In his longest recorded prayer in John 17, Jesus prays for his disciples and notes how we are “not of the world” but are “sent into the world” (John 17:15-16). His expectation is that we will continue his mission by remaining in the world although we will live differently from the world and be his transforming agents within it. Ever since that prayer, Jesus’ followers have struggled to maintain the tension of living ‘in’ the world yet not being ‘of’ the world. It is not as easy as it sounds and so Paul reminds us, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould” (Romans 12:2 Phillips), suggesting we need to be on guard or else it will happen.
This is perhaps never as true as with Christmas. For most of our community Christmas is little more than time off work and an opportunity to over-spend, over-eat, and over-celebrate. It’s a time to party with colleagues and mates and for the vast majority a time to catch up with their birth family. Read more >>>
Despite the many challenges facing the Australian today there are good reasons not to despair.
In his book, Losing my Religion, Tom Frame, Director of St Mark’s National Theological Centre in Canberra concludes, “unless there is a turnabout in the fortunes of all community organisations . . . the Christian Church will be a marginal player in Australian life with a few surviving remnants”. While this may sound somewhat melodramatic it nonetheless it reflects what many believe about the church in Australia. Yet not all is doom and gloom, there are signs that God is at work even if it is in areas we are not accustomed to. One area that is cause for celebration is the impressive growth in independent schools. Today more than 40% of Australian high school students attend private or non-government schools. This is up from 20% in the 1960s and has been primarily driven by the establishment of new religious schools. It is perhaps the most defining change in the educational landscape in Australia over the past twenty years. 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 >>>
Once upon a time, not very long ago, Australian society was very different to what it is now. Then there existed a broad consensus across social, cultural, intellectual, ethical, political and religious spheres under-girded by a Christian world view. Not that everyone believed, in fact the majority didn’t, yet society by and large operated as if it were true. Both formally and officially we lived in a ‘Christian’ country and the church had a central and influential place. Christendom had existed in some shape or form across Europe from the conversion of the Roman Empire. By the time Europeans arrived in Tasmania the signs of its disintegration were already evident and it reached a tipping point midway through the 20th Century. This broad consensus no longer exists, and Australian society no longer considers itself Christian. The church as a result no longer occupies a central position. In fact, most people have little or no knowledge of how it was, and those that do often do so with derision and contempt By contrast many Christians look back with a certain fondness. 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 >>>
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 >>>
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 >>>
Recently at Hobart Baptist Church we recently began a new series of messages based upon Paul’s letter to the Galatians. I’m looking forward to all that God will bring out of it for us.
When he wrote this letter, Paul had just arrived back in Antioch in Syria after his first short term mission journey that lasted about 18 months. It was here he heard news that the new communities of faith he helped establish in the region of Galatia were struggling. Concerned for their welfare, Paul wrote a very firm, even angry, letter to them. Now when we say Paul ‘wrote’ a letter, it is good to remember this was 2000 years ago when literacy was sparse and the cost of materials high. Paul was not skilled at writing so he would have engaged a professional scribe. Traditional Christian art often depicted Paul at a desk, pen in hand. But this is not how it would have happened. Nor is the image accurate of him pacing back and forth dictating furiously to his secretary. Rather, for Paul, letter writing would have been a very time consuming process. He most likely would have been with his team in a room tossing around ideas that were captured laboriously by the secretary. Read More >>>
“God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform,” so wrote English poet William Cowper in 1779. God’s Mysterious Ways is the current theme of our Sunday morning messages at Hobart Baptist Church.
One of the mysteries of our Christian lives is how God works within us. The apostle Paul expresses the mystery well when he writes, “my dear friends . . . continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12, 13). Even though God is at work within us changing us to be more and more like Jesus, we have to work at it too.
The reality of God’s grace is wonderful. His unmerited favour is the foundation and centre of our faith. We can’t earn our relationship with God, it is a free gift which can only be received. It is not a one-off event because every day of our lives God’s ongoing mercy, compassion, love and grace is there for us. However, there is more to the Christian life than passively receiving God’s grace. Read More >>>
Last week I began a series on God’s Mysterious Ways. The Bible reminds us that God’s ways are not our ways and God’s thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). When reading the Bible we are often left wondering why certain things happen the way they do. In his book, Genesis: The Movie, Robert Farrar Capon suggests one of the reasons we are often confused and perplexed by the Bible is that we read it the wrong way. Rather than reading it as an instruction manual he encourages Christian to start “watching” it like a film. Only then, he suggests, will we begin to understand what God is up to. When we watch a movie we normally do so in one sitting. We don’t stop it every five or ten minutes to analyse each scene, but watch it to the end waiting for the threads to come together and the story resolve. Capon suggests we read the Bible the same way. Rather than stopping every time we don’t quite understand . . . Read more >>>