Archive for March, 2013

March 27, 2013

Will we Succeed in England?

heart-of-love-1328441023DAUSo Catherine and I are moving to England to plant a church.  It’s a long way to go and it’s a big step to take.  Obviously.  I was talking to the Lord the other day and I was letting Him know that I will certainly go and be obedient to His calling, but I really hope that it succeeds.  I asked God over and over, “will this succeed?”

Part of the question I was asking is to do with church size.  Back in the 1950’s when the church in the West began to decline, some scholars started to make the case that church growth matters.  Most of them were former missionaries.  Their writings became the Church Growth Movement, and their influence has been profound.  C. Peter Wagner is the best known of them.  The result is that among the Pentecostal circles that I move in it matters greatly that a church is growing, and by growing I mean attendances are increasing.  To be the pastor of a church that is not increasing in number is a professional problem.  Rick Warren says healthy things grow, so if a church is not growing then it has a health problem.  And the pastor is the number one person who is to fix the problem.  Because in evangelical circles (and especially Pentecostal ones) these days non-growth is thought to be a problem.

Broadly, I agree with that.  Does God care how big a church is?  Yes, but he cares about plenty else as well.  In short God has commanded us to be fruitful.  Some aspects of fruitfulness can be measured.  He commands us to baptise people in his name.  Baptisms can be counted.  In Acts there are a number of occasions where Luke gives us brief numerical updates on church growth.

But if we do mighty works in his name that does not necessarily mean that we have succeeded.  Paul says,

If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing.  If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.  (1 Cor 13:2-3)

If we do mighty works in love then we will receive a great reward.

Our pastor, Matthew Wyatt preached from that passage just a few days after I was talking to God about this.  God gave me an answer to my question.  The passage goes on to say, “Love never fails”.  As Matthew preached he said, “If we operate in love then we cannot fail.”  He then paused, pointed at Catherine and I and said, “That’s a guarantee for you two.”

I was stunned.  God, you are so good.  What a brilliant prophetic word.  What a superb example of prophecy operating to encourage people, just like it is supposed to.  When I talked about it to Catherine later she was, “yeah, I didn’t really think anything about that.”  I then filled her in on what I had been thinking and how it struck me between the eyes.

So we are going to England to be fruitful.  The more who find faith, get baptised and get discipled the better.  God cares that we are fruitful.  But the most important thing is love.  God cares the most about leaders ministering in love.  If we minister in love then we will succeed.  We have detailed plans about being fruitful, but plan number 1 is to love the people we meet.  Love is the plan, and success – success in Gods eyes – will follow.

John

March 20, 2013

Pope Francis

Pope_Francis_in_March_2013The Catholic Church has a new pope.  As a Protestant Christian there is lots of theology that I have in common with the Catholic Church, as well as some significant differences.

The essential similarity is a commitment to the theology outlined in the three main creeds – the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed.  Those creeds cover a wide survey of doctrine but they major one is ‘who Jesus is’ and the other ‘the Trinity’. On those major theological issues evangelical Protestants have much more in common with Catholics than with liberal Protestants.  (In other words for an Australian such as myself I will find more to agree with in a Catholic mass than in many Uniting Church services).

The essential difference is that I believe in the bible – and that the theology it contains is authoritative.  I believe that when ‘church teaching and practice’ conflicts with the bible then the bible prevails and the church needs to get in line with scripture.  I also believe that the bishop of Rome has no special authority beyond his congregation in Rome.  The rock that Jesus builds his church (see Mt 16:18) on is not the person of Peter, it is the revelation that Jesus is the Christ.

Meanwhile Pope Francis was elected by his fellow cardinals a few days ago, and in the days after he gave his first homily (as far as I can tell “homily” means “mini sermon”).  It was very short, and delivered in Italian.  Such are the wonders of the internet that within a few days I was reading an English translation online.  Here are some of the best bits:

…we can walk as much we want, we can build many things, but if we do not confess Jesus Christ, nothing will avail.  We will become a pitiful NGO, but not the Church, the Bride of Christ…

The same Peter who confessed Jesus Christ, says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I will follow you, but let us not speak of the Cross.  This has nothing to do with it.”  He says, “I’ll follow you on other ways, that do not include the Cross.”  When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord.  We are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, Popes, but not disciples of the Lord…

I would like that all of us, after these days of grace, might have the courage – the courage – to walk in the presence of the Lord, with the Cross of the Lord: to build the Church on the Blood of the Lord, which is shed on the Cross, and to profess the one glory, Christ Crucified. In this way, the Church will go forward.

I must admit to being stunned at how heartily I was finding myself saying “Amen” to those comments.

The other thing that gives me some confidence that Pope Francis will move the Catholic Church in a direction that a Pentecostal Protestant such as myself would be happy about is the fact that he is from Argentina.  Over the last 40 years – the duration of Pope Francis’ ministry – he has lived in a country that has seen Pentecostals grow from being a negligible movement to one incorporating fully 10% of the population.  In addition there is a huge charismatic movement within the Catholic Church in Argentina.  Pope Francis would be very aware of the impact that Pentecostalism is having.  He would see in it some things that he likes and some that he dislikes.  But he would be in no doubt about the impact that Pentecostal churches have had.  He would understand them far better than any other pope ever has.

Any church that proclaims “Christ Crucified” as Pope Francis is planning to is going to do some good things.

John

March 19, 2013

Living Life Underwater

Part 5 in the series on Pregnancy Loss

Living life underwaterLife can be surreal when you are grieving. It’s like you’re watching it happen but you’re not a part of it. Your movements and interactions with the world are foggy and remote – like you’re trying to talk to someone underwater. I’d be in the supermarket walking aimlessly around forgetting why I was even there. I’d interact with the cashier but I wouldn’t be able to remember the conversation twenty seconds later. I felt like I was dead but I was very much alive and breathing.

I don’t know how long I lived in my little underwater home but eventually God pulled me out because I never gave up crying out to Him and through the love of beautiful friends and my amazing husband I got some emotional CPR and began to live again.

John and I had this question we would ask each other almost everyday. It was ‘how full is your cup today’. A friend of mine who had sought counselling while going through a marriage break up had this advice given to her. It helped her when she received it and it helped us numerous times. Imagine a glass half full of stress. This glass represents the normal amount of stress you carry around with you in your everyday life. When you experience major trauma and or grief the ‘normal level’ of stress in your glass goes up. Imagine now that your glass is a couple of millimetres from spilling over. When something minor does happen your cup just ‘overflows’ and you find yourself reacting abnormally to a minor event. It took months and months and possibly years for our ‘stress levels’ to go back down to ‘normal’. In hindsight, I think God just expanded us into a glass that could hold more.

The one thing we gained from the second loss was a very clear diagnosis. I had what’s called an incompetent cervix. The cervix is a muscle that basically acts as a plug to keep the baby inside the uterus. My cervix muscle was weak and as soon as the baby started to gain weight it would push on the cervix muscle and it would just open up.  At the end of the second pregnancy I came to the attention of the head of obstetrics at the Mercy Hospital – Prof. Permezel. I used to call him “House’ after the American TV show because of his terrible bed side manner but brilliant mind. Despite his lack of sensitivity he was only Doctor I wanted on my team. When we did get pregnant again we went to see Prof. He literally sewed my cervix shut at 12 weeks.

One of biggest risks you run with having what is commonly known as the ‘stitch’ is that it can rub on the amniotic sac and wear a hole in it. Vomiting is not a friend of the stitch because when you vomit your stomach muscles contract pulling the uterus down causing the amniotic sac to rub on the stitch. Because of the excessive vomiting my waters broke at 17 weeks and two weeks later we delivered Drew John Warren. We had a quiet ceremony at home with a few friends.

As I write this account I get so sad for this person and then I remember that this is me. I want to remind you that no matter what it is you’re going through there is always, always hope. While my world got dark and cold at times there was always light somewhere in my life. God never allowed the darkness to swallow me completely. Somehow I just clung to Him and when I let go He clung to me. God never, ever  let me go. I let him go because I just didn’t have the strength to hold on anymore but He knew that and when I was weak He was strong. No matter how big your problems are God is bigger!

Over and Out.

Catherine xoxo

March 13, 2013

Preach it!

mcluhan2The first Christian sermon was delivered by Peter on the day the church began.  But with the pace of technological change and the various ways that we get information in this era, could there be an end in store for preaching?  I don’t think so – and this post says why.

Ever heard the expression, “the medium is the message”?  It’s a quote from academic Marshall McLuhan (pictured) who started using it in 1964.  This is the concept that he was trying to get across: a medium affects people not only by the content delivered, but also by the nature of the medium itself.

That is a pretty difficult concept.  Here’s that sentence again – a medium affects people not only by the content delivered, but also by the nature of the medium itself.  So if the medium is, for example, television, then the mere fact that a message is delivered by a TV show (especially if it is on a commercial channel) means that it might be regarded as entertainment rather than education.  It does not matter what the content of the show is – the mere fact that it is a TV show affects what people think of it.  Don’t get hung up on my TV example – the point is that the medium does affect the message.  In my opinion McLuhan is making a quite profound point.

Here’s another idea, one that I have heard stated by various Christian leaders over the years – “the message never changes but the way that we deliver it does.”  At one level that is clearly true – that you are reading this blog post makes the point.  No Christians in the 18th century had blogs.  But people in the 18th century could read the bible and publish their thoughts about it, just like Catherine and I do here.

But on another level it conflicts with McLuhan’s insight that the medium is the message.  One of the peculiarities of the Christian faith is that it has been spread primarily by preaching from the day that the church was born all the way to the present day.  This Sunday the vast majority of Protestant churches on every continent will feature preaching as the centrepiece of their meeting.  In the West, where technology is most advanced, it is just the same.

Last year at Hillsong conference they routinely had a multimedia presentation in the late morning time slot, usually lasting about 45 minutes.  It was well made – I could not complain about the production quality, the sound, or any technical detail.  But it just did not inspire.  If I never saw anther one again I would have no complaint.  I found myself sitting there wishing that it would end and that someone would get up and start preaching.

I think that the medium of preaching contains a message in and of itself.  Even if the preacher manages to say nothing good at all, the mere fact that a sermon is delivered in a Christian church service says that:

  • What we are doing today is a continuation of what the Christian church has done for centuries, so if you buy into this you are buying into these      traditions;
  • The subject matter that we are dealing with is so important that we devote a 30 minute talk to it, and only very serious subjects get that sort of      treatment;
  • The truth that we are talking about here is not up for discussion – what the      preacher says is what we believe and we don’t enter into correspondence      about the truth.

The medium is the message, and the medium of preaching is here to stay.  In the US there are numerous Christian television channels, and there is no lack of ministries that have the resources to produce good quality Christian TV.  Yet most of what you find on Christian TV is people preaching.  Here’s my tip – no matter where technology goes that won’t change.

John

March 13, 2013

We Remember with Love the Babies who do not Live to Grow up Amongst us

In memory ofPart 4: Deja vu

We found out we were pregnant with our second child  5 months after losing our first one.  I was as scared as I was excited. Elijah’s autopsy results hadn’t given us any conclusive answers which meant there was no reason for us to be fearful but we were. We hoped that the whole vomiting thing was something that was exclusive to the first pregnancy but when I vomited in the middle of a major road near our house at exactly 6 weeks along I almost cried. I thought ‘here we go again’.

At the time I was working for a major insurance company in Australia. Money was a bit tight because John was studying to become a lawyer and was only working one day a week. I had used up all my sick leave on the previous pregnancy and as soon as I accrued a day I would take it immediately. I was just so tired, sick and weak. When we surpassed the gestation period of Elijah (15 weeks) I started to relax a little. I was used to feeling terrible but there was this one day when I felt so yucky that I used up one of my precious days of sick leave and stayed home. I felt this huge pressure down between my legs. We lived 2 blocks away from the Mercy Hospital in East Melbourne so I decided to walk myself to the Emergency Room. In hindsight it was a foolish decision. I didn’t drive because we didn’t have a car and no one lived close enough to us to drive me. I also didn’t want to be a drama queen and phone an ambulance.

While I was walking to the hospital I had this feeling that the baby was going to fall out of my body and when I told that to the triage nurse she looked at me like I was stupid. I must admit I downplayed it because I felt like I was being a bit overly cautious because of our first experience. Anyway I sat in the emergency room for three hours waiting to be seen by a doctor. I remember a lady coming in an hour later with a headache being ‘triaged’ before me. I think they were hoping I would give up and go home. The pressure seemed to get worse and worse. Finally I got taken in. I repeated to another nurse that I felt like the baby was falling out of my body and she told me that was impossible. No one had actually done a physical examination of my nether regions. I begged the nurse to ‘just take a look.’ I was told a doctor would be around to see me soon. By this time John had arrived. When the doctor came I felt so stupid repeating my whole ‘I feel like the baby is falling out of my body’. I could see the doubt on his face. When he finally took a look, I saw his ‘doctor composure’ swan dive. He told us that the baby was hanging out my body still in the amniotic sac and that would have to try to push the baby back in and then I would have to have emergency surgery to sew my cervix up. I felt relieved I was right but sad that they were wrong. The doctor said that there was a danger that the waters could break very easily at this point because of the over exposure the sac had experienced to the air, as this weakens the integrity of the sac. I wanted to punch the nurse in Emergency who made me wait 3 hours without doing an internal exam.

They managed to push the baby back into my uterus and I was rushed into surgery. The surgery went well but immediately following I had a bad reaction to the anaesthetic and I started to vomit violently. The pressure on the already weak amniotic sac was too much and my waters broke. I was taken to a small room and the cervical suture that had just been put in was removed so I could deliver the baby. While I am not a catholic we chose a catholic hospital as they are bound by their beliefs to support the sanctity of life and they will only end the life of a baby if the mother’s like is at risk. I carried this baby for two more weeks coming into the hospital everyday to get a blood test to see if my uterus had become infected. At the first sign of infection they would induce labour. As per the first pregnancy my body went back into labour. I knew I had to be admitted to hospital when I could grab a hold of his tiny little foot. I delivered my second son Max Douglas Warren with just John in the room. I lost so much blood that I almost had to have a transfusion.

We had a memorial service for him and so many people came that there was not enough seats in the chapel for them all. It was the saddest thing I have ever attended. This is an excerpt from the memorial service pamphlet:

 Words of Reflection

Our time together was short,

but our touch enduring.

The love you gave me

was sufficient for a lifetime,

such is our bond.

Your special gift to me,

Mum and Dad,

was my birth.

My special gift to you

is the strengthening of

your love for each other.

The tears you now cry

are meant to flow.

I am still yours.

When you feel alone

remember my look and be joyful.

When you feel despair

look for my star

and I will be there.

I am yours, your little one.

Max Douglas Warren

Over and Out,

Catherine xoxo

March 6, 2013

Introducing Northern Lights Church

Northern LIghts

Last week Catherine and I shared our vision to plant a church in the north of England.  This post explains our church name and what it means.

The local church is the hope of the world.  If the gospel is to spread and people are to be brought into the kingdom of God then it is the local church that is going to make it happen.  There is nothing more exciting than the birth of a new local church.  A Billy Graham crusade is awesome for a day, but a local church is awesome for generations.

We believe that God is calling us to do a lot of things beyond the town of Halifax and in various countries in Europe.  But the foundation of our whole strategy is to build a healthy, vibrant, gospel-centred local church.  That church will be the platform from which other things can rise.  Missions require people and local churches build a community of people.  Missions cost money and local churches make money.

Therefore we will plant and build a church in Halifax.  We have a big vision for church planting and missions in Eastern Europe, and there are many stages to it.  The first stage, and the focus for the early years of our ministry, is to build a great church in Halifax.  We will not overextend ourselves and attempt to do too much too soon.  One of the church planting books we have read says that most church planters overestimate what they can do in their first year and underestimate how much they can do in the first 5 years.  So we have a large vision but are content to pace ourselves.  We will take each step in the right season.

The name Northern Lights Church was first given by the Holy Spirit to a friend of ours, and we loved it straight away.  Then some months later in my regular bible reading I came across 1 John 1.  I was arrested by the first half of verse 7 – “but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.”  That verse will be our motto – our tagline if you will.  As we have more in common with Him we have more in common with each other, and our relationships deepen.

To use it as a tagline it needs to be accessible to unchurched people.  The word fellowship is a church word, so I looked for other translations.  Here’s the Contemporary English Version – “But if we live in the light, as God does, we share in life with each other.”  Perfect.

We also deliberately want the plural – Northern Lights.  We want to plant churches that will light up the north of England.  We want to be dreaming about daughter churches and granddaughter churches from day one.

At our launch I will preach from 1 John 1.  I realised as this was unfolding to me that this section of scripture includes towards the end verse 9.  It says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”  That is one of the bible’s great salvation verses.  That verse will end our first message, and Catherine will then do an appeal for people to make first time commitments to Christ.  We believe that God will cause people to respond.

Do it Lord!!

John

March 6, 2013

If You’re going through Hell, Keep Going. Winston Churchill

winston Churchill

Part 3 in a series on Pregnancy Loss : Bottom of the Barrel

There is an order to things. You go to the hospital you have your baby and you take your baby home. But when I left the hospital after giving birth to my first son Elijah James Warren I had to leave him cold and alone in the hospital morgue with nothing to hold in my hands and a heart so heavy it could have sunk to the bottom of the ocean. The raw pain was almost unbearable. I wanted to die but I wasn’t suicidal. I cried so much that the thin skin under my eyes wrinkled up from all the salt – a bit like when you swim for too long. To make matters even worse my milk came in. My breasts ballooned into these large hard painful watermelons. We were told this wouldn’t happen because of the early gestation, but happen it did . To discourage milk production I had to limit how much I expressed but I was in so much pain that I just had too. I was advised to put cold lettuce leaves on them. It brought some relief but I felt as if my body was crying milk tears as it grieved for the lost baby. Eventually I got some drugs from the GP which brought the issue to a slow close.

On the afternoon I got home from the hospital I had a very long shower. I was overwhelmed with pain and grief. I remember crying out to God “You’ve got to help me. You’ve got to comfort me. I need you. Help me God. Help me. I can’t handle this. I need you. I need your comfort.” While I have never heard the ‘audible’ voice of God I heard Him speak to me as if he was on the other side of the shower curtain. He said “Catherine – you need to give him to me.” “What do you mean God? “ I said. He replied “He’s too heavy for you to carry. He’s a burden to you. Come and give him to me”. Obviously God did not mean for me to drive back to the hospital and demand Elijah’s body back from the morgue. What he was asking me to do was to give him over in my heart. I thought about this and decided, yes, I could and would do that. So I imagined myself walking up to the Father with Elijah in my arms. I started to give God some very detailed and complex babysitting instructions and the Father looked right into my eyes and said “Catherine. This child will only ever know perfect love” What a beautiful and powerful thing to say. On my best day as a parent I would never be able to give Elijah more than ‘perfect love’.  I kissed my son and I said goodbye and I gave him to the Father and I turned around and walked away. I wanted to run back but I knew that this was the best thing I could do, for him and for me.

In the months and years since that moment I have gone back to that particular memory and whenever I do I find it still contains the peace of God and the comfort of God in a place of my most extreme grief, pain and disappointment. The words He spoke still love on me even now as I repeat them to you some 9 years later. While John and I struggled with our grief for months and years every time I went back to ‘the shower scene’ I felt His comfort and His peace afresh.

I had been a Christian for over 20 years when I birthed Elijah and I considered my faith in God to be quite strong but after I lost the first baby my faith was challenged. I didn’t blame God for what happened, I just didn’t understand why it happened. I needed to find a place in my mind and heart to place this experience in the context of my faith. I felt there was a lot of grace given to me by God to explore the complex emotions and thoughts that were swirling around in me.  I distinctly remember thinking if my faith doesn’t help me when I am at my worst then what is the point of having it? My disappointment was so deeply profound that I knew I couldn’t just ignore it and hope that ‘it would’ go away. I felt so isolated that there were times that I thought God had left me.

As I cried out to God in my distress He continually met me offering ‘peace’ and ‘comfort’. As I grieved and cried and challenged and raged He came over and over and over again offering His peace and His comfort. It is so easy in our disappointment to not work it through properly and to just continue on with unresolved negativity toward God because of it. And if you don’t get that peace and comfort it will haunt you forever. The good thing is that it is never too late to bring up past issues with God. His door is always open. The Psalms are full of real people struggling with real disappointment but as each Psalmist starts with his issue by the end of the Psalm there is a reconciliation of those thoughts and feelings which end with God balancing the scales with either His peace or His comfort. God makes these two keys things available to us without measure when we are in acute pain. There is an infinite amount to draw upon but God and I love that God is such a gentlemen He won’t force them upon you.

The lie that I caught myself playing with emotionally and mentally in the disappointment was that ‘God wasn’t good all the time’.  The enemy loves to cast a seed of doubt upon God’s character. In the garden of Eden the snake says to Eve ‘….did God really say …..’.  Truly I say to you if you believe that God isn’t good even .01 percent of the time then the enemy has planted a small seed of doubt that will one day grow unless you arrest it.  I went into this experience having a belief that God loved me but I came out with an absolute unbending truth that supersedes every bad and negative experience yet to come in my life and that is ‘God is good ALL the time. Not some of the time, all of the time.’. If I don’t believe that 100% then I am vulnerable to losing my trust, faith and hope in God. It’s become a non-negotiable for me. NO matter what – God is good ALL THE TIME. No matter what happens, no matter what comes my way, God is good all the time.

As I journeyed through the dark night of the soul carrying my little lamp Father God never left go of me, never gave up on me and never tired of helping me. In my lowest moments of doubt, fear and pain His peace and comfort were there for me without end and without debt. The only person I owe for all that I received is you. When God gives comfort to us He gives more than we need so we have extra to give to others. I tell people if you want to help others in the future then make sure you get what you need first. I have helped many people with their grief in pregnancy loss but only because I stayed in the one place and allowed God to minister to my heart first. If you try to help someone without getting God’s peace and comfort for yourself first than all that will happen is your own pain and grief will come up and swamp you.

I am not writing this series because of me, I am writing this series for you. I have received my ‘peace’ and ‘comfort’ from God for what happened but you may still have residual pain and discomfort around a pregnancy loss you may have had many years ago or just recently. It’s not too late to reconcile that with God. He is available to you right now. He is ready to hear anything you have to say. His shoulders are big enough to take every tear – just open your heart and let Him in.

Over and Out,

Catherine xoxo

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