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
Over the last few weeks we have been focusing on relationships and how as a follower of Jesus we need a healthy relationship with God, and with each other both with people within the church family and with people who are outside. Jesus expressed that well when he was asked “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Luke 22:36-40) Jesus makes it clear that loving God and loving our neighbour summarise what its all about and that if we do that everything falls into place. So the question that arises for me in this space is do I live this out and how do I do that? How do I prioritise my time? Who do I invest time into? Saying something is not enough the question is what am I doing about it, or what are we doing about it? Does our time commitment and our energy and enthusiasm match up with what we say our priorities are? How are we investing into our family? Into our church family? Into the other spaces we are involved? Who are the key people we are investing into? Over the coming months we really want to have a focus upon strengthening the relationships we have within our church community and with God. We hope you will join us on that journey.
Front and Centre
Last week we reflected upon relationships and our need for healthy relationships with God, within our church community and outside the Christian community. One of the books I have been reading lately is by Sam Chan, an Australian evangelist, titled ‘How to talk about Jesus without being THAT guy.’ Sam talks about the power of community, that is our family and friends, to shape what we believe. Community shapes how we interpret facts, information and experiences. We have seen that this year with the Corona Virus and vaccinations where no amount of extra ‘information’ is going to convince some about the benefits of vaccinations, and how people are talking about this with their family and friends about having a vaccine and which vaccine to have. It is as more of the community change their views that vaccination rates are rising. Where there have been greater risks vaccination rates are higher. As community values and expectations change then our perceptions and values are affected. So what does this mean. One of the things that Sam argues is that to be effective in sharing our faith it is not so much that people only need to hear about Jesus but they need to mix with people who know about Jesus. That we need to mix our universes so that our Christian and non-Christian friends interact. If I can use the language of last week. Evangelism happens best when the up, the in and the out of our relationships happen together. That when people interact with Christians they experience the Christian world view. Think about how you can bring your two worlds together. How might you encourage your Christian and non-Christian friends to mix?
Rev Brian Hoole
Front and Centre
In each of the three synoptic gospels (Mathew, Mark and Luke) a key turning point is when Jesus asks his disciples the question ‘who do you say that I am? It is a key question for the disciples but its also a key question for us today? Who is Jesus to you? Your relationship with Jesus is the key relationship in your life. How you live and respond in that space is just so important. How is your relationship with Jesus is a key life question? We are called to model our lives on Jesus. Another church says it this way, ‘more people more like Jesus’. As we look at Jesus life and ministry we see him building relationships in 3 ways ‘His relationship with the Father (up), his relationship with his disciples (in) and his relationship with those from the world (out). As we focus on our relationships we too should consider our up, in and out and how we keep that balance. How is your relationship with God? Are you investing into that with daily time of prayer and reading scripture? Then there is the in, spending time with other Christians. And then there are your relationships with people who are not Christian. As disciples and followers of Jesus we should have healthy relationships both within the church and Christian community and outside the Christian community. As i have indicated before one of the challenges I have experienced due to COVID is the effect it has on relationships. How are you continuing to build healthy relationships? We certainly want to encourage that as a church. How do we help and encourage people build stronger relationships with each other. But also as individuals we need to continue to strengthen and build relationships, up with God, in within our Christian community and out with those outside our church community.
Front and Centre
Today marks the end of our season of thanksgiving and the time that we need you to seriously consider what your thanksgiving gift to Emmanuel will be. Over the past four weeks we have reflected on how God, as our good shepherd guides and protects us in all circumstances and provides us with all that we need, that provides a feast or banquet for us. But now it's over to you.
If you have not done so already please consider as a family what your thanksgiving offering will be. I have been amazed at the generousity of the people at Emmanuel. Not just at their regular weekly giving but at the value people put into their thanksgiving offering. I am sure this season will be no different.
Today’s reading as we conclude the 23rd Psalm speaks of God’s cup of blessing in the presence of adversity. How true is that in this season where many are afflicted by the COVID-19 and the social and financial implications. As I look around the church on a Sunday I am aware of how blessed we are. Even in this season we have much to be thankful for. St Paul reminds us in 1Thessalonians 5:18 to Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. As we reflect on how God continues to bless us it is good to rejoice and respond.
Rev Brian Hoole
Front and Centre
This week I had the privilege in sharing and celebrate the life of Claudia Hargreaves. As someone who has only known Claudia in the twilight of her life it was amazing to hear more of her story and to be reminded as people reflected on Claudia, not just of Claudia, but also of others who are the saints of the past. Those who are the mothers, fathers or grandparents of our faith. Those who shared and discipled us, who shared their faith with us so that we would believe and know the truth that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. When I think back on my own life, as someone who grew up and was sent to Sunday School by parents who were not regular church-goers I see those who encouraged and discipled me as I grew into teenage and then adult-hood. I can see God’s hand on me and the faces of those who shared time and faith with me. What about you?
In this season of thanksgiving lets give thanks for our Spiritual parents. As it co-incides with fathers day this year, who would you identify as your father in the faith. Or your mother in the faith. This Fathers Day please, please take the time to give thanks to them. In prayer if they are no longer with us, or in person if they are. Ring them up or visit them, or email them and let them know that you are thankful for them. And while you are at it think of who you are sharing faith with, who are you encouraging, who are you discipling. It is up to all of us to play our part. I am so thankful that we are here and are able to give thanks and encourage each other on this journey.
Rev Brian Hoole
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?