The shepherds must have been quite overwhelmed and awestruck that night when the heavenly host gathered to praise God proclaiming, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests” (Luke 2:14).
A quick reflection on world events over the past 12 months reveals the world still needs peace as much now as ever. In every nation and every community there is much pain and suffering, sorrow and injustice, sickness, violence and poverty.
We long for peace, and not just any peace. We long for a peace greater than just the end of hostilities, but one where justice is done and the human heart is changed.
Sixty years ago, during the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, American Baptist pastor, Martin Luther King Jr, proclaimed, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”
This is the peace the world needs and it is the peace the angels sang about. Yet, such a peace is hard to come by. Even in my own life I find it uncomfortably easy to slip from peace to hostility.
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It’s been suggested one of the most important things you do in life is decide what’s important in life – who you are and what you do. It is as true for followers of Jesus as it is for anyone. As we choose to embrace the values of the Kingdom of God our lives change forever. In fact, so radical is the resulting transformation that Jesus described it as a re-birth.
Following Jesus is like starting life all over again. It is seeing everything in life from a totally new perspective. It changes our priorities and what’s important in our lives. These new values come from our relationship with Jesus Christ, by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and through our reading of the Bible. Although some values develop quickly, others take years, perhaps decades, to develop.
Churches have values too. Along with our beliefs, there are the guiding principles to the way we live life together. No matter the breadth of our diversity, our individual expertise, our backgrounds or our culture, the church operates on a set of values that determine the way we relate to each other and the world around us. Sometimes we are not be aware what our values are, however a good look at the choices we make and the way we live will reveal them.
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What is a Christian?
“What is a Christian?” asks J. I. Packer in his book “Knowing God.” His response may surprise you. Although he agrees the question can be answered many ways he suggests, “the richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God as Father.
Over the past couple of months at in our Sunday services at Hobart Baptist Church we have been exploring the wonder that God is our Father and we can call him ‘Dad’. In fact this is what makes the Bible’s New Testament so profound. In it we learn how the Creator of the universe wants to relate to us in very special and intimate way – as Father and children (John 1:12-13).
The Bible is very clear: not every person is a child of God. Sure, we are all made in God’s image, but that does not make us children of God. The Old Testament talks about God as Father but only to Israel as a nation and to their kings when they are crowned. Even in the New Testament it is only those who put their trust in Jesus Christ and confess their short comings that have the right to become children of God.
Being a child of God is not a universal right; it is a supernatural gift. This is what the New Testament is talking about when it says we are adopted.
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No Lost Causes!
“Frankly, there isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love once you’ve heard their story.”
This is a quote from an unknown US social worker. My guess the story they refer to is the real story of someone’s life, not the nice, nonthreatening one we easily share, but the other buried story hidden underneath our everyday life.
We all have another story to tell about our lives, but we don’t share it very often, if at all. Here are truths and facts that are full of shame, hurt, and confusion. Deep down we have a sense of our brokenness, a brokenness we share with the rest of humanity.
Most of the time we suppress it, sometimes we face it, sometimes we blame others, yet all the while it remains. For some, the way to deal with it is to divide the world into two. On one side are the goodies, on the other the baddies. There are the righteous ones and the evil ones. And we know which side we are on. Once we draw the line we naturally end up on one side, the good side.
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“Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
Recently I have been leading a men’s discussion group studying a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas.
Bonhoeffer was a German theologian and pastor who spoke out against the political developments in his country in the 1930s. He saw grave danger in the rise of Führer cult which merged the two Nazi ideals of a militarized state and a utopian world base on the Aryan “super race”. The joining of these forces resulted in a world war with the death of millions, the Jewish holocaust, and the devastation of a continent.
In the years before the Third Reich gained ultimate power, Bonhoeffer saw the magnitude of the threat long before others. He spoke up with courage, becoming being ridiculed even amongst church colleagues. When he dared question Hitler’s assurances, he was painted an alarmist. In response he wrote, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
The eighth of May this year was the 70th year anniversary of the surrender of Germany which ended World War II in Europe. While the world has seen progress in many areas since, wars continue to rage across the world. No matter where they are, nations still engage in conflicts and remain vulnerable to rule by totalitarian administrations.
Even in Australia there is evidence of totalitarian tendencies. Read more >>>
Christians: The New Non-Believers
At the Tasmanian Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast last week I took the opportunity to give a short introduction to this annual event. I thought you might like to read a transcript of my speech titled, Christians the as many attendees were very encouraged by what I said:
Tasmanian Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast | August 19, 2015
As we gather in the name and spirit of Jesus of Nazareth, we do so in the midst of great cultural turmoil. Within our community are forces at work endeavouring to overturn century-old norms and practices around key moments in life – at birth, marriage, and death. I speak, of course, about abortion, same-sex marriage and euthanasia.
In that maelstrom of competing voices and visions of the future, many find the very notion of a ‘prayer’ breakfast somewhat strange, antiquated and even dangerous.
Despite the place Christianity has played in Australia’s history, and despite its ongoing contributions, to call oneself a Christian in Australia today invites responses of curiosity, condescension and cool dismissal. Christians are often painted as intolerant, naïve, superstitious, and even backward. It is not uncommon to hear Christians put down, not only in casual conversation, but across social and mainstream media.
This caricature, I suggest, is false. It falls a long way short of many Christians who join with others to care for millions of Australians in homeless shelters, refuges, aged care facilities, disability services, soup kitchens, detox facilities etc. The contrast between them and the Christianity portrayed is quite striking.
But why? Why such a contrast?
Jesus and the Father
When his disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he began, “Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name.” That he taught his disciples to pray to Father, reminds us how Jesus constantly called God ‘Father’. In fact, he was always talking about his Father
Jesus told his disciples how his Father had sent him (John 5:36). How he had “come from the Father” and was “going back to the Father” (16:28). He remarked how he could “do nothing by himself… only what he saw his Father doing” (5:19). And in Matthew 11:27 he explained, “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Jesus continuously explained how his coming to earth, his purpose on earth, and his leaving earth was all about revealing the Father.
But not only did Jesus call God ‘Father’, he taught his disciples to do the same. The Lord’s Prayer is perhaps the prime example. The first words are emphatic, “Our Father”.
By encouraging them to call God “our heavenly Father”, Jesus was teaching them about the loving relationship he had with Father. This profound a relationship, existing for all eternity, was now being opened for them. They were being brought into God’s family to share God’s life by God adopting them as children (Rom 8:15). This most intimate of relationships between God the Father and God the Son, a relationship of reciprocal love and respect, was now theirs to experience.
Despite the magnificence of the nature of this relationship, some Christians find . . .
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Prayer Needed! The World Has Changed
In a series of messages on revival the great Welsh preacher-teacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones turned to the end of Mark 9.
Here Jesus comes off the mountain to find the disciples unsuccessfully trying to free a boy from a demon. After a quick rebuke, Jesus heals the boy and the disciples ask why they couldn’t do it. Jesus explains how this kind is only expelled by prayer. Lloyd-Jones suggested Jesus used this incident to teach his disciples a lesson: the ordinary, business-as-usual way of doing things, no longer worked. Different times calls for different measures.
Using the story as an allegory, Lloyd-Jones suggested the boy represents contemporary Western culture; the demon is its underlying assumptions, and the disciples are the church. His conclusion was that our past methods of evangelism, while perfectly good for their time, no longer worked in today’s world. The world had changed. The old methods no longer applied. We are dealing with a different, difficult ‘spirit’.
Although the Lloyd-Jones’ message was given in 1959, it is still relevant today.
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Loving Our Neighbours
Ten days ago nine members of the Supreme Court in the USA, in a 5-4 ruling, declared same-sex “marriage” law across America. The result is that same-sex marriage can no longer be banned by any of the States. This new state of affairs was resolved by a small panel of seven men and two women. Many see this as a severe blow to democracy given that the people were not given a choice in the matter.
Although their decision does not change the biblical view of marriage, nor the view of millions of Christians across America, it nevertheless has significant implications for those who continue to hold the alternative, more traditional view. The result continues the marginalisation of Christians in the Western world.
The repercussions have already hit us. The calls for Australia to follow suit are growing louder and more strident. It seems only a matter of time before we fall into line. Then we, along with our American brothers and sisters, will need to work out our Christian response.
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Our Challenge: to be IN it, but not OF it
Throughout the centuries Christians have constantly wrestled with what it means to live as Christ’s followers in societies and communities that are morally and culturally challenging to their faith.
Even at the beginning, when small, fledgling churches were first established across the Roman world, Christians were surrounded by a pagan culture filled with mystery cults, mysticism, philosophical debate and speculation. The New Testament is full of letters to these churches, letters aimed at helping these Christian communities navigate how they are to follow Christ each in their particular context. The question of how the church relates to the surrounding culture and how the surrounding culture affects the church was ever before them.
These questions remain with us today. In our (post) modern culture we are surrounded with tsunami-like changes spanning across a wide range of religious, secular and scientific thought. Our faith is constantly being challenged and we are prompted to wonder just how we are to live in and relate to the culture in which we live.
Historically the church’s response has swung between two extremes: on the one hand capitulation/accommodation and on the other, separation. Neither of them is biblical. Read on >>>