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.
 

07/11/2021

Dear Church Family,
 
I have recently been reading through Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together” again. There are words in the very first chapter that jumped out at me, not in the least because we are celebrating All Saints Day this week also.
 
All Saints day originated as a celebration of the early church martyrs who gave up their lives, in gruesome ways, for the advancement of the gospel. This celebration grew to eventually include all the saints that have walked this earth and in some way, shape or form (hopefully) shared the same Good News we have received to those who, like we did, so desperately need to hear it.
 
With this in mind, Dietrich writes:
 
“’Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!’ (Ps. 133:1).
              It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the mist of enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the Cross he was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers. For this cause he had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God. So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thing of foes. There is his commission, his work.
              ‘The Kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies. And he who will not suffer this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among the roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people. O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ! If Christ had done what you are going who would ever have been spared?’ (Luther).”
 
Bonhoeffer goes on to write that “gathering together” is not an evil thing, but certainly not something to be expected or take for granted. Even in a time and place of freedom to do so regularly, the “gathering of the living saints” is to be seen as a gift of grace that sustains and encourages the “normal Christian life” of being scattered to share the Good News among those who are “not yet saints”.
 
Let us gather and celebrate this amazing gift of grace this All Saints day. And let us scatter to share the Good News among those who are “not saints yet”, fulfilling the great commission our “Lord walking and living among sinners” left us with “until he comes again”.
 
In His Service,
Pastor Roelof

31/10/2021

Devotion from Parish Council meeting 13.10.21
Prepared by Carolyn Ehrlich

As I step into the role of Chair of Ipswich Lutheran Parish Council, I have wondered about the purpose and use of devotions in our Parish Council meetings. As you all know, I have only been a member of this committee for a very short time. In that time, I experienced deeply thought-out devotions led by Martin during his time as Parish Chair, and then those reflective studies led by Ben up until he left. I like the idea of devotions that guide our deliberations, that explore where we are at in the context of our leadership and church life and that challenge us to think about our purpose and direction. I turned over the idea of focusing on church unity, but then Martin reminded me that was where he started – I had obviously forgotten that, so maybe I should have started there. I tossed around the idea of using a study that my husband Wayne led last week about values and talents – a study based on Matthew 25:14-30, and I might still use that study in the future. I was running short of time, and then yesterday morning (Tuesday) in my own readings it was my reading of Haggai that caught my attention.

You all know that I have a firm opinion that it would be prudent for us (ILC leadership teams) to undertake strategic planning, direction setting, establishing a common action plan, preparing to do the work that God is directing us to do. I believe that we are being called by Holy Spirit to do the work that God has prepared in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). Previously we have explored how church membership is dwindling. Collectively we are concerned about the impact of our aging membership. Perhaps we wonder whether we are significant in today’s consumerist and worried world. We speculate about whether we will have people return to our worship centres following COVID lockdowns and restrictions. We have heard that we must change, but we don’t seem to know how. Do we call another Pastor? Who is responsible for, and/or willing to, support each and every member of our church to grow and thrive? How do we minister to our youth, our school community and at the same time cherish our long-serving and aging members in the best way possible? How do we hear what it is that God wants us to do? Are we listening to Holy Spirit?

I have so many questions? And so do you.

Back to Haggai… I have been ‘in’ the minor prophets for some time now. I have only been reading relatively superficially, although from time to time Holy Spirit firmly grabs my attention. I have noted that God gets very angry when his people are disobedient and unfaithful. I have also noted that he has the most immense love for them and is forgiving and gives them untold measure of blessings when they repent and are faithful. Yesterday Holy Spirit timed my reading of Haggai with my need to prepare a Parish Council devotion – well that is what I am telling myself, because it is the only thing that makes sense to me. So, let’s read Haggai…
 
Haggai 1: 2-11
This is what the Lord Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord’s house.’”
Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your panelled houses, while this house remains a ruin?”
Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.”
This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honoured,” says the Lord. “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the Lord Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house. 10 Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. 11 I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labour of your hands.”
 
I am interested in your perspective about this text.

What does this text tell us about God?

What does this text lead us believe we need to be doing?

This chapter hit some ‘ouch’ points for me. It comes on the back of a sermon on Sunday (I was in Bundaberg, so it won’t have been a sermon that you heard) … based on Mark 10:17-31 – which is about the rich and the kingdom of God, but particularly vv 21-22. The ‘ouch’ points were about our wealth and our priorities.

Through Haggai, God tells us that we need tput first things first. And what is the thing that we need to put first? Our relationship with God. You see, abundant possessions have a way of altering our focus. All of a sudden we put the second, third, fourth, fifth things first. We forget about God and his commands as our focal point, our priority.

God laid out this progression from poverty and humility to becoming proud, rich men (and women) with abundant possessions in Hosea (I told you I was in the minor prophets). Hosea 13:6 says “When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; they forgot me”. We are abundantly wealthy. God has blessed us, but have we let his house (temple) become ruined because we have become focused on our own houses. Have we forgotten?  In Haggai, God’s temple was not just a building or a church edifice. Rather it was the holy place where sacrifices were made, and people met with God. It was a symbol of the relationship between the people and God? But it was in ruin.
So, the questions become:
What is our relationship with God like?
What are our priorities?
Are we doing the work that God has prepared in advance for us to do?

You see, in verse 8 of Haggai, God says “Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house”. Going up into the mountains requires work, hard work. If you are anything like me, you will need to rest every few minutes because hauling myself up a mountain is hard work… Some of you will get to the mountain more quickly and easily than some others… But we must go to the mountains… Going up into the mountains is necessary because that is where the timber (materials, resources) to build God’s house is. But we must labour for the timber to build God’s temple… God has given us work to do. Are we prepared, willing and committed? And do we put God first?
 
Prayer: Loving Father, thank you for your mercy, thank you for you Son, thank you for your grace and your forgiveness. Thank you that you continually lead us to you. Thank you that you have prepared work in advance for us to do. As we meet tonight, watch over our thoughts and words. Guide our interactions with one another so that we put you first and so that we are enabled to do the things that you are calling us to do, the things that you will show us so that we actively and willingly fulfil your commands. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.