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 >>>
Our Easter celebrations have come and gone so quickly!
We stopped to celebrate the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ only a week ago, yet we are back into our normal routines before we know it. Yet, the resurrection is so profound its truths transform every part of our lives, and in a very real way Easter lives with us every day. In his first letter to the believers living in Corinth Paul writes how “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, [and] that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). While his death dealt with our sins, God vindicated Jesus by raising him to life again. His resurrection changed everything. It transformed Peter from a mistake-prone bungler who denied and disassociated himself from Jesus, into a bold provocative advocate who stood in front of thousands of people on the day of Pentecost and called them to repent. What changed Peter? He later wrote, “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). The resurrection radically changed Peter for ever. Peter’s life demonstrates a powerful insight, that the resurrection is more than a victory to be celebrated it is a reality to be lived. It’s not by chance that the early church began meeting on Sundays, the day after the Jewish Sabbath. Read More >>>
In these weeks leading up to Easter I am focusing on the “Seven Sayings of Christ from the Cross.” This week it’s Jesus’ words of abandonment taken from Matthew 27:46, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which translated means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Hanging on the cross, his body in agony from the torture of crucifixion, Jesus uses the opening verses of Psalm 22 written by David to express the depths of his agony. But it was not the physical pain that was the source of his cry, although it was no doubt intense, it was something far deeper and darker. In that excruciating moment, he felt the unbearable painfulness that comes from rejection and separation. Jesus entered into a place where, as Paul the apostle expresses it in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (NIV).
Such is the mystery and the majesty of the salvation of humanity that we can’t possibly know the depths of what Jesus felt in that moment. We can however appreciate it in some measure. Why? Because Jesus was as human and you and I are. His experience was that of every human being. His suffering was a mirror of our sufferings. There are times when many of us, perhaps all of us, have experienced dark times when it felt like God had abandoned us. Life was hopeless, prayers went unanswered and despair was overwhelming. It such moments we too cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But that’s not where the story ends. 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 >>>
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 >>>
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’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 >>>
Jenny and I had a wonderful two weeks in Japan despite the heat and humidity, because of course, it is the middle of summer there in August. Towards the end of our time we were sitting on the cool second floor of the Starbuck’s overlooking Shibuya crossing, Tokyo – a five way intersection with a pedestrian-only segment in the cycle. Some say is the busiest crossing in the world. Up to 3,000 people walk across at any one time and an estimated half a million people every day. That’s more than double the population of greater Hobart. But it’s not so surprising, when you consider Tokyo’s population of 13.35 million people.
As we sat watching a series of traffic light cycles, with thousands of people swarming across, I wondered what they might have been thinking. Most of them, no doubt, were just going about their normal lives made up of the same things I do: eating, sleeping, working, playing, raising children, caring for loved ones, carrying burdens, worrying about the future and so on. Some were possibly racing to their next appointment, others were lost in a daydream and most were using their smart phone in one way or another. In that moment I found myself marveling at the wonder of life itself. 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 >>>
I have no doubt that every parent’s patience has been tested during the “why” stage of their child’s development. No matter where you are or what you are doing, a small voice incessantly asks the simplest of questions, “Why?”
It is staggering the number times the simple query can be asked before breakfast. Eager to understand the world in which they find themselves, children seek explanations for each, and every, thing they touch or see. Sakichi Toyoda, a Japanese industrialist, inventor and founder of Toyota Industries in the 1930s based his widely used technique on the same question. It’s called the “5 Whys”. 5 Whys is a practical problem solving technique that asks series of questions designed to uncover the underlying cause of a problem or defect. It is very simple. You simply keep asking the question “why” until you reach the essential cause of the problem you need solved. A quick search of the internet will explain how to use this quite effective tool. Yesterday morning at Hobart Baptist we concluded our short series on God’s Mysterious Ways. God and life is full of mystery, causing us to often ask “Why?” Perhaps the greatest of these is, “Why do things exist?” Read More >>>