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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Governments: there to solve all our problems?

A little over a week ago, Tasmanians voted resulting in a change of government. There were no military action, riots or bloodshed just a smooth transition, somewhat abnormal relative to the rest of the world. It is something we can celebrate about our country and be very grateful for.

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Is there another way to respond?

However, many of us are not content or happy with some of the decisions and actions taken by our governments. In fact, there are things that distress us greatly such as abortion law reform and the treatment of asylum seekers. It is not difficult to become cynical, even bitter and then ultimately become prayerless for our government. Is there another way to respond?
Recently I’ve been pondering whether our disappointment and disdain is fuelled, at least in part, by an overly optimistic expectation of the potential and character of governments. Much of the commentary in the media operates with the presumption that governments should somehow solve all the problems of our society.
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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

Don’t Ask A Fish

Goldfish in fishbowl
“A fish . . . has no means to convey what it takes for granted”

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

Is that Walking on Sunshine? Or Perhaps It’s Eggshells!

For many Australians the very idea that there are Christian missionaries is offensive. Good willed people involved in such areas as agriculture, education, and medicine are okay, but if they talk about Jesus hoping to convince others of who he is, they become the target of anger and abuse. They are no longer acceptable.

MP900443225[1]
“Seeing others come to acknowledge Jesus as Saviour and Lord is the heart of what we are about”
Proselytism, the act of attempting to convert someone to another religion or opinion is an act some believe should never be attempted. Even some Christians are embarrassed about it, particularly in the light of the vocal and often strong criticism coming from many quarters.
Despite this, Christians are all called to be witnesses for Jesus endeavouring to help others see the reality of who he really is. Seeing others come to acknowledge Jesus as Saviour and Lord is the heart of what we are about. Yet this leaves many of us feeling in a bind. The very thing we are called to do is often misunderstood, criticised and lampooned by family, friends and neighbours.
Over the past few months at our deacon’s meetings at Hobart Baptist we have been watching a series of videos titled “Missional Conversations.” It is a resource developed by Crossover Australia (an initiative of the Baptist Union of Australia) to help churches ask and discuss the hard questions about their church’s mission strategies. These videos have provoked deep and probing discussions amongst our deacons.
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Baptism: Being Immersed in Jesus

Yesterday at Hobart Baptist Church we enjoyed for the second week in a row, three special baptisms. It is was a special time of celebration when new followers of Jesus Water bubble and wavesdeclared their commitment and faith in this way.
If you were able to take a moment to look around our church you would notice we are an international church with many different backgrounds, languages, ages, cultures and experiences.  We currently have three gatherings on Sundays . . .
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Through the Looking Glass: Looking out or Looking in?

Among the many tensions that exist at the heart of any church, it is my observation there is one that we often overlook.  A tension, I believe, is where we are pulled in two directions at the same time by two important truths.

Looking In
“This inward looking behaviour is important for any healthy church”

Another tension in the church has to do with the focus of its life. Should it be inward or outward looking? In any church there are forces at work causing it to focus inward on itself. This is not necessarily bad as God calls us to love and care for each other. This inward looking behaviour is important for any healthy church. It is the necessary work of maintaining our unity, nurturing new Christians and ensuring growth in maturity.
But there is also a force that moves us to focus outwardly to those around us, sending us out to the people outside the church . . .
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The Challenge of Grace

At Hobart Baptist Church we are just about to the end of series titled ‘Challenging Church.’  Over the past few months we’ve focussed on some of the ways the church is being challenged in our society.

Candles and Cross
Jesus called his disciples to be the
“light of the world”

Not only are the rapid changes bringing disorientation but there are many that are loudly proposing that the church is irrelevant and has no place in today’s world. This calls for increasing courage and reliance on the Holy Spirit to enable us to stand and face these challenges.
But in addition to these challenges, the church itself is in turn called to be a challenge to the world. Jesus called his disciples to be the “light of the world” – a people living an alternative to the world, grounded in faith and repentance where we acknowledge . . .
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Different, but Together

Yesterday at Hobart Baptist Church we  got together for our monthly Combined Service. We call it a Combined Service because the different congregations making Hobart Baptist Church come together in worship to celebrate our diversity and reaffirm our unity.

It is a different type of service with the children joining us for the entire time and our three congregations—our traditional Sunday morning crowd, our Karen folk and our Church With No Walls people—participating in some way. Then after the service we continue our worship by sharing a meal together.

Casserole
We shared a delicious lunch together

This is an important event in the monthly life of our church. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the focus of our worship services should be solely on God and with no thought of other worshippers gathered with us. However, God expects more of us than that.
In the New Testament it is clear that that we don’t worship merely as individuals, but as a people, a congregation. Paul’s instructions to the Corinthian church were to make sure that everything happens—whether it is singing, teaching, praying, and reading the Bible—is done in such a way that “the church may be built up” (1 Cor. 14:26).
Rather than think of ourselves, we are to think of one another. We are to make sure the rich don’t get all the good seats (Jms 2:1-4) and that at communion no believer is excluded (1 Cor. 11:22-23). Worship should not only increase our love of God but also the love of our fellow believers. John reflects on this when he writes, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (1 Jn 3:16).
Jesus said: Love one another as I have loved you
Jesus said: Love one another as I have loved you.

Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. Bythis everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (Jn 13:34, 35). Sadly, we are not always as good at loving each other as we ought to be. Many of us have experienced hurts, divisions and disunity in churches. It can often leave us hurt, and even bitter. In fact, the number issues of over which we can disagree are limitless whether it is about theology or worship style, power or cultural differences, the pastor or the leadership.

“It is not the differences or disagreements that are the problem, but how we deal with our differences”

While it is true that these differences will by nature bring disagreements, it is not the differences or disagreements that are the problem, but how we deal with our differences. When a difference brings disagreement it presents an opportunity to either create unity or division. Unity will one day finally be realised but only when Jesus returns, until then unity will always be in process and something we are continually working on so as to maintain it.
Our combined services give us an opportunity where we can exercise our love for each other. They are a visible demonstration of the unity we have in Christ despite our differences. They are a way to help us to maintain our unity in the midst of our diversity.
As we spent time together yesterday, in the service and in our meal together, we were all provided with two opportunities. Firstly, to experience the love and unity of being part of God’s family, a very encouraging experience; and secondly, an opportunity to express that love and unity to each other.
The challenge is to embrace being different, while working together. I pray that as you seek to express love and unity to those in your fellowship that God will bless you too, just as he blessed us yesterday.
Stephen L Baxter

Get a Second Chance this New Year

MP900441011[1]
“Don’t you just love New Years? You get to start all over. Everybody gets a second chance.”
In a scene at a New Year’s Eve party in the film Forrest Gump, Forrest is asked, “Don’t you just love New Years? You get to start all over. Everybody gets a second chance.” There is something in this statement that sums up one of our attitudes to the New Year. Many of us use it as an opportunity to reflect and dream about doing things differently in the future.
There is something within our human nature that longs for things to be different. The opportunity to start over, or a chance to do better, and the possibility of a clean slate is a longing deep within us.
The truth is we’ve all made decisions we wish we could change, or said things we which we hadn’t, and many of us would relish the opportunity to relive a part of our lives again. We all look back with regret in some way. It’s part of our human existence, so it is not surprising that we take the opportunity of the New Year to resolve to do things differently.
Yet how often do we fail to keep our resolutions. There is something about well-worn habits, lifestyles and attitudes that are not easily changed. This is as true of individuals as it is of communities. How many of the trouble spots across the world are continuing conflicts of past generations that still linger? Just like the Israel/Arab conflict that goes right back to Abraham and his two sons Ishmael and Isaac.
The good news we celebrate as Christians is that Jesus not only offers us the opportunity of second chance, but also the power of the Holy Spirit to be able to live differently.
The Bible is full of examples where God gives a second chance! The people of Israel were constantly and consistently called by the prophets to repent, refocus and restart their life with God. And Jesus repeatedly gave second chances—whether it was through healing, forgiveness or his teaching. Just like the woman accused of adultery whom Jesus saved from stoning, the lives of many people were changed—revitalized, renewed, and restored.
Even high profile people like the apostle Peter was given another chance (John 21:15-23) after he had denied Jesus three times (Mark 14:66-72). And Saul, who later changed his name to Paul, was a persecutor of Christians (Acts 7:58-8:3) before his life was transformed (Acts 9:1-19).

“The Creator of the universe became a human being and willingly suffered death so that you and I could have a fresh start

The good news of the story of Jesus Christ is that the Creator of the universe became a human being and willingly suffered death so that you and I could have a fresh start. The message is the promise of forgiveness, grace and mercy and it extends to every person. No one is exempt from failures and regrets and no one is exempt from the opportunity to receive God’s love and forgives and the promise of a second chance. This is more than a New Year’s resolution, it is a promise of change.
Of course, we can make a fresh start at any time; God’s grace is not restricted to a certain time of year. Yet New Year is as good a time as any to reflect, re-frame, realign and refocus our lives and take the opportunity of God working with us to see our lives take a positive turn in the right direction and for the better.
New Year’s resolutions may not last long, but when we repent and ask God for his help, all things are possible. We are not alone. What is it in your life that needs changing? What things do you think God would like changed? Why not talk to God about it and begin the adventure of a second chance.