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 >>>
Last Sunday at Hobart Baptist Church we commenced a three part series on Faith, Love and Hope. This ‘triad’, as it is often called, is found in many places in the New Testament. It pops up in various combinations in several of Paul’s letters, but also in Hebrews and Peter’s first letter.
The first week we looked at faith, and yesterday we focused on love. Perhaps the most well-known of the triads is found in First Corinthians: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (13:13).
Writing to a church in a society where knowledge was the highest value, and one by which everything else was judged, Paul insists that knowledge in and of itself is useless unless it is grounded in relationships permeated with faith, hope and love. It is a most radical statement, not only for his time but for today also.
It is easy for us to gloss over what Paul says because of its familiarity.
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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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Salt and light are important ingredients to our everyday living. A little salt makes a big change in the way food tastes and a little light transforms a dark room. These ordinary everyday things are very powerful change agents.
When Jesus called his followers to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) he was affirming a familiar theme in scripture. God’s first command to the first human beings on earth was “to work it and take care of it.”(Genesis 2:15). Then, even after the fall of humanity when most have rejected God, he reiterated the call to Noah (Genesis 9:1-3). Then when the people of Israel are in exile in Babylon he calls them to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:7).
Similarly, in the New Testament Peter encourages Christians to see how they can impact those who don’t believe by the way they live their lives (1 Peter 2:12).
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English poet and hymn writer, William Cowper (1731 – 1800) wrote these words, “God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform. He plants his footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm.” Cowper was no stranger to God’s mysterious ways.
His mother died when he was six, he was ill-treated by his father and boarding school left him scarred for life. He became a Christian during one of his numerous spells in care overseen by a believing doctor who later became his friend. His life-long battle with depression left him institutionalised many times with many unsuccessful suicide attempts.
His friend John Newton, writer of the hymn Amazing Grace and aware of Cowper’s disposition towards melancholy and despair, proposed a collaboration on a book of hymns together. “God moves in a mysterious way,” is the first line from one of those hymns.
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Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday, often called the “birthday” of the church. On Pentecost we celebrate a major turning point in the life of the early Christian church when the Holy Spirit ‘came upon them’.
In the weeks following Jesus’ death and resurrection, a small band of followers had huddled together hiding from the authorities that crucified Jesus. But on the day of Pentecost (Pente = 50 days after resurrection) they were transformed, and with great boldness and clarity began spreading the good news that Jesus was alive and Lord over all. (See Acts 2.) The world has never been the same since, with Jesus’ followers now numbering more than two billion and still growing.
Over the past weeks at Hobart Baptist Church we have been focusing on the Holy Spirit and how important he is to the church and our lives. Without him there wouldn’t be a church.
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The day of Pentecost is one of the most important days in the life of the church.
Just as each year you celebrate your birthday, at Pentecost we celebrate the birthday of the church. The events of that day so empowered a group of people and ignited such a passion in them that the effects are still felt in the world today. Have you ever prayed that God might do it again in your life, in your city?
On that day Jews from across the known world had gathered in Jerusalem for one of their annual celebrations. Only weeks before they had come for another festival, the Passover, when there had been a small disturbance when yet another messianic hopeful, Jesus of Nazareth, had been crucified by the Romans. His small band of followers were in hiding fearing reprisal and nowhere to be seen. There were rumours circulating that some people had seen Jesus alive.
Then, something unheard of took place.
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Wikipedia tells us, not surprisingly “that Mother’s Day has the highest number of phone calls.”
Interestingly, “the most collect calls are made on Father’s Day.” Obviously dads can pay. On Mother’s Day yesterday, many people rang their mothers or sent cards or even took them out for a meal or something similar.
Although it is not a biblical day and many are discouraged by the commercialism of Mother’s Day, God calls us to honour our parents. Anytime that happens is surely a good thing, even if people are unaware they are following God’s desire.
This often happens the world over where people embrace a good thing unaware that God, the Creator, has already said we should do it. God is always at work in the world and in people’s lives even if they are totally unaware of it.
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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.
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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Over the past 50 to 60 years the church in Australia has certainly faced many challenges, and those challenges still persist today. We face growing scrutiny and increasing critique from many directions, even as our churches experience declining attendance and aging facilities. Often we are left bewildered and lost as to how we should live in this changing and challenging environment.
Writing to the church in Thessalonica, Paul speaks encouragement from reports he had heard about them. He writes of “how [they] turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath” (1 Thess. 1:9-10).
Paul praises them for two things: for no longer worshiping idols but only the Creator God; and for waiting for Jesus to rescue them from God’s impending judgement. I wonder if the example of the Thessalonians could be helpful for us in working out how we should live.
We don’t talk about idols much today, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.
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