This weeks cold snap has had me thinking about winter of a different sort - spiritual winter!
Just as we see in nature, our spiritual lives go through seasons. We are told in Ecclesiastes 3:1 For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.
Winter is a time of stripping, a season of bleak and barren ground. A time of withdrawal, of things falling away, of aloneness, of heaviness and pain. The trees have lost their vibrant leaves. There is a suffering, a sadness, and a death that must occur. In Spiritual Winter everything seems cold, everyone, even God can seem distant, our reserves seem bare, and our heart aches. Yet as in nature, in Spiritual winter transformation is deep at work.
Psalm 1 speaks of the believer like a tree with deep roots; in winter the tree is disrobed but not dead, motionless, resting, gaining in strength ready for the first shoots of spring to reappear.
Spiritual Winter is where the sanctifying work of Christ moves in a way that the warm, joyful summers never fully could. We are stripped of all that distracts us from God, and we must trust that His hand is at work even when we don’t feel it. We trust that we can continue to draw on the deep roots cultivated in other seasons. We hold fast to His hope and cling to His grace as He becomes our song in the darkest night.
Spiritual Winter is a time and a chance to see God through his word in ways you haven’t before. Find times to engage with God in his word, let songs of His grace, mercy and sovereignty strengthen you and fill your heart. Ask his Spirit to direct your eyes to the ways he is working in the small areas of your life. Winter is a time when the inside can be nourished even when what is outside feels barren.
Like seasons in nature, Spiritual Winter will pass.
Our culture is largely oriented toward action. But dormant dreams are not dead dreams; they are often further opportunities for dialogue with God. He created you to desire fruit, and he desires fruit for you (John 15:8). Winter is a time to take those desires to God in prayer. Winter can also be a season where dreams are cultivated.
Grace & Peace
We all know disappointment. Maybe you have longed for healing, work, marriage or a family. Perhaps you have prayed and waited faithfully for weeks, or months or years, yet it seems to be without answer. Disappointment can bring frustration and impatience and anger, we are crest fallen when the answers are not as we would like. So what does God promise when we are disappointed?
Psalm 34:10 “The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” Promises like this can be hard to hear when we are feeling disappointed. What helped me to better understand was asking ‘what is the greatest good?’
Psalm16:2 I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.”
Psalm 73:25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
Philippians 3:8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.
So, the greatest good is God himself - knowing God in the person of Jesus Christ, not just knowing about him. When we experience God in this way, we are so full that we desire nothing else. God is the only all-satisfying good, which is why he is the greatest good.
So, if God is our greatest good, then what makes something good is whether it brings us more of God. So being healed of a sickness can be good because it can bring us more of God by showing us his power, mercy, and goodness. But not being healed can also be good since it, too, can bring us more of God by drawing us even closer to him.
So why am I disappointed? When we feel disappointed by God, it’s because at that moment there’s something we’re longing for more than God; we’re not trusting in him as our all-satisfying treasure.
So, what can I do?
Psalm 40:1-3, Come to him with your disappointment, trusting him to meet you and change your heart
1 John 1:9 Confess that you are longing for something else more than him. Ask him to forgive you through the cross. Receive assurance of complete forgiveness.
Galatians 3:5 Since the Spirit does his work through the word, find Scriptures describing God’s love, power, and majesty, and promises concerning God as your all-satisfying treasure. Pray earnestly over these Scriptures. Fight to trust them.
Hebrews 10:25 Continue to gather with other believers for encouragement.
Pray: Lord, help me to give you my disappointments, and to trust you when I don’t understand. Help me to focus on who you are, and to always praise you, not matter what. Amen.
Grace & Peace
Most of us are all too aware of the statistics pointing to a national crisis in Australia with regards to Domestic and Intimate Partner Violence. The Royal Commission into Family Violence reported in 2016 that faith communities were vital settings for influencing attitudes and providing leadership in relation to family violence; yet the recent NCLS report into Domestic violence in the Anglican Church has sent shockwaves through our communion, identifying that both women and men within the Anglican Church are at least as likely as the general population to experience Domestic Violence. So what can we do about it?
Firstly we can be clear about what the Bible actually teaches: All forms of domestic violence/abuse are incompatible with scripture and Christian faith. True repentance is seen when the perpetrator genuinely recognises their sin and are horrified by what they have done (Isaiah 6:5), they recognise the depth of pain they have caused (Isaiah 64:6), they seek to make amends (Luke 19:1-10), they accept consequences (Luke 23:40-43), they don’t expect or demand forgiveness (Genesis 32), they change their behaviour (Acts 9), they grant space to heal (Galatians 5:22-23), and they are awestruck by forgiveness (Genesis 30:10). When repentance is genuine, all parties are blessed, nd God is glorified. HJOwever, even genuine repentance does not that previous behaviours are free from consequences even including involvement of authorities.
Forgiveness is indeed a hallmark of the Christian faith; forgiveness is about not holding hatred and bitterness in our heart, it is about seeing the person who has harmed us as God sees them; it does not require a victim of Domestic abuse/violence to remain in an abusive enviornement. Forgiveness does not mean you are to ignore that a wrong was done or that you deny that a sin was committed. Forgiveness does not mean that you close your eyes to moral atrocity and pretend that it didn’t hurt, or that it really doesn’t matter whether or not the offending person is called to account for his/her offence Neither are you being asked to diminish the gravity of the offense, or to tell others, “Oh, think nothing of it; it really wasn’t that big of a deal after all.” Forgiveness simply means that you determine in your heart to let God be the avenger. He is the judge, not you.(Acts 29)
Secondly we need to educate our families, our churches and our community about what Domestic abuse/violence is. I have included a graphic as a starting point for this discussion.
Grace & Peace
In today’s high tech environment we can be forgiven for thinking that there is an app for everything, and that they only way to grow a church is through high end wiz bang technologies, quality programming, a nice building, and dynamic preachers; and whilst all of these things are great, none of them will grow a church on their own. So how do we grow a church? The Early Church didn’t have the same resources we have today, yet they saw exponential church growth. So what was their secret weapon?
Prior to ascending to heaven, Jesus told the disciples, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). They didn’t just sit around talking about the kind of church growth God wanted to bring about. They didn’t merely twiddle their thumbs waiting for the power of God’s Spirit to come upon them. Notice what they did: “They all joined together constantly in prayer …” (Acts 1:14). Later, after the Spirit came at Pentecost, we still find them praying. “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42) A few verses later we read, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47). God is still in the business of growing His church; quantitatively (through conversions), and qualitatively (through spiritual maturation). So the question isn’t "can church growth still happen today?” the real question becomes are we willing to pray?
Grace & Peace
Australia is becoming increasingly seculars a Nation; ANZAC Day too has become increasingly secular through the years, some would go so far as to call ANZAC Day the secular religion of the land. The war itself is becoming a far distant memory, the make up and priorities of the community have shifted; yet the commemoration of the ANZACs has, in recent years, increased in community significance. The question posed: Is there still a place for the Christian faith in ANZAC Day celebrations?
I have had the great privilege of leading ANZAC Day services in different States over many years. I always count it a great privilege to stand with our Veterans, to thank them for their service, and to remember the fallen. There is a spirit, a mood, at an ANZAC Day dawn service that you find at very few non faith centric community events; a palpable search for meaning, and purpose and belonging, a desire to know that there is a purpose beyond, that sacrifice is not in vain: And our community turns to the ANZAC Day service in droves with a permissive and open attitude towards prayer, almost seeking the divine, waiting for that moment when life gains meaning. In many ways our community, our neighbours, use this national day of remembrance as a vehicle for their own spiritual quest. As the disciples, as the Church, I see ANZAC Day as an opportunity to stand boldly beside our neighbours, in amongst our community and answer their longing question, silently saying, yes there is purpose, meaning and value beyond today.
Jesus said "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Is it possible that God, in his unfailing all consuming love could be using ANZAC Day to draw all people back to himself? Could He be using the stories of heroism, mateship, leadership and sacrifice to prepare hearts and minds to receive the gospel? Could we as his disciples use the shared memory of sacrifice, the flickering of the flame, the sounding of the last post or the lowering of the flag as the sun rises to touch the heart of the person standing beside us? This ANZAC Day could we sacrifice our own comfort zones, our own prejudices and hangups to take part in great plan of redemption?
So is there still a place for the Christian faith in ANZAC Day celebrations? I believe the answer is yes! The bigger question is are we prepared to take part?
Grace & Peace
Our overarching theme at St Luke’s in 2021 is ‘Body Building’, that is building up the body of Christ - “the Church”. So, what does this mean in Lent?
Ash Wednesday this year falls on 17th February. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent which is a period of self-examination and reflection for 40 days (not counting Sunday’s) before Easter. It is a time marks by humility, repentance, reflection, and renewal. The 40 day period represents two episodes of spiritual testing in the Bible: the 40 years of wilderness wanderings by the Israelites after the exodus from Egypt (Numbers 33:38 and Deuteronomy 1:3) and the temptation of Jesus after he spent 40 days fasting in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11; Mark 1:12-13; Luke 4:1-13). The goal of Lent is to honestly examine your life in light of God's Word and to make a commitment to change in any areas you have not submitted to the Lord. It is a time of putting off the old self and putting on the new (Ephesians 4:22-24), of discovering that our faith is not just a feel-good, self-help religion but one that answers the deepest questions of life and eternity, and of rebuilding our identity in Christ. Done well, Lent is a time that offers us an opportunity to come to terms with the human condition we may spend the rest of the year running from, and it brings our need for a Savior to the forefront; It strengthens our faith, deepens our commitment, and helps us to focus on what unites us the body of Christ rather than what divides.
Join me in taking the Lenten Journey this year. A Lenten reflection book will be available at the back of the church or on our website to guide us through this year’s journey. A prayer and reflection group will be available Monday night 7pm on-line and Saturday morning 8:30am in the hall. Please contact Jen to sign up for either of these groups.
Lenten prayer: Heavenly Father, Thank you for the gift of this season. Thank you for knowing our hearts and our need for rhythms in our lives, and for drawing us into a deeper communion with you throughout the coming 40 days.
Isaiah 58:6-7 - “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Grace & Peace,
Our overarching theme at St Luke’s in 2021 is ‘Body Building’, that is building up the body of Christ - “the Church”. As we all know, healthy bodies are important. This is one reason why the church-as-body metaphor is so helpful because it helps us to focus on the things that matter and it strengthens our witness in the world.
In order for us to live, thrive and survive, we need healthy bodies. When our body isn’t healthy we are limited in what we can do, if one part of the body is not functioning properly it puts additional strain on all other parts, as disease takes over our body breaks down and if left untreated will eventually will die.
For a body to be healthy it requires proper nutrition, exercise, rest, and purpose.
Nutrition: A diet of junk food, or high fats and sugars will quickly lead to a deterioration in our physical health. We become sluggish and risk obesity and heart issues. Our Spiritual diet is no different what we put into our mind matters. What are you reading, what are you watching, what are you talking about? Is it fill-in your mind and heart with the things of God or the things of the world?
Exercise: The more we are involved the more we want to be involved. This is true of all exercise physical and faith. So, get involved! Exercise your faith. Volunteer, pray, participate in events and groups. The more we exercise, the fitter we become and the more resilience we have to problems that we face. When we become lazy, when we are not challenged and stretched, we lose the will to want to be involved.
Purpose: when life has lost direction and meaning the mind suffers and the body loses energy. Parts of the body may even start working against itself, going in opposite directions. As the body of Christ we must remain focussed on the mission and purpose given to us by Christ for His body on earth. (Matt 22:36-40 & Matt 28:18-20)
Rest: Our bodies need rest; when we are overworked, over-stressed, over tired our body does not function well. Our mind is clouded and our body breaks down. Jesus said “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest”. Anything of meaning and substance can only be achieved in the strength of God, and (exercise) trust that He is indeed sovereign and in control.
Healthy bodies grow, they replicate and they work as one. The health of the church works in parallel with the health of the faith of each of its members. To ensure a healthy body we must encourage and equip each other to remain strong and healthy in our faith.
Grace & Peace
Our overarching theme at St Luke’s in 2021 is ‘Body Building’, that is building up the body of Christ - “the Church”
For the last couple of years we have been talking about being disciples of Jesus, and making disciples of Jesus following the command from Jesus himself in Matthew 28 to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
With the roadblocks and difficulties of life, making disciples can seem a lofty and impossible goal. However Jesus didn’t set this gaol then abandon us to our own imagination to figure out how to achieve it. He established the Church as the body in which individual Christians would be integrated with fellow believers in interdependent relationships designed for their mutual growth and maturity and as a launching pad for ministry to others.
When we follow his design the body of Christ (the church) matures and grows stronger and functions beautifully. But it doesn’t happen on it’s own! So what does help the body of Christ to be stronger and more mature?
Grace & Peace
The turn of a new year is always a time for us to once again reflect on the year that has been and to look forward to the year to come.
Every year (including 2020) has within it triumphs and successes; every year also contains its share of unfulfilled plans, unrealised dreams and bumps in the road. Every new year offers endless possibilities and an almost palpable excitement for the adventure that awaits. The turn of a new year gives us the opportunity for resolutions, for changes which will take us forward, and to choose the path that we will follow. As 2021 dawns upon us ... what path will we choose?
I pray that this year we will keep our focus where it needs to be; that we will choose to walk in the light of Christ; that we will choose to be fully devoted in our discipleship of Jesus; that we will be intentional about growing disciples of Jesus in our homes, workplaces and churches; and that we will stand firm in our faith in the face of the pressure to come.
May this new year draw each of us into the abundant richness of Jesus more than we ever thought possible.
And a final prayer from Ephesians 3:14-20
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family[a] in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.
Happy New Year
Advent is an important season in the life fo the church. This season speaks of our joyous anticipation and preparation for the coming of Christ. Our reflections should not simply recall the events leading up to the first Christmas; but should equally see us deeply preparing our hearts for the second coming of Christ.
Through the prophet Jeremiah the Lord counselled ‘You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart’. The formula for finding Jesus has always been the same, the earnest and sincere prayer of a humble and pure heart. This years theme of ‘A New Hope’ calls us to recall just who the baby in the manger truly was and what he achieved. It calls us as disciples to see who this baby in the manager truly is, to grow in our understanding of, and trust in God’s promises, to truly hold onto the sure and certain hope that we have in Christ, and to trust in his faithfulness.
I pray that as undertake our advent preparations this year that each of us may grow in our awareness of God's love for us; and draw closer to him, rendering our hearts to his service and our lives to expectant and purposeful preparation. Great is his faithfulness!
Grace & peace
Jen is an energetic and passionate disciple of Christ who loves to share Jesus with anyone who will listen!