Recently I have been leading a men’s discussion group studying a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas.
Bonhoeffer was a German theologian and pastor who spoke out against the political developments in his country in the 1930s. He saw grave danger in the rise of Führer cult which merged the two Nazi ideals of a militarized state and a utopian world base on the Aryan “super race”. The joining of these forces resulted in a world war with the death of millions, the Jewish holocaust, and the devastation of a continent.
In the years before the Third Reich gained ultimate power, Bonhoeffer saw the magnitude of the threat long before others. He spoke up with courage, becoming being ridiculed even amongst church colleagues. When he dared question Hitler’s assurances, he was painted an alarmist. In response he wrote, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
The eighth of May this year was the 70th year anniversary of the surrender of Germany which ended World War II in Europe. While the world has seen progress in many areas since, wars continue to rage across the world. No matter where they are, nations still engage in conflicts and remain vulnerable to rule by totalitarian administrations.
Even in Australia there is evidence of totalitarian tendencies. Read more >>>
Executed?! That’s Not Fair!
After months of letters, appeals and pleas from citizens, lawyers and parliamentarians, including Australia’s Foreign and Prime Minister, the UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon, the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, and Amnesty International, the Bali Nine ringleaders, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, were executed nearly two weeks ago by Indonesian authorities.
In response, the Australian Government recalled its ambassador to Jakarta, the Australian Federal Police responded to criticism of their actions, and the Australian Catholic University created two “Mercy Scholarships” to be awarded annually to international students from Indonesia. It was a national outpouring of grief, regret and outrage, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott describing the executions as “cruel and unnecessary“.
Although some maintain that Chan and Sukumaran got exactly what they deserved, most Australians have responded in anger at Indonesia’s refusal to consider clemency. We were not happy with the way they were treated.
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Continue reading “Executed?! That’s Not Fair!”
God’s Hidden Presence
On the morning of his resurrection Jesus walked through the near-empty garden unnoticed.
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.
The 4th Century theologian St. Ephrem the Syrian expressed it neatly in the following verse . . .
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 >>>
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You Foolish Galatians!
Recently at Hobart Baptist Church we recently began a new series of messages based upon Paul’s letter to the Galatians. I’m looking forward to all that God will bring out of it for us.
When he wrote this letter, Paul had just arrived back in Antioch in Syria after his first short term mission journey that lasted about 18 months. It was here he heard news that the new communities of faith he helped establish in the region of Galatia were struggling. Concerned for their welfare, Paul wrote a very firm, even angry, letter to them.
Now when we say Paul ‘wrote’ a letter, it is good to remember this was 2000 years ago when literacy was sparse and the cost of materials high. Paul was not skilled at writing so he would have engaged a professional scribe.
Traditional Christian art often depicted Paul at a desk, pen in hand. But this is not how it would have happened. Nor is the image accurate of him pacing back and forth dictating furiously to his secretary. Rather, for Paul, letter writing would have been a very time consuming process.
He most likely would have been with his team in a room tossing around ideas that were captured laboriously by the secretary.
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God’s Purpose in Our Trials
Oscar A. Romero was an archbishop of the Catholic Church, Archbishop of San Salvador, capital city of El Salvador (1977-1980). In 1979 the Revolutionary Government Junta came to power amidst increasing human rights abuses and an escalation of violence that would become the Salvadoran Civil War.
Although known as a pious and conservative bishop no one foresaw that in three years Romero would be noticed internationally by both Catholics and non-Catholics as an embodiment of the prophetic church, and a “voice for the voiceless” of El Salvador.
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Being Salt and Light
Taking seriously Jesus’ call to impact our community
A few years ago at the Australian Christian Heritage National Forum held in the Great Hall at Parliament House in Canberra I heard an encouraging story of faith. Keynote speaker Stuart Piggin talked of the impact of one man living the values of Jesus in his workplace and its effects on the company – and it happened here in Tasmania.
It is the story an underground mine where a dramatic increase in safety was the result of the work of one man who applied the personal and relational values of Jesus to his workplace.
Bob Mellows, a Christian mine manager, at the Cornwall coal mine in the Fingal Valley, saw that safety was best regulated not by the law of the land, but by the law of Love. He spoke to his men about how different the workplace would be if they treated each other in a way consistent with the teachings of Jesus.
He made a study of the practical meaning of the word love in the New Testament and shared his findings with the miners. In a report to the ’98 Coal Operator’s Conference, he said, ‘It is not because of legalism that Jesus Christ told us to love God and love one another. It was because he knew it was essential to our well being in all aspects of life’. He went on to say that ‘The Foundation of Safety is loving one another (and ourselves). This is not merely an emotional condition. It is a choice of behaviour and the only basis for a satisfactory relationship.’
The Cornwall Mine’s safety improved when a breakthrough in relationships occurred. This resulted from the removal of barriers, the development of trust, and concern for the welfare of the other. The result? A dramatic turn around.
Between 1980 and 1990 there had been about 200 accidents reported each year at the Cornwall coal mine and the company paid between $50,000 and $250,000 per annum in compensation. But then during 1991/92 Bob Mellows’ biblical values were embraced and the accident rate dipped dramatically. By 1993 it dropped to practically zero and it has remained there since. Not surprisingly the cost of compensation also fell to almost zero.
Here we see a clear picture of how the values of Jesus work in the real world and a result when one person takes Jesus seriously and becomes salt and light in the community.
I wonder what would happen if all of us, inspired by the example of Bob Mellows, attempted something similar in our lives wherever we are – at work, home or school?
Stephen L Baxter
Pass da Pasta
Over the past months a number of people have made reference, often jokingly, about my preference not to be called pastor, minister or any other associated term. I thought it was perhaps time I explained why.
When Jenny and I were talking about getting married and spending the rest of our lives together my sense of call to church leadership was part of the discussion. I remember Jenny saying that she didn’t want me to be a “pastor”. Why? Not because she had anything against pastors, she just wanted to make sure any children we might have didn’t grow up inoculated against God because of their experience of church. It was an important and profound desire I shared and so I agreed I would not be a “normal” pastor. By that I meant I would endeavour to put the welfare of our children before my pastoral ambitions and endeavour to protect them.
What Jenny and I knew intuitively then is now, more than 30 years later, much clearer. There are things about the way churches and pastors relate and work that is far from healthy working against the message of the good news.
Avoiding the terms of pastor or minister is not an attempt on my part to avoid leadership, but in a small way try to help us rethink, redefine and reform the way we do church and church leadership.
Being a Baptist
One of the foundations of the “Baptist” way of doing church is the “priesthood of all believers.” We believe the church is one body in Christ and all the members of the body occupy the same relation to Him, whatever
their special gift or office. We have no distinctive class of priests with all members being “priests unto God” by the death of Christ (Rev. 1:5-6).
But sadly, we often slip into ways that undermine our heritage. We operate as if there are two tiers of Christians, the “clergy” (Priests, Pastors, and Ministers) along with the rest of God’s people – the “laity”.
I recently read it in less flattering terms. We have the “up-fronters” and the “pew-warmers”, or the “leaders” and the “followers”, or the “workers” and the “watchers”, or the “performers” and the “audience”, or the “elite” and the “masses”, or the “trained” and the “untrained”, or the “qualified” and the “unqualified.” Such distinctions are not only un-Baptist, they are unbiblical and they debilitate the effectiveness of the church. Calling all Christians priests is not only about our access to God, it has also to do with serving God and fulfilling the ministry of the church.
The implication of the priesthood of all believers is that every member of the church is called to share in the church’s ministry and mission. Paul says in Ephesians 4:11-12, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers are given “for the equipment of the saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” Yes, there are leaders, but their job is not to do the ministry but to equip others to do it.
The concept of a pastor or minister up front doing most of the stuff and “lay” people in the pews or seats responding as an audience most of the time has no biblical basis. For the church to be effective every one of its members is called to be a minister. Here ministry is not concerned with running church programs or services, but being salt and light in and across our community. This is the real work God has called us to, and he has called each and every one of us to it.
It is my belief that our misunderstanding of the place of ministry in and through our churches cuts to heart of one of the biggest issues we face in our churches and the single biggest reason why the church is so ineffective in the world. This is true for Hobart Baptist Church (HBC) too, the place where I am in leadership. If the church is to again become an effective force in our community it is going to take the combined effort of all of us, not just a few leaders. This ministry will take place in the boardroom, the marketplace, the doctor’s waiting room, the local park, the political party, the local council and every imaginable sector of society. This is where God calls us to be his salt and light.
That is not to say that I’ve given up on the local church. I wouldn’t have accepted the invitation to work among HBC if I had. But I see my job among the believers there more like a “coach” than a pastor.
As I said in a recent sermon, gathering together on a Sunday is a bit like a huddle in a football match at quarter or half time. We huddle together to be encouraged and re-energised so that we can then go out in our week to “play the game” of mission in the world. Our challenge is not so much what we do in our “Sunday morning” huddle, but what we do when we break from our huddle and head to our Monday morning assignment. This is what it is to be the church of Jesus Christ.
On a more personal note, I too need to be careful in the way I see myself. I need to be on guard that my identity and sense of purpose and meaning doesn’t get swallowed up in the role of pastor. I need to ensure that being a “pastor” does not end up defining who I am when the reality is that that I’m just carrying out a task. I want to ensure that I am not defined by the expectation of the role rather than who I am as a person.
It is my privilege that for a time I am serving among HBC as “pastor,” not so much as a “normal” pastor, but as a “coach” helping us work as a team as we each go about fulfilling the work Jesus, the head coach, has called us to do.
May God bless you all in each of your particular ministries.
Stephen L Baxter
PS A note from Jenny: Not so long ago our two older girls, in their early 20s, were at a conference where a session for PKs was held – Preacher’s Kids. They had never really thought of themselves in that category, but were encouraged to go along, which they did in good humour. They were amazed to discover most of the other participants had a great deal of bitterness and resentment to work through as a result of their parent’s lifestyle choices. These parents were no doubt well-intentioned, but sadly, their kids had not come through unscathed. Perhaps our girls have been affected too, but their surprise at the others responses seems to suggest they have somehow escaped the worst!