Did you know that over 600 verses in the Bible refer to heaven, more than 500 mention prayer, less than 500 relate to faith, around 50 speak of hell, yet there are more than 2,000 passages which talk about handling money?
So good stewardship is a major theme throughout the Bible.
A week ago at our quarterly church meeting, we made some important decisions that will affect the future mission and ministries of Hobart Baptist Church. One of them concerned the formation of a project team to explore how we can make our church more accessible to new people. This initiative came from a special assignment I gave a new family when they joined us earlier this year.
I asked them to document what it was like for a young family to enter into the life of Hobart Baptist Church for the first time.
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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 >>>
One morning Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, read his own obituary in the local newspaper. It said, “Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, who died yesterday, devised a way for more people to be killed in a war than ever before. He died a very rich man.”
Nobel, obviously, was surprised and deeply affected. But, it wasn’t because he was presumed dead. The reporter had made a mistake as it was his older brother who had died. He was deeply affected because of what it said. He wanted to be remembered differently than the person who had invented an efficient way to kill people and amass a fortune. In response the Nobel Peace Prize was born.
Today Alfred Nobel is remembered more for his prize than for inventing dynamite.
Sometimes we are given the opportunity to reflect deeply on life and make a change. You hear bad news from your doctor; you have a near miss with a truck on the road; or you catch up with old friends at a school reunion – and it causes you to reflect. Am I heading in the right direction? Have I just drifted along? How would I like to be remembered?
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Malcolm Muggeridge once asked, how do you boil a frog? His answer was not to drop it into a pot of hot water, as it will immediately jump out. Rather, you place it in a pot of cool water and gradually raise the temperature. Then the frog will remain in the increasingly hot water and die without even noticing.
Some suggest this is a good illustration of the church across the Western world. The world we live in has gradually changed and we have been caught unaware, and now, the situation is quite perilous.
Across the media the church is often portrayed as irrelevant in contemporary Australian society. Christian views are seen as relics of a bygone era, out of step with the community and even downright dangerous to the future.
That the majority of Australians still tick the Christian box in our Census is but a historical memory. The process of change, in areas such as science, technology, bureaucracy and the media, has pushed Christian ideas and ideals to the margins. Less than 10% of the population are ‘regular’ church goers (where regular means at least once a month), which leaves the vast majority of the 60% who nominate Christianity as their religion amongst those who regard the church as irrelevant.
In response it is not surprising to find that the Church is often tempted to respond by striving all the harder to be relevant. We see it throughout the churches, in our worship, in our literature and in our architecture.
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Ten days ago nine members of the Supreme Court in the USA, in a 5-4 ruling, declared same-sex “marriage” law across America. The result is that same-sex marriage can no longer be banned by any of the States. This new state of affairs was resolved by a small panel of seven men and two women. Many see this as a severe blow to democracy given that the people were not given a choice in the matter.
Although their decision does not change the biblical view of marriage, nor the view of millions of Christians across America, it nevertheless has significant implications for those who continue to hold the alternative, more traditional view. The result continues the marginalisation of Christians in the Western world.
The repercussions have already hit us. The calls for Australia to follow suit are growing louder and more strident. It seems only a matter of time before we fall into line. Then we, along with our American brothers and sisters, will need to work out our Christian response.
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Did you know Christians were branded as atheists in ancient Rome? Whereas today an atheist is one who doesn’t believe in the existence of a god or gods, in those days an atheist was someone who did not participate in the public worship of the gods.
In Rome, religion worship was a public affair; something akin to supernatural insurance. People believed religious activities placated the gods, not only to protect your against their wrath, but more importantly protected the empire. Those who did not participate were therefore a threat to the well-being of the community and to the Roman Republic. As a result they were ostracised, at times persecuted and widely known as atheists.
Christians were among them. Refusing to join the public worship of the gods and choosing to exclusively worship their own God, Christians were misfits and rebels, and treated accordingly.
It would seem strange to call a Christian an atheist in Australia today, and certainly Christians would be somewhat bemused. But in profound ways we are not too different from our brothers and sisters in the early church.
Despite their protests, the worldview of today’s secularist is a strong faith/hope foundation very much akin to the religious views they ridicule.
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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!”
On the corner of Bligh & Hunter Streets in Sydney lies Johnson Square. Within it stands a monument marking the location of the first church building and commemorating the first church service held in Australia on February 3, 1788.
Sadly, only five years after its opening in August 1793 the church building was burnt to the ground. Allegedly a group of disgruntled convicts angered by decree from Governor Hunter requiring all residents, including officers and convicts to attend Sunday services, had set it alight.
Although it was made of wattle and daub construction with a dirt floor, thatched roof and plank seats the building could seat 500 and was the culmination of years of frustration by the first Christian minister in Australia.
Richard Johnson, an Anglican priest, was appointed chaplain of the prison colony at New South Wales in 1786 largely due to the influence of evangelical Anglican reformers Newton and Wilberforce. Keen to have a committed evangelical Christian as chaplain in the colony, they recommended Johnson who at the time was working in London as an itinerant evangelical preacher.
A kind, generous and devout man, Johnson found life in the penal colony very difficult.
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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.
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At Hobart Baptist we are currently in the middle of a series of messages on forgiveness, and how important it is not only for the church, but for society to be a forgiving community.
More often than not forgiveness is not easy and quite costly. This is certainly the case for the communities that were caught up in the genocide of 20 years ago that claimed an estimated 800,000 in Rwanda.
Now, two decades later, organisations such as World Vision and AMI (Association Modeste et Innocent) are still at work endeavouring to bring healing through reconciliation and forgiveness.
Australian John Steward first arrived in Rwanda in 1997 to manage a peace building and reconciliation program for World Vision. Now after 19 visits he has seen the program, based on the value of forgiveness, cautiously grow bringing a level of healing to communities once destroyed by hate.
Upon arriving he saw people, “full of fear, struggling to get food – frantic to get jobs, dislocated and separated from their communities.” Although the government was looking for justice and the church preached forgiveness, the message was too hard to hear because people were hurt and traumatised.
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