The recent massacre of Christian students in Kenya by Islamic militants was another gruesome reminder of the increasing persecution of Christians around the world. According to Open Doors USA, “2014 will go down in history for having the highest level of global persecution of Christians in the modern era.” Open Door predicts it will only get worse. In its annual World Watch List, Open Doors identifies the top 50 countries where Christians face intense persecution. It takes many forms including torture, imprisonment, loss of home or assets, rape and death. Each month, on average 322 Christians are killed for their faith, 214 properties (churches or Christian homes) are destroyed and 722 acts of violence are committed. Estimates are that over 100 million Christians are persecuted worldwide, making us the most persecuted religious group in the world, with Islamic extremism being the main source in 40 of the 50 countries on the list. Last week, on April 14, it was one-year since the kidnapping of 276 girls from Chibok, Nigeria. They remain in rebel custody and little is known about their whereabouts or their circumstances. A small number who managed to escape from the Boko Haram camp reported being raped almost daily and that some have been killed because they refused to renounce their Christian faith. Dr. Stephen Davis, an Australian negotiating to secure their release, says, “I have visited many villages and towns attacked by Boko Haram. I have seen firsthand the devastation and talked to families in the attacks. These are tragic stories of loss of life, slaughter, rape and the worst abuses of human life one can imagine.” Read More >>>
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 >>>
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 >>>
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 >>>
It is never easy to fully appreciate how others see the world. As an Australian Christian who believes in one God, my first visit to India opened my eyes to the completely different world of polytheism (many-gods). What was fanciful and strange to me, was normal to millions of people. Bowing, praying and worshiping to multiple deities was way outside my understanding of what religion was all about. Just as strange, but in a different sort of way, is the view of some that there is nothing but the natural world—no God, no gods, no higher intelligence—nothing. However, I am yet to find a “pure” atheist, most seem to accept that there may be something. Did you know that the early Christians were considered atheists by the Romans? It started with the Jews. Read More >>>
It’s my belief that it is getting more difficult for Christians to live in our community which is founded on Christian values yet increasingly rejects the God of Christianity. We have much to learn about living in such an environment. While on holidays recently, walking around Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hiroshima, Jenny and I became increasingly aware of the yellow tiles with raised patterns, about 30cm square, running along almost all footpaths. In shopping malls and railway stations, on footpaths above and underground arcades below, there they were again. We’ve seen them in Hobart, but not in such abundance. They tiles are for the blind so they can find their way. Using their stick to run across the patterns,they can navigate their way around. It’s perhaps one thing our world should be commended for – giving attention and care to the disadvantaged in our community, in this instance the blind. Yet, while it should be applauded most people are totally unaware that this valuing of all people is part of our community because of its Christian heritage. Read More >>>
In a recent interview, British theologian, N. T. Wright, warned when “anybody — pressure groups, governments, civilizations — suddenly change the meaning of key words, you really should watch out.” It happened in Nazi Germany and in post-1917 Russia, and, he suggests, is happening today. He gives the example of trend to speak of “assisted suicide” rather than name it as a “killing.” Wright then turns the current debate around same-sex marriage. He says that the word marriage has “for thousands of years (and across-cultures) meant between man and woman. Sometimes it’s been one man and more than one woman. Occasionally it’s been one woman and more than one man . . . but it’s always been male plus female. Simply to say that you can have a woman-plus-woman marriage or a man-plus-man marriage is radically to change that, because of the givenness of maleness and femaleness.” Read more >>>
Last month we month we discussed the chapter “Why Forgive?” In it Yancey quotes author Lewis Smedes, “The first and often the only person to be healed by forgiveness is the person who does the forgiveness… When we genuinely forgive, we set a prisoner free and then discover that the prisoner we set free was us.” Strangely, we forgive not only for the benefit of the one we forgive, but also, perhaps more importantly, for ourselves. Last month Desmond Tutu, the, now retired, South African Anglican archbishop, Nobel Peace Prize winner and social activist released his latest book, The Book of Forgiving. Co-written with his daughter, the Reverend Mpho Tutu, Tutu draws on his experience as the Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa to guide people along a process towards forgiveness. Why? Forgiveness is incredibly powerful. Read More >>>