Archive for September, 2012

September 26, 2012

A Tale of Two Collisions

We have been writing this blog, weekly, since March of this year and there have been two posts that God has told me to write that I didn’t want to. One of those posts was about me giving someone the bird on the way to church (click here to read about that) and the other is this blog post. God likes to stick His finger in the yucky bits of my life and expose my shame so that I can get healing and others who read it can too. In the process of writing and editing and rewriting I find that God steps into my situation and He redeems and reconciles the whole darn tooting mess for His Glory and my freedom. I hope that is where we are going today.

Soooo….here is my secret. While driving to work, a couple of weeks ago, I took my usual shortcut through some narrow back streets.  I was getting over to the left to give an oncoming car more room and I accidentally knocked the side mirror of a parked car but I just kept on driving. Part of me panicked and part of me didn’t really know what had happened as I had been so focused on watching the other car pass on my right I didn’t see what I hit on my left. When I stopped at a set of lights I noticed my side mirror had closed and the mirror part was falling out.  For days and weeks I have wrestled with what to do. The car I hit could have been one of three cars that are parked there every morning. I have no idea which car it is. None of them appear to have any damage but I haven’t had the courage to stop and have a closer look.

I didn’t feel right about it. I had no peace about it. I wanted to make things right but I had no idea how to do that.  Was I put a note on all three cars – ‘Hi there…I might have hit your car mirror a few weeks ago but I drove off but now I want to make things right. Here are my details – call me.’ Am I being pathetic by wanting to ‘make things right’? What does that even look like now, three weeks later? Do I need to just let it go? Is there anything to be gained? In the end I got so confused that I prayed and asked God to help me ‘make it right.’ That very same day I left work and parked my car at the shops and I went to pick my daughter up from school. We went to the shops after that. When I returned to my car 45 minutes later there was a note on the driver’s side window. Someone had ‘scraped’ the rear end bumper of my white car leaving copious amounts of blue paint behind. A lady having coffee witnessed the whole thing and left me a note with her phone number, the license plate number of the car and its make and model.

When I arrived home I phoned the witness. She told me the driver was a young lady – a P-plater. Apparently after she scraped my car she got out of her car, had a look at mine, quickly got back in, and drove off. I phoned my insurance company and was advised to physically go to the Police Station to retrieve the other driver’s details with the rego number. From the moment it happened I couldn’t help but think of my prayer that morning to God – ‘to make things right’. I went to the Police Station and learnt that ‘my witness’ (God Bless her) had recorded the wrong license plate details. I was so relieved because by this point I didn’t want to do anything about the car. I saw this terrified young female P-plater getting a call from the police and freaking out. I didn’t want that for her. Her conscience would bother her enough as mine had.

What I’ve realised is that there are people that we have wronged and for whatever reason may not able to make it right with them because they are no longer part of our lives. It might be because of death, distance or broken relationship. There are people who will never hear my request for forgiveness, know my remorse or hear my suggested restitution. The reverse is also true – there are people who have wronged me that will never be able to ask for my forgiveness. How do we ‘make things right’ in these circumstances? God knows the heart of every soul and has the authority and power to extend forgiveness to us even when we can’t make amends directly. I can’t explain it but I feel like my account with the car I hit is settled. I feel as if my prayer ‘to makes things right’ is done and complete. By asking forgiveness for what I did and offering forgiveness for what was done to me, I feel like I put both situations into God’s hands and He has ripped the debts up.

All is well with my soul. Peace rules again. Yay.

Over and Out,

Catherine xox

September 26, 2012

My Various Churches – Yarra Plenty Church

Yarra Plenty Church was a church that met near where the Yarra River meets the Plenty River in North East Melbourne.

I first attended in 1998 after I had gotten to know the pastor, Steve Wyndham, through us both being students at Harvest Bible College.  It was our church home for many years.  Here are 3 things I liked loved about my time at Yarra Plenty:

It felt like family

There is nothing like a church that feels like family – a place where you know people, people know you, and the collective group of relationships makes you feel like part of a family.  That is a sensational thing.  If you have that in your church right now then please realise that you have something very, very precious.  I am not sure if there was anything special compared to any other church, but it sure was special to me.  I think it comes from a combination of relationships, time and personalities.  After a while something just gels.  That’s not a very scientific analysis.  All I know is that somewhere something went very right.  To be part of a community like that, and where God is at work and good things are happening is just awesome

I met Catherine!

If you met your spouse at a church then that church will always hold a special place in your heart.  For me the very first time I set foot on the premises of Yarra Plenty Church was the first time I met Catherine.  Steve had asked me to teach a small group that was meeting on a Monday night.  The first time I attended Steve taught and he wanted me to participate, so that I could then take over the following week.  Catherine was in the class.  She thought that I was a nerd and needed help socially (can you believe that?)  She adopted me as her “grace case” but ended getting so much more than she bargained for!  That was the last week of August 1998.  We were married on 15 August, 1999.  So that was a completely awesome 12 months.

I had my most fruitful ministry

In the bible when Esther has the opportunity to speak to the king and lobby him to save her people, the hand of providence was recognised by her cousin Mordecai.  He said to her, “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”  Every now and then in life you get to do something and you know that God has given you the opportunity for such a time as this.  In December 2010 and January 2011 I felt that God was telling me to get ready.  In late January I had the chance to join the board and eldership of Yarra Plenty, and it was a wild, crazy ride over the 10 months before the church voted to become a campus of Planetshakers Church.  We had staff retrenchments, State Executive intervention, went close to insolvency, farewelled our senior pastor of 17 years, almost had a church split, and on top of all that I got to do a lot of bible teaching.  It was extremely intense and extremely rewarding, and we came out the other side.  I will treasure serving at Yarra Plenty in 2011 for the rest of my life.

John

September 20, 2012

‘Is She Your Only Child?’

Just today I got asked this question again.  For many years I didn’t know what to answer. At first I would answer with the truth. ‘No she’s not. I have three deceased sons also’. Reactions to this were discomfort and withdrawal. I realised quickly that people weren’t asking to talk about dead babies. So then I would answer the question with “Yes, she’s my only one” and I internally I would feel sick, because I felt like I was betraying the existence of my three precious sons. Finally I realised that there was an implied word in the sentence that people weren’t saying, the question is really ‘Is she your only live child? To which my answer is easily ‘Yes’.

In 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006 I gave birth to a baby every year. The first three births were boys. There names in order were Elijah, Max and Drew. The fourth birth was a girl called Poppy. All the births were premature. The first three births were so premature they were not able to survive outside the womb. The boys are all listed on Poppy’s birth certificate. They do not have their own. A baby has to be 20 weeks gestation or weigh 400 grams to receive a birth certificate in Australia. My boys were 1-2 weeks short of the required gestation and they were very small as was Poppy who was 2.5 kilos at birth.

I am currently writing a book on my experience so I won’t go into much detail in this post but I do want to talk about the profound disappointment I faced in my relationship with God when I lost the babies. My faith was rocked to its foundation and I distinctly remember thinking to myself ‘if my faith doesn’t meet me in this place what purpose does it serve in my life?’ When we are in deep emotional pain we become profoundly vulnerable in our relationship with God. Our disappointment can make us susceptible to a lie that ‘God is not good all time’. If we don’t resolve that we can internally battle. We can harbour deep thoughts and feelings of anger and resentment toward God for ‘letting us down’. At the time I was very messy spiritually but I came out of that dark place with a faith in God that was stronger, deeper and more real than I had ever had before.

As I cried out to God ‘why did you let this happen?’ God answered me. As my humanity grasped for some explanation or context to ‘understand’ my loss, God met me. The bible says that we can have in all our circumstances ‘the Peace of God that surpasses understanding’.  To this day I still don’t ‘understand’ why God allowed it to happen and I might never understand it this side of Heaven but while I wait for that understanding to come I can have God’s immeasurable and Perfect Peace abide in me.  His Peace can give rest to the weary soul. His Peace can lift the weight of grief that can crush a life. His Peace can hold human frailty gently in the palm of His Hands imparting unconditional love and goodness. While God’s Perfect Peace laid the ‘why’ question down my pain was still so severe and unmet. God’s comfort was the answer for the pain. His comfort curled up with me through the long, painful, nights of sadness and overwhelming grief. His comfort sewed my broken heart back together. His comfort breathed life back into me. His comfort went deeper and further than any other human was willing to go with me. His comfort was enough for me but also enough for the many people I have met who have suffered such loss. The nature of God’s comfort is so full and overflowing that there is enough to give away.

His Peace and His Comfort. They are yours too. Take them. Apply them to your questions and your pain like a healing ointment. Take it from me – they work.

Over and Out,

Catherine xoxo

September 20, 2012

What to do with Islam

There has been plenty in the news this week about fallout around the world from the Muslim reaction to an internet video regarded as blasphemous.  It extended to a somewhat violent protest in Sydney last weekend.

My gut reaction to these protests is, “what on earth are you upset about?”  I’m a Christian.  If I got upset every time someone, somewhere on the internet said something critical of Jesus or Christianity…well, when would I find the time to eat? To sleep?

That gut reaction is not based on my faith, it is based on my Western mindset.  As someone who has grown up in a modern, Western culture I have absorbed our individualistic way of thinking and our commitment to freedom of speech.  Yesterday there was an article in The Age explaining how the Muslim mindset works in these matters, and how it differs from a Western one.  (Rough summary: Muslims feel a strong sense of solidarity with one another; when one is oppressed by a Western power, ie the USA, all other Muslims are upset about it.)

So as I Christian what response do I have?  Some churches have embraced “interfaith dialogue” in an effort to increase the understanding between different faiths.  Pope John Paul II put quite some effort into such meetings in the 1980’s but his successor has not been as interested.

As an evangelical, that’s not my approach.  If I spent 10 years with Muslims, talking and learning from them, what I would come away with is that they fundamentally believe different stuff to me.  My faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus, in his claims to be the only way to God make me convinced that, “there is no other name under heaven by which men can be saved” to quote the apostle Peter.  So there can be dialogue without limit, but at the end of it, I believe that Jesus is the only way to God, and that therefore Islamic beliefs about Muhammad are wrong.

Granted that reality interfaith dialogue might be well-intentioned,  it is ultimately of no use.  You are highly unlikely to win converts meeting with other religious leaders.  It is a distraction from the task that Jesus has given us – making disciples.

Therefore Christians should be reaching out to Muslims with the message that Jesus is the only way.  However Muslim people’s are generally not very receptive to the Christian message.  There certainly are individual Muslims who have found faith in Christ, but on the whole they are not open.  At this point Christians have a choice to make.  They can prioritize reaching those who are responsive, or they can just toil away with people who are unresponsive.

The Church Growth Movement led by scholars (mostly former missionaries) such as Donald McGavran and C Peter Wagner argued in the 60’s and 70’s that God wants his lost sheep found.  Because of this if we are to properly steward the resources of time and money that God has given us then, they argue, we have to harvest where it is most fruitful.  To do otherwise is not co-operating with the Holy Spirit, who is clearly more active in some parts of the world than in others.

It’s a provocative argument, and many Christians find it counter-intuitive.  I think that if God is clearly directing you to minister in a particular place then that’s where you must go.  But otherwise it is right to be strategic in being as fruitful as possible.

Meanwhile, back in Sydney, if Muslims are protesting about something silly, someone silly said on the internet then those protests are a matter for the civil authorities to deal with.  They can handle them as best they can.  I’m busy making disciples.  I am reaching out to anyone open to hearing the good news of Christ, regardless of what they currently believe.

John

September 12, 2012

Submission in Marriage

Peter Jensen, the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, recently wrote an article carried in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age about submission in marriage.  He wrote in response to recent coverage of a new Anglican Prayer Book which has a set of vows (there are a number of vows that a marrying couple can choose from) in which the bride says she will “submit” to her husband.  Granted that for centuries brides have been promising to obey their husbands and these words are synonyms, you would think that it is no big deal.  You’d be wrong.

It’s safe to say the article caused a stir – it had over 900 comments within half a day, and that’s quite possibly a record for the Herald / Age website.

Whilst the vows require the woman to say that she submits to her husband the man makes no such promise.  Instead he promises to love his wife.  The vows are based on the passage in Ephesians 5:21-33 in which wives are commanded to submit to their husbands, and husbands are commanded to love their wives as Jesus loved the church by dying for it.  You really have to read the Ephesians passage to understand why the vows are the way that they are.

Here’s what I think Jensen is saying:

  • Marriage is important;
  • Marriage is based on promises;
  • Men and women are different;
  • Their promises should be different;
  • The husband has the very onerous task to love his wife as Christ loved the church.

That flow of logic is all well and good, but I think that the main point is missed.  The main point is that the vows say what they do because Ephesians 5 lays out that pattern for marriage.  I am aware that different Christians have different interpretations of that passage.  But for the sake of the argument let’s say that Jensen’s is correct.

What Christians believe, being based on the bible, will sometimes make sense to the world, and sometimes will not.  At this point in time the world loves the bit where the bible says, “love is patient, love is kind…”  And the world doesn’t like the bit where the bible says, “Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.”  In centuries past it might have been the other way around.  The church has to cling to the bible consistently, regardless of whether its views are in fashion or out of it.

These vows simply make no sense in the West in the 21st century.  There is no way that you can adopt them unless you accept that the way that a marriage should look is the way that the bible says that it should look.  In the modern world very few people are concluding that wives should submit to their husbands because it is a good idea.  The people who argue that are those who accept the bible as their authority.  The real issue is the authority of the bible.  Evangelical Christians believe that God has revealed himself through Jesus, and that God has inspired the authors of the bible to reveal truth in its pages.

I don’t think that you can really persuade people that they should follow what the bible says about family relationships on the grounds that it makes sense.  If it does make sense then fashions might change and it will no longer make sense tomorrow.  The best defence of vows that reflect the bible and are at odds with modern thinking is this:

  • God made marriage;
  • God knows how it works best;
  • God has spoken about how it should look;
  • What he says is that there is a different role for men and women;
  • The role of the wife is to submit to her husband;
  • The husband has the very onerous task to love his wife as Christ loved the church.

If people don’t accept the very first point above then they won’t accept the conclusion.

John

Tags:
September 12, 2012

Let’s Talk About Money

I don’t mind talking about money but I realise that others aren’t so comfortable. It is such a huge area of our lives that receives very little monitoring by others and because of that we can become unbalanced in our habits and attitude. Most people will become highly offended and irritated if you ask too many questions about what they earn and what they do with their money. Culturally it is an off-limits area yet so many people carry bad debt and they are embarrassed to admit about it – even to themselves. The opposite can be true as well – others have prospered financially in life and this can create a false sense of security. Having lots of money doesn’t mean your life is more secure than anyone else’s. You might be happier (arguably!!!) but your life might be required of you this day and no matter your bank balance you have no way of avoiding that.

Everybody has ‘time’ and most people have money – however limited. Where you put those two things as a rule is where your heart and priorities lie. Time wise – Where does the bulk of your time go after earning an income or looking after the kids? Money wise – after you’ve paid your mortgage/rent and bills where does your discretionary money go? What do you choose to do with your money? If you can answer these questions you’ll quickly discover what is important to you. When John and I were friends one of the things I disliked about him was I thought he was cheap and nasty. He would let his really thick hair grow long and out of control to save money on haircuts. Meanwhile the ‘80’s were calling – they wanted their mullet back! One day I confronted him about it. After giving him a speech citing numerous examples of his stinginess he responded with this. You’re right Catherine, I am cheap when it comes to spending money on me but when it comes to God and his people I am generous. He then proceeded to tell me what money he had given away of recent. The more he spoke the smaller I felt. I was so wrong about him. His heart was firmly in the kingdom of God and I promptly fell in love with him – generosity is so attractive!

God leads the way in generosity. He reveals His generous nature in the abundance of His creation and the length He has goes demonstrate His un-conditional, ever lasting love for us. Why is it then – given that we are made in His image that we more often demonstrate qualities of greed, self-interest and pride. We are so obsessed with ourselves to the point that we routinely overlook the needs and lives of others around us.

I have been challenged by something John said to me years ago when I asked him – How do you know if you are greedy?  He said that the only cure for greed is ‘being generous’. I have made it a personal habit to be generous with not only money – but my time and my help.  If every single person in the church cultivated an attitude of generosity in all that they had I wonder what the church of Jesus Christ would look like. Beautiful is what I think!

Over and Out,

Catherine xoxo

Tags: ,
September 5, 2012

The Invisible Network of Love

Six years ago I arrived at Mothers Group for the very first time. Poppy was about 6 weeks old and she had fallen asleep in the car on the way. It was a sunny day not quite 30 degrees but starting to get hotter.  I found a car park in the shade nearby and started unloading all the baby paraphernalia.  As I came around to get Poppy out I suddenly realised I had locked the keys and my mobile phone in the car.  I became instantly hysterical. I went from zero to 10 in just one second. Even though the car was quite cool, visions of a cooked baby sprang into my mind.  I accosted a random stranger for their phone and in the process infected them with my hysteria to the point that I had to physically stop them from smashing the car window with a brick.  They suggested I phone the police – so I did. Within what seemed like seconds I could hear sirens approaching. A police car, fire engine and ambulance all arrived at once.  Poppy remained asleep completely unaware of the commotion around her. The hysterical stranger was still hovering around with ‘the brick’ in hand ready to assist – thank God the police moved them on.

Once help arrived I did what any respecting mother would do I promptly burst in to tears muttering something about being the worst mother in the world. I had to be calmed. All three emergency services went to great efforts to get the car open. They tried going through the boot, forcing a window down but nothing seemed to work. Our 1990 Mazda 626 was showing itself to be quite burglar proof. Who knew?  They were very close to smashing a window when one of the ambo’s who owned an old Mazda 626 decided to try his car key in the driver’s side door. Miraculously it opened! OMG! As he opened the door cool air smacked him in the face so the car was still very pleasantly cool. NO cooking of babies today. It was only at this moment that I surveyed the scene. I had three emergency vehicles with whirling lights parked on the street beside my car a ¼ of a block from the maternal health centre where I was going to my first mother’s group appointment. I nearly just jumped in my car and went home then. I had heard horror stories about these groups and I had been very apprehensive about attending.

Upon arrival, I couldn’t believe it – no one from my mother’s group saw my misdemeanour, so I shared with them what happened anyway. They all laughed and shared stories of there own misadventures which both disturbed me and comforted me at the same time. The long and short was I felt completely loved by this bunch of new mums. Unfortunately I don’t see any of them anymore but that day showed me the best that we can be as a collective. Other mums can be your greatest source of encouragement and support. They’re like this invisible network of love ready to give you advice, empathy and help when needed. Thank you to all the mums that have stepped in and babysat Poppy in a pinch, branched out in the mall looking for my ‘lost’ child or just encouraged me when I truly believed I was the worst mother in the world.

I have determined to be a part of this wonderful organic machine – this invisible network of love. My motto is this: If I can say yes to any request – I will. You may not be a mum because you’re a dad, you’re single, married with no kids or your kids are all grown up – but you’ve probably been pulled into this invisible network of love by a mum in need. We all salute you ‘loving’ on us with whatever we have needed. A few hours sleep while we are sick, cooking a meal, cleaning our house or mowing the grass. As a working mum now faced with my first school holidays I have been overwhelmed with the generosity of this invisible network of love to help me out. I may never be able to repay you but I will certainly pay it forward.

Thank you again.

Over and Out,

Catherine xoxo

September 5, 2012

Excellence

When I was growing up my family was frugal.  Mum was very good at finding value for money when we shopped.  There was no reason to ever buy the top of the line model if something cheaper did the job.  That’s how our family did things and that attitude has been instilled into me.

When it comes to the church’s money I just automatically assumed that the same applied, and even more so.  The church has a vital mission – the most vital in the world.  The church has limited resources so it must steward those resources carefully so that it can do what God is calling it to do.  What a shameful thing if the church’s money – raised on the back of generous giving by its people – is wasted by not getting value for money with it’s spending.

I think that the Anglican Church that I was a part of at that time had a fair few people who naturally thought along the same lines.

When I started studying at Hillsong Church’s bible college in 1992 that attitude ran headlong into the way that they did things.  I was stunned.  At college the word “excellence” got thrown around quite a lot.  I distinctly remember the worship leader and musician Geoff Bullock one day saying words to the effect, “if the church is going to buy a microphone stand then the church should get the best microphone stand that can be bought because we serve the best God around.”  The whole idea was that because we are the church, because we serve the one true God, we should do all our activities with excellence because that’s how God does things.  When God created things they were “very good”.  When his people do things should they not reflect the character of the God that they serve?

It is fair to say that my frugal little cage was being rattled.

That was 20 years ago now and I have had plenty of time to reflect on this approach.  I find myself still drawn to the Hillsong approach.  It is not a matter of producing multi media presentations that are every bit as good as what Hollywood is making on multi million dollar budgets.  It is a matter of not settling for something that is not as good as what it could be.  It is a matter of saying that we will do the best job that we can do, and we will trust God to provide the resources.  If he wants us to do it then he will provides the resources to do it well.

It is so much more than just an attitude that determines what microphone stand we will buy – a commitment to excellence determines how hard we do follow up when someone new attends church.  It determines how much we care about doing prayer right, about doing discipleship right, about serving with all that we have.  Excellence demands that when a program is OK, it does not stay that way, it gets better.  It goes from OK to good and then from good to brilliant.

Excellence sets the church free from the attitude of scarcity that I think that I took into church life from my own personality.  The gospel is free, but getting the gospel into the lives of people is expensive.  Yes, a church will usually be working within a budget.  But the bible says that our God owns the cattle on a thousand hills.  That’s not a reason to exceed the budget, that’s a reason to do what we do with excellence, knowing that his provision will raise all that is needed for next year’s budget as well.

John

Tags: ,
September 2, 2012

Father’s day: Happiness or Heartache

Today is Father’s Day in Australia and first thing this morning my daughter Poppy ran into our bedroom and yelled Happy Father’s day to her dad. He was given kisses, hugs, presents and a beautiful handmade card. She totally loves and adores her dad and she showed it. I smiled as I the two of them interact . My heart sung at the beauty and closeness of their relationship.

We got ready for church and headed out. At church the Dad’s were totally loved on and they all got a burger voucher and a chocolate bar. Yum!  All morning up until this moment my thoughts were all about John and celebrating him as a Father but then for the first time my thoughts turned to my own Father.

The truth is I currently have no relationship with my father. It has been a painful and complex relationship for us both for many years but I can truly say I wish my Father the happiest of days today. While I won’t see him, I do honour him in my heart. I no longer grieve, suffer disappointment or sit in a place of rejection because of what has happened between us. I’m not angry, bitter or after revenge. I am finally at peace with the way things are.  I thought to myself in that moment at church today  ‘How is this so? How did I arrive at this place of peace?  because it sort of suprised me.  I realised that’s it’s because I was adopted by a second Father. A Father who accepts me, understands me and has never rejected me. Not once, not ever. He has always provided for me, always dreamed big things for my life and has always, always loved me unconditionally.

I am talking about my heavenly Father.  I looked up to heaven today at church and I said with my whole heart “Happy Father’s Day God, I love you.” And with that I cried tears of gratitude and joy because I am feel so greatly loved by my dad who also just happens to be the King of the Universe. His love is lavish and has completely satisfied every human need I have for significance and acceptance. His love delights me and fills my heart to overflowing. I am completely at peace in His presence.

Maybe Fathers day is not the day you want it to be for a number of reasons but it is absolutely possible to find peace no matter your situation. Father God deeply loves you and looks over your life just wanting to be a part of it.

Over and Out,

Catherine xo

%d bloggers like this: