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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Psalm 27 encourages us to “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14) This is a fitting encouragement as we begin Advent this week.
Advent is the time of celebration over the four Sundays leading up to Christmas and ending on Christmas Eve. Although there is no mention of it in the Bible, many people find it not only an enjoyable time but one that is spiritually enriching. It is, like the Psalm suggests, a time of great anticipation, of waiting, expecting, and hoping.
The entire nation of Israel had waited centuries for their Messiah to appear. Luke tells us the devout and righteous Simeon had been “waiting for the consolation of Israel” (Lk 2:25) and the prophetess, Anna, was “looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk 2:38).
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Writing in The Mercury’s TasWeekend recently (Nov 14), columnist Charles Wooley commented, “That’s the principle of the separation of church and state. To be less highfalutin, I think that just as we try to keep politics out of sport, our politicians should try to keep religion out of politics. It’s annoying to the large numbers who don’t share their particular faith and, besides, it only makes politicians look stupid.”
Wooley’s view no doubt reflects what many Tasmanians think, although how many it is hard to say. It is hardly an original suggestion and rather clichéd, yet in today’s society, it is somewhat naïve.
Despite what some might believe, the Australian constitution does not preclude religion in politics. What it does stipulate is that “The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion” and “The Commonwealth shall not make any law … for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion”. The aim is to ensure no one denomination or religion becomes the official national church, and no person, no matter what their religious belief, will be barred from participating because of their religion. This is freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.
The argument that religion has no place in politics stands on a fallacy and an assumption secularism is somehow “value neutral”, while religion remains “value charged”. Read More >>>
Slowly, subtly, and almost unnoticed it happens to the best of churches. It is detectable in churches in the Bible; it is found in churches across Australia.
Quietly we drift away from our core calling. Rather than focusing outwardly into the world of the lost, the lonely and the broken, we gaze inwardly at each other. Rather than caring and praying for those who don’t know Jesus, we spend our time and money caring for ourselves. Church members and church buildings become our focus.
Jesus called his disciples to go and make disciples. We are all called to be missionaries. Wherever we live or work or go to school that is the focus of our mission. For those of us who live in Australia, that means being a missionary right here.
Here in Tasmania, and within the denomination of which I am a part, regaining a healthy mission focus in our churches is the heart of Tasmanian Baptists’ desire to be a “mission shaped movement”.
It’s not as easy as it might sound. Once a church has become inwardly focused, there is a tendency to cling to the traditional ways of doing things and change becomes difficult, sometimes seemingly impossible. Quite often the process of refocusing a church outwardly, and bringing mission to its heart, is a very painful process. The tension between adopting new strategies for mission and maintaining . . .
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In his longest recorded prayer as found in John 17, Jesus not only prays for his immediate 12 disciples, but for the many who would believe their message. And what was his prayer? Over and over and again he prays for their unity.
“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23).
What would happen in our churches if we all joined Jesus in his prayer? What would it mean for Hobart and Tasmania (or your town and region) if all churches, despite our differences, operated with the unity Jesus prayed for?
The heartfelt nature of Jesus’ prayer calls attention to the reality that genuine fellowship among Christians is one of the most powerful tools for evangelism.
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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Last week Karl Faase, Australian Christian communicator, media presenter, and social commentator, was in Hobart speaking at Family Voice events. The former senior pastor of Gymea Baptist, is well informed about the challenges faced by the church in Australia today.
Faase suggested that the average Christian attending church regularly on a Sunday has lost confidence in what they believe. The sad result is an unwillingness, even an inability, to engage in conversations about Christianity during the week.
However, he encouraged Christians not to be silenced by the media’s caricature of the irrelevancy of Christianity, its heralding of the Church’s demise and its increasing hostility both. Rather, he said, it is time to regain hope in the gospel and boldness in our proclamation. “We need to move from fearful silence to positive engagement.”
Citing research by Olive Tree Media (his company) and McCrindle Research, Faase explained how Australians show significant “warmth” to Christianity contrary to what is commonly assumed. When asked, “What best describes your current beliefs and attitude towards Christianity?” 25%, who don’t consider themselves as Christians, are warm towards Christianity. This is on top of the 33% who described themselves as Christian (whether they are or not is another matter). What this shows is that nearly 60% of Australians have an open stance towards Christianity and are willing to talk about it.
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“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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“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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Did you know that over 600 verses in the Bible refer to heaven, more than 500 mention prayer, less than 500 relate to faith, around 50 speak of hell, yet there are more than 2,000 passages which talk about handling money?
So good stewardship is a major theme throughout the Bible.
A week ago at our quarterly church meeting, we made some important decisions that will affect the future mission and ministries of Hobart Baptist Church. One of them concerned the formation of a project team to explore how we can make our church more accessible to new people. This initiative came from a special assignment I gave a new family when they joined us earlier this year.
I asked them to document what it was like for a young family to enter into the life of Hobart Baptist Church for the first time.
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