Front and Centre
We are currently celebrating 28 days of thanksgiving. Our thanksgiving season has become a tradition over the last few years as we set aside some intentional time to give thanks for God's love, provision and protection in our lives. In earlier years we regularly celebrated 'Harvest Festival'. The church would be decorated with fruit and produce. We were encouraged to bring our 'first fruits' to God; not just leftovers. In a metropolitan centre with limited agricultural connections, sometimes we would bring symbols of our gifts or talents. This symbolised that our gifts and talents come from God, and that we could, and should, use them to further God's Kingdom. Harvest Festival and similar celebrations of thanksgiving are helpful reminders of God's provision, of our stewardship of our wealth and talents, and the importance of giving thanks.
You may well ask, "is this an appropriate time to celebrate thanksgiving?" It is a reasonable question. With the COVID situation in southern states rapidly escalating, we are as uneasy and uncertain as we've been in the last 18 months. The images coming from Afghanistan are heart breaking. Untold suffering in Haiti following the typhoon barely makes it to our TV screens. How can we come before God in an attitude of celebration and thanksgiving with these issues weighing on our consciousness?
I am reminded of Paul's message to Timothy. What persecutions I endured! yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. (2 Tim 3:11, NRSV) In the midst of great persecution and suffering, Paul was able to recognise God's hand rescuing and protecting him. Elsewhere Paul writes, rejoice always... give thanks in all circumstances. (1 Thess 5:16,18, NRSV) For Paul, 'all circumstances' meant suffering, persecution, physical ailment, imprisonment. Despite his circumstances Paul was able to look to God and give thanks.
If the current state of our world is causing you dismay, take it to God in prayer. Try and find something each day for which you can give thanks. Think about how God has blessed and gifted you, and how you can use your gifts for His glory. Many of the people you'll meet this week won't know God's grace in their lives - how can your attitude of thankfulness help them to encounter God in a life-giving way?
Front and Centre
For a while now I've been trying to understand what it means to lean into and emphasize the relational nature of our Christian Faith. It's something that repositions the way I think about God, and challenges me to consider how I can live out my faith in a way that reflects this understanding, while not compromising on the truth of who God is. On Sunday, one of the phrases that Peter James used in his sermon was "Bring Jesus with you" as he explored what prayer can be. As I used my imagination to continue this idea into everyday life I asked myself "How would I describe Jesus if I was asked to describe him without using his name or explicitly stating his identity?" "How would I excitedly talk about 'my friend'?" Below is what I thought of
He's great with kids, He always has time for them
He surprises people you know? Sometimes, when people THINK they KNOW he helps them see what they are missing
I'm amazed by his wisdom, he sees things as they are, and sees things as they could be
He has time and energy for people, even when they think they don't deserve it
In all things, he points towards the Kingdom of God
He's patient, He's kind, And he loves
He's the kind of friend who would put his life on the line for someone who doesn't even know how he is
What I've written is an incomplete picture of Jesus, because his Triune identity is central to who he is. I'm not saying we should ignore Jesus' divinity. However, for me, it's helpful as an exercise to describe Jesus' character without using his name and choose to focus on his characteristics that might help people relate to Him. It helps me to realise what it is that I think is important when I share who Jesus is with others. It's helpful because it helps me answer "how can I shine the light of Jesus as I share my life with people?" It's helpful because it helps me to feel closer to Jesus and helps me to "bring Jesus with me" as I build relationships and grow disciples who grow disciples. If you were to talk about Jesus the way you would talk about a friend, how would you do it? Feel free to email me your thoughts
Grace and Peace
Front and Centre
At Church Council on Monday evening we were we were reflecting upon what it means to be a follower of Jesus, and a part of Emmanuel UC, and what we feel the next steps are. Paradoxically what was clear was that we were not clear. Emmanuel has done really well to weather the storm of the past few years with COVID and other things. As things start to return to the new normal, whatever that looks like, we were conscious that we need to enter a new season at Emmanuel. We have weathered the storm and though more storms will arise, at the moment we are in a place of calm. How do we use this space of relative calm well before the next speed bump comes? Though it would be nice to just stop and take a breather in the long-term that will not be helpful. However we also acknowledge that people are tired and fatigued, not so from church but from life. People are genuinely tired.
The continual pivoting around COVID have left many exhausted. At Church Council, as we shared this, the question that arose was what will help restore energy and vitality. How do we recapture momentum? We agreed on a couple of questions. The first is what does God want us to do? What is he calling us to do or who is he calling us to be? Until we work that out we will be working in vain. We need to be serious about seeking God in prayer and approach with a listening heart. The Prayer Course has been really good in this space.
The second is that though we are uncertain of the pathway we feel the next step involves building more strongly into the relationships we have. Our relationships need an up (with God) an in (within the body of Christ) and an out (the general community). Focussing on prayer and relationships is the start of capturing God’s purpose and hope for his church at this time. We do want to encourage those who can, to return to the building. We will continue live-streaming and it is a good stop-gap and a valuable ministry for those who can not come but it is not the same as being there in person. As more people return there is more energy, and people are excited to see each other. We do look forward to seeing you soon as we share together what God is saying to us.
Rev Brian Hoole
Front and Centre
Our small group has continued to meet via video conference throughout the pandemic and participating in the Prayer Course (prayercourse.org) has been a real highlight of the last few weeks. The eight-week series is freely available online and each session consists of a 20-minute video and a few questions. It is highly accessible to people of all ages and there is something for everyone to learn. For example, I had never thought about the difference between intercession and petition before.
Intercession is praying for others and petition is praying for ourselves. It is such an important contrast – so often we muddy the two together and the focus of our ‘intercessory’ prayer can very quickly turn inwards. The acronym ‘P.R.A.Y.’ (pause, rejoice, ask, yield) was also a helpful guide for personal prayer. But the most impactful experience of the last few weeks was hearing powerful stories of answered prayer from other group members. To be honest it completely refreshed my personal prayer time and gave it a renewed feeling of purposefulness.
The pandemic has put a pause on several small groups and it’s understandably difficult to get started again. It is even more difficult to start a new group or join in for the first time. But it is worth it! The relationships formed as we learn together and pray for each other are life giving and life changing. Joining with a few others to work through the Prayer Course (prayercourse.org) might be an easy way to start or restart a small group.
Please continue to pray for our Elders. Church Council will meet next Monday (11 October) and has several important issues to work through. We have a very talented bunch who faithfully serve as Elders. Please pray that we will be gifted with wisdom and discernment, and a real sense of where God is leading His church in this time of great change