Growing up in Australia, “god” was a word I heard often. At school it was commonly an expletive, at home it was never anything but revered. I’ve lived with God all my life and now into my seventh decade, God still comes easy to me. I can’t say the same for being a Christian though. That’s been tough. Most of my life I’ve been embarrassed to be a Christian, even though today I’m a pastor of a Baptist church.
I’ve always been tall and skinny. For most of my life I’ve worn clothes that haven’t fitted well. It the same with the word “Christian”. Christians come in all manner of shapes and sizes and so do people’s opinion of them. When I tell someone I’m a Christian I can almost feel the shape of their preconceptions redressing me. Suddenly, I’m no longer the person they first met, but an airbrushed caricature made in their image.
The book of Philippians is sometimes called “The Epistle of Joy”. JOY. We don’t really know how to define it, but we know that we like it and many of us spend most of our lives trying to find it. We look for joy in our jobs, in relationships, in temporary pleasure. But at the end of the day, all these things will fall short. They will leave us empty and unfulfilled and we start looking somewhere new the find our joy. But as believers, we have never-ending access to the most powerful source of true joy. In his spiritual biography appropriately entitled “Surprised by Joy”, C.S. Lewis says joy moved him more than anything else.
He writes, “No one who has ever experienced it would ever exchange it for all the happiness in the world.”
Lewis distinguished Joy from both pleasures and happiness. Happiness is a fleeting emotion based on external circumstances. But true joy is different – it is something that comes from within. It’s a deep abiding peace and sense of contentment and strength that is due to something internal. Joy is deep in the heart, in the spirit, in the essence of our being. The way to pleasure is power. The way to happiness is happenstance. The way to Joy is Jesus. During April and May the sermon series at Hobart Baptist Church focuses on the gift of joy. By studying Philippians we’ll be surprised by the counter-intuitive, supernatural nature of joy. This joy is something no circumstance can give you, and no circumstance can ever take away. You can catch up with the sermons by clicking HERE Please let me know if you learn some new insights, or are encouraged by any of the sermons! Stephen L Baxter
Have you ever heard of a Clayton’s Christmas? It’s a Christmas you have without having a real Christmas. Back in the 1970s and 80s Clayton’s was a heavily marketed non-alcoholic, non-carbonated Australian beverage that looked a bit like whisky. Its boast was it is “the drink you have when you’re not having a drink”. It was aimed at reducing drinking among those who drank to excess. Although it hasn’t been advertised for years, the idea of having a “Clayton’s” has entered into Australian vernacular. Today you can have a Clayton’s anything – a Clayton’s Tax: a tax that doesn’t raise any revenue; a Clayton’s marriage; a Clayton’s football team; even a Clayton’s Cake Stall! This is a fundraiser where you ask people to donate what they would have spent on baking the cake rather than baking it.
Do you ever get up uptight or defensive when there is a conversation about giving and generosity? In his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul reminds them they had promised to collect money for believers in other places. He is asking them to make good on their promise and to do so as cheerful givers (2 Cor 9:7 NIV). Obviously there was the possibility they were not so happy to be reminded. By encouraging us to be cheerful givers, Paul implies our giving will always be accompanied by some sort of attitude and emotion. We can give cheerfully or reluctantly; we can give in freedom or under compulsion,;we can give with joy or with mourning.
Being cheerful givers is important, because it reflects something of God’s heart. It was he who gave his only Son willingly and with ultimate delight so that we might share in eternal life and enjoy life in all its abundance. God wants us to be like him in his giving so that we might share with him in and enjoy his life. Giving, in this sense, is not limited to money. It can be our time and our resources. It may be as simple as a smile or giving someone your full attention when they want to talk to you. How are you going? What is your current attitude to giving? Are you giving cheerfully, or is there some reluctance or grumbling sneaking into it? Are you trusting God for salvation, but struggling to trust him with your time and finances? For most, if not all of us, cheerful giving does not come naturally. Since sin entered the world, we all have a disposition towards selfishness and fear. It is easy to become protectors of what God has given us rather than . . . Read On >>>
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. Read On >>>
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). Read On >>>
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 . . . Read More >>>
You’ve probably heard the story of the scientist who prays to God saying, “God, I’m sorry but we just don’t need you anymore. We have finally figured out how to create life out of nothing. You know, the way you once did right at the beginning.” “Oh, is that so?” replied God, “Tell Me about it.” “Well,” says the scientist, “we take dirt and form it, we breathe life into it and, there you have it, we’ve created a man!” “Amazing,” says God, “that’s very interesting, could you show Me?” The scientist bends down and scrapes up some dirt and begins to mould the dirt into the shape of a man. “No, no, no…!” interrupts God, “Get your own dirt!” Boom-Tish! Despite what many presume, only God has the power and intelligence to create life out of nothing. Science observes and experiments, and does wonderful things, but only. . . Read More >>>
It was many decades after the founding of Hobart that the Hobart Baptist Church building, or Tabernacle as it has often been known, was completed. That was early in 1889 after nearly a decade of feverish activity. When pioneer pastor, Irish born Rev. Robert McCullough arrived in 1883 after a stint in Longford, the church began meeting in the Exhibition Building, where City Hall now stands in Macquarie Street.
After being thrown out of the Exhibition Building in 1884, the church erected a temporary structure of rough timber, ragged tarpaulins and corrugated iron on the spot where our “Tabernacle” stands. Work on a second building, our current hall, began in 1884 behind the temporary structure. Then on 5 October 1887 a foundation stone for the new neo-classical building was laid. The final cost was about $4,500,000 in today’s money. Situated on the fringe of Hobart’s CBD, the stately “Tabernacle” modelled on a similar building in Stockport, England, has stood the test of time. It has lived through highs and lows and times when the congregation filled it to capacity. Today the ministry and mission of Hobart Baptist Church continues thanks to the courage, foresight, and perseverance of those early pioneers and those who have served over the years. The building still possesses a certain grandeur and stands proud despite the challenges faced by the church across Australia and in Hobart. Each day many walk or drive past the building without realising it is the hub of a vibrant, diverse church community of over 250 people. It’s hard to imagine that from the outside. The building is in need of an upgrade to enable the church to meet the ministry and mission needs of today’s world. Read on >>>