It is no secret that in contemporary Australia the church faces significant challenges. While these include such issues as the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Sexual Abuse, the push for same sex marriage and the squawking of the New Atheists, there are many local congregations facing the tough question of their own sustainability. Declining attendance, aging facilities and financial dependence on aging members are causing many churches to face issues regarding their short term, let alone their long term, futures. Over the past decades many churches have tackled the unenviable choice of closure, merger, or some form of radical change in their congregational life. Some, to their demise . . . Read More >>>
Among the many tensions that exist at the heart of any church, it is my observation there is one that we often overlook. A tension, I believe, is where we are pulled in two directions at the same time by two important truths.
Another tension in the church has to do with the focus of its life. Should it be inward or outward looking? In any church there are forces at work causing it to focus inward on itself. This is not necessarily bad as God calls us to love and care for each other. This inward looking behaviour is important for any healthy church. It is the necessary work of maintaining our unity, nurturing new Christians and ensuring growth in maturity. But there is also a force that moves us to focus outwardly to those around us, sending us out to the people outside the church . . . Read More >>>
At Hobart Baptist Church we are just about to the end of series titled ‘Challenging Church.’ Over the past few months we’ve focussed on some of the ways the church is being challenged in our society.
Not only are the rapid changes bringing disorientation but there are many that are loudly proposing that the church is irrelevant and has no place in today’s world. This calls for increasing courage and reliance on the Holy Spirit to enable us to stand and face these challenges. But in addition to these challenges, the church itself is in turn called to be a challenge to the world. Jesus called his disciples to be the “light of the world” – a people living an alternative to the world, grounded in faith and repentance where we acknowledge . . . Read More >>>
It’s most likely true that everyone has at least one physical scar that with a good story behind it. Do you? For some of us, those who are a little bit older, there are more scars and more stories to share. Our scars are often the result of accidents, and are noticeable because of the marks in the skin where it is a bit tougher than it used to be and doesn’t bend as easily as undamaged tissue. Yet, despite this, scars are God’s plan and part of our body’s healing response. They are part of life, part of God’s design and we all carry them. Not all our scars are visible. Some are covered because of their location while others are covered because we don’t want them seen. Neither do all scars carry a good story . . . Read More >>>
As Hobart becomes more and more multicultural city we shouldn’t be surprised to see significant changes in many churches as they too become multicultural. It’s been our experience here at Hobart Baptist Church; we also are on a journey becoming more and more a multicultural church. So what does it mean to be a multicultural church? Obviously, it means we are a church with many nationalities represented. Our church is made up of people from quite a number of European nations, and . . . Read More >>>
It was great to have Dr David Jones of Rural Support Services with us at Hobart Baptist a couple of weeks ago, and to listen to the challenging message he brought. The encouragement to be a church that provides ‘safe passage’ for those on the journey of faith echoes what is deep in the heart of the church.
David asked us if we were prepared to make a guarantee to the people of Hobart: that if they walked through the front door of our building that we would guarantee to accept them, love them and forgive them. The guarantee to accept is . . . Read More >>>
Yesterday at Hobart Baptist Church we got together for our monthly Combined Service. We call it a Combined Service because the different congregations making Hobart Baptist Church come together in worship to celebrate our diversity and reaffirm our unity.
It is a different type of service with the children joining us for the entire time and our three congregations—our traditional Sunday morning crowd, our Karen folk and our Church With No Walls people—participating in some way. Then after the service we continue our worship by sharing a meal together.
This is an important event in the monthly life of our church. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the focus of our worship services should be solely on God and with no thought of other worshippers gathered with us. However, God expects more of us than that. In the New Testament it is clear that that we don’t worship merely as individuals, but as a people, a congregation. Paul’s instructions to the Corinthian church were to make sure that everything happens—whether it is singing, teaching, praying, and reading the Bible—is done in such a way that “the church may be built up” (1 Cor. 14:26). Rather than think of ourselves, we are to think of one another. We are to make sure the rich don’t get all the good seats (Jms 2:1-4) and that at communion no believer is excluded (1 Cor. 11:22-23). Worship should not only increase our love of God but also the love of our fellow believers. John reflects on this when he writes, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (1 Jn 3:16).
Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. Bythis everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (Jn 13:34, 35). Sadly, we are not always as good at loving each other as we ought to be. Many of us have experienced hurts, divisions and disunity in churches. It can often leave us hurt, and even bitter. In fact, the number issues of over which we can disagree are limitless whether it is about theology or worship style, power or cultural differences, the pastor or the leadership.
“It is not the differences or disagreements that are the problem, but how we deal with our differences”
While it is true that these differences will by nature bring disagreements, it is not the differences or disagreements that are the problem, but how we deal with our differences. When a difference brings disagreement it presents an opportunity to either create unity or division. Unity will one day finally be realised but only when Jesus returns, until then unity will always be in process and something we are continually working on so as to maintain it. Our combined services give us an opportunity where we can exercise our love for each other. They are a visible demonstration of the unity we have in Christ despite our differences. They are a way to help us to maintain our unity in the midst of our diversity. As we spent time together yesterday, in the service and in our meal together, we were all provided with two opportunities. Firstly, to experience the love and unity of being part of God’s family, a very encouraging experience; and secondly, an opportunity to express that love and unity to each other. The challenge is to embrace being different, while working together. I pray that as you seek to express love and unity to those in your fellowship that God will bless you too, just as he blessed us yesterday. Stephen L Baxter
Over the past few decades many in the Western world have witnessed a growing hostility against Christians and churches. Such is the growth in this hostility that the word “christophobia” was coined in 2003 by Jewish scholar Joseph Weiler in his book, A Christian Europe? He used the word not as we might presume to describe anti-Christian behaviour in general, but focussed on what he saw as Europe’s particular embarrassment with its Christian past.
However, today, ten years later, the word’s usage covers a wider range of responses. This includes, as suggested above, the refusal by some to concede that Christian moral ideas have a place in the arena of public debate. Here christophobia is more likely to be defined as “having an irrational fear and hatred of Christ and of Christians.” For example, in our community today it seems that one of the worst things one can be label is “homophobic”. While the technical definition is “having an irrational fear and hatred of homosexuals” more often that not Christians are denounced, as has occurred here in Hobart, as “homohobic” just for maintaining the traditional understanding of marriage. We live in a strange world. Many who call for Christians to be tolerant of their point of view, are less than tolerant in accepting our point of view. And while they advocate for a diversity of views, they are quick to denounce views they do not agree with theirs. Perhaps we should not be surprised. Throughout history Christians have faced similar resistance. In fact, the more God’s presence is felt in a community, the more opposition God’s presence provokes. This was true for Jesus, so it will also be true for his followers. The more vigorously the gospel is presented the more the forces that deny it will intensify their opposing efforts. Yet, while we may detect a growing christophobia here in Australia this cannot compared to the persecution faced by our brothers and sisters in other countries. According to the German based International Society for Human Rights (a secular organisation) some 150,000 Christians are killed for their faith each year (411 each day, and 17 every hour). It happens in 133 countries, representing nearly two-thirds of all nations on earth. In countries like, Mali, Syria, Nigeria, Egypt and Pakistan, Christians are murdered or forced to leave their homes in large numbers. Churches are destroyed and so too are Christian villages. All this information could lead us to lose hope and despair. Yet, despite what we and our fellow Christians around the world experience we of all people should be full of hope and expectation. Why? We know how the story ends. We are those who live in the light of the resurrection and the promise it contains that Jesus will one day return and establish his Kingdom. We are those who live today with an eye to the future when God’s purposes will be realised and the world will live in peace. It is in this hope that we are called to live. May God grant to his people around the world the ability to stand firm, be strong and endure in these promises despite what the world may bring against us. Stephen L Baxter
In a scene at a New Year’s Eve party in the film Forrest Gump, Forrest is asked, “Don’t you just love New Years? You get to start all over. Everybody gets a second chance.” There is something in this statement that sums up one of our attitudes to the New Year. Many of us use it as an opportunity to reflect and dream about doing things differently in the future. There is something within our human nature that longs for things to be different. The opportunity to start over, or a chance to do better, and the possibility of a clean slate is a longing deep within us. The truth is we’ve all made decisions we wish we could change, or said things we which we hadn’t, and many of us would relish the opportunity to relive a part of our lives again. We all look back with regret in some way. It’s part of our human existence, so it is not surprising that we take the opportunity of the New Year to resolve to do things differently. Yet how often do we fail to keep our resolutions. There is something about well-worn habits, lifestyles and attitudes that are not easily changed. This is as true of individuals as it is of communities. How many of the trouble spots across the world are continuing conflicts of past generations that still linger? Just like the Israel/Arab conflict that goes right back to Abraham and his two sons Ishmael and Isaac. The good news we celebrate as Christians is that Jesus not only offers us the opportunity of second chance, but also the power of the Holy Spirit to be able to live differently. The Bible is full of examples where God gives a second chance! The people of Israel were constantly and consistently called by the prophets to repent, refocus and restart their life with God. And Jesus repeatedly gave second chances—whether it was through healing, forgiveness or his teaching. Just like the woman accused of adultery whom Jesus saved from stoning, the lives of many people were changed—revitalized, renewed, and restored. Even high profile people like the apostle Peter was given another chance (John 21:15-23) after he had denied Jesus three times (Mark 14:66-72). And Saul, who later changed his name to Paul, was a persecutor of Christians (Acts 7:58-8:3) before his life was transformed (Acts 9:1-19).
“The Creator of the universe became a human being and willingly suffered death so that you and I could have a fresh start
The good news of the story of Jesus Christ is that the Creator of the universe became a human being and willingly suffered death so that you and I could have a fresh start. The message is the promise of forgiveness, grace and mercy and it extends to every person. No one is exempt from failures and regrets and no one is exempt from the opportunity to receive God’s love and forgives and the promise of a second chance. This is more than a New Year’s resolution, it is a promise of change. Of course, we can make a fresh start at any time; God’s grace is not restricted to a certain time of year. Yet New Year is as good a time as any to reflect, re-frame, realign and refocus our lives and take the opportunity of God working with us to see our lives take a positive turn in the right direction and for the better. New Year’s resolutions may not last long, but when we repent and ask God for his help, all things are possible. We are not alone. What is it in your life that needs changing? What things do you think God would like changed? Why not talk to God about it and begin the adventure of a second chance.
You may remember the story a few years back of the sad shooting in an Amish schoolhouse in the US that took the lives of five Amish girls and injured five others. With this tragic event the life of these simple Amish folk for a moment became international news. The simple, 18th century lifestyle of the Amish seems quite strange in our modern age of conveniences and comforts. Yet their unique, genuine and deep faith in God shone through the media coverage.
Almost instantly after the killings they offered forgiveness to the killer and established funds not only for the families of those killed and wounded, but also for the family of the man who committed the murders. Consistently the Amish have explained that their motivation has come from Jesus’ command to forgive those who hurt you. One Amish man wrapped his arms around the killer’s father and tried to comfort him in his grief saying, “We forgive you!” It is interesting to read the comments reported in the media:
“We’re really strongly taught to forgive like Jesus did. We forgive the way Christ forgives us.” “You need to go on and just trust. God will take care of us.” “We think it was God’s plan, and we’re going to have to pick up the pieces and keep going. A funeral to us is a much more important thing than the day of birth because we believe in the hereafter. The children are better off than their survivors.” “We need to go through trials to strengthen our faith. We need to accept it. There is no other way we can go on.”
As the injured girls began to recover some incredible stories started to be told. One was an interaction leading up to the shooting where the oldest girl in the school, 13 year old Marian Fisher, pleaded with the gunman, saying, “Shoot me and leave the others alone.” Through their Christ-like response to this tragic event, the Amish demonstrated something of Jesus’ love and forgiveness to a world they normally withdraw from. Even in the midst of their own grief they turned media attention away from themselves and toward God. Their humble trust is an example to us all. They showed how to allow God to be at work in our hearts in the very toughest of trials. They showed how a tragic event can become a witness to God’s love. It is good for us to take hope and inspiration from their example. It helps remind us that no matter what we might be going through there is always a way to continue to trust in God and his goodness. Stephen L Baxter