Navigating the Landscape

Have you ever thought about the difference between the ability to read a map and the ability to navigate? Despite their similarity they are quite different skills.
To read a map you need to know how different symbols and topographical features are used. For instance, blue symbols are associated with water, and the distance between contour lines shows a slope’s gradient.
Navigation, on the other hand, is the ability not only to read the map, but use this information to locate where you are in relation to the surrounding landscape and from there, determine the way ahead.

Man's hand pointing on street map
“Bushwalkers know that ‘setting the map’ is perhaps the most important of all navigational skills”

Bushwalkers know that ‘setting the map’ is perhaps the most important of all navigational skills. It involves positioning the map so surrounding features line up with your location. It doesn’t matter if the map is upside down or sideways, knowing where you are in relation to everything else is critical.
That’s why it’s dangerous when visibility diminishes and features in the landscape become hard to see. When this happens maps quickly lose their usefulness.
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Welcome Home!

Jenny with our three children and some Indian friends

Although our trip to India was many years ago now, one of the strongest impressions that remains with Jenny and me is the experience of being welcomed into the home of people much poorer than we were and treated as special guests.
More than once, people gave from the little they had to serve a meal fit only for dignitaries. Their hospitality was a great blessing that changed our lives.
A quick look at church history shows how hospitality has always had a central place when the church has engaged well with its community. Throughout history faithful followers of Jesus have welcomed others into their lives, homes and churches and demonstrated the love of Christ in practical ways.
In the Bible hospitality is focused on . . .
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Many Cultures – One Church

Childhood Girls
We are a church with many nationalities represented

As Hobart becomes more and more multicultural city we shouldn’t be surprised to see significant changes in many churches as they too become multicultural. It’s been our experience here at Hobart Baptist Church; we also are on a journey becoming more and more a multicultural church.
So what does it mean to be a multicultural church?  Obviously, it means we are a church with many nationalities represented. Our church is made up of people from quite a number of European nations, and . . .
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Following Jesus: An Amazing Adventure!

Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday, the day Christians traditionally celebrate the birthday of the Church. It was on this day nearly 2000 years ago that Jesus completed his mission on Harvest timeearth with the coming of the Holy Spirit.
The celebration of Pentecost is one of the three pilgrim festivals of the nation of Israel and falls 50 days after the Passover. It is a holiday celebrating the firstfruits of the harvest which declared God’s ownership of the land and God’s grace in that the land produced food.
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I Am Excited!

God is up to something! On Sunday, we at Hobart Baptist, witnessed the baptism of 10 people in our service. It was a great time of celebration and thanks to God. I’m sure Jesus is pleased. He is building his church and we have the privilege to be part of it.
Events like this do not happen without the prayers, hard work and faithfulness of God’s people. Over the years many have prayed and asked God to be at work in and through Hobart Baptist Church. Many suffered through difficult times, others were patient and persevering when it seemed little was happening. And there have been quite a few changes that have opened the door for God to work. Now, we see the evidence of God’s answer to those prayers and the hard work.
Remaining level headed
This is a good time to remind ourselves that the church does not exist to serve the needs of the congregation. Instead it exists to serve the mission of God in the world. It is, as Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians, [God who] “has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” (2 Cor 5:20, my paraphrase)

I recently read about the pastor of a large church who encouraged his leaders to be very clear that they are not to serve the “members” of the church, but make sure they focus on the “mission” of the church. “If we served the members,” he wrote, “we would have to significantly increase the employee mental health benefit of the leaders because members often disagree!”
Some of us may find it shocking to think that your church is not there to serve you. Yet the Bible is clear. In Colossians it says that “He (Jesus) is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the pre-eminence” (1:18). Whose church is it? It’s not mine and it’s not yours. It belongs to Jesus. The NIV Application Commentary explains, “If Christ is the head of the church . . . the church does not exist to meet the needs of its members or to insure its institutional survival, but to fulfil the redemptive purposes of Christ, its head.”
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find myself expecting the church to first and foremost be here for me. I expect the sermon to be relevant to my life, the music should be a style I like, and the songs ones I am familiar with. The length of the service should suit me, and not ask too much of me, and so on. I’m sure it is true for all of us: it’s not hard to be dissatisfied with some aspects of our church as there is always something not to our taste or liking.
Adjusting our atitude
So how are we to deal with our dissatisfaction? There is nothing wrong with dissatisfaction in itself. If we were never dissatisfied we would never change anything. But allowing our dissatisfaction to become unhealthy can lead us to complaining, to bitterness and even to leaving. We can try to change what we don’t like, or be resistant to any change, even what really needs to happen.
But if the church is here to serve Jesus, and not me or the congregation, then there must be another way. If so, what should be my approach? I wonder if firstly we need to get our priorities right. Is having church the way I like it more important than proclaiming the gospel of Jesus and seeing people coming to know him as Lord? I suggest not. If Jesus is glorified in our times of worship, whatever the style, isn’t that something to celebrate? Today we live in a community where the majority of people don’t even bother and don’t care about Jesus, so if he is honoured, in anyway, we should celebrate with the angels.

If the church is here to serve Jesus, and not me or the congregation, then there must be another way.

That is not to say that God doesn’t enjoy diversity. Obviously the format of some churches will suit some people better than others. And that’s ok. God has made us differently, so he has different styles of church for different people.
At Hobart Baptist Church we have our own style. It is changing, but it is built upon a unique history and a unique future. The future will not be the same as the past, but it will be built upon it.
On Sunday, those who were baptised came from our morning congregation, the Church With No Walls  group, and our refugee Karen community. No one could have anticipated such an event, but it just goes to show that Jesus is at work building his Church, and part of it is happening amongst us.
Let us continually remind each other that there is only one head of the Church and only one person it exists to serve – and it’s not me (the pastor), it’s not the deacons, it is not the congregation and it is not you. It’s Jesus!
Stephen L Baxter

The Aussie Church – Can we survive our hostile enviroment?

The Australian outback is often described as harsh and unforgiving.
Many Christians Australian desertwould claim these words not only describe our land but also our spiritual environment.
Recently an acquaintance commented how friends of hers, newly emigrated from South Africa, were amazed at how ‘uncool’ it is to be a Christian in Australia and, further, how persistently the media engages in ‘church bashing’. In South Africa and many other nations, being a Christian does not have the stigma it carries in Australia.
Our cultural environment is unique. Anyone who aspires to be President of the United States must almost wear a badge which states, “I am a Christian”.
Obama FlierHowever, anyone who wants to be Prime Minister of Australia must hide their spirituality, saying, “It’s a private matter, so don’t ask me questions”. In fact, numbers of people who hold, or have held, positions of prominence in our country have related to me how the kingdom of God is often better served if they do not describe themselves as Christian.
Unhelpful stereotypes
That is not to say that our society is non-spiritual. Rather, it illustrates that spirituality, for Australians, is an embarrassing subject and that our culture has a limited range of images and metaphors it can use to express it. Even words such as ‘Christian’ and ‘church’ have all but lost their true usefulness and meaning; all they communicate are unhelpful stereotypes.
So how are believers responding to this uniquely hostile environment? Some act as if it is time to retreat into a ghetto – yet surely the appropriate response is to confront the challenge. This hostile Australian environment is as much a mission field as ever. The challenge we face is how to live as followers of Jesus in such a way that we communciate the gospel message to our fellow Australians.
To do this we need to live as missionaries within our own country. We need to adjust our mind-set, our language, our church lifestyles with its many forms and adapt to life in a hostile environment. It can be done. At different times throughout church history God’s people have worked hard in understanding their culture so that they can communicate the gospel to their communities.
Baptist churches across Greater Hobart have acknowledged the need to address these issues in a postive and proactive way. Our ‘2020 Vision’, to grow to 20 communities of faith with a total of 2000 people by 2020, is a way of expressing a hope that with God’s help we can transition into churches with mission, evangelism and church planting at the centre of all we do.
Will you pray that God will enable, not just Baptists to face these challenges with hope and courage, but Christians of all denominations throughout Hobart (and your locality)? Not only that, but will you pray that God raises up godly men and women to address these key issues and lead us through the necessary transitions?
Let’s look forward to seeing how God transforms his Church in Hobart and beyond!
Stephen L Baxter

“Has it Ever Occurred to You . . . ?”

There’s an old Peanuts comic strip where Snoopy is sitting on top of his kennel typing a manuscript. Walking by, Charlie Brown says, “I hear you are writing a book about theology. I hope you have a good title.”
“I have the perfect title,” says Snoopy thoughtfully. “Has it Ever Occurred to You that You Might Be Wrong?”
See the comic strip HERE.
It’s interesting, no matter how much we have read, thought, discussed or reflected upon truth, God’s truth is always greater. In fact, Jesus said he was the truth.
Despite the fact that only Jesus is truth, history records how often and how easy it is for some of God’s people to believe they have a monopoly on truth. Sadly, such a belief seems to breed an attitude of superiority and arrogance that lacks the graciousness to seriously consider another’s point of view. As Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels wrote, “There is none so blind as they that will not see.”
What is even sadder is how such close mindedness almost always brings division and discord between fellow Christians and churches.
Coming together
Last Sunday night, churches from many different denominations across Hobart gathered together, despite our differences, to celebrate our common core belief that Jesus is Lord and to pray for our city.
I have no doubt God is pleased when we make the effort to move past the things that divide and come together on the things that unify. We can do this in the midst of our diversity and I’m sure God enjoys it. All the  many different varieties of plants and animals God has created helps us appreciate how much he likes diversity. This is as true for the Church as it is for nature.
There are so many varieties of belief and practice, dress and singing, buildings and liturgy. It reminds me that Jesus prayed for unity, not unanimity. God likes our differences. In fact, in the same way that every person is unique, so too is every congregation that makes up the Church across the world.
Yet, with this diversity comes a complexity, and this complexity can be a source of great discomfort to many. We can easily be drawn to huddle together in like-minded groups for security and support. Now there is nothing wrong with joining together with others, but when the groups develop an “us” and “them” mentality where “we are right” and “they are wrong”, pain and disharmony often result.
Jesus calls us to unity. Such unity is not based on the way we worship or serve God, nor on the “purity” of our doctrine, but from our common commitment to Jesus as Lord. We are children of the same Father and are united by the same Spirit.
I pray that we will all continue to grow in our appreciation of the diversity of God’s people and that we will appreciate the breadth of God’s truth. There were close to 2,000 people present who made the effort to be part of the celebration on Sunday. And despite what might be a different cultural way of being church, we were nevertheless able to transcend the difference and worship our Lord together.
What’s your experience of coming together as Jesus’ Church?
Did you go you Church Together on Sunday? What was your response?
Stephen L Baxter

Have You Lost Your “Sentness”?

May is “Mission Month” of Global Interaction (GIA) the cross-cultural mission of Australian Baptists. For many years Baptist churches across Australia have joined together during the month of May in celebration of global mission.
GIA (or Australian Baptist Missionary Society as it used to be known) came into existence because a group of people had concern for those who are the poorest, most marginalised, Being Sentand least-reached overseas communities. This passion led them to work in communities across Asia, Africa and outback Australia where people not only struggle with poverty, social issues and injustice, but most importantly, do not know about Jesus and are spiritually powerless and lost.
Such passion is born in the heart of God.  Not only  is God a god of justice, mercy and compassion, God is also a “sending” God who ventures into the world because of that compassion. Sending is as much a part of the nature, character and essence of God as love and peace. In other words, God is a “missionary” God.
The Bible explains that in the beginning God “sent forth” breath and it created; firstly the universe, and ultimately humanity. Humanity, we are told, is made in the image of God, so it is not surprising to read that as soon as man and woman were created God “sends” them into the world to care (rule) over it.  What we discover here is that not only is God a “sending (missioning)” God, we are to be a “missioning” people
Even after the rebellion of Adam and Eve, (often called ‘the fall’) God continues to “send” himself into the world. Despite the effects of sin, God interacts with the people he has made and embarks on a rescue mission. This mission culminates with the sending of the Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to save it.
Being Sent
The obedience that led Jesus to die on a Roman cross, releases humanity from the curse of the fall and calls men and women back to their original purpose. In John 20, Jesus states, “Just as the father sent me, I send you.” The outcome of the sending of Jesus to restore humanity is the creation of a “sent” people. The church of Jesus Christ is a “sent” people; sent into the world to continue the mission of Jesus. And this is at the heart of what it is to be God’s church.

“God calls us to be salt and light and witnesses to his grace”

Sadly, however, the church can sometimes lose its “sentness.” Frequently, we are known for our congregating rather than our sending. We can get comfortable and begin to “settle” rather than move on. We make “sending” or “mission” . . . into one of our programs and leave it for others to do, rather than embrace the reality that it is meant to be at the very core of our reason and purpose for being.
But things are changing. The challenges of our contemporary world are causing us to review our understanding of church and what it is that God calls us to be. We are (re)discovering that God calls each one of us to be “missionaries,” sometimes even in our own families.
Being salt and light
So as we celebrate all God is doing through his people as part of GIA, and stop to honour those who have responded to God’s sending and have ventured out, let us remember that each one of us is sent by God. As part of God’s church we are included in those Jesus sent into the world to continue the work of Jesus. While most of us won’t go overseas, we are still sent – whether that is into our families, our communities, our workplaces, our schools. It is here that God calls us to be salt and light and witnesses to his grace.
May God help each one of us individually, and as the Church as a whole, to continue to embrace what it means to be the “sent” people of God.
I’d love to know where God has sent you. Can you tell me in a few words where you have been sent?
Stephen L Baxter

Rolling out a Welcome

Hospitality! When it’s done well it’s never noticed. When it is missing, it’s like a gaping hole in the universe. Welcoming another person and making them the centre of our attention, even if for a small time, is perhaps the greatest, yet hardest thing we do.
You are welcome!The basic definition of hospitality is “love of strangers”. In the ancient world it was highly valued and practiced and the best example is of course Jesus himself. Throughout the gospels, Jesus welcomes those that others find unwelcoming – the outcasts, the poor, sinners and children all find a place in the heart of Jesus.
Following his lead, the early church practiced hospitality as it continued to welcome new people into its ranks. As a result those in the community took notice and many joined as a result.
Yet, hospitality can fall into neglect. We find in the New Testament warnings not to let it slip (Heb 13:2) as well as encouragement to make sure we keep it up (Rom 12:13); and not just to believers by to strangers and aliens also (Heb 13:2; 1 Tim 5:10).
But why is hospitality so difficult? I wonder if it is because it causes us to be welcoming of those we find difficult, confronting or just plain uncomfortable. Hospitality asks us to move away from an ‘us’ and ‘them’ approach and to a more open mind. It calls us to dismantle any boundaries we might have that lead to an unwelcoming stance to others.
In this way hospitality asks questions of each of us. What does it mean for me to be proactive in dealing with any barriers there may be that would stop me making space for others?After all, this is what God has done for me. What am I willing to risk and give up in order that I share the love of God with all who come to me? What am I willing to give up in order to strengthen the life of the church so that all might find a place amongst us?
Hospitality isn’t just a nice thing to do if we can. It is central to the heart of God as so clearly displayed in and through Jesus. No wonder Jesus calls us to love others and make hospitality central to church life.

Hospitality is central to the heart of God as so clearly displayed in and through Jesus

Throughout history, whenever the church has faithfully practiced hospitality an indelible mark has been left on the lives of others and the church has grown as a result. Do we want all who come to us to know us as a welcoming church that shows the love of God by our hospitality? If so, why not pray that God shows you what it means for  you in your local gathering of believers.
Stephen L Baxter

Being Strategic About Mission

This week at Hobart Baptist we welcomed Marc Rader who brought to us an enlightening message on the book of Esther on Sunday morning. Marc is Senior Associate Pastor at Gymea Baptist Church in southern Sydney. He is also a faculty member at Morling College, the Baptist Bible and Theological College of NSW and ACT, where he lectures in Biblical Studies, Languages and Preaching. Born in Canada, Marc is married to his Aussie wife, Nicole and they have three daughters.

Marc Rader

Marc was in Hobart this weekend as one of the keynote speakers at engageHOBART, the conference for Baptist Churches from across Hobart as part of our 2020 Vision strategy. He challenged us to see how knowing Jesus relates to reaching into our communities, seeing people come to Christ, and growing strong and vibrant church communities.
It is now nearly two years, since May 2009, when the “Growing Together – Hobart Baptists’ 2020 Vision” report documented the decline in membership and attendance amongst Baptist churches across Greater Hobart. As a result the Regional Missional Strategy (2020 Vision) was developed by representatives from Baptist churches across Hobart.
engageHOBART  is just one activity in this strategy which aims to see a turnaround in Baptist church life in the Greater Hobart Region so that we grow to 2,000 people attending 20 communities of faith by the year 2020.
For the strategy to be successful  three key issues were seen as essential:

  1. Firstly to increase the  level of cooperation and collaboration amongst  the Baptist churches in the Hobart region
  2. Secondly, to see a significant increase in desire, capacity and capability in the area of local church and city-wide evangelism
  3. Finally to see a new era of church  planting  to  establish  new  churches (communities of faith) across the Hobart region.

As part of this 2020 Vision Strategy, engageHOBART hoped to contribute to an increase in cooperation, desire, capacity and capability across our churches in evangelism and mission that will ultimately see people come to know Jesus as well as lead us into a new era of church planting. Will you continue to pray that we will see a growing momentum in evangelism and mission that will see many come to know Jesus as Lord in Hobart.
Having a collaborative approach to local mission is a big challenge to Baptists in Hobart. However, my real heart is to see ALL churches in Hobart working together for the extension of the Kingdom. Do you think this is in the realms of possibility?
Stephen L Baxter