Archive for April, 2012

April 27, 2012

Charles Colson

Charles Colson died last week, aged 80.  He lived an extraordinary life, one that Hollywood could not have dreamt of.  Here is a brief of his life if you  haven’t heard of him.

He was born in 1931 in the USA.  He was a soldier, then a lawyer, and then a political adviser to President Nixon.  In this role he was the “hatchet man” – the one who would get things done, whatever it took.  He was a key figure in the Watergate scandal that ended Nixon’s presidency in 1974.  At age 41 he became a Christian.  His conversion was met with widespread cynicism.  The next year he went to jail for his crimes in Watergate.  Impacted by what he saw of life behind bars he started a prison ministry called Prison Fellowship upon his release, which now ministers to inmates all around the world.  His impact for the cause of Christ through Prison Fellowship has been massive.

Apart from all that, after he became a Christian he wrote 30 books which sold over 5 million copies, as well having radio shows and writing blog posts.  His output to humanity was large and he leaves a huge legacy behind.  He also had a very eloquent turn of phrase.

For some reason I own only one of his books.  It is not amongst his best known.  It is called The Enduring Revolution.  The idea behind the title is that history’s revolutions come and go, but Jesus is the one who revolutionises the human heart.  Christ began an enduring revolution because the changes that he brings to the inside of a person continue to this day.

The book ends with a story of a prison he visited in Brazil.  The prison was notable for the revival that had swept through it, and the exceedingly low rates of re-offending by those that left it.  Colson visited to find out the secret to their success.  He writes:

I saw the answer when my inmate guide escorted me to the notorious punishment cell once used for torture.  Today, he told me, this block houses only a single inmate.  As we reached the end of the long concrete corridor and he put the key in the lock, he paused and asked, “are you sure that you want to go in?” 

 “Of course,” I replied impatiently, “I’ve been in isolation cells all over the world.”  Slowly he swung open the massive door, and I saw the prisoner in that punishment cell: a crucifix, beautifully carved by the inmates – the prisoner Jesus hanging on the cross.

 “He’s doing time for all the rest of us,” my guide said softly.

 In that cross carved by loving hands is a holy subversion.  It heralds change more radical that mankind’s most fevered dreams.  Its followers expand the boundaries of a kingdom that can never fail.  A shining kingdom that reaches into the darkest corners of every community into the darkest corners of every mind.  A kingdom of deathless hope, of restless virtue, of endless peace.

 This work proceeds, this hope remains, this fire will not be quenched: The Enduring Revolution of the Cross of Christ.

John

April 27, 2012

Did you get the strap?

From 6-12 years old I wore two pairs of underpants every other day and not because I had bowel problems. My dad’s preferred method of punishment was to give me the strap and he wasn’t gentle either, hence double undies. It was almost always deserved like the time I climbed up a pine tree so high that I started to get dizzy and everything began to look small or for the umpteenth time my parents were called by the principal because I had beaten the snot out of some kid who had annoyed me.

 I remember my Dad saying once or twice that it hurt him more than it hurt me – I never saw him walking around with double undies! But did the ‘fear of the strap work’?  It certainly didn’t  deter me from being disobedient and rude; I became even more rebellious and got more devious at hiding my behaviour. At the time of the ‘crime’ I wasn’t thinking about the punishment that might come I was just thinking ‘How much chocolate could I buy with the $10 I had stolen?’ or ‘How cool do I look smoking in the toilets at the train station before school?’ It was only when I got ‘caught’ that I started to weigh up the consequences of my actions and ‘think about what I had done’ – not prior.

There are a plethora of fear of punishment type deterrents that are meant to motivate change from the major to the minor such as the death penalty, prison, fines, community service, home detention and many more. Anti smoking commercials attempt to use a version of this to deter people from smoking. They use the fear of punishment via the painful symptoms of lung cancer or emphysema to scare people into quitting. The horrific TV commercials showing the impact on the victims of drink driving seek to do the same. Do these actually work to discourage crime, speeding, drink driving and smoking? Has the fear of getting a ticket made you stop using your mobile while driving or just made you better at hiding your use of it in the car?

‘Fear of punishment’ is an external or extrinsic motivator. The change is trying to be impressed from the outside. The desire to change behaviour is better motivated ‘intrinsically’ that is from within. What motivates me to make a change? I quit smoking because I love my husband and I wanted to live a long life with him. I have slowed down on the road not because of the fear of a ticket or watching kids die in horrific TV ads but because my friend died in my arms at the scene of a car accident.

The church for a while even adopted this attitude with ‘fire and brimstone’ preachers. Some of my earliest ‘evangelistic attempts’ focused on ‘scaring people’ with vivid messages and pictures of burning fire and torment (Deepest apologies to my sister). While this type of preaching may have produced a small number of short term ‘conversions’ it is rare that the seed planted was deep enough to sustain a life in Christ. I’m not saying the police should give me a hug and kiss when I run a red light while talking on my mobile and that murderers should be given a ‘talking too’. But is the ‘fear of punishment’ an adequate deterrent? An evaluative question Dr Phil uses frequently is ‘How’s that working for ya?’ Revenue wise probably well but as a deterrent to major and minor crime and destructive habits…

I’ve only been able to sustain long term change in my negative, addictive and destructive behaviours because of the transforming power of God’s love working away on the inside of me.

Think about your life and the positive changes you’ve made.  What are the biggest changes you’ve made that you’re proud of? What motivated you to do it? Has the change lasted long term?

Let me know…

Over and Out

Catherine xo

April 22, 2012

The God who is Obvious

For centuries Christians and other religious people have come up with arguments about the existence of God.  When I was in bible college I had to try and grasp the “ontological argument” and other such head spinning ideas.  I don’t doubt that scholars have some profound things to say on this subject, but the bible regards all of those arguments as redundant. The bible simply says,

But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness.  They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them.  For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky.  Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature.  So they have no excuse for not knowing God. (Romans 1:18-20, NLT)

Did you see the second sentence there?  God has made his existence obvious.  These are remarkable claims.  Paul here says that God’s existence need not be proved – it is obvious.  End of story.  Now Paul was a highly accomplished scholar.  If you asked him for reasoned philosophical ideas about the existence of God he could have come up with some good things.  But he doesn’t see the need.  He simply says that God is obvious, and he is obvious because of the world that he has created.

You might think that Paul did not have the benefit of modern science – what did Paul know of relativity, the Big Bang, evolution, the Hubble telescope, etc.  It was obvious to Paul that God exists but it does not look so obvious this side of Einstein, Darwin and Stephen Hawking.

Yet it is still obvious.  Let’s assume that everything that modern science says is true.  (Granted how far science has come in the last 100 years who knows where our understanding will be 100 years from now, but leave that aside.)  Why was there a Big Bang?  That is a question that science cannot answer.  All that science can do is say what has happened since the Big Bang, what laws this universe seems to abide by.  It cannot explain how the universe came into being.  That issue remains out of science’s grasp.  There remains one obvious explanation – a creator.

For Paul God’s obviousness extends to at least two aspects of his character – his “eternal power and divine nature”.   He doesn’t give us detail about those two things but the implication is clear from the surrounding sentences.  I think that he is saying that God’s perfection is obvious, and by it our imperfection is obvious as well.

What’s more, for Paul God’s obviousness has consequences.  He says that it leaves all of those who have seen his obviousness “without excuse”.  He goes on, in the following chapters, to explain that the problem of sin has reached to everyone.  There is not a person alive who has avoided it until God sent his Son.  The death of Jesus a  opens a way to conquer the sin problem, and for those that receive his forgiveness there is freedom.

Sounds like a good solution to me.

April 22, 2012

My name is Catherine and I am fat

You may think that I’m putting myself down so I’ll use the proper medical terminology instead. My name is Catherine and I am in the category that comes after ‘morbidly obese.’ I’m basically so fat they haven’t be able to give it a name yet.

I started to gain weight in high school and it has continued to escalate throughout my life. At my heaviest I’ve weighed as much as 155 kg. It’s been a constant frustration, annoyance and battle. The energy, time and resources I have thrown at it over the last 30 years is incredible. Last year I even took part in a documentary on SBS called the ‘House of Food Obsessives’.

From an aesthetic point of view it doesn’t really concern me.  My husband finds me attractive and desirable and I really don’t care what anyone else thinks. What does concern me is the many weight-related health issues and problems that impact on my day to day life such as Type 2 diabetes, sore feet from collapsing arches, under active thyroid, shortness of breath, sleep apnoea and not being able to wear my wedding rings. I constantly marvel at how easy it is for me to gain weight yet so difficult to lose it? I also marvel at how John can have donuts for breakfast and look like a rake. It just seems so unfair.

As a Christian I often wonder how much God cares about this. In 25 years, despite me bringing the subject up repeatedly with Him, He has never expressed an opinion about it. I’m not saying God doesn’t have one I’m just saying He’s never raised it with me.

What God has raised repeatedly though is my ‘spiritual weight, growth and maturity.’ What do I mean by that? At it’s simplest I would define it as ‘the ongoing process of becoming more like Jesus Christ.’ God has shown far more interest in this than my weight. I may have been obsessed with it over my life but He certainly hasn’t. He just wants his daughter to be more like His Son.

What has distracted you from becoming more like Jesus? Being successful? Making money? Being comfortable? Having children? Running a home? The pursuit of Happiness? Maybe you’re not distracted at all but you just don’t care, you’re apathetic to what God wants to do in you and through you. Maybe you’re held back by an addiction? Maybe you’ve gone the other way and become ‘spiritually fat’ – consuming and retaining resources rather than being a vessel that God can fill up and pour out for others.

In a garden, alone, Jesus wrestles with His death.  He knows what is ahead, what is about to happen to Him. He utters these words to His Dad ‘yet not my will, but your will be done’. I cherish that we are given a ‘look in’ at this intimate and precious moment between a Father and Son. I can’t read these words without being challenged at my naval gazing ways. I  find I can’t hide from the this very simple truth, He gave up everything to save a wretch like me, fat or skinny.

Over and Out

Catherine xoxo

April 18, 2012

How many Churches does one suburb need?

When I was a teenager and a new Christian I went to a church in a suburb of Sydney (Castle Hill) that had quite a number of different churches – somewhere between 5 and 10.  I thought this was ridiculous.  All of these churches believed the same things on the essentials of the Christian faith – what differences of opinion they had were certainly at the margins.  I thought that we should simply have one Castle Hill Church rather than all these different churches all over the suburb.

This is an opinion on which I have come full circle as the years have gone by.  What I have worked out is that every church has its own personality.  Every church is a unique collection of different kinds of people, led by a particular leader, with a particular history and therefore has a unique personality.

Because churches have their own personalities they reach different kinds of people.  There are some people who simply would not consider going to a church with loud music but there are others who would not consider going to a church with anything other than loud music.  The multiple churches with multiple personalities can reach both of these types of people.  The more churches with differing personalities, the more we can reach a diverse group of people in our community.

If Castle Hill does have 10 churches, then I think what it really needs is 10 more.  Or 20 more.  Or more again.  If it had 20 churches then there are 20 different church personalities, and there is more possibility for someone who is being drawn to Christ to find a church home in which they can commit to.  They will be open to attending a church in which the personality of the place is in line with their own personality.

This is really just an extension of the biblical principle that Paul articulates when he says, “I have become all things to all men so that I might by all possible means save some.” (1 Cor 9:22)  Paul was saying that if someone would only hear the message of Christ from someone who observed Jewish law, then he would observe that law (even though he didn’t have to) just so that nothing could distract from someone hearing the gospel.  Similarly if the people of God in Castle Hill want to attract as many as possible to the gospel then they are wise to have 10 different gatherings with 10 different personalities, so that they might save some.

But what about unity?  Paul certainly did not plant multiple churches in the same city as far as we can tell.  (Mind you church back then was really a collection of home groups without a big corporate weekly meeting.  So I wonder how much people moved around from one house church to another.  We can only speculate, but human nature being what it is it wouldn’t surprise me if people moved around for similar reasons as they move churches today.)

I don’t think that it is a lack of unity to not be under the same leadership and the same organisational structure.  I think the Lord is far more interested in unity, forgiveness and harmony within a congregation than between congregations.  To have unity with the people that you do church with year in, year out requires genuine Christ like character – grace, love and maturity.  And I think these are what God values the most.

John

April 18, 2012

Judging a book by its cover

 Guest Contributor – Angela Kasjan

I love reading. Ever since I worked out how to decipher words on a page, I’ve just loved it. I love getting lost in a story, in discovering new ideas. Books are one of my greatest passions and I love bookshops. I love picking up a potential new read, turning it over in my hands, smelling it, reading the blurb, savouring the anticipation of what gems it might hold. I might scan the contents and read a few pages. I might have had a recommendation from a friend. I might know of the author and have enjoyed their work before.

I pass judgement on whether I will buy and read the book based on strategies that have served me well in the absence of perfect information. I buy my book. I set myself up in a sunny spot on the couch with a coffee, and I read my book. It is only then I find out the truth. The book might be riveting from the first word. It might take some persevering but then as the story unfolds I might find I can’t put it down. I might find it to be a struggle, but the ideas that unfold can be worth the effort to grasp. It might just be a complete waste of paper and ink.

We all use strategies and stereotypes as a form of mental shorthand to sort through the vast amount of information and opportunities that come our way every day. Who will I have lunch with? Where will we go? What will I order? We have to do this – our resources (such as time and energy) are limited and these ‘rules of thumb’ help us allocate these efficiently. The downside is that we can limit ourselves and others if we rely on convenient rules or stereotypes to guide our paths – that is we may decide to never sit down and read the book because we didn’t like the cover or the blurb on the back. Stereotypes are often formed by our experiences or biases, which could be right or they could be wrong. But either way, not everyone conforms to a stereotype.

Christians are stereotyped by others all the time but recently I encountered one from one of my non-Christian friends that I wasn’t aware of – that Christians should be nice and behave well. Furthermore the expectation was that my behaviour should be better than what she would expect of herself. I was taken aback by this. Her stereotype is that Christianity is harmless – evidenced by a nice neat life and polite behaviour. My experience of Christianity is that it is an amazing, chaotic and growing relationship with a living God, often involving mistakes but moving forward through love and grace. I clearly haven’t given my friend the opportunity to read the book that is me.

One response to this type of situation is to conform to the stereotype. I could try and behave more nicely around my friend, but that would hide the truth and perpetuate an incorrect stereotype. Christians shouldn’t buy into this lie. Encourage people in your life Christian and non-Christian alike to read your book, and understand your story. Sit down on the couch with a friend over a cup of coffee and understand their story no matter their cover. Move past the stereotypes and reveal the real person. You truly can’t judge a book until you’ve read it.

Angela Kasjan and her family are close and valued friends of John and Catherine Warren. We pray that they are blessed with  every good thing as they seek to love God and His people. We are grateful for their friendship, love, generosity and genuine care for us and people in general. We have opened their ‘book’ and found it to be the most amazing read ever.

Thank you for your valued contribution.

John and Catherine Warren

April 11, 2012

Has Church music morphed into prayer?

One of the most obvious things about the modern church is that music has a very high priority in our services. I’ve noticed over my 25 years of being a Christian that the music used in church is changing, not just in style but in purpose.

A couple of centuries ago church music was not just used to inspire people but also to teach theology.  The teaching emphasis made sense granted that many people in the church were illiterate.  Their were no mid week bible study groups, no Christian bookshops down the road, no Christian input outside of what happened between the processional and the recessional on a Sunday morning.

In this era there are huge resources available to a congregation that is not only literate but online as well.  So whilst the teaching aspect of music in church is still useful the imperative to do it is not as strong.

Church music seems to have morphed into prayer.  Teaching is now primarily done through the sermon and mid week programs such as home groups.  We used to sing about God, but now we sing to God. One example of this is a song we used to sing in the late 80’s at my Anglican Church.  The original music for this song was written in 1882 and the words of Psalm 46 were put to it in 1912. The first verse sang “God is our strength and refuge…”. Today instead of singing ‘God is our….” we sing songs that begin ‘You are my…..’.  One of Hillsong’s first big “hits” in the early 90’s was ‘You are my rock, you are my Lord’.

I’m sure that there are examples that go the other way as well. However, I think that  this has been become the trend.  Overall church music, especially in the Pentecostal circles which I’m a part of, it has turned into a time where the congregation directly talks to God.  People are meant to engage with God and enjoy a prayer time that is not just accompanied by music but is meaningful, reflective and inspiring.

So – is this change a good thing or not?

Both approaches have strengths and weaknesses.  It’s never a bad idea to learn theology to music.  The great thing about modern church music where the congregation sings to God is that it forces the attendee to have some time with God that is not focussed on their personal needs.  Our prayer times can often be where we present God with a shopping list of things we want.  When we sing at church we have to address God for maybe 20 minutes where our focus is on Him, His glory and His love.  Our shopping list does not come into it.  That’s a good thing.

Corporate prayer to music where we focus on God’s greatness is powerful.  It gives you perspective.  The things that you were worried about when you were walking through the car park 30 minutes ago are no longer as important because your attention has been drawn to the greatness of God and you are professing your love for him.

Do you think I have described the change correctly?

What are the pros and cons of the change?

John

April 11, 2012

Gypsies, trash and Miracles

       
                                               The Roma Flag
                                                     
                                                       The Roma Flag

When I hear the word ‘Gypsy’ vivid pictures of gaily coloured caravans, a woman shrouded in scarves fortune telling and children begging or committing petty theft spring to my mind. I have this antiquated picture of colourful and merry bands of entertainers and musicians rolling into some peaceful town. I’ve never met a Gypsy so my reality and perspective of what a gypsy is has been shaped primarily by the media, which probably means it’s distorted and exaggerated.

As a people group Gypsies refer to themselves collectively as Romany, Romanies, Romanis, Roma or Roms. The term ‘gypsy’ is considered derogatory by some members of the Roma community because of its negative and stereotypical associations but the wide use of it by the English speaking world has bought a reluctant acceptance and adoption of it by the Roma as well.

While they are known to be nomadic in nature historically Roma originate from India. Many of their cultural and social beliefs are strongly rooted in the Hindu Caste System. Roma place the utmost importance on family and often multiple generations live together. Fidelity within marriage and virginity in unmarried woman is essential. Couples marry very young often in their mid to late teens and divorce is rare. In February 2010 an observational documentary called My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding was broadcast in Britain. It was so popular it became a series. It follows the story of four gypsy brides as they prepare for their wedding day. The weddings are visual spectacles and the brides compete to have the most flamboyant of dresses. A show promotion reads ‘ancient tradition meets modern fashion as Gypsy teens embrace the sometimes garish extremes of the celebrity world.’

Why am I so interested in all things Gypsy? In 3 months time I will be travelling to Slovakia via the UK and Vienna. I will be joining a team which includes youth from Czech, members of a local Slovak church and Gypsy Christians. In cooperation with the local government we will be clearing an illegal dump and cleaning up other areas of the village. The project slogan is “I Love My City”. We believe that this initiative is an opportunity for the Roma, often seen as a curse in a community, to be seen as a blessing.

I love all things supernatural and throughout its history Roma people have had an intense relationship with the supernatural. While fortune telling is considered to be a source of livelihood, it’s not something that they practice amongst themselves. They do however strongly embrace a principle of healing (called advising). It incorporates many supernatural themes including omens, curses, charms, amulets, talismans, potions and healing rituals. Their belief is that they prevent misfortune or heal sickness. Roma women are the caretakers of all medical knowledge – traditional and scientific. A female healer who prescribes these cures or preventatives is called a drabarni or drabengi. Roma people are open to healing, miracles, prophecy and deliverance. It’s most likely to be a big part of this trip. All I can say is bring it!

I’m thrilled to be gaining access into this fascinating and mystical community even if  it’s for such a short time. I do think that someone needs to warn the people of Cachtice that I’m on the way. Tell them Catherine Warren, a ‘drabarni of Jesus’  is coming and she is about to love on them big time.

Over and Out,

Catherine xoxox

April 4, 2012

Pentecostal Preaching

I first became a Christian at age 12, through the Christian group that met in my High School.  It was 1986.  That group was really my first church.  I then got involved at my local Anglican Church –St Paul’s Castle Hill, in Sydney.

Then an interesting turn of events occurred that saw me end up in a Pentecostal Bible College in 1992, my first year out of school.  After I moved to Melbourne in 1997 I have only ever attended Pentecostal churches, and that is certainly where my future lies.

That diverse background has made a profound impression on me.  Pentecostals and Sydney Anglicans believe 98% the same stuff but the differences in personality and practice are massive.  One of the differences is the style of preaching.

Anglican preaching usually consists of a passage being followed through in a systematic way, with precision and discipline. With definitely no shouting.

Pentecostal preaching often takes a passage as a starting point and then wanders into various places that may or may not have much to do with what the passage read at the start is about.  It’s all usually done with great enthusiasm as well. You may think that this is a criticism but I making a point – God could have told us how he wanted his word preached.  He chose not to.  I further note that Jesus, God made flesh, did a lot of preaching and he mostly told stories from his imagination to make the points that he wanted to make.

One of the peculiar parts of Pentecostal preaching is the use of maxims or proverbs.  I don’t mean Proverbs as in the book in the bible; I mean short sayings that make a point.  In literature the proper name for this is an “aphorism” which is “a concise statement containing a subjective truth or observation cleverly and pithily written.”  Here are some examples from a recent sermon that I took notes of on my iphone –

  •  Stay in your season until your season is done with you, not until you are done with it.
  • Sometimes you don’t understand how important the beginning is until you arrive at the finish.
  • God  uses your setback for someone else’s comeback.
  • The measure of our emptiness determines the measure that we can be filled.
  • The  suddenly’s of God come with change.

All of those are from the one sermon.  Some of them don’t make much sense without the context they were used in.  But for me the use of maxims and proverbs is one of the most charming and helpful things about Pentecostal preaching.

One other that I heard recently that I liked was (speaking of adversity), “It’s not the stuff you go through, it’s how you go through the stuff.”

What about you?  Have you heard any goods ones recently?  What do you like / dislike about the way people preach?

John

April 4, 2012

The Secrets we Keep

This is a true story. John, myself and our 5 year old daughter were on the way to church this week.  We were all singing along to Poppy’s favourite Christian CD. This was a beautiful Kodak family moment. Suddenly the sound of a siren pierced the cabin of the car. An ambulance was fast approaching from behind. John was driving and we were in the right hand lane. Beside us in the left hand lane there were two cars, one just a bit ahead of us and one just a little behind. There was just barely a car length between them. We couldn’t get over. The gap between the two cars seemed to get smaller rather than make room to let us in.  With the ambulance almost on top of us, I wound my window down. I was furious. I was going to wave or do something to let them know we needed to get in but what happened was something completely different. I put my arm out the window and I angrily ‘flipped the bird’* at the car behind. Quickly the gap widened and room was made for us to get over. We changed lanes and the ambulance whizzed by.

Have an honest moment with yourself – have you judged me yet?  What were you thinking while you read my story? Maybe you thought ‘I can’t believe she did that’ or ‘I would never do that’ or ‘that’s so bad’. Maybe you’re a little shocked at what I did. You might be a bit disgusted or disappointed with me. Maybe you see me in a whole new light now.

I promised in my first Blog post that I was prepared to smash my mask and be more real. Normally I wouldn’t tell anybody about what happened and I feel like I’ve risked being stoned by being honest about my failings. It’s so much easier to throw a stone at me than to unmask the hypocrisy of your own heart.

“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left.

When I ‘pass judgement’ on someone else I fool myself into thinking  that I am doing something spiritual but in reality, I’ve engaged in the most sinful of all worldly pursuits…I’ve started to play God. For He alone is truly able to judge the thoughts and intent of our hearts. Ohhhh, the hideous nature of self-righteousness, pride and ultimately condemnation is so disgustingly confronting.

I was ashamed of what I did that day. I was and am so aware of my deep imperfections but thankfully Jesus is still using imperfect people, even me.

Have you been able to let go of ‘your judgement of my failure’ yet?

If you have been able to, you’ll have probably given yourself a little Christian pat on the back thinking you’ve done me a favour. Here’s the truth – it was actually for your sake that you dealt with your judgement of me not mine. Why? Because Jesus and I already had it all sorted on Sunday and your thoughts about what I did held no sway in His forgiveness of me – at all. But thanks anyway.

Over and Out

Catherine xoxo

* this is considered to be a rude and offensive hand gesture

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