A couple of weeks ago we commemorated Australia Day – a day to celebrate all that it means to be Australian. From barbeques to beach cricket, in community and family events, from community awards to the new immigrants, the nation takes a day off thankful for such a wonderful country. For some it is just another excuse for a day off work, for others it is less than a celebration. The date, January 26, marks the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the British ships of the First Fleet at Port Jackson, New South Wales. There are descendants of those who lived in this land before their arrival for who find this day difficult. While the arrival of the First Fleet heralded the beginning of modern Australia, for many of the original inhabitants it signalled the end of a way of life. It brought with it suffering, disease and increased death rates thus making January 26 more a day of mourning than celebration, and more about invasion than foundation. It is not hard to see why some feel this way. Read More >>>
[Please note I am having a break from blogging during January. Ill be back in full swing in February! SLB] Christmas Day is almost here and the lead up to it is full of waiting, longing, expecting, and hoping — and not only for children. For centuries Christians have set aside the four Sundays prior to Christmas as a time to rehearse again the anticipation of Christ’s coming. Advent – the word comes from the Latin meaning ‘coming’, ‘appearance’ or ‘return’ – inspires us to look backward to Christ’s first coming, and to look forward in expectation of his coming into the world and our lives today. With a quick look at our Christmas celebrations, one could be excused for concluding our longings consist of cute babies, worshipful farm animals, humble shepherds, and camel-riding astrologers. But these are just the backdrop to a much grander and more profound story – God visits planet earth with the aim of restoration and renewal that is nothing short of a new heaven and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17-25). Fuelled by the prophetic writings of Isaiah, Jews and Christians alike look forward to a day when God’s Messiah will set the world aright, bringing justice to the nations (Is 42:1) and producing a world of full of peace and harmony (Is 9:1-7; 11:1-9). It was the same on that first Christmas. The Israelites were looking to God to send the long promised Messiah to rescue them from their plight at the hands of the occupying Roman army. Their world was in turmoil, their future looked bleak, and they cried out to God. Throughout history, people have longed to be rescued. As the recent siege in Sydney illustrates the world is often a very difficult place to live in. Read More >>>
As we draw towards the end of another year and focus on the astonishing reality of the incarnation—when God entered into our humanity in profound ways—we are again reminded of our own fragility, weaknesses and the need to rely on each other.
When Jesus was born, like every other new born baby he was totally reliant on those around him. Vulnerable and defenceless he committed himself into the care of a teenager and her fiancé. Then throughout his life, Jesus never rose above that fragility of humanity but experienced it to the full, right through to death. We don’t like feeling vulnerable, weak or fragile so it is no surprise that so much in our lives is committed to alleviating these feelings. We use our jobs, our finances, our organisations, families and friends to mask the inherent feelings of brokenness we carry with us every day. Some suggest “we never look our best in transition” and change is perhaps when we most likely feel vulnerable. When we navigate changes in our lives it is often hard to be at our best. It takes so much energy to deal with change . . . Read More >>>
Yesterday at Hobart Baptist we gathered with other baptists from around our city for “Celebration Sunday” to celebrate what God is doing amongst us. Not everyone could be with us, but we were grateful for those who did come, and many went away stirred, challenged and encouraged as we worshipped God together. There is great diversity across our churches in background, experience, culture, age and ethnicity – but we share One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism. I’m sure God is pleased when we express our unity by coming together. Such a variety of belief and practice, dress and singing, buildings and liturgy among Baptists should not surprise you: God loves diversity. One look at vast arrays of trees, flowers, birds and animals in this wonderful world is enough to recognise the diversity of God’s creative genius. However, diversity introduces complexity and discomfort. Read More >>>
On the corner of Bligh & Hunter Streets in Sydney lies Johnson Square. Within it stands a monument marking the location of the first church building and commemorating the first church service held in Australia on February 3, 1788.
Sadly, only five years after its opening in August 1793 the church building was burnt to the ground. Allegedly a group of disgruntled convicts angered by decree from Governor Hunter requiring all residents, including officers and convicts to attend Sunday services, had set it alight. Although it was made of wattle and daub construction with a dirt floor, thatched roof and plank seats the building could seat 500 and was the culmination of years of frustration by the first Christian minister in Australia.
Richard Johnson, an Anglican priest, was appointed chaplain of the prison colony at New South Wales in 1786 largely due to the influence of evangelical Anglican reformers Newton and Wilberforce. Keen to have a committed evangelical Christian as chaplain in the colony, they recommended Johnson who at the time was working in London as an itinerant evangelical preacher. A kind, generous and devout man, Johnson found life in the penal colony very difficult. Read More >>>
At Hobart Baptist we are currently in the middle of a series of messages on forgiveness, and how important it is not only for the church, but for society to be a forgiving community. More often than not forgiveness is not easy and quite costly. This is certainly the case for the communities that were caught up in the genocide of 20 years ago that claimed an estimated 800,000 in Rwanda. Now, two decades later, organisations such as World Vision and AMI (Association Modeste et Innocent) are still at work endeavouring to bring healing through reconciliation and forgiveness. Australian John Steward first arrived in Rwanda in 1997 to manage a peace building and reconciliation program for World Vision. Now after 19 visits he has seen the program, based on the value of forgiveness, cautiously grow bringing a level of healing to communities once destroyed by hate. Upon arriving he saw people, “full of fear, struggling to get food – frantic to get jobs, dislocated and separated from their communities.” Although the government was looking for justice and the church preached forgiveness, the message was too hard to hear because people were hurt and traumatised. Read More >>>
Yesterday morning at Hobart Baptist Church we celebrated new followers of Jesus declaring their commitment to him in baptism. The word “baptism” was taken from the Greek language of the New Testament where it simply meant to “immerse in water”. Immersing people in water was an important symbol in biblical times and practised in a number of societies across the Middle East. It symbolised dying to a past way of living and identifying with a new way of living for the future. Today, thousands of years later, it is still used it as a way for people to demonstrate to their friends, family, co-workers and themselves that their lives have changed. It symbolises dying to your old life by going down under the water, and coming up out of the water symbolises being born again into a new life. It is a powerful way of saying we immerse ourselves in all that Jesus is about and publicly declare this reality. One special feature of the baptisms yesterday was those who were baptised. Read More >>>
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly” (Matthew 11:28-30, The Message). We have all felt tired, burdened or worn out at some time, some of us more than others. Being frazzled, fatigued, bored or discouraged are a normal part of our lives that leave us vulnerable and off-balance. Sometimes it feels like we have the weight of the world on our shoulders. We lay awake at night and the burden feels too heavy to carry. Sometimes we are tired trying to live the Christian life—doing the right thing, living up to the standards, producing the right fruit. We can be like yo-yos, up one day and down the next. For our bodies, God provides daily sleep and a day off each week. Read More >>>
Last Sunday at Hobart Baptist Church we commenced a three part series on Faith, Love and Hope. This ‘triad’, as it is often called, is found in many places in the New Testament. It pops up in various combinations in several of Paul’s letters, but also in Hebrews and Peter’s first letter. The first week we looked at faith, and yesterday we focused on love. Perhaps the most well-known of the triads is found in First Corinthians: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (13:13). Writing to a church in a society where knowledge was the highest value, and one by which everything else was judged, Paul insists that knowledge in and of itself is useless unless it is grounded in relationships permeated with faith, hope and love. It is a most radical statement, not only for his time but for today also. It is easy for us to gloss over what Paul says because of its familiarity. Read More >>>
There is a lot to be encouraged by in Jesus’ words to his disciples, “I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18).
Jesus says “my” church, which reminds us the church is not ours but his. He also says that he is building his church, underlining again that the task is his, not ours. Not that we are passive, mind you, we still have work to do, but Jesus makes clear where the authority and responsibility for the church really lies. All this is heartening. Despite the challenges we face in the church in Australia today, Jesus is taking the lead and it is not all up to us. The church will prevail not because of our hard work or intelligence, but because of Jesus and that “the gates of Hades” cannot stop it. Despite what we might feel, there is ample evidence from around the world that affirms this reality. In a recent interview in Christianity Today, Dave Garrison talks about his new book, A Wind in the House of Islam. His book describes how around the world Muslims are coming to faith in Jesus Christ and it is believers from Muslim backgrounds who are leading these Muslims to Christ in increasing numbers. Most of this is taking place in Muslim-majority nations rather than the West and almost completely under the radar. Read More >>>