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.

24/10/2021

From the Parish Chair
 
At the September meeting of the Parish Council, I (Carolyn Ehrlich) was elected to the position of Parish chair. I am new to this role and new to most things administrative in churches. This is both a blessing and a challenge. I believe that it is a blessing because I do not know about the traditional/standard/accepted ways of doing things. I believe it is a challenge because I do not know about the traditional/standard/accepted ways of doing things. I can tell you that I do feel that Holy Spirit has called me to do this work. I can also tell you that some of you will feel that I am not doing things the way that I should or ought to be. I am relying on God and on your prayers to guide the actions that I take and that we take as a Parish Council so that we, the Ipswich Lutheran Church can, and do, do that work that God has prepared in advance for us to do.

Some of you know some things about me, many of you will not know me at all. I am the wife of Wayne, the mother of Darren and Mitchell, mother-in-law of Aimee (Darren’s partner), and Dani (Mitch’s wife) and grandmother of Phoebe (Mitch and Dani’s precious miracle). I grew up at Downfall Creek, near Guluguba, which is down the road from Giligulgul and Gurulmundi, and just before Wabbigul. More generally, it is between Miles and Wandoan on the Leichhardt Highway. I was a Stiller (and yes, I am related to Lee for those that know her, and more distantly related to Neil and Keith) and am the oldest of 10 children. My professional background is nursing, although I have not worked clinically since about 2005. I currently work in research at Griffith University.

For a long time, I was a lapsed Lutheran. But about 5 years ago, God started to call me back to His fold (or I started to hear Him calling me back, which is probably more accurate). I would sometimes walk past St Johns on a Sunday morning and wonder what would happen if I just happened to wander into the church (sweaty from walking up the hills around that area and in my exercise gear – you will notice that I am not that fit anymore). About 3 years ago God’s call was greater than my reluctance. I came back into Bethany – primarily because the service time seemed to fit better with my routine. I like a traditional service as much as a contemporary service. I could just as easily be a member of St John’s as Bethany – my apologies to Grace. I do know that I love our Lord, but no where near as much as He loves me. I am grateful that our Good Shepherd looks after His sheep. I am ever so thankful that Jesus came looking for me.

I am acutely aware that there are challenges ahead. I know that I will not get things right all, or even most, of the time. If I do not follow God’s direction and lead, I will definitely not get things right. I do want to hear what people have to say about where we are going as a Parish. I am willing to listen to solutions and things that we can do to build a unified church. I am not willing to listen to things that divide God’s people and His church.

If you need, or would like to contact me, email or text message is best. I am still working. I currently work Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday for the University and will not be able to attend to Parish matters (unless extremely urgent), during those times. If you do want to contact me, then chair@ipswich.church is the best way to do that. If you would like to text me, then 0439 622 852 is my personal mobile number. I do ask that you please respect my work times – this mobile number is also the number that I use for work, so I do ask that do not call me during those times.

Carolyn Ehrlich
Parish Chairperson

17/10/2021

Reading the Bible In Context
When I was in college, my friends and lecturers would sometimes joke that I was a ‘Contextual Christian’. The reason that they said this was that for nearly every discussion, essay or post that we did, I would raise the topic of historical and cultural context. For years now I have enjoyed learning about biblical history; I find it brings the world and characters of the Bible to life in my mind, I can understand the people and the messages of the Bible so much more clearly when I can understand the world that existed around them. I also like to understand the lens that we interpret the Bible through. I found an article this week that summarised and explained why historical context is so important, and I thought that it was worth sharing with all of you.
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Context is the way God gave us the Bible, one book at a time. The first readers of Mark could not flip over to Revelation to help them understand Mark; Revelation had not been written yet. The first readers of Galatians did not have a copy of the letter Paul wrote to Rome to help them understand it. These first readers did share some common information with the author outside the book they received.

We’ll call this shared information ‘background’: some knowledge of the culture, earlier biblical history, and so on. But they had, most importantly, the individual book of the Bible that was in front of them. Therefore we can be confident that the writers of the Bible included enough within each book of the Bible to help the readers understand that book of the Bible without referring to information they lacked. For that reason, context is the most important academic key to Bible interpretation.

Often popular ministers today quote various isolated verses they have memorized, even though this means that they will usually leave 99% of the Bible’s verses unpreached. One seemingly well-educated person told a Bible teacher that she thought the purpose of having a Bible was to look up the verses the minister quoted in church! But the Bible is not a collection of people’s favourite verses with a lot of blank space in between. Using verses out of context one could ‘prove’ almost anything about God or justify almost any kind of behaviour–as history testifies. People have misused the Bible to justify genocide, slavery, racism, child abuse… really any number of things that we would today agree is not what Christians are now called to do and be. But in the Bible God revealed Himself in His acts in history, through the inspired records of those acts and the inspired wisdom of His servants addressing specific situations. He took the imperfect world that people lived in and gave them guidance on doing better, being better within their times. We say that we live in a broken world today, but so did they.

People in our culture now value everything ‘instant’: from two-minute noodles to fast food to schemes like Afterpay and so forth. Similarly, we too often take short-cuts to understanding the Bible by quoting random verses or assuming that others who taught us have understood them correctly. When we do so, we fail to be diligent in seeking God’s Word (Proverbs 2:2-5; 4:7; 8:17; 2 Timothy 2:15).

One prominent minister in the U.S., Jim Bakker, was so busy with his ministry to millions of people that he did not make time to study Scripture carefully in context. He trusted that his friends whose teachings he helped promote surely had done so. Later, when his ministry collapsed, he spent many hours honestly searching the Scriptures and realized to his horror that on some points Jesus’ teachings, understood in context, meant the exact opposite of what he and his friends had been teaching! It is never safe to simply depend on what someone else claims that God says (1 Kings 13:15-26). Hear what others have to say, their understanding can help inform your own. We can learn from other people, but don’t just assume that their knowledge (or your own) is completely correct. Always keep learning. It’s okay to admit that you were wrong about something and change your mind because you have learned something new. It’s called growth. We do the best we can with the information we have.

I discovered this for myself when, as a young Christian, I began reading through the whole Bible, repeatedly. I was shocked to discover how much Scripture I had essentially ignored between the verses I had memorized, and how carefully the intervening text connected those verses. I had been missing so much, simply using the Bible to defend what I already believed! After one begins reading the Bible a book at a time, one quickly recognizes that verses isolated from their context nearly always mean something different when read in context.

We cannot, in fact, even pretend to make sense of most verses without reading their context. Isolating verses from their context without attempting to understand them, or to justify our pre-determined beliefs disrespects the authority of Scripture, because this method of interpretation cannot be consistently applied to the whole of Scripture. It picks verses that seem to make sense on their own, but most of the rest of the Bible is left over when it is done, incapable of being used the same way. Preaching and teaching the Bible the way it invites us to interpret it (in its original context), both explains the Bible accurately and provides our hearers a good example how they can learn the Bible better for themselves.

If we read any other book, we would not simply take an isolated statement in the middle of the book and ignore the surrounding statements that help us understand the reason for that statement. If we hand a storybook to a child already learning how to read, the child would probably start reading at the beginning. That people so often read the Bible out of context is not because it comes naturally to us, but because we have been taught to read books beginning to end, except when it comes to the books of the Bible. We read almost everything else as a whole, but with the most important text we’ll ever read, we think the parts that are quotable are the only parts that matter.

Many contradictions some readers claim to find in the Bible arise simply from ignoring the context of the passages they cite, jumping from one text to another without taking the time to first understand each text on its own terms. To develop an example offered above, when Paul says that a person is justified by faith without works (Romans 3:28), his context makes it clear that he defines faith as something more than passive assent to a viewpoint; he defines it as a conviction that Christ is our salvation, a conviction on which one actively stakes one’s life (Romans 1:5). James declares that one cannot be justified by faith without works (James 2:14)—because he uses the word “faith” to mean mere assent that something is true (2:19), he demands that such assent be actively demonstrated by obedience to show that it is genuine (2:18). In other words, James and Paul use the word “faith” differently, but do not contradict one another on the level of meaning. If we ignore context and merely connect different verses on the basis of similar wording, we will come up with contradictions in the Bible that the original writers would never have imagined.
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So, a fun activity for you this week. Try to read the Bible without going in and assuming what it means from what you have learned. If a verse doesn’t make sense, don’t just skip it until you find a nice quotable one. Do some research, try to find out if you’re missing something that could help you understand. And if you think you understand it well, research the verses you think you know, find out about the world that they were written in. You will find that your understanding of the Bible may not only deepen, but maybe even change.

Introduction, conclusion and edits by: Lauren Mead
Sourced from: Dr. Craig Keener, The importance of context in Bible study, viewed 15 October 2021,
https://craigkeener.com/the-importance-of-context-in-bible-study/

10/10/2021

Christianity and the Environment
If you didn’t already know, I’m an environmentalist. I don’t pretend that I’m perfect at this, or that it’s something that everyone is passionate about. I don’t judge people for forming different opinions of these things to me, or think that my behaviour is inherently better than others. When people hear that I believe in a cause, I often find that a lot of varying assumptions can be made about what that means. Or they think because I believe in one thing, it is mutually exclusive to other beliefs. I once told someone that I was a vegetarian, and they looked at me and said, ‘But I thought you said you were a Christian?’

It got me thinking that maybe it would be fun to write about how a belief such as this can stem from Christianity. The Bible can be interpreted in many ways, but as Christians our worldview is largely shaped by our interpretation, and the teachings of our church and the Christians around us.

Since just about the beginning, human beings existence has been intricately entwined with the environment. If you’ve read through the creation story, you will have read through this passage:

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”… God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. (Genesis 1:26+28-30)

This passage is, you will find, fundamental to most Christians who are also passionate about the environment. I see caring for the world around me – people, animals, nature – as an expression of my faith. In this passage, some translations use the word ‘responsibility’ in place of the concepts of authority and ruling over. In some ways, this word provides a more nuanced understanding of the relationship we have with the environment. We have been given the ability and authority to use the earth, to eat food from it and live in it, produce other goods. But we have also been given the responsibility to take care of it, to not act in ways that will do it harm.

I’m not saying that this is easy. I’ll be the first to admit that I could do more. Has anyone ever tried to buy spinach not contained in single use plastic? It’s hard to find and inexplicably twice the price, something that both time and money mean that I just can’t justify. And we’re in a global pandemic… having single use items is incredibly useful, as we don’t need to worry about whether items have been sterilised properly before use.

What I do believe in is making positive changes where possible. For me, I choose one thing each month that seems doable for my household, and make a small change that either has a positive impact or reduces the negative impact. Some of the easiest changes I have made include: 
– switching to biodegradable/recycled plastic bin liners
– choosing an ethical supplier of eggs (as opposed to buying the cheapest caged eggs).- using reusable silicon zip lock bags and plate covers (instead of disposable cling wrap)
– using washable bamboo cleaning cloths for my dishes and other cleaning (these cloths are white, and I can clean up after spilling tomato based pasta sauce and the colour rinses out completely, they look so much better than the blue cloths and they can just be thrown in with other laundry)
– using home-made or tablet cleaning products (so many recipes for home made cleaners online, or there are now versions of traditional cleaning products that come as a tablet that you dissolve in water in a re-usable container. It saves the transport of larger heavier bottles and single-use plastic containers)
– changing toothbrushes to bamboo or biodegradable corn-starch toothbrush (I don’t like the feel of the bamboo for a toothbrush, but they make ones that feel like plastic but are instead made of corn-starch, and Woolworths even now sells them!)
– which toilet paper, tissues and paper towels we buy (made from recycled materials/bamboo, which grows faster and can be produced more sustainably);

When we made each of these changes, it was odd at first, washing re-usable silicon rather than just throwing the cling wrap away. But eventually it became normal. And not all the changes have worked… reusable paper-towels (more like a thin absorbent cloth you can throw in the wash) are great in theory, and I’m sure that they work for food spills. But not so much for cleaning up after cats…

What started me thinking about this was an email that I got this week. I subscribe to a newsletter that sends out positive things that have happened in environmental news, and I read about Victoria’s ban on helium balloon releases and the ‘Blow Bubbles, Not Balloons!’ campaign (if you would like to read this article, please click here). Despite the environmental impact of releasing balloons, it’s not something that I had known about before. Because of this, I thought that I would share a little bit about what I have learned about and changed in the past two years, and how my faith was the starting point for this journey.

I hope that some of you will consider if there are things that you could change to have a more positive impact on the environment. Change can be annoying at first, but eventually it becomes part of normal life – like when single use bags were removed from stores. With so many issues it can be hard to know how to help or where to start. But it’s not too difficult to spot ways that we can make choices that are good for the earth that we were given.

Author: Lauren Mead

03/10/2021

Hi Church,

As you may know, Pastor Roelof has been away on leave this week, and he has given me the opportunity to write this section of The Pulse. So I wanted to take this chance to write about something I have been thinking about recently… forgiveness.

It’s a topic that comes up regularly at church. At this point I think we all know that God forgives us, and we are called to forgive others. Both are concepts that I have struggled with at times, but neither is what I want to write about right now. I want to talk about forgiving yourself.

You see, when someone does something that hurts me, I have no trouble believing that I should forgive them. It can take me time to get to that point, to move through the hurt and forgive, but I can usually get there within a reasonable amount of time.

And when I do something wrong, I know that God forgives me. And more often than not, when I have hurt someone else and apologised, they have accepted the apology.

But this is where I get stuck. I replay over and over what I have done, what I should have done differently. If I forget something, I tell myself that I should have written it down, set an alarm, done something to make sure that I remember. If I say something that hurts someone, I replay what I said over and over, wondering why I couldn’t have phrased it differently, or held back words said in the heat of the moment.

Even things that don’t make sense… I struggle to call people, because I worry that I will interrupt something important, or take up their time. I worry that this action is a misstep, and so I avoid it. It’s an ironic problem to have given the work I do, but irrational though it may be, it’s in my head.

The thing is, I don’t hold other people to the same standard that I hold myself. It’s good that I know that others won’t be perfect and don’t expect them to be. It’s good that I can forgive them. What isn’t good is that I don’t give myself the same courtesy… really, I don’t allow myself the same grace.

Possibly one of the most well known verses (after John 3:16 and Jeremiah 29:11) would be Matthew 22:37-39:
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’

You will often hear variations of ‘love your neighbour’. The part that gets left out is the ending… ‘as yourself.’ I think that Jesus said it this way for a reason. Loving yourself matters.

It isn’t good, healthy or helpful to anyone for me to expect perfection of myself, and then punish myself when I fall short of an impossible standard. If God loves me enough to extend grace to me, should I not honour that by allowing myself to be imperfect, make mistakes, and have that be okay?

I don’t have some quick fix on how to cope with this. It’s something that I’ve been aware of for years, and have to continuously work at. It’s a problem more some days than others. What helps most times is stepping back. If this happened the other way around, if the person I hurt hurt me, would I be able to forgive and move on? Or if this happened to another person, what would be a reasonable course of action?

By taking myself out of the equation, it helps me see perspective. Don’t get me wrong, I can still get caught in a loop of blame and guilt over any mistake, big or small. But taking a step back and slowing down can help.

So, what I would like to say is ultimately this. Love yourself as you would your neighbour. 

Bye for now…
Lauren

26/09/21

Vaccine Passports And The Coercing Of Conscience: What Should Christians Think? (Part 2)

In this series, I aim to frame this discussion biblically so that Christians can make sense of the issue and respond well.
And so, here are four further points that help us understand the fraught issue of vaccine passports, conscience, and religious liberty:

1. The Key Question: When Might Governments Have a Compelling Reason for Restricting Religious Liberty?
In the previous post, we saw that the God-given role of Government is to:
i. Be a servant for the good of the people firstly by upholding law and order (Rom 13:1-6) and
ii. Not to coerce religious conscience, except where that conscience leads to actions that compromise law and order (e.g. the ISIS believer attacking a supermarket).
 
Thus, there may be good, God-given reasons for restricting some religious liberties. In other words, religious liberty isn’t absolute. This applies even to Christians: governments may have legitimate reasons for restricting our liberties.
So, for example, churches are restricted by Government in terms of who they can employ to teach children and youth in church. In NSW, the government has mandated that no one convicted of certain crimes (e.g., paedophilia) is allowed to lead your church’s Sunday school class, no matter how gifted and godly they may now be.
Of course, I’ve yet to hear even the most libertarian minded Christians complain about this restriction. After all, it seems like a reasonable restriction. But such laws do impact a church’s ability to carry out its mission.
Thus, the key issue is not ‘Government must never restrict religious liberty,’ but rather, ‘when is it acceptable for the Government to restrict religious liberty?’
N.b. This balance is codified in international law pertaining to religious liberty, in the  UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights—to which Australia is a signatory:
Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. (ICCPR, Article 18.3)
While government restrictions on the employment of paedophiles in the church are deemed acceptable, what about restrictions not related to law and order? In particular, the use of vaccine passports? Is restricting a church’s ability to welcome Christians based on their vaccination status ever acceptable?
To answer this question, we need to take other factors into account:

2. Government (Arguably) Has a Compelling Interest To Protect The Health and Safety Of Its People (And in times of emergency, it could mean restricting religious liberty).
As we’ve seen in Romans 13, Government does have a role in upholding law and order (e.g. Rom 13:4). And why has God authorised Government to maintain law and order? Because they are God’s servants ‘for our good’ (Rom 13:4).
And thus, it’s not unreasonable for Government to do good to its people by helping protect their health and safety. Whether through road rules, medical regulations, or health and safety laws. Or by providing medical assistance via hospitals and other health care.
 
At this point, however, we’ve moved away from the Biblical text of Romans 13 and are in disputable territory (see Rom 14).
But such laws, regulations and provisions seem to be a reasonable outworking of Government working for the good of its people. In principle at least, it doesn’t seem to be Government over-reach (remembering, however, this is disputable territory).
Thus, in principle, there is (humanly speaking) a compelling government interest in protecting the health and safety of its population.
And this compelling health and safety interest has for many decades now placed some restrictions on churches religious liberty:

· Government restricts churches in the type of building they can gather in. For example, building and fire safety codes authorise how many people can meet in church buildings;

· Noise regulations restrict when churches can meet.

As far as I can tell, there has been very little pushback from Christians to these restrictions.
Now in times of crisis, such as a COVID pandemic, a government’s compelling interest could (and arguably should) be to protect the public hospital system from being swamped with COVID patients. If the hospitals were to be over-run—such as has occurred in other places (think Italy, New York, etc.)—other patients (both COVID and non-COVID) would have to be turned away.
The overwhelming of the hospital system would cause direct harm to thousands.
 
A responsible government that works for the good of its people would not want to see such a bad thing happen for the sake of the wider community and so could be justified in taking steps to prevent that from happening.
Even when it means restricting liberties: including religious freedoms. Masks. Social distancing. And, as we’ve seen over the last 18 months, lockdowns.
Whether such restrictions are justified and how far such restrictions can go is, Biblically speaking, a disputable matter: the Bible doesn’t give a direct answer to this. And so, Christians of good faith should give each other space to discuss and disagree on this matter.
But by and large, most Christians and Churches voluntarily accepted the need for such restrictions (albeit begrudgingly). Most agreed lockdowns were and are necessary for the public good (even as we’re concerned about their long term impact).
Of course, while governments may have a compelling interest in protecting the population’s health in principle, it’s not clear-cut what this may look like in particular. Does a compelling interest in people’s health and safety mean vaccine passports?

3. Vaccine Passports Could Be A Necessary Way for Government To Protect The Health and Safety of Its People
Again, we’ve moved away from the Biblical text and are on highly disputed grounds.
 
Thus, we should tread carefully, not putting words into God’s mouth.  There is no place for binding Christian conscience on issues where the Scripture is silent.
Yes, we can have an opinion informed by Biblical principles. But we mustn’t condemn other views as sinful before God because they don’t align with our opinion (c.f. Rom 14). Different Christians will come to different conclusions about these issues.
Personally,  I think it’s reasonable for Government to have a compelling public interest in protecting the viability of the State’s hospital system from COVID overwhelm (due to the dire consequences this would lead to for thousands of people) even when such restrictions include vaccine passports.
With that said, however, I think a good Scriptural principle (combined with a sober reading of human history) is that governments should be required to demonstrate compelling reasons for restricting people’s liberties (religious or otherwise). They should be able to show they have followed the least restrictive path to getting that outcome.[1]
Thus,  when it comes to vaccine passports, the onus should be on governments to show they are necessary (not just ‘nice to have’) for the sake of public health and that they are are going to be introduced in the least restrictive way possible.
Here are some possibilities of what this might look like:

· Mandated vaccine passports for those entering our country (e.g. analogous to ordinary passports);

· Vaccine passports for those working with vulnerable groups of people (e.g. in the aged care sector or with Indigenous health);

· Mandatory vaccine passports as a temporary measure to allow for easing of lockdown restrictions before we hit 80% double vaccinated (currently the NSW government’s position—although it’s uncertain whether VP’s are to be temporary).

· As soon as practicable, unvaccinated people are given other testing options (e.g. rapid antigen testing) to allow them entry into all public areas.

However, there should be a much higher threshold for mandating vaccine passports for areas that burden people’s ability to live a normal life (e.g. public transport, shopping centres, churches).
Again, to labour the point, this is not a clear-cut Scriptural issue. It’s disputable.
Other Christians are free to disagree with me:  some more conservative brothers argue that vaccine passports cross a dangerous line when it comes to personal freedoms. Others are happy with the concept of vaccine passports, as long as they’re managed in the least restrictive way possible (e.g. they don’t prevent people from participating in essential activities).

4. What About non-biblical Conscience Objections to Vaccine Passports?
When it comes to non-religious objections to vaccine passports, we can make the following points:

· Conscience—whether religious or otherwise—is never ‘inviolate’. That is, God authorises Government to violate religious conscience in some instances (law and order is a clear cut case), but arguably in other cases deemed necessary for the common good (e.g. lockdown restrictions/vaccine passports for the protection of the vulnerable in the community). Thus, Christians should not argue from the Bible that ‘all government restrictions against a person’s conscience are always bad.’

· By way of Biblical principle, historical wisdom, and international law, Government should demonstrate that those restrictions are necessary,  and are done in the least restrictive way possible.

Thus, a reasonable outcome is that a government comes to the difficult conclusion that it is necessary to protect public health through vaccine passports. In that case, it should seek to accommodate people’s conscientious objections as much as possible (e.g. by not forcing them to get vaccinated, providing other means of testing if possible). And yet, it will probably mean that the unvaccinated will have to bear the burden of restrictions, for the sake of the wider community.
It’s not a perfect solution, because we don’t live in a perfect world. In the words of Christian Legal expert Patrick Parkinson:
A religious person who has a non-religious objection to vaccination is absolutely entitled to refuse a violation of his or her bodily integrity; but this does not mean that governments and employers are not justified in imposing restrictions to protect others, so long as the restrictions are reasonable.
He concludes:
These are difficult times, and difficult judgments have to be made, respecting people’s right to consent or refuse consent to a medical intervention while doing what is necessary to protect others.
 As Parkinson points out, ‘difficult judgements have to be made.’
That’s the world we live in.



Sourced from: Akos Balogh, Vaccine Passports And The Coercing Of Concience: What Should Christians Think? (1/2), viewed 16 September 2021
https://au.thegospelcoalition.org/article/vaccine-passports-and-the-coercing-of-conscience-what-should-christians-think-1-2/