The Incredible Power of Forgiveness

At the moment, the monthly men’s discussion group I am part of is reading through Philip Yancey’s book, What’s so Amazing about Grace.

Philip Yancey
Philip Yancey

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.
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Pentecost: A Birthday!

The day of Pentecost is one of the most important days in the life of the church.
Just as each year you celebrate your birthday, at Pentecost we celebrate the birthday of the church. The events of that day so empowered a group of people and ignited such a passion in them that the effects are still felt in the world today. Have you ever prayed that God might do it again in your life, in your city?

Birthday candles, flame, wind
Just as each year you celebrate your birthday, at Pentecost we celebrate the birthday of the church.

On that day Jews from across the known world had gathered in Jerusalem for one of their annual celebrations. Only weeks before they had come for another festival, the Passover, when there had been a small disturbance when yet another messianic hopeful, Jesus of Nazareth, had been crucified by the Romans. His small band of followers were in hiding fearing reprisal and nowhere to be seen. There were rumours circulating that some people had seen Jesus alive.
Then, something unheard of took place.
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Avoiding that Final Journey?

Death is one of those things we avoid in any way we can. We fill our lives with things, we immerse ourselves in books, movies or other fantasies, we focus on our careers neglecting everything else, we party, play and distract ourselves from the impending, inevitable reality.
However, we don’t do death like we used to. Once afraid of ‘meeting their maker’, today people are resigned to there being no meeting at all. No longer afraid of going to hell, most are fearful of going nowhere at all.

Religious Candles and Cross
Often today’s funerals are not even about the person who died but about “managing our grief.”

Today people want to die quickly, preferably in their sleep. In the past when most people had a Christian worldview even if they were not Christians, they wanted to know when death would come so they could be prepared. “Prepare for what?” you might wonder.
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He Dared to Dream

The carriage was tightly packed with passengers as they settled down for the long journey. Among them were the regulars, those tired workers returning home from long night shifts in city factories. There were also children returning home after their term at boarding school, and there were some tourists eagerly anticipating their new adventure.

In the corner, near the window, was an old man. Next to him, by the window, was a younger man in his mid-30s. As the train moved out of the station the younger one started talking excitedly and loudly. “Dad, do you see the trees and the way they move in the wind. It’s wonderful isn’t it?” “Dad, look at the rain. Isn’t the way it falls beautiful.” “Hey Dad, look at the grass, what a lovely colour green is.” And so on.

“Hey Dad, look at the grass, what a lovely colour green is.”
“Hey Dad, look at the grass, what a lovely colour green is.”

Everyone heard the running commentary and thought it a somewhat strange. However, the longer it continued the more frustrated they become and began murmuring amongst themselves. The young man, unaware of their discomfort, continued his joyful observations.

Suddenly it became too much for one passenger who turned to the old man saying, “Can’t you keep him quiet? It is all very off putting. If he is unwell take him to hospital.”

The old man gracefully turned to the passenger and smiled.
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Churches: Does Yours Speak Aussie?

At various times during the past 200 years, the church across Hobart has experienced times of strength and weakness, growth and decline. The past few decades have been a challenging time as the number of Hobartians attending church has significantly declined. The same is true of cities all across Australia.

Aussie Church
The church across Australia has experienced times of strength and weakness, growth and decline

While we all feel the effects of this decline, we are unsure as to why it has happened. Pressures from secularisation, rising individualism, consumerism, the increasing power of the state over the church, and urbanisation are no doubt all contributing factors. However, issues within the church itself are also important causes.
While we can despair at the state of the church locally, internationally there is reason for great celebration and hope. The church grew from small beginnings in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, yet today it has over 2 billion adherents worldwide. It continues to grow significantly in many places across the world even if in Australia, and most parts of the Western world, the opposite is true. A worldwide perspective encourages us to raise our expectations of what God can and is doing.
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Hope for the Church

There are many things that can cause us to despair the shape of the church today. Declining numbers, aging congregations and growing hostility can tempt us to think all is lost. However, there is reason to hope. 

child labour
The youngest workers  crawled underneath machines while in operation to gather up loose cotton. Many died when they got caught in the machinery.

In Britain – at the height of the Industrial Revolution in 1740 – poverty, social injustice, child labour, harsh living conditions and long working hours were rampant. Children aged five or six worked 14 to 16-hour days in mines, people were executed for petty crimes such as stealing a loaf of bread, drunkenness was rampant and gambling extensive. It lead philosopher Bishop Berkeley to lament that morality and religion had collapsed “to a degree that was never known in any Christian country.”[i] At St. Paul’s Cathedral London on Easter Sunday morning, 1740, only six people were in attendance for communion.
Jenny and I visited St Paul's Cathedral in 2012
Jenny and I visited St Paul’s Cathedral in 2012

It was in this context that God did a new thing: George Whitefield began to preach to coal miners in 1738. He in turn inspired the Wesley brothers, who turned Britain around.
Over the next five or so decades God transformed the lives of people and the society of Britain. Thousands upon thousands accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour, slavery was abolished, child labour laws introduced, trade unions established, and prisons reformed.
Reflecting on the history of the church over a century later . . .
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[i] Introduction to the History of Christianity, Dowley, 2014

Words are important!

God created the world with words (Hebrews 11:3), and because we are made in God’s image, our words are powerful too.

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“Words convey more than information”
Words convey more than information, in fact they can create and destroy. Despite the idea behind it, the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” is clearly a lie. The truth is that words can hurt, and often do. If you tell a child they are dumb or stupid often enough, it will significantly impact their life.
But words also encourage and build. They are a unique and powerful gift from God. Of all the creatures on this planet, humans are the only ones with the ability to communicate through spoken word.
Through the years raising our children, Jenny and I . . .
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Paradoxically Speaking . . .

Have you noticed how the writer of the book of Proverbs urges us to seek wisdom? (Read Proverbs Chapter One to find out.) It a great idea, but not as easy as it seems, particularly given the strange nature of wisdom.

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You can’t judge a book by its cover
We’ve all been told that we are “not to judge a book by its cover”, nevertheless “the first impression is a lasting impression.” We’ve heard it said “too many cooks will spoil the broth,” but also “two heads are better than one.” And although “knowledge is power,” equally so “ignorance is bliss”.
There is also a saying, “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.” Stop and read that again slowly. Here are two opposite statements that, when put in the one sentence, are no longer contradictory but transform into a wise saying.
Wisdom can often be quite paradoxical. Paradox is like that, a statement that initially looks absurd and self-contradictory turns out to not only be true but wise.
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Facing Change as a City Church

The building Hobart Baptist Church meets in is just on the fringe of CBD of Hobart. It is a stately stone building modelled on Baptist Tabernacle in Stockport, England, and is uniquely located on the main road linking Hobart and North Hobart.

Hobart Baptist Church
Hobart Baptist Church is one of the original ‘tabernacles’ built in Tasmania with help from Spurgeon’s grandson

As a city church the congregation is drawn from across Hobart and across many nationalities. It is the oldest remaining Baptist church in Hobart with links back to the first Baptist church established in 1835.
At various times through its history the congregation has struggled to fit into the building, and at other times it has felt quite empty. Today, the church is made up of three congregations numbering nearly 250 people.
As a church we are on a journey . . .
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Vis-a-Vis OR Face-to-Face

Dennis Pethers
Dennis Pethers

A few people from Hobart Baptist recently attended an excellent workshop with Dennis Pethers, an international evangelist based in the UK. Dennis is founder of Viz-A-Viz Ministries, International Director of “More to Life” and spends around seven months each year outside the UK equipping Christians, churches and church leaders.
There is a good chance that Dennis doesn’t fit your perception of an evangelist. He is quietly spoken, unassuming, humble and very down to earth. Although he has spoken at large rallies, he pointed out that the era of the big evangelistic rally is almost extinct in our contemporary Western community. Our society has changed and because people just don’t come like they did once.
One insight Dennis shared was . . .
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