Archive for February, 2013

February 27, 2013

Big Fat Good News

EnglandWe would happily like to annouce that we have decided to follow the call of God and move to the UK to plant a church.  Our intention is to relocate to England sometime in July this year. We’ve been moving towards this decision for months and this is our first public announcement detailing the beginning of our adventure. We intend to document the journey ‘as we go’ and in this first post we want to talk about what we feel called to do.

Early in 2012 we started to pray with another couple about ‘what we could do for God together’.  We had a lot of good times over a period of 6 months praying, talking and dreaming.  We opened our hearts to all possibilities. God searches the Earth looking for those that will serve Him and He found us.  As the scripture says, “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” (2 Chr 16:9)

For a long time Catherine has harboured a desire to get involved with helping sex-trafficked children.  In the last 5 years this has become a highlighted area of social justice ministry.  One morning in May of 2012 Catherine awoke to have her regular prayer time with the Lord.  He gave her a clear and detailed vision of a ministry centre in Moldova, a small country between the Ukraine and Romania which has a high rate of sex-trafficked teens and children.  We prayed about this ministry centre together but I (John) didn’t share Catherine’s desire for missions into Moldova.

In late June 2012 we attended a one day retreat at Planetshakers Church aptly called ‘Encounter Day’.  I fasted and prayed that God would speak to me clearly about our future.  He did.  God told me to go to England and plant a church.  That church would then be the resource of people and funds to do missions work in Moldova.  I shared this with Catherine and she agreed with it wholeheartedly.

We prayed and talked and enquired more of the Lord.  The question was where?  Where in England?  One night Catherine had a dream and when she woke up she went downstairs and looked at a map of England for the first time.  Her spirit leapt in her as soon as her eyes landed on Leeds and then Halifax in West Yorkshire.  From that moment onwards there has never been a doubt as to where God was calling us to plant a church.

As with any call from God there is a process in which you exercise faith by starting to step toward what you think God has called you to do.  You start by making small decisions.  We decided to take inexpensive steps first leaving the major most expensive steps till the end. One of the first things we did was update our passports and get one for Poppy.  Since June last year we have taken numerous steps of faith toward the call we believe God has given and we have received green light after green light both from man and God.  Not one single person has told us not to go.  In fact we have had confirmation after confirmation of the exact opposite.  We ‘inquire’ of the Lord constantly and get the same response from Him – ‘Keep Going’.  Jeremiah talked about his call and said, “But if I say, I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name, his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones.  I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” (Jer 20:9)  We feel the same.  We feel that we just have to do this.

When we started attending Manningham Christian Centre in late October 2012 we shared the vision for planting a church in the North of England with the Senior Pastor, Matthew Wyatt.  Our hearts were open to hearing ‘don’t go’ but just the opposite occurred – Matthew started prophesying that God was ‘going to raise up supply lines and resources!’  On the Australia Day long weekend we drove to Mildura and spent some time with some key Pastors and Church Planters.  That was a significant time of confirmation and encouragement for us.  They confirmed that we have the right stuff to be church planters and they expanded and added more to the vision we already had.  After that Catherine said to God – ‘if you don’t stop us God we are going to go!’ God replied ‘Good, I want you to!’

We are also delighted to annouce that our church in Halifax, West Yorkshire, UK will be a daughter church of Manningham Christian Centre.  We are delighted and grateful to God that Manningham has not only embraced us but the vision God has put in our hearts. We believe that there is an abundant harvest to be had in Halifax, UK and that the Lord is sending us out to bring it in.  We will plant, we will water, and by His grace God will make it grow.

Many of you probably have lots of questions.  Please ask them!!!

Over the next while we want to share the strategy we believe God has given us with you in detail. We want to build a church that will stand for generations.  We look forward to laying out the plan in this blog as we move closer to getting on the plane.

Officially freaking out,

John and Catherine

P.S. Catherine will continue her series on Pregnancy Loss next week.

February 20, 2013

End Times Series 1 – Rapture…what rapture?

cloxkSome weeks ago I promised to start a series on end times beliefs.  You can read the series introduction here.  This post is the first in the series.

One of the core Christian beliefs is that Jesus will return, all will be judged and God will be with his people forever.  There are numerous scriptures that deal with this subject.  The oldest Christian creeds include it.  The Apostles Creed says, “On the third day he (Jesus) rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.  I believe in …the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”

So belief in the return of Christ is core Christian theology.  However it might surprise you to know that belief in the rapture is not.  When I use the word “rapture” what I mean is the event referred to in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 which says,

“For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air…”

Some Christians think that this refers to Christ’s final second coming.  However some Christians believe that this event is something that happens before the tribulation, and well before Christ’s final return to earth.  This latter view has become dominant in Protestant churches in the West in recent generations.  So when I use the word rapture I mean it in this second sense.

The idea that there is a rapture before Jesus returns (rather than being something that occurs at the same time as the return of Christ) was first taught by John Nelson Darby in the 1830’s.  He was one of the founders of the Brethren Church.  It was picked up by Cyrus Scofield, D L Moody, and eventually the founders of Dallas Theological Seminary which has been the home of the teaching ever since.  Authors Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye have made what was a fringe theological view widely popular in the last 50 years.

So the idea that there is a rapture of Christians and then life goes on for those left behind was never held by any of the church fathers, nor Augustine, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, or any of the other Reformers, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, nor most theologians since 1830.  So if all those people missed it, you would have to think that it might not be in the bible!

My understanding of what the bible says is that Jesus will return to judge the living and the dead.  It could come at any moment.  The picture of being in the clouds is a reference to Daniel 7:13, “there before me was one like a son of man coming with the clouds of heaven”.  Paul is trying to say that Jesus is coming in power, the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies, and we get to be with him!  That’s the point.

So the modern, most widely held understanding of the rapture is based on a poor interpretation of a small number of bible passages that wasn’t really even conceived until 180 years ago.  What the scriptures do teach, in my opinion, is that Jesus returns and at that time he judges all.  Not two events – just one return which is what Paul is talking about in the passage above.  So forget the idea of vanishing Christians and everyone else thinking “where did they all go?”  Jesus will return and it will be clear to everyone that He is here, and He is king.

John

February 20, 2013

I Held you every Second of your Life.

Part 2 in a Series on Pregnancy Loss : Elijah James Warren

miscarriage2-177x235It was a Sunday afternoon like any other except that I was 3 ½ months into my first pregnancy.  I was having an afternoon rest but felt nauseous and got up to vomit. As I vomited I felt an explosion of fluid and I realised my waters had broken. John quickly rushed to me to the Royal Womens Hospital in Melbourne City where we sat all night long in a state of fear, confusion and disbelief. Physically I was bleeding heavily but an ultrasound was needed to confirm if the baby was still alive or not. Unfortunately I had to wait until the morning to get one. John sat beside me all night but we barely spoke as we sat consumed by our worry and fear. Without any diagnoses we had nothing to pray for or hope for.

After waiting all night long and sitting through a painstakingly long ultrasound scan finally the technician spoke…”Baby has no amniotic fluid left. The sack has ruptured. Baby has heartbeat. You will need go to the theatre for a curette to remove baby.” He spoke so weird – it wasn’t ‘the baby’ it was just ‘baby’. It felt like a downgrade. Like it was a nothing. The word ‘the’ seemed to give it more life. I didn’t really understand what he was saying. I remember asking ‘The baby has a heartbeat?’ Yes, he said. I felt like I was stating the obvious ‘but why can’t we just keep going?’ I remember his eyes looking at me like I was so stupid not to understand the role of amniotic fluid in a pregnancy. He said ‘baby can’t grow without the fluid, it keeps the lungs moist and supple, ready for breathing, without it baby’s lungs will dry out, it’s renal system will fail and it’s respiratory system will not start because the lungs will dry out and crack.’ And with that he got on the phone to book me in to surgery to get the baby taken out. Things were moving way too fast. I could barely breathe. I didn’t understand all the implications of what he was saying and I felt stupid and I was being rushed into surgery without a thorough explanation. I needed to process what he was saying. I was moved briefly back to a ward before going to surgery. John and I talked quickly and we decided to leave the hospital. I almost felt like a prisoner on the run. Adrenaline got me dressed and we almost ran out of the hospital. We did let them know we were leaving and they expressed great concern at our decision. With no amniotic fluid the womb was exposed to major infection. I agreed to come back for tests in three days.

I remember feeling so much better emotionally once leaving the hospital. I had felt bullied to get the surgery. I felt that the life of my unborn child was not considered on any level. I was so confused, tired and scared and I needed peace, rest and clarity and I knew I wasn’t going to get it there.

This was our dilemma. Was having the surgery to forcibly remove the baby from my uterus, while it had a strong heartbeat, paramount to abortion? I didn’t know the answer to that question but I was going to find out before I went anywhere near the hospital again. I would have to live with this decision for the rest of my life, and I didn’t want hindsight to tell me something different 1, 2, 5, 10 years later. I needed to make the right decision amidst all the heavy emotion and pain. It didn’t help that I kept imagining this tiny little baby lying on the bottom of a ‘dry womb’ no longing suspended in the moist blanket of fluid it had always known. I could barely sleep I was so distraught over its condition.

The bible says there is wisdom in counsel. We made three phone calls to three different people who each had 20 years ministry experience. We got the same message from each of the three people. We also spoke to an experienced midwife who was able to explain the situation from a medical point of view. She also gave us other options other than a D & C. We searched the scriptures for answer. We prayed. We cried. We read the dictionary definition of abortion. We cried. We prayed more. We cried more.

I really wanted to call ‘Right to Life’ but John was frightened that some religious zealot would tell me that I was going to commit murder by going back to the hospital in two days time. While he was taking a shower, I called them. I was put through to a counsellor straight away. I explained my situation and the options I had. She said “your body has initiated the process of labour. It started contractions and your waters have broken of their own volition. You’ll only be helping your body to finish what it has already started.” She said you’re not making a decision to end the pregnancy but that the pregnancy has made a decision to end itself.

I had peace at last. It was like my whole body sighed with relief. When John got out of the shower I told him and together we cried again now sure of what we needed to do.

We spoke to a friend who was a midwife and she explained that a surgical removal of the baby was not our only option. She said that they could insert ‘saline’ tablets into the uterus which would irritate it enough to restart contractions. The baby would be then be delivered normally which would give us an opportunity to hold the baby. This was really important to us. She also explained that my body would recover faster because it would better understand what had happened. With surgery the body is left confused – one moment there was a baby and next minute it is gone.

Upon arrival back at the hospital we let the doctor know of our decision to deliver the baby naturally. I overheard a nurse sarcastically saying to another nurse – “How stupid? Why would they do that?” We were put down in a room at the end of a long hallway away from all the mums who would probably deliver live babies.  The saline tablets were inserted into the uterus and I was told that after 4-6 hours I would probably need 2 more and then after 10-12 hours I might start to labour.  I delivered my baby boy Elijah John Warren less than 5 minutes later. I had not recognised the back pains I had been having all day as labour pains. The two white saline tablets came out first.

Our precious baby boy, Elijah James Warren, was born weighing about 100 grams. His whole body could fit in the palm of my hand. His skin was translucent but he was fully formed. Two arms, two legs – the toes and fingers were too small to count. He was taken away and then brought back in some tiny clothes made by a church somewhere in Melbourne. I can not explain this but I was full of joy. It was a sad joy but a joy nevertheless. I held my precious baby son. I had been a bit fearful of what condition he would be in given that there was no amniotic fluid but nothing to the naked eye was obviously amiss.

John and I both sadly hugged and kissed him. He was perfect to us. We cried so much I felt like I needed to have a drink so that my body had some more liquid to make more tears. I stayed overnight but the next day I was told I would have to leave the hospital. I did not want to leave my baby.  There was an option that we could take the baby with us as because he had no birth certificate.  In Australia you only get a birth certificate for the baby if they are born weighing 400 grams or you’re beyond 20 weeks gestation. I was neither. I was torn. I didn’t feel like I was ready to say goodbye yet. The hospital agreed keep him in the morgue one more day but then he would need to be sent for an autopsy.

I left the hospital and John and I went to buy him a gift. Of the three ultrasounds we had of our son, three different ultrasound technicians remarked on his strong heartbeat. I felt strongly that he had ‘inherited’ the strong heart of his mother and father. We bought a small length of chain and a silver locket and he was cremated with it. I still have his ashes at home with me. I bought a large wooden ‘blanket box’ in which I put every card and every memento including his ashes. It is next to my bed in my bedroom. No matter where I live he will not be far from my heart at night. We opted to not bury him in a cemetery plot that had a premature baby section. A reason cemeteries exist is because they are public. It is a ‘common’ area for all who knew the person to come and visit and remember them. Who was going to visit our dead baby, but us? I wanted him near me. Maybe one day I’ll scatter the ashes but I’m doubtful.

Next Week Part 3 : The Bottom of the Barrel

Over and Out,

Catherine xoxo

February 13, 2013

A Crisis of Faith

Sad Man

In the 25 years I’ve been a Christian I’ve suffered a crisis of faith – twice. Both times  threatened to derail my relationship with God entirely.  Once was in 1997 and the other time was 2004.  The two triggers that precipitated my crisis of faith could not have been more different.

In 1997 I was studying full time, living out of home and working part time.  Money was tight.  In July I submitted my tax return, and back then you usually had to wait 6 to 8 weeks to get a refund if you were owed one.  I was going to get a substantial refund which I sorely needed.  Looking at when I needed it, I prayed that it would come at 6 weeks.

But it didn’t.  Right now I can’t believe that I cared so much about such a trivial event but when my tax return arrived 8 weeks later I was outraged with God.  I thought, “How powerful are you if you can’t even answer the most simple prayer?”  I didn’t ask for the world – it was the most minor little prayer and yet it not being  answered in the way I wanted threw me into a total spiritual tailspin!  The reason was that almost everything in my life had not gone as planned in 1997, and this was the straw that broke the camels back.

I dealt with this crisis really poorly.  What I needed to do was just grow up and realise that God cares far more about His kingdom, His will and His name (to quote Jesus priorities in the Lord’s prayer).  I never really worked that out and just sort of dragged my feet through the rest of 1997 before finally getting spiritually going again in mid 1998.

Then at the other end of the seriousness spectrum, in 2004 our second baby died.  Catherine went into an early labour and gave birth when she was just 16 weeks gestation, far too early for a baby to survive.  That was one part of a long journey that ended with the birth of our daughter Poppy who is now 6.  Catherine has blogged about that journey in this post.  Whilst we lost 3 babies my faith was not rocked by the first and third losses, but when Catherine fell pregnant the second time my overwhelming instinct was to pray, “Lord let it be different this time.”  Far from being different it was exactly the same.  Same problem, same time in the pregnancy, same outcome.  A complete re-run.  That devastated me and I didn’t know what to say to God.  My faith was shaken to the core.

After a couple of months of working through these feelings the breakthrough came at church one Sunday.  During the music I simply made a decision that I would praise God.  That was the turning point.  It’s not as though all grief vanished at that moment, but from that point I was back on track with the One who gives true comfort.

Upon reflection I could have done things differently.  Some things help and some don’t.  These are two things which genuinely help you get out of a crisis of faith:

Take Communion.  If you are going through a crisis then it’s great to remember that whatever you are going through Jesus went through crucifixion, so that’s likely a fair bit worse than what you are going through.  If you are praying for a for a tax return to arrive then it’s definitely way worse.  Whatever pain is yours Jesus went through unspeakable physical pain all the way to death.  And he didn’t go singing and praising God as it happened either – he was crying out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Taking communion is where we get reminded that the cross is central to our lives and our faith.  Jesus knows what a crisis of faith is, he knows what pain is, he has been there.  Communion reminds us, and puts our own problems in perspective.

Praise.  Scripture commands us to praise God for who He is – He is holy, He is worthy, He is pure, He is sovereign.  When we are in crisis our focus turns to ourselves.  But praise puts our focus back on God.  Your praise can come from music, your own prayer time, or wherever.  But when praise comes breakthrough soon follows.

John

February 13, 2013

‘To Remember Is Painful To Forget Is Impossible’

pregnancy plannerPart 1 : In the Beginning

Women all around the world are trying to get pregnant, are pregnant, are giving birth and are losing babies. The current Australian statistics on pregnancy loss go something like this: one in four women (25%) will have a pregnancy that results in a miscarriage. If you reach a 3-6 month gestation in your pregnancy there is only a 10% chance of a miscarriage occurring and beyond 6 months it goes down to 5%. In my first pregnancy I lost my baby at 4 months. Once you have had one miscarriage your risk of another increases by 13%. And after my second miscarriage at almost 41/2 months gestation the chances of a third miscarriage increased to 40%. After I miscarried my third child I went into a fourth pregnancy with a 60% chance of miscarriage. No wonder we consider our daughter a miracle.

Between 2003 and 2006 I had one baby every year. I held all four of them, kissed them and loved them with all of my heart. The first three babies were boys, in order Elijah, Max and Drew and the fourth was a girl, she was born slightly premature and we named her Poppy and what a delight she has been to our heart and soul. We have not attempted anymore pregnancies since the birth of our daughter.

When I found out I was pregnant for the first time I experienced an emotion that I had never had before to that degree. It was a pure, beautiful and innocent joy. I ordered a dozen roses and had them delivered to my husband at work with a little card that read ‘we’re having a baby’. When a pregnancy is wanted and anticipated there is great celebration in the heart of the parents, the closeness they feel with each other at the news is beyond explanation.

The journey from that moment on is filled with awe and wonder at the engineering feats the body undertakes to physiologically see this thing come to pass. There are also many decisions that now need to be made involving living arrangements, baby names, financial planning, do you find out the sex of the baby and on and on. My mum is not a lovey dovey maternal mother but I so just wanted to move into her house and sleep right next to her. The desire to return to the ‘nest’ becomes overwhelming.

As the pregnancy gains strength one of the key indicators that things are going well is that the production of a hormone known as HCG increases. Unfortunately it is also the culprit behind ‘morning sickness’. During my four pregnancies John used to say that it was called ‘morning sickness’ because that’s when it starts – in the morning. From about 6 weeks onwards I was horribly, brutally sick all day, every day. I just vomited and vomited and vomited all the time. ALL the time. I would vomit for so long in one sitting that I would not be able to breathe. I would be vomiting into a bucket almost passing out because my body was starving for oxygen and in danger of suffocating. I would then start to panic. This would then cause my throat to close making the passage for vomit and also the possibility of getting any oxygen even harder. I remember having to calm myself down by ‘reeling in the panic’. I would picture myself standing a dock reeling in a huge fish, as if it was my panic. I would let the fish run out and then wind it back in until my throat started to relax and I could take these tiny gasps of air in and around the vomit coming up. Little by little I would calm myself down until I was breathing normally again. I would often have my life ‘flash’ before me at these moments but I was determined not to die vomiting. I had heard of this website that was all about the dumb ways people die. I was not going to be on that. NO WAY. Fancy that, ‘dumb ways to diiiieee, so many dumb ways to die….sitting on toilet seat choking on vomit up to my feet… dumb ways to diiieee.’. If you are not Australian you may not know that this is a very popular little you tube clip song. Here’s the link…beware you can never totally remove this song from your head.

To be continued…in Part 2: Elijah James Warren

Maybe you know someone who has experienced a painful miscarriage and you didn’t know what to say to them or sadly that person is you. This mini series on Pregnancy Loss is for you or that person you know. It is not just about a journey into the dark night of the soul but also about the hope and comfort that can be found through God no matter how bad it gets.

Here is the link to this blog post for you to copy and paste to that friend you’re thinking of:

https://sidebysideblog.wordpress.com/2013/02/13/to-remember-is-painful-to-forget-is-impossible/

Over and Out,

Catherine xoxoxo

February 5, 2013

Satan

There are two mistakes that Christians make with the devil.  One is that they give him too much credit and attention – every single setback in life, hurdle and lack of a good parking spot is thesatan work of a demon or the devil himself.  On the other hand the opposite mistake is to ignore the devil and act as if he does not exist.  In between these two extremes is a happy medium in which the devil is acknowledged as real and active, but not feared or excessively focussed on.

In 25 years as a Christian I have heard that explanation of the need for balance in understanding the role of the enemy in the Christian life several times.  It is found in The Screwtape Letters – the fabulous and skilful book by CS Lewis which is a series of fictional letters from a senior demon to a junior one.  By looking at things from that perspective the author puts a fresh take on the things in the Christian life that cause a Christian to grow and be fruitful.

I have concluded that in the church circles that I move in the right balance is not being found.  I believe that many Christians simply do not give the devil enough attention, and do not understand what he is trying to do.

The bible puts it quite plainly.  When you look through every New Testament reference to the devil this is what he does:

  • he tempts us to sin,
  • he takes the message of God’s word away from people,
  • he is a murderer,
  • he is a liar,
  • he make people sick,
  • he attacks the church in the form of persecution,
  • he attacks our faith,
  • he is sinful,
  • he tricks and deceives God’s people by masquerading as an angel of light,
  • he blocks the spread of the gospel,
  • and lastly but certainly not least, his destiny is to be destroyed.

Those things are what Satan does.  When I look at that list the things on it seem to naturally fall into three groups.  Firstly, Satan is sinful and wants sin to abound.  Secondly, Satan is evil and wants death and suffering to abound.  Thirdly, Satan hates the gospel and wants to stop its spread.  Those are his interests.

In the various churches I have been a part of I think that the third point – that Satan wants to stop the spread of the gospel is possibly understood.  The first point, that Satan is sinful is kind of understood, especially by non-Pentecostal churches, but within Pentecostal churches we really don’t talk about sin a great deal, and therefore it is not possible to properly ascribe to Satan the role that he plays.

But the second point, that Satan is evil and is the source of suffering is not appreciated at all.  I think that this is what is missing from our understanding.  This leads us to ask one of the most common questions that both Christian and non-Christian grapple with – why does God allow suffering?

Let me pose some hypothetical questions (these are not things that have happened to me!) that have easy answers:

  • Why did my loved one die in a car crash?  It was a work of Satan.
  • Why does my aunt have cancer?  Satan.
  • Why did the Boxing Day tsunami kill hundreds of thousands of people?  Satan.
  • Why was I raped?  Satan.
  • Why is there sex trafficking?  Satan.
  • Why do dictators kill innocent people?  Satan.
  • Why did my father abuse me?  Satan.
  • Why did my child commit suicide?  Satan took their life away.
  • Why am I sick?  Satan.
  • Why is there famine in Africa?  Satan.

So hopefully that’s cleared some things up.

Satan is the author of suffering.  He wants to kill people – he is a murderer.  Death is his aim and disease is one of his chief methods.  Satan is in the suffering business, and I don’t think that we properly understand that.  For most of my Christian life I have had it explained that death and disaster are the consequences of a living in a fallen world.  I think that this downplays Satan’s active role in causing death and suffering.  It makes out that if Satan took a holiday the death and suffering would continue.  That is not right.  Peter says, “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.”

You might say in response, “Well why doesn’t God end all this suffering now?  He can if he wants to.”  I don’t know the answer to that question.  I can’t know – only God does.  But what the bible makes clear is that one day all suffering will end.  Our destiny, as people in Christ, is this:

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them.   He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Rev 21:3-4)

As Paul says, “the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet”.  Yes and Amen!

John

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