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Good question! “Does God have multiple personality disorder?” (Or: What is Law and Gospel?)

Does God have multiple personality disorder? (Or: What is Law and Gospel?) Good question! It might seem like God has a split personality, but no, there is One God, yet he speaks to us in two different ways: Law and Gospel. Find out more below:

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The church baptises

(This is part 3 in the series Antioch in Acts — see part 1 and part 2 ). A recap of the story so far.  We’re currently in a series exploring how the good news of Jesus made its way to the city of Antioch Syria and beyond. God plants a church in Antioch. But what does this mean for us as church today? We began with the pivotal moment of Pentecost (Acts 2). The church is at the crossroads, but God pivots them in a new direction. The church was hidden and quiet, in one location, and at this early stage only for the Jews. But at Pentecost the power of God — the Spirit — is freely given in abundance to all the disciples. The Spirit sends the early church in a new direction: the disciples now publicly and boldly confess the good news of Jesus, the message begins going out to all nations, and the message is expanded to include Gentiles (non-Jews). But the persecuted church is scattered. Jesus was persecuted, and his followers are likewise persecuted — what happens to the Master happens to the disciples. To illustrate this, Luke tells the story of Stephen being stoned, carefully and intentionally using literary devices to connect Stephen with the life and death of Jesus (Acts 6–8). Yet through this persecution, God spreads the good news, like a farmer scattering seed on the face of the earth, including to the city of Antioch Syria. Luke now tells a story about the baptism of an Ethiopian eunuch to illustrate the radical nature of this good news (Acts 8:26–40). The church is a church who baptises. But why? Why do we baptise? Here’s three reasons from our story. (1) Baptism connects you with Jesus’ death and resurrection.  We’re told this Ethiopian had gone to Jerusalem to worship. He’s now travelling home in his horse drawn carriage to Ethiopia (the region south of the Nile). As the Ethiopian travels, he reads, much like we read a book on a train or watch a movie on an aeroplane. He’s not reading some trashy airport book, but the Hebrew Scriptures (what we now call the Old Testament). And, as was the custom for the day, he reads aloud. At the prompting of the Holy Spirit, Philip draws alongside the carriage and overhears him reading a passage from the prophet Isaiah chapter 53. “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” (Acts 8:32 | Isaiah 53:7) The Ethiopian asks to whom Isaiah is referring. This is one of those gift-wrapped evangelism moments! Philip jumps into telling this man the gospel. ‘Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.’ (Acts 8:35). But now something seemingly strange happens: ‘As they travelled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?”’ (Acts 8:36). There’s a disconnect: one moment they’re talking about Jesus’ sacrificial death, and the next about baptism. What’s going on? Let me illustrate with a story. When I was growing up, my favourite TV show was a cartoon called “Pinky and the Brain.” It was about the antics of two white mice — one called Pinky and the other called the Brain. The Brain is constantly dreaming up hare-brained schemes to take over the world. There’s a repeated trope in each episode where the Brain turns to Pinky and says, “Are you pondering what I’m pondering Pinky?” Pinky then says something ludicrous and totally disconnected from what’s been happening, and the Brain responds, “No, you idiot. It’s time to take over the world!” Whenever Brain asks, “Are you pondering what I’m pondering Pinky?” Pinky responds with something seemingly disconnected like, “I think so, Brain, but where are we going to find a duck and a hose at this hour?” or “I think so, Brain, but if we covered the world in salad dressing wouldn’t the asparagus feel left out?” One classic episode is told from the perspective of Pinky, and the audience gets to hear his thought process, and his ludicrous response that seemed utterly disconnected is actually intimately connected with what’s going on. It’s the same with Philip and our Ethiopian friend. Philip is talking about Jesus being a sacrificial lamb led to the slaughter for our sin, and the next moment the Ethiopian is jumping out of the carriage, cupping his hand in some water by the side of the road saying, “Look, here’s water, what’s stopping me being baptised?” In recounting the story, Luke has missed out what Philip said, like Pinky’s disconnected ponderings. But obviously Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection is  connected with baptism, Luke just doesn’t make the connection for us. Thankfully, St Paul fills in the gap: ‘Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his.’ (Romans 6:3–5). When we’re baptised, we are joined with Jesus’ death and resurrection. We participate with him, we’re united with him, what happens to him — our Master — happens to us — his disciple and follower. So telling someone the good news of Jesus will inevitably lead to baptism. The good news of Jesus is enacted in baptism. That’s why St Peter can also write: ‘Baptism now saves’ (1 Peter 3:21). (2) Baptism is for everyone, for you.  The Ethiopian eunuch is very eager to be baptised. Why is he so eager? Philip and the Ethiopian are sitting comfortably in the carriage, chatting away, but then the eunuch calls out for the horse and carriage to stop. He climbs down and points at the water. “Look, here’s water, what’s stopping me being baptised?” It’s almost like he’s an excited puppy dog. Most dogs I’ve had were really excited to go for a walk. One in particular you had to be careful even saying the word “walk.” You’d be talking, accidentally include the word “walk” in your sentence, and suddenly the dog’s ears would prick up, and its tail would wag furiously. Eventually we couldn’t even say the word “walk” at all around the dog, and had to spell it out “w-a-l-k,” but eventually the dog even learnt this set of sounds! This Ethiopian seems like an excited puppy dog, wagging his tail. “Baptism, did you say baptism? Look here’s water! Can we, can we, can we?” Or like a child walking past an ice-cream shop, “Please, can we have some, please, pleeeease?!” Why is he so eager?! Because baptism is God’s act that includes him! As a eunuch, who has his male genitalia castrated, he was excluded from worship at the temple. Eunuchs, as well as the blind or lame, disfigured or deformed, where considered “defective,” and as such “unholy,” by the culture of the day. The Law described in Deuteronomy bars them from entering the temple: ‘No one who has been castrated by crushing or cutting may enter the assembly of the Lord.’ (Deuteronomy 23:1, see also Leviticus 21:16–20). So in his time, because of his bodily “defect,” he was excluded from entering God’s presence in the typical way. But now a good news message reaches his ears: baptism is for everyone! God wants to be present with him through baptism. He’s not excluded, but invited to be with God through baptism. Even him, especially him. The question this man asks is, “What is stopping me being baptised?” The answer? Nothing! There are no barriers preventing baptism. Your body is not a barrier. Any supposed “defect” is no barrier. Age is no barrier — that’s why we baptise 9 day olds and 90 year olds. Race or gender is not a barrier. What you’ve done or haven’t done is no barrier. Is there anyone you  would exclude from baptism? What conditions are you tempted to add? Who would you stop from coming to be baptised? I recently heard a sad story about a homosexual couple who had adopted a child. They contacted their local Lutheran church and asked for their child to be baptised. But, unfortunately, the pastor declined. Thankfully they contacted another Lutheran church and were accepted, and the free gift of salvation through baptism was given to their child. No one should ever be prevented from baptism, for any reason. Any condition attached to baptism means it is no longer God’s grace, which by definition means without condition. God does not attach any conditions to baptism! Baptism is for everyone, no one is excluded. As St Paul writes: ‘So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.’ (Galatians 3:26–29). There can be no condition attached to baptism, there is no barrier, nothing that can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38–39). And that’s why, like a puppy dog wagging its tail, this Ethiopian eunuch is so eager and excited to receive baptism — because in baptism he is included by God, he’s made part of God’s family by grace alone. Baptism is for you too. If you’re not baptised yet, we’d love to talk with you about this. What’s stopping you from being baptised? Nothing! (3) Baptism changes you.  What happens after the baptism? We’re not sure what happens long term (we never hear of this man again), but we do know what happens in the short term. ‘When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing.’ (Acts 8:39). ‘He went on his way rejoicing .’ Being connected to Jesus’ death and resurrection, experiencing God’s no holds barred grace, leads to joy! Here at Immanuel we like to say: “Grace changes people.” When you freely receive the forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and salvation in Christ through baptism, there’s nothing else that can happen except a smile break out on your face! Baptism brings many blessings including joy, peace, hope, and more! And God’s grace does even more things in your life. You now want to be gracious to others. As you have freely received, so now you want to freely give (Matthew 10:8). How will you freely give this coming week? Will you forgive someone who doesn’t deserve it? Will you serve the poor without condition? Will you spend time with someone forgotten by the world? Will you welcome someone others have excluded? May the grace of God the Father, given freely to you through the Son, grow in you the joy of the Spirit, now and always. Amen!

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Antioch in Acts: God plants a church

The Book of Acts,  written by Luke as the second part of his gospel, records the growth of the Christian church following the ascension of Jesus Christ. The good news of Jesus spreads out “from Jerusalem to all Judea and Sameria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). In the central passages of Acts  (chapters 11–15) we hear of the church God plants in Antioch, which becomes a hub for early Christian communities. It’s affectionally known as the “cradle of Gentile Christianity.” This Bible Study Antioch in Acts investigates how God planted the church in Antioch Syria, and asks how this is good news for the church in mission today. Download here :

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Comfort in the face of cancer

(A talk given by Pastor Dan Mueller for Cancer Council “Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea” at Immanuel Lutheran Church, Buderim, 9 May 2024). Bible reading: 3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. 5 For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. (2 Corinthians 1:3–5 NIV). Cancer sucks. I did some quick Internet research on cancer. I hadn’t realised that cancer is the leading cause of death in Australia. One in fifty people in Australia currently have cancer. And almost two in five Australians will be diagnosed with cancer by the age of 85! Cancer’s true horror though lies in its indiscriminate assault — it can strike anyone, at anytime. It doesn’t care if you’re young or old, rich or poor, male or female. It steals vitality, disrupts lives, and carries an ever-present fear of the unknown. It can twist the body and spirit, leaving a trail of exhaustion and emotional turmoil in its wake. Despite advancements in medicine, cancer’s relentless nature can feel like a cruel twist of fate. How can we receive comfort in the face of cancer? How can we give comfort? Here are a few suggestions. (1) Call a thing what it is. A n important first step is to call something what it is. For a non-Christian, cancer may seem like a random act of an indifferent, uncaring universe. Or an unfortunate turn of “fate.” But Christians recognise a thing for what it is: cancer is a symptom of the Fall. Cancer is not merely a cruel twist of fate, rather it is the sin of the world manifest in the body. We can call it what it is: Cancer is messed up. Cancer sucks. You may have seen a rise in the number of bumper stickers or t-shirts stating “F*ck cancer.” Such strong language, I feel, is appropriate in the face of this devastating disease. God hates evil and suffering, and therefore He hates cancer. God grieves it even more than we do! In our reading, St Paul calls God ‘the Father of compassion’ (2 Corinthians 1:3). This word ‘compassion,’ often translated ‘mercy,’ means ‘to express concern over another's unfortunate state and suffering.’ God has compassion on cancer sufferers. God is full of mercy. God is concerned when someone is afflicted by the evil that is cancer. Yet God doesn't sit back in the face of cancer — he does something! He is present with those who suffer. (2) Be present. We can be present with cancer sufferers. Those afflicted with cancer need support. Research shows that cancer sufferers who are supported by family and friends report improved quality of life and wellbeing. They have reduced anxiety, increased calmness, improved active coping behaviour and problem-solving capabilities post-diagnosis. Sit and listen with them. I find it easy to open my mouth, but much harder to sit with closed mouth and open ears! Receiving a diagnosis can be overwhelming, causing strong emotions. Active listening can help them express and name these emotions. Good things to say to show you are present and help you to listen include: “How are you travelling?” “What’s going on for you today?” “Tell me more.” Being present can also involve offering specific, practical actions e.g. meals, housework, rides to appointments, someone to debrief with, a helper to take notes during often overwhelming medical appointments, etc. Christians recognise that God is always present with us. God is present in all creation: in the doctor’s room when one receives a diagnosis; in the medical staff who provide treatment; in the actual tablets one swallows or the medicine delivered intravenously; in the hair that may fall out; as crude as it sounds, God is even in the vomit when one reacts violently to treatment; in the hospital bed or couch being lay on when feeling “yuck;” in the warmth of the sunshine that falls on a face on a good day; in the dark rain clouds of a bad day — God is never absent, but present over all, through all, and in all things (Ephesians 4:6). God is specifically present with us in the person of Jesus Christ. God the Father has sent his very own Son into the world, to bear our pain, our sickness, to suffer with and for us. The Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53, associated with Jesus Christ since the earliest disciples (e.g. Acts 8:32–35), bears our wounds: ‘4 Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering … 5 [H]e was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.’ (Isaiah 53:4–5 NIV ) God is a sharing God: in Christ he shares our sufferings. But there is more. St Paul writes, ‘We share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ’ (2 Corinthians 1:5). Not only does Christ share our suffering, but we share in His suffering too. His suffering is our suffering, our suffering is His . So God is present with and for us in our pain and suffering. (3) Speak words of healing. Not only is our physical presence a help, but our words can have a helping and healing effect also. Often in difficult circumstances I don’t know what to say. I’m tempted to speak trite “Christianese” catchphrases. But these tend to fall flat, or do more harm that good. Some examples include: “God has a plan.” But wait, God has a plan to give people cancer? “It’s a blessing in disguise.” Really? My friend’s brain tumour is a blessing? “The best is yet to come.” Sure, but what about the pain I feel now? “There are others worse off.” Sure, but what about my hurt? And what about that poor sod who is worse off?! “God is testing you to make you stronger.” Well, then God sounds pretty mean! Have you heard (or even spoken) these before? Do you think they’re helpful? If not, what words could we offer instead? Here are some I’ve trying out at the moment: “God is the Father of compassion, his guts are turning inside out like yours.” “You’re precious in God's sight.” “Jesus is with you, all the way, even to death to a cross.” “God hasn’t just read the book on life, or watched the movie, but has lived here on earth. In the person of Jesus Christ, God is fully human. He bled, cried, suffered, and died. He looked upon his friends when they suffered and had compassion on them. And He looks on you too. He sees your pain. He experiences it. He knows you. And He is with you.” “We all suffer, cry, bleed, and die, but that is our middle, not our end. Our end is to be in the green pastures with our Good Shepherd forever.” St Paul writes, ‘For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.’ (2 Corinthians 1:5). Any comfort we give or receive abounds through Christ, the one present with and for us on the cross. (4) Pray. We are called to pray for and with those who suffer from cancer. I find i t's when we're desperate that our prayers get real. When things are outside of our control, like having cancer, then we truly come to God as a beggar with empty hands. God always hears our prayers, but doesn't always answer, at least the way we expect. Scripture gives us permission to ask “Why?” in prayer, yet we don't always receive an answer. The prayers of the psalmists are real: “Why, LORD, do you stand far off?” (Psalm 10:1). “Why LORD have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy? My bones suffer mortal agony.” (Psalm 42:9–10). “Why, my soul, are you downcast?” (Psalm 43:5). Perhaps spend some time finding other psalms, that are real prayers, asking “Why?” or “How long?”. Jesus asked this very question “why?”. Hanging from the cross in excruciating pain, unable to breathe, Jesus manages a few breaths and cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22). Why indeed?! And guess what? He never receives a direct answer. God doesn’t call out from a cloud, “I have a plan. It’s a blessing in disguise. The best is yet to come. I’m torturing you to test you. Those other two blokes, they’re worse off than you.” No. God doesn’t answer Jesus’ question in that moment. Jesus the Son trusts his heavenly Father, committing his Spirit into the Father’s hand. God is a God of miracles, so we can pray for healing. Sometimes God does heal miraculously! Yet our healing might be more holistic than we desire. God’s healing is comprehensive; encompassing body, mind, and soul, across all space and time. I find that God is a God who likes to works through means e.g. water at Baptism, bread and wine in Holy Communion. He also works through means such as doctors, nurses, friends, medicine, bed rest, sunlight, exercise, and other everyday stuff. We can give thanks to God for these everyday means of healing, alongside praying for a miracle. I like to pray Scripture. We can pray for the fruit of the Spirit to abound in us and in those who suffer: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22–23). I find praying the direct words of Scripture helpful. For example: “May the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.” (2 Thessalonians 3:16 NIV). “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13 NIV). “[May the Lord's] presence go with you, and give you rest.” (Exodus 33:14 NIV). Ultimate comfort Our ultimate comfort in the face of cancer comes that Christ did not stay dead and buried in the tomb, but rose again on the third day. He is the first fruit of the resurrection. So we too can look forward to the age to come, and the resurrection of the body. As St Paul writes, ‘We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed — in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.’ (1 Corinthians 15:51–52 NIV). One day these cancer prone and ridden bodies will be healed and made new. Until then, as you receive comfort from the Father of compassion and God of all comfort, which abounds in the suffering of Christ Jesus, may you share this comfort with others. Call a thing what it is. Be present. Speak healing words. Pray. Go in peace. Amen.

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Ripple Effect — Jesus & Conversation

What is the Ripple Effect? The Ripple Effect is a Christian discipleship course for evangelism, designed by City to City Australia. This accessible and comprehensive course will help you: Better understand the good news about Jesus yourself. Love family and friends who don’t know Jesus by praying for them regularly. Develop skills in talking about Jesus. Learn how to live a life always ‘on mission’ and ready to serve God. Hear what God is doing in and through others as you pray for them. This second module, called “Jesus & Conversation,” is designed to help you prayerfully proclaim the good news of Jesus by connecting the gospel to everyday conversations. Whole Church Sermon Series Immanuel Church will be engaging in a four part sermon series during Sunday worship based on “Ripple Effect — Jesus & Conversation.” 1 “Creation & Identity” Sunday 21 April 2024 2 “Fall & Brokenness” Sunday 28 April 2024 3 “Redemption & Security” Sunday 5 May 2024 4 “Recreation & Hope” Sunday 12 May 2024 Conversation Spiral Life Group materials Life Groups will have two options: short or full. Short : 4 weekly sessions, aligning with sermon series. Full : 8 self-paced sessions, to be started after introductory sermon series. SHORT series (4 weekly sessions, aligning with sermons) Download SHORT discussion guide here . 1 “Creation & Identity” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KeBPKS3kmi0 2 “Fall & Brokenness” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7dIN4MC2io 3 “Redemption & Security” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_O2WPr-rn4 4 “Recreation & Hope” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3QLr7oiRFU FULL series (8 self-paced sessions, after introductory sermon series) Download FULL discussion guide here . 1 “Deeper Relationships” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zWMag2HoG9U 2 “Deeper Conversations” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=puL3CQqa09c 3 “Creation & Identity” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KeBPKS3kmi0 4 “Fall & Brokenness” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N7dIN4MC2io 5 “Redemption & Security” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t_O2WPr-rn4 6 “Recreation & Hope” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3QLr7oiRFU 7 “Transformation & Change” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EjzHqp3_9vI 8 “Prayer & Intentionality” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhWF9sJ431A

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Doubting to believe — is Jesus legend, liar, lunatic, or Lord?

Do you ever doubt the resurrection of Jesus? Did it really happen? You’re in good company! Thomas, one of Jesus’ followers, had questions too. This blog post briefly explores some common approaches to understanding the resurrection event, with resources for further learning at the end. John, a collector of early eyewitness testimony concerning the life of Jesus, gives an account of one of Jesus’ followers: Thomas. You can read this account in John 20:24–29 . Thomas is sometimes given the nickname “Doubting Thomas.” I feel this name is a little harsh, because by the end of the story he believes, so maybe we should call him “Believing Thomas”?! Let’s recap the story. Jesus’ friends, somewhat disoriented and afraid after his crucifixion at the hands of the Romans, have gathered behind locked doors. They have sheltered in place, in “lockdown” as it were.Then, amazingly, the risen Jesus appears among them! Being in lockdown means nothing to Jesus, he can and does appear to his followers no matter the circumstances. But, for whatever reason, Thomas isn’t with the others during this appearance. So the others tell Thomas they’ve experienced the risen Jesus. But Thomas won’t believe. Thomas hears this impossible, crazy claim and says: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands, and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25). His response sounds reasonable to me. We wouldn’t believe any old fairy tale someone tells us down at the pub. We don’t believe every crockpot blog post we read on the internet (hopefully!). We want to investigate and experience the truth ourselves. Likewise, Thomas sets out to investigate the resurrected Jesus. In fact, the resurrection of Jesus is the core of Christian faith, and worth investigating. St Paul agrees, saying, ‘If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.’ (1 Corinthians 15:14). So let’s investigate the resurrection of Jesus, along with Thomas. Now we don’t have access to the risen body of Jesus, to touch and feel as Thomas did (Jesus has ascended, Luke 24:50–53; Acts 1:6–11) . But we still have many options to thoroughly investigate the resurrection. Author C S Lewis, an atheist turned Christian, suggested there are three options concerning Jesus and his resurrection. Another author (Peter Kreeft) added a fourth. Rather nicely all four options start with a letter “L”: legend, liar, lunatic, Lord. Let’s investigate the resurrection using these four topics as a guide. (1) Legend. Perhaps Jesus, and his resurrection, is just a legend? A myth? A made up story, like the Easter bunny, something that makes “children” feel nice? The problem with this option is that there is historical evidence that confirms Jesus of Nazareth existed as a person, was killed by the Romans, and his followers reported seeing him alive again. Excluding the Bible, there are more than 10 historic sources that confirm the basic story of the Gospel accounts. (By the way, a “Gospel” is an account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus; there are four included in Christian scripture: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John). Josephus, a Jewish historian working for the Romans, gives a brief description of Jesus and his mission (about 94 AD ): ‘At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good and [he] was known to be virtuous. Many people from among the Jews and other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive.’ (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18.3.3) . Lucian of Samosata, a Greek writer in the second century (about 165 AD ) who critiqued Christianity, wrote: ‘The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day — the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account.’ (Lucian of Samosata, “DP,” 11–13) . Other non-biblical sources make various references to Jesus’ life, death, and supposed resurrection. So it’s not reasonable to surmise that Jesus is simply a legend. (2) Liar. Perhaps Jesus, or his followers, are liars? Is the whole thing is a big fraud or scam? (a) Maybe Jesus didn't actually die? (This is often called “swoon theory”). Perhaps he just looked dead, and when they buried him the cool of the tomb revived him? The problem is that the Romans were experts at killing people. Their military culture is perhaps the most efficient killing machine in all of human history. If you want someone dead, ask the Romans. So, it's more likely that Jesus was actually killed, as the Gospels and historic reports suggest. (b) Maybe Jesus’ followers stole his body? In fact the Gospel of Matthew acknowledges this option, so this rumour was probably already circulating just a decade or two after the resurrection (see Matthew 28:11–15 ). But Matthew writes elsewhere: ‘The chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember something that liar said while he was still alive. He claimed, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order to make the tomb secure until the third day. If you don’t, his disciples might come and steal the body. Then they will tell the people that Jesus has been raised from the dead. This last lie will be worse than the first.” “Take some guards with you,” Pilate answered. “Go. Make the tomb as secure as you can.” So they went and made the tomb secure. They put a seal on the stone and placed some guards on duty.’ (Matthew 27:62–66). So Matthew makes clear that Jesus’ tomb was heavily guarded. So again we have a problem: how could Jesus’ followers (a bunch of fishermen, tax collectors, and other misfits), overpower a crack team of Roman soldiers to steal the body? On top of this, later in life the followers of Jesus were persecuted, some to death — it doesn’t make sense for someone to go to their death for a lie. So it’s also not likely that Jesus’ resurrection was a lie. (3) Lunatic. Perhaps Jesus and his followers were crazy? Maybe they wanted to believe it so much, that they hallucinated the whole thing? But there are a few problems with this proposal. (a) First, Jesus did what he said he would do. In the Gospels, it’s recorded that Jesus said he would die and rise again. And this is apparently what happened! A lunatic says crazy things that don't happen. But if they happen, well, then they’re not a lunatic but a prophet. (b) Secondly, the risen Jesus wasn't just seen by a handful of people. Matthew reports that Jesus appeared to a group of women (Matthew 28:1–10). In John, there are more than just the Eleven in the locked room (John 20:19–23). Luke reports the two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus — he even names one of them, Cleopas, so that the first readers of his account could check with him directly (Luke 24:13–35). And St Paul reports that the risen Jesus was seen by more than 500 eyewitnesses (1 Corinthians 15:6). If his followers were crazy, then these hundreds of people all had mass hallucinations at the same time! So it also doesn’t make sense that Jesus’ followers were lunatics and had hallucinations. (4) Lord. That just leaves one remaining possibility: Jesus is who he said. Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, the Lord of life. We’re told that after investigating the risen Jesus, Thomas exclaims, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). We can imagine him dropping to his knees in worship and praise as he realises that Jesus is his Lord and Master. If Jesus is who he said, then this changes everything! This realisation should be like an earthquake in your life, disrupting everything. The world has changed with the resurrection. God has come to you in the risen Jesu Christ. He freely offers you forgiveness, peace, and new life with purpose and meaning. And nothing that happens in this life can take away this peace with God. One aspect that strikes me in this whole account is that neither the other disciples, nor Jesus, chastise Thomas for his investigation. They don’t say, “Oh come on now Thomas, just take us at our word!” No, both the disciples, and Jesus in particular, accept and welcome his enquiries. I think there’s a lesson for us here: it’s is okay for our family, our friends, us, to doubt. It’s okay to ask questions and explore the foundation of our faith. It’s okay to investigate the resurrection of Jesus with all the human resources at our disposal (logic, history, experience, etc). Yet after his investigation, Thomas importantly makes a response: “My Lord and my God.” How will you respond today to our investigation into the resurrection of Jesus? (a) If you're not yet a follower of Jesus, then I encourage you to continue your investigation into the risen Jesus. Thomas sought to have an encounter with the risen Jesus. You too can seek Jesus’ presence. Jesus is present in his Word — the Bible. Read it. Google “read the Bible.” Read one of the Gospel accounts. Mark is short. Or perhaps try John. Immanuel Church would be happy to arrange someone to read a gospel with you (in person or via video call) — contact our Church Office . City Bible Forum has a great reading guide called “Fact or fiction: Resurrection Reading Guide ” ( citybibleforum.org/city/episode/fact-or-fiction ). There are also heaps of other resources giving convincing evidence for the resurrection (see below). Jesus is also present inside believers (this is one reason the church is sometimes called “the body of Christ”). When Jesus breathed on to his disciples, he gave them his Spirit ( John 20:21–23) . Jesus lives inside his disciples and followers. So, when you talk to a trusted Christian, you are also having an encounter with the risen Jesus, just like Thomas. Why not chat with a Christian? (b) If you are already a follower of Jesus, then I encourage you to continue exploring the resurrection yourself, so that you are ready to give a reason for the hope that you have (1 Peter 3:15). Try the City Bible Forum Resurrection Reading Guide yourself. There are heaps of other wonderful resources to strengthen your faith (see list below). The other disciples kept telling Thomas what they had experienced. “We have seen the Lord!” they say to him (John 20:25). So tell someone else about the risen Jesus. Tell someone what you are reading, and invite them to read along with you. Keep walking with them as you investigate the resurrection together. If someone asks you a question you don't know, be honest, say that you don't know, but then ask if they want to seek out an answer together with you. After his investigation, Thomas confessed his faith. He exclaimed “My Lord and my God.” Who do you believe Jesus is? Is he a legend or myth? But this fails to address the historic evidence that records Jesus of Nazareth was crucified by the Romans and seen alive by his followers. Is Jesus a liar and the whole resurrection a fraud? This too seems implausible — the tomb was guarded and his followers would not die for a lie. Is Jesus a lunatic and his disciples crazy? But Jesus did what he said and there are hundreds of eyewitnesses who claim to have seen Jesus alive. The gospel of John, “this Word of God,” was written so that you might believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ and Son of God (John 20:31). So, as you continue investigating the resurrection, may you boldly confess your faith with Thomas that Jesus is your Lord and your God. Amen! Resources for further learning: Book: Lee Strobel, 2006, “Case for Christ” Book: Rebecca McLaughlin, 2023, “Is Easter Unbelievable?” Website: 1517 Publishing, “Evidential apologetics” Podcast: John Warwick Montgomery, 2015, “Christian Apologetics: The Incarnation, Death and Resurrection of Jesus,” Issues Etc Article: Gary Habermas, 1989, "Jesus' Resurrection and Contemporary Criticism : an Apologetic," LBTS Faculty Publications and Presentations . Article: John Warwick Montgomery, 2010, "A New Approach to the Apologetic for Christ's Resurrection by Way of Wigmore 's Juridician Analysis of Evidence," Journal of the International Society of Christian Apologetics , 3/1. Cover: The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio.

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Easter Prayer of St Hippolytus

Christ is Risen: The world below lies desolate. Christ is Risen: The spirits of evil are fallen. Christ is Risen: The angels of God are rejoicing. Christ is Risen: The tombs of the dead are empty. Christ is Risen indeed from the dead, the first of the sleepers. Glory and power are his forever and ever. Amen. ~ St Hippolytus of Rome

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Bittersweet: Sorrow and joy with Jesus (Lent 2024)

Week 1 — Joy is a gift that surprises us in the broken world. Sermon: Discussion page: Week 2 — Childbirth as a picture of pain and joy. Sermon: Discussion page: Week 3 — Compassion for those in bitter times. Sermon: Discussion page: Week 4 — The promise of Christ is entangled with sorrow and joy. Sermon: Discussion page:

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Sermon: The Intentional Year

Sermon preached 7 January 2024, Immanuel Lutheran Church, Buderim, Qld, Australia. Watch the sermon here: https://youtube.com/watch?v=XCT0HMJ3J54&list=PL3T0K1I8XqO07OaGBsQAV4p8bPHMzuNor&index=1 ‘And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River.’ (Mark 1:4–5). Have you made any New Year’s resolutions? Often at the start of a new year, we desire the new year to go “better” than the previous one. If life were a journey, then New Year’s resolutions would be a map to a better place. We might say, “If I lose weight, if I read 20 books this year not 10, if I start this or stop that, then I’ll be in a better place,” and we draw a little map for how our journey through the new year might unfold. Where’s your map for 2024 taking you? In our gospel reading from Mark 1:1–8, John is preparing the people for the arrival of Jesus. The people say, “Right. What’s the plan? Show us the map. How do we get ready for Jesus?” And the answer is, “Repent.” The word “repentance” is a motion word. Repentance means to “turn around,” to “change direction,” or “turn away from present things.” So instead of giving the people a map with a destination, John says, “Stop! You’re going the wrong way. You need to chuck a u-ey. You need to go back to the start.” John prepares people for the coming of Christ by telling them that continuing on the current trajectory is hopeless — left to ourselves, we go the wrong way! Let me tell you a story: Two years ago when I first arrived on the Sunny Coast, I didn’t know where anything was, so I’d always put my destination into the Satnav. But gradually, as I got to know the roads better, I stopped using it. One day I was trying to get somewhere without the Satnav, but things didn’t feel right — I was lost. So I pushed the button on the car, “Okay Google, navigate to [address].” It calculated, and lo and behold, I was driving along the Bruce Highway in the wrong direction ! And you know, if you ever get on the highway in the wrong direction, there’s not much you can do until the next off ramp. So the Satnav kept saying to me, “Turn around when possible. Turn around when possible.” This is the message that John speaks to prepare for Jesus’ coming: “You’re going the wrong way! Turn around when possible.” Have a think about this question: “Are you the person you want to be?”  If you’re anything like me, then your answer is a resounding “No!” If I’m honest with myself: I’m short tempered. I make too many assumptions. I avoid conflict. I can be demanding. Sometimes I’m not clear but long-winded and wishy washy. I can focus too much on the negatives. I’m not the person I want to be. I want to do better, be better. I think I need about 100,000 New Year’s resolutions to become the person I should be! Do you feel the same? This yearning to be “better” is the work of “the Law.” The Law makes demands (“Stop this and start this…”), tells you what you  must do (“You must…”), it’s conditional (“If you do this, then you’ll get hurt”), it threatens (“You’ll regret it if you don’t do this right now”), and — worse of all — the Law never offers any help for you to change! God’s Law tells you that you aren’t the person you’re supposed to be. It holds up a mirror to you to show your true ugly self. God’s Law says, “Become different. Do otherwise.” The Law is the start of repentance. Repentance has two parts: it’s firstly sorrow for sin, but secondly the intention to amend your life. The first part, sorrow, is the work of God’s Law. It leads to despair. It makes you say, “Hang on, I need to change! I’m not who I should be.” But this is only part one of a two part act. The Law prepares you for the message of salvation, the message of the Gospel. The second part of repentance is the good intention to live a new life. If the first part was God’s work, it’s tempting to think this second part of having good intentions is our part. But that’s not true. This second part is still the work of God, but this time he works through his Gospel and Spirit. In contrast to the Law, God’s Gospel makes no demands, it tells you what God  does for you, it’s unconditional, it makes sure promises, and — best of all — the Gospel gives you the help to do what needs doing. So straight after the Law says, “Become different. Do otherwise,” the Gospel says, “I love you. Your sins are forgiven for Jesus’ sake. Believe my promise that you are  a new person in Christ.” Jesus himself sums up these two parts of repentance. Jesus says, “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15). “Repent” is the Law, and “believe” is the Gospel. How do we live repentant lives day to day, week to week? Repentance is connected with baptism. Rather than being a destination, repentance turns you around, and puts you back at the start of your journey with Jesus: at your baptism. Aside: Just to be clear, the baptism that John preached is not Christian baptism, but a “baptism of repentance.” John’s baptism was only the first part, the preaching of the Law in preparation for the Gospel. Jesus would later come and complete the picture with the second part: the Gospel in its fullness. (See Acts 19:1–7). Repentance, therefore, is nothing else than a return and approach to baptism, to resume and practice what had earlier been begun but abandoned. Repentance is like putting on new clothes.  Each day your clothes get dirty or torn. But at the start of the day, after washing in the shower or bath, you put on a fresh garb and are renewed, ready for the new day. Likewise, after being washed in water and having the Spirit poured out in baptism, you are given the robe of Jesus’ righteousness to wear. Yet sin, like dirt, soils your robe each day. You say something that hurts, like spilling sauce down your front. The devil seeks to tear your robe, tempts you to take it off and be found naked before God. But each day you are invited to return to your baptismal waters to be spirituality refreshed and renewed. As you hear God’s word echo, “You are washed clean. You are my child. Start again,” you put off your old self, and put on your new self. As St Paul writes, ‘You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.’ (Ephesians 4:22–24). So baptism is both a once-for-all action, together with daily repentance that returns to the waters to put off the old self and put on the new self like clothes. Or, to use another picture, repentance is like climbing back into a boat from which you’d fallen out.  In baptism, you are placed on the Ark (i.e. the holy Christian church), a safe boat floating through chaotic waters. But the sin corrupting this flesh wants to go own way. So we jump off the boat. The boat is still there, for nothing can destroy it. But we can choose to forsake this gift, to “jump ship.” Likewise the gift of salvation through Christ is always there for you, nothing can ever destroy it. But through sin we forsake the gift. Repentance is firstly to feel sorrow for forsaking God and his gift of grace. It’s to be in those cold waters, fighting the waves, and to realise, “Hang on, this sucks! I don’t want to be here,” and turning around to look at the boat. Repentance is secondly the Holy Spirit picking you up again, and putting you back on the Ark, safe and sound. Repentance is not just an inner working, but an outward change also. Through repentance our actions change, our habits are renewed. It’s a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, yearly task to throw off sin into the dirty clothes basket, and put on righteousness. Like getting dressed every morning, repentance is never finished until our flesh dies and baptism is completed in bodily death. Our entire lives are a life of repentance. One way to live a life of repentance is to follow a “Rule of life.” Beginning in the early church and into the middle ages, monks would follow a particular rule or habit. For example, Jesuits have the rule: “perpetual poverty, chastity, and obedience.” Unfortunately, at times, some believed following their rule earned favour before God — but that’s a lie. We receive forgiveness of sin and become right with God by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith alone, and by no other means. So, following a rule won’t curry favour with God. But a “Rule of life” can be that daily, weekly, yearly u-turn. The rule captures habits that put off the old self, and put on the new self. They are practices through which the Holy Spirit works to pick you up and put you back on the Ark. So here at Immanuel Church, we want 2024 to be “The Intentional Year.” We’re not the people, we’re not the church, we want to be. The first part is to confess to God that we are sorry for our sin. But the second part is the good intention to live a new life, to be changed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Your challenge, should you choose to accept, is to devise a “Rule of life.” We’ve chosen three areas of life, rows running horizontally: prayer, relationships, community. I hope these are fairly self explanatory. (“Community” perhaps more means people “out there,” not just family or church). There are three time frames, columns running vertically: daily, weekly, quarterly. In each square write one  thing you will do or one thing you will stop as an act of repentance. You don’t have to fill in all the squares (I’ve filled in 8 which is probably too many). Use the “KISS” principle: “keep it simple, stupid.” It’s not “pie in the sky” stuff, but something achievable, realistic. It might be things you’re already doing, but formalising it. Write in pencil, because over the coming weeks we’re going to unpack these three areas in more detail, and you might want to change or rework your “Rule.” Try it for January, then revise it for February and beyond. Put it on your fridge, take a photo and star it on your camera roll. Some ideas: Daily prayer : pray the Lord’s prayer when you wake up, thank God for one thing before sleep, read one scripture verse each morning and look for how it connects with your day. Daily relationships : tell someone you forgive and love them, set aside 1 hr of phone free time, one meal with family, take a breath before responding. Daily community : bless someone in Jesus’ name, go for a walk and say hello to someone, pick up rubbish whenever you see it. Weekly prayer : pray for a non-Christian friend, pray for our congregation. Weekly relationships : have a meal with someone outside your family, have coffee with someone, call a friend on the phone. Weekly community : create something and share it, be generous, random act of kindness. Etc. Here’s mine first attempt: The “Rule of life” is your map for the year, your map that turns you around and takes you back to your baptism. You will fail. So start again the next day. Put off the old self, put on the new self, like getting dressed in the morning. Let the Holy Spirit lift you back into the boat. The kingdom of God is so very near to you. Repent and believe. Go in peace. Amen.

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Sermon: A new song of hope for a new year

Sermon preached First Sunday after Christmas (New Year’s Eve), 31 December 2023, Immanuel Lutheran Church, Buderim, Qld, Australia. Watch the sermon here: https://www.youtube.com/@immanuelchurchau It’s fading in our culture, but we like to sing at important events. When our football team wins, we sing the club song. At the start of a school assembly, we sing the national anthem. At a birthday party, we sing “Happy birthday.” At the close a year and the start of a new one, we sing “Auld lang syne” (“Times long past” or “For old times sake”). This last one, “Auld lang syne,” is a reflective song about two old buddies catching up for a drink. Reflecting about old times. Reflect back on this year gone. What has 2023 been like for you? What stands out? If you had to choose a few adjectives to describe the year, what would you choose? E.g. Eventful. Challenging. Transformative. Memorable. Unpredictable. Productive. Boring. Dynamic? Perhaps this is something to continue talking about over morning tea or lunch. God’s people have always sung. The psalms record song lyrics, for which we no longer have the music. The psalms are like a hymn book: a collection of songs sung at different occasions e.g. on the way to the temple, entering the temple, at a coronation, times of joy, times of sadness, etc. Psalm 33 is a song of praise for God’s people. It opens with a call to praise. ‘Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous.’ (Psalm 33:1). This opening uses nearly every known Hebrew word for “praise:” rejoice, praise, make melody, sing, play. But can we sing ‘joyfully’ as we enter 2024? Some of us may not feel like singing a joyful song right now. Maybe this year has been full of heartache. Next year is uncertain. You didn’t get the school teacher or university course desired. Perhaps you have no job in 2024, or new uncertain work. Maybe there are health concerns: yours, a family member, or friend. Floods, storms, and other natural disasters seem to be a constant on the news feeds. Wars and armed conflicts continued or began with horrible outcomes. How can we rejoice given what is happening in the world or my life?! How can we sing joyfully?! Is a hymn of praise right for New Year’s Eve 2023? We can sing a hymn of praise because this song is a new  song . See, our sin-filled world is “old.” Paul and Luther write about sin and call it “the old  Adam.” Revelation calls the devil the “old serpent” (Revelation 12:9). Everything wrong in this world is “old.” Yet Christ is called “a new thing which the LORD created on the earth” (Jeremiah 31:22). Through Jesus Christ, something new has and is happening in the world. By his birth, life, suffering, death, and resurrection we have the promise that all creation, including you and I, will be made new. And this new creation has already begun. In Christ, you are a new creation. You are like this year: the old has gone, the new has come. Only a new person can sing a new song. We can sing a hymn of praise because God is faithful. ‘For the word of the LORD is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. The LORD loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.’ (Psalm 33:4–5). Regardless of our circumstances, we have the promise that God is faithful in all he does. Even though it may not seem like it, the earth is full of God’s unfailing love. In our Gospel reading (Luke 2:22–35), Simeon declares that he has seen  God’s salvation. Where? I want to see it too! Simeon looks down at the baby in his arms saying, “My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations.” (Luke 2:30–31). Salvation is not a concept to be thought, a prayer to be prayed, an action that we can accomplish. Salvation is a person we can look upon, in the manger, on the cross: Jesus Christ. So in the one breath we can say, “Blessed are those who mourn” (Matthew 5:4) and “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Philippians 4:4). At the same time we have both affliction in the world, and peace and salvation in our Lord Jesus Christ. This hymn then develops praise for God using four topics or realms. God is above each realm. God is sovereign over every sphere of reality: creation, history, humans, and church. (1) Creation . Australia is a nation of extreme seasons: fire, drought, flood. ‘I love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains, of ragged mountain ranges, of drought and flooding rains.’ The psalm uses imagery from the creation accounts in Genesis and Job. God spoke, “Let there be… and there was.” Like a king or overseer of a treasury, God puts the chaotic waters and depths into jars in his storehouse. As wild and terrifying as creation can be at times, the psalm reminds us that God is above all this. He is a giving God, who freely gives us all creation and life and breath. So we can sing praise to our Creator God, who freely gives and sustains creation. Challenge : Why not go out into creation this week, and read this psalm? (2) History . The plans and purpose of nations and people means history and current events. And, like creation, all history and events are under the control of God. Nations come and go. Civilisations topple. Historic events continue to unfold. Our times can feel like shifting sand. Things we thought stable are coming tumbling down. Think about some of the events of 2023: interest rates at record highs, deep division brought to light through the Voice referendum, the continuing meteoric rise of artificial intelligence, war in Ukraine continuing and intensifying, armed violence in Israel and Gaza causing devastation. Yet, God foils all these plans. God thwarts these purposes. The Christmas events (celebrated last week) remind us that God uses history for his purposes: it was the Roman census and taxation that brought Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. The Crucifixion events also remind us that God uses history for his purposes: it was through the plans of the religious leaders of the day that Jesus was handed over to the Romans to be crucified for our sake. This hymn confesses that the plans of the LORD are firm, his plans alone stand forever. Everything else in history turns to sand in the hourglass, but the purposes of God’s heart endures for all generations. So we can rejoicing, singing a new song of hope, because all of history follows God’s plans and fulfills his purposes. (3) Human beings. Which humans have you spent time with this 2023? Was there a new friend you made? A friend lost? Someone grieved? This hymn uses a picture of God high above humanity. From his vantage point, God understands and comprehends every human. ‘From heaven the LORD looks down and sees all humankind. From his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth.’ (Psalm 33:14–15). This all knowing surveillance is both a warning and comfort: God sees all and knows all, there are no secrets for him; yet the comfort is that every moment of your life is intimately known to God. He is attentive to you. He knows you better than you know yourself. He knows what paths you walk, what burdens you carry, what illusions you chase after. God knows everything you do! And his gaze fills the earth with his living kindness. So we can sing a new song rejoicing because God sees and knows each human being, who are precious to him. (4) Church. This last stanza concerns ‘those who fear [or trust] the LORD,’ ‘those whose hope in his unfailing love.’ That’s you — the church, God’s people! We are those who fear and trust God first, who hope in his promises. This stanza tells us of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. It contrasts the vanity of relying on human strength. The strongest human resources end up coming to naught. No king is saved is by the size of their army. No warrior wins by their great strength. Even horses, the strongest beast of burden in Israel, can not save. When we face sin, death, and the power of the devil, no human resource is strong enough. Not your good deeds. Not your love for each other. Not your prayers. Not your alms giving. Not your reputation. Not your family. Not your success (or lack thereof) in the eyes of the world. No human endeavour, no human quality, no human strength can bring salvation. Salvation comes by Jesus freely giving his body, Jesus shedding his blood on the cross, for you, for me. So the church, those who trust in this free gift of God’s love, can rejoice and sing joyfully! Challenge : Reflect back over 2023. What were some of the themes or topics that sum up your year. Family Life? Work? Sport? Church? Can you turn each of these into a hymn of praise? This hymn concludes with a confession of trust and prayer. These realities are now, but also not yet. Creation at times is terrifying and destructive. The forces of history and current events appear overwhelming. The heartache of humanity is stifling. The church seems in tatters. Yet: ‘we wait in hope for the LORD.’ In our Gospel reading, Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel. He’d no doubt seen his fair share of natural disasters, nations at war, humankind in all it’s beauty and pain, the failures of God’s people. Yet he looks down at this baby in his arms, and his heart rejoices. I pray that as this year closes, you too can look down at this baby, and see God’s salvation. May you start next year with burdens lifted from you, with joy in your heart, feet on a new path, rest in your souls. For the word of the LORD is right and true, he is faithful in all he does. By the word of the LORD the heavens and earth were made — all creation stands firm. The LORD foils the plans of the nations, he thwarts the purposes of the people — nothing in all history, current or future events can rock you, for the plans of the LORD stand forever. From heaven the LORD looks down and sees all humankind — he sees you, and loves you with unfailing love. Despite great strength, no one can save themself — but those who trust in Jesus Christ are delivered from sin, death, and the devil. So wait in hope for the LORD, he is your help and shield. May your hearts rejoice, even in the midst of any pain and affliction you encounter in 2024. We pray: “LORD, may your unfailing love be with us, even as we put our hope in you. Amen.”

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Pray one Bible verse for the whole of 2024!

A typical New Year’s resolution for Christians is to “read the whole Bible in one year.” This is a noble goal, but many experience failure. Does this resolution come from a place of wanting God to dwell closely with us, or perhaps from one of achievement? What if instead of reading the whole Bible in one year, we read one Bible verse for the whole year?! In 2024 Immanuel Church will be reading Jeremiah 6:16 together. Grab a bookmark or fridge magnet from the Worship Centre, or download Desktop or Mobile backgrounds below.

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Sermon: Simply Faith

Sermon preached Third Sunday of Advent, 17 December 2023, Immanuel Lutheran Church, Buderim, Qld, Australia. Watch the sermon here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y3eclR7mpFQ ‘To all who did receive [the Word], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.’ (John 1:12). I love how each of the gospel writers paints a different portrait of Jesus: Matthew is a royal tapestry:  Imagine a tapestry woven with rich threads of lineage, stretching back through generations, reaching into the depths of Jewish history. Matthew starts with a genealogy, so names like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David dance across the fabric, culminating in the birth of Jesus, the promised King. Exotic oriental threads are added, as Magi see the king’s star rise, and travel from the East bearing gifts for the newborn King. Each thread, precisely chosen, represents a deep tradition, adding intricate detail and colour. Mark is a bold and dynamic sketch:  We heard Mark’s gospel account last week (Second Sunday of Advent). Mark plunges us right into the middle of the action (literary scholars call this in media res , “in the middle of things”). He has an urgency with quick energetic strokes, almost impatient, terse and minimalist. ‘The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.’ The desert air almost crackles with heat as John the Baptiser emerges, his figure stark against the sun baked wilderness. Luke is a photorealistic panorama:  Luke includes fine historic details of the Roman census on his canvas, before broadening out to a panaroma capturing the rolling hills around Bethlehem as the angels appear to the shepherds, who — in a blur — rush to the manger. (We’ll hear part of this account on Christmas Eve and Day). John is a massive abstract impressionist masterpiece:  There’s no mention of the familiar Christmas images (no baby Jesus, no manger, no shepherds, no star or magi). ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ John’s gospel explodes on the sprawling canvas with a dizzying swirl of light, colour, and divine mystery. Think Van Gogh’s swirling brushstrokes or Pro Hart’s colourful and playful techniques. Yes, Jesus can be found in a historical time and place (in ancient Palestine, during the time of the Roman occupation, in a manger), but John reminds us that the Word always was . There’s a timelessness that situates Jesus in the light of eternity. That said, we, as products of this modern era, sometimes struggle to reconcile these different portraits of Jesus. Each gospel account seems to have different events, the order of the events are different, sometimes seemingly conflicting or at odds with each other. So we tend to harmonize these into one dull account, a linear and monotone storyline, mechanically stringing together the events, seeking scientific explanations, stripping away the vivid details, emotional vibrancy, and unique perspectives that each gospel artist brings. We do this, because that’s how our modern mindset works: we want “Just the facts ma’am,” the material, cold, hard “facts.” So the Christmas stories painted by the gospel writers, the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, can be hard to believe for us with this modern mindset. Angels, rising stars, a virgin birth, a mythic “beginning” before time — these require categories beyond the naturalist, human-centred, analytic and materialistic modernist mindset. We ask modern questions such as: “If Mary was a virgin, and there was no sperm, when Jesus was concerned where did the male half of the chromosones come from?” Or “Was the star seen by the Magi some sort of super-position of the planets, creating a bright “star” in the night sky?” At times we struggle to make sense of the story. And you’ve no doubt encountered friends or family  who likewise struggle, who perhaps even think you’re somewhat crazy for believing in angels and the spiritual, or that a baby could be born to a virgin, that the Creator God would be found in a manger in ancient Palestine. I wonder: what part of the Christmas stories do you find most challenging to believe? The fact is: it takes faith to believe the gospel accounts concerning Jesus. Simply faith believes the Christmas stories as written. And yet, belief is exactly what the Christian life is all about — simply faith. ‘To all who did receive [the Word], to those who believed  in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.’ (John 1:12). The children of God are those who believe his name. To believe in someone’s name is to simply trust in that person. To “believe in the name of Jesus” is the accept who Jesus claims to be, and because you believe Jesus, to dedicate your life to him. So we believe that this baby, announced by angels, conceived to a virgin, born in Bethlehem, laid in a manger, whom prophets foretold and angels sang, we believe this baby is actually (somehow?!) the Son of God. But truth be told, there is a bigger hurdle for our belief. Angels bringing messages from the spirit world, stars rising, a virigin giving birth — all this is child’s play for the God who simply spoke creation into existence. If God can say, “Let there be light,” and there was light, then all the rest is trivial. But here’s the crux of the Christian life: do you believe that this almighty, infinite, eternal, transcendent, and holy being we call “God,” do you believe that God came to earth as a human baby? This is the bigger question! Do you believe that God almighty became vulnerable, risking himself by being placed on the bossom of a teenage peasant girl? Do you believe that the infinite God became finite, willingly limiting himself to a feeble human frame? Do you believe the eternal God located himself in a particular time and place? Do you believe that the transcendent God comes immanently to you, so close that you can taste and smell him in bread and wine? Do you believe that our holy, holy, holy God dared descend into darkness and mess, that he would be covered in the blood of birth, be laid in a manger along with the scent of animal droppings, be worshipped by lowly shepherds? Do you believe that God comes to you, to dwell with and in you ? Yes, you?! This is exactly what the cross of Christ requires: a recognition that God humbled himself for you, that God was shamed for you, that God was willing to become naked for you, that he entered the deepest darkness — death — for you. As Martin Luther writes: “The glory of our God is precisely that for our sakes he comes down to the very depths, into human flesh, into the bread, into our mouth, and into our heart.” God’s glory is not bright lights and heavenly hosts (although he does have that too!), but his true glory is when he comes down into the messy flesh, into your heart. So simply faith believes the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us (John 1:14). Maybe you’re wondering, “How do I get such faith?” Or, like me, you go through times of doubt and struggle? Well, the good news is that faith is a gift from God. Faith is received when God works in us. And how does God work in us? He works through the sacraments: baptism, absolution (forgiveness of sin), and Holy Communion: God works in our baptism  — In baptism God promises to give rebirth through the washing [with water] and the renewal of the Holy Spirit. He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy (Titus 3:5). So we trust in God’s action in baptism, which we believe unites us with Christ’s death and resurrection, adopts us into God’s family, and gives us the right to be called “children of God.” God works in absolution  — When the forgiveness of sin is announced, “Your sins are forgiven,” we trust God’s spoken promise. But each time we hear this declaration, we say, “Really? Me? My  sins are forgiven? But …” and then we fill in the blank with the reasons either that (1) I don’t need my “sin” forgiven, or (2) my sin is so great they couldn’t possibly be forgiven. So when we hear the absolution, faith is created: we are led to say, “Yes, I sin. And yes, my sin is forgiven in Jesus’ name.” God works in Holy Communion  — Each fortnight (or whenever we celebrate the Lord’s Supper), when we hear the words Jesus spoke instituting the meal, we are confronted with his promises: “given for you” and “shed for you, for the forgiveness of sins.” As we eat the bread and drink the wine, we once again encounter the truth that the Word truly dwells in me, that God dared to let his body be broken for me, that God dared to shed his blood for me, that God really died for me, was buried for me, and rose again for me. So we receive and experience faith by receiving God’s work in us. So faith believes the Christmas stories, and more so faith believes that the Word truly became flesh and dwelt among us. But simply faith also believes the light shines and the darkness will not overcome it. Where I am in my faith journey, this aspect of faith is the hardest for me! I read and watch the news — with our worldwide 24/7 news, I see and hear the darkness that spreads it’s tendrils all around the earth. As a pastor I listen to people’s stories of heartache, grief, pain, sickness, etc. There is so much darkness out there! At times it seems the darkness is overwhelming. But the darkness “out there” is simply a result of the darkness “in here” [motion to heart]. Our sin-darkened hearts are the collective root cause of the darkness we experience in this world. We are greedy, so others go hungry. We are self-centred, so don’t care for our neighbour in need. We think about ourselves, so damage the environment which in some cases leads to natural disasters. In the face of this darkness, there’s not much else to do but pray. Faith leads to prayer. In fact, some have suggested that faith is nothing else than prayer. In faith we pray for God’s kingdom to come on earth, not only “out there,” but also in us , through us. In faith we pray that God’s will be done on earth, not only “out there,” but also in us , through us. In faith we pray for our daily bread, for those in need “out there” and also for us . In faith we pray for our sins  to be forgiven, just as we forgive the sins of others “out there.” We pray that the light will shine in the darkness, even when it seems that darkness is darker than the light. So what are we to do? Such faith-filled prayer is busy and active, refusing to accept that the darkness is overwhelming. So we wake up each morning. We love our family the best we can: we feed and clothe them, encourage and pray for them, forgive them. We love our neighbours by going to work: serving people food, building houses, teaching, healing, caring, fixing. We watch out for our neighbours who are sick, lonely, or in need. We believe the light has come into the world. Jesus Christ, announced by angels, born of virgin, laid in a manger, is this light. And the darkness will not overcome the light. So we shine the light of Christ in the world through word and deed. We remember God’s action in our baptism. We hear the absolution. We receive the Lord’s Supper. We pray. We love our neighbour. This is simply faith. Amen. Let us pray: Dear Jesus, you are the light of the world. There is so much darkness around us. Let me recognise you as you come in the ordinary. Strengthen my faith that your light will overcome the darkness. Help me be a witness and testify to your light. Amen.

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Simply Christmas

What is Christmas like for you? What pressures do you feel at Christmas time? Does your Christmas seem too much and overwhelming? If you could redesign Christmas, what would you keep? What would you discard? This Advent at Immanuel Church we want to stop and meditate on the simplicity of that first Christmas. God born as a helpless baby in a messy manger to ordinary parents, in an ordinary town, unexpected. This story is full of simple hope. This is simply good news. This — sometimes strange story — requires simple faith. It’s a simple story of God’s love for you. This is “Simply Christmas.” Download our devotional resource here :

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What happens when you die?

Sermon preached All Saints Sunday, 5 November 2023, Immanuel Lutheran Church, Buderim, Qld, Australia. Watch the sermon here: https://www.youtube.com/live/IEb0VWwDEuU?t=1500 What happens when you die? Although not a popular topic in polite conversation, this is one of the big questions of our existence! Differing worldviews have different responses: Atheist : nothing happens, you cease to exist, your body decays into worm food, and full stop. Pantheist : you become part of the universe e.g. tree, mountain, river, stars (as in the Lion King). Spiritualist : you become a ghost, with your spirit floating around, perhaps haunting things. Reincarnation : you endlessly live multiple lives, each in another body and situation, depending on your “karma.” Christian caricature : your soul floats up into heaven, sits on cloud playing a harp with chubby baby-like angels firing arrows. We don’t talk much about death. It’s become an uncomfortable subject, a taboo topic. Our western culture has sanitized death. We seem to have hidden death behind hospital curtains, in coffins, now with push a button the body is whisked away, out of sight. But St Paul does ‘not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death.’ (1 Thessalonians 4:13). So, as followers of Jesus, what do we believe about death? What happens when you die? (1) Death is a mystery. St Paul in a long chapter about death and resurrection says, “Listen, I tell you a mystery.” (1 Corinthians 15:51). In our New Testament epistle reading we likewise heard, “What we will be has not yet been made known.” (1 John 3:2). We simply don’t know everything we want to about death, it’s a mystery. How can we describe the indescribable, how can we talk about something we’ve never experienced? That said, although a mystery we do know some things about death. Scripture uses word pictures to paint us a fuzzy kind of picture of what happens when we die. Metaphors drawn from this life are used to help us understand the next. For example: Isaiah says that this life is covered by a “shroud,” and at the dawn of the next age this “sheet” will be removed. ‘On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign Lord will wipe away the tears from all faces.’ (Isaiah 25:7–8). Right now we see a dim reflection in a “mirror,” but then we will see “face-to-face” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Although a mystery, Christ has come to reveal eternal truths, and to lead us with confidence through death. (2) Death is a new birth. Scripture personifies death, making it out to be a person, even a person with considerable power. Death is described as “the last enemy to be destroyed” (1 Corinthians 15:26). As an enemy, death “seizes you,” “grips you,” “holds you down” (Acts 2:24). Because of this, death, Scripture says, is “agonising” and full of suffering (Acts 2:24). While some deaths are peaceful, the reality is that some deaths are not. Palliative care seeks to minimise pain, while leaving the timing of death in God’s hands. However our end, death is agonising because it’s connected with sin. St Paul says, ‘The wages of sin is death.’ (Romans 6:23). Because of sin, death causes suffering and grief, both for the one dying and for those left behind. Those left behind are separated from their loved ones by death — grief is simply the natural response to loss. Grief can affect our emotions, our behaviour, our sleep, our appetite, our thinking — it’s often expressed bodily with tears, sobbing, loss of appetite, tiredness, or aches and pains. But the hope we have is that this “agony” of death is simply the beginning of something else. The word “agony” that Scripture uses to describe death is actually the word for “labour pains.” So death is the struggle of a “new birth,” with this “labour” leading to new life. St Peter says in one of his sermons, ‘You put Christ to death by nailing him to a cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.’ (Acts 2:23–24). That last enemy — death — tried to seize Jesus, to hold him down, but he slipped free, like a newborn baby delivered from the womb. And this means that as hard or agonizing as death may be, it’s actually a new birth. (3) A dead body returns to the dust. Like a flower that blossoms then wilts and returns to the soil (Job 14:2), this body of dust returns to the dust. “From dust we are, from dust we shall return.” (Genesis 3:19). In a typical death, if there is such a thing, breathing becomes laboured and eventually stops, the heart ceases to beat; with blood no longer flowing the skin colour changes, and body temperature cools. If you’ve ever been around a dying person, there comes a moment when their breath/life/spirit goes out of them. ‘The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit/breath returns to God who gave it.’ (Ecclesiastes 12:7). After death, we care for a deceased body with dignity, because our body is a gift from God. For example, we don’t just chuck bodies in the rubbish! We careful store deceased bodies, even dressing them, before burial or cremation, returning the body to dirt and dust. Scripture often describes death as a seed being buried in the dirt (John 12:24-26; 1 Corinthians 15:35–44). But just as a seed sprouts into a new plant, death is not the end and new life awaits to burst forth from the dirt. ‘The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.’ (1 Corinthians 15:42–44). (4) Death is going to sleep, resurrection is being woken up. Scripture often uses the picture of sleeping to describe death (Isaiah 26:19; 60:1; Malachi 4:2; Romans 13:11; 1 Corinthians 15:51–57; Ephesians 5:14; 1 Thessalonians 4:13–18). Our word “cemetery” derives from a word meaning “dormitory” — a cemetery is a “dorm room” with “beds” (graves and coffins) where the dead “sleep.” So what happens when you die? This picture hints that, just as we do not sense time passing while asleep, a dead person does not sense the passing of time — they likely close their eyes in death, and wake up in the next age. And just as an alarm clock rudely wakes us up in the morning, a loud “trumpet call” will wake us up in the next life (Matthew 24:31; 1 Corinthians 15:51–57; 1 Thessalonians 4:13–17). Handel’s Messiah has a famous movement based on a passage in 1 Corinthians 15: ‘The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be rais’d incorruptible, and we shall be chang’d.’ (1 Corinthians 15:52–53). Listen here: https://youtu.be/2r-Wc6Vj4hc?si=Be3ZnTvJdwLxDINc (5) There will be a resurrection of the body. Scripture promises that the dead shall be resurrected. Interestingly, death is always connected with going down, but resurrection is connected with standing up. The word “resurrection” literally means “to sprout,” “to arise,” “to rise up,” “to stand up erect.” The bodies we have now will lie down in death, but stand up again in the resurrection. We will be ‘changed, in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye’ as St Paul says (1 Corinthians 15:51–52). It will be like putting on new clothes. ‘The perishable will clothe itself with the imperishable’ (1 Corinthians 15:53). We will take off this perishable, weak, frail body, and — like putting on clothes — put on a new imperishable, strong, glorious body, one that won’t wear out but will last forever. We heard in our epistle reading: ‘What we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him.’ (1 John 3:2). Our resurrected body will be like Jesus’ resurrected body. Jesus’ resurrected body was recognisable (somewhat), he could breathe and talk, he could touch and be touched, he could eat and drink, walk and work, and be in relationship and community with others. When we die, we will be like him — raised with a new body! Hence we confess: “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” (6) There will be a presentation/judging. “I believe in Jesus Christ … who ascended into heaven … from thence he will come to judge the living and the dead.” You will be presented and introduced to God. This judgement is nothing for followers of Christ to fear. We will be presented to God mature and perfect (Colossians 1:28), robed in white, washed clean by the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7:9,14). We'll be introduced as friends of Jesus, the Son of God. Judging simply means “to set right,” not merely to dish out a punishment. God’s default position is not to judge to condemn, but he judges to save! Jesus himself says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already.” (John 3:17–18). Those who wilfully reject the Son are condemned, they will get their wish to be apart from God. But what will happen to those who don’t know Jesus? Good question! Honestly, I’m not sure. Thankfully I’m not the judge — God is. What I do know is that God the judge is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abiding in steadfast love (Exodus 34:6). His will is to set things right, to bring justice and justify through his Son, Jesus Christ. Everyone is ultimately in the hands of this gracious heavenly Father. (7) There will be a new heaven and new earth. In Revelation we hear about John’s vision, ‘I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.’ (Revelation 21:1). What happens after death is not merely spiritual, but material also. There will be a new earth: new soil, new air, new water, new trees, new bodies. Isaiah uses the picture of a party or feast (Isaiah 25:6), and Revelation of a wedding banquet (Revelation 19:7–9; 21:2). So it seems there’ll be things akin to eating and drinking, dancing and laughing, meaningful work, praise and worship. But there’ll also be no more hunger, no more thirst, no more back breaking labour in the scorching hot sun, no more tears (Revelation 7:16–17). You will be with God for an eternity in a perfected material world. That sounds like good news to me! “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4). One final question: Can I prepare for my death? We may not know the hour or manner, but we can somewhat prepare for death. In a sermon on this topic, Martin Luther makes some helpful practical suggestions: (1) make arrangements for temporal goods and property to avoid squabbles (e.g. a will), (2) forgive as you are forgiven, (3) look at God toward whom death leads, not your own life, (4) prepare with confession of sin, the sacraments and prayer, etc. See full summary here: immanuelchurch.au/funerals (click on “I want to prepare for death” and scroll to the end). So, what happens when you die? It’s a mystery, but the sheet covering this life will be lifted off, and you will see God face-to-face. Although a struggle, the labour of death results in a new birth. You’re a flower that blossoms and wilts, like a seed buried in soil that springs up. The trumpet will sound and all the sleepers will wake up. Like putting on new clothes, your body will be resurrected. You’ll be presented to God. Friends of Jesus will stand together with him, mature and perfect, robed in white, washed clean by the blood of the Lamb. And we’ll feast at the wedding banquet, enjoying the new creation, praising and worshipping God forever. Amen!

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Prayer for All Saints remembrance

O Lord Jesus Christ, you are the Resurrection and the Life, and through your victory you have attained eternal righteousness, joy, and holiness for us. As you have promised, we pray, come soon to judge, and bring us a joyful resurrection to life and a homecoming in the eternal paradise of our Father’s kingdom. You, Jesus, are arisen from death, and rule with the Father and the Holy Spirit, forever and ever. Amen. Prayer for the Order of Burial, found in Allgemeines evangelisches Gesang- und Gebetbuch zum Kirchen und Hausgebrauch, Hamburg, 1846, p. 758.

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We seek Thee at this hour

Father in Heaven! Our thought is turned toward Thee; again it seeks Thee at this hour, not with the unsteady step of a lost traveler but with the sure flight of a bird homeward bound. Grant then that our confidence in Thee be not a fugitive thought, a momentary leap, a mistaken appeasement of the heart and flesh. Grant that our aspirations toward Thy Kingdom, our hopes for Thy glory, be not unproductive birth pangs or waterless clouds, but that from the fullness of our heart they will rise toward Thee, and that being heard they will quench our thirst like the refreshing dew and satisfy us forever like Thy heavenly manna. — Søren Kierkegaard, Papirer II, A, 285.

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Why read the Bible? (Part 4 of 4)

Hi, my name is Dan and I’d love to share with you why I read the Bible. (This is part four of a four part series: see part 1 , part 2 , and part 3 ). Do you know that the Bible is actually a library of books? It’s written by a whole bunch of different inspired authors over thousands of years. One of these authors, Paul, was a literary genius. He even invented words. One of the words he invented was “ theopneustos” [1] . Let me explain what this word means. Paul called the Bible theopneustos . He invented this word by mashing together two existing words: theo (“God”) + pneustos (“breathed”) . The Bible is “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). When someone speaks to you, they breathe. Put your hand in front of your mouth and speak (loudly) for a few seconds. Did you feel your breath on your hand? By calling the Bible “God-breathed,” I think Paul is saying that hearing the words of the Bible is to hear the very voice of God. In the Bible, God is speaking — his breath (or “spirit”) goes out from him to you. Another word for “breath” is “spirit.” One week after Jesus reportedly rose from the dead, we hear that he appeared to his followers. They wrote down their eyewitness account of this appearance. Their account records Jesus’ words: ‘ “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” ’ (John 20:21–23). Imagine that! The very Creator and Saviour of the whole cosmos is speaking to us, to you! He breathes his (Holy) Spirit of peace and forgiveness on us through the Bible. This makes me want to listen. This makes me want to learn. This makes me want to obey. This makes me want to love and forgive others. And that’s one of the reasons why I read the Bible — as I read the words of the Bible, God breathes his Spirit on me.
[1] See 2 Timothy 3:16. By the way, an invented word is called a ‘neologism.’ --- If you’ve never read the Bible, why not give it a try? The Gospel of Mark is a good place to start. If you’ve read the Bible before, but not picked it up for a while, why not try it again? You could try the Letter to the Ephesians . If you’re local to the Sunshine Coast, Immanuel Church would love to help arrange someone to sit down with you to read the Bible — contact us to arrange. If you already read the Bible regularly, have you given thought as to why you read this book? We’d love to hear why you read the Bible! (This is part four of a four part series: see part 1 , part 2 , and part 3 ).

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Why read the Bible? (Part 3 of 4)

Hi, my name is Dan and I’d love to share with you why I read the Bible. (This is part three of a four part series: see part 1 , part 2 , and part 4 ). The word “Bible” comes from the Greek word “biblia” which means “scroll” or “book.” Some people have called it the “book of books.” But what if I told you the Bible is not just a book, but a living sword? Let me explain. In a sermon which was circulated by the early church, one preacher said that the Bible is ‘alive and active, sharper than any double-edged sword’ (Hebrews 4:12). The Bible is ‘alive.’ It’s not just some dusty, ancient book, written by a bunch of dead people. Rather, as we read it, God speaks to us through his Spirit today (individually, but also — importantly! — collectively in community). But not only does God speak to our daily existence in the here and now, but these Words bring “life” in us — through the words, God’s Spirit fills us with good things like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc (see Galatians 5:22–23). God’s word makes us alive as he speaks to you here and now. The Bible is also a ‘double-edged sword.’ As a sword it cuts us to the bone. It’s double-edged because it speaks in two ways. Firstly, God’s Spirit speaks “the Law” — commands which tell humanity how we should and are intended to live. The Law not only guards and guides humanity, but also reveals that humanity is broken and that we need help. Secondly, God’s Spirit also speaks “the Gospel” — this is the “good news” that Jesus is God’s Son who has come to heal, restore, change, transform, and buy back all creation, including you and me. Lastly, the Bible is ‘active.’ As we hear the two types of word (Law and Gospel), the words do stuff in my heart, mind, and body. They transform me into a new person. The Law points me to Jesus, and the Gospel tells me what Jesus has done for me. And that’s one of the reasons why I read the Bible. It’s a living sword that does stuff in my life. --- If you’ve never read the Bible, why not give it a try? The Gospel of Mark is a good place to start. If you’ve read the Bible before, but not picked it up for a while, why not try it again? You could try the Letter to the Ephesians . If you’re local to the Sunshine Coast, Immanuel Church would love to help arrange someone to sit down with you to read the Bible — contact us to arrange. If you already read the Bible regularly, have you given thought as to why you read this book? We’d love to hear why you read the Bible! (This is part three of a four part series: see part 1 , part 2 , and part 4 ).

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why-read-the-bible-part-2-of-4
Why read the Bible? (Part 2 of 4)

Hi, my name is Dan and I’d love to share with you why I read the Bible. (This is part two of a four part series: see part 1, part 3 , and part 4 ). The word “Bible” comes from the Greek word “biblia” which means “scroll” or “book.” But I think that perhaps another, more fitting, name for the Bible could be “lamp.” Let me explain. We hear in a long and beautiful poem that the Bible is ‘a lamp for my feet, a light to my path’ (Psalm 119:105, also see Psalm 19:8). Imagine walking around an unfamiliar house in the pitch black of night — you get lost, don’t know where you are going, bump into furniture, hurt yourself. This is what it’s like to live this existence by ourselves. If we don’t know who we are, we don’t know why we’re here on earth, we don’t know the meaning of existence, or how we are to live with each other — it’s like walking around in the dark. We hurt ourselves and others, we get lost wandering around aimlessly. But the Bible is a light to our path. In the Bible God reveals to us our identity — we are children of God, his precious creations. In the Bible God reveals our purpose — we are to love him and serve our neighbours in need. In the Bible God reveals morals and ethics i.e. how we are to live — we are to live peaceably with each other, to help, to serve, to show compassion, etc. Hearing God speak to us through the Bible is like someone flicking on the light switch in a darkened house — now we see the world clearly! And we see this world is a beautiful yet fallen, messy, broken, sinful world. But we also see how to navigate and walk the path with the light. It’s Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that flicks on this switch in our lives, bringing light, acting as a lamp for our feet — the Bible makes us restored and purposeful people. And that’s one of the reasons why I read the Bible. The words in this book give light to the path of life. --- If you’ve never read the Bible, why not give it a try? The Gospel of Mark is a good place to start. If you’ve read the Bible before, but not picked it up for a while, why not try it again? You could try the Letter to the Ephesians . If you’re local to the Sunshine Coast, Immanuel Church would love to help arrange someone to sit down with you to read the Bible — contact us to arrange. If you already read the Bible regularly, have you given thought as to why you read this book? We’d love to hear why you read the Bible! (This is part two of a four part series: see part 1, part 3 , and part 4 ).

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why-read-the-bible-part-1-of-4
Why read the Bible? (Part 1 of 4)

Hi, my name is Dan and I’d love to share with you why I read the Bible. (This is part one of a four part series: see part 2 , part 3 , and part 4 ). Did you know that, according to the Guinness World Records , the Bible is the top selling book of all time?! But the Bible is more than just a popular book — its words are worth more than buckets of gold! Let me explain. The Psalms are ancient songs that were written in Israel around 3,000 years ago. We no longer have the music, but we still have the lyrical verses. The nineteenth song (or psalm) says the following: They [God’s words] are more priceless than gold. They have greater value than huge amounts of pure gold. They are sweeter than honey, that is taken from the honeycomb. (Psalm 19:10). We spend so much of our life trying to amass gold, money, wealth, and stuff. But all this is temporary — stuff can easily be lost or stolen. Rust or moths destroy our property. As we near the end of life, we often find ourselves trying to get rid of all the stuff we’ve amassed in life, because we can’t take stuff with us into death! But the Bible has ‘greater value than huge amounts of pure gold.’ This is because the Christian Bible contains the very words of God. In particular, the Bible tells the story of Jesus — who claims to be the Son of God. (Jesus proved his claim by rising from the dead, but that’s another post ). Through these divine words written in the Bible, God offers new life, now and in the age to come. The words in the Bible — particularly the words of Jesus Christ — freely offer forgiveness, wholeness, restoration, deep peace, and secure hope. It’s through his Word that we enter into relationship with God. The good news is that God’s Word lasts for an eternity, and our relationship with God is for eternity too. In fact, one of Jesus’ followers, Simon Peter, once said to him, “Lord, to whom [else] shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68). This good news recorded in the Bible can never be lost, stolen, or destroyed. Jesus himself once said, “Do not put away riches for yourselves on earth. Moths and rust can destroy them. Thieves can break in and steal them. Instead, put away riches for yourselves in heaven. There, moths and rust do not destroy them. There, thieves do not break in and steal them.” (Matthew 6:19–20). Living a new life now and into eternity, as proclaimed by Jesus in the Bible, is more precious than all the gold in the world. These words have eternal consequences. Nothing can take away the forgiveness, wholeness, restoration, peace, and hope these true words bring — not even death itself. Nothing can take away your relationship with God. And that’s one of the reasons why I read the Bible. The words in this book are worth more than all the gold in the world! --- If you’ve never read the Bible, why not give it a try? The Gospel of Mark is a good place to start. If you’ve read the Bible before, but not picked it up for a while, why not try it again? You could try the Letter to the Ephesians . If you’re local to the Sunshine Coast, Immanuel Church would love to help arrange someone to sit down with you to read the Bible — contact us to arrange. If you already read the Bible regularly, have you given thought as to why you read this book? We’d love to hear why you read the Bible! (This is part one of a four part series: see part 2 , part 3 , and part 4 ).

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for-faith
For faith

Teach me, O God, not to torture myself, not to make a martyr out of myself through stifling reflection, but rather teach me to breathe deeply in faith. — Søren Kierkegaard (circa 1840)

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Your greatness, my nothingness

God in Heaven, let me really feel my nothingness, not in order to despair over it, but in order to feel more powerfully the greatness of Your goodness. — Søren Kierkegaard (circa 1850)

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Exodus: the epic story of God, his people, and you

During September – October 2023, we are digging into the story of Exodus. Download the devotional resource for use as individuals or in Life Groups here (6MB):

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Annual Report 2022–2023

Download our Annual Report for July 2022 - June 2023.

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Where can I find rest?

(Abbreviation of sermon preached Sunday 9 July 2023. Watch full sermon here .) Life is hectic! Parents & families know the busyness as they rush from one commitment to the next. Grand-parents experience the hustle and bustle of child-minding. Those in business know the toil of taking four steps forward, only to take three steps back. Those who are sick suffer restless and sleepless nights in bed or in hospital. The often frantic pace of life can feel like a weight on our shoulders, a burden to carry. Jesus invites us to find rest in him. (1) “Come to me.” (Matthew 11:28). Notice there are no strings attached, just a simple invitation. Not “Come if you’ve truly repented,” not “Come if you’ve prayed the right prayer earnestly enough,” not “Come if you have your life together.” No! Jesus simply invites saying, “Come to me.” Reflection : What conditions do you place on yourself or others coming to Jesus? (2) “Come ... all you ...” (Matthew 11:28). This invitation is very inclusive: “all” is a big word! Hosting a birthday party or another type of event, you typically have a limit on the number of people you can invite. But here Jesus invites “all.” This “all” includes you! Pause to ponder this for a moment... Jesus invites you. (3) “Come ... all you who are weary and burdened.” More precisely, Jesus invites “all who are wearied and burdened.” We all carry baggage on our back! Sin is a wearisome burden to carry : Guilt. Shame. Hurt. Pain. Grief. Sickness. Abuse. Even old age and decaying bodies is a sign of sin. Death itself is the ultimate burden we must carry in this broken world. Work is a wearisome burden to carry . At times, our work — whether paid or unpaid — can be wearisome. We toil for what seems like inadequate compensation. We bust our guts only to be criticised or under appreciated. In the account of the fall in Genesis chapter 3, the ground is cursed: work from then on will be painful toil, with thorns, thistles, and weeds. Life in this fallen world is hard work and tiring. One commentator says that Jesus invites ‘those wearied by the sheer hard work of making ends meet and surviving in a tough world.’ Reflection : What burdens do you carry? What weighs you down, day to day or in particular right now? (4) “I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28). “Give” is gospel language, it’s good news! Jesus freely offers you a gift, doing what you can’t do for yourself. You can’t take the load off your own back, but Jesus promises to do the work for you. God is ever giving. (5) “Take my yoke upon you. ... For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:29). The giving is an exchange — we exchange one thing for another. We give our sin, Jesus gives us his holiness. We give guilt, Jesus gives forgiveness. We give shame, Jesus gives his glory and honour. We give grief, he gives comfort and hope. We give death, Jesus gives new life. A “yoke” was a piece of wood worn across the shoulders to evenly distribute a load. Beasts of burden would be “yoked” so that they could pull a heavier load. After Jesus was sentenced and flogged, the soldiers forced him to carry his cross — probably just the cross beam upon his shoulders, like a yoke. Jesus carries the burden of sin for you on the cross. (6) “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me ... and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29). The easier, lighter burden Jesus gives is to learn from him. Instead of carrying around the guilt, shame, and pain of sin, we are to learn. Learn how to love God, and learn how to love each other. This is still a load to carry (it’s not always easy to love others!), but it is easier. CHALLENGE : Set aside 30 minutes to learn from Jesus and find rest in God’s Word. Perhaps read part of the story of Jesus, such as the Gospel of Mark. Listen to some hymns or Scripture put to song. Sit in nature and read a favourite psalm (e.g. Psalm 103). PRAYER Heavenly Father: I bring to you those who are weary and burdened. Those who carry the weight of sin from this broken world. Those who are work hard yet are barely surviving. Teach us to sit and learn from you. Let me learn from Jesus how to love you and those around me. Give me your rest. Amen.

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How do I share my testimony?

(Abbreviation of sermon preached Sunday 2 July 2023. Watch full sermon here .) Have you ever had someone ask you why you believe in God? How did you answer them? A “testimony” is an eyewitness account of how God has acted in your life, to rescue you through Jesus Christ. But how do you prepare a testimony? Is there a “right” way and a “wrong” way to share your testimony? John gives his testimony in John chapter 1, verses 19–34. (1) “I am not the Messiah.” (John 1:20). John’s testimony starts by him confessing that he is not the Messiah. Phew! What a relief! Your testimony begins by realising that you are not the Messiah. You do not save people. Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus saves. Reflection : In what ways can we act like the Messiah when sharing our testimony? (2) John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness.” (John 1:23). John found a Biblical character (Isaiah) who connected with his life story. Reflection : Can you think of one or two Bible characters who connect with your life story? Share with someone which character or story you chose, and why. (3) “Look, behold!” (John 1:29). John then gets the hearer/reader to take notice. “Look, behold!” “Hey, wake up!” “Pay attention! Something new is happening!” When you’re sharing a testimony, you’ll need to get the attention of your hearer. This part of John’s testimony also points away from self toward Jesus. A testimony is not (merely) about you, but primarily points people to Jesus. The artist Matthias Grünewald depicts John with a distinctive finger pointing at Jesus. Reflection : What are some ways you could get the attention of someone who doesn't know Jesus yet? (4) “The Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29). John uses a word picture to describe who Jesus is. This is a word picture taken from the culture of his day e.g. the Passover and temple sacrifices. Reflection : Brainstorm a few word pictures from our culture that explain who Jesus is. (5) “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him.” (John 1:32). John finally explains his own personal experience of God. Your personal experience may have been miraculous, but may also be simple or ordinary. Either is fine! Reflection : How have you experienced God acting in your life? Start with some of the ordinary ways, and then, if you wish, move onto any miraculous experiences. CHALLENGE : Prepare a short testimony using some of the elements John used. PRAYER Heavenly Father: thank you for sending your Son, Jesus Christ, our lifesaver who rescues us from dangerous seas. Give us peace knowing he is the One who saves. We bring to you those who do not know your peace yet. Give us courage to share our testimony and point them to Jesus. Amen.

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Washed & saved — A Bible study on baptism

Baptism is a precious gift from God. You might like to learn more with this Bible study on the mystery of baptism.

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Remembrance of Baptism

Lord God, heavenly Father, we give you thanks for the wonderful gift of baptism and the many gifts that come with it: forgiveness of sins, the Holy Spirit, and eternal life through your Son Jesus Christ. In your grace and mercy, preserve us in faith that we may never doubt your promise, but find our comfort in you in all temptations. Send us your Holy Spirit that we may renounce sin and always continue in the righteousness given us in baptism, until we receive eternal salvation by your grace.

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Red Letter Jesus

There are fifty (50) days between Easter and Pentecost. Your mission, should you choose to accept, is to read the “red letters” of Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Luke over these fifty days. Grab a printed booklet from the foyer, follow us on social media for daily prompts, or download the booklet with daily readings here .

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Fight Like Jesus — Lenten devotional resource

Download the Fight Like Jesus devotional resource for Lent below. This standalone resource is based on the book by Jason Porterfield. Watch the story behind the book here . Read the first chapter for free here . A short-term small group will meet at the Immanuel Worship Centre from 7:30pm on Wednesday nights throughout Lent (22 Feb, 1 Mar, 8 Mar, 15 Mar, 22 Mar & 29 Mar).

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Pray for burning hearts

What if instead of resolving to pray the whole Bible in one year (a common New Years resolution!) we instead resolve to pray one verse for the entire year?! Each first Wednesday of the month we’ll meet online and in person (in the Prayer Room under our Worship Centre, in Buderim Queensland) to pray Luke 24:32 — “Were not our hearts burning within us as Jesus talked with us on the Way and opened the Scriptures to us.” Wednesday 1 February 2023 — Part 1 — “Were not ...?”

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prayer-lord-give-me-strength
Lord, give me strength

Lord, give me the strength to greet the coming day in peace. Help me in all things to rely on your holy will. Reveal your will to me every hour of the day. Bless my dealings with all people. Help me to treat all people who come to me throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that your will governs all. In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings. In unexpected events, let me not forget that all are sent by you. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering and embarrassing others. Give me the physical strength to bear the labours of this day. Direct my will, teach me to pray. Amen. ~ Philaret, Metropolitan of Moscow (1782-1867)

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compassion-study
Compassion Bible study

“Compassion calls us beyond ourselves.” So, what exactly is compassion? How do we understand it? And what role does it play in our lives? Compassion has nothing to do with feeling sorry for another person. Compassion doesn’t come from a place of power, control or prestige. Compassion isn’t about rescuing another or trying to make a person feel better, although the outcome of compassion may look like that. Compassion begins when I step out of myself, recognise my own fallibilities, and seek in some small way to walk in the shoes of another and to enter generously into another’s point of view with no judgement. It involves moving away from the ego that tries to define and determine who I am and what I do. Instead, I step aside and welcome the other person into the space I take up and see them and listen to them perhaps for the first time. Compassion is the natural outcome of God’s grace. Grace and compassion are inseparable. One naturally leading toward the other. Download the Bible study guide written by Pastor Doug to dig deeper into “compassion.” Use it individually, as a household, or in your Life Group.

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Who is Jesus and why does he matter?

Jesus is perhaps the most well known, and controversial, figure in human history. But who is he? And why does he matter? A person in history Jesus of Nazareth was a person who existed in history. Outside of the Bible, there are multiple reliable historical accounts of the life of Jesus. Granted, these are brief, but they confirm nonetheless that Jesus of Nazareth walked the dusty roads of the Middle East some 2,000 years ago. When we add in the Gospel accounts of Jesus from the New Testament in the Bible (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), then we have an even fuller picture of this historical man called “Jesus.” Born as a baby The Gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke relate the events of Jesus’ birth. In one sense it was ordinary (taking place in a small rural town). But in another sense it was extraordinary (with visions of angels, a virgin birth, and visitors from afar). Either way, the account of Jesus’ birth means that he was 100% human. Raised as a Jew Jesus was raised according to the Jewish customs. He was circumcised and presented at the Temple according to the customs. He went to Synagogue and was taught the Hebrew Scriptures (what Christians now call the Old Testament). He practiced the Jewish religious festivals, such as the Passover (a meal of remembrance for when God acted to rescue the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt). To fully understand Jesus requires us to understand his ancient Jewish context. A healer The Gospel accounts depict Jesus as a healer. He healed the blind, deaf, mute, lame, and demon oppressed — it’s recorded that he even raised people from the dead! All this sounds completely unbelievable. That is until we get to the next part... The Son of God Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be more than human, he claimed to be the very Son of God. Not only was he 100% human, but he was also 100% God! This is how he could do and say what he did. An angel, announcing his birth, declares Jesus is “the Son of the Most High [God].” Later, a voice from the clouds at his baptism declares, “You are my Son, whom I love.” And Jesus himself dares to forgive sin by word alone, something only God can do! In fact, the reason the Jewish leaders of the time handed Jesus over to the Romans to be crucified was because they accused him of blasphemy — calling himself God. It is clearly claimed again and again, by others and by Jesus himself, that he is the very Son of God. Predicted to die Jesus’ sentencing to death by Roman crucixion was not totally unexpected — it’s recorded that Jesus predicted his death. For example, three times in the Gospel of Mark (perhaps the oldest account of Jesus’ life), Jesus tells his friends that he will die. But they simply do not understand! So, although difficult to understand at the time, his death was not unexpected. Crucified by the Romans Jesus was seen as a political threat to the fragile stability of the region, so was crucified as a rebel and insurrectionist. Crucifixion was a common method used by the Romans to keep their subjects in check. The victim was attached to a cross made from wood, often naked, in a public place such as a busy crossroad. The victims would slowly asphyxiate. Crucifixion was always public, to send a message: “Watch out, or this could happen to you.” It was humiliating, shameful, painful, and brutal. All four gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), as well as other historical documents, report that Jesus was crucified as a criminal. Raised from the dead But his crucifixion was not the end of the story. His friends reported seeing him alive! First some women went to this burial place, but found the tomb empty. They told others, who confirmed that the body was gone. Jesus then appeared to his closest followers, and is reported to have appeared to more than 500 people! Ascended into heaven If Jesus is resurrected from the dead, why can’t we see him now? We're told that his body has ascended to heaven. Three of the Gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) report Jesus’ ascension. Some skeptics might say, “Well, that’s convenient!” But by ascending, it means Jesus is no longer limited to his human body, which can only be in one place at one time. Rather, he has given us his spirit (his very essence, his breath, his word) which lives inside each of his friends. By ascending, Jesus can be everywhere at once. So what? So what? Who is Jesus? There are three possible options: (1) Jesus was a fraud (liar), (2) Jesus was deluded and crazy (lunatic), or (3) Jesus was who he said, the Son of God (Lord). It's not possible that Jesus was simply a wise teacher who taught enduring human values — this is not who he claimed to be. He claimed to be God. He claimed to have come to die and rise again to make you and this world right again. So he's either a liar and fraud, deluded, or who he said. Who do you say that he is? If he is in fact who he says he is, if he is the very Son of God, then this changes everything! If he's God (as I believe he is!), then it means God has come to earth, he has come to heal you, to forgive you, to offer you new life now, and a resurrected body like his forever. There is credible evidence that Jesus is who he says, and that is good news for everyone and for you!

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Church Plan & Calendar 2023

What are your plans for 2023? What do you hope for this year? Do you have any dreams? Just like an individual person, Immanuel Church also has some plans, hopes, and dreams for 2023. To share these, the church leadership team has put together a Church Plan , as well as a Church Calendar . Listen to Pastor Dan explain the plan. Throughout this year, we’ll be guided by some simple focus words: “pray,” “connect,” and “build mission heat.” All our scheduled events link to one or more of these focus words. In addition, rather than setting a New Year’s resolution to “Read the whole Bible in one year,” we’re going to do the opposite: our collective New Year’s resolution will be to read one Bible verse for the whole year! We’ll return again and again to Luke 24:32. I encourage you to read and pray this verse daily, to really let the Word of God dwell richly in you. Read the surrounding context. Read the whole Gospel of Luke. Read and pray about hearts, fire, “the Way,” Scripture, and being opened. To help you soak in this one Bible verse, you can grab a bookmark or fridge magnet from the Worship Centre foyer. We even have wallpapers for your desktop computer and mobile phone ! We pray that this year your hearts might burn with the good news of Jesus Christ who is for everyone, and for you. Download the Church Plan & Calendar here: Grab your bookmark or fridge magnet from the Worship Centre foyer. Download wallpapers here:

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New year, same God

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will — 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that he lavished on us. (Ephesians 1:3–8 NIV). What’s your plan for 2023? For some, 2023 might hold excitement and new possibilities — a new school, a new job, new adventures. For others, perhaps 2022 has ended poorly so you are concerned 2023 will continue the trend — severe weather events (such as flood), sickness, death, loss, or grief. However we feel 2023 might turn out, I think we all agree that we want God's blessing for the new year. St Paul seems to promise this in the opening to his letter to the church in Ephesus: ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every blessing in Christ.’ (Ephesians 1:3). Bring on the blessings for 2023! Except I've missed out an important word, haven't I?! ‘Spiritual.’ ‘Praise be to God … who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.’ The promised blessings are spiritual, not material. Yet spiritual blessings are much more important than material blessings. Material things are temporary. Our houses, property, even our experiences and bodies are all transient — like grass or flowers, here one moment then gone the next. In contrast, spiritual blessings are eternal. God lavishes his spiritual blessings on you. I love this word ‘lavish.’ It’s the word that stood out to me the most as I meditated on Paul’s opening. “Lavish.” Say it aloud slowly a few times. It means “fullness” or “superabundance.” St John says the same thing in a different way, ‘We have all received one blessing after another. God’s grace has no limit.’ (John 1:16) . Some translations have ‘grace upon grace.’ God heaps grace upon grace. When you think you might have enough grace, out of his riches God heaps some more upon you! Imagine you have a new pool in the backyard that you are trying to fill up. But the water mains to your house is currently off. Now imagine a neighbour shows up with a 1L bottle of water. You pour it into the pool without much effect. Then another friend arrives with a 20L container of water. Again, it hardly does anything when poured into the empty pool. Our paltry efforts do almost nothing! But now imagine that the heavens open and rain buckets down. Water washes into the pool from all directions. Before long it’s overflowing into the storm water drainage system. This is what it means for God to “lavish” his grace upon you! This is what it means to have “grace upon grace.” Was there a time in 2022 that you felt empty? Tired? Emotionally drained? Spent? Whenever we're empty, God wants to fill you with his love and grace. And this love that he lavishes upon you is not a mere word, but this love is demonstrated with action: his blessings are ‘in Christ.’ God gives himself to you in the person of Jesus, Jesus shed his blood to show you what self-giving love looks like, to show you who God is and what God is like. It’s Jesus’ blood that brings you a superabundance of spiritual blessings. What are these spiritual blessings that God lavishes on you in Christ? (1) The past. St Paul writes that you are part of God’s plan since before creation. God has chosen you ‘before the foundation of the world.’ Before a single atom was brought into existence, God had you and Christ together in his mind. You are ‘predestined’ according to his plan. God is working out everything according to his will and purpose. Really?! Everything? For some 2022 has not ended well. People affected by floods have lost everything, they are hurt and angry. Is this God’s plan?! Senseless violence and murder has featured heavily on the news during the last few weeks of 2022, with a shooting in rural Queensland and stabbing in North Brisbane. Is this God’s plan?! Countless people spent Christmas sick in hospital, apart from family. Is this God’s plan?! We need to remember that God has promised us spiritual blessings. St Paul reminds us here that we are placed in the ‘heavenly realms’ — this means we get a glimpse of things from God’s perspective. His ultimate plan is to redeem us and bring us closer to him. And this might mean hardship, suffering, and pain in the temporary, material world. But from God’s heavenly perspective, our current hardships are merely one small (alien) part of his grand plan to lavish his eternal spiritual blessings upon us. God wants to strengthen our faith in him, to empty us of ourselves, to crush our pride and self-reliance — God is working out everything according to his will and purpose from his heavenly vantage point. (2) The Present. St Paul writes that you are adopted to ‘sonship.’ In our politically correct times, this can sound contentious for women. Women might rightly ask, “Am I adopted as a son?” And the answer is yes, you are adopted as a son! We are not adopted as generic children of God, but as sons of God. In New Testament times, the historical reality was that women and daughters were not afforded the same rights as men e.g. they wouldn’t inherit property. But Paul says that everyone — Christian men and women — are adopted as God’s sons , with full rights to the inheritance. Being adopted means your relationship with God is forever changed. Yes, being sons of God means having forgiveness of sin — you are forever washed clean, holy and blameless. But your relationship with God is so much more than your sin. Your relationship is now about your identity — you are adopted to sonship. Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, because he poured out his blood for you, you are a son of God. Nothing you do, nothing that happens to you, no sin, no wrongdoing, no thought, no action, changes your identity. Nothing on earth or even heaven, no angel or demon can ever change your identity. Because of what Jesus has done, you are always a son. What a spiritual blessing! No one can take this spiritual blessing away — it is eternal and permanent. If you lose your car, if your house burns down, if you lose your job, if you don’t get into the university course you wanted, nothing that happens in this material world can affect this spiritual blessing — nothing in all creation can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. (3) The future. St Paul writes that you are an ‘heir to an inheritance.’ The inheritance is not material. Not money. Not a precious heirloom. Not a house or property. But a spiritual inheritance. You are an heir to eternal life. A home with God forever. Unending love, joy, and peace. You even get a down payment on this future inheritance — a guarantee, a deed marked with a wax seal to make it official and binding. ‘You were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance.’ (Ephesians 1:13–14) . We get to enjoy part of our inheritance already now! The Holy Spirit is a down payment who brings you love, joy, peace right now. He fills you up when you are empty. When we hear God’s Word. When we are forgiven. When we sit in God’s presence through prayer. When we take Holy Communion. When we gather with other sons of God. You are filled with the Holy Spirit. God lavishly pours out himself into you. He pours out so much that he overflows into the lives of those around you. He gives you so much spiritual blessing, that it overflows to everyone else. Love and forgiveness, hope and strength pours out from you to others. It’s like you’re a glass at the top of a champagne glass tower. God pours his abundant grace out into your life, and it flows down into the lives of those around you. Your family. Neighbours. Friends. Your work colleagues. Those you serve in the community. Your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Story: “The dumpster diving waitress” Let me tie everything together with a story. There was once a waitress working at a five-star restaurant. The generous owner would offer free meals to anyone who struggled to pay the bill. But as word got around, the waitress noticed an increase in poorly dressed, hungry customers who claimed they couldn't afford the meal. The waitress brought this up with the owner, saying this type of customer didn't deserve the meal and were taking advantage of the generosity of the owner. She suggested they enforce a strict dress code, and if people still snuck in, to reduce the size of the meals as a cost saving measure. But the wealthy owner insisted he didn't care about the money. Instead he told his staff to increase the meal size and squeeze in more tables to accommodate the growing number of customers. The waitress quit, not happy that her ideas were ignored. She worked at series of other hospitality jobs, each for a cruel owner who exploited her. But after a few months, each restaurant was sold to an anonymous new owner and promptly closed. This impacted her resume and she began having trouble securing work. Her friends moved and the bank balance dwindled. She was hungry all the time. One night, while dumpster diving for dinner, she recognised her old place of employment. The lights were on and she could hear laughter coming from inside. She stepped through the front door into the light. A young waiter welcomed her enthusiastically and seated her at a table. Her stomach growled as she looked over the familiar menu. She ordered the smallest, cheapest dish. It wasn't long before the owner of the restaurant arrived at the table with a mouth-watering plate piled high with the finest food. The old waitress shook her head, showing her empty purse. But the owner motioned to the kitchen and a stream of wait staff brought plate upon plate of delicious food to the table — far too much for the waitress to eat in a week, let alone one meal. There wasn't even enough room on the table for all the plates! After the waitress had eaten as much as she could, the owner came to the table smiling. He explained all this was part of his plan. He had purchased and closed each of the restaurants she had worked at, to save her from the cruel owners and ultimately bring her back to his restaurant. In his hand the owner had an employment contract marked with his signature and company logo, appointing the women as full partner and maître d’ (head of wait staff). The only condition was that she freely lavish meals upon any needy person who walked through the door, just as she had received. The waitress’ life was changed forever. --- 2023 is a new year, but may you know that God is the same. New year, same God. And God is a God of superabundance. In Christ, God lavishes his spiritual blessings upon you. You are a part of God’s plan since the creation of the world. You have been adopted as God’s son, with full rights. You are heirs to the inheritance of eternal life. And as a down payment you have been freely given the Holy Spirit. When you feel empty or struggling in 2023, remember that God freely pours out his grace upon you. Grace upon grace. He lavishes abundant spiritual blessings that aren’t merely material or temporary, but eternal and everlasting. May you live in these promises. Amen.

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finding-space-in-advent
Finding space in Advent

Around this time of the year the family messenger account is buzzing. I’m one of eight siblings with mum at 88 years of age and dad heading for his first century. Needless to say, there is a lot of communicating happening. This year we are off to my youngest brother’s place which he and his wife recently moved into after moving up from down south. It’s their first Christmas of hosting the extended family gathering. So, at the moment, it is all about the logistics of who is bringing what and who is coming when. So, we will gather to celebrate. Although I’m never quite sure what we are celebrating and why and what has again got lost in the planning and organising... I wonder: How are your Christmas plans going? At this stage I imagine they’re probably in full swing, or lost in the fog of end of year logistics. But what would happen if you were to stop for a moment and push aside all of the distractions, the pseudo cultural festivities and all that entails — what would we have? Perhaps you would find an empty space, a little like the empty manger waiting for the newborn Jesus. Now... what to do with this space you’ve found? Sit for a bit and ponder what might fill your space. You might like to pray with Mary as you sit in your empty space, pondering the empty manger soon to be filled. Luke 1:46–55 I acclaim the greatness of the Lord, I delight in God my Saviour, who regarded my humble state. Truly from this day on all ages will call me blessed. For God, wonderful in power, has used that strength for me. Holy is the name of the Lord! Whose mercy embraces the faithful, one generation to the next. The mighty arm of God scatters the proud in their conceit, pulls tyrants from their thrones, and raises the humble. The Lord fills the starving and lets the rich go hungry. God rescues lowly Israel, recalling the promise of mercy, the promise made to our ancestors, to Abraham’s heirs for ever. Amen.

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A meditation on Silent Night & Luke chapter 2

Below are some reflections on Luke chapter 2 in the light of the well known Christmas carol ‘Silent Night.’ We invite you to spend some quiet time meditating on the Christmas story told through this carol. Listen to the first verse and follow along with the words: Verse One “Silent Night”
Silent night, holy night!
All is calm, all is bright.
Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child.
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace. Luke 2:6–12
While [Mary and Joseph] were there [in Bethlehem], the time came for the baby to be born, and [Mary] gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” It was in Austria during the Advent season of 1816 that a young priest by the name of Joseph Mohr was walking through the winter depths. As he gazed out over the silent town in which he was a pastor, the inspiration came for the lyrics of what we now call ‘Silent Night.’ In the silence, he was inspired to write words which have been translated into more than 300 languages and into vast numbers of arrangements. It has been sung in churches, town squares, concert halls, and even on the battlefield. In this carol, Joseph Mohr leads us into the account from Luke. The scene of shepherds living in the fields, their home, the silence and the star-studded night sky, keeping watch over the sheep to whom they have been entrusted. The silence. All is calm, all is bright with only the illumination of stars and moon. The only background sounds that of whispered breeze, crackling fire and the occasional call of ewe and lamb. Ponder for a moment, imagine that scene. Joseph Mohr drew on the silence of his home town and on the account above in Luke to find inspiration for Silent Night. What of the silence in your own life? Stop for a moment and ponder those times when you have been in the silence, where the only sounds might be the distant call of a Boobook owl, the land breeze, or the rustle of unseen critters in the darkness. Take a moment to make some space, to pull aside the curtains of distractions that plague our lives and draw on those silent moments in your life. It was into this space, this silence, that the unexpected exploded. Not with some kind of loud explosive pyrotechnic display. But into the silence rather a messenger of the Lord appeared before the shepherds, accompanied by light of overpowering brilliance that scared the daylights out of them. Literally, in the Greek, they feared with “mega” fear. So the messenger said to them, “Do not be afraid.” I love that line… “Calm down people.” Can you imagine this scene? But in the silence, surrounded by silence, nestled in silence, announced in silence come these words, “I am bringing good news of great joy for all the people… To you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” In the silence the words of good news for all people. No exceptions here. Good news for all people. Sit for a moment in silence and ponder this scene, these words of hope and time of inspiration. Now listen to the second verse and follow along with the words: Verse Two “Silent Night”
Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight.
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia,
Christ the Saviour is born!
Christ the Saviour is born!
Luke 2:13–15
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in te highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” People talk about liminal places, thresholds or what the Celts call “thin places.” Those places, those moments are when reality seems less real, less tangible, transparent in some way. And in that thin place, perspectives often change, life takes on a different hue with often implications for the future. Here are the shepherds in this threshold moment, now confronted not only with a messenger of the Lord, but also a huge gathering of a multitude of the heavenly host. I love that word “host,” it’s a quaint euphemism for “army.” Literally this huge army of heavenly warriors appeared, or perhaps became apparent , for a moment. But this was no militaristic scene of warriors about to be unleashed on the invading Roman armies. Listen to what they announce. “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill among people.” This is the very opposite of what would be expected of a military operation. Here the warriors come to bring a message of peace, of goodwill. Their imposing, perhaps frightening appearance underscores the message of peace and goodwill. That this baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger is a promise, a sign of something unimaginable. Peace, goodwill. Are there armies that besiege you from time to time? Anxiety, frustration, fear, sorrow, doubt, uncertainty, distrust, impatience, busyness — to name a few. Take a moment to ponder. In the silence, in those paddocks outside Bethlehem, the word of peace was announced and the fear of quaking shepherds quickly turned to expectation and hope and a desire to see this One on whom the message of peace and goodwill had been set. Set aside a moment to sit silently and perhaps welcome this message of peace and goodwill. “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God…” Listen to verse three as you follow the words: Verse Three “Silent Night”
Silent night, holy night!
Son of God, love's pure light.
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth. Luke 2:16–20
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.
When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. The angels had left, the thin place closed over but not without its impact on the shepherds. “Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” Let us go and see… They had stepped over the threshold … the unexpected, the unanticipated now coming into focus. What a strange contrast… An army of heavenly warriors announcing the birth of a baby along with peace and goodwill. And so, they departed in haste… They saw a baby. Now shepherds would have been well acquainted with birth. But this birth brought with it something inexplicable. It touched the hearts and souls of these shepherds in such a way that they couldn’t stop talking about it, to the point that everyone they told was amazed. In a manger, because there was no place for them, they came face to face with Immanuel, God with us. Face to face with grace. God’s gift of peace and goodwill to all of humanity. God’s gift of grace comes to us as helpless, unadorned, naked, poor, unseen but with the message of peace and goodwill ringing in the background. With this image, the shepherds returned not despondent (“What is this, a baby born in abject poverty?”), but with rejoicing! They saw in the midst of this place of poverty and impossible odds the One who would bring the most amazing and life transforming change to all of humanity. Perhaps you have experienced one of those inexplicable life transforming moments? When everything has been turned on its head? When wealth perhaps become poverty, security becomes a prison, ownership becomes an anchor, being right becomes tears, pride turns into humility? I’m sure you have you story, as I do mine. Christ, the Saviour, Immanuel, God with us, a baby, God’s grace, face to face with humanity. God comes to us then, Jesus Lord at thy birth, bringing silence and peace to death, to sin, anxiety and fear, to our busyness, to anything that might overwhelm us. Turning everything upside down. (Images from https://www.artofthepicturebook.com/silent-night )

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Christmas is good news

These last few years has seen the rise and fascination with “fake news.” Google “fake news 2022” for a sample. #fakenews Fake news is the spread of misleading information in order to gain financial or political advantage, often by exaggeration or spreading false headlines that grab attention. Fake news is putting a spin on something for your own benefit. We might think fake news is a modern invention, but it’s actually as old as the hills. The reading from the gospel of Luke for Christmas Day counters the spread of fake news doing the rounds in the ancient Roman Empire. This fake news was about Caesar Augustus, the Roman Emperor at the time of Jesus’ birth. In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (Luke 2:1) We might need a little history lesson, so bear with me! This fake news started with the assassination of Julius Caesar. Julius had adopted Augustus as his son and heir to the Empire. (Augustus was known as Octavius at that time). After the assassination, Octavius took control and had his adoptive father Julius declared a god. This had the convenient side benefit of Octavius being declared “the son of god.” As a god, Octavius set about creating an outward façade of free government, but in reality he was their military dictator. Octavius had his puppet senate officially change his name to “Augustus” (which literally means “worthy of praise”). He fashioned himself as a god worthy of praise, building statues and temples in his own honour. Coins from that era bear his face with the words “Divine Caesar.” Augustus made sure he was publicly praised as the heroic leader of the Roman army, a rescuer who had ushered in peace after decades of civil war. He would send messengers to cities to proclaim the “good news” or “gospel” that his reign had brought “freedom,” “peace,” and “salvation.” The following inscription was found in a Roman city. Does it sound familiar? (Hint: compare it with what the angels say to the shepherds in Luke 2:9–14). ‘Providence [gave us] Augustus for the benefaction of mankind, sending us … a saviour who put an end to war and established all things; and … when [Augustus] appeared he exceeded the hopes of all who had anticipated good news…; and [his] birthday … marked for the world the beginning of good news through his coming.’ Augustus fashioned himself as a god, a “saviour” of the world, he spread the “good news” that he was a divine “Lord” who had brought peace and prosperity to the Roman Empire. Yet this was not the reality for most people. This was fake news. In reality masses of people were brutally oppressed. More than 90% lived in abject poverty. Their taxes were unbearable, many of them barely making ends meet. Against this fake news about Augustus we have Luke’s Christmas story — the real good news. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to [a group of shepherds in the fields nearby], and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today, in the town of David, a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a … heavenly [army] appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” (Luke 2:9–14) Luke’s Christmas story counters the fake news doing the rounds at the time. The real good news, proclaimed by an army of angels, is that Jesus , not Emperor Augustus, is the real and true saviour. And what type of saviour is Jesus? Jesus is not a fake saviour, just for the rich and powerful, but a saviour for all people, ordinary people. It’s no accident the angels appeared to shepherds. Shepherds were ordinary, everyday people. Most of them probably held down at least two jobs, working a day job and shepherding at night. Stinky and dirty, they would not have been welcome in a marble palace, but were very comfortable visiting the real saviour as he lay in an ordinary feed box in an ordinary house in Bethlehem. We are constantly bombarded with the world’s fake news and propaganda. We hear it incessantly. I wonder what lies the Christmas story exposes for us today? Here’s three fake news stories the real good news of Christmas sets straight. Lie #1 . “If God does exist, he must be distant and far away.” The Christmas story tells us the real good news that, although God is the mighty Creator in the highest heaven, he’s not distant and far away, but also down here with us. He’s down in the dirt, in the muck. He’s the God of the everyday and the ordinary. As we gather around the Lord’s table in Holy Communion, we experience his presence: Jesus’ body and blood, through ordinary bread and wine. The birth of Jesus reveals that God is here with us in the ordinary things, today. Lie #2 . “Life is just a bunch of meaningless, random stuff happening.” The Christmas story tells us the real good news that God is an author, in fact he is the Author (with a capital ‘A’). He has been writing his story since the creation of the world. This story has been told from generation to generation, with important parts written down along the way. Just as an author creates and knows their characters, God creates and knows you and all people. The story of life is not a meaningless jumble of random events assembled by accident, but has a carefully and lovingly crafted plot. The story of life has a beginning, middle, and end. It has a genre — it is a rescue mission. And the climax — the great jailbreak — is the person of Jesus. The angels in Luke’s gospel specifically use the title of “Saviour” when announcing Jesus’ birth (though the gospels of Matthew and Mark do not use this specific title). Through his birth, death, and resurrection, Jesus rescues all the other characters in God’s story from death. The amazing story of the birth of Jesus reveals that God lovingly authors and intervenes in our world, today. Lie #3 . “God, Jesus & that stuff is only for some people, not me.” The Christmas story tells us the real good news that God has come to bring joy to all people, especially you. “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today, in the town of David, a Saviour has been born to you .” The qualifier “all” is pretty big, and the words “to you” means exactly that. Although Jesus is the main character of this rescue story, you too have an important role — not only does Jesus rescue you, but like the shepherds you are called to rescue others by telling them the real good news. The birth of Jesus reveals that you — yes, you! — are an important character in God’s continuing rescue story, today. So this Christmas you are invited to listen to the real good news. Find a church near you and attend a Christmas service (google “lutheran church [your city/suburb]”). Listen with the shepherds. Run to Bethlehem with them and see this thing that has happened. Find the extraordinary baby lying in an ordinary manger. Jesus, the real son of God, has come to earth as part of God’s rescue story for you . And as you hear the story, as you see and find Jesus, may you be renewed in your zeal to spread the word. May you race all over town like the shepherds, proclaiming the real good news that Jesus is Messiah and Lord. Jesus is the climax of the real good news story that God is with you, today and forever. This is true. Amen.

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New logo

Immanuel Church has a new logo! You'll see this new logo roll out on signs and screens, emails and letterheads from this week (22 November 2022). Why do we need a new logo? We want to tell a clear and consistent visual story to the community as we communicate the good news of Jesus Christ. Plus, when something is changed, people take notice — we want to remind the community we are here and for them! What does our logo communicate? The new logo tells the world a few things about us: Central cross — the cross of Jesus Christ is central to everything we are and do here at Immanuel Church. Rising sun over water — represents our physical location on the Sunshine Coast. Water — points to our baptism, where we are connected to the death and resurrection of Christ. Sun — points to Christ who calls himself “The light of the world” and our mission to shine his light for others. Circle — connects us to the broader Lutheran Church of Australia, who have a circle (and central cross) in their logo. Colours — the blue and gold not only represent the ocean/sky and sand of the Sunshine Coast, but they connect us to Immanuel College, who have the exact same colours on their logo. Focus statement: “For everyone, for you.” Along with the logo, we have a new focus statement: “For everyone, for you.” “For everyone.” One of the amazing things about Immanuel Church is that we are for everyone — God’s grace draws together all people, all generations, all cultures. We don’t segregate into homogeneous groups; we don’t have creche, kids church, teens church, and adult church all running at the same time in separate spaces; we don’t all look or think or act the same. Rather, as the body of Christ, we’re a diverse bunch who are drawn together as one in Christ — arms and legs, knees and feet, stinky armpits and beautiful eyes, dirty fingernails and toned biceps — all lumped together into one body, with Christ as the head. That's why you’ll often hear us talk about being “intergenerational.” So just as our gracious God welcomes everyone, we too strive to welcome all sorts. We are for the young and the old, singles and families, able persons and people with disabilities, long time followers of Jesus and those curious about him or new to the Christian faith. We are constantly striving to welcome such diversity, especially at our worship services. But this is hard! It means putting the needs of others before our own. It requires self-sacrifice. It means the first is last, and the last is first. It means learning to love as God loves. “For you.” If there was ever a phrase that epitomises the good news of Jesus, it is perhaps the phrase “for you.” Jesus Christ came into the world “for you;” he suffered and died on the cross “for you;” he rose again to new life and ascended “for you.” The good news of Jesus is for everyone, but in particular for you! In fact, every Sunday as we celebrate Holy Communion, we hear Jesus speak these words about his body and blood: “given for you , shed for you .” Here at Immanuel Church, we desire that more and more people will hear the good news that Jesus is for everyone, and for them. So this logo is more than a splash of ink. It communicates to the world who we are as “Immanuel Lutheran Church.”

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advent-calendar-2022
Advent Calendar 2022

We’ve put together an Advent Calendar. We pray the calendar is a blessing for you and your household as you anticipate the joy of Christmas. The calendar is designed for families, but could also be used by a couple or when you have people visiting your house. Put it on your fridge or dining table. Don't get worried about “getting behind” and “catching up” — whenever you remember, do the activity corresponding to that day in December. The calendar has been adapted from an Advent Calendar by The Parent Cue . Download it here:

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Keep watch (Compline)

Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous; and all for your love's sake. Amen.

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What does the Bible say about Creation?

Times of uncertainty or crisis can cause us to ponder the big questions: “Who am I?” “Where do I come from?” “What’s my purpose for being here?” The Biblical creation accounts speak to these deep yearnings. In the creation account recorded in Genesis chapter 1, God is pictured as a king who is a master sculptor. He orderly fashions you in his image, as his idol or icon. He declares you to be “very good.” And he sends you out to rule and represent him as his co-ruler in the far flung corners of his kingdom. This is who you are, where you came from, and your purpose. Not long ago, I was driving home through a remote rural area. On a narrow part of the road, a large truck was coming the other way. I moved over, close to the edge of the road to give him plenty of room. But I misjudged and moved too far. With recent rain, the dirt shoulder had about a 4–5cm drop. So at 100km/hr the tires dropped off the road onto the dirt shoulder. I turned the steering wheel to get back on the road, and the tire jumped over the lip. But I over-corrected and veered slightly into the oncoming traffic lane. Thankfully the truck had passed and there was no traffic behind him. But my heart was pounding, my mind racing. Is this it? What’s been the point of my life? What have I accomplished? Each human has a deep longing at some point for answers to these questions: “Who am I?” “Where do I come from?” “What is my purpose for being here?” “What's the point of all this?” “Why is there something rather than nothing?” We tend to bury these thoughts, but they can come out after a near miss, during a crisis, or when we encounter death. Have you ever had your life flash before your eyes? Have you ever asked these questions? I asked these questions a lot during my university years. I investigated some of the great faiths of the world (Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and particularly atheism). But I came to the conclusion that the Christian faith has the best (attempted) answers to these deep yearnings. (We note that faith is a journey, not a set of pre-packaged answers, so the best “answer” we can hope for is a sketch). The creation accounts in Christian Scripture address these questions: “Who am I?” “Where do I come from?” “What is my purpose for being here?” Notice that I said “creation account s .” There is more than one creation account in Scripture! An Australian Lutheran theologian once said, “‘Whoever imposes on the Bible one single view of creation impoverishes the Word of God by reducing the rich variety of the biblical accounts of creation.” (Friedemann Hebart, LTJ, 1991). Each creation account is a different colour of paint splashed on a canvas; each account interacts and joins with the others to form a beautiful and mysterious picture of God, our world, and humanity. For example: Psalm 33:6-9 — God is a powerful ruler who speaks what is right and true, bringing the world into existence by mere breath. Psalm 95:1-7a — God is a great king who made, and therefore owns, the depths and mountain peaks, the seas and dry land. Psalm 136 — God is a blacksmith hammering out the earth across the chaotic waters, like gold or silver atop an anvil. Psalm 148 & Jeremiah 31:35–36 — God is a commander or lawgiver who chisels his decrees, not on a stone tablet or wall, but on the earth itself. Isaiah 40:21–22 — God is a mighty King, enthroned so high above us, that we look like grasshoppers; from his vantage point God spreads out the sky like a thin tent. Amos 4:13 & Isaiah 64:7 — God is a potter who fashions and forms the earth (see also the Genesis 2 creation account). 1 Samuel 2:2-8 — God is the Rock on which the universe is built, a builder who constructs the pillars on which the earth rests. Jeremiah 10:12-16 — God is the powerful Maker of thunder storms with wind, lightning and rain; he has the primordial sea, rain, hail, snow, light, and wind under his control, stored away in his storehouses and treasury rooms like a merchant king. Job 38–41 — God is a builder, a tailor, a commander, a rich ruler with storehouses, a wise king, etc. John 1:1–5 — God is word, life, and light shining in darkness. Colossians 1:15–18 — God is the first, above all, giver of life to all creatures. These, and other, Biblical creation accounts are not minutes of historical events. Rather, they paint a picture of events that can’t be described, they transcend our human understanding, even our very language. Modern hearers, like me, want to know the historic and scientific details. But these creation accounts are not so concerned with “How?” (other than broad brush strokes); they are concerned more with “Who?” — the relationship between God, the earth, and us. So what is the picture that the creation account in Genesis chapter 1 paints? Who is God? Who are we? What is our purpose? In this account, God is depicted as a master sculptor. Our text gives us a few clues and pointers: (1) First , the word “create” (‘In the beginning God created’). This word is only ever used to describe God’s creative work. It has the sense of God’s activity to bring about something totally new. Because it’s only used to describe God, it’s hard to know its proper meaning. However, there is a related word which has the meaning ‘to cut’ or ‘to divide.’ Like a carver or engraver might cut out parts of wood or stone, or a sculptor dividing his clay into portions to shape and fashion it. This artist brings order to the chaos of his material by cutting and separating the wanted parts from the unwanted parts. You might look at your life and think it’s a chaotic mess: family conflict, sickness, hurt, failed dreams, broken marriage, uncertain future. But when God looks at your messy life, he just gets to work bringing order to chaos, carefully dividing and cutting away the unwanted parts. (2) Second , this artist has a six day working week. He orderly divides his project across the six days, like slicing clay with string. His first three days are forming days: he forms the light, then sky/seas, then seas/land/vegetation. The next three days are filling days: he fills the light/dark with sun and moon, he fills the sky/seas with birds and fish, he fills the land with animals and humans. At the end of each day’s work he looks and says, “Good.” Then on the sixth day he looks at humans and says, “Very good.” When we look at ourselves, we might see some sort of deformed creature. If we think about the terrible things we’ve said, done, or thought, and we might say: “stupid,” “bad,” “ugly,” or even “monstrous.” But when God looks at you, he says, “Very good.” Not just good, but very good! This is good news that you won’t hear anywhere else. (3) Finally , on the sixth day God says, “Let us make humankind in our image.” This word “image” means “idol,” “icon,” or “statue.” This master artist creates little tiny icons or statues of himself. These idols are made in his likeness and image. The reason he does this, is that kings in ancient times would make statues or icons of themselves, and send them to the far flung corners of their kingdom. Every time the subjects looked upon the image of the king, they would be reminded of their ruler. So God the artist makes a whole bunch of tiny images of himself (you), and he sends them out to the far flung corners of his kingdom (the world) to represent him. You represent God, your King! In fact, God decrees that humans do more than bear his image and likeness. He says to humans, “Be fruitful and multiply. Rule over [all the earth].” God shares his creative and ruling power with you. You are given the task to co-rule the kingdom and care for the earth with God. One area we see this very clearly is parents creating babies. God could have chosen to click his fingers to make babies. Or told us to gather up a pile of dirt and take it to his temple so the wind/spirit could blow over it. Or he could have had a stork drop off a baby in a white terry-towel. But instead, God has chosen to partner with humans in creating and ruling this world. So two people, husband and wife, man and woman, come together and with God co-create a baby. The problem is that we want to rule our way, not God’s way. So we get sent out into represent God and co-rule with him, but we stuff it up. We follow our will, not the King’s will. We tarnish God’s image, we bring shame to his name. But thankful the King has sent his Son, Jesus. And Jesus shows us how to rule, not with power or might, but with self-sacrifice and loving kindness, a love that’s more than mere words, but action that takes him all the way to a shameful death on the cross. Yet God raises Jesus from the dead to restore honour to his name. God makes Jesus into a new human who perfectly bears his image. And because of Jesus, you too are being restored, so that you might perfectly bear God’s image and bring glory — not shame — to the King’s name. What is striking about the Genesis 1 creation account is the care and order of the Artist. The Triune God is caring and attentive. He is orderly and methodical, working to reign in the chaos of the created world gone wrong. This stands in stark contrast to other ancient non-Biblical creation accounts. For example, the Babylonian creation account is called Enuma Elish . It tells a story of a pantheon of gods at war. One god, Marduk, wages a massive war against his parent Tiamat and her eleven monsters. Marduk triumphs, smashing Tiamat’s head with his mace, her blood scattered by the wind. He cuts her in two and from her guts fashions the heavens and the earth. He creates humans from the blood as slaves to serve the gods. If we compare this violent account, typical of the times, with the creation account in the Bible, we can see some stark contrasts. Your God creates with loving kindness and care. Like a dedicated artist working on a six day project, God carefully orders his work. Instead of violence, he brings order to the chaos of life. Humans are not some afterthought created from destruction, but in God’s sight you are the pinnacle of creation. You are not some servant or slave to God, but invited to co-rule with him. You bear his very image and are sent to the far flung corners of the kingdom to represent God. As I look at the post-coronavirus world and church, sometimes I just see the chaos, the aftermath of destruction. But then I remember who God is. He is the Master Sculptor who can create something entirely new. He is the God who makes his people in his own image, sending them as co-creators and co-rulers. I’m convinced that God wants to create something new with you, his church. See, God continues to shape and fashion you. He continues to restore his image in you through Jesus’ death and resurrection. The church, the body, is being reshaped: a new eye here, a new arm, an improved nose line. God is creating us in his image to be new people. How are we going to bring glory to his name? How are we going to represent the Master Sculptor where God has placed us? It might look different to how it has in the past, but you are created very good, to rule this world in his name. And as Jesus restores God’s image in you, I am confident that we will bring glory to the name of our King in new and creative ways. Amen.

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daily-gloria---daily-glory
Daily Gloria / Daily Glory

Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace, good will toward men! From the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof, Let the Name of the Lord be praised! Almighty and gracious God, merciful Father, let the light of Your grace be upon us, Your humble servants; and increase in us true knowledge of Your mercy which You give to us by Your dear Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Grant this, that we be moved to praise and to confess, the salvation of Your people everywhere, as our Lord and our God, together with Your dear Son and the Holy Spirit; and glorify and praise You with our whole hearts, with all the company of heaven, in word and deed; through the same, dear Son, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

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daily-kyrie---daily-mercy
Daily Kyrie / Daily Mercy

LORD, have mercy upon us. Christ, have mercy upon us. Lord, have mercy upon us, and save Your people, whom You have redeemed by Your precious blood. O Lord, remember us according to Your mercy and the gracious purpose which You have toward Your people. Visit us with Your salvation, that we may behold Your glory; rejoicing in the joy of Your people; and praising You in Your inheritance. Amen.

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the-lord-s-prayer-expanded
An expanded Lord’s Prayer

Our Father, insuperable in creation, sweet in love, rich in every heritage! In Heaven, a mirror of eternity, the crown of joy, the treasure of eternal salvation! Hallowed be Your name, that it be like honey upon the tongue, a harp unto our ears, a devotion in our hearts! Your kingdom come, joyfully, without perversion; quietly, without sorrow; safely, beyond possibility to lose it! Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven, that we hate whatever displeases You; love what You love; and fulfill all things that are pleasing to You! Give us this day our daily bread, the bread of knowledge, repentance, pardon, and every need of our bodies. Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us; forgive us our sins against You, against our fellow creatures, and against ourselves, which we have multiplied either through the commission of wrongs or the omission to do the good we ought to do, as we forgive all who have despised or offended us by word or deed, by giving or taking away from us, spiritually or temporally. And lead us not into temptation, of the world, the flesh, or the devil: But deliver us from evil, both temporal and spiritual, and from all sorrows in time and eternity. Amen.

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wash-the-footsteps-of-my-soul
Wash the footsteps of my soul

Lord Jesus, you will to wash our feet, as you said to Peter — and to all the faithful — “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me” (John 13:8). Come then, Lord Jesus. Clothe us with your mercy and your everlasting life. Pour water into the basin, and wash not only our feet but also our head. And not only the body, but also the footsteps of my soul. I want to put off all the filth of my frailty. As a servant, you washed the feet of your disciples. As God, you send dew from heaven. And not only do you wash the feet, but you also invite us to sit down with you, and you exhort us by saying, “You call me ‘Teacher,’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet” (John 13:13–14) . So I want to wash the feet of my brothers and sisters. I want to fulfill your command. I will not be ashamed nor disdain what you did first. This is the mystery of humility: while washing away the dirt of others, so is my own washed away. Amen.

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we-bow-before-the-holy-one
We bow before the Holy One

You alone are the Almighty One. Your eternal power quenches flames, holds back lions, and tames whales. It raises up the sick and overrules the power of all things. It overturns every enemy and brings low the arrogant. For there is no God besides you alone, there is none holy besides you, the Lord, the God of knowledge, the God of the saints, holy above all holy beings, who are sanctified by your hands. You are glorious and highly exalted, invisible by nature, unsearchable in your judgments. Your life is without want, and your duration can never alter or fail. You do everything without toil. Your greatness is unlimited. Your excellency is perpetual. You are the God and Father of Christ, the Lord of those devoted to him. Your promise never fails, your judgments never take a bribe. Your attitude never changes, and your holiness never ceases. Our thanksgiving will never end. Let every creature adore you, for you are worthy, Amen.

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prayer-for-guidance
Steer the ship of my life

Steer the ship of my life, good Lord, to your quiet harbour, where I can be safe from the storms of sin and conflict. Show me the course I should take. Renew in me the gift of discernment, so that I can always see the right direction in which I should go. And give me the strength and the courage to choose the right course, even when the sea is rough and the waves are high, knowing that through enduring hardship and danger, in your name, we shall find comfort and peace. Amen.

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what-is-prayer
What’s prayer? How do I pray?

Have you ever tried praying? What is it? Does it even work!? Do you feel comfortable praying with someone else? Having a good understanding of prayer can help you as you enter into a personal life-giving prayer life, or begin praying with and for others. Jesus’ disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying, “This, then, is how you should pray: Our Father in heaven… Give us this day our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:9,11). What is prayer? When teaching how to pray, Jesus invites his followers to come to God as beloved children approaching a gracious Father. Just as a child tells their father about their needs/wants/desires, we too are invited to talk with our loving Father in heaven with the same candour and honesty. We can tell him like it is, and ask him for help. Yet, a father knows best. A loving father gives good gifts (Luke 11:11–13), but will not give everything. That is, a loving father will withhold from a child who asks for unhealthy fairy floss or lollies for dinner. Likewise with God our Father. So, prayer is sitting on the lap of our heavenly Father, telling him about our day, letting him how we feel, listening to him, receiving the gifts he choses to give out of his infinite grace and wisdom. Yet a father doesn’t really want their child to sit on their lap with a shopping list of requests to tick off! If we treat prayer like that, then it won't “work.” Rather, prayer is an activity of faith — we come to our heavenly Father, trusting that he will hear and act according to his fatherly wisdom. Prayer is sitting on the lap of God our Father. What is prayer not? First, God does not need our prayers. Think about this carefully. Our prayers are not righteous works that accomplish the Father’s will. God’s kingdom will come, his will be done on earth, without our prayers. Therefore, our prayers do not somehow twist God’s arm to respond, or magically effect his will here on earth. God can (and does!) do whatever he wants without our prayers. Rather, prayer is an invitation to present our needs to God and receive the good gifts he wisely bestows. So, our prayers are not efficacious because we pray, but rather because God has already chosen to give out of his grace and mercy. Second, prayer is not talking to the person/people we are praying with. Rather, prayer is directed to God: we can direct our prayers to God the Father, Jesus the Son, God the Spirit, or God as One. Prayer is not meant to be a “pep talk” for the other, but being with God himself. God is gracious and compassionate, willing to enter into a real relationship with us, his children. What does God promise to give through prayer? The so-called “Lord’s Prayer” (the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, see Matthew 6:9–13 and Luke 11:2–4) is helpful to learn about what God promises in prayer. Your kingdom come — God promises that his kingdom comes to us; so we are given strength to believe in his Word (often despite appearances to the contrary) and to live God-pleasing lives that are set apart. Your will be done — God promises to help us to do his will here on earth; he strengthens us, guides us, and keeps us in his Word to the very end. Give us this day our daily bread — God promises to help us be thankful for the many gifts he gives without our knowing or asking: our body, food, clothes, house, home, money, property, work, spouse, children, good government, order, good weather, peace, health, true friends, good neighbours. God promises to give what we need (“bread”) at this very moment (“this day”). Forgive us our sins — Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God promises to wash us clean, make us new, rescue us from the pit, cancel our debt, take away our shame, heal our spirit, restore our relationship with him, adopt us into his family. Forgiveness of sin means we have eternal life and salvation — hope for a new future. Forgiveness of sin does not mean the consequences of sin will be taken away — these we still need to live with, just as the risen Christ lived with scars in his hands and feet. Deliver us from the evil one — Christians are caught in the middle of a cosmic battle between God and Satan. The devil is no myth or medieval idea, the devil is not some generic force or symbol for the “will to undo.” No! The devil is a real person. He is a “sour spirit” and “parasite-person,” feeding off the misery of others. The devil is a liar and murderer (John 8:44). He is evil. Yet he is the prince and ruler of this world (John 16:11; 2 Corinthians 4:4), and we are merely his “guests.” That said, even the devil and his evil ways are bound to God. Satan is pressed into God’s service. When Satan attacks our conscience, this is a mark that we belong to Christ. When the devil tries to tempt our heart and soul away from Christ, the devil himself provides experiential assurance that we are on the right and victorious side — for the devil only attacks God's children. Spiritual attack is proof that faith in God is present in you. In fact, the godlier someone is, the more they will be attacked. What a sweet paradox! Satan’s attacks brings comfort, for being attacked is proof we belong to God! Comfort in the midst of affliction! No wonder the devil is a “sour spirit,” for he’s tricked into doing God’s work of comforting and helping those who trust in Christ. So, we can boldly pray against the evil one. We can ask that our afflictions be taken away. Yet we also know that any afflictions we do suffer, drive us to seek help from Christ, for we are powerless to stand against the evil one in our own strength. How to pray? Pray boldly . We are invited to approach God’s throne of grace with confidence and boldness (Hebrews 4:16). This means we can “rub God’s nose” in his promises, so to speak. God has promised to give in prayer, so remind him of what he has promised! Ask for mercy, forgiveness, strength, hope, love, joy, peace, patience. (But be careful to not overreach, and ask for things not promised, for then we become like disappointed children asking their dad for fairy floss or lollies for dinner). In prayer we have the privilege to partner with God in his work here on earth. “God you promise forgiveness, so let me receive and know your forgiveness.” Pray simply. Pray what God has promised i.e. that he hears, strengthens, helps, keeps, gives, forgives, etc. Use simple, everyday words. Don’t tell God exactly how he should act, leave that to him — his answers are bigger and better than we can imagine! Pray truthfully. God does not always promise the miraculous here on earth. It may be his will that miracles happen, but that is up to God. Jesus promises, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do” (John 14:13). But this does not mean we can ask for anything (“name it and claim it”) — to do something in another’s name is not an invitation to claim our will and desires, but their will and desires. So, we ask God for help, and then leave it in his hands. His answer to prayer is always the right answer, even if we don’t understand. Keep it short. God is not impressed with our babbling and long prayers (see Matthew 6:7; Luke 18:9–14). He hears humble and honest cries for help. I want to learn more about prayer? Prayer is something to be learnt. One never “arrives” at prayer, but we are always a student and learner (the word “disciple” literally means “learner”). There are plenty of resources out there on prayer but, like a food buffet, not everything is healthy! Here are a few good resources for further learning: Richard Foster, The Celebration of Discipline , chapter 3. Ole Hallesby, Prayer . Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together , chapter 3 (The Day Alone). Tom Wright, The Lord and His Prayer . Robert Baker (ed), Lutheran Spirituality: Life as God’s Child , chapter 2 (Prayer). Donald Johnson, Praying the Catechism . LCA Commission on Theology, Spiritual Warfare and the Ministry of Deliverance, https://lca.box.com/shared/static/2qweqtfz4lkhfr0p3x192ljhqnp8uvw7.pdf

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