On the morning of his resurrection Jesus walked through the near-empty garden unnoticed. Well almost.
Had he not asked Mary Magdalene why she was crying he would have remained hidden. Then even as she answered Jesus’ question she didn’t recognise him. That is until he called her by name, then the recognition came. (John 20:11-18) There is a mystery about the presence of God. In Matthew’s gospel when he relates the story of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God,” implying that if one is not pure in heart then God may be hidden from view. Although the Bible makes clear that God is present everywhere and in everything is God’s presence (for instance Psalm 139:7-12), the darkness of our heart distorts our perception.
Lord, your symbols are everywhere, Yet you are hidden from everywhere. Though your symbol is on high, Yet height does not perceive that you are; Though your symbol is in the depth, It does not comprehend who you are; Though your symbol is in the sea, You are hidden from the sea; Though your symbol is on dry land, It is not aware what you are. Blessed is the Hidden One shining out!
St. Ephrem uses the word “symbol” in its ancient meaning >>> Go to page two
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 >>>
As Christians we are perhaps more familiar than most with the slow and painful execution by crucifixion. Invented by the Persians around 300 BC and perfected by the Romans by 100 BC, crucifixion describes the process where a convicted criminal is tied or nailed to a large wooden cross and left to hang until dead. Did you know that the word ‘excruciating’ comes from the Latin, ‘to crucify’? It means pain like the pain of crucifixion, which is variously described as unbearable, severe and excessive mental and physical pain. It is believed to be the most painful death ever invented. Shockingly, it is used by ISIS in the Middle East today. In Roman days, the condemned were usually stripped naked, nails were then driven through the wrists and just below the ankles, ropes provided reinforcement to tie the arms to the crossbeam, and then they are raised on the cross to hang. Although this process alone would cause severe pain and blood loss, it was not normally be the cause of death. With crucifixion, people die by suffocation. Read more >>>
It is relatively only recently that the Australian church has seriously begun to look at what it means to present the gospel to Australians in an Australian way. For many years our approach was decidedly British given our colonial roots. Then after WWII in an era when Australians were infatuated with everything American, our evangelism was heavily influenced by American revivalism and the visits of Billy Graham.
Today we are still influenced by American church leaders, American programs and American materials yet there are signs the tide is turning.
Work over the past decade or so by the likes of Michael Frost (Morling College), Alan Hirsch (Forge), Philip Hughes (Christian Research Association) and more recently books from the likes of Tim Foster (Ridley College), Simon Holt (Collins Street Baptist), and Darren Cronshaw (Baptist Union of Victoria), reflect the growing awareness of the need to develop a more Aussie approach. God has given us a job to do, to find a way to convey the gospel with meaning and sense to everyday Australians. In his open letter to Tasmanian Baptists back in July 2009 Ivan James asked, “why is it that Australian Baptists in foreign mission are intentional, relational, adaptive and creative in their expressions of evangelism – but at home we seem to be ad hoc, constrained by our existing socio-economic circles, and rigid in our expressions of worship and witness?” I’m not sure he was ever given an answer. Read More >>>
[Please note I am having a break from blogging during January. Ill be back in full swing in February! SLB] Christmas Day is almost here and the lead up to it is full of waiting, longing, expecting, and hoping — and not only for children. For centuries Christians have set aside the four Sundays prior to Christmas as a time to rehearse again the anticipation of Christ’s coming. Advent – the word comes from the Latin meaning ‘coming’, ‘appearance’ or ‘return’ – inspires us to look backward to Christ’s first coming, and to look forward in expectation of his coming into the world and our lives today. With a quick look at our Christmas celebrations, one could be excused for concluding our longings consist of cute babies, worshipful farm animals, humble shepherds, and camel-riding astrologers. But these are just the backdrop to a much grander and more profound story – God visits planet earth with the aim of restoration and renewal that is nothing short of a new heaven and a new earth (Isaiah 65:17-25). Fuelled by the prophetic writings of Isaiah, Jews and Christians alike look forward to a day when God’s Messiah will set the world aright, bringing justice to the nations (Is 42:1) and producing a world of full of peace and harmony (Is 9:1-7; 11:1-9). It was the same on that first Christmas. The Israelites were looking to God to send the long promised Messiah to rescue them from their plight at the hands of the occupying Roman army. Their world was in turmoil, their future looked bleak, and they cried out to God. Throughout history, people have longed to be rescued. As the recent siege in Sydney illustrates the world is often a very difficult place to live in. Read More >>>
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 >>>
As we draw towards the end of another year and focus on the astonishing reality of the incarnation—when God entered into our humanity in profound ways—we are again reminded of our own fragility, weaknesses and the need to rely on each other.
When Jesus was born, like every other new born baby he was totally reliant on those around him. Vulnerable and defenceless he committed himself into the care of a teenager and her fiancé. Then throughout his life, Jesus never rose above that fragility of humanity but experienced it to the full, right through to death. We don’t like feeling vulnerable, weak or fragile so it is no surprise that so much in our lives is committed to alleviating these feelings. We use our jobs, our finances, our organisations, families and friends to mask the inherent feelings of brokenness we carry with us every day. Some suggest “we never look our best in transition” and change is perhaps when we most likely feel vulnerable. When we navigate changes in our lives it is often hard to be at our best. It takes so much energy to deal with change . . . Read More >>>
Even though Christmas is still a way off the retail season is in full swing. Whether we are ready or not, decorations are in our shops, parades are in our streets, and carols ring out in our shopping malls. The Christmas frenzy descends on us again. Sadly many have little or no appreciation of the deep mystery lying within it and no expectation of its profound implications. For most, it is nothing more than a holiday, a time to catch up with family and an excuse to party. There is a huge gap in expectations between our community and our Christian viewpoint, and even we Christians get caught in the sweep of our community celebrations and struggle to stand against the tide of shallow expectations. Expectations are perhaps one of the biggest challenges in our lives. We all live with them every day whether they are realistic or idealistic, positive or negative. These unspoken yet personal assumptions of how things will, or could, work out are projected upon events, people, ourselves and God as well. In a myriad of ways, in every facet of life, they dictate how we approach the future ranging from exhilarating delight, debilitating fear and everything in between. Christmas too is full of expectations. Read More >>>
Yesterday at Hobart Baptist we gathered with other baptists from around our city for “Celebration Sunday” to celebrate what God is doing amongst us. Not everyone could be with us, but we were grateful for those who did come, and many went away stirred, challenged and encouraged as we worshipped God together. There is great diversity across our churches in background, experience, culture, age and ethnicity – but we share One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism. I’m sure God is pleased when we express our unity by coming together. Such a variety of belief and practice, dress and singing, buildings and liturgy among Baptists should not surprise you: God loves diversity. One look at vast arrays of trees, flowers, birds and animals in this wonderful world is enough to recognise the diversity of God’s creative genius. However, diversity introduces complexity and discomfort. 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 >>>