.

10. Secularization Is on the Rise.

Visit the Barna Group web site to read the details.


Christianity, Christmas and Consumerism

Santa_Sells_Out

As we head towards the crazy Christmas season, it's a good thing to pause and think about consumerism and the follower of Christ.

At CityLife, we have a social justice LifeGroup and they have put together a paper designed to be a thought provoking series of questions and comments exploring some key issues which confront us in our Western, first world culture. We hope that it can be used to start discussion and to promote action in your family, your LifeGroup, your social network and your work colleagues!

1. On the Issue of “Stuff”

When is enough, enough? Or we could ask ourselves what would Jesus buy?

Thought Spot:

Jonathon Comford, in his article - Daily Bread: The Economy of Enough in the Bible - in Tear magazine, TARGET, posed the question:

 “How much money do you need to be happy? The answer is: About 20% more than you currently earn.

 At least that is what people think will make them happy. Research in the US has shown that people think that with an extra 20% in their pockets they could finally be content.”

The Pressure to Consume

We live in a high growth world where companies must make more profit year on year to meet shareholders’ expectations.  How do they do that?  By constantly marketing to us to BUY!  Upgrade!  It will make you skinnier!  It’s the latest and greatest!  If we are not careful we end up buying excessively, and over-consuming. Our rubbish bins are filled with stale leftovers, broken/outdated electronics and packaging wastes. Charity bins are littered with old toys and clothes. Our wardrobe is stuffed with clothes and yet we stare at it and say, “I have nothing to wear… I need new clothes!” Or have you observed the proliferation of “Storage Units” e.g. Fort Knox, Storage King? We now have so much stuff that we can no longer store it all in our homes and so we actually lease more storage space!

Packaging gives premium impressions and creates more value for its contents. We, humans, like the look and feel of ‘expensive’ packaging because it means the extra money paid was worth it. The growth in waste is placing continually increasing demands on waste management and disposal. Approximately 37% of landfill is filled with biodegradable waste, e.g. food waste, paper, cardboard, green waste, textiles and wood.

Quotes on Consumerism:

"The great danger in today's world, pervaded as it is by consumerism, is the desolation and anguish born of a complacent yet covetous heart, the feverish pursuit of frivolous pleasures, and a blunted conscience. Whenever our interior life becomes caught up in its own interests and concerns, there is no longer room for others, no place for the poor."

"Let us be 'protectors' of creation, protectors of God's plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment."  Pope Francis I (2013), Evangelii Gaudium 

Thought, Discussion and Action Spot:

• How do your possessions end up owning you? 

 “The problem is not consuming to live but living to consume.” Skye Jethani

• Are you working harder, longer hours, working for a pay rise just to pay off your possessions?

 “It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else that prevents us from living freely and nobly.”

Henry David Thoreau.

•  Where could we learn to recycle and reuse, or buy second-hand or pass around?  E.g. Share items of infrequent use with family and friends – things like ski gear, camping gear, luggage, baby items (i.e. Freecycle.org is a non-profit movement of people who are giving (and receiving) items for free in their own towns – reusing things and keeping stuff out of landfills! (https://groups.freecycle.org/group/MelbourneOzFreecycle/description)

2. On the Issue of Who Makes all that “Stuff”?

How can we be ethical consumers?  Everything we buy has a start and an end called a supply chain. How do our purchases affect others and the environment?  This is not a new consideration – James challenged his readers in the first century: James 5:1-7 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.

How can we be responsible consumers when the supply chain is far from obvious? There are organisations that are willing to help us navigate through the sea of choices e.g. Fairtrade Australia http://fairtrade.com.au/ and Shop Ethical http://www.ethical.org.au/

Thought, Discussion and Action Spot:

• Do we “hoard wealth”?

• Do we live “in luxury and self-indulgence”?

We can feel overwhelmed by the myriad of choices facing us. Our shop shelves are stacked with duplicate products that have been made overseas in less than ideal conditions – possibly by people, many are children, who are trapped in abusive situations as modern day slaves

• Do we consider who has manufactured the product we are buying?

•  Have they received a fair wage?

3. On the Issue of the Consumer Mindset and its Impact on our Christian Faith.

A potential consequence of consumerism is the danger of simply adding “Christianity” to our lives as another product worthy of consumption.  Is our focus “How can Christianity serve me and my needs?” rather than “How can Christ in me serve my neighbour?”

Thought spot:

“But in consumerism the customer is king, not Jesus. As a result Christianity becomes just one more brand we integrate and display along with Gap, Apple, and Starbucks to express our identity. So Christians no longer carry an expectation of obedience and allegiance to Christ, but rather the perpetual consumption of Christian merchandise and experiences—music, books, t-shirts, conferences, and jewellery. And rather than living out the values and ethics of the Kingdom of God, we share the values of our consumer culture while our identity as Christians remains a veneer”.  Skye Jethani

Paul challenges us in his letter to Timothy:

2 Timothy 3:1-5 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

Also Jesus, John and Paul, all warned of the dangers of loving the world and conforming to the world’s values.

Matthew 19:21-26 Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

1 John 2:15-17 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father[a] is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

Romans 12:1-2 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

The life that Jesus promises is not a life filled with material abundance, however, He promises never to leave us or forsake us. Luke 9:23-25 Then He said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?

Thought, Discussion and Action Spot:

In light of the Scriptures, it is sobering for us to consider:

• Do we place God first in our lives?

• How much of our time is spent concentrating on satisfying our many personal desires?

• Do we resume to consumerism as we exit the church?

• Do we challenge ourselves to give/tithe like we challenge ourselves to build a bigger house?

• Do we compete to share or help?

4. Faith in Action

Paul speaks of being content in all circumstances – of course this contentment can only flow from a life surrendered to Jesus. In the following passages Paul encourages us to find our satisfaction, our contentment, in Christ and His purposes for our lives.

Philippians 4:11-13 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

1 Timothy 6:6-10 But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

1 Timothy 6:17-19 17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

Thought, Discussion and Action Spot:

• How can we be content in all circumstances?

• Do we need more than food and clothing to be content?

• Where is our treasure?

• What is our treasure?

Hebrews 13:5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

ONE STEP AT A TIME…

Don’t be overwhelmed – we can decide to change one purchase and when that purchase becomes routine, change another. Every ethical choice we make will impact the life of someone for their improved welfare.

Is the answer to live more simply - acquiring only that which is necessary to live well?  Of course the dilemma here is that what we perceive as being necessary is ever expanding - this is what drives consumerism. However, way back in the first century Jesus, John and Paul, all warned of the dangers of loving the world and conforming to the world’s values.

Final thoughts:

The challenge in today’s world is for us to discern how God would have us use our wealth i.e. time, energy and finances, to be His hands and feet, His voice, His body to impact this world for His Kingdom. We will need to resist the temptation to give in to advertiser’s demands to buy every new product that is available.  In order to do this we will need to transform the way we think, to turn this world’s values upside down and be willing to deny ourselves and to bless our neighbour, to consider the poor, to be generous with not just our money but our very selves.

In the lead up to Christmas each year, we are bombarded with messages about spending and messages about “giving” that are really about buying and consuming. How about this Christmas we challenge ourselves about how we can give meaningful gifts without excessive spending – things like serving, encouragement, affection, words, hugs, and our time… 

As the National Director of TEAR Australia, Matthew Maury, said:

We have the opportunity to find freedom and joy that is defined by Jesus, rather than trying to find meaning in the things we can buy.

Additional Resources:

1. Consumerism and Christian Ethics by Kenneth Himes 

2. TARGET “Treasure in Heaven” 

Consumerism


Leading in Changing Times

Hands-of-time1

Back in 1964 Bob Dylan sang, "The times they are a changing." How true and the changes haven't let up. One business writer put it this way:

Winds of change are barrelling in from all directions. Competition is tougher than ever and coming from places you least expected. The customer is more sophisticated and demanding. Technological changes are incessant. Government regulations are tougher. And everyone is restructuring, reorganising, reinventing, downsizing, outsourcing - all at an ultra sonic pace.

Don't look for a safe place to wait out the storm, because these winds are unrelenting. If anything, they're getting stronger and coming faster, blowing the shutters off corporate headquarters and small businesses alike... The weather report? More of the same!

The speed of change is increasing and future changes will be bigger and come faster because the rate of change grows exponentially, not incrementally. So get ready for the storm of your life. The hurricane season has just begun.”

That's a good description of business world but it also accurately defines the wider enviornment we all live in. And it was written in 1996!

How leaders respond to and lead during times of change is vital. The first disciples of Jesus were about to experence revolutionary change. Listen to what Jesus said to Peter:

“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.” [Luke 22:31. NLT]

My good friend, Dale Stephenson, noted recently that Satan's desire was to sift ALL of Jesus' followers but Jesus prayed specifically for Simon's faith, because of the influence he would have on the others. Smite the shepherd and sheep will scatter. No wonder leaders are such a target for extreme testing. Thats why our faith - our trust and dependence on God in all seasons and times, especially during times of great change, is so important.

The current reality is change and more change. We live in times of transition in multiple arenas that affects us all. We are in what Scottish cultural anthropologist Victor Turner a "liminal space" - “a space of transformation between phases of separation and re-incorporation. It represents a period of extreme ambiguity, a marginal and transitional state.” These times are characterised by darkness or fog – an obscuring of vision; an inability to see the road ahead. It's a period of flux - continuous change, passage or movement, a flowing or flow. This can create a lot of insecurity and as Virginia Satir said, “Most people prefer the certainty of misery to the misery of uncertainty!”

What should our response be?

I hear God saying to leaders: stay the course, keep at your post, be faithful, be strong and very courageous, do not be afriad, dismayed or discouraged, the Lord is with you, don't give up, stand still and see the salvation of God!

More Reading: Spiritual Leadership Lessons from Farming.


Noah: The Movie

Noah

Last night, my family and I attended a preview of the new movie Noah starring Russell Crowe [trailer]. Without doubt it is a well-made movie, with amazing affects and some star actors. However, the treatment of the storyline was disappointing from my perspective and I came away feeling like the movie was a combination of themes and ideas from Lord of the Rings and Transformers ... with a big double rainbow finish. 

No doubt it will generate a lot of discussion and that's a good thing. Reviews so far indicate that those looking for a fully accurate biblical story are upset while others are rating it highly as a movie experience in its own right. It is interesting how Bible stories and themes are becoming popular in Hollywood at the moment. Charisma News recently declared 2014 "the year of the Bible."

For some thoughts and reflections on Noah and the biblical Flood Story, see my BLOG post last year on Never Again (audio version) which was part of our ORIGINS teaching series.


Are you listening? Is it time to put the mobile phone down?

MobileWe live in an age where attention deficit affects all of us. We are bombarded with information and messages, each trying to gain our interest. In the process, we tend to skim from item to item, from matter to matter, from person to person ... never really slowing down enough to go deep ... to really listen and connect. 

I visited a cafe recently where there was a sign that said: "No, we do not have wi-fi. Why not just sit and talk with your friends!"

Watch this video.

How did it affect you? I was personally challenged. 

Which scene did you identify with the most?

Which was the most moving? For me it was the one with the girl getting a strike at the bowling alley, only to turn around and see that no one had noticed and therefore were not there to celebrate this special moment with her.

To love is to pay attention ... and it does cost us ... our time and our effort. But our loved ones are worth it.

Is it time to put the phone down?


Reaching Millennials

Gen yResearch in America shows that 59% of millennials (also known as Gen Y) drop out of church after attending regularly as a teenager. For the past decade, Barna Group has been working to understand this important age group. After interviewing more than 27,000 millennials and conducting 206 studies of this group, they have amassed a significant body of knowledge on millennials. Now they are sharing that knowledge via a special section of their web site that contains research, articles and carefully curated information on this elusive and often confusing age groups. Check it out at barna.org/millennials.

In many ways, Australia is a unique environment that has major differences to the American context, but there is much we can learn from this research as the church continues to seek to pass on faith to the next generation and reach out to young people with no Christian background. Of course, we are very thankful for the many churches and youth groups that are doing well in reaching young people today. May their tribe increase!


Engaging Culture

When it comes to culture, including media (TV, movies, etc) and politics, there are three different approaches that Christians tend to take:

1. Reject Culture. Some Christians see the world as ‘evil’ (and at times, rightly so) and therefore all culture is to be rejected. Christians are called to be ‘holy’ which means to be ‘separate’ from the world. Christians end up living in their own sub-culture – with Christian communities, Christian bookshops, Christian TV, and even Christian jewelry! The danger with this approach is that Christians end up very ‘different’ from the world but because of their isolation they have ‘no audience’ and therefore no positive ‘influence’ on the world.

2. Embrace Culture. Other Christians go the other way – they fully embrace culture in response to Jesus command to live ‘in’ the world. The danger with this approach is that if we uncritically embrace everything in our culture, we can end up no different than the world we live in. As a result, we have no message to offer them, despite the fact that we have relationships with them. We aren’t isolated, as in the first approach, but we are so immersed in the culture that we lose our distinctiveness.

 

3. Engage Culture. A more balanced approach, modelled exceptionally well by Jesus, is for us to ‘engage’ with our culture. We are to be ‘in’ the world, but we are also called to be ‘not of’ the world. Jesus’ used metaphors for this – ‘salt’ and ‘light’. Both of these things make an impact but only when there is proximity. Salt in the salt shaker has no affect and light only helps if it is shining in the darkness.

 

The first two approaches are easy - they are 'black' and 'white'. The third approach is much more difficult - even risky. It's 'grey' ... but it's well worth the effort.

Jesus spent a lot of time with people far from God and, amazingly, he never got angry or aggressive with them (‘sinners’). The only people he did get angry with were extremely religious people, especially the Pharisees who were very legalistic.

Which way do you lean? Do you tend to reject culture too easily? Do you tend to embrace culture too much? How could you engage with culture more effectively this week?


Dealing with Overload

OverloadEver feel overloaded? Overwhelmed? Ever wish there were a few extra hours in the day or maybe even an extra day in the week? If you are anything  like me, there are so many things to do and hardly enough time to do them in. This requires us to determine our priorities. Today and the coming week will most likely be busy but what will they be busy with? It takes discipline and focus to ensure that we keep first things first and not get swept up in the urgent or the trivial. 

Here is a helpful article by Tony Schwartz that I read recently about dealing with overload. There are some great insights here for improving your personal productivity ...

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning, before you even brush your teeth? Is it checking the e-mail that’s flooded into your inbox overnight? Does the pull feel increasingly irresistible, even Pavlovian? Do you get so immersed in responding to other people’s agendas that 30 minutes can go by before you even look up?

Here’s a radical proposal: Don’t check your e-mail at all tomorrow morning. Turn it off entirely. Instead, devote a designated period of uninterrupted time to a task that really matters.

For more than a decade, the most significant ritual in my work life has been to take on the most important task of the day as my first activity, for 90 minutes, without interruption, followed by a renewal break. I do so because mornings are when I have the highest energy and the fewest distractions.

I’m doing it right now, but in all honesty, it’s gotten tougher in the last several years. My attention feels under siege, like yours probably does.

For the last 10 years, my colleagues and I have helped companies like Google, Coca-Cola and Facebook fuel sustainable high performance by better meeting the needs of their employees. Far and away the biggest work challenges most of us now face are cognitive overload and difficulty focusing on one thing at a time.

Whenever I singularly devote the first 90 minutes of my day to the most challenging or important task – they’re often one and the same — I get a ton accomplished.

Following a deliberate break – even just a few minutes — I feel refreshed and ready to face the rest of the day. When I don’t start that way, my day is never quite as good, and I sometimes head home at night wondering what I actually did while I was so busy working.

Performing at a sustainably high level in a world of relentlessly rising complexity requires that we manage not just our time but also our energy – not just how many hours we work, but when we work, on what and how we feel along the way.

Fail to take control of your days — deliberately, consciously and purposefully — and you’ll be swept along on a river of urgent but mostly unimportant demands. 

It’s all too easy to rationalize that we’re powerless victims in the face of expectation from others, but doing that is itself a poor use of energy. Far better to focus on what we can influence, even if there are times when it’s at the margins.

Small moves, it turns out, can make a significant difference.

When it comes to doing the most important thing first each morning, for example, it’s best to make that choice, along with your other top priorities, the night before.

Plainly, there are going to be times that something gets in your way and it’s beyond your control. If you can reschedule for later, even 30 minutes, or 45, do that. If you can’t, so be it. Tomorrow is another day.

If you’re a night owl and you have more energy later in the day, consider scheduling your most important work then. But weigh the risk carefully, because as your day wears on, the number of pulls on your attention will almost surely have increased.

Either way, it’s better to work highly focused for short periods of time, with breaks in between, than to be partially focused for long periods of time. Think of it as a sprint, rather than a marathon. You can push yourself to your limits for short periods of time, so long as you have a clear stopping point. And after a rest, you can sprint again.

How you’re feeling at any given time profoundly influences how effectively you’re capable of working, but most of us pay too little attention to these inner signals.

Fatigue is the most basic drag on productivity, but negative emotions like frustration, irritability and anxiety are equally pernicious. A simple but powerful way to check in with yourself is to intermittently rate the quantity and quality of your energy — say at midmorning, and mid afternoon — on a scale from 1 to 10.

If you’re a 5 or below on either one, the best thing you can do is take a break.

Even just breathing deeply for as little as one minute – in to a count of three, out to a count of six – can quiet your mind, calm your emotions and clear your bloodstream of the stress hormone cortisol.

Learn to manage your energy more skillfully, and you’ll get more done, in less time, at a higher level of focus. You’ll feel better — and better about yourself — at the end of the day.

 Tony Schwartz is one of the world’s top thought leaders on the workplace and getting the most out of people. He is the CEO of the Energy Project and author, most recently of Be Excellent at Anything: Four Keys to Transforming the Way We Work and Live. 

[Source]


The Changing Shape of Temptation (Barna Report)

TemptIt’s that time again — the beginning of a new year when people resolve to make some changes in their lives. New Year’s resolutions are certainly nothing new. In fact, for many people, they are the same year after year. Making and breaking resolutions is something of a tradition. A new study from the Barna Group examines the temptations Americans say they most commonly struggle with — and how they resolve to deal with these moral and ethical lures.

The research reveals some new, and not so new, aspects to the temptations facing today’s adults. The research was conducted in conjunction with a book project from Todd Hunter called Our Favorite Sins.

New Temptations
Resolutions relating to technology are becoming more common—particularly those that involve spending less time on it. The research shows nearly half of Americans (44%) say they are tempted to spend too much time with media, including the Internet, television and video games. Another “new” media-related temptation is to express anger or “go off” on someone by text or email. Overall, one out of nine Americans (11%) say they often or sometimes feel tempted to do this.

Though sexual sins are nothing new, viewing pornography online continues to escalate and take on new forms as the Internet and social media evolve. Nearly one in five Americans (18%) say they are tempted to view pornography or sexually inappropriate content online. Men more commonly admit being tempted to view porn than women (28% versus 8%).

It is not surprising the most technologically oriented generation—the Millennials, or Mosaics—are more likely than average to admit to struggling with these temptations of modern technology. More than half of Millennials (53%) say they are tempted to over-use screens and one-quarter (25%) feel the temptation to use technology to express their anger at others. When it comes to viewing pornography online, Millennials are significantly more likely than other generations to admit to wrestling with this temptation: more than one quarter (27%) say they are tempted by online pornography, while only 22% of Busters, 15% of Boomers and 8% of Elders say the same.

Old Temptations
Most temptations are not so modern. Americans are still facing the same age-old deadly sins that humanity’s always wrestled with. Though, naturally, the more serious the sin, the fewer people admit to being tempted by it. Which, perhaps explains why “eating too much” is up near the top of the list of admitted temptations—more than half (55%) say they are tempted to overeat. While doing something sexually inappropriate with someone is at the bottom—less than one in ten Americans (9%) admit to this. As might be expected, the older the person, the more likely they are to struggle with overeating (though this decreases from Boomers to Elders) and the younger the person, the more likely they are to face sexual temptations (21% of Millennials admit to being tempted to sin sexually with someone verses only 11% of Busters, 5% of Boomers and 3% of Elders).

When it comes to other more “traditional” sins, about one-third of Americans admit to spending too much money (35%), one-quarter say they are tempted to gossip or say mean things about others (26%), a similar number struggle with envy or jealousy (24%), a little more than one in ten admit to being tempted to lie or cheat (12%) and about the same number say they are tempted by alcohol or drugs (11%).

Though Millennials admit to being more tempted by these things than any other generation, the answers are fairly consistent across ages. The one exception being envy or jealousy, which Millennials are significantly more likely to admit to (41% verses 29% of Busters, 19% of Boomers and 15% of Elders). This is perhaps a life-stage factor as twentysomethings try to find their place and establish a lifestyle. Though it could also point to the effects of nearly ubiquitous consumer advertising on a generation that’s been marketed to more than any previous age group.

Observations
David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, directed the study and offered four observations on the findings:

First, morality in America is undergoing a shift. One example of that is how temptation has gone "virtual." It now shadows many of the digital domains of contemporary life. Nearly half of Americans admit to being tempted to use too much media and one in nine admit to expressing their anger digitally. For faith leaders, this shift underscores the importance of including technology and media as part of a broader discussion of spirituality and stewardship.

Second, Millennials are significantly more likely to admit to being lured by most of the temptations assessed in the research. Why is that? Given their stage of life, are they simply more likely to be confronted by tempting situations than are older generations? Or is it that younger adults are more comfortable admitting to them in the context of a survey? Perhaps the perceived social consequences of being honest about personal struggles are dropping—or it’s merely the angst of youth, worrying about things older adults simply no longer worry as much about. The bigger concern is if Millennials are beginning to accept these emotions as normal and not inherently wrong—as a result of media influence, normative peer behavior and shifting values. Whatever the case, a distinct moral perspective seems to be emerging among younger adults when compared to older generations. Millions of Millennials do not see temptation as something to be avoided, but rather a relatively benign feature of modern life.

Third, distinctly work-related vices top the list of Americans' temptations. As a society, are Americans really most concerned with procrastination and productivity? People seem to be more aware of (or willing to admit to) "sins" that actually make them look better—i.e., it's somewhat self-serving to admit procrastination or laziness because it reflects well on one's work ethic. But few people want to admit to being envious or mean or tempted sexually. But, of the list, productivity is not exactly the most biblical pursuit—that specific "temptation" is much more reflective of American values than of core biblical themes.

Finally, only 1% of Americans of any age are able to articulate that giving in to temptation might be caused by sin. Most Americans think of temptation more as a steady stream of highs and lows that must be navigated. This reveals a gap in biblical thought on the subject of temptation among the nation’s population.

* Read the complete report to learn more about particular Western temptations, why people give in and whether resistence is futile.

Religious Belief in Australia (2011 Census Results)

OzDo you remember where you were and what you were doing on the evening of August 9th last year? It was census night here in Australia, a day every five years where the government requires every person living Australia to complete a survey (conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics). It includes questions about personal details, the people we live with, our education, our employment, and any significant changes that have taken place in the last few years. This helps to provide a snapshot of our nation, which becomes useful for the government as well as many other organisations. 

One of the questions in the census is about religious belief. Here are the results from the 2011 census with a comparison to the previous one conducted back in 2006. 

                                                                                         2006                                        2011

Christian                                                                       63.8%                                       61.1%                     

Buddhist                                                                          2.1%                                          2.5%

Muslim                                                                             1.7%                                          2.2%

Other Non-Christian Religions                                    2.4%                                         2.5%

No Religion                                                                   18.7%                                       22.3%

Unspecified                                                                   11.3%                                         9.4%

A few observations:

  • The number of people who identify with a Christian faith (including Catholics, Baptists, Pentecostals, and all other Christian denominations) has dropped from 63.8% to 61.1%. In 1996, this number was 71%, so there has been a 10% decline in this category over the last 15 years.
  • Hinduism is the fastest growing religion in Australia, along with Jedi (from the Star Wars movies!), which has grown 13% over the last 5 years to 65,000 people (someone is obviously leading an intergalactic recruitment campaign!).
  • Approximately 7.2% of Australians identify with a non-Christian religion now, which means you don't have to go overseas to become a missionary (though that is still needed). Right in our neighborhoods there are Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, atheists, agnostics and even Jedi.
  • The number of people saying that have no formal religious belief system has grown from 18.7% to 22.3% in the last 5 years. Those between the ages of 15-34 make a large portion of this category.
  • 9.4% of people chose not to answer this optional question in the census.

Moving on ... if over 60% of Australians claim to be "Christian", how many of them are actively involved in a faith community? Recent National Church Life Survey and Community Surveys reveal the following:  

Church Attendance

  • Less than 10% of Australians attend church each weekend. In Melbourne, it was 8.4% as of 2010 (just a little more than the number of people attending AFL football games each weekend). If the current 20-year trend continues, this could end up as low as 5% over the coming years.
  • Less than 20% attend church once per month or more.
  • 20% attend church yearly or more often.
  • Over 60% hardly or never attend church (and this percentage is growing). The majority of non-attenders are either indifferent or apathetic towards the church, though some are antagonistic.

These statistics show us that the church has an important part of the Australian society. It is also evident that there is a significant level of latent Christian belief in the wider community. Nevertheless, the majority of Australians do not go to church and, for a great many, spirituality is not an issue. As a result, many churches and even entire denominations are in serious decline, with attendance dropping every year. Thankfully, there are pockets of growth and vitality, and some Australian churches are experiencing significant growth.

Why People Don’t Attend Church

NCLS Community Surveys reveal the following most common reasons given for people not wanting to attend church in Australia:

  • They think the sermons are boring or irrelevant.
  • They don’t like the music.
  • There is nothing for the children.
  • The people are unfriendly.
  • The church is always asking for money. 

Could it be that the average Aussie has no problem with "God" but doesn't see "church" as relevant to their lives? From my experience and observation, there are 100s of churches made up of genuinely friendly people, with tremendous children's ministries, inspirational worship, and practical, life-changing messages (and most only take up one voluntary offering each weekend). Perhaps these churches are Australia's best kept secret. Either way, we are a nation in need of awakening ... beginning with us as God's people. The harvest is ripe ... but the workers continue to be few. Let's pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his field. May Australia yet become the great Southland of the Holy Spirit ... in our time. 


10 Ways Your Phone is Changing the World

IphoneIn this week’s special wireless issue titled, “THE WIRELESS ISSUE. 10 Ways Your Phone is Changing the World,” TIME explores how mobile phones have become a super-extension of ourselves, altering in fundamental ways how we approach everything from education to politics, from medicine to romance.

The issue includes an exclusive TIME Mobility Poll, conducted in cooperation with Qualcomm, that highlights the increasing significance of mobile technology in our lives. TIME‘s Nancy Gibbs writes, “It is hard to think of any tool, any instrument, any object in history with which so many developed so close a relationship so quickly as we have with our phones.” Read more here.

When it comes to people and their devices, 61% worldwide plan to replace their phone in less than two years; 84% worldwide said they couldn’t go a single day without their mobile devices in hand; 44% would leave their wallets at home in favor of their device; 50% of Americans say they sleep with their mobile next to the bed — as do more than 80% of 18-24 year olds; an 30% said that being without their mobile for even short periods leaves them feeling anxious. 

This week’s cover image features more than 200 photographs chosen from 31,429 Instagram photos submitted by TIME readers in more than 120 countries and on all seven continents. Plus, every photograph within the wireless section was originally shot on a mobile phone camera.

Exclusive TIME Mobility Poll:

  • 84% Say They Couldn’t Go a Single Day Without Their Mobile Devices in Hand
  • 20% said they check their mobile device every ten minutes
  • 43% have used texting to ask someone out on a date
  • 30% said that being without their mobile for even short periods leaves them feeling anxious
  • If forced to choose, 65% worldwide opted to take their wireless mobile device with them in the morning instead of their lunch
  • 66% of people feel that their wireless devices have made them better parents

Read more about the poll here. See the results here.

[Source: Mac Daily News]


Engaging our Culture

CuyltureJesus told his disciples to be IN the world but NOT OF the world. Maintaining that balance is a constant challenge for Christ-followers. We can more easily lean towards either extreme, resulting in and isolation or immersion, both of which lead to minimum impact for Christ. 

On my BLOG, I have written some posts about engaging with contemporary culture. You will find articles on topics such as: engaging our culture, global trends, generational issues, creativity and innovation, as well as on the issues of tattoos and gambling. Click here to being reading.

I hope you find your reading insightful! 


Best Movies of 2011

TodayEveryone loves a good movie but sometimes it can be hard to find a good one. Hours can be spent in your local DVD shop browsing through what seems like an endless array of violence, sex and pointless comedy.

Christianity Today issues a list of what they believe are the most redeeming movies each year. Click here to view their list for 2011. Who knows, you might find something worth watching in there. 

P.S. Focus on the Family's Plugged In web site gives a good detailed overview of moveies, which is helpful to know before you see one. However, sometimes their reviews are so critical that you'd pretty much get the opinion that no movie is worth your time. It's important to understand that when you see a movie made by non-Christians it probably will have a good deal of non-Christian values. Neverthless, we need to be listening to the stories of our culture and endeavouring to join in the conversation.