An old Chinese proverb says, “If you want to know what water is, don’t ask the fish.” A fish has never lived outside its watery environment, it has no experience or language to describe its natural environment, and so it has no means to convey what it takes for granted.
The same can be true for us. Much of what we accept as normal, because we were born into and it experience every day, is beyond our ability to appreciate and describe. It is only as we get older that we might begin to realise our experience of life is unique and special in certain ways and is not the experience of everyone.
We take so much for granted. Compared to the rest of the world, living in Hobart is very comfortable. We are amongst the richest people in the world with access to some of the cleanest water and air on the plant. We are surrounded by magnificent beauty and most of us do not need to worry about shelter or food.
At the same time we live in a society that is very secular, consumer-driven, and individualistic. Most people take it for granted and assume it is the only way to exist. However, as Christians there is much we find about our community that is contrary to our values and way of thinking. We are constantly confronted by them and often feel like a fish out of water.
Across the centuries in many and various ways, Christians have been at odds with their surrounding culture, which is not surprising as we are called to stand firm against conforming (Rom 12:1-3). For us, it is a constant challenge to preserve our Christian worldview when our values clash with prevailing attitudes of our community, neighbours and families. The pull of the surrounding environment is compelling and often causes us to drift from our values without even realising it is happening.
Over the past 50 to 60 years community values have changed so much we are now living our Christian lives in the midst of a hostile environment. We are in the middle of a spiritual battle which competes for our hearts and minds. Our beliefs are constantly challenged, and often rejected. We can easily feel overwhelmed and begin to flounder against strong intimidating forces.
Yet we have a job to do. It is not to retreat but stand firm and relearn how we are to live as Christians in our changing world. We have to learn how to be missionaries in our community, our neighbourhoods and our families. This will require God-given insight, wisdom and passion. It will require theological reflection and a good dose of compassionate courage. It will require refreshed minds understanding again what we believe and why we believe it. It will require recharged hearts and strengthened wills. It will require deepening relationships as we walk and work together in being the witnessing community of faith God calls us to be.
With God’s help we can do what the fish cannot do – we can grow to understand and describe the environment we live in so we can live differently. Paul the apostle said we are to be “transformed by the renewing of our minds” and to “not let the world squeeze you into its mould” (Romans 12:1-3, JB Phillips).
May God strengthen us as we allow him to change and equip us to be living witnesses to him in our world today.
Stephen L Baxter
Resistance vs Malleability
It is no secret that in contemporary Australia the church faces significant challenges. While these include such issues as the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Sexual Abuse, the push for same sex marriage and the squawking of the New Atheists, there are many local congregations facing the tough question of their own sustainability.
Declining attendance, aging facilities and financial dependence on aging members are causing many churches to face issues regarding their short term, let alone their long term, futures. Over the past decades many churches have tackled the unenviable choice of closure, merger, or some form of radical change in their congregational life.
Some, to their demise . . .
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It’s most likely true that everyone has at least one physical scar that with a good story behind it. Do you? For some of us, those who are a little bit older, there are more scars and more stories to share.
Our scars are often the result of accidents, and are noticeable because of the marks in the skin where it is a bit tougher than it used to be and doesn’t bend as easily as undamaged tissue. Yet, despite this, scars are God’s plan and part of our body’s healing response. They are part of life, part of God’s design and we all carry them.
Not all our scars are visible. Some are covered because of their location while others are covered because we don’t want them seen. Neither do all scars carry a good story . . .
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Last week was a significant moment in the life of Hobart Baptist Church, but more importantly, it was significant for the 10 people baptised. It began their life of discipleship. God not only rescued them from their sin, but calls them to the greatest adventure of all – the adventure of being transformed to be more like Jesus and working with him in his work in the world.
Following Jesus is the most important decision we make in our lives. It far exceeds decisions such as who you will marry, your chosen career, or where you might live. But this decision is only the beginning of the life of discipleship.
A number of years ago Dietrich Bonhoeffer(1906-1945) famously wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” These words challenged many over the past
60 years or so, and they still do so today. They remind us that our choice to follow Jesus is not just about being rescued, but it begins a lifestyle of learning to live according to his will rather than our own. We put aside our self interests and submit to his.
Many have taken the journey of discipleship before us and they are our examples. Throughout church history hundreds of thousands of Christians have put aside careers, families, hopes and dreams. For two of Jesus disciples, James and John, it meant leaving the family fishing business behind (Matt 4:21-22). For Abraham, centuries before, it meant leaving behind the middle-class comforts of Ur of the Chaldees (Gen 11:31) and not knowing where he was going, trusting God would look after him and make him a great nation – and God did.
Living fruitful lives
Discipleship is not reserved for a special few but is the norm for anyone who believes Jesus is their Saviour and the rightful King of the entire world. Yet, Jesus warns us there are some who begin following Jesus that never go on to live fruitful lives for him.
There are many reasons for this but one of them is that following Jesus is not necessarily easy. Just like James, John and Abraham we can expect following Jesus will bring changes in our lives in many ways. We can expect to be challenged in every aspect of our lives: our thinking, attitudes, commitments and behaviour. We can expect to grow, and growth is often uncomfortable and challenging. We can expect to be confronted with things in our lives that are difficult to face. Even though we try to avoid them, God will not forget us. He is gentle, and while he will not force us to change, he will continue to pursue us because he loves us.
Costly discipleship: We can expect to grow, and growth is often uncomfortable and challenging.
What it means to follow
Being a disciple of Jesus is an exciting life of adventure, but it is challenging adventure. It demands things of us that in our own strength seem impossible; yet with God “all things are possible.” (Mk 10:27) It is only as we willingly follow him and allow him to change us that we begin to know him better and then he meets us in intimate and life-transforming ways.
Let us pray for the new followers of Jesus, even as we pray for ourselves, asking God to help us be purposeful, intentional and motivated in our following of Jesus. And may He mature us all to be more and more like Jesus and pray with him that His Kingdom may come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Stephen L Baxter
On September 11 this year a significant event will take place here Hobart Baptist Church. And it has nothing to do with the anniversary of the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers in New York. On that day the focus of our service will be the baptism of at least ten people coming from across our church including from our Karen community and our Church With No Walls congregation. What a wonderful day of celebration it will be.
Baptism is central to our life as Christians. It marks a significant point in our life of discipleship and is a public declaration that we follow Jesus.
Baptism is not a religious ritual or church tradition. It is far more important than that. Its significance and meaning is found in the death of Jesus. Jesus died in our place and for our sins, but more than that, as the Messiah and Son of God he was victorious over death. His resurrection confirms that victory and is a guarantee of the promise of new and everlasting life.
Baptism therefore is the means by which people who have repented of their sins and chosen to follow Jesus demonstrate their union with Christ. Baptism is a symbol of death and resurrection. By being immersed in water, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, each person acknowledges that Jesus’ death and resurrection is their death and resurrection. Baptism symbolises burial and cleansing; death to the old life of unbelief and resurrection to new life; purification from sin; the receiving of the Holy Spirit and becoming a member of the body of Christ.
Baptism is the defining mark, the crossing over a line, of moving from living in the kingdom of this world to living in the Kingdom of God. In many deep and profound ways, it is a demonstration of the good news of all that Jesus has done for us.
If you are considering baptism have a chat to your pastor or church leader; perhaps God is calling you too in a celebration of faith in Jesus, his death and resurrection.