21 January 2022

The Road Less Travelled
Effort. Time. Most things in life take both of these. It can feel like the list of things that need to be done is endless. It is so easy to get caught in the repetitive list of things that ‘need’ to get done that it is easy to forget about the things in life that matter.

It can be easy to forget about spending quality time with friends and family,  to just exist in a bubble and forget to be intentional about relationships. It can be easy to hide emotions and hurt, rather than do something about them. It can be easy to be passive, rather than stand up for what you believe in. It can be easy to find life so overwhelming that the easy way can feel like the only way.

Whether you open your Bible or a newspaper, the reality that humans struggle immediately confronts you. And this can feel like just a bit too much, particularly when you are struggling yourself. If there is an easy way out of a hard situation, it can be tempting, or even seem like our only option.

But Hard isn’t always bad, and good isn’t always easy. Sometimes it’s worth finding and choosing the harder path. Despite the extra struggle and confrontation, this path can be worth it.


Written by: Lauren Mead

14 January 2022

In-Between
We mark out our lives with the big events, both good and bad. A birth, a wedding, a holiday, a new job… a death, a divorce, a lockdown, being seriously hurt or unwell. We measure our lives in the befores and afters of these events, these moments in time that seem so big, but really make up such a small percentage of the time we spend on this earth.

We spend most of our lives in between the big events. Most of our days don’t individually become long term memories, rather they fade together as being a particular time in life, after one big event and before another. Yet this is the time that actually is our life.

It’s so easy to let the big moments, particularly the hard or negative ones, take control over how we spend a ‘normal day’. It’s so easy to fill in the time with things that are inconsequential, things that we likely won’t remember. It’s easy to just sit back and ‘zone-out’ of our own lives.

Let me give an example of what I mean. Let’s say I’ve had a particularly stressful day. I come home and see that the kitchen is a mess, I look in the fridge and see that some vegetables are starting to go bad so I don’t know what to have for dinner and it all feels like too much to deal with. So I ignore it and climb into bed with some chips and watch a TV show on my laptop. When I get bored of the show I don’t stop watching, I just play a game on my phone while I watch. While there is nothing wrong with me wanting a break, after a couple of hours of this, I don’t feel any better than I did before. The only thing that has changed is it’s now late, I feel lethargic from eating junk food for dinner and I’m wishing that I had used my evening differently. I go out to the kitchen to get a glass of water before getting ready for sleep, and one (or more) of my cats comes up to me for a cuddle. I pick her up reluctantly, thinking ‘I don’t have time for this’. But as she nestles into my arms, I already feel happier than I did after hours of laying around doing nothing. I wish that I had spent the evening around my cats instead of alone in my room. Motivated just a little, I tidy the kitchen bench up, and feel as though I have accomplished something, and therefore my mindset is just a little more positive as I head to bed.

I have nothing against television, but in this scenario, it only provided a temporary reprieve from a negative feeling. All that happened was a progression of hours, time in my life that has been used for nothing. It did no good for myself or for anyone else. A variation of that evening might go like this: I come home from work after a particularly stressful day. I notice the kitchen is a mess, and it feels overwhelming. I take a deep breath and decide to deal with one thing at a time. I go switch on the television and put on  a TV show that I like in the background, and I eat a muesli bar because I’m hungry and dinner seems too hard to tackle in a messy kitchen on an empty stomach. I feel a little better after my snack, and decide to take it one step at a time. I pack the dishes on the bench into the dishwasher and wipe the benches down. The pantry still needs organising one of these days, but the kitchen seems less overwhelming than it did before. I look in the fridge and realise that the vegetables that I had planned to make a salad with have started to go bad. It’s a bit frustrating, but I realise that I can make a stir-fry with them instead. I take my time cutting the bad spots off the vegetables, I enjoy the time cooking because I’m not too hungry and I’m watching a show that I like in the background. I sit down to eat and after dinner one of my cats come up to me for cuddles. They each have a turn being petted and brushed, then I switch the TV from a show to music. I go get my Bible, or the novel I’m reading, my sewing, my colouring in book or some other project and do this activity until it starts to get late and I’m ready for bed. When I’m going to sleep that night, maybe some of the day was hard, but my evening was pleasant and I feel positive about the next day.

What you will notice about both these scenarios is that I dislike quiet and like background noise, but also that the day and the issues that I faced were the same, but the way that I responded to them was different. All of it is based on things that I have actually done, and how I have actually felt and reacted at various times. There is a saying, ‘choices become actions, actions become habits and habits become our way of life.’

I want to enjoy and feel good about my way of life. I want to like my life in the in-between times. I don’t want my life to be mindlessly existing in the time between big life events. Not everything is in your control. I know that I have days where it seems like everything is hard, or I make mistakes, someone does something that causes me difficulty or things just don’t seem to be going my way. What I can control is my reaction to these times. I can choose to sit in the frustration, or I can choose to create joy where I can from the small things.

Written by: Lauren Mead

7 January 2022

Hi Church Family,

What a year it has been. My hope is that you will begin this year remembering the message from Christmas; that God is with us and that God is with you.

We are called to live on. History, and our lives in this age, are not yet over. The decisive event has happened in the coming of Christ, and because of that first Christmas event, there’s now ‘work’ to be done, in us and through us. New days come. New years come. And God calls us to build our lives – through years not yet unfolded – on the cheer of Christmas. We are called to bring that great unchangeable Christmas past into the present and live a different future because of it.

For this reason and to this end we receive this simple and significant New Testament blessing:
“Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and and establish them in every good work and word.” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)

Into the new year and beyond, one decisive dive action in the past fuels the engine of the present to energise new life (our lives) and fresh strength for the times to come.

God is with you. Have a most blessed 2022.

In His Service,
Pastor Roelof

26/12/2021

Hi Church Family,

Christmas is here and New Years is near.

May the Advent anticipation leading to “God with us” at Christmas be your joyful anticipation in life as you live out your days, years and decades in this life until it leads to “you with God”.

May you experience all the blessings of Advent in this life now:

· The prophet’s hope, of a Messiah who comes to rescue God’s people, be your hope that Jesus has come to rescue you and will come to take you home.

· Bethlehem’s faith, that the Messiah would come through the line of king David, build your faith that Jesus is that messiah who came and that you are the child of the King of kings who reigns for all eternity.

· The shepherd’s joy, that came from the angels telling of the Christ child that would come to bring joy to the world, be your joy knowing that he came for you and will come again even as he is always with you now.

· The angel’s peace, brought to Mary and the shepherds, be your peace as you experience God’s love through this most precious Christmas gift of life and salvation.

God bless your 2022.

In His Service,
Pastor Roelof

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)

28/11/2021

Where Hope Thrives

When it comes to the Christmas season, we celebrate. The rest of the year we wish people well with the word ‘happy’… Happy Birthday! Happy Easter! Happy Anniversary! But when it comes to Christmas, our language changes. We say ‘Merry Christmas’. Other than in this season, when was the last time that you used the word ‘merry’?

At Christmas time we also have the tendency to ‘get back to basics’ when it comes to the stories, lessons and sermons we experience at church. During the year, we explore different ideas and themes of the Bible, but come the end of the year, we always return to the same story, and with it the same themes.

Some of the most pleasant-sounding concepts found in the Bible come around at Christmas. We like words like, hope, love, joy and peace. And wouldn’t it be easy to just leave it at that? To think of these pleasant words in this pleasant (except for the Queensland heat) season, and just be merry?

But think about the word hope for a minute. It is easy to have hope when life is going well, when there aren’t obstacles, trauma, fear, grief or stress. And wouldn’t it be altogether pleasant if we got to have easy hope; hope that makes sense because things are going well all the time?

But that isn’t life. And it certainly isn’t the life that the Bible promises us. From cover to cover, the books of the Bible show people having hope in the face of circumstances that make hope seem reckless. Throughout history, people continue to have hope through times that logic would dictate hope should have died.

Hope thrives where you would expect to find hopelessness. It defies the logic of what we expect. And thank God that it does. Humanity has this innate capacity to cultivate hope in the worst of conditions.

So, I hope that things are going well in your life this Christmas season. I truly want that for each and every person. But in the merriment of this time of year, if you are dealing with stress, loss, grief or any other troubles, remember that these cheerful concepts are meant for you too. Hope thrives best when we need it most.

Written by: Lauren Mead

21/07/2021

The End of The Year

As we get toward the end of November, I am sure that I am not alone in the headspace of wondering how we got here. It seems as though not so long ago I was at a new-years eve party to mark the end of 2019. I remember all the hopes and dreams that my friends and I talked about, what we wanted from the fresh start that was 2020… and somehow now I find myself at the end of 2021.

My wildest and most pessimistic predictions couldn’t have begun to comprehend what the future really held. And while lockdowns made the last two years feel like the minutes had slowed down, somehow now it seems as though time has vanished.

The markers that we typically use to indicate the passage of time have largely been stripped away. The places we go, people we see and things that we do typically help us to understand how time passes. And as restrictions are now easing we find ourselves with a desire to ‘make up for lost time’.

This can lead to us striving to cram years worth of experiences into this holiday period. Most of us didn’t get to see everyone we wanted to last Christmas, so there is the presumption that we need to see everyone now. We want our new memories to be perfect, to be good enough to cover up the monotony and uncertainty that has consumed our lives over the past nearly two years.

All of this is a lot of pressure to put on one Christmas season. A lot of added stress on top of what has already been a stressful chapter in each of our lives. And putting on a happy face while racing between various festive commitments isn’t actually going to bring us joy.

I have heard a lot of people use the terminology I have here when looking back on the past years. The thing is, the time wasn’t lost, and even if it were, it can’t be regained. So much has been negative over the past two years, none of which can be undone.

But many of us have also learned over this time. We have found out what we value, what we missed most. Some of us have achieved better balance in our lives, found a new hobby or skill. This doesn’t undo the damage or hurt that has occurred, but since we can’t make up for time that has gone, maybe instead we can learn from it and use different markers to acknowledge the time.

Don’t get me wrong, the stress and pain still happened. People lost loved ones, others worlds changed seemingly over night. Things were hard for all. And it’s not a competition or a comparison, whatever it was, everyone was struggling with something that was real for them. For me, 2020 meant my husband Matt lost his job and was in a car accident. This year I had to have surgery for the first time, and I was so scared. I’m not trying to say it wasn’t hard. But I also learned that I like gardening, my lime and mulberry trees produced fruit, I started a new job where I got to meet some wonderful people, I finished my degree, Matt got to go back to study and found a job completely different to what he used to do, but that he actually loves, I read a book that had nothing to do with study or work for the first time in over a year. None of this removes what was hard, but it reframes my understanding to acknowledge that good things happened too.

Instead of adding stress this Christmas, think of what you truly missed over the past two years. Spend your time focusing on those things. For me it was spending time with family and friends, the people who I sat on zoom with when we couldn’t be in the same room. Instead of running between social engagements that I feel obligated to be at and worrying whether my secret-santa present is good enough, I’ll be spending my time with my family and friends that matter most to me.

The lead up to Christmas can be a stressful and difficult time for many, even before the pandemic. But maybe we can learn something about stress. We can’t control the world around us, or every circumstance. But we do choose what we do with our time and our mind. Choose the things that matter. Not everything that we do needs to be done. Don’t make up for lost time, just enjoy the time you have.

14/07/2021

Parish Council Devotion: 10th November, 2021

Unity and Tag lines: Life and love

The study that I have written for Parish Council tonight comes on the back of the letter that I received as Parish Chair about the way in which we went about establishing the call committee. It comes on the back of conversations about whether we can afford one or two pastors, who will pay for what, whether we have enough money and funds. It comes on the back of conversations about whether we are following the correct liturgy. It comes on the back of people having different beliefs about what should happen going forward. And it comes on the back of my perception that these conversations and dealings are about what individuals think and want. It also comes on the back of seeing the results of the pre-call survey – results that point to an inward, self-centered focus; results that indicate that as a collective, we do not always and consistently worship God in the way that He desires.

It also comes on the back of talking with some people who want to know Jesus more deeply, who want to follow Him more closely, who want to do good works in this community, who desire to be missional, who desire to make disciples, who desire spiritual gifts, who desire to be Spirit-led, and who desperately want to be loved and to love in a way that reflects God in them. These voices are often the quieter voices – the people who do not speak up so much, who are quietly going about doing the work that Jesus gave them to do, who are quietly living out their faith in their daily walk. I want to acknowledge those people. I want to encourage you to continue, to shine, to be the beacon of light on the hill. I don’t always see or hear you, but I want to. I want to learn from, and with, you.

Never-the-less, this study is oriented more heavily towards those who create dissention, and to look at our role as leaders to speak up and out, to be examples of life, love, and unity in and with Jesus. I make no apology that this study has been heavily influenced by the writing of Francis Chan. It comes together with our most recent sermon series on ‘Outrageous Grace’ and Reformation Sunday – Sundays during which we have been reminded about the importance of listening to Jesus, of not listening to the devil and of God continually reforming His church. We have heard that we are church, that church is not a building – neither is it a denomination. We continually hear in the scriptures that God abhors idols – and that we are not to worship idols… and yet we do. We worship our traditions, our ways are sacrosanct, we put our opinions and thoughts and ways of doing things first – if others are not doing things the way that we think they ought to be done, then we make sure that we bring attention to, and correct their actions. We push our own bandwagons, we want our own way, we look for the people who will agree with us. To paraphrase the words of Francis Chan, we pick our favorite leaders [or denomination], head to the place where everyone worships together because of the way that the leader leads. We feel united because we have surrounded ourselves with people who agree with us about our leader, our direction, our theology, our liturgy. However, scripture tells us that we need to be focused on Jesus and His teaching.

1 Timothy 6:3-5 If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.

We agree about our strengths, and we agree about what is weak, inaccurate, incorrect, unconstitutional, not theological in others. As I see it, what is even more telling about some of the things that happen in ILC is that we don’t even care to discuss or debate where Lutheran theology fits within God’s church here on earth – we look over the fence and discuss, argue, and create friction about whether Bethany does it right – or St John’s or Grace… Whether the liturgy one congregation uses is the right one, who should pay for what and many, many other things that take up precious time and space. The question becomes, are we self-centred and self-righteous, divided, divisive and self-condemned? And, are we calling people out when they are divided and divisive?

Titus 3:9-11  9 But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. 10 Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. 11 You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.

I don’t know about you – but that hurts – that really hurts – read that word again – self-condemned! And who just thought ‘Well that is not me’, or ‘Yep, I can see that, but thank God I don’t do that’?  Be careful, be very careful – for that is what the Pharisees did. If you just read this and thought ‘Oh wow that is me’, then repentance is key. And if you just read this and thought ‘Who is she to judge me?’ – you are partially right – I am not to judge. Indeed, the only judge who judges correctly is Jesus who instructed us in John 7:24 to “Stop judging by mere appearance, but instead judge correctly.” But, if you are being convicted by Holy Spirit, then repent.
So, are we a hopeless, self-condemned lot? I don’t think so. We are also a church that uses the tagline – ‘where love comes to life’ – a tagline that I can only assume comes from collective work that has been done in the past. Importantly, it links life with love, and ultimately with unity. Life through repentance and baptism with water—Love through obeying God’s great command and baptism with the Holy Spirit—Unity by walking out our love for Jesus and one another, being Spirit led in our lives every moment of every day of every month of every year.

Why is unity so important?

There is only one shepherd – the good shepherd, whose sheep hear his voice. John 10:16 says 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. One single unified flock – following one voice – the voice of one shepherd. One flock perfectly united in mind and thought. One flock not divided. One flock that reaches unity in faith – one whole joined together body, building itself up in love – no longer to-ing and fro-ing – solid – built on the foundation of our Lord and Saviour – our gaze lifted above what is happening in the back yards of others – our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus.
1 Corinthians 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.
Ephesians 4: 11-16 11 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.
There is no doubt in my mind that when we have accepted Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, we are called to works of service that build up the body of Christ – we are not to tear it down. We are to build each other up, not tear each other down. And, the only way to build up the body of Christ is through love.

Philippians 2:1-2 1Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.

Why is this unity so important? The answer really is simple – so that others will believe, so that the world will know Jesus

John 17:20-23  20My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Love in Christian life

We are to love one another, and we do that by being led by Holy Spirit, by humbly serving one another. When we are Spirit led, we are not under the law. Most likely, we can all recite the Galatians passage that lists the fruit of the Spirit – but can you list the acts of the flesh – yes some of them you will be able to, but what about the flesh acts of discord, dissension, factions?
Galatians 5:13-25 13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” 15 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

Ephesians 4:29-31 29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

Building each other up is essential. Building each other up is the opposite of tearing each other down. When we tear others apart, we grieve the Holy Spirit. What does it mean to grieve the Holy Spirit? I am not sure that I know, but according to John Calvin, we grieve the Holy Spirit “…when we admit anything into our minds that is unworthy of our calling”. This suggests that we can avoid grieving the Holy Spirit when we live a life of humility, loving care, attention, and interaction with each other.

Ephesians 4:1-6 1As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 11 Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. 12 May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 13 May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.

Where to from here?

Having read Francis Chan’s book “Until Unity”, it is my opinion that aspiring to unity by being a place where love comes to life continues to be a most worthy vision for Ipswich Lutheran Church. I have looked at the results of the Parish pre-call survey. Much of those results indicate to me that we are a Parish that is divided, we are largely inward focused – but that may be a consequence of the types of question that were asked in the survey. I believe that we are more than that. I believe that we are called to be God’s church on earth – each and every one of us. We are called to be servants in His Kingdom. We are called to be salt and light. We are called to love God first and to love one another – fellow Christians and those who do not yet know Jesus. Yes, we are called to make disciples. I believe the call to make disciples will be much easier if we learn how to bring love to life in our daily walk with each other… we have life in Jesus, we are called to love one another. When we love each other, we are unified in that action. We build Christ’s body; we do His work. We are a place where love comes to life.