Archive for November, 2012

November 28, 2012

Jesus versus Santa

I love Christmas and all the hoop la that goes along with it. I love giving and receiving presents, I love Christmas decorations, I love Santa, I love that the whole world has a birthday party for Jesus, I love the food, I love the tradition and I love the special time with family and friends. At about 5 am on Christmas Day I would wake up to find my Santa Sack (pillow case) filled to the brim at the end of my bed. My parents had very well defined ‘Christmas Day Wake up Rules’ which were strictly followed.  All children had to be showered, dressed and have eaten breakfast before dragging said parents out of bed to open presents under the Christmas Tree. Prior to Christmas Day I would put tiny little rips in all the presents under the tree that had my name on it, so that I could peek inside. My Dad wouldn’t put his presents under the tree until we were all in bed on Christmas Eve and it would always feel like Santa had really been. It was truly magical.

Prior to having children I once attended a Church Newcomers Meeting and during an open question time the leadership were hammered with questions about what their ‘stand’ was on Santa Claus. I was shocked. I had no idea that this was an issue. When Poppy was born I was presented with the question of ‘What to do about Santa?’ I was completely torn, on one hand I wanted to give Poppy the joy that I had as a child believing that Santa was totally real and that he delivered toys worldwide by sleigh on Christmas Eve. On the other hand I didn’t want to lie to her or blur the line on fantasy and reality. I heard a true story from a woman (in her 60’s now) who loved and adored her mother. When she was told by some other children that Santa was not real she vehemently defended his existence saying to the other children that ‘her mother would never lie to her’. She was gutted when she found out her mother had indeed done so.

Thanks to the valuable input of others who have gone before I believe John and I have adopted the best of both worlds. Right from the beginning we have told Poppy that Jesus is real, Santa is not but it is fun to pretend, and pretend we will. This applies to the Easter Bunny and the Tooth fairy as well.  Poppy, at 3 years old,  made us laugh when she said indigantlysaid ‘’Mum Santa IS real, I saw him at the mall’. Poppy knows the truth but totally enjoys the ‘make believe’ element of Santa like every other child. We put carrots out for the reindeers and cookies for Santa and do everything any other family would do.  She loves it and so do we. FYI… we do tell her that lots of kids don’t know that Santa is not real – so please don’t tell them!

This whole approach encourages Poppy to engage her imagination the same as she does every night when she read books about mythical make believe creatures such as fairies, unicorns and monsters. When I was a just little older than Poppy is now I remember getting lost in Enid Blytons the Faraway Tree. As long as what is real is real and what is pretend is pretend. Not every parenting decision has been as easy to adjudicate but I am glad this one has.

Over and Out,

Catherine

November 26, 2012

The Church of England, Baggage and Women Bishops

Last week the Church of England got itself in a mess over the issue of allowing women to become bishops.  Even though a majority of bishops, a majority of clergy and a majority of the laity voted in favour of having women bishops the latter majority was not great enough for the motion to pass.  It’s all quite strange because they do permit women priests, and have for over 20 years.

I look at all this and shake my head.  Not at the outcome of the vote, but at the baggage that the Church of England has to carry.

Let me get some things clear at the start – God loves the Church of England, God is using the Church of England, and plenty of good things are going on in the Church of England.  The Church of England is a part of the bride of Christ so far be it from me to say that the bride of Christ looks ugly.

What the Church of England does have is that it is the official church of the “nation” of England.  And that is a role that I do not envy.  Part of the accidents of history that have put the Church of England where it is today have resulted in 28 of the Church’s bishops having seats in the House of Lords.  Amazing!  To my Australian mind that’s stunning – that being a church leader might get you an automatic seat in Parliament.

The Church of England also has an extraordinarily complex organisational structure, where decisions are made slowly and have to clear many hurdles.  If those things were not enough it then has the care of literally thousands of very old buildings which are of great value for heritage reasons but are completely unsuited to housing modern congregations.  Those buildings cost vast sums to maintain, and that’s money that can’t be spent doing things of more use in spreading the gospel.

Then there is, for me, some of the most amazing baggage of all – ecclesiastical dress.  In other words the odd collection of dog collars, robes, strange hats, crooks and other bits and pieces that leaders within the Church of England wear.

Maybe in centuries past there was good reason to build the sorts of church buildings that the Church of England did.  Maybe in centuries past there was good reason to have a structure where synods debate legislation and need to pass motions with two thirds majorities in the house of bishops, the house of clergy and the house of laity.  Maybe in centuries past there was a good reason for church leaders to start wearing dog collars and ornate, flowing robes.  And maybe in centuries past there was good reason to take up seats in the House of Lords.

But in 2012 those things seem to me to be baggage – unhelpful baggage that makes the Church of England less effective for the gospel.  Of course all churches have some sort of baggage – the Church of England is hardly alone in this regard.  I would not be so bold as to say that there is a single baggage free church anywhere on earth.  And clearly such baggage does not mean that they cannot be effective in making disciples.  Indeed one of the world’s great churches is Holy Trinity Brompton, the home of Nicky Gumbel and the Alpha course.

The Church of England won’t be revisiting the issue of women bishops until 2015 at the earliest.  Granted this, perhaps they might want to address if the 21st century might mean that their leader does not have to dress like the recently retired Archbishop of Canterbury is in this photo.  The Church of England has a genuine theological difference of opinion about women in leadership.  They need to work that through, as they did the issue of women priests.  But there is no reason that they cannot jettison some of the other baggage that would make it easier to be effective for Jesus in the meantime.

As for the issue of women bishops, that is a complex question for someone who has a high view of scripture, and one that I will tackle another day.

John

November 21, 2012

Why are there No Senior Pastors in the Bible?

In my experience of church, across 3 denominations, the senior pastor has been the leader of every church I have ever attended.  And yet in the bible there are no senior pastors.  The term does not exist.  Not because the church is left to its own devices – there is substantial leadership structure in the New Testament church and that  structure involves apostles, prophets, elders, and deacons.

It seems that the pattern of church leadership was that elders would be appointed to govern a church once the church expanded beyond Jerusalem, such as is described in Titus 1.  It seems that this involved a plurality of elders overseeing the life of a single congregation.  All the time there was apostles based in Jerusalem and perhaps in Antioch as well, who had authority over the various elderships within a certain locality.  In that scenario there is no senior pastor.

So then time passes.  Pause for a moment here and have a think about what happens in groups.  If a group of people have a task that they stick at year after year, what happens?  The person with the strongest leadership trait rises to the top.  All groups have dominant people, people who hold the most sway, and people on the fringe, or who don’t care about the struggle to hold the most influence.  A church eldership is a bunch of people no different in this regard.  Just because they are meant to have a degree of Christian character (see Titus 1 and 1 Tim 3) does not mean that they are somehow immune from these factors.

As the early decades of the Christian church rolled on the office of the bishop became more and more prominent.  Now when I use the word bishop here don’t think of Catholic bishop or Anglican bishop.  The bishop today is usually in charge of a diocese that usually has hundreds of churches within it.  But when the position of bishop first emerged it was essentially a senior pastor role.

And so what we find is that some of the very first Christian writings after the New Testament are letters urging Christians to submit to the authority of their bishops, that is their senior pastors.  Ignatius of Antioch (pictured) writes about 100AD saying, “Take care to do all things in harmony with God, with the bishop presiding in the place of God, and with the presbyters in the place of the council of the apostles…”

So what we have is that the early church started with a group of elders in charge of a congregation, but within a generation or two something akin to the modern senior pastor had emerged.

For Protestants who take the bible as authoritative this begs the question, should we simply have a group of elders and get rid of the position of senior pastor?  After all it seems that the position emerged after the New Testament had finished being written.  It is not included in the pattern of church leadership the bible gives us.

My answer is no.  Having served on a church eldership I think that asking that group to not have a senior pastor is simply unrealistic.  That just not how people work.  Brian Houston uses the slogan, “anything with more than one head is a monster.”  He has a point.  I think that for long-term vision and direction you do need a senior pastor.  You can have an eldership which is over the senior pastor, and therefore has the power to remove the senior pastor from their position.  That would be in contrast to what Ignatius was describing in the quote above.  But to have no senior pastor at all…my hunch is that would simply not work.  Even if that was how it was on paper over time someone would emerge as a de facto senior pastor anyway.

If the Lord wanted to give us firmer direction as to how the church should be structured he would have.  Yes, there are no senior pastors in the bible.  But I have no problem with having them now.  The bible has given us a structure.  It has evolved from group leadership to senior pastor leadership.  I think that any attempt to go backwards is doomed to fail.  The strongest individual in that eldership group would natuarlly act as a senior pastor anyway. Senior pastors are here to stay, and that’s OK.

John

November 21, 2012

Lost Things

I came home from picking Poppy up from school yesterday, unlocked the house and dumped all the school and work paraphernalia on the kitchen table. A while later we went to go out and I couldn’t find the car keys. After 45 minutes of  John and I both searching we ended up borrowing my mum’s car. Upon returning home John and I spent a further two hours searching and looking for the keys to no avail.

I went to bed stressed at about 11.30 pm with no keys. At 3.30 am I got up and started searching and at 5.42 am I finally found the keys in the sewing kit. Why was I looking in the sewing kit…..why not? I’d looked in the freezer – in fact two freezers, the microwave, the dishwasher, the washing machine and stared at the toilet accusingly more than once.  The sewing kit had been on the table next to where I’d dumped all of the stuff when I came home. It had been put away in its correct spot before the search party for keys had begun. All that time they were sitting in there.

I have a bit of a reputation for finding lost stuff. John once lost his wedding ring when coming home from work, waking through the MCG grounds. I prayed and God told me the ring was inside the couch?? We picked up the couch and shook it. Sure enough we could hear it rattling around. People phone me and ask me to pray and I find their ‘lost things’. Another time Poppy lost her Guggy (Beloved Beanie Bear) at home. We searched and searched and then God showed me she was inside something ‘white’. I found her shortly after inside the salad spinner.

When I found the keys this morning I started to cry. Really I did. I was so relieved. We do not have a spare key because it costs a couple of hundred dollars to get one cut – that’s when you have a key to copy. To ask them to create a key without a key – I was feeling sick thinking about how much that would cost. On top of that it was my fault. I had lost them. I felt terribly guilty.  From that first moment when we realised they were ‘lost’ I was consumed with the whole thing. I couldn’t think of anything else but finding those keys. The four hours sleep I got was restless and exhausting.

I often wonder in these moments if God can relate to how I feel. I mean, how does God lose anything. He’s like an all-seeing Big Brother Camera. Immediately this thought jumps into my mind jolting me out of my self-absorbed state. Yes! He understands what it is like to lose something because for a while there He lost me. The lyrics from ‘Amazing Grace’ come to my mind:

I once was lost
But now am found
Was blind but now I see

God lost me! I was living my life without Him. Completely unaware He was looking for me. Then He found me and I found Him. The joy God must feel at just one ‘lost thing’ being found must be incredible. When one soul turns to the Spirit that created it and says ‘I love you’, there must be such rapture in the heart of God. Yes, I do believe God understands what it was like for me to lose those keys. He loses people everyday and sometimes they go so far away from Him that they put themselves in a place He can’t find them.

In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:10

Over and Out,

Catherine xoxo

November 15, 2012

The Story within the Story

I didn’t set out to tell my stories to you, it just sort of happened that way.  I know that I have been hard work for God over the last 43 years but He has loved me enough and been patient enough to endure all my stuff ups. Through some extremely painful, funny and life altering experiences He has taught me His Ways and revealed His perfect love for me. Even now when I get myself into a bit of a pickle He takes the time to show me a better way for next time.

I like to think that my stories are a bit like the parables Jesus told. He painted these vivid word pictures to dramatize what He wanted to teach. While wholly make believe stories the  parables were related to the ordinary life of the people He told them to. Their purpose was not merely to entertain but to bring about a change of mind and a change of heart so that they could be closer to God. The word “parable” comes from the Greek word ‘parabolee’. In the Greek ‘para’ means beside, and ‘ballo’ means to cast or throw. In effect a ‘parable’  means to cast a familiar idea beside an unfamiliar idea in such a way that the comparison helps people to better understand and grasp the unfamiliar idea. The ‘unfamiliar idea’ in all the parables was a concept of the Kingdom of God.

In talking about parables Jesus explained (Matt 13:10-17) that those who sought God would get the deeper meaning, while the truth would be hidden from those who didn’t.  Through the telling of parables Jesus is trying to reveal the deeper meaning of His own presence among them, the meaning of His mission and His person and the meaning of the kingdom of God. In other words, what is important about the parables is the spiritual message they convey about human life, about our life with God.

While it might seem a bit lofty of me to compare my stories to Jesus’ parables consider this….the best chance God has of speaking to me about my life is to use the experiences that occur in my life. My stories aren’t parables because they are not make believe…they really happened! They are what I have lived and they have been what God has used to help me understand the way He works.  In the re-writing of my stories I have tried to be true to the lesson that God taught me through them at the time they happened. I often tell you my stories at my own expense. I tell them when it doesn’t suit me and even when it shames me because I want you to know that you can experience the same freedom, forgiveness and love that I do. In one of the first blogs I wrote I talked about taking our masks off. I believe that I have started to do that. You have read some of my ‘not-so-pretty- spectacular- failures’ but surely you have felt the redemption in them too. The beautiful truths that God has revealed to me have been things like ‘forgiveness brings freedom to my soul’ and ‘that He can and does love me no matter what I have done’. Also ‘no matter how much I stuff up He can still use me’.

You have a story too. A ‘life parable’ that God is speaking to you through. Are you listening? Can you hear God in your experiences? Do you get that He loves you and wants you to discover Him hidden amongst your life – bobbing up in unexpected places. God loves to interrupt our lives because He so desperately wants to be a part of them.  Don’t think because you are a Christian that you are smugly safe in the reading of this post – you probably have more to answer for because you have tasted the fruit but just don’t eat often enough of it. God wants more of you!  I know that is true for me.

Over and Out,

Catherine xoxox

November 14, 2012

Desert Song

One of the things that I have appreciated more and more as the years have gone by is that life has seasons.  The Christian life has seasons as well.  Even though it is 4 years old recently I have been listening to “The Desert Song”.  It’s a Hillsong tune which my church had on high rotation when it came out.  These are the lyrics of the 4 verses:

This is my prayer in the desert
When all that’s within me feels dry
This is my prayer in my hunger and need
My God is a God who provides

And this is my prayer in the fire
In weakness or trial or pain
There is a faith proved
Of more worth than gold
So refine me Lord through the flames

And this is my prayer in the battle
When triumph is still on its way
I am a conqueror and co-heir with Christ
So firm on His promise I’ll stand

This is my prayer in the harvest
When favour and providence flow
I know I’m filled to be emptied again
The seed I’ve received I will sow

I find myself being moved during the last verse about the harvest.  Intuitively I feel drawn to that verse at the moment.  It just seems that is the season I am in now – I am established in my career (I am in my fifth year as a barrister), my little girl is now at school and parenting is a whole lot easier than it was with a newborn or with a toddler.  But more than that I feel that I have reached a place in my walk with God where I have accumulated some wisdom, some understanding of what my gifts are, what my calling is, and where the Lord is heading me.

I can’t really put my finger on it with any precision, but right now I feel His favour.  I feel that I am being filled, and I know that the purpose of that filling is to be emptied again.  I know that a season of being emptied is coming and frankly I can’t wait.  Because that is what I was created to do.  Paul says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10)  There is nothing to be gained from being filled and never being emptied.

It reminds me of the illustration of the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea.  Normally I am pretty sceptical about making analogies like this but I really think that this is a point that God wanted to make.  The Sea of Galilee is full of life.  In the bible Peter, Andrew, James and John made their living from fishing in this sea (although lake would be a better description).  The Sea of Galilee has an entry point where the Jordan River comes in, and an exit where the Jordan flows out.  Just 70 odd kilometres further south the Jordan flows into the Dead Sea, but nothing flows out of the Dead Sea.  As the name suggests the Dead Sea is an ecological wasteland – the salt makes it completely inhospitable to fish.

The point is that when we are both receiving and giving out we are healthy.  But when we receive but don’t give there is no life at all.  I want to be healthy, and right now I’m being filled to be emptied again.  But without the emptying to come I will get sick and spiritually unwell.  I can receive, but only if I then give away what I have received.  The seasons of harvest are to enable us to be fruitful in service.  It’s amazing how just 8 words, “I know I’m filled to be emptied again” captures this so perfectly.

This is how the song ends, and I can’t find a more fitting way to finish:
All of my life
In every season
You are still God
I have a reason to sing
I have a reason to worship

Go here to sing along.

John

November 8, 2012

Top 5 Christian Books Ever

This post carries on from last week’s discussion of the best 10 Christian books I have read.  To recap, the second half of my top ten was:

10. The 5 Love Languages – Gary Chapman

9.  Inspiration and Incarnation – Peter Enns

8.  Darwin on Trial – Phillip E Johnson

7.  Operation World – Phillip Johnstone and Jason Mandryk

6.  You Can Make A Difference – Tony Campolo

So the top five (again with links to Amazon so you read other people’s reviews) are….

5.  The Making of a Leader – J Robert Clinton

This is a peculiar choice – an obscure leadership book that is dense and filled with the author’s unique terminology which results in an oversized glossary.  Yet this book has given me one of the guiding ideas for how God works.  It’s an idea I have taken hold of and have taught to others as well.  Here it is – your circumstances, history, trials, triumphs and all the life events that you have gone through have been a curriculum that God designed just for you.  They are his training tool to develop you to be the leader, minister, person that he wants you to be.  None of them have happened by accident, and God is sovereign over all of it.  That’s a profound idea.  It’s an idea that I taught at Yarra Plenty Church when we were going through an extremely difficult time during 2011.  It’s an idea that I keep going back to as the years go by.  So for that reason it makes my top ten.

4. The Seven Laws of the Learner – Bruce Wilkinson

Another very obscure choice.  Many people would have a book by Bruce Wilkinson – his little work on the Prayer of Jabez sold a truckload of copies.  But not this one.  However for me this was the book that convinced me that I am called to teach the bible.  If I have ever preached or taught anything that stuck in people’s memories, produced any fruit or did any good then by the grace of God it was with the help of this book that it happened.  Space prohibits me saying what all 7 laws are, but the book taught me to teach what people need, and to apply the lesson at length.

3. A Tale of Three Kings – Gene Edwards

This is without doubt a brilliant book.  Whilst the 2 previous ones have impacted me because of my particular gifts and calling, this is a book that every Christian should get their hands on and devour.  It is a dramatisation of 2 stories from the Old Testament.  The first half is about how David dealt with Saul’s attempts on his life after Samuel anointed him to be king of Israel.  The second half is about David’s reaction, many decades later, to the rebellion against his leadership by his own son, Absalom.  Gene Edwards did not pick those stories for no reason in particular.  He was writing to people who had been hurt by poor and overbearing leadership which was in vogue in the 1970’s.  But far from saying that they had every right to be upset Edwards powerfully shows that David’s submissive response to Saul is our model for the leaders we have, both on their good days and their bad ones.

2.Your Spiritual Gifts Can Help Your Church Grow – C Peter Wagner

I have picked this book both because it is brilliant, and also because of the large impact that Wagner’s many works on church growth have had on me.  I tossed up between putting this book or Understanding Church Growth in – both are excellent.  But this book, which is not an academic book, and can and should be read by every Christian, has brought home to me how one of a Christian’s major tasks on earth is to know what their gifts are and use them in love for the glory of God and the strength of his church.

1. The Pursuit of God – AW Tozer

My all time best ever Christian book is this little masterpiece by AW Tozer, written in 1948.  The book is an urgent call to a deeper, fuller walk with God.  The title is drawn from Psalm 63:1, 8, “O God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You… My soul follows close behind You.”  Tozer says, “To have found God and still to pursue Him is the soul’s paradox of love.”  The whole thing is brilliant but for me the chapter on the sacred and the secular is the highlight.  It is some of clearest and most profound teaching I have ever found.  Another quote: “Let every man abide in the calling wherein he is called and his work will be as sacred as the work of the ministry. It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it.”  This book has inspired me to put absolutely everything into my walk with God – what else can compare?

So over to you…ever read a brilliant Christian book?  What was it?  Maybe you have read one of the ones listed above and vehemently disagree with me!  Tell us about it.

John

November 8, 2012

Madness in Mexico

Sometime in the early nineties I went on a short-term missions trip to Mexico. Our team of youth and workers stayed on a base in Tecate and each day we drove about 40 minutes to get to the slums of El Florido where we built houses and did outreach with the children.

We raised money for the building materials while still in Vancouver and we had driven convoy style in two mini buses following the I5 highway through California. We stayed overnight in a church  in LA and arrived in Mexico the following day. We stayed at a beautiful and rustic place called the Rancho La Paloma (The Ranch) which provided hospitality and acted as a base for the ministry.  The best feature was the pool which was just filled with water while we were there.

The ministry into the El Florido slums was nothing short of life changing but the most amazing experience for me came at the Ranch on a day off from visiting the slums. On this particular day we had taken the youth to the markets in Rosarita. Despite repeated warnings not to buy fireworks which were sold in excess several youth bought some and snuck them back to the Ranch.  Later that afternoon during a rest period they lit them down near the boys dormitory. The conditions were ripe for a bushfire. Everything was dry and it was hot and windy – the place was a tinderbox. I was one of the first leaders to notice the fire that had started as a result of a spark that came from the fireworks. It was spreading quickly. We got a bucket brigade going down the hill from the main hall as there were no hoses. Just when I thought it was under control the fire jumped from the top of one tree over the road to another tree on the other side of the road. A dry grass field opened up on the other side of the road an accelerant for any fire. I honestly thought we are going to burn down Mexico. I was the only Aussie on the trip and knew full well the destructive and relentless nature of bushfires.

Without thought for life or limb and being far more athletic than I am now, I jumped the two barbwire fences on either side of the road to get into the field where the fire was now burning rapidly. The owner of the field, a Mexican farmer, came hurtling down the hill in his old pick up truck with a hose on board. I stood with his little hose in hand just ahead of the fire which was now burning steadily across the field getting more and more out of control. As the fire raced closer I became surrounded by smoke. Not knowing anymore which direction the fire was I started to hose a circle of water around my body. I was very scared and I thought this is it. I thought I was going to die. My life seemed to pass before my eyes and my last thought went something like this…’If I die in this field it will wreck the lives of these youth forever.’ At that, I looked up to heaven and yelled ‘GOD, HELPPPPP MEEEE’ At that exact moment a sharp strong wind came from behind me and within a few minutes the fire was completely out. The sudden change of wind had turned the fire back on itself.  With no fuel there was no more fire. When the smoke cleared I could see a black ominous ring of burnt grass around me. I had been surrounded by the fire without knowing it.  To this day I believe that God did a Miracle in Mexico.

Shortly after the fire was out the Tecate Fire Brigade arrived – four men on the back of a pick up truck with some hoses. That’s Mexico for ya!!

Over and Out,

Catherine xoxo

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