09 September 2013


The day we landed in Sydney was the hottest on record for the season (it was still technically winter in the southern hemisphere) as the upcoming spring officially made an entrance. The weather was New England perfect - 60s and 70s F (late teens to mid 20s C) and the sun was shining every day. Perfect.

We originally planned on waking early Sunday in order to attend a 9 a.m. church service and then hit the day running in case Paul was called to fly earlier than originally anticipated, but he didn't sleep well. We instead wound up spending most of the morning in bed, which is always a good choice. Because Paul needed a little extra time that morning, we opted to attend the 11:30 service instead.

After a late breakfast, a solo walk to Starbucks and an extended trip into an awful tourist shop where I spent a lot of money on shameless souvenirs, we got ready and hopped into the back of a cab where, surprisingly (why, I don't know) the man neither knew where we were headed nor spoke familiar English. My gut said to get out of the cab and try another but, before I knew it, Paul had the map displayed on his phone and we were on our way.

The 15-minute ride to a Hillsong Church branch location turned into a 30-minute ride with Paul providing turn-by-turn instruction. We arrived in time to catch the last two songs in the worship period, which ended up being long enough for me to cry out all the tears I had been holding in since the last time I had cried, whenever that was....probably the day in early June when Paul left the U.S.

When Paul and I first stood in front of our seats, I took a breath and, for the first time in a long time, experienced complete satisfaction. I looked at Paul as if to say, "Thank you," and "This is it; this is where we belong," and then I focused my attention on the praise team.

Within a minute, my eyes started to water as I breathed in the music, the voices, the atmosphere. This is what I had missed most - a welcoming church with an amazing praise team, friendly pastors and a message focused on Jesus and His amazing grace.

The satellite church was smaller than I expected but the pastors could point out people in the audience by name and knew which children belonged to which adults - I liked the small church feel. We attended a service on Australia's Father's Day so the pastors had a bit involving kids choosing gifts for their dads and telling stories about funny things their dads on occasion do that we all might find amusing.

One kid, whose parents happened to miss the service, confessed to the pastors with the microphones - because this story would only be shared with the pastors in a "just between us" style - that his father secretly helped his son hoard away chocolates in the boy's bedroom. The father would partake of the chocolates with his boy even though the mom apparently outlawed such sweets.

The pastor showed pictures from his childhood and talked about how we as Christians have the opportunity to have an Abba Father - the Daddy God - a familiar and familial relationship with the Creator.

I told Paul that this should be our home church and that I was sure local church families would host us on a weekly basis but we do not yet have our airline travel benefits. Maybe next month...

After church and a quick change at the hotel, we headed down to The Rocks for the Sunday market - something that Nic and I were dying to explore but, sadly, missed the last time around.

We wandered up and down the streets in search of a restaurant while I took pictures of the tents and the crowds. One of the first things we spotted - and smelled - was roasted corn on a stick that had been slathered in butter. Oh. My. Goodness. Buttered corn in the air is a magnificent smell and we vowed to get some after lunch, along with the fresh lemonade (actual lemonade, by the way, not English lemonade which is really Sprite).

Old man makin' the good stuff

We sat inside a great French brasserie at a table for two that was positioned next to some shelves filled with merchandise. Paul advised that he chose the table so that he would have stuff to play with and so we spent our down time examining the cocoa packages and various tea flavors.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped for the luscious corn on a stick and lemonade; I also decided to purchase a popcorn sleeve sold at the lemonade stand because we had an Ohio State football game to watch and what is a sporting event without popcorn?

That's right, we had two full days in Sydney and we spent Sunday afternoon on the king-sized bed eating popcorn, peanut butter M&Ms and watching the inaugural Buckeye game. This is how we do.

A week later we are wishing we were back in Sydney. We tried another church yesterday, one that was recommended by a Singaporean business colleague. If you remember, this church was the one to which we went and sat in the parking lot for a while before deciding to head back. The church was situated in a run-down area near a street market and we didn't see any sort of ethnic diversity.

Yesterday, after having experienced another local church for a couple services, we were more confident with the surroundings and decided to give it a go. When we arrived everyone stared and they didn't stop staring.

Inferring that the earlier service had not yet concluded, we waited outside the church against the security gate because, well, that's what everyone else was doing. Just as Paul was giving up on the heat and heading back to the car a local woman came right up to us with the biggest smile and introduced herself. She asked if it was our first time in the service and we confirmed that it was.

She pointed out her daughter who was selling goodies under a tent in order to raise money for the church youth group, introduced us to a couple other people standing nearby and took time to tell us all about the church and answer any questions we had.

When the doors opened and we were able to go inside, she had us follow her all the way to the front of the church and introduced us to one of two American families. Everyone in our vicinity wanted to shake our hands - and they did. One of the deacons introduced himself and asked us to write our information on a piece of paper that was then handed to three different pastors and we knew what that meant.

Sure enough, when it was time to welcome any special visitors, one of the pastors read our names, where we were from and that someone had told them that we would likely be attending the services. Paul, who hates all attention, was not happy that we were being singled out or that we had a nearby camera putting our faces on the big screen.

This church was probably four or five times the size of the Baptist church and was more modern with a big stage, a better praise team, very loud speakers which were directly in front of us and A/V equipment. We learned that the service was being broadcast on two local radio stations though I am not sure how well the stream was because the power went out no less than a dozen times throughout the two-hour, 15-minute service.

By the time the service was over, we decided that this church was another good attempt but not a keeper. Our ears were ringing because of the loud volume and the pastor screaming his message into the microphone. Our hands were tired from shaking a hundred other hands, though I will admit, the people were very, very kind and welcoming so that was not a drawback.

The main reason we were not impressed with the service was directed to the most important part of the service - the message. We were told how bad sin is and that sin is like leprosy, consuming our whole bodies once it begins. We were told that, as Christians, sin can eat away at us like leprosy eats away at the body.

Instead of teaching about Jesus and that because we are one with Christ, we are forgiven of each and every sin that we have ever committed and that we ever will commit, the preacher yelled into the microphone about how bad sin is and how we should stop sinning.

O.K. who is going to stop sinning? Really. Only one man who ever walked the earth has not sinned and He is the one who paid the ultimate sacrifice. We are going to sin. We're human. The point of the service could have been that we should all realize that we are going to sin, probably every day, but that we do not have to worry about sin or focus on the sin because our eyes, our heart and our mind should be focused on Jesus and His saving grace, not the sin itself.

We as Christians are the Righteousness of God in Christ. Because He is in us, the sin just falls off. Paul and I don't care about sin because we don't think about sin - we, instead, thank God that he has taken care of it once and for all. Joseph Prince, our pastor in Singapore, preached that a person will fall out of love with sin once he or she realizes how much God has forgiven each one of us. The bigger the debt he forgives, the more someone realizes the sacrifice. That could have been the message but it wasn't.

We did like that there was a communion service - the first yet - and that there was a time when 11 people walked up to the front and committed their life to Christ, but we need a place where we will be fed and not a place where the message makes us wish we were somewhere else.

Today we researched the Marriott in Brisbane and found out that a Hillsong church is only a 14-minute car ride away.

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