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).
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 ...?”
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)
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.
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:
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.”
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:
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!
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.
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 accounts.” 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Where’s God in pain and suffering? Good question!
Why is there suffering in the world? If there is a God, does he care? Where is God in my pain? Is God mean-minded? The experience of pain and suffering can cause some people to question the very existence of God. Atheist author and actor Stephen Fry was asked what he’d say to God after he’d died, if he found out God did exist. Fry would ask, “Bone cancer in children? What’s that about? … Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?” You can watch the interview below. This is an intense response! Fry asks lots of good questions. These are good questions because we’re confronted with them, if not every day via the news, then quite often at significant times in our lives, as we deal with death, pain, loss, and grief. Responding to suffering Often, when we’re confronted by suffering (whether our own, or someone else), we don’t know how to respond. Sometimes we default to catchphrases which are unhelpful. We might hear or say or think: “God has a plan.” But wait, God has a plan to give babies bone cancer? “It’s a blessing in disguise.” Really? My friend’s brain tumour was a blessing? “The best is yet to come.” Sure, but what about now, the hurt and blood and tears that I feel now? “There are others worse off.” Sure, but what about my hurt? And what about that poor sod who is worse off?! “It’s not God, it’s evil at work.” Wait, evil is stronger than God? “God’s testing you to make you stronger.” Then it seems God is who Stephen Fry describes, “capricious and mean-minded.” (“Capricious” means “given to sudden mood changes”). Author Fredrick Schmidt in his book The Dave Test wrote about the experience when his best mate, Dave, a successful surgeon, was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Dave, who was attending church at the time, received all sorts of, supposedly “helpful” comfort from Christians. The book, rather humorously, rephrases some of the responses he received: God has a plan, and that’s why your life sucks. God is testing you by making your life suck. God has something for you to learn through your sucky life. God will not give you more sucky experiences than you can bear. You must have done something to make your life suck. There are others who lives suck more than yours. God will bring a blessing through your sucky life. In his own words, Dave wrote: “I’m a fifty-something hand surgeon. I operated on 120 patients a month until I discovered that I have brain cancer. … What in hell am I going to do with my life that is going to be more of a blessing to other people than what I was doing?” Why, God? Why? How do we approach this question of pain and suffering? Why bone cancer in children? Why did Dave get a brain tumour? Why are families broken and hurting? Why do people get sick? Why are there tears and blood and pain? Why, God? Why, why, why? Good question! And as we’ve heard, many of the common “answers” are spectacular fails. In fact, 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?” Why? And guess what? He never receives an answer. God doesn’t call out, “I have a plan. It’s a blessing in disguise. The best is yet to come. It’s not me, it’s evil. I’m torturing you to test you. Those other two blokes, they’re worse off than you.” No. God doesn’t answer Jesus’ question. Sometimes there is no answer to our “why?” questions — this is frustrating! And this is our first point: sometimes there is no answer (this side of eternity) to the question: “Why is there pain and suffering?”. Jesus never receives an answer. Also, the person of Job in the Old Testament, who loses his family and land and business, is likewise left with his question unanswered (read Job 38:1–40:2). There is always an answer to our “where?” questions — this brings hope! But our second point is this: we don’t always receive an answer to the “why” question, but we do receive an answer to the “where” question: “Where is God in our pain and suffering?” God, where are you when babies have bone cancer? God, where are you when my family is broken and hurting? God, where are you when I’m sick or dying? God, where are you when Job is robbed of everything? God, where are you when your Son is hanging on the cross? Where’s God? God is with us. The shepherd in Psalm 23 The well-known twenty-third Psalm tells our life story as if we are a flock of sheep traversing the rugged countryside under the careful watch of our shepherd. The shepherd knows where to find green pastures and drinking water, so leads his sheep along right paths. But from time to time, in search of grass and water, the flock must pass through deep ravines — dry riverbeds cut into the landscape by seasonal torrents unleashed by winter rains. The sheep scramble down the canyon walls into the shadowy depths. The air at the bottom is thick and heavy, as the heat of the day begins to build. The rising dirt cliffs block out the distant sun. During this time in the shadows the pleasant scenes of green pastures and bubbling brooks seem far removed — there’s no grass or water down here, the air and heat is oppressive. But where is the shepherd? Where is God? ‘Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.’ God is with you in your darkest valleys. God is fully human, he even suffers! See, God hasn’t just read the book on life, or watched the movie, God has lived life here on earth. God became human in the person of Jesus. Fully human. He bled, cried, and died. He looked upon his friends who were suffering, and he had “compassion” on them (e.g. Luke 7:11–17). “Compassion” literally means “guts turning inside-out.” God has entered into this world, he sees your pain and suffering, he experiences it, his guts are turned inside-out by it as much as yours, but he is with you. God comforts Yet, not only is God with you, but he provides comfort. ‘I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me.’ The comfort is that you share in the death and life of Christ. ‘For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.’ (2 Corinthians 1:5). God entered into this world in the person of Jesus, but death could not hold him down. Jesus died, but three days later walked out if the tomb, saying: “I am God. Yet I am also a human. You were created like me. We’re made of the same stuff. You are my beloved child, and I won’t let you be destroyed. Death doesn’t get the last word. I do. And I say that you live.” What do I do when I suffer? So what does this mean when you are going through pain and suffering? You’re free to ask why, but may not always get an answer. You can pray for the suffering to be removed, but sometimes your Good Shepherd leads you through dark valleys. But he is with you. You can know that suffering grieves God as much as you. And finally, you can expect comfort, because he is the ‘God of all comfort’ and your comfort will abound through Jesus Christ who suffered, died, and rose again for you. What do I do with others suffer? And what does this mean when others are going through pain and suffering? God wants to use you to comfort others with the comfort that you have received. But be careful how you comfort! Trite catchphrases “Cheer up,” “Look on the bright side,” “It could have been worse,” aren’t helpful. Rather be able to say, “That sucks.” Then sit with them. Listen with the same compassion that God has. Tell them that Jesus’ guts are turning inside-out too. Tell them that Jesus is with them, all the way. Tell them we all suffer, bleed, cry, and die, but that is our middle, not our end. Our end is to be in the green pastures with our Good Shepherd forever. The Father of compassion To return to the opening dilemma raised by Stephen Fry: what I think Fry missed is God in the person of Jesus Christ. The God he rejects isn’t the God revealed to us in the Bible. God is not some mood swinging, malevolent, evil being. He is the ‘Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles’ (2 Corinthians 1:3–4). He enters into this mysterious mess called life through the divine-person of Jesus. God was rejected, tortured, abandoned, and died — for you. God is in this thing called life with you: bleeding, crying, and dying, just like you. That is who God is. That’s where God is in pain and suffering: he’s with you, all the way. Let me close with a story to illustrate. At the end of time, billions of people were scattered on a great plain before God’s throne. Most shrank back from the brilliant light before them. But some groups near the front talked heatedly – not with cringing shame, but with belligerence. “Can God judge us? How can he know about suffering?” snapped a young Albanian. He removes his shirt to reveal a scarred back. “In Kosovo we endured terror… shootings… torture!” In another group an aged aboriginal woman pulls a crumpled, tear stained photograph from her pocket. “What about this?” she demanded, “This is my precious child, [my only child]. I have not seen her since the day she was stolen away for no crime but being black!” In another crowd, was a pregnant schoolgirl with sullen eyes. “Why should I suffer” she murmured, “It wasn’t my fault.” Far out across the plain there were hundreds of such groups. Each had a complaint against God for the evil and suffering he permitted in this world. How lucky God was to live in heaven where all was sweetness and light, where there was no weeping or fear, no hunger or hatred. What did God know of all that people had been forced to endure in this world? For God leads a pretty sheltered life, they said. So each of these groups sent forth their leader, chosen because he had suffered the most. A Jew, a person from Hiroshima, a horribly deformed arthritic, a thalidomide child. In the centre of the plain they consulted with each other. At last they were ready to present their case. It was rather clever. Before God could be qualified to be their judge, he must endure what they had endured. Their decision was that God should be sentenced to live on earth – as a man! “Let him be born into a hated race. Let the legitimacy of his birth be doubted. Give him a work so difficult that even his family will think him out of his mind when he tries to do it. Let him be betrayed by his closest friends. Let him face false charges, be tried by a prejudiced jury and convicted by a cowardly judge. Let him be tortured.” “At the last, let him see what it means to be terribly alone. Then let him die. Let him die so that there can be no doubt that he died. Let there be a great host of witnesses to verify it.” As each leader announced his portion of the sentence, loud murmurs of approval went up from the throng of people assembled. And when the last had finished pronouncing sentence, there was a long silence. No-one uttered another word. No-one moved. For suddenly all knew that God had already [done this, and more]. May the Father of compassion, who has entered into our sufferings, comfort you through his presence. Amen.