Archive for May, 2012

May 30, 2012

The Three Simple Questions

Over the centuries Christians have made various attempts to explain to the world what they believe and why.  In this era it has become an entire industry – there’s a huge volume of books being written, speeches being given and ideas put online that set out the Christian faith to the world.  It’s called ‘apologetics’, and almost every Bible College has it as a subject.  The subject name is not because there is anything to be sorry for, it’s just the academic name for that field of theology.

If you go all the way back to bible times the first Christian apologist was the apostle Peter who had to explain what had happened on the day of Pentecost to the crowd that had gathered (Acts 2).  Stephen then follows in Acts 7, and Paul does the same thing on his missionary journeys.

After the bible was written one of the first apologists in church history was a man whose name we don’t know, but he wrote to his friend who was named Diognetus.  It was about the year 170 AD.  Both of them were obviously highly educated.  The document that this man wrote, the “letter to Diognetus”, is the first classic in Christian apologetics.

There were 3 issues that Diognetus had specifically asked his friend to address.  Firstly, Diognetus wanted to know what God the Christians worship since they reject both Greek gods and Judaism.  Secondly, Diognetus wanted to know about the “warm fraternal affection that Christians feel for each other”.  Thirdly, Diognetus wanted to know why Christianity had only arrived on the scene of history so recently.

More than 1800 years on the third concern doesn’t bother anyone that I have ever met.  The first concern is simply a desire to know the basics of Christian doctrine – it’s an evergreen concern of apologetics.  But just stop a moment and consider number 2 on that list.  He had to explain why the Christians loved each other so much.  He had been specifically asked to explain how it is that Christians have such strong bonds of love between them.

A church is surely doing something very, very, very right when those outside of it want to know why they so love one another.  Indeed this is the very thing that Jesus says will have power to win over those outside the church – “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

When I cast my mind forward to the present day I don’t think that this is a question that Christian apologists are getting asked much.  Right now everyone is excited about responding to the “New Atheists” led by biologist Richard Dawkins.  There is also no lack of books addressing the issue of suffering, even though the ancient world was much more acquainted with suffering than we are today.  I studied apologetics at Bible College and I’m sure that explaining Christian love was not in the syllabus.

In my time as a Christian and particularly as I have been involved in leadership at church I have often thought that getting people to attend Sunday services and other programs was the main goal.  But really all that counts for nothing – it is how loving we are towards each other that is the key.  Yes, God wants his church to grow.  But the verse quoted above shows how it will happen.  It’s not by better programming.  It is by helping Christians to grow in their love for one another.

When I attend church most Sundays often the first things on my mind are “was the music any good?”, and, “was the preaching any good?”  But what I need to be asking is did I share God’s love with those who I spent time with?  Was I warm to people?  Did I say things that helped people?  And if all of us can focus on those things week in, week out, year in, year out then we will be fielding questions from those who know us asking about the “warm fraternal affection that Christians feel for each other”.

I might live over 1800 years after Diognetus but I can still live in a way that causes people to ask his question number two.  May God help us to live in a way that we need a wave of new books explaining to this generation why Christians love each other.

John

May 30, 2012

The ‘One Thing’

Have you ever looked at anyone in your work place, family, church, or circle of your friends, and without risk of hurting them wanted to tell them the one thing that holds them back from achieving success? To you, this one thing is as obvious as the nose on their face, but they have no awareness of it at all.

Maybe the one thing is as simple as chronic bad breath or a particular mindset like apathy or lack of confidence. Maybe this person is just easily offended or is in a toxic and destructive relationship which hinders them from personal growth. Their one thing could be an unresolved hurt from the past, an addiction, or they have ‘a chip on their shoulder’ about something. Maybe they feel they were entitled to an experience that life hasn’t given them or they just have no idea how to move forward and they’re just stuck in a holding pattern. Maybe they are a blame shifter and nothing is ever their fault and everyone else is the one with the problem. There are a million ‘one things’ and for each person they are different. The one thing could be a behaviour or habit we need to break or resolve. Or the one thing could be a behaviour or habit we need to start. We do resolve many of our one things as we mature but there is always another one thing being uncovered – we never really arrive at the bottom of the one thing barrel.

With butterflies in my stomach I once asked John what my one thing was. I was so nervous! He said he would need some time to think about it and that he would get back to me. I experienced this wild range of emotions as I tried to guess what he would say. I felt I was sitting outside of the principal’s office waiting to be rapt over the knuckles for poor behaviour. I was so afraid that he was going to tell me something awful about myself. Finally, he told me what he thought my ‘one thing’ was. He said ‘you need to get up earlier than the family and have at least 30 minutes to yourself.’ Huh?? What??  This was not what I expected. He didn’t really try to explain it but I started to do it, and he was right.  I just love getting up early in the morning before my family awakes. It is my most precious and favourite part of the day. It has changed my life to make the one thing a discipline of my day, every day.

When done in the right spirit telling someone their one thing can be life changing for them. Imagine if someone had told Bill Clinton what his one thing was before the whole world knew what his one thing was. Maybe someone did try but he just didn’t or couldn’t hear them. Michael Jackson is memorable for many reasons but toward the end his one thing had become many things as he struggled with obsessive compulsive behaviours with germs, fear and plastic surgery. I remember watching an interview with him and when the interviewer asked him about his obvious plastic surgery Michael vehemently denied having had any at all. The conviction in his voice revealed the level of his self deception. His one thing was so obvious to the whole world – he didn’t like himself and no amount of cosmetic surgery was going to be able fix something that was not about the outer man but the inner.

I understand that sometimes we don’t need anyone to tell us what our one thing is. The world has a way of giving us ‘light bulb moments’ that brings sudden clarity and understanding of our weaknesses. Even still, my experience of uncovering one things has mainly come through those who do life with me and are in a position to make accurate, insightful and helpful observations and bring them into the light in a loving way.

Do you have the courage to ask someone who loves you and who values you what your one thing is? Can you then position yourself in such a way that if it is valid you can action it?

Over and Out

Catherine xo

May 23, 2012

A More Powerful Creation

I have decided that I don’t believe in a young earth.  By this I mean that I do not understand the bible, and in particular the early chapters of Genesis, teaches that the earth was created a few thousand years ago.   I don’t believe that the 7 days in Genesis 1 are twenty four hour periods.  Nor do I believe that they are long periods of time. This is known as the “day-age theory”, which struggles when you have plants appearing on day 3, before the sun appears on day 4!  I simply believe that the creation story is a Holy Spirit inspired story written to teach Israel (and us) important truth about God.

I’ve reached that conclusion after many years of thinking, reading and reflecting.  I think that the author of Genesis is simply not trying to give us a narrative of what happened at creation – they are trying to teach theological truth to the nation of Israel.  Theological truth, as opposed to scientific truth.

So last night I read Genesis 1 again with these conclusions in mind.  I was blown away.  In the past I had read it and wondered how it all fits together, how I am meant to understand it, how it works with what science tells us about our universe.  Those questions were so prominent in my mind that I was losing sight of what the passage tells us about God.  I was focussing on what it tells us about the world, and how it integrates with what we now know about the world.

But when you read it focussing on the theology that it is teaching all of a sudden the focus is on what the focus was always meant to be on – the truth about creation.  What struck me afresh is that God is the creator, there is one God, he made his creation free of sin, He is the one behind all the magnificent variety that we see around us, he put mankind at the pinnacle of his creation, man is the culmination of his creative genius and is above the rest of creation, man is meant to have dominion over the earth, and he rested when he finished.

These are the truths that I believe the author wants us to see.  To communicate those things is, I believe, is why Genesis 1 was written.  When we stop reading it to see how we can win arguments with angry atheists like Richard Dawkins then we are freed to dwell on the truth about God that is revealed to us.

Far from being less powerful if you abandon belief in a young earth, Genesis 1 is more powerful when you place it’s theology where it should be – front and centre.

Perhaps you can believe in a young earth and still focus on the theology of Genesis 1 without being caught up in the creation/evolution debate.  I have found that difficult.  The evolution question hangs over it like a dark cloud.  When you realise that the writer is not fussed about those issues then the cloud lifts and you are free to be impacted by what we learn about our creative God.

A final thought – just because I have decided that I don’t believe in young earth creationism that does not mean that I therefore believe in evolution.  The problems with evolution that Philip E Johnson identifies in “Darwin on Trial” are severe in my mind.  I just think that the author of Genesis is not trying to write something that modern scientists can interact with.  It’s just not that sort of a document.

Thoughts, comments and heated debate welcome!

John

May 23, 2012

My ‘Dr Phil’ moment

My high school years were lonely and difficult. I was horribly ostracized when I stole a $100 from a teacher in Year 8. I was caught and those that had ‘helped’ me spend the money (who had no idea it was thieved) were also punished. I was labelled a ‘dobber’ and my peers let me have it.  I had no friends for a while and I remember once when we had to pair up in science to do an experiment the teacher let me do it alone because no one would partner with me. I was a social leper and when someone broke the rules and was nice to me they were also inflicted with social leprosy. Others picked up the offence of those that had been unwittingly implicated in my crime and I was teased, bullied and tormented from the minute I got to the train station in the morning till the minute I got off the bus on the way home. It was relentless.

At the start of every new term we had school assembly and during the announcements one term the Vice Principal, who was a cruel woman, got up and as the room grew quiet she seemed to shout out my name, demanding I come to the office immediately following the assembly. I was shaking in my boots. It was the first day of term, what could I have done already? It was the custom of the teachers at our school to wear long black graduating cloaks over their civilian clothes. The Vice Principal was a short woman and her most distinguishing feature was that she walked like a chicken. Her little head would stick up out of the black cloak and bobble back and forward as she walked. She had a sharp tongue and I remember her ruling French class with an iron fist. Most students were terrified of her, including me. I got to her office and I was paralysed with fear as I waited outside.

I was finally summoned into her office. She started peppering me with questions about my whereabouts the previous Saturday night. I had been at home with my parents watching Magnum PI. She started asking me questions about where the phones were in my house and what time I went to bed and where was my parent’s bedroom in relation to mine and so on. I had no idea what she was on about. Finally she told me the story. On Saturday night someone had prank called her but instead of getting her they had called her parents and at the end of the call they said that they were me. I secretly smiled to myself. I suddenly changed tact. Up until now I had been acting innocently but now I began to act guilty. I started being evasive, looking down at the floor and nervously fumbling with a tissue. I played her hard. The more guilty I acted the more power my ‘pretend fear’ seemed to give her. She was after blood and she was going to get it.

She was so fully convinced of my guilt that she called my parents. I begged her not to call them and eluded to not knowing where they were when I knew all along my mum was at home. I knew if she talked to my mum or dad they could and would easily be able to defend me. The nearest phone to my room was either in their bedroom or downstairs in the kitchen. The stairs in my house were ‘haunted house’ creaky and located right next to my parents room. There was no way I could’ve snuck by their room and gone downstairs to make a prank call. (Mobile phones didn’t exist yet, pause for shock horror). When she got a hold of my mum and began to explain the situation my face lit up with a massive Cheshire cat smile and I sat up straight crossing my arms in a victory – like stance. I watched her intently enjoying every minute of her smug face becoming undone. Once she hung up, I took my moment of victory. I stood up and in a loud, proud voice said this ‘Miss Smith* if I was ever going  to prank call you, I’d do two things –  firstly I would get the right number and secondly I WOULDN’T LEAVE MY NAME!’ and at that I walked triumphantly out of her office. I half expected for her to call me back in but she was so utterly defeated I never had another run in with her again my whole time at that school.

The most unfortunate thing was I was so unpopular I didn’t have anyone to share my victory with. No matter, I held the moment precious but I would often wonder who did make that phone call. It was a least a decade or more later that I found out. It ended up being one of the friends that I had implicated into spending the ‘stolen money’. She and I had reconciled in Year 11 and we’re still friends to this day. In fact we’re close friends. She’d always assumed that I knew it was her that had done it and one day I was re-telling the story in front of her and she confessed to being the caller.  We had a massive laugh and marvelled at how things had come full circle for us.

During my fourth pregnancy in 2006, the only one to result in a live child, I spent four months on bed rest in the hospital. I watched Dr Phil everyday. I haven’t been able to watch another episode since. I often say that ‘I had my fill of Dr Phil’. The following year, 2007, I had my 20 year high school reunion. I was part of a group of four that attended together.

There were a couple of girls that I wanted to have a ‘Dr Phil’ moment with.  I spied one of the girls that made my life hell during those years. I made sure that when we got to the restaurant after the reunion that I sat opposite her. She took the centre chair on one side of the table and me on the other. I waited patiently for my moment and finally it came. The people on either side of her and me were talking to others. She almost jumped when I leaned in across the table to talk quietly with her. Nothing had changed, she gave me a leprous look like who was I to be even talking to her. I forged on. I said ‘I have a question for you. In high school you made my life miserable. You bullied me for years. You hated me and you incited others to do the same. Tell me Karen* – what did I ever do to you?’ She was dumbstruck. I was not her victim anymore and I was not afraid of her. She replied ‘nothing, you did nothing to me.’ I said ‘why Karen….why did you treat me so badly then?’ and at that she broke down – she told me she was sorry for what she did to me and that years later when her sister suffered a similar experience that she understood what it felt like. She said she was trying to teach her two daughters a better way of treating people. I got more than I bargained for that day and I probably hadn’t really, truly been able to forgive her till that moment.

Many of us would like to have a “Dr Phil’ moment with some of our primary or high school tormenters. Or maybe you were the bully or the mean girl. I certainly was in primary school – which is a whole other Blog post. Either way it is a lose/lose situation. There are no winners. The only winner is forgiveness. One of Dr Phil’s key saying’s was ‘Somebody needs to stand up and be the hero’. You may never have the luxury of confronting the person that hurt you but be the hero in your heart.

Have your Dr Phil moment – have it right now. Don’t let this opportunity go by. Just do it. Become the winner, it’s not about them anymore. Just stand up in your own heart and forgive them for what they did to you. Let it go – it’s a ‘lose’ for you. Break the chains that have bound you to the offence and the offender by forgiving them. If you were the perpetrator and not the victim then just put it out there. Say aloud, ‘I do now ask blah blah to forgive me for what I did to them. I’m sorry that I hurt them by doing or saying blah blah. It may seem stupid to do this but our words hold the power of life and death in them and I guarantee you something will change in your heart because of it. You’ll break free from the prison of resentment and fear or guilt that has encased you. The pain that you have carried all these years will finally begin to heal. Time, on its own heals nothing but forgiveness can heal the deepest of wounds. Be the hero today. There is no better time then right now.

If you need help doing this or you just need to talk it through. You can privately email me on:

blogsidebyside@gmail.com.

Over and Out,

Catherine xo

All names with an asterik * have been changed

May 16, 2012

Jesus the Sole Trader

A couple of months ago Catherine wrote a post about what Jesus would be like if he lived today, entitled “Would Jesus Tweet?”  Recently I have been thinking about what he was like during the 15 years that he was a carpenter.

All we have in the bible about Jesus between his infancy and the start of his ministry is that when Jesus was 12 he went to Jerusalem with his parents, which would have been an annual trip.  On that occasion he surprised people with his insight into what we now call the Old Testament.

Then we go 18 years forwards to the time that he starts his public ministry.  So during those 18 years it is likely that Jesus mostly worked as a carpenter in Nazareth.  His education would have finished somewhere in his teenage years.  Back in that time there were not companies – the vast majority of people worked for themselves.  Jesus might have been part of a family business, since it is possible that he was taught carpentry by his father.  We just don’t know.

I would love to know what Jesus was like as a sole trader.  I want to know what Jesus did when people didn’t pay their bills.  If someone had credit and it had been a while since they made a payment how would Jesus go about getting them to bring their account up to date?  Would he have taken a “kick the money changers out of the temple” approach, or a “then neither do I condemn you” approach?

What would Jesus do with an angry customer?  Would he charm them, maybe placate them by offering half price on the next job?  Or would he give as good as he got if the customer was making unreasonable demands and allegations.  If he got into an argument he could use the line, “do you know who I am?”  But I can’t see him pulling that one out.

Let’s say that Jesus made a chair for a child, the customer took it home, and an adult sat on it and broke it.  If the customer tried to return it and said that it was poorly made what would Jesus do?  Would he call them out on their improper use of the chair?  Would he simply make a new one to keep the customer happy or would he tell them that they couldn’t have their money back because the chair was well made, so bad luck.  If the customer got angry and raised their voice would Jesus change tack?  Or would Jesus pull out a woman-at-the-well style word of knowledge, “well actually, this is what happened…”

Did he ever have to sue to get paid?  Did he have to go to court and give evidence?  Maybe even be cross examined as to the quality of his work?  What an extraordinary thing that the one who will judge the living and the dead would have to sit in Nazareth Magistrates Court (or whatever they had back then) and give evidence to get his 4.75 shekels for the stable that he had made the other month.

I wonder what Jesus’ customer service was like.  Did he inwardly groan when he saw a difficult customer come in through the front door?

Was he any good?  If a piece of work was difficult how did  he rate compared to his competitors?  Was he one of those tradies that is booked solid for months and months to come?  How did he handle it when he made mistakes?  He made mistakes alright – he was fully human.  He didn’t sin – he would not have shouted a profanity when he struck his thumb with his hammer, but he certainly would have belted his thumb on plenty of occasions.

The bible answers none of these questions but I’d love to know.

The reason that I am so interested is because as a barrister I am a sole trader.  I have to weigh up how to deal with bad debts, unhappy customers / clients / solicitors, and if we just had a couple of extra chapters in the gospels about Jesus the carpenter that would be great.

What do you think?

John

May 16, 2012

In memory of Suzie

I would like to share with you a moment in my life that changed its course forever and on May 15th every year for the last 15 years I have spent the day reflecting and remembering it.

In 1996 after living in Canada for 9 years I came home to Australia to reconnect with my siblings, family and friends. I arrived home in the October of 1996. There was a brutal 40 degree heat wave that summer and I remember having to take salt tablets because I sweated so much and couldn’t retain any body fluids.

I stayed with my family for a short while and then moved in with my good friend Suzie and her boyfriend.  I had known Suzie since primary school and then we attended the same private girl’s high school. We hadn’t really been close in our primary school years but we knew of each other. We became good friends in high school.

Suzie didn’t live life, she attacked life. She was the most energetic person I have ever met. She squeezed every possible minute out of every day. She loved people and her zest for life was insatiable. She was extremely loyal to her friends and men swarmed around her wherever we went like bees to a honey pot. She was beautiful, petite, smart and had this unawareness of her own charisma and attractiveness. Suzie didn’t like boundaries and the worst thing you could do was hem in her or tell she couldn’t do something. She only saw possibilities not limitations.

In May of 1997 I was no longer living with Suzie and her boyfriend as I had found my own digs. I had been dating someone and the four of us decided to go away to Inverloch for a weekend. We left on the Thursday night – it’s funny how even 15 years later the details are so front and centre in my mind. We had all gotten the Friday off from work and couldn’t wait to start our weekend. We drove down in a 2 car convoy. About 20 minutes out of Wonthaggi we stopped for dinner. Fish and Chips. I tried to persuade Suzie to swap cars so she and I could gas bag but she wanted to stay with her boyfriend. As we pulled out they took the lead car position as to direct us to Suzie’s parent’s holiday house.

It was dark, probably 8 – 9 pm and I was watching the road ahead. I remarked to my boyfriend on something I could see. A car was travelling toward us and for some reason I could see that one of its headlights was on either side of Suzie’s car. I thought out loud that the only way physically that could be happening was if that car was on our side of road. Things happened very quickly after that. Suzie’s car swerved out to the other side of the road uncovering the problem, there was a car on our side of the road. The speed limit was 80 km and we were closely the gap very quickly. The other car then attempted to correct to their own side of the road and they squarely hit the passenger side of Suzie’s car, directly where Suzie was sitting. Everything seemed to move in slow motion. Suzie’s car which was white became a blur as it spun around and around and around past us on the other side of the road. The other car ricocheted off Suzie’s car and hit us, ending up in a ditch. Damage to our person and vehicle was minimal. I remember jumping out of the car when we came to a stop and running as fast as I could back to Suzie’s car.

Prior to this I had recently updated my first aid certificate because I was a nanny. During the class I had asked the teacher about the likelihood of ever using CPR. He said with such certainty that one out of ten in the class today will use it. In that moment I knew that it was going to be me. I went above and beyond to memorise the process of not just CPR but taking control of an accident scene.

I arrived at the Suzie’s car. Her boyfriend was out of the car already and I was totally relieved. I thought – they’re ok. But then it was like the volume went on and I could hear him screaming Suzie’s name. She was still in the car not moving. I climbed in the driver’s side and felt for her pulse, it was weak but she had one. I remember reeling off commands to those around. You in the blue shirt call for an ambulance now and report back to me. You in the hat go and assess the other driver for injuries. Suzie was unconscious and her legs were trapped under the dash which had been crushed upon impact. I knew that we needed to get her out of the car. Breathing was the most important issue. Her legs were clearly already broken and I commanded the two boyfriends to get her out of the car. We laid her carefully on the side of the highway. Someone tried to tell me what to do and I shut them down. I had listened; the CPR instructor had said that many people will offer advice and that you have to be sure of yourself and what you are doing. I had listened, I was sure. Suzie had no pulse so with my bare hands I ripped her bra off and we commenced CPR. I started on breathing and her boyfriend on compressions. I then noticed this massive laceration on her neck and all the air I was breathing in was just bubbling out in front of me. I also kept thinking where were all her teeth? With one hand on her neck and the other trying to seal her nose I was trying desperately to get some oxygen into her lungs.  We swapped places after 5-10 mins.  A crowd had started to gather unable to journey around the carnage on the road. We both knew that Suzie’s life had ebbed away at some point on the side of highway but we just kept going until help arrived. Finally an ambulance arrived and the paramedics took over. I remember them laying a hand on my shoulder and saying ‘she’s gone, she’s gone’. I just couldn’t believe it.

The police arrived and the other driver was taken into custody. I was taken with Suzie’s boyfriend to the Wonthaggi hospital where they tested both drivers for drugs and alcohol. We arrived at the hospital and unbeknownst to Suzie’s boyfriend the offender was in the very next room. At some point I slipped into his room and I had this immense clarity and calm. I asked if I could call anyone for him. Wife, family? He was clearly in shock and because he had been restrained by others at the accident scene he actually didn’t know that Suzie had died. He asked me if she was OK and I told him that she was dead. I said to him, “This will mean nothing to you now but in years to come it will.” I said to him “I forgive you, I forgive you” and I left his room. I didn’t attend the trial and I never judged him for what he did. He was one of the first people in Victoria charged for ‘drug driving’ and he spent two years in jail. I wouldn’t even be able to tell you his name. All I know is that Suzie numbered one of 377 that died on Victorian roads that year.

For fifteen years now 5 of us who attended high school with Suzie have attempted to meet every year at the cemetery where she is buried. We started a tradition of writing her a letter every year as if she was alive. We are brutally candid and honest in this letter and it is probably the truest declaration of our lives at the time it is written. I have a love-hate relationship with ‘the letter’ because sometimes life is crap and I hate that it is forever immortalised in writing. Over the last fifteen years we have experienced a lot of pain and grief. We have lost babies, said our goodbyes to parents and grandparents. We have walked through the heart break of divorce and joy of having healthy children. Two have moved interstate but often make the journey to Melbourne for what we all now call Suzie’s day. We laugh and cry but we celebrate the life and friendship we have together.

At the time of the accident I wasn’t close to God but the Sunday following Suzie’s death I returned to church. I was very messy but God took me as I was. I am grateful for the people who cared for me at this time. After re-committing my heart to God I have never left His side. I love Him more than my own life and I am forever grateful that I lived that night.  I have often wondered, if we had of swapped cars would it have been me?   I’ve decided this thinking is not helpful. God saw fit to keep my life  – and I’m determined to make it one worth living.

Over and Out,

Catherine xo

May 8, 2012

My various churches – St Paul’s Anglican, Castle Hill

I have been a part of 6 local churches in my 26 years of being a Christian.  This post is the first in a series which will look at some of the good things about each of them.

The first church that I was ever a part of was St Paul’s Anglican Church in Castle Hill, in the north western suburbs of Sydney.  I was a 13 year old new Christian, having come to Christ through the ministry of the Christian group at my high school.  St Paul’s was (and still is) a large church – there was an average Sunday attendance of about 900 spread across 5 or 6 services for pretty much my entire time at the church.

I stayed at St Paul’s for 10 years (1987 to 1996), and for the last 2 and a half I was on staff, only leaving when I moved to Melbourne as a 23 year old.  Here are 3 things that I loved the best about St Paul’s:

 Momentum

The leadership made a decision in the early 90’s to transition the Sunday night service which I attended from a traditional service with a set liturgy from the Anglican prayer book to a contemporary service with modern music, and no use of the prayer book.  The metamorphosis took maybe 3 years.  At the time I was just a teenager with no concept of church history, traditions and very little idea of what was happening in the wider church.  All I knew was that each week church was getting better, and I loved it.  Not only was I loving it but hundreds of other people were loving it as well.  The Sunday night congregation was about 400 people, the church’s largest, and there was such a great sense that good things were happening.  When a church has momentum it’s just great – you almost count down the days until the next service.

Working in youth ministry with Tim Hawkins

The youth pastor at St  Paul’s from 1988 to the present is Tim Hawkins.  Tim is a rare beast – a lifelong youth pastor.  Tim and I didn’t just work together for a long time, but we thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company as we did it.  We still catch up regularly despite living 900 kilometres apart.  During the time that I was involved as a youth leader Tim was in the process of transforming the youth ministry from a bunch of programs that attracted lots of kids to a bunch of programs that made lots of disciples.  It was a thrilling time to be involved as we started to reap the fruit of changes that were made to put the gospel front and centre.  Tim taught me an enormous amount, and his help in developing me as a preacher was something that I particularly treasure.  I have realised that it is not often in life that you get a mentor who you work with closely for many years.  I had that atSt Paul’s and it was fantastic.

Being supported as I pursued study in a Pentecostal bible college

In 1992 I enrolled at the bible college run by Hillsong Church, also in Castle Hill (the college was called Power Ministry College at the time but is now called Hillsong International Leadership College).  I ended up pursuing study with a Pentecostal college because of my own introduction to things Pentecostal through some school friends. St Paul’s was not a charismatic church.  Culturally or theologically there was nothing charismatic about it.  However despite this all of the leadership were very happy for me to study at Hillsong and continue to develop in leadership at St Paul’s.  Ever since I left St Paul’s I have only ever been a part of Pentecostal churches, and that is where I will stay.

I remain very grateful to this day that the leadership at St Paul’s were open minded enough to see that their Pentecostal neighbours were doing good things and were happy for me to be trained there.

May 8, 2012

Have you bought a Super 7 lotto ticket for tonight?

I was at the East Melbourne Library once and I saw this book on roulette. I read it and John and I had a lot of fun testing out some of the systems that the book put forward. We had this big glass bowl which we filled with all the numbers and we would play with pretend money and see how we fared. We had a lot of fun doing it.

One Saturday night we decided to catch the tram down to the Casino and give it a go with ‘real money’. We took a hundred dollars and told ourselves we were prepared to lose all of it. I think in reality we weren’t prepared to lose one cent. We favoured a system where you just bet on a colour – red or black. We placed a $5 bet on red to win. A black number came up. I was gutted. I was grieved for my $5 that quickly disappeared down some rabbit hole in the table. We put another $5 on red and then red came up and we got $10. Yay! I had this really good feeling at that moment and I realised why people liked this so much. You are literally buying what I call ‘the feeling of found money’. You know that feeling when you open a handbag you haven’t used for a while and there’s $50 in the side pocket or you put a something you haven’t worn for awhile on and find some money in the pocket or better still your walking along the road and you find some money on the ground with no obvious owner in sight. That was the feeling I had when I won that money. I felt like I had won a million dollars not $5.

I remember distinctly this man coming up to the table and putting $100 on a number and then hiding behind a pole because he was too afraid to watch the outcome. He was clearly not enjoying the process anymore. I was the exact opposite, I was thoroughly enjoying the experience, I kept getting told off by the croupier for flailing my arms too close to the table and for leaning too far over. We bet Red 7 times and it came up 7 times in a row and we had won a total profit of $30 dollars. We had decided before going to the Casino that if we won $30 we would leave, but we had only been there 15-20 minutes. We had imagined this was going to be a night out. The temptation to stay was overwhelming, but we left the Casino and got back on the tram. We decided to go get a video and then we went to the supermarket and bought over $20 in lollies, chips, chocolate and ice cream. We had the best night pigging out watching a video. We didn’t loose that ‘found money’ feeling by staying at the Casino and loosing the money and to this day I look back on that day with fondness retaining ‘the feeling of found money’.

I realised a number of things about ‘gambling’ that night and in my opinion it’s got very little to do with greed. My observation and experience was that it’s all about ‘that found money feeling’.  A ‘win’ can make you feel fantastic, on top of the world, and if you don’t have another way to cultivate that feeling in your life than it can become highly addictive. And if that addiction develops the outcome can be destructive and cause a life to unravel very quickly.  It’s the theft to cover up the losses, the lies, deception and fabrications that are needed to hide the mounting debt. The worse the problems get the more drive there is to ‘pursue’ ‘that good feeling’. Guilt, despair and hopelessness join the party and push harder to get that ‘good feeling’ back but by now even a win is not enough to bring relief from that ‘terrible feeling of loss and grief’ that has grown into an insatiable monster.

Buying a lottery ticket, putting a flutter on the Melbourne Cup, raffles tickets, playing blackjack, tatts lotto tickets and the pokies are an issue of personal conscience not law for every Christian. Do you know why we never went back to the Casino again, because I liked it a bit too much and I knew I could easily buy into the ‘lie’ that the only way I could capture that good feeling was to gamble for it.  Instead I dug deeper into my relationship with God to cultivate that ‘abundant, good feeling with Him’. Unlike your odds at tatts lotto or in the Casino your odds with God are sure and true. He promises to draw near to us, if we draw near to Him. He gives ‘joy, peace, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, wisdom and more without measure’ to every person that makes themselves available to Him.

I’ve bought a ticket for  the 70 million tonight and I am going to enjoy the moment but my ‘faith and feelings’ are not in that piece of paper it’s in a God who has always invested more in me than I ever have in Him. I could never repay God for His generosity toward me, it’s just not possible. I can buy a ticket with complete freedom of conscience and enjoy the outcome no matter what the result because He is more than enough.

May 2, 2012

The Missing Ring of Melbourne

There’s a strange phenomenon occurring in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne where I live. There is a missing ring of churches.

Amongst Pentecostal churches in Melbourne there are 2 large churches in the inner city –Bridge Church in Richmond (2.5 kms from the city centre), and Planetshakers City Church in East Melbourne (1.5kms away).

As you then head east there are various Pentecostal or charismatic churches, which as far as I know are not particularly large.  Then when you get to the outer suburbs there is a ring of substantial sized churches –

  • Activate Church in Ringwood (22 kms),
  • Northside Christian Centre in Bundoora (16 kms),
  • Bayside Church in Cheltenham (18 kms),
  • Stairway Church Whitehorse in Vermon t(19 kms)
  • City Life Church in Wantirna South (24 kms),
  • Faith! Church in North Dandenong (27 kms),
  • Careforce Church in Mt Evelyn (36 kms),
  • Crossway Baptist in Burwood East (16 kms).
  • And my church – Planetshakers North East Campus (17 kms).

Whilst this list might not be perfect (and if I have missed one then please leave a comment), in general there is clearly quite a number of large churches in the far eastern suburbs, but a missing ring in the middle suburbs – suburbs that are 5 to 15 kms from the city.

The story is painted vividly by looking at the history of what is now called Stairway Church Whitehorse.  When I first moved to Melbournein 1997 they were known as Christian City Church Camberwell (8 kms from the city centre), which is a suburb right in the ring that I am talking about.  Under the capable leadership of Peter McHugh the church outgrew it’s facility in Camberwell and moved to premises in Box Hill (13kms).  Having changed its name to Christian City Church Whitehorse (Whitehorse being the name of the local municipality) the church continued to flourish, and once again outgrew it’s facility and had to move.  The church again moved east into premises at Vermont (19 kms from the city).  So what was once a thriving church in the middle suburbs is now a thriving church in the outer suburbs – one amongst many.

Why?  It’s not the people in these suburbs – many of them drive into the city churches or out to one of the churches listed above.  I think that the core issue is that it is very hard to find premises that are suitable for a large church in the middle suburbs.

Amongst non-Pentecostal or charismatic churches there is one large middle eastern suburbs church that I know of – St Hilary’s Anglican in Kew (8 kms).  The Anglican Church, because of its long history, has the advantage of having substantial grounds for it’s building and a car park.  Pentecostal churches – being newer on the scene – do not have that advantage.

And yet 2 churches can do it in the inner city which is even more developed than the middle suburbs!  If those churches –Bridge Church and Planetshakers City Church– can do it then others can too.

It’s a matter of targeting the car parks and the suitable venues that do exist. May the  missing ring be filled with thriving churches (that don’t have to then up and leave!)

John

May 2, 2012

The Blue Stocking Saga

Of all the blog posts thus far the statistics tell us that the most read one has been “My name is Catherine and I am fat’ followed by ‘The secrets we keep’. Clearly my failings are ‘helping’ others to live better lives or have a good laugh. If you liked both of those two previous blog posts then you’ll love this one as well.

I wish I could say that this happened a couple of years ago but alas it was just this morning. John had to leave for work early so I was all hands on deck for the feverish rush to get ready for school. We were only a little behind schedule when I suddenly remember its school photo day. In the middle of getting Poppy dressed, making her lunch, getting her breakfast and getting myself ready I have to find the ‘school photo’ form. As I lay my hands on the form I remember that my credit card expired on April 30th and its May 2nd and I need to phone and activate my new credit card. I go looking for my handbag to get my purse but I can’t find it anywhere but when I go upstairs to grab Poppy’s blue school stockings I spy it on the bedroom floor. Yay!! I phone the credit card company and of course get transferred to another department and all the time my stress level is rising. Finally the credit card is activated and I fill out the photo order form. Then I realise I have no fruit for her lunch. Who cares I think to myself. I pop a fruit puree thingy in her lunchbox instead. Poppy tells me I can’t do that because it’s not considered to be real fruit, ugggghhhhhh.

I then attempt to put on her school stockings but she hates them, I wonder if this is a genetic thing because I hated them too when I was a kid. She’s pulling them out of her butt and she keeps telling me they feel funny in her shoes so the shoes come off and on and off and on and off and on again as she tries to perfectly position her stocking so it doesn’t annoy her. Somehow through this process I am remain calm but she’s starting to lose it.

Anyway the whole stocking thing becomes a nightmare. The whinging and sighing continue and finally I can’t take it anymore and with more dramatic flair than Paris Hilton I snap, crackle and pop!  I totally ‘feralized’, that is morphed into some hideous out of control, irrational monster.  I rip the stockings off her body yelling ‘right that’s it!! No more stockings. I don’t care if you freeze this winter, I don’t care if you beg me to wear these stockings you will never, ever, ever wear them again!!’ I am now on the way to the kitchen to grab the biggest pair of scissors we’ve got and I cut the stockings up in front of her and then rip them to shreds with my hands. Not my proudest moment as a mother but just a tiny bit satisfying.

We both go quiet. She starts to cry because she can sense the worst is over and her tears are of release and relief. I watch her cry these big gloppy tears that begin to stain her little face, and in that moment I imagine viewing her first ever set of school photo’s in a couple of weeks . They will probably capture this sad little orphan Annie face with the red rimmed eyes and immortalize for the next 50 years a special piece of mothers guilt labelled the ‘blue stocking saga of 2012’ just for me. Perfect.

After a while I ask her if she is upset about the stockings and she admits with a big smile that she thought that the cutting and shredding part was great though she didn’t really like the yelling part and she admits she was a bit scared. I cup her face in my hands and apologise for yelling and scaring her. We hug and I kiss her tears away and off we go to school.

During the day I have to buy a present for a baby so I am in an out of kid shops for hours. I do quite a bit of ‘stranger confession’ in the check out line ups and everyone finds my story hilarious. I even try it on a mum at school pick up and she laughs too. Not in judgement but in understanding. I feel better.

One of the biggest tenants of the Christian faith is forgiveness and while we are constantly reminded to understand, grasp and model forgiveness towards others and to ask God for forgiveness ourselves, no one really tells you that sometimes you need to forgive yourself. Poppy had forgiven me and I’d asked God too but I struggled to stop flagellating myself.  All day I kept it up.

Forgiving yourself is critical for you and for those that do life around you simply because ‘hurting people hurt others.’ The longer you avoid forgiving yourself, the longer you allow yourself to dwell on the feelings of guilt, self-disappointment and failure. You become your own judge, jury and executioner and you impose on yourself a degree of suffering for what you did. This then causes you to feel even worse which will possibly result in another explosion or implosion depending on your personality and preference.

The reality is that you cannot change what has happened. You cannot restore lives to where they were before the event. The only choice you have is over what you do next. You can either choose is to be restored or to re-offend.

So just please just forgive yourself already, I finally have, it is only then your healing can begin.

Over and Out,

Catherine xo

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