19/12/2021

Ready or not, Christmas is coming…
This weekend will be the last in our advent series, this Friday and Saturday we have Christmas. Some will be taking this time to relax and enjoy the holiday season, while others will be franticly rushing around trying to get everything ready in time.

Christmas time seems to cause a certain amount of introspection. As we prepare to see family and friends, as the year comes close to an end we often think about the choices we have made and the circumstances we’re in. We start to evaluate our lives… usually with external metrics.

I mean, it’s hard not to. People will often ask you this time of year what your plans are for the holidays, or for next year. Or they’ll ask what you have been doing. These questions make us think about where we are in our lives and what we have been doing with our time.

These sorts of questions make us question if we’re happy where we are. Whether all of the choices and circumstances (both those in and out of our control) have left us where we wanted to be.

I know for me, some years this has been fine. Things had been going well and I was able to say easily that I was satisfied with my life. Other years have been more difficult, there have been times when I haven’t been happy with what my life looked like, or what I hadn’t yet managed to accomplish.

Happiness changes, and it doesn’t always line-up well with Christmas. Whether it’s a loved one that can’t be with you this year, grief over a loss, illness or the end of a year that just seemed to keep going wrong… for many, there will be something that keeps Christmas from being purely happy.

But that’s one of the wonderful things about each of the weeks throughout advent.

As we have prepared for Christmas to arrive, whether we are ready for it or not, advent has given us all a chance to reflect on hope, love, joy and peace.

Last weekend was joy. We often like to equate joy to happiness, but it’s so much more. Happiness is fickle, and can change on whim due to choice or circumstance. Joy is often used to express something much more deep and solid. When joy is based in faith in Jesus, it doesn’t change based on the current events of our lives. Having this type of joy as a foundation lets us find the good no matter the circumstance.

Joy is sometimes described as great happiness, but the definition of being the source or cause for great delight may be more accurate. Joy can cause happiness, but you can have joy in this season no matter what, even if not all is happy. Because our source of joy remains the same. 

This concept applies to each of the other themes that we have explored over advent. When hope, love, joy and peace are dependant only on God, than they are permanent. It doesn’t mean that you can’t feel hopeless or sad or any other emotion that is typically thought of as negative. It just means that you have these convictions to hold onto even when life doesn’t meet your expectations.

So, whatever the year has been, and whatever the coming week brings you, I pray that you will all experience and hold on to hope, love, joy and peace this coming week and into the new year.

Written by: Lauren Mead

12/12/2021

Parish council devotion 8th December, 2021
A church where love comes to life is underpinned by mature Christians.


Last month I wrote about unity. I concluded that when we love each other, we are unified in action. We build Christ’s body, we do His work. When we are unified, we (Ipswich Lutheran Church) are a place where love comes to life. Continuing with this theme, here I write about maturity, love and the importance of fanning the flame of the Holy Spirit.

To start, I pose the question “Are we a mature Christian community, or simply an aged one?” Peter Scazzero in his book ‘Emotionally Healthy Spirituality’[1] notes that one of his church members who found himself in a spiritual rut mused that, “I was a Christian for twenty-two years. But instead of being a twenty-two-year-old Christian, I was a one-year-old Christian twenty-two times! I just kept doing the same things over and over and over again.” So, are we mature Christians or aged ones? Not everyone does the same thing year after year. All, or some, of us do actively engage in learning more about Christian life. We are diligent attenders at Sunday worship, we serve regularly, and we study and learn more about the Scriptures. But Francis Chan[2] warns that doing these things is not a reliable or accurate indicator of maturity. Some people believe they are mature Christians because they know many things about Scripture; however, they simultaneously live lives that are nothing like that of Christ. Christian maturity is not about focusing on filling our minds with information by taking classes, reading Christian books, digging into sermons, believing that the more theologically knowledgeable we are, the more mature we are. So, are we mature Christians, or are we simply aged? And what is important about maturity?

Ephesians 4:11-16  So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

When we are mature, we attain the whole measure of Christ’s fullness. When we are mature, we speak truth in love. We are firmly embedded in the body of Christ, joined together, each part doing its work. Francis Chan further notes that the best and only model of mature Christian life is Jesus himself. In Jesus, we see love, mercy, compassion, boldness, holiness, forgiveness, and sacrifice personified. Christian maturity is a journey, not a destination. It requires that we continually engage in intimacy with God, humility, holiness, faith, hope, power, love, joy, and peace. Fruit of the Holy Spirit grows. The branches of the vine are productive. The path to Christian maturity is a path of doing. It is focused entirely on others and their needs. It is about becoming teachers and leading. Christian maturity is about growing in love, about taking steps of faith, about risking our lives and our livelihoods for the sake of the gospel. And Christian love is about others. It is not self-serving or self-seeking. It is not self-centred.

1 Corinthians 13:1 – 8(a) If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

Love honours others. It is other-focussed. Just as Francis Chan points out that the life of Jesus to understand and imitate maturity in Christian life, Timothy Keller notes that the Trinitarian God is the reference point for loving others[3]. Each person of the Trinity glorifies the other. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit each centre on the others, adoring and serving them, giving glorifying love, one to another. Instead of being self-centred, the Father, the Son and the Spirit have mutual self-giving love at their very core. No person in the Trinity insists that the others revolve around him. Instead, each of them voluntarily, willingly, selflessly circles and orbits around the others. This orbiting of the Trinity, each around the other is demonstrated in the baptism of Jesus.

Mark 1:9-11  At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11 And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

When Jesus came out of the water, the Father covered him with words of love and the Spirit covered him with power. Father and Spirit were voluntarily orbiting around Jesus, glorifying him and covering him with love and power. Keller further points out that in this passage of Scripture, Mark is giving us a glimpse into the heart of reality, the meaning of life, the essence of the universe. Love, glorifying others. Love really is the centre of the universe.

If love is to come to life in our church, then we are to love and serve others willingly, voluntarily, selflessly, and unconditionally. We cannot do this of our own accord. We can only do this in relationship with God. Our God has made us uniquely. He knows what each person needs, and He knows who has the talents and gifts to deliver what each person needs. So, how do we tap into this relationship? How do we find out what others need?

We cannot ‘do’ relationship with God without Holy Spirit, and everything we ‘do’ for others in love depends on our relationship with God. We must be led by the Spirit

Romans 8:14-17 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Sam Storm[4] notes that “Everything we know about God the Father and of Jesus does not come naturally. Everything we understand in God’s Word, whatever degree of insight we gain into the measureless truths it embodies, we understand because of the ministry of the Spirit.” As seen in Romans above, Paul tells us that we can only cry “Abba, Father” because Holy Spirit testifies with our spirit. So, to continue with Sam Storms comments, “Whatever positive moral change we’ve experienced in life, whatever conformity to Christ we’ve seen develop in our spiritual walk, the Holy Spirit has done that. Whatever strength we receive when our weakness threatens to overwhelm, whatever encouragement we feel at times of despair and doubt, whatever sanctifying influence we sense in our souls, we owe to the third person of the Godhead.” Holy Spirit is, and must be, integral in our lives. But Holy Spirit never imposes His will over our free will. We must invite and desire Holy Spirit. Even though we receive Holy Spirit in baptism, we can quench Him, and we may need to rekindle our relationship with Him.

2 Timothy 1:6  For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.     

If we are to journey on a path to maturity, if we are to love others, if we are to glorify God, then we must be in relationship with God. This is not an intermittent, Sunday-type of relationship. It is a close, personal, intimate relationship with a Father who genuinely and unconditionally loves us. It is our spirit in concert with Holy Spirit. Then, through this relationship we love others. God uses us to demonstrate and pour out His love on others. God loves us through others, and He loves others through us. If we are a church where love comes to life, then we are a church that actively and purposefully listens to Holy Spirit’s directions so that we can, and do, ‘love on’ others, so that we grow in maturity and relationship with God through the Holy Spirit.

There are three aspects in what I have written here. First, to achieve unity in the body of Christ, we must be on a journey to spiritual maturity. That journey is not about passively learning more, obtaining more information, but is about actively stepping out in faith to do whatever it is that God is directing us to do. Second, Christian maturity is about loving others and the only way to love others is to follow Jesus’ example. Part of following Jesus’ example refers to the Trinitarian action of orbiting each other rather than being self-absorbed. Third, to follow the example of Jesus and the Trinity when we seek to serve by loving others, we must be in close, intimate relationship with God, who will direct us and guide us about how we are to love others—about their needs and how we might fulfill their needs. When we are in intimate relationship with God, He will let us know if somebody needs something and how to deliver to them what it is they need. We become His hands and His feet on earth. However, we cannot be in relationship with God without being filled with Holy Spirit. We must earnestly desire the gifts of the Holy Spirit so that, in love, we build the body of Christ on earth. As a church council and as a church, have we quenched the Holy Spirit, or is there evidence that the Holy Spirit has been quenched? Does the flame of the Spirit’s fire need to be fanned? Do we need to rekindle what may have grown cold from neglect and indifference? And if so, How?

[1] Page 21 in Scazzero, P. (2017). Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. Zondervan:Grand Rapids:MI

[2] Chan, F. (2021). Until Unity. David C. Cook:Colorado Springs: CO

[3] Keller, T. (2011), King’s Cross. Holder & Stroughton Ltd:London.

[4] Storms, S. (2017). Practicing the Power. Zondervan:Grand Rapids:MI

05/12/2021

Why is Advent important? Advent is a time of hope. When we show our children Advent’s profound truths, they receive a higher hope than anything this world can offer.
 
Why is Advent important? Advent is a time of hope. During Advent, pastors and church leaders can have a profound effect on those who have little or no hope. When we show families and children Advent’s profound truths, families receive a higher hope than anything this world can offer.

I know a lot of people say this, but it really is true – Christmas is my favourite time of year. I have wonderful memories of family and church celebrations. And I love the music and nostalgia of the season.

As wonderful as all that can be, Christmas is far more than what our cultural celebrations have made of it. Especially for Christians. When this time of year comes, we pay attention to what is at the centre of it all.
We may enjoy the carols and decorations, but we celebrate the Advent of Jesus Christ.

The Importance of Advent
In November of 1943, German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer found himself in prison without any knowledge of when or if he might be released. With war raging around him there was no telling whether he might ever see his family again.

He would have to wait to see if the circumstances of the war turned in his favour. But in the meantime, he had something greater to hold onto. Despite his imprisonment, he believed there was good reason to celebrate Christmas, decorations, and all.

Advent teaches us how to do that as we celebrate the first coming of Jesus Christ born in a manger. Bonhoeffer wrote about the value of celebrating Christmas even while he was in prison with very little earthly hope. He helps us see how our immediate circumstances do not dictate whether we have good reason to wait for and hope for the next coming of Jesus Christ.

And so, it was with Bonhoeffer while in prison. God’s promises, not earthly circumstances, was the foundation of his hope. He didn’t wait for his release before he talked about celebrating Christmas, and he didn’t ask his family to wait for him to come home.

Meaning of Advent
The word, “advent”, simply means “arrival of a notable person or thing”. In the context of the Christian faith, it represents our waiting in expectation and subsequent celebration of the first coming of Christ and our anticipation of his second coming. The birth of the Messiah was promised in the Old Testament and was anticipated by God’s people for a very long time.

When the angel announced the birth of Jesus to Joseph, Matthew says this happened to fulfill the promise in Isaiah, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (Matthew 1:23). A great exercise through Advent would be to collect several of these promises, talk about them together, and even memorize some of them.

Or sit down as a family, once a week leading up to Christmas, to read and have some conversation from an Advent devotion. (You can find those here: https://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/2021-advent-devotionals-for-families/ )
 
Every blessing for your Advent as you and your family eagerly anticipate Christmas this year!
 
In His service,
Pastor Roelof

*Taken from article by Focus on the Family (24 Nov, 2021)