Grow Up!

Everyone loves to watch their  children and grandchildren growing up, and Jenny and I are no exception.
As parents, one of our key responsibilities is to help them grow up well. It begins with things as simple as eating. At the start we feed them, hoping it isn’t too long before they can feed themselves. We read them stories looking forward to the time they can read on their own. As they get older we become their taxi driver eagerly anticipating the day when they get their driver’s licence.

Baxter Family
We are very proud of our growing family. Here we are at our son’s recent engagement. Grandson Eli was otherwise distracted!

We want our children to grow to be mature, self-supporting, capable adults whose lives will make a difference. To do that we nurture and discipline, explain and discuss things, train and mentor them. Sometime we allow them to go into difficult and uncomfortable situations hoping they will grow. Sometimes we withdraw our presence and support so they learn to do things without us. As they grow we add more responsibilities hoping to encourage them to take responsibility for all aspects of their lives.
Some kids can’t wait to grow up, others find it difficult. Either way, growing up is something we all face and can’t avoid. In fact, it continues throughout our lives. The moment we stop learning, growing and maturing is the moment we die.
The same is true following Jesus. Read More >>>

Boom to Bust: Church Life Cycles

Back in the 1960s, our Hobart Baptist church building was full to capacity and overflowing on a weekly basis. There are a number of people still attending the church who remember it packed every Sunday with around 400 people. An all-aged Sunday School met at Elizabeth College next door because there wasn’t enough room for everyone in the church building.
A lot has happened in the past 50-60 years, both in the community and the church, and those days have long since gone. Yet, there is no reason why it can’t happen again at some time in the not too distant future.

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

Today Hobart Baptist Church is made up over 250 people. Whether people attend the 10am service, the Karen language service, the Church With No Walls ministry or our communities of faith meeting in homes, we are a sizable number. There is no doubt God is at work amongst us and there a signs of growing and healthy church. There are many reasons to be very encouraged.
As with all organisms, the church goes through times of growth . . . Read More >>>

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.
Read More >>>

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 . . .
Read More >>>

[i] Introduction to the History of Christianity, Dowley, 2014

All Change!

The “Almighty certainly never intended that people should travel at such breakneck speed.”
Martin Van Buren
In 1829 the Governor of New York at the time, Martin Van Buren, wrote to the American President, Andrew Jackson, demanding his Federal government preserve the country’s system of water canals. He was fearful of “the spread of a new form of transportation known as ‘railroads’”. The result he said, would be “serious unemployment,” “boat builders would suffer,” and that “towline, whip and harness makers would be left destitute.”
The problem with the ‘railroad’ he said was that “carriages are pulled at the enormous speed of fifteen miles per hour.” This was frightening to women, children and livestock, and passengers’ lives were in danger. He concluded that the “Almighty certainly never intended that people should travel at such breakneck speed.”
Change is never easy. Sometimes we love it, sometimes we tolerate it, sometimes it makes us angry, and sometimes it frightens us terribly. We can long for it and plan for it, yet at the same time we will fear it and even actively resist it.
Yet change is inevitable . . . Read more >>>

Developing an Aussie Gospel

Making the gospel relevant to our unique Aussie culture

At the recent engageHOBART conference, Jenny and I led a workshop on Developing an Aussie Gospel. In our workshop we explored what we might be able to do to make the gospel message more meaningful in our Australian culture.
This is no easy task. Our community has changed so much over the past 50 years, and recently we have witnessed a growing criticism of the church that is increasingly hostile. Although we are called by Jesus to be messengers of the “good news” of the Kingdom there are many who in no way believe our message is “good” news at all.
In addition to exploring new ways of doing ‘church’ and revisiting some of our many treasured forms, we also need to learn how best to communicate the gospel to Australians.
Read More >>>

Which Wolf Wins? Staying ahead of the anxiety battle

Do you remember that feeling of excitement and worry of your first day of school? It’s a Was your first day of school full of anxiety?long time ago for some of us, but it was the beginning of our future. Which was it for you – excitement, anxiety, or something else entirely? How did you respond? Feeling anxious often brings out some funny behaviour. Some of us talk too much, and some of us withdraw. Some don’t know where to look, while others look for a hole to climb into.
Of course that is not the only time we have felt anxious. It happens throughout our lives. In fact, most of us are anxious about something now, even as you read. Surprisingly, we tend to deal with every moment of anxiety in similar ways. If we look back on our lives we can see recurring patterns of behaviour.
Anxiety is part of our lives both as individuals, and as larger groups such as church congregations. Researchers suggest that congregations behave in ways similar to individuals and families. Each congregation has its issues that bring anxiety. And when it comes, similar recurring patterns of behaviours rise to the surface. We can’t avoid these moments of anxiety, but we can be aware of them, observe our behaviour and chose to respond rather than react. This is not as easy as it might sound; nevertheless, it is no doubt part of what it means to be the body of Christ.
A real-life example
I sense that perhaps one of the underlying issues causing anxiety for the church I am a part of, Hobart Baptist Church, is an ongoing concern that we are not all we would like to be as a church. In fact we are not all we believe we can be and we are not really sure what God wants us to be in the future.
Hobart Baptist has an amazing history going back 125 years at our site in Elizabeth Street. What is more, we can trace a link back to the first Baptist Church in Australia in Harrington Street. Over the years our building has been filled with community, business and political leaders, including state and federal ministers, even hosting a State Funeral in 1963.
Such a history can be a burden to carry, particularly when attendances are dwindling and budgets are difficult to meet. Given this reality it is not an exaggeration to suggest that a low level anxiety simmers below the surface of our congregation. Most of the time we hold it in check, but now and again it flairs up and it is not a pretty sight.
But we don’t have to succumb to this anxiety. We can take a deep breath, look towards the future and not react to our anxiety. Anglican bishop Jim Kelsey once wrote:

“This is something I have found to be true without exception: that when we, any of us, focus on things in our lives that are passing away, we get scared, we get anxious, we get depressed, we lose hope; and when we focus on things that are being birthed and are coming newly into creation, we get excited, we get imaginative, we get optimistic, we feel drawn closer to one another, we feel as if we have meaning and purpose in this life, and we have joy. . . . We are given change as an ingredient in life. We can be frightened and anxious and resistant to it or we can embrace it as a tool to transform us.”

If we allow loss, grief and anxiety to get the upper hand we stop trusting each other, our vision becomes clouded and we are unable to see the present clearly. Our future can also look bleak. When anxiety rises, it is important for us to deal with it in helpful ways.
A good analogy
There is a Native American story about a grandfather who was talking to his grandson about how he felt. The grandfather said, “I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is the vengeful, angry, violent one. The other wolf is the loving, compassionate one.” The grandson asked him, “Which wolf will win the fight in your heart?” The grandfather answered: “The one I feed.”

Howling Wolf
“Which wolf will win the fight in your heart?” The grandfather answered: “The one I feed.”

Over the years there have been times when anxiety has tended to overtake good sense, yet over all it has been met with good grace, patience and love. If it were not so, Hobart Baptist Church would have ceased to exist. Now, as we move into a new future we could allow anxiety to rule our behaviours, or we can let go of all that we think we are supposed to be and embrace all of who God has called us to be. Doing this honours the past, but it embraces the future.
In a world full of brokenness, violence and oppression, a safe place where you can be accepted and loved makes all the difference in the world. I believe Jesus wants his church to be a place where anxiety is not allowed to rule, so that those with a broken heart can find rest and have it gently mended, and move into a better future. Peace, love and trust can prevail over anxiety, because that is what Jesus died for.
What about you? What was your first day of school like? Can you stand back and observe if this is still the way you manage anxiety? What does your future look like?
Stephen L Baxter

The Road to Success

Have you ever wondered what it is to be a successful Christian? In other words, what does it mean to be a successful follower of Jesus?
Solomon is arguably the most successful person in the Bible. In his life he achieved much, and gained honour, wealth, and a standing unequalled amongst kings. Yet Solomon, despite all this, concluded, “Everything is meaningless, utterly meaningless!” (Ecc 1:2)His final analysis, recorded in the book of Ecclesiastes, was that ultimately success proved unfulfilling.
In his autobiography, The Price of Success, JB Phillips, the Bible translator and essayist, wrote, “I was well aware of the dangers of sudden wealth and took some severe measures to make sure that, although comfortable, I should never be rich. I was not nearly so aware of the dangers of success. The subtle corrosion of character, the unconscious changing of values and the secret monstrous growth of a vastly inflated idea of myself seeped slowly into me . . . I can still savour the sweet and gorgeous taste of it all – the warm admiration, the sense of power, of overwhelming ability, of boundless energy and never-failing enthusiasm. It is very plain to me now why my one man kingdom of power and glory had to stop.”
A life of worth
Phillips’s struggle with the effects of success is common to us all, including Jesus. After all, he was tempted in every way we are. Yet Jesus taught, “The life you save is the life you lose.” (My paraphrase of Mark 8:35) Not only did he teach it, he lived it. He had no money in the bank, and only a handful of followers at the end. He was, in terms of worldly success, a perfect fool and a failed (dead) messiah.
However, through the resurrection, Jesus was exonerated and vindicated by God. His life was and is an example for us all. He demonstrated that the life you guard, grasp and play safe with is the life that is of little worth to anyone, including you. This is the paradox he taught and demonstrated: those most fully alive are those who give their lives away.
The secret to success . . .
Solomon’s wealth and honour were gifts of God, a blessing Solomon did not expect or seek. In contrast, the assurance of a long and satisfying life was conditional on his following David’s example: walking in God’s ways and obeying him. Something he found difficult to do. In his sober moments, when Solomon centred his life on God, he concluded, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13) When he wasn’t so clear, life was confusing and meaningless.

There is a secret to success and it is not about wealth, recognition or fame

We can learn from Solomon. There is a secret to success and it is not about wealth, recognition or fame. Successful living is relating to God, and living according to his words. This alone can produce true happiness, contentment and significance.
In our world dominated by individualism and consumerism, where advertising bombards us with promises of life, it is good to learn where true success lies from Jesus, the true source of life.
How has your success affected you?
Or in contrast, how much do you desire to be successful?

Stephen L Baxter

Celebrate with those who Celebrate . . .

Sunday was Mother’s Day, a day which this year we celebrate between observing Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.
Mother's Day
But unlike Christmas and Easter, Mother’s Day sits on our church calendar with no apparent meaning or context. It is much more part of our Western culture than it is part of following Jesus. Yet, there is no reason why we can’t join with our culture and honour mothers and motherhood.  After all, it gives us the opportunity to fulfil, if only in part, God’s commandment to honour our father and mother.
So on Sunday, I trust you took the opportunity to do just that, whether your mother is living or deceased. Yet, that will be easier some than for others.
Delights vs Realism
Sadly, for many in our community and churches Mother’s Day is a day of mixed emotions. On the one hand it conjures up memories of wonderful family life; of loving marriages and happy children. Thinking of our mothers brings warm and positive emotions to the surface. And when we think of our own children we remember the delights of motherhood.
In an ideal world all of us would have these feelings. In reality, it is true only for some. We can too easy fall prey to the idealised motherhood of TV, greeting cards, and gifts when the reality is that most women, if not all, do not fit these soft-focused fantasies.
The Bible shares this realism. Rachel, Hannah, and Sarah were infertile and experienced great heartache. Eve and Mary lost sons. And Ruth was childless and widowed at a young age. Far from fantasy, the Bible brings sober perspective to motherhood that is much more aligned with the realities of our world.
Today many women will experience motherhood as motherhood deferred due to late childbearing; or motherhood disrupted through divorce; or motherhood lost by infant/child death or miscarriage; and even motherhood unrealised due to infertility or undesired singleness.
Still others, male and female will experience the absence of motherhood due to distance, death, divorce or neglect. Many carry a scar or wound caused by the nurturing they failed to receive. Others will face again the suspicion that there is a link between their current emotional difficulties and their relationships with their mothers.

It is a day for celebrating with those who celebrate, and mourning with those who mourn

Moving on
So despite the ideal of Mother’s Day, there lies close to the surface the reality of a broken world. It is a great day for honouring and celebrating our mothers, but it is good remember this is easier for some than others. It is a day for celebrating with those who celebrate, and mourning with those who mourn.
It is also a day to remember, that despite our experiences and memories, we all have the opportunity to know and experience the love of God. It is as we accept his forgiveness and forgive others, mothers included, that we can move on from the pain and hurt of the past and be part of God’s worldwide family. Here everyone is loved, acknowledged, respected and cared for.
What does Mother’s Day mean to you? Are you able to celebrate with genuine joy and thankfulness? Or have you been scarred by  a difficult past? Either way, may I encourage you to move foward with hope and an attitude of acceptance and forgiveness.
Stephen L Baxter

Walking with Confidence to the Future

What are your plans and goals for this year? Do you have any?
One of the key components of my 12 month appointment with Hobart Baptist Church is the development of a vision and plan to position the church for its next steps. During the later months of last year we completed the first phase of this process and now a small planning taskforce has begun to develop the key points of a plan based on feedback from phase one.
Planning the future like this is a challenge for Christians because it opens up the heart of a tension. We are called to go into the world to “be fruitful, increase in number, fill the earth and rule over it” (Genesis 1:28), yet God says he has plans to prosper us and give us future (Jeremiah 29:11). As Walter Brueggemann explains, God both “gives us permission to choose our futures,” yet also “chooses a future for us that is gracious beyond our choosing”. So we are called to plan for the future, but know that God always has a plan in store for us.
Did you know that ancient Middle Eastern cultures, and some people groups today, conceive of time very differently to us westerners? For them the past is something they face, it is before them. The future lies behind them and at their back. They picture themselves as walking backwards into the future.
Our modern society works the opposite way around. For us the past is at our backs, it lies behind us and we walk forward into the future.
I’m not sure that either way is the right way, just different. Walking backward into the future has certain logic about it. The reality is that we often don’t know where we are going and the future is a big unknown. Walking backward acknowledges that the past is all we know and we can learn from it as we approach the future.
But walking backwards has problems. We can’t anticipate obstacles or the unexpected. We can easily stumble and hurt ourselves. It can give us a false sense of security as we imagine that future will be a repeat of the past.
Walking backwards can also cause us to focus on the negatives – what we’ve done wrong, how we’ve failed, where we’re hurt – and these disappointments induce fear that leaves us unable to move on. So despite what we can learn from the past it can also be an unreliable guide to the future.
Our biblical worldview enables us to walk forward into the future with confidence, because, as the old Sunday school song goes, “I know who holds the future and I know he holds my hand.” God is the author of the future, and because he knows it I need not fear it, I can go about planning for it knowing God will be there in it with me.
So as we move into 2011 and begin our planning we can do so with confidence. The confidence is born not from the fact that we can clearly see where we are going, or that we can trust our planning, but that we know the creator God stands behind us looking forward, guiding us into the unknown. So let’s pray and play with confidence for the future God has in store for us.
Here is a link to an article entitled The Conception of Time in the Ancient Near East
Stephen L Baxter