Archive for October, 2012

October 31, 2012

Light Bulb!

I have been a Christian for 25 years and sometimes I think I know some stuff and then God in his infinite wisdom takes my blinders off and I have a realisation that is both profound and fundamentally life changing.  I’ve  had a major God – given realisation recently that was so massive that I have experienced a complete paradigm shift in my thinking.  It didn’t just happen, God made it happen through different agents of change that He bought about in my life over the last few years.

The Johari window is a self-awareness tool created by Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham in 1955. It helps people to better understand their relationship with self and others.  It looks like a window with four quadrants. Something like this:

Quadrant 1: Known Self

These are things we know about ourselves and others know about us: Example: These things are obvious like – you have blue eyes or brown hair or you laugh like a hyena

Quadrant 2 :  Hidden Self:

Things we know about ourselves that others do not know. Example: These are our secrets. The things we hide from others.

Quadrant 3: Blind Self:

Things others know about us that we do not know. Example: These are our personal ‘blind spots’. I remember a good friend once telling me I had ‘small nostrils’. I ran to the bathroom and to my surprise for the first time in 40 years I noticed this too!

Quadrant 4: Unknown Self:

Things neither we nor others know about us. Given that I hold a Christian worldview I would rename this window ‘What God knows’. These are the things God knows about me and that I and others don’t.

For me, the rarest form of realisations come in quadrant number 4. When they happen your world is changed forever. It’s as if  God aligns all the planets in a row  causing a rare and beautiful eclipse which results in an unprecedented A-HA light bulb moment.  It’s like He wonderfully orchestrates all these little happenstances that suddenly reveal this amazing thing and when your eyes see it they are so blinded they can’t remember what they saw before.

Ever since I can remember I’ve wanted to be famous. As maturity, a Christ centred mindset and middle age set in, commonsense has prevailed. I’ve realised that I don’t want to be ‘really famous’ just probably highly regarded, paid to do what I love and allowed in any and all ‘green rooms’. There is a possibility that I may have gotten all that, slim but possible (please no laughing). So this is it then. When Jesus came to Earth He didn’t go for a prominent position with the Sanhedrin (the big religious group of his day) or put up notices about town saying ‘Hi, I’m Jesus the Son of God’. He just loved the crap out of 12 people over a period of 3 ½ years and made such an incredible and undeniable impact on them that they went on to effectively proselytize the rest of the known living world. Jesus was a man who loved people so brilliantly and served them so fully that they in turn lived the rest of their lives totally sold out to every idea and thought vocalised by Him when He was alive. Most of them suffered death for His name. While Christ didn’t seek after high regard, green rooms and being paid for what He loved to do, if He was here today He would have all of that and more.

Soooo, here it comes….if I can just do that, love people and serve them with my whole life and heart with the same love that Jesus did then I will have everything that I ever wanted and more. And that folks is something I am completely sold out to. I don’t need money, fame or green rooms. I want to love God and love others with everything that is within me for as long as I draw breath.

Whatever life I have left all I want to do is LOVE!

Over and Out,

Catherine xoxo

October 30, 2012

Best Christian Books Ever

For me, Christian books have played a huge role in my growth as a Christian.  The first time I ever went to a Christian camp they had a bookstall and I spent plenty of time browsing.  I ended up buying a book called “See it God’s Way” which was a collection of articles about ethical issues.  Even at age 13 the intersection of theology and politics was getting my attention – it still does.

So without further ado this post and next week’s are devoted to the 10 best Christian books I have ever read, counting down from 10 to 1.  It is quite an eclectic bunch, a mixture of some academic works and some popular ones.  I’ve included links to Amazon, so you can read other people’s reviews if you want to.

10. The 5 Love Languages – Gary Chapman

I blogged about this book last week.

9.  Inspiration and Incarnation – Peter Enns

This is the only book in my top 10 that I read for the first time in the last decade.  In fact I read it just a few months ago.  It’s a book about the theological implications of modern archaeology and ancient history.  Essentially he says that perhaps our ideas about the bible being wholly true and without error are not actually in line with the bible itself.  It’s a brilliant eye opener to how we should think about the bible, and how the bible thinks about the bible.  For the entire 25 years that I have been reading the bible I have never understood how and why the New Testament authors used the Old Testament the way that they did.  After this book I got it.  Even more interesting was that the book was so controversial that it split his seminary in half (Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania) and it ended up costing him his job.

8.  Darwin on Trial – Phillip E Johnson

If you have ever worried about the fact that Genesis is at odds with what the rest of the planet believes about evolution this is the book that will put your mind at ease.  Johnson is a law professor who took a sabbatical from teaching to write this book.  Essentially he shows that rather than being a theory that is based on a whole bunch of evidence as you might think, evolution comes about as a result of a prior commitment to a naturalist philosophy.  In other words, when you decide that there is no God who can do things that interrupt the universe, you then end up with the only theory that exists.  When the naturalist glasses come off, evolution is an emperor with no clothes.  The book is only a critique of evolution – it does not seek to justify the scientific bona fides of Genesis or anything like that.  For my views on Genesis click here.

7.  Operation World – Phillip Johnstone and Jason Mandryk

This is a very strange choice of book.  Operation World is an encyclopaedia that goes country by country through the whole world detailing the state of the church, and in particular the evangelical church, everywhere.

If you simply pose the question, “What is God doing on planet earth today?” then this is the book that answers that question.  It has gone through several versions.  The answer to the question, is that God is pouring out His Spirit in unprecedented way, and is doing it on 3 regions in particular – East Asia, South America and Sub-Saharan Africa.

I remember when I first bought the 6th edition in 1994 I read the global summary that talked about the massive harvest that is being won across the world at the moment.  Upon reading that I was swept with emotion and teared up!  It was a strange and unexpected reaction – I’m kinda embarrassed to share it here – but that’s how inspired I was at learning the staggering scale of what God is doing around the world.

6.  You Can Make a Difference – Tony Campolo

This is a book written for young people by one of the gurus of youth ministry.  Campolo has written a heap of books, many targeted at young adults.  When I was at high school these books were absolutely inspiring for me.  I had an unconventional start to my Christian life in that I came to faith through the student led Christian group at my high school and they were my church.  I didn’t really have a youth leader, youth pastor or senior pastor.  And if you asked me at age 17 who discipled me the answer would be, “Tony Campolo”.

Books such as ‘You Can Make a Differenc’e taught me that being a Christian should make your life extraordinary.  It should make your life an adventure that nothing else can compare with.  Campolo tells story after story of people he has met and events that God has brought across his path.  He is an inspiration who imparted a spirit of adventure into me.

Next week – 5 through 1.

John

October 24, 2012

Five Love Languages

The other day I wanted to do something nice for Catherine.  I thought I might get a card and put some pleasant words in it.  I’m good at that.  I thought more and it dawned on me that a bunch of flowers would actually be what she would appreciate most.  I’d love to say that I give Catherine flowers frequently and generously…but that might be pushing it.

The reason that I went with the flowers is that I recalled the lesson I had learnt from the book The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman.  Chapman’s book is one of the best books I have ever read.  I read it over 15 years ago.  I’m pretty sure that I only read it once.  But how often do you read a book so long ago that you can remember the whole outline of it, and it makes a difference in your day to day life?

Here’s the big idea of the book: different people appreciate different things.  Different people feel love in different ways.  What makes one person feel loved won’t make another person feel loved.  To love someone well you have to express your love for them in a language that they understand and can therefore appreciate.

The five love languages are:

Touch.  Some people appreciate physical contact.  For them holding hands, cuddling on the couch and quick hugs and kisses when coming and going from the house are very valuable.

Words of Affirmation.  Others like to hear their loved ones say the right thing about them.  An unsolicited complement is like gold.

Acts of Service.  For others hearing the words, “Is there anything I can do for you?” make all the difference.  Doing a chore for this person will make them feel fantastic.

Gifts.  Others value the thought and effort involved in buying them a gift.  It’s nothing to do with greed or materialism – they value the thoughtfulness and care.

Quality Time.  Others simply want to have time with their loved ones.  Hours = love.  Lack of hours = I don’t feel loved.

For Catherine, her number one love language is gifts.  When you give me a gift I say, “Cool – thanks.”  When you give Catherine the right gift she feels a million dollars.  It makes her day, week, month and year.

Catherine has a friend who one day, when fairly newly married, was sitting inside the house, getting more and more upset about the fact that her husband was spending the whole afternoon washing, cleaning and fawning over her car.  What was going on was that her love language is quality time.  She wanted her husband’s full and undivided attention.  She was thinking they should go out for a coffee.  That would have been brilliant for her.  She didn’t get it, so she was upset.  Meanwhile her husband’s love language was acts of service.  He was full of love for his wife, and decided to show it by cleaning her car.  To him, that’s what you do when you love someone – you do stuff for them.  But that’s not how she receives love.  Two people who loved each other deeply managed to get mad at each other when both trying to do the right thing.

If you know what your partner’s love language is then you can then takes steps to give them what they want, rather than what you naturally would do.  I am constantly saying nice things to Catherine, but it doesn’t do a great deal for her.  The flowers the other day were perfect.

Knowing your partner’s love language and making an effort to show them that you love them makes the world of difference.  These insights have been profoundly helpful to our marriage.  Even if you are not married they are still useful in relating to the people who are closest to you.

So this week take the effort to show love in a way that your partner will understand and receive it.  Don’t do what comes naturally to you – think about what your partner actually needs.  And if you don’t know which of the 5 your primary love language is, then check out Gary Chapman’s website here.

John

October 24, 2012

So Long and Thanks for all the Beautiful Memories

John and I have formally left Planetshakers North East Campus. We feel that our  long-term future is not with this church and that the time to move on is now.

I started my relationship with 360 Main Rd, Lower Plenty back in the 80’s. The church was called Eltham Assembly of God then. David O’Keefe was the Senior Pastor and he made a lasting impression on me.

In 1996 I returned to live in Australia after having lived in Vancouver for almost 10 years. I made this church home in 1997 after a close friend was tragically killed in a car accident.

Here are but a few stand out memories of this amazing church:

• When I first started coming I was followed up by a very special person in the congregation. I was in such a bad place at the time as I was heavily grieving. I would often be smelling like a brewery when she’d pick me up for church. She never said a word, just loved me where I was at and all the way back into spiritual health. I will never forget her grace and love.

• In 1998 I went with a small team to Honiara and Kira Kira Island. The country was in a state of political unrest and on our first night you could hear gun shots ring out. On the flight to Kira Kira one member of the team was almost sick with fear – of course I teased him relentlessly however he does have some very incriminating video of me attempting to synchronise swim in the hotel pool. The island of Kira Kira was so pure and untouched and God’s hand moved mightily there. There is still a tree climbing rooster that owes me more than a few hours of sleep.

• One of my ongoing favourite memories was of a Sunday morning worship time when occasionally the former Senior Pastor would sing over us.  **miss that, sigh**

• Another high point for me was the Discipleship School short course developed by the Senior Pastor of the former YPC. We explored a wide range of subjects, my favourite night being the study of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. When the guitar came out and worship begun the Spirit of God just fell all about, a beautiful and joyful presence.

• One of the biggest regrets I have is that we left for 3 years when we moved to East Melbourne. Given the abundance of public transport we sold our car. We should have never have left and as soon as we bought a car again we were back. When we did return we felt welcome. We were a bit of a mess because of the loss of two of babies but we were accepted as is and nurtured by a loving church family.

• In 2006 while laying flat on my back in hospital pregnant with my fourth child so many people came and visited and phoned and dropped off meals. One of the Pastors came and did communion with me and my roommate. I can never repay the grace and love that were extended to us all during this time.

• One of the greatest moments for me was when Poppy was dedicated to God in front of the whole church. It was a celebration of every prayer that was lifted up to God for her safe arrival.

• I had the privilege of preaching in WOW for a period of time and I absolutely fell in love with the people there. Thank you for your encouragement, love and inspiration. You are something special. xox

• Over the last year I have watched the former YPC be transformed into a Planetshakers Campus. I have cried watching soul after soul give their hearts to Jesus Christ and I was inspired by the DNA course and Encounter Day. I have served in the Cafe making hot chips and I’d like to thank and acknowledge the amazing people who give without measure in that area of service. xoxo

I’d like to thank my entire church family for making my journey and time at Eltham AOG, YPC and PSNEC memorable. It hasn’t always been functional but I don’t know what family is all the time. You have taught me how rich a life can be planted in the house.  I love you all fully sick and with eternity in our hearts this is not the end but the beginning. Thank you for all the laughs, tears and times in God. May you all be blessed in your journey. I will miss you.

Over and Out,

Catherine Warren

October 17, 2012

My Prayer for the Mormon Church

Mormonism now has tens of millions of adherents worldwide and is receiving more attention at present due to the fact that Mitt Romney could possibly become US President next year.  The other large US based cult is the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

If you go to an ordinary bible believing church then don’t let the fact that the Mormon Church goes by the formal name “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” fool you – what the Mormons believe is a million miles from what orthodox Christianity teaches.  It’s not the purpose of this post to explain the differences, but if you are interested then go here.

My prayer for the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses is that they would become like the Worldwide Church of God.  The who?  Well let me tell you the story…

The Worldwide Church of God was a cult that was started by Herbert Armstrong in California in 1946.  They had many of the classic signs of a cult – they rebaptised people joining them who had been baptised in other denominations, and they had a whole set of doctrines that were at odds with the historical beliefs of the church.  Armstrong himself thought that he was the first apostle since the first century.  He wrote in one of his books, “time may prove this to be the most important book written in almost 1,900 years”.  Armstrong predicted the return of Christ and got it wrong (obviously).  It’s crazy stuff that saw mainstream Christianity reject the group as a cult – rightly in my opinion.

After Armstrong’s death in 1986 the church came under the leadership of Joseph Tkach Snr, one of Armstrong’s key lieutenants.  As the years went by Tkach began to drop some of the more unusual doctrines that the church had long ascribed to.  By 1994 pretty much every single unorthodox teaching had been abandoned and the group now stood theologically in lock step with the mainstream evangelical community.  It’s an amazing transformation, and it is often described as being without precedent in church history.

There were various fringe groups who splintered off, wanting to remain with the teaching of Armstrong.  But Tkach steadfastly took the church through this period of immense change.  He died in 1995.

His son, Joseph Tkach Jnr, took over leadership of the church, and the transformation was completed.  In 1997 the church was admitted to the National Association of Evangelicals.  They now operate under the name Grace Communion International.  Tkach Jnr wrote a book about the whole process called Transformed by Truth.  He details how one of the key events that made it happen is that the church’s doctrine committee decided that they would write a systematic theology to really expand the breadth and depth of their theology base.  As a consequence they spent so much time in the bible that they saw many of their distinctives as being out of step with what the Scriptures actually say.

What a glorious thing – a church simply reads the bible and gets transformed by it.  Awesome.

So that’s my prayer for the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses – that they would spend so much time reading the bible, which they purport to embrace, that they will be transformed by it.  Imagine the day that the Mormon Church is admitted to the National Association of Evangelicals.  Imagine the day that when the pair of overdressed teenagers with their American accents knock on your door they are giving you literature that is line with what Christians have believed ever since New Testament times.  Imagine that when you move to a new area you check out the Baptist Church, the AOG Church, the Anglican Church, the Kingdom Hall and the Mormon Temple, because they are all teaching the same evangelical doctrines.  And you settle on the Mormon Temple because you like the kids program.  That would be stunning.  Please Lord, may I live to see it!

John

October 17, 2012

Hawaii : Handcuffs and Shackles

My greatest fear was that I would go to prison. This could have been a result of watching too much ‘Prisoner’ in the early 80’s. It was a successful Australian TV drama based on life inside pf Wentworth Detention Centre . I was completely terrified of going to prison. Then, my fear came to pass while on a holiday. It was as scary and terrifying as I imagined. Here is the story….

I was born with a special gift. I can open my throat and ‘skol’ liquid without swallowing. I was returning to Vancouver after a trip to visit family and friends in Australia. I was not walking closely to God and my behaviour reflected that. I had a stopover in Waikiki, Hawaii for about 5 days and I was ready to party. My accommodation was a hostel which provided instant drinking buddies. It was a Sunday night and I was due to fly out the following afternoon so I rounded up all my ‘new friends’ and we headed to the local pub. Fairly soon after we arrived I challenged a male German backpacker to a drinking comp. With one foul swallow he was done and dusted. As is typical with the male ego he re-challenged me and lost again. As the beer slid down my throat I formulated a plan – Mr Backpacker was part of a group. So I took them all on. The bets increased. Soon I was supplying all my hostel mates with free beers paid for by this largish German group of males who couldn’t seem to drink faster than one Aussie girl. Beer after beer I conquered one and all. I was the life of the party but I was also highly intoxicated. The manager stopped me as I went on a toilet break. He was very concerned for me and told me that for my own good he was asking me to leave. He escorted me to the door of the pub and when he let go of me I fell flat on my face.

I ended up heading for the beach as I wasn’t ready to return to the hostel. I met two Aussie girls and we sat and talked. Directly on the Waikiki beach is a police substation. Parked out the front there are numerous police carts. They are similar to a golf cart but on steroids. During the day they are a popular tourist attraction, many people posing for a photo’s in them. The three of us decided to muck around with one. When it was my turn I posed with the CB radio in my hand. No lights were on console so I spoke into the receiver. Code 10, code 10 there is a riot on the beach of 40 people. Within seconds police streamed out of the substation looking for a riot. Code 10 coincidentally means female officer in distress. I was arrested and charged with the obscure crime of ‘tampering with Police equipment’. I was read my rights, fingerprinted and locked up in a group cell. The toilet was in the cell. Disgusting and humiliating.

The following morning, sober, I was transferred to the courthouse. I was the last of about 50 to appear before a judge because I was the only non-American citizen. Customs were required to be there. I was informed that if I was found guilty and convicted I would be deported back to Australia – even though I lived in Vancouver. I took my chances pleading ‘not guilty’ and was immediately shackled (handcuffs for the feet) and handcuffed. I was transferred to another custody centre to be processed. I got one of those funky photos taken with the numbers and became somewhat of a mini-celebrity with my Aussie accent and upbeat personality.

After that I was transferred to the Oahu Community Correctional Center (OCCC) and upon arrival I was strip-searched, which included bending over so bits and pieces could be checked for weapons and drugs. I had to bathe in Lysol (bleach for humans),   to kill any germs and I was given a prison uniform to wear. I was placed into an 8 bed dorm. I went straight into the toilets to have a breakdown when I noticed there were no doors on the stalls. The only privacy afforded me was under the covers of the bed that night. Before bed I asked for my one phone call and was allowed to phone ‘my friends’ at the hostel. I had been missing for 24hrs. They were relieved to hear I was ok and they were able to put up the bond of $50 (out of my winnings from the pub) and get me released the next morning. That night surrounded by scary, dangerous woman who had done some bad things I cried silently for hours.  I wondered if I would still be alive in the morning.

The next day I was released and one of the prison guards gave me money for the bus fare and after an hour-long journey back to Waikiki I hugged my hostel friends like family. I had missed my flight, I had no money and I was in a lot of trouble. The hostel allowed me to work for my room and I put a reverse charges call through to my mum and told her my passport got stolen and she wired me some money. I contacted my friends in Vancouver and advised that I had missed my plane. I had to reappear in court in 5 days with a public defender. I was eventually found not guilty because they couldn’t prove that I was the one who made the broadcast about the riot and I lied to the judge when she asked me if I did it.

I landed in Vancouver a week later – safe but probably not sound. I had experienced my greatest fear and I was worse off for it. While utter foolishness resulted in that particular fear being realised some fears can’t be avoided so easily. Since the birth of my daughter my greatest fear now is that someone will rob her of her sexual innocence. I was challenged upon hearing this statement ‘your greatest fear is the area that you trust God the least’. What a confronting thought?

I came to this realisation. No matter how diligent I was I could not protect my daughter every minute of every day. I decided that I needed  to trust God to look after her no matter if she was in my care or not. With much tears and angst I handed my precious daughter over to Father God. He is now in control. My fear has not magically evaporated but I do now a experience a peace in this area. The issue no longer rules my emotions, my thoughts or my spirit like it did. I trust God to be her Elohim Shomri. (protector) at all times! Amen to that!

What is your greatest fear? How can you trust this fear into God’s hands?

Over and Out,

Catherine xoxo

October 11, 2012

Who does God listen to?

My first encounter with prayer was before I was a Christian. The memory of it is profound and lasting and more than 30 years later I remember it very clearly. I was reminded of it today while climbing the stairs of a waterslide – out of breath. My mum had taken my siblings and myself on a holiday to visit my Uncle and Aunt in QLD. We were going to a water slide park and I had left my ventolin inhaler in Melbourne. In front of my mum my Uncle says – let’s pray for Catherine. Everyone gathered in a circle and held hands. They all closed there eyes but I kept mine open….I had never seen anything like this in my life. NO EYES CLOSED FOR ME PEOPLE.  It was short and sweet and I distinctly remember my Uncle praying that ‘Jesus would give me breath’ that day. All day as I climbed the stairs at the water park I whispered ‘Jesus give me breath. Jesus give me breath’ and not once did I get short of breath or asthma. I came to the conclusion (having no grid for healing or miracles) that I must have breathed more often because of all that praying I did and therefore had a greater intake of oxygen stopping me from getting asthma.

Prayer along with forgiveness is one of the strongest Christian beliefs there is. But why does God seem to hear some prayers and not others? I think that God probably does hear all prayers but it some seems some are answered and others are not. In the words of Professor Julius Sumner Miller …..Why is it so?

There is a verse in the book of James that says this:

‘The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.’

What this verse tells me is that is it possible to pray weak and ineffective prayer. Hands up if you want to pray those prayers? What then makes a prayer powerful and effective?  I believe that one of the answers is in that verse….it is the prayer of a ‘righteous’ person that has power.

The word ‘righteous’ has been somewhat maligned in our culture and seems to hold some negative connotation. I think in the minds of most they see a ‘pious’ and ‘judgemental’ person who embodies some kind of ‘spirituality’ that is not really very appealing. Or is it just me that thinks that? On the contrary being righteous is something so much more tangible, down-to-earth, real and practical. Being ‘righteous’ is defined as “right-doing or right-ways”. God has a ‘right way’ about Him and when we get to know Him we can ‘know how to live right and do right’ also. A ‘righteous’ person is someone who is desiring to ‘think right and do right according to God’.

Why does being righteous or unrighteous have an impact on the effectiveness of our prayer life? Having God’s thought and heart in prayer aligns our prayer with God’s thought and heart for the situation we are praying into. For example – someone hurts me badly so I pray, ‘God, break their arms off and hit them with them’. This is a great example of a ‘weak’ prayer because it is not aligned with God’s thought and heart toward that other person. The moment I pray ‘God I need help with how I am feeling so I can forgive this person’ you are entering into a space that God is already sitting and His hand moves with you to bring answer to that prayer.

Being ‘righteous in prayer’ is more about understanding what the ‘right’ prayer is for the situation. When I pray I find I go on a journey to uncover and discover Gods thought and heart on the matter so that I can then align myself with it. Then I see His answer come powerfully and effectively.

Thirty years ago my Uncle David prayed that very powerful and effective prayer over me and God answered it. I know that He prayed many ‘right prayers’ over my life that God is still aligning me with them even though he died some years ago. I wish he was still praying for me.  During an open mike time at his funeral I remember many people from the community getting up and attesting to my Uncle’s ‘powerful prayers’. It was amazing to hear them recount incredible encounters with God they had because my Uncle offered to pray for them and God answered that prayer.

To be brutally honest I am just too busy to waste time praying weak prayers. May God continue to bring me into His thoughts and teach me His ways so I pray powerful and effective prayer in the lives of those around me.

Over and Out,

Catherine xoxox

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October 10, 2012

How Fast Does a Church Have to Grow to Take Over the World?

Between the time of Christ and about 300 years later Christianity took over the known world.  What started with Jesus and his 12 followers ended up conquering the Roman Empire.  When Jesus died he left 120 odd followers who birthed his church on the Day of Pentecost.  That church grew and grew and ultimately Rome bowed to it.  When you read about the early church in the book of Acts it really gives a picture of triumphant growth – the gospel spreading at an alarming rate.

So what rate did the church actually grow at?  Sure it was fast, sure the results were amazing, but what percentage each year did it grow by?

The sociologist and historian Rodney Stark has analysed the data.  And here’s the result – 3.5% per year.  And whilst there is some ebbing and flowing of the growth rate it is surprisingly consistent for long periods.

Yes that’s all, 3.5%.  That doesn’t sound like anything special to me.  Imagine that you went to a church with 100 people.  At the start of the year your pastor stood up and said, “Church, this year I’m believing that God will pour out his Spirit just like he did on the early church.  Let’s pray and work towards adding 3 more people to our congregation this year – no, 4 people!  Will you believe with me for that?  Can we do it???”  I think any pastor who cast that “vision” would get stunned silence from the congregation.  Talk about underwhelming!  And yet that is exactly what the early church did, and it resulted in a large harvest.

The reason that that growth rate was enough to bring the Roman Empire to its knees is because 300 years is a VERY long time.  When you have compound growth that’s what happens.

So what about today?  How is the church doing today in comparison?  If you live in a Western country you could be forgiven for thinking that the church is declining and in danger of vanishing all together.  That’s far from the case.

The missions encyclopaedia Operation World says that evangelical churches are growing at 2.6% per year.  (An evangelical church is, in short, one that believes that Jesus literally rose from the dead and believing in him is the difference between going to heaven and hell.)  That compares with overall global population growth of 1.2%.  But of course the overall numbers are huge compared to the estimated 6 million Christians when Emperor Constantine turned to Christ in 312 AD.  There are currently somewhere between 550 and 600 million evangelical Christians, and well over a billion Catholics, Orthodox and other Protestant Christians as well.

So our current growth of 2.6% is not that far off the growth of the early church of 3.5%.  In fact just a couple of decades ago evangelical churches were growing at 4.5% as huge numbers of new believers in East Asia, sub Saharan Africa and Latin America were added to the church.

Whilst there is huge variation from continent to continent overall the church is in very good health, and evangelical churches have just capped off a remarkable century of unprecedented growth.  And there is plenty more to come.

Of course there is nothing special about slow growth as opposed to fast growth.  If a church can grow fast so much the better – that means more coming to Christ, more lost sheep being found.  But I think we need to review out concept of what fast and slow growth is.

So imagine that you are a part of a church that is about to end the year in a pretty similar position to where it started.  Welcome to a church not unlike the early church.  That’s a church that can play a role in turning the world upside down.  That’s a church that can make a difference.  It’s a bit like the tortoise and the hare – slow and steady wins the race.

John

October 3, 2012

Time to Praise the Tall Poppy

I was living in Vancouver at the time, attending Bible College by day and working at a burger joint at night. Money was tight. A polka dot fashion trend ensued (late 80’s) and I desperately wanted a pair of black pants with white polka dots. After saving hard I was finally able to buy them. I was one very happy customer. A good friend of mine loved them too and before I could wear them she asked if she could borrow them. After wearing them she washed them in hot water and shrunk them. When I put them on I realised there was a problem. They were too tight and too short. I never got to wear them. I never raised the issue with my friend. When she asked to borrow them again I gave them to her to keep without raising suspicion. Simply, I didn’t want to discourage her.

Most people would’ve said something – at least acknowledged the damage to property, but I never said anything. Make no mistake I was gutted about the pants. However my friend’s emotional state at the time was more important to me. The dictionary defines the word ‘encourage’ as to ‘support, inspire or give hope’.  The prefix ‘dis’ means ‘not’ as in dis-ease, (‘not at ease’) and ‘discourage’ which means ‘to not support, to not inspire and to not give hope’. I’m sure most of want to be ‘encouraging’ however my personal experience is that the default of most people is to be discouraging.

I live in a country that is known for the ‘tall poppy syndrome’. This is a ‘social phenomenon in which people of genuine merit are resented, attacked, cut down, or criticised because their talents or achievements elevate them above or distinguish them from their peers.’ In layman’s terms – others love to pull you down when you’re doing well.

I refuse to be that voice in the life of my friends, family, co-workers or brothers and sisters in Christ. I refuse to rubbish their dreams, criticise their plans or tell them why they can’t succeed. To be encouraging I often have to undertake a series of mental gymnastics because like everyone else my first thoughts are often negative. I think ‘bad’ but I don’t do ‘bad’. I take those unhelpful, negative thoughts and feelings and filter them through the heart of a God. And what’s in God’s heart – the very best for every person on planet Earth.

You may ask how I would’ve discouraged my friend by letting her know what she had done to my pants….

My friend’s story went something like this. She had a drunken one night stand with a guy at a pub. She got pregnant from that random encounter and gave birth to a beautiful baby girl called Amelia. Amelia was born with a rare condition known commonly as ‘brittle bone disease’. Amelia had numerous fractures at birth and it was commonplace for her bones to break while simply getting her nappy changed. At some point between the one night stand and giving birth this friend found Jesus. The father was never able to be located. She struggled emotionally and financially and at the time of the polka dots pants incident Amelia hadn’t had a fracture for a while and my friend had gotten a job. She had been experiencing a small but significant run of positive circumstances. Instinctively I knew that raising the whole pants thing would have pulled that ‘poppy down’. She would’ve certainly been gutted at accidently ruining my pants and discouraged at not being able to afford to replace them.

I want to encourage you to put a filter on yourself.  Think about what you are saying to the people around you – those that you work with, those that you live with and those that you choose to hold close and do life with. Be the voice of encouragement and inspiration in their lives. Be the one that says ‘you can’ instead of being the one that says ‘you can’t ‘.  Be a person that blows on their dreams and believes the very best for them and their life. At the very least be the absence of discouragement even if you can’t encourage. This position has many blessings – you will often be the first to know the purposes and plans of others because they will trust you with their deepest hopes and aspirations. You will also celebrate and share in their joy when they succeed. It’s a great way to live. Please try it.

PS: I now own a ‘little black dress’ with white polka dots. I love it.

Over and Out,

Catherine

October 3, 2012

What works

Last month I wrote a post called Love Wins, which discussed the way that church programs actually don’t make a large difference in people Christian growth, but loving relationships do.

In this post I have reflected on my own 26 years as a Christian and posed the question, “what has actually helped me grow?”

Here are the top 3 things that have made the most difference in my life:

1. Having a spouse and close friends who love God with everything.

I remember as a teenager hearing this sermon illustration on many occasions – when a campfire is burning brightly, if you then take a piece of wood and put it into the fire then before long that piece will be burning brightly as well. However if you do the opposite – if you take a piece of wood out of a roaring fire and put it by itself then it will be burning brightly by itself. But come back in a few minutes and the piece by itself will have stopped burning. After a few minutes more it will no longer be on fire at all. The rest of the fire will be be roaring, but the piece by itself will grow cold. In the same way, a person who is surrounded by those who love God will do well in that environment. They will maintain their fire for God. But even if you are the most committed Christian on the planet, when you remove yourself from the company of God’s people, over time your love for him will get colder and colder and colder.

I think the point is spot on. What I have noticed as I have gotten older is that it is just as true of adults as it is of teenagers. And therefore my own walk with God has been greatly enriched by the fact that I have Catherine as a wife, and her deep devotion to serving God. Catherine, you have been and continue to be an inspiration. Similarly, having friends who love God is powerful assistance in my own walk. When you see someone more fired up than yourself, my natural reaction is “I want to be more like that!” And once you do head in that direction a friend who is doing the same is a great encouragement to you, and you to them.

2. Worship music and prayer

I natuarally felt that I should say something about my own devotional life, since I kind of assumed that my own habits of bible reading and prayer have been foundational for my growth. But as I thought about this further I realised that it’s not so much prayer and bible reading but Christian worship music that I have found to be extremely helpful. This morning on the train I was listening to a recent worship CD and was inspired by the music and thanked God for his love and his greatness. I think that is an even more powerful than prayer, because I find that my mind often wanders during my prayer times, and often they are focussed on my needs rather than God’s glory and wonder.

I am very grateful to live in a time when we can carry recorded music around with us, and there is so much great, contemporary worship music around. Most Christians throughout history could not have even conceived of enjoying Hillsong United on an ipod. So to all you worship leaders and musicians out there…keep going!

3. Knowing your gifts and using them.

It has been one of the revelations in my life to realise that God wants me to focus on what I am gifted at. Working out precisely what that role is has been a long journey, but I am so glad to be on it, and so glad to have made the progress that I have. One of the gifts that I have is teaching / preaching. To find out that something that I taught has been useful in someone else’s growth is a magnificent thing. How can you really have a better day than to do something that moves people closer to Jesus? Serving and making a difference in people’s lives is really the ultimate way to spend your time.

So what about you? What has helped you actually grow as a Christian? Leave a comment and let us all know….

John

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