Archive for January, 2013

January 31, 2013

Game Players

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I love playing games; board games, card games, computer games, Wii Games, Facebook games, IPhone games. In the last month alone I have played Texas Hold’em, Settlers of Catan, Dora snakes and Ladders, Operation, Kids Monopoly, Wii Fit Plus, Jewel Mania, Bingo and Carcassonne. John and I fell in love while playing chess together and we have always shared a deep passion for both God and games. It is a rare moment indeed when I will knock back the playing of any game, even hide and seek. For a big woman I can fit into some very small spaces.

For about two months now I have been having this conversation with God that goes something like this. “If I am made in your image and I love to play games – where in the bible do I find the game player?”  I give the ‘playing of games’ so much time and energy in my life I need to understand for myself where it fits in with God and building His Kingdom. At one point I said to God ‘if I could use the skills I have around playing games for your kingdom then we’d be cooking with gas’.  As a society we love our games. Just a few months ago we all watched the London Olympics and right now the cricket is upon us. When the weather turns cold again the football will come on again and I will be tormented by constant replays. Any given weekend you can watch or play golf, motor racing, equestrian, rugby league and soccer. Most kids play a team game such as basketball, softball, tennis and or gymnastics. The world loves games – any way, shape or form.

What makes someone a really good player of games as opposed to just a player? I think there are a number of elements but the key element across all games would be the ability to be strategic. That is the ability to be able to develop a ‘plan, method, or series of manoeuvrers or stratagems for obtaining a specific goal or result.’ Most games are easy to learn such as chess but to be really good you need to be absolutely strategic – planning a five or six moves ahead.

The definition of the word ‘strategy’ it is used often to describe ‘military battle campaigns’. That makes sense, when you think about it.  People in the military spend their whole careers training to face life and death situations.  It’s vital in those kinds of situations to have a plan and know what the plan is. When I plugged into Google ‘Was Jesus a good strategist’ I got lots of responses. I read in part a research paper by a teacher at a US Army College, Lieutenant Colonel Gregg F Martin,  titled Jesus the Strategic leader.  He says ‘Jesus was a great strategic leader who changed the world in many ways. Close study of what he did and how he did it reveals a pattern of behaviour that is extremely useful and relevant to the modern strategic leader. The bottom line is that Jesus was a superb strategic leader who offers a timeless and incomparable example of how to lead.’

I recognize that I don’t see a lot of hand to hand combat in the affluent suburb of Ivanhoe but as a Christian I am always in the midst of a ‘spiritual battle’ against the supernatural forces of evil. The Lieutenant Colonel outlines in his paper the seven strategies Jesus used to achieve His goals by being: loving and caring for others, a teacher and mentor, a servant leader, a personal example, applying self development and care and being committed and purposeful. Jesus fought to establish God’s kingdom here on Earth through the planting of the very first church. Jesus is and was the ultimate strategic church planter and probably would have loved a good game of The Settlers of Catan.

I’m not saying that everyone who is a brilliant game player should become a church planter but certainly everyone who plants churches needs to be a good strategist and you can develop your strategic mind by playing games.

Hmmm….planting churches……what a good idea….

Over and Out,

Catherine xooxo

January 30, 2013

The Missing Second Coming

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In the 1970’s I understand that there were plenty of churches that were very excited and taught a lot about the second coming of Christ.  In recent decades there has been a reaction to that possible over-emphasis and in my experience you will do very well to find an evangelical church teaching on the subject now.

One reason for this is that it is the source of much disagreement, and many church leaders want to focus on the things that unite rather than those that divide.  That might be well intentioned but the fact is that this is a subject that the Scriptures have much to say about.  Not only that, people are very interested in the subject.  Books such as the Left Behind series have sold enormous quantities, and even in the last 12 months there has been a rash of Christian books about near death experiences.  Again, they have done extremely well at the cash register.

It seems to me that if people are very interested in a subject that the bible has lots to say about the obvious response from diligent church leaders is to teach it!  There’s not much rocket science needed there.

What I realised a few years ago is that this collective failure to teach on the subject is causing people to go to whatever books are best sellers for their answers.  And most of what the best selling Christian books say is, in my opinion, miles off the mark.  Most of what is accepted by bible believing Christians as what happens during the End Times has been developed over the last 150 years, and has very little in common with what Christians such as Augustine, Luther and Calvin have believed.

I got that realisation when a few years ago my church did a question and answer time on the subject.  By presenting the standard views that have dominated Christian theology for the last 2,000 years (and rejecting the new fashioned theology of the Left Behind novels) I caused quite a stir!  I got a question about every wild and wacky theory that is out there.  If we would simply address the subject then our people would get teaching from their own pastors rather than going to dubious books, movies and novels.

So I am committing to writing half a dozen or so posts over the year about end times theology.  I’m going to tackle eternal rewards, Armageddon, the Anti-Christ, the Second Coming, the Millennium and what is for many people the most important question of all – what happens to you when you die.

But to give you a bit of a teaser let me say that if you are a Christian you will be encouraged by what I share.  Over this sort of time period we can look at the subject in a relaxed and thorough manner.  But once Jesus was faced with a dying man who did not have the time to listen to a presentation with charts, timelines, pictures and diagrams.  To the thief on the cross Jesus said, “I tell you the truth – today you will be with me in paradise.”  That one sentence is all that Jesus had time to say, and all that the man needed to hear.  So fear not – this is a series that will encourage you!

John

January 23, 2013

The Search for Spirituality

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Picture this. You’re humming along doing life. Demographically you’re in your late 30’s, early 40’s. All the craziness of your 20’s is long gone. You’re starting to feel like you’re not treading water anymore. On the whole you seem to be stepping forward more than stepping backward. You’ve got your head sorted out and you like yourself more days than you hate yourself. Financially you’re stable and there is a little extra to go around for holidays. You always feel tired and have no time to read anything but you love your friends and catch up with them as much as you can. Health wise – you might have to think twice about bending down to pick something up, the gym is hard work and you have to move small print items forward and back to find your wavering focal point. You might even care about cholestrol levels and your salt intake.  On the whole you’re somewhat content, settled and satisfied. But there is this quiet but persistent voice that has been crying out in the back of your mind ….what now then? Is that it? Is this all there is?

I have just started reading a great book right now called ‘The Critical Journey – Stages in the Life of Faith’. The author puts it like this in the introduction. ‘People experience a measure of success and satisfaction in their lives or professions. Then over a period of time they slowly become disillusioned with that success. Some begin to wonder if there is not something more, a deeper meaning, for their lives. They seek greater fulfilment, more balance or perhaps, something beyond themselves. Quite self-sufficient, they often fail to recognize that the struggle may not be simply vocational but at its core, spiritual.’

What if this is you? You’ve thought to yourself…I decided years ago that religion and spiritual stuff were poppycock and that they held nothing for me but you find you can’t ignore these nagging feelings of doubt. You might funnel these feelings and thoughts into a spiritual journey to find greater meaning, purpose and wholeness in your life. So then, how does one start a spiritual journey? Answer: With the just one step.  You might aswell acknowledge to yourself that you’re on the journey andf fort the time  being leave the destination undefined. You ‘re officially on an adventure.  Give yourself permission to re-assess former conclusions and start afresh. Seek out those who have what you want to find.

From the book again…

A journey involves process, action, movement, change, experiences, stops and starts, variety, humdrum and surprises. A journey implies more than a quick trip.

Here are some ideas to consider when you start such a journey:

  • travelling companions
  • stopping points along the way
  • modes of transport
  • having to pack for a wide variety of experiences
  • making plans and preparations
  • over packing for contingencies
  • having a map, compass and guidebook
  • people to visit along the way
  • budgeting – the cost in time, energy and money

I encourage you to focus on the process and passage, leaving the destination undefined. You can’t really know where you’re going to end up because you’ve never been there before. Also does the journey really ever end? Twenty-five years on and I have never once thought to myself I am too whole and my life has too much purpose and meaning.

So for me this year my spiritual journey is to extend and deepen my faith with God. He is who I found when I unwittingly started my journey.  I have made a declaration to Him this year – ‘Bring me closer to you, no matter the consequences’. I am just hungry for more of what I have already experienced.

I would love you to be one of my travelling companions as I read and journey through this book. If you would like to order the book here is a link. Click here.

Let me know if you are up for the road trip. Email me at blogsidebyside@gmail.com

Over and Out,

Catherine xoxo

January 22, 2013

Church Marketing Matters

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The subject of church marketing gets some interesting reactions from people.  The whole concept causes some people to protest.  It might be along the lines: “Jesus is the King of King and the Lord of Lords.  He is not trendy.  He is not a corporation.  He should be worshipped not marketed.”

I understand that sentiment, but any given church that wants to reach people for Jesus needs to let those people know that they exist.  In the 1992 the US researcher George Barna wrote a book called Church Marketing.  I read it a long time ago and I can still remember him making this point: If your church has a sign out the front of its premises then like it or not you are engaged in church marketing.  The question then is are you going to do it well or not?

Some critics of church marketing have written a book that alleges we are selling out the church by entertaining these ideas.  The book has a glossy cover, a well designed and clever graphic on the front and a foreword by a well known minister.  So that pretty much shows you what the authors really believe about marketing.

The fact is that most local churches are an organisation.  Yes they are part of the bride of Christ, they are the family of God, they are a royal priesthood of people filled with the Holy Spirit.  But none of that stops a local church from being an organisation as well.  The exception is probably a house church which would not even have a sign out the front, and would rely 100% on word of mouth to let people know about it.

If a local church is reaching out to those who don’t know Christ in their community then they will have to let those people know about their existence.  If that church is in a Western nation in the 21st century then those people that they are trying to reach live in a consumer culture.  That’s not their fault, and that’s not a problem.  But if a person in that culture is considering attending an event at a church then they will quite possibly be put off if their gut reaction is, “looks dodgy”.

Of course this is a separate issue to whether the person dislikes the message of the church.  If they hear the gospel proclaimed with clarity and respond by thinking “that’s rubbish” then no amount of marketing will help.  Marketing is irrelevant at that point.

But what about a person who is open to the message of the gospel?  If that person lives in a consumer culture then they will intuitively discount coming to an event, church service or program which looks and feels shoddy or unsuited to them.

So if you are going to reach people who live in a consumer culture then you have a choice.  You can either say we have the gospel, we don’t care about how our organisation looks to those we are trying to reach.  Or you can say we will let nothing stand in the way of people hearing the gospel.  We will do everything possible so that the gospel and the gospel alone is what people react to.

Don’t think that by paying attention to marketing that I am talking about professional multi media displays and slick advertising.  I’m talking about things that affect every church.  Is the church building well presented?  What quality of coffee is available after the service?  Are the toilets clean?  Do you use the sort of font that attracts your target demographic in your printed materials?  Getting these things right is not only the province of wealthy, large churches.  But if you get all of these decisions wrong people who otherwise would be drawn to Jesus will intuitively think “I don’t like it here.  I don’t want to come back.”  And they will have that reaction because of poor marketing, not because they don’t want to follow Jesus.

In my mind poor church marketing borders on being sinful.  God has appointed us to go and bear fruit.  If you live in a Western country then you are called to be fruitful in a consumer culture.  If people who are interested in the gospel are turned away by poor marketing of the church then we will have to give an account to God for that.  I think pointing out to the Lord that we were theologically pure won’t cut it.  He wants fruit.

John

PS I found the picture attached to this post on a blog that has a terrific collection of funny and peculiar church signs.  Nice work Travis Agnew – check it out here.

January 16, 2013

Looking Back, before Moving Forward

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The first job that you have at the start of a new year is to evaluate the previous year.  Credit to Rohan Dredge for that little bit of wisdom.

For me 2012 was amazing.  A huge year.  I am continually surprised by the sheer size of the twists and turns life brings as I make my way through my 30’s.  When I was a child it seemed to me that my parents led very stable lives.  We lived in the same house year after year, dad worked for the same employer year after year, we went to the same school – there just seemed to be so little change.  It was a very good life but it just did not seem to be full of many twists and turns.

Yet my adult life is very different.  I seem to be confronted with very large changes, upsets, surprises and challenges all the time.  I can’t recall a great deal of stability or predictability.  Not that I’m upset about that at all – I appreciate the adrenaline.  And I think that being married to Catherine plays a part!

At the start of 2012 I planned that I would have a year of reading and writing.  For me 2011 was a whirlwind – I was far busier than any year previously, certainly any year since I got married, which was 1999.  But the whirlwind stopped in December 2011, and things have been a very manageable pace since then.  So the main thing that I wanted to do was reflect on a lot of that activity.

In this regard 2012 was a resounding success.  I think I read about 30 books, and wrote about 25,000 words through 40 odd blog posts.  And there’s no doubt that that was a profitable exercise – I learnt a great deal.  And I know from my many years as a student that you don’t really know about something until you write about it.  The main thing that I have written about is the church.  That’s no surprise – God has wired me to love his people and be passionate about the church.

Similarly my reading was often about the church, but not entirely so.  I read a number of straight theology books, as well as some non-Christian history works.  No fiction however – not really my cup of tea since I was a teenager.  The best book stood out a mile – Inspiration and Incarnation by Peter Enns.  I blogged more about that book here.

One really big thing that happened that I was not planning on occurring is that we changed churches.  At the start of the year we were a part of Planetshakers, since our former church voted to become a campus of (the much larger) Planetshakers City Church.  I was very enthusiastic about this at the start of the year.  Planetshakers was and is a marvellous church.  They are doing a mighty work.  However God’s clear and undeniable leading was for us to move on.  It is all connected with what God is leading us to do in 2013, which will be the subject of a number of blog posts throughout late January and February.  Yes that’s right – I am going to tease you and leave it to later.  Suffice to say that it is by far the largest and most audacious plan that the Lord has ever given us.  Catherine and I are now a part of Manningham Christian Centre in Templestowe, which has been fantastic.

I think if I had 2012 over again I would have read the bible more.  I was pretty haphazard with my bible reading for most of the year.  It wasn’t until November when Catherine finished reading the one year bible and I picked it up that I became consistent, and I think that I have had a closer walk with God over the last 2 months as a consequence.

The other thing that I would do more of is fasting.  I was in the habit of fasting Monday lunchtimes and spending some time in prayer.  Ironically around the time that I was getting more faithful in my bible reading this discipline fell away.  It all just got too hard!  I want to plan ahead more this year, so that I don’t feel that I have the liberty to avoid doing it simply because I don’t have a pre-planned schedule.

But overall 2012 was an awesome year – I loved it…and I can’t wait to see how 2013 unfolds.

John

January 16, 2013

Potty Mouth

Potty Mouth

I don’t drink or smoke anymore but I still have a few unwanted vices left.  On the surface I look clean but just below a toilet flushes somewhere inside of me and out of it flows manure.  I have often marvelled that out of one side of my mouth I can bless and encourage and speak words of life to others and with the other side of my mouth I can curse and swear and pull others down. Maybe I am just human. I mean most people swear and curse but my bible tells me that ‘out of the heart the mouth speaks’. So what does my mouth then say about the condition of my heart.

Psalm 109:18 reads…

He wore cursing as his garment;
it entered into his body like water,
into his bones like oil.

This verse makes me think of the movie Prometheus. That some ghastly snake like creature has slithered down my throat and died, its death seeping into my bones, giving off a foul stench. But how God? How can I do this, how can I love you so much, love your ways, your thoughts and be so dedicated  to serving you but have such a Potty mouth.

Verse 21 and 22 tells me why..…

But you, Sovereign Lord,
help me for your name’s sake;
out of the goodness of your love, deliver me.

For I am poor and needy,
and my heart is wounded within me.

My heart has wounds that no man can see. It contains curses and words that were spoken over my life, that literally went into my heart and broke it.  It doesn’t matter who or when or what was said. They are there, old, buried, rotting.

Last night as I lay in my bed, my thoughts turned to Poppy. She’s told me she has a secret but she is too embarrassed and ashamed to tell me what it is. I can see that it is eating away at her so I prayed for her and God gave me a strategy to help her talk about her secret. The next day I got her to hold a water bottle lid. No explanation, just hold it. I told her to get dressed while holding it and go to the toilet while holding it which was very awkward!  I asked her if she would like to hold it all day long and she said ‘no’. I told her that ‘holding on to a secret’ was like ‘holding on to that bottle cap’. While she holds on to it she is restricted because it takes away her freedom to move freely. While she is holding it she has this on going awareness that it is always there and that eventually it will become too uncomfortable to hold. That by sharing her secret with me she could let go of the bottle cap and be free. She finally she told me her secret about a terrible dream she had where she was made to do awful things.  I could literally see the weight come off her as she shared.

Now it is my turn to put my big girl pants on and share my secret. I have a Potty mouth. And yes I am talking about the F-word and its close friends. Before now I have only really used it around my nearest and dearest. How beautiful is that?  This is my prayer, God, can you go in to my heart heal the wounds of old  I don’t want to wear the ‘garment of cursing’ any longer. For the last 43 years I have let it flow like oil into my bones and now God with your help I want it to flow back out of my life as the ‘oil of joy, blessing and healing to others. Let me be a vessel of life and not death especially to those that I hold nearest and dearest. Let me throw my bottle cap away and be free….No more Potty Mouth for me. Amen

I am free, I am free, these chains have no hold on me.

Over and Out,

Catherine xoxox

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