“With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: ‘He is good; his love toward Israel endures forever.’ ” Ezra 3:11 (NIV)
Recently, my daily devotions have focused on Ezra and the sheer joy which his people felt as they began to return to Israel after 70 years in Babylonian exile. Despite their exile, the verse above captures this message of joy and thanksgiving!
We, at Emmanuel, haven’t been in exile but, in recent times, we, perhaps, haven’t felt in control of our future. However, despite all that has happened, God has been good to us and, as we seek to rebuild and regroup, we too should bring our praise and thanksgiving to God – and shout out “Yes, God is good. O yes, He’ll never quit loving Emmanuel.” As we recognise His love which “endures forever” and see His hand in so many areas of our congregation’s life we will be able to confidently move forward on our discipleship journey.
So, how has your 21 Days of Thankfulness been going? I hope that you have been referring to your chart each day and taking that little bit of extra time to pause and give thanks – to God, but also to our family, friends and others in our community. I hope, also, that you took the opportunity last Thursday to treat yourself to something special – you deserve it!!
It has also been wonderful to read the numerous “thankfulness leaves” on our tree in the foyer – even if you’ve already placed a leaf on the tree, please feel free to add more. Can I briefly share three special items for which we can give God thanks and praise:
We’ve been a part of the Kids’ Hope program next door at Enoggera Primary School for 14 years and are so thankful to God for this opportunity to show our community God’s love in this way. We are also thankful to Vicki our co-ordinator and the mentors too – 2 have been mentoring for the whole 14 years and all current mentors have given at least 5 years of their time, energy and faith.
Through our Community Helping Hand outreach, we have made contact with a family who, in the past few months have not only attended Mens’ Breakfasts but have enrolled their children in Girls and Boys Brigade. We give God thanks for this opportunity to share our resources and our programs with our community.
A few weeks ago, I was overjoyed to see the young people leading our 9.30am Worship – Bella and Emily singing, Nathan and Mitchell on guitars and Andrew on drums. Of course, these young people were ably led by Dom who tirelessly gives of his time and talents each Friday to encourage members of the Youth Band. Another reason to give God thanks.
I hope that this has encouraged you to give thanks and praise - could I also, please, encourage you to seriously and prayerfully consider your Thanksgiving Offering for next Sunday.
A time to give thanks, and look to the future.
Have you given thanks today? While requests and petitions might roll off the tongue when we pray, we worship a God who wants us to give thanks. Paul encourages us to ‘give thanks in all circumstances’ (1 Thess 5:18). I’m sure there were times he was locked up in prison feeling miserable, yet he was able to focus on God’s faithfulness, his promises and look forward with hope to a future in Christ. It is no surprise that Paul exhorts us to ‘set your minds on things above’ and ‘be thankful’ (Col 3:2,15). A focus on God and his promises is an important pre-requisite for giving thanks in all circumstances, not just when we are feeling good.
Why does God want us to give thanks? Is it just another task or obligation we should add to our list, and then get demoralised when we don’t complete it? Does God need our adulation or thanksgiving for His own reassurance? We know God isn’t like that. Could it be that God wants us to give thanks because it’s good for us? Certainly a thankful, positive attitude, in all circumstances, does wonders for our wellbeing. Last week I was in a remote part of Australia, working long hours in difficult conditions to complete a project. Despite the circumstances, the team stayed positive and focused on the goal. Sometimes we’re tempted to blame our circumstances for our attitude. If we let God shape our attitudes, it may help us become resilient in any circumstances.
We should give thanks to God because he gives good gifts to His children. By giving thanks to God we’re reminding ourselves who God is – a good God who loves us, cares for us and provides for us. We are also reminding ourselves who we are – God’s children who are loved and cared for. Reflecting on God’s provision in our lives by giving thanks is an important act in confirming our faith.
I can’t see why an attitude of thankfulness, and the practice of thanksgiving, should be confined to our relationship with God. Someone who takes a moment to say, ‘thank you’, or offer words of acknowledgement or recognition is always appreciated. We know the impact this has on us and we have the opportunity or responsibility to share this with others. This is such a simple but effective way we can be ‘Good News’ to those around us.
Today we kick-start our 21 days of thanksgiving. This is a season where we intentionally reflect together and give thanks to God for all he’s doing. Some practical resources have been prepared to help us be intentional about thanksgiving during this period. I hope you will be strengthened and encouraged as we journey together over the next three weeks, culminating in our Thanksgiving Sunday combined service on 25 August.
Grace and Peace
Church Council Chair
Last weekend saw two remarkable sporting events deliver nail-biting finishes. The Wimbledon Mens' Final was decided in an extended final set, and the Cricket World Cup was decided in a tie-breaker. I'm sure those who stayed up all night to watch were captivated by the uncertainty of what would happen. The tension of that uncertainty is what makes the moment of victory so exciting.
I wonder how the disciples would have felt when they gathered with Jesus for the Last Supper. John 15 - 17 records Jesus' reflection on a rolling contest between himself and the World. The disciples must have felt trapped in that room as worldly forces of religion and politics circled outside. This makes John 16:33 all the more remarkable, "In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!" Jesus reminds them that, despite the tension and uncertainty, there was victory.
Our last three months as Church has also been tense and uncertain. There has been a feeling of helplessness and frustration, and a sense of spiritual attack. As we seek some closure on this period and start to look forward to the future, I hope you will be encouraged to take courage by the words of John 16:33. We need to be ready for rough patches in life, but not disheartened, because the victory is already won by Jesus.
I hope you’ll be able to join in the Reconciliation and Healing Service we’re holding on Sunday afternoon, 28 July. This service is designed so we can prayerfully reflect on the journey our Church has been on, place our pain and hurt at the foot of the cross, and then move forward together.
Finally, I want to sincerely thank everyone who’s prayed for me and my family over the last few months. I’ve been overwhelmed by the expressions of support we’ve received. Many people have spoken to me who were hurt or upset but were always genuine and respectful. That’s a sign of a church with a great culture – one that values prayer and our relationships with each other.
Grace and Peace
Church Council Chair
Jesus causes offense. In Mark 6 we read how his home crowd could not reconcile that the carpenter’s son was also a remarkable teacher and miracle worker, “and they took offense at him”. In John 8 an extended dialogue between Jesus and the Pharisees over his identity as the Son of Man results in an attempted stoning. While the signs of wonders of Jesus spoke for themselves, the Pharisees could not reconcile this with a man claiming to be God.
If you have read a newspaper or listened to a radio broadcast in the last fortnight you’ll realise that two thousand years has done little to damp the divisive nature of the name ‘Jesus’. A number of current issues have given voice to a group who are greatly offended by this name. Arguably, as much as at any other time in history, our community needs men and women of integrity who can bear the fruit of the Spirit and represent Jesus. Our friends, colleagues and neighbours need to meet ‘real people with relevant faith’ when they speak with us. Whilst our congregation’s recent turmoil has sapped our energy and caused us to focus on ourselves, we need to be attentive to our calling in Christ, to be ‘good news’ to those around us.
Thank you for participating in the Presbytery information sessions last week. It was also great to have so many turn out for the picnic in the park to farewell Ian and Julie. It is important that we all acknowledge our strong feelings regarding the end of Ian’s placement, ask any questions we might have, and try to come to terms with these changes and the implications for our church. The Ministry Team and Elders have been working on plans for the future; I hope to share these in upcoming articles.
Today we are pleased to welcome back to Rev Glenn Mulcahy who will spend the next three months with us as half-time Supply Minister. Glenn spent a few weeks with us during May. It is great to have Glenn’s wisdom and experience to provide pastoral care and support. Please seek out Glenn and make him welcome.
Day Camp is a wonderful outreach event which ran last week. We have had some tired but excited little campers in our household, as have many others. Whilst it might seem like just another holiday program to us, it is a really significant event for the children who participate each year. Thank you to all the leaders, helpers, volunteers, and supporters who made Day Camp another success.
I’m so grateful to those who have expressed their support and have assured me they’re praying fervently for Emmanuel. Please pray daily for: a sense of healing and reconciliation, the protection of leaders, a renewed sense of calling and purpose, wisdom and discernment for leaders, and a heart for our community.
Grace and Peace
Church Council Chair
Last Sunday a representative of the Presbytery advised us that they had decided to terminate Ian Weaver’s placement at Emmanuel UC. The relationship between Ian and some members had broken down, and they felt his position was no longer tenable. They acknowledged this was regarding specific events and acknowledged Ian’s positive work over the last two years. A copy of the Presbytery’s letter is available at the Church office.
After the service, and during the week, members have spoken to the Elders, expressing their grief over this situation in various ways. Thank you for being open and honest – it is important that we have these honest conversations and work through our feelings and questions together. We hope we’ve been able to listen and respond effectively.
We’re conscious that people have many questions about this process and the outcomes. The Presbytery will hold two information sessions this Thursday 27 June, at 10.30am and 7pm in the Church. Please attend one of these sessions and bring your questions along.
Our ministry team (Jess, Dom and Helen) are doing a great job keeping things running. We are so blessed to have these remarkably talented individuals working with us. They have been looking ahead and ensuring that all our various services and activities are planned. Jess and Dom are also writing assignments for their Theology studies which adds an extra burden. Please continue to support them where you can, and uphold them in prayer. We are looking to appoint a supply Minister within the next fortnight to assist the team.
I want to acknowledge that Ian has made a significant contribution to our church over the last two years. We called Ian to increase our focus on mission and he has done just that. I feel better equipped to share my faith, and I hope you feel likewise. Change is never easy in churches and he has tackled his fair share. I hope you’ll join me in wishing Ian and Julie the very best for their next chapter and continuing to pray for them as they seek what’s next.
These are difficult times for our church. There is no point trying to describe it otherwise. How we weather this storm largely depends on the attitude we all bring to this situation. We could throw our hands up and walk away, or we can draw the strength we need from God, and his word, as we acknowledge our grief and begin to work through it. If we work through this together, we can be a stronger community on the other side. Rom 8:28 reminds us that God works for good in all things. I acknowledge this probably feels distant at this stage, but we need to take God at his word.
Grace and Peace
Church Council Chair
Have you ever felt like you were speaking a foreign language? Or talking to a brick wall? The typewriter and the pay phone have been mentioned in recent conversations with our kids. “What’s a typewriter?” or “What’s a Pay Phone?” they asked. They have no concept of these strange, ancient technologies! In these moments we are reminded how quickly technology is advancing and how our children are living in a different world to the one we grew up in (not that long ago!) Sometimes it seems those different worlds speak different languages.
Similarly, our world is becoming more secularised and less familiar with the name of Jesus and the narrative of the Gospels. The Good News of Jesus may be familiar to us, but is increasingly like a foreign language to our neighbours who have not experienced these words before. Faced with this reality, should we abandon any hope of sharing the Gospel with our neighbours? Has the language barrier between the Church and secular Australia become too great? The story of Pentecost in Acts 2 answers these questions.
In Acts 2:3-4 we read of the Holy Spirit coming on Jesus’ disciples, some time after He had ascended. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability (NRSV). Gathered in Jerusalem at that time are Jews from all corners of the World, who exclaimed, “we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Despite a language barrier, religious and cultural barriers, and human cynicism (v.13), the Good News of Jesus Christ is proclaimed to this diverse crowd and many are saved. The evangelists were untrained, they had never been to evangelical rally before – yet were able to share the Good News by the power of the Holy Spirit.
The message of Acts 2 should give us great encouragement as we seek to share Relevant Faith with Our Community. Firstly, it reminds us that we are merely participating in the work of the Holy Spirit and it is not our evangelical prowess at work. Secondly, it reminds us that language or culture is not a barrier. We can share our experience of God’s hand in whatever words we have and know that the Spirit allows others to hear. Thirdly, no barrier, be it language or otherwise, can overcome the Spirit’s work. For the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world (1 Jn 4:4 NRSV). So we have confidence sharing God’s love in any situation, knowing that God’s spirit is with us, and can give us the right words, in any language!
Grace and Peace
Church Council Chair