Tuesday, July 25, 2006

EU to fund stem cells - Europe - International Herald Tribune

EU to fund stem cells

Stephen Hawking, one of the world's best-known scientists, who suffers from motor neurone disease, lashed out Monday at what he called the "reactionary" forces in the United States and Europe that are trying to ban research on stem cells from human embryos.

Hawking said banning the use of stem cells from human embryos was the equivalent of opposing the use of donated organs from dead people.

"The fact that the cells may come from embryos is not an objection because the embryos are going to die anyway," he told the newspaper The Independent in London. "It is morally equivalent to taking a heart transplant from a victim of a car accident."

Read the full article here

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Three Great Challenges

Looks like Jacksaid's dream of inviting Ravi to University Malaya for a mini-veritas forum came true after all... When we met Ravi in Bali some time back, Jack invited him to Msia (perhaps half-in-jest) and he agreed. The organisers at UM have done a great job making it a reality.

by Dr Ravi Zacharias
Visiting Professor at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University

"Culture is the effort to provide a coherent set of answers to the existential situations that confront all human beings in the passage of their lives," suggests sociologist Daniel Bell. Yet one of the symptoms of a society that has lost its ability to think critically is that it deals with life-defining realities such as who we are as human beings in a simplistic manner. Furthermore, a culture that loses its shame, its power of reason, and its sense of meaning has little to hope for in the future. What has brought this demise about? Many scholars have attributed it to the eroding processes of secularization, pluralization and privatization. This lecture examines these 3 challenges and proposes a deeper and hopeful understanding of who we are and who we are meant to be.

Date : 17 August 2006 (Thursday)
Time : 3.00 p.m.
Venue : Auditorium, Asia Europe Institute, University of Malaya

Please reply: 14th August 2006
Tel: 03-7967 5697 / 7967 5468 Fax: 03- 7967 5692

2.30 p.m. Arrival of Guests
3.00 p.m. Welcome note by Organiser and Introduction

Lecture by Dr. Ravi Zacharias
5.00 p.m. Refreshments / End

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Revolution: Finding Vibrant Faith beyond the Walls of Sanctuary

Book Review

Barna, George, 2005, Revolution: Finding Vibrant Faith beyond the Walls of the Sanctuary, Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.

George Barna, in his latest book, Revolution, challenges us to re-examine our theology of church and ways of doing church in the future. Barna was confident that it is possible to predict trends in the church in the United States. He wrote The Frog in the Kettle (1990) in which he identified possible trends and reforms the churches need to implement in order to maximise the benefits from these trends. Barna claimed in his latest book that “90 percent of the predicted outcomes became reality” (p.viii). With this impressive record, Barna went on to introduce what he believes will be the next major trend and this will involve the very structure and the way we do church itself.

Barna identifies a “new breed” of Christians (about 20 million) whom he named “The Revolutionary Christian”. In the opening chapter he identified David (not the biblical one) as one. He described David, “…is a Revolutionary Christian. His life reflects the very ideals and principles that characterized the life and purpose of Jesus Christ and that advances the Kingdom of God-despite the fact that David rarely attends church services. He is typical of a new breed of disciples of Jesus Christ. They are not willing to play religious games and aren’t interested in being part of a religious community that is not intentionally and aggressively advancing God’s Kingdom. They are people who want more of God- much more- in their lives. And they are doing whatever it takes to get it.” (p.7) These revolutionaries have seven major passions (p. 23-25)
1. Intimate Worship
2. Faith-based Conversations (evangelistic)
3. Intentional Spiritual Growth
4. Servanthood
5. Resource Investment
6. Spiritual Friendships

While there is not much to distinguish between the revolutionaries from any committed born-again Christians, the major distinguishing mark is that revolutionaries are willing to leave the local church and seek their spiritual feeding and experiences elsewhere. While there is the commitment to God, there is no loyalty to tradition and the local church. Barna’s research has shown that the local churches have a lot of flaws and churched Christians (about 77 millions) fall short of the standards of these revolutionaries.

What are some of the factors that lead to this trend? Barna has identified seven (p. 42-47).
1. The Changing of the Guard
As the Baby Boomers and Builders begin to make way Baby Busters (1965-1983) and Mosaics (1984-2002), the demographic changes have major influences on culture and societal expectations.
2. The Rise of a new View of Life
Postmodernism has become the main influence in mainstream American culture. What it means is that relationship is more important than productivity, pluralism and relativism, influence through dialogue and the ends justify the means. The working process is more important than the end product.
3. Dismissing the Irrelevant
Unlike the Boomers who are famous for demanding excellence, the next generation; “they quickly abandon anything that is not wholly germane to their personal passions …They have little patience for anything based on tradition, customs, ease, or social responsibility. If they do not immediately sense the relevance of something, they dismiss it out of hand and move on to the next alternative.” Hence loyalty is not a strong point of consideration.
4. The Impact of Technology
Enough have been said about this.
5. Genuine Relationships
They value relationships and are “people people.” Their focus on personal authenticity rather than performance and they like personal stories and experience rather than principles and commands.
6. Participation in Reality
They like the hands on approach and enjoy the experiential rather than the cognitive.
7. Finding True Meaning
They find true meaning in sacrifice and surrender.

What this boils down to is that the next generation will leave any local church or organisation that does not meet their needs. They are not what we consider ‘backsliders’, they are more of spiritual seekers. With more resources within reach (easy communications, travel, Internet etc), they will find their own sources of spirituality that will meet their spiritual needs. They will develop their own network and alternative faith communities. Barna’s prediction for future trends is as below.

How Americans Experience and Express Their Faith (p.49)
Primary means of spiritual experience and expression

Local church 70% (2000) 30-35% (2025)
Alternate Faith-based Community 5% (2000) 30-35% (2025)
Family 5% (2000) 5% (2025)
Media, Arts, Culture 20% (2000) 30-35% (2025)

What will the future faith communities be like. Barna offers a glimpse of some possible forms (p.61-67):

1. Macro model
a. Congregational form of local church
b. House churches
c. Family faith experiences
d. Cyberchurch

2. Micro model (distributed models of faiths)
a. Independent worship events
b. Marketplace fellowships
c. Coaching communities
d. Narrowcast Internet-based faith group
e. Parachurch ministries

Barna has done the Church a favour by bringing to our attention, a possible trend or movement of people out of the local church to seek their spiritual formation elsewhere. While I do not believe it will be as large a percentage as he predicted, I believe that it is an important trend.

If committed Christians find difficulties in being part of an established church and find that they are stagnating, in spite of having make efforts to be part of the community, they should be allowed to explore alternative ways of doing Church. Church to me is not a building or even a local congregation. Church to me is a people of God, the Body of Christ. Many of us has realised that many local churches are no more than fossilized institutions, political conventions, spiritual spas or country clubs.

Throughout Church history, the committed Christians are always marginalized. And they have always survived. These revolutionaries may be the 21st Century equivalent of the desert fathers and mothers of the 4th Century. What the local congregations should be doing is not to condemn or drive them off but to connect with them and offer them a place to come back to when their wandering is done. For all we know, the revolutionaries may be God’s way of sparking off a revival as He has done it with the Pentecostal/Charismatic in the last century.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Kofi Annan's wonderful worldcup speech

Mr Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, was in Berlin on Friday to see the unveiling of the official emblem for the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. He reflects on why observing events at the FIFA World Cup in Germany has left the UN green with envy in this wonderful interview found on the official Fifa World Cup Germany 2006 Website;

"the World Cup is an event which takes place on a level playing field, where every country has a chance to participate on equal terms. Only two commodities matter in this game: talent and team work. I wish we had more levellers like that in the global arena. Free and fair exchanges without the interference of subsidies, barriers or tariffs. Every country getting a real chance to field its strengths on the world stage."

Real the full article here

Thursday, July 06, 2006

How Expensive is Your Church?

I wonder how you will answer if someone asks you, “How expensive is your church?” Your first impression may be, “My church is free. No annual fees, no service charges and no membership dues. It is not expensive.” Then if that particular person persists, “What about your church’s expansion plans? New building projects. What will it cost you, as a member? How expensive will it be to remain in your church?”

Many churches, especially bigger churches in the Klang valley are embarking on multimillion ringgit building and expansion plans. I am sure there are excellent reasons for these building and expansion plans. Growing church attendance, increasing ministry programs and a bigger staff are some of these reasons. I am also sure all churches which are embarking on these multimillion ringgit building projects have excellent Christ-centered, church community discerned reasons which are in God’s will for these churches. However, I hope that churches are not planning on spending these amount of money (estimates of $50 million, $ 30 million, $10 million to name a few numbers) for the following reasons:

“We want a church campus that looks like Rick Warren’s church campus in California”
It of course great to have a church campus like Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church in Lake Forest. The whole complex is bigger than some of our local university campus. The main auditorium can sit 5,000 people and have the latest in audio-visual equipment. We must realize that we are not in California but in Malaysia. We have to be realistic and contextualize our church buildings. Sometimes we look at the mega churches in other countries and we want to be like them. There is nothing wrong with mega churches provided it is God who wants us to have them. There is something wrong when we try to imitate by ending up with only the superficial simulacrum of the whole concept. A multimillion ringgit building may become a proverbial white elephant and become a millstone around our necks. Instead of trying to build physical assets, we should concentrate and invest in building spiritual assets in our members.

“We must show the surrounding community an impressive church building so that they will know our God is a powerful God”
Aesthetic buildings are good to look at but we should aim for functionality and multi-purpose. Then the building project will not cost so much. If the intention of building is for show, then we need to rethink our priorities. If we think God will be glorified by man -made structures, then we need to relook at Old and New Testament history. Also, we must be aware of the sensitivity of building impressive, attention-drawing buildings in a country where the ‘priority’ religion is not Christianity.

“Our church building must be more impressive than that other church’s building because we are better than them”
Keeping up with the Jones also occurs in religious communities. We need to be aware of this and not get caught up in this vicious circle. Often it is a subtle and unconscious need on our part to compare ourselves with others. It falls to the church leadership and communal discernment of the church to make sure that the tremendous investment in money, effort and work is for the expansion of God’s kingdom, not in proving themselves better than other Christians. Good Christian stewardship demands that every ringgit that we spend must be accountable and for the mission of the church which is evangelism. How many missionaries and ‘full time’ workers are suffering from lack of finances while home churches are building ‘fine’ buildings? The work of the gospel expands, not by buildings but by personal relationships and effective stewardship of financial resources.

“We must have a new church building/expansion because there is not enough space”
On the surface this sounds like a good reason. However, ‘not enough space’ is a perpetual problem. I have never been to a church where they have ‘enough space’. When I was visiting Rick Warren’s church, the people I spoke to also complain of ‘not enough space’. The solution to ‘not enough space’ may not be building new buildings but in more creative use of existing space. We need to have a paradigm change in our thinking of a church as being a building where everything is in one place. Could a church not be a small shop lot for administration office, rent hall spaces for worship and services and hold other meetings in homes? Instead of building a new building every time the congregation grows, should we not think of leasing or renting of bigger and bigger convention halls or hotel ballrooms for worship service? Most convention halls/ hotels come with audiovisual equipment and adequate parking facilities.

I have nothing against churches that have visions for multimillion dollars building projects. I just hope that they are aware that the fund-raising, the work needed and the taxing of their members may drain their resources and divert their attention from the more important task of building the Kingdom of God.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Return Of The Son

Christianity Today: "According to Stephen Skelton, author of The Gospel According to the World's Greatest Superhero, the parallels between Superman and Jesus Christ are no accident, but rather, designed on purpose by the Superman TV show and movie storytellers."

Also got a thought-provoking article from Alpha

Quentin Tarantino nailed it in a monologue by Bill in Kill Bill, where he says an essential characteristic of superhero mythology is that there must be a superhero, and an alter ego: Bruce Wayne puts on a suit to become Batman and Peter Parker does the same to become Spider-Man. But Superman was born Superman - his alter ego is Clark Kent.

"His outfit with the big red S, that's the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears - the glasses, the business suit - that's the costume. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent? He's weak, he's unsure of himself … he's a coward. Clark Kent is Superman's critique on the whole human race."

Maybe this is what is most Christlike about him - not what it is to be heroic, but what it is to be human.

More Reflections on the movie:
Superman Or Perfect Man?
Jesus Christ Superman
What do Superman and Jesus have in common?
Christ Figure of American Pop Culture
Superman, Jesus Christ and Jim Caviezel