Will You Be My Friend?

 Friendliness, Fellowship and Hospitality . . . Churches like to be known as friendly, welcoming and inviting. And that is not a bad thing, but is it all we should be?
We can define fellowship as: “a body of individuals joined together through similar interests, beliefs, and brotherhood.” In general, churches do join in fellowship through worship, various events and community outreach activities.Being friends
Yet often fellowship and friendliness have more to do with finding people like ourselves who are part of our social group, educational background, lifestyle and values.  We find these people friendly because they are comfortable to be with and a “good fit”.
But God expects more of us than that. At the heart of our faith is that God welcomes all of us home into his family. Although we are strangers to God, and quite incompatible, he nevertheless invites us into relationship. While the Bible is clear that both fellowship and hospitality are important parts of church life, it is clear that we are not to have one without the other.
Fellowship between Christians is a foundational part of our life together. So is hospitality. But hospitality is more than being in relationship with other Christians. It is about being open, vulnerable, and relational with strangers and those who don’t fit in.
What did Jesus do?
Jesus spent a lot of time with these people, called “sinners” in his day. In fact, he spent so much time with them that he made many around him quite uncomfortable.
One example in the gospels is the story of how Matthew became one of Jesus disciples, found in Matthew 9:9-13. He approaches Matthew, a tax collector at the time, and calls him to follow. The next thing you know, there is a party at Matthew’s place and his tax collector friends show up as well. The Pharisees are quite offended, but Jesus explains that these are exactly the people he has come for. Just as it would be silly for a doctor to avoid sick people, it would be ridiculous for Jesus to avoid sinners.
Here Jesus demonstrates that hospitality is more than mere fellowship between friends – it is showing hospitality to the stranger. He shifts the focus from our own comfort to that of the heart and mission of God, to reaching out to those who need befriending, healing and family.
What it really means to ‘offer hospitality’
While being friendly often grows out of the idea that the person we are meeting will have much in common with us, by extending hospitality to a stranger we are assuming that this person most likely will have little in common with us. In fact the person could be someone unpleasant or even dangerous, yet following Jesus’ example we engage them and offer “hospitality.”
God calls us to be a friendly and hospitable church. Our fellowship is not just with those we get along with, but it is to reflect the nature of God, who sent Jesus into the world to save those who are lost and don’t fit in.
Jesus, I think, would have been at home with the old saying, “there are no strangers, only friends we haven’t met yet.” Let’s pray that your church fellowship responds just like Jesus did.
Stephen L Baxter

The Significance of Adoption

In our Western 21st Century culture we often have little idea of the importance of various customs which informed Jesus’ words. For example, our concept of adoption is so very limited  . . .

Possibly the most famous adoptee, Augustus Caesar

Did you know the ancient Greeks and Romans were most fanatical about the idea of male heirs? If a couple didn’t have a male child they would adopt a boy, generally one who was almost grown up, and give him all the rights as their heir. The term ‘adoption’ refers to giving someone adult status with full rights of inheritance.
In the Roman Empire during the first century, a son automatically held his father’s power of attorney. For business purposes, the son was legally equivalent to his father in his authority to transact business on behalf of the household. He could hire and fire employees, he could buy and sell slaves, he could enter into contracts, and all his acts were as binding as if his father had performed them.
Sometimes if a man had a trustworthy slave with a good flair for business, he could adopt the slave as his son. The adoption automatically gave the slave a full power of attorney to manage his adoptive father’s business affairs. So it was not uncommon in those days for slaves to be adopted as sons for business purposes.
So strong was the idea of adoption that some people adopted their own offspring. A family with a number of sons sometimes adopted their second or third boy so as to make him their heir if they believed the oldest would not be a good manager of the family property.
Adoption in the NT
It is with this background that we can begin to appreciate the strength of some of the statements in the New Testament. Take for example John  gospel where it says, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12, 13).
When we accept Jesus as our Saviour, God gives us the right to become his children. In other words, we receive authority and an inheritance. As Paul says in Galatians 4:4-5, “But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.”
This is why God call us sons (whether we are males or females) because he wants us to receive the full rights of being sons.
What ‘being adopted’ means for us
This has significant implications for our living. If we are adopted sons of God, with all the authority of our father, then we should start living like it. On the last day, the New Testament tells us, Jesus will reward us according to how well we have carried out our Father’s business. (Matthew 16:27)
Knowing we are sons should cause us to live up to the family name by being kind, honest, true, loyal and pure. Knowing we are “full heirs” along with Jesus Christ should give us a confidence and assurance of our place in the world. Knowing that all those who profess Jesus as Lord are members of God’s family should motivate us to treat one another like brothers and sisters.
No doubt God is pleased when we live up to what it is to be his sons and live like spiritual adults and future kings. Conversely, I’m sure God is distressed when we act like spiritual infants or hapless paupers. So often in church life our actions seem to demonstrate immaturity rather than maturity. God wants us all to continue to grow and live in the authority and responsibility of being his sons.
Let us pray for ourselves and each other that we may all be worthy of the calling to which we are called (Ephesians 4:1).
Stephen L Baxter

Can God Trust you?

The paradox of trustworthiness
It has been said that without trust there is nothing. I well remember my father saying to me when I first got my driver’s licence that he wasn’t worried about my driving, it was the driver coming towards me on the other side of the road he worried about.
He was giving me a compliment, of course, yet highlighted the reality that every time we drive we place a lot of trust in the total stranger behind the wheel of the oncoming car. Sadly, for my sister-in-law, that trust was betrayed in 2009 when an oncoming vehicle moved onto the wrong side of the road. She ended up in hospital, fortunate to be alive.
Here is a video of the crash site. It was devastating.

Trust is Foundational
When you think about it, trust is foundational to the way the world works. We trust our doctors, our nurses, hospitals, administrators, and sophisticated testing machines to deliver safe medical procedures. Marriage is built on trust, it’s in the vows. Families too are built on trust, as well as sports teams, schools and kindergartens. To say that ‘without trust there is nothing’ is indeed true.
Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, many suggest at the heart of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008 was the collapse of trust. Many expressed moral outrage at the behaviour of leaders in both banking and business. Words like “greed” and “selfishness” are still used as the fallout continues to linger in many parts of the world. And Governments ploughed billions of tax dollars into financial institutions in an endeavour to restore that trust.
Trust is Multifaceted
But what is trust? It has many facets. For example, credibility is associated with trust and is often concerned with the quality of words spoken. Trust is also about reliability and the integrity of our actions. Intimacy is linked to trust and feelings of safety and security with others.

Trust and trustworthiness go hand in hand.

But ultimately, trust is about relationships and whether or not we believe another has our interests at heart rather than their own. It is about being trustworthy.  And here trust is profound. For not only is trust about trusting another, but it asks whether you are worthy of their trust in you. Trust and trustworthiness go hand in hand. Both are essential ingredients in any relationship. We not only trust the other, but we need to be worthy of their trust and vice versa.
It’s the same as our relationship with God. He is trustworthy and so we put our trust in him.  This is the heart of the gospel. We trust that God loves us and has our best interests at heart, and he sent his son to re-establish a lasting relationship with us. We trust that he has done all the work and so accept his work on our behalf. We trust God because he is trustworthy.
God trusts me?
But, like any relationship we can ask the questions, “Can God trust me? Am I trustworthy?”
The Bible is full of examples of people in whom God trusted. Consider Mary the mother of Jesus. As a young woman she is selected by God for the privileged task of birthing Jesus. But what was it about Mary that caused God to choose her? We know nothing about her appearance—her hair, her stature, her shape, the texture of her skin or even the attractiveness of her personality. Yet she was “highly favoured” and “blessed . . . among women” (Luke 1:28).
I wonder if God chose Mary because she was trustworthy. God knew He could trust her with the birth of his son, and to stay with him right until the end.
Then there is Abraham. Have you ever wondered what made him great? The Bible says he trusted God even though he couldn’t have imagined what God had in mind. That’s what made it possible for him to go so far as to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice when God asked it of him (Genesis 22). He even trusted God’s promise to make him into a great nation, and bless all other nations through him even though he never saw it (Genesis 12).
The trust Abraham displayed was enough for God to establish a special relationship with him (and it was credited to him as righteousness).
Can I be trusted?
Just like Mary and Abraham, God calls each one of us to be part of his ongoing plans to save the world. You and I have been given gifts, opportunities and talents. How have we used them? Have we proved trustworthy? Here we strike the heart of trust and trustworthiness. And lurking in the heart is a paradox.
Like Mary and Abraham, God often calls us to be involved in things we could never do by ourselves. He asks us to be involved in the impossible (giving birth to the Son of God) and the incompressible (making one man into a great nation).
When God calls us to do something, often we don’t feel big enough, or strong enough, or experienced enough, or skilful enough, or ____? You can add your own excuse.
Yet when God calls, he knows our circumstances and knows what we can and can’t do and what we can achieve only with his help. So God promises to be with us and to help us.
When he calls us to a task, his concern is not whether we can do the task or not, but whether we are willing to trust him to bring it about. It is not a matter of whether we have the skills, experience, or strength to do it. It is matter of whether we are willing to trust.
This is the paradox of Christian trustworthiness. It is not a question of whether we are able to do the task, but whether we are willing to believe God can be trusted to work in and through us.

It is not a question of whether or not we are able

In the final analysis, the question, “Can God trust you?” turns around and emerges as a new question, “Do I trust God?”
Trusting God
The stories of Mary and Abraham help us appreciate this critical point. They were trustworthy not because of their ability to do the task but because they trusted God to do it through them. It was in their trust in God that he would make it happened that they showed they were trustworthy.
We live in unsettled times and our churches are facing great challenges. God still calls us to be his witnesses and to be salt and light in our community. Such a task is by nature beyond us and we lack the resources to achieve it. Yet, we need to remind ourselves that we have one in whom we can put our total trust. God is worthy of our trust. He will achieve his purposes through us if we are willing to trust that he can do his work through us.
Like Job of old we can declare, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (Job 13:15). Or like David we can cry out, I will “trust in Him at all times” (Psalms 6:8) or with Solomon say, “trust in the Lord with all your heart” (Proverbs 3:5). The Bible encourages us to trust God, for in doing so demonstrate we are trustworthy.
This has been the experience of God’s people throughout history, and like them we too face the question, “Will we trust God to do through us what is seemingly impossible?”
Mother TeresaMother Teresa was such a person who God trusted. She once remarked, “I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much.” I wonder if you could say they same.
I’d love to know . . .  Do you think you are trustworthy?
Stephen L Baxter

Celebrate with those who Celebrate . . .

Sunday was Mother’s Day, a day which this year we celebrate between observing Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.
Mother's Day
But unlike Christmas and Easter, Mother’s Day sits on our church calendar with no apparent meaning or context. It is much more part of our Western culture than it is part of following Jesus. Yet, there is no reason why we can’t join with our culture and honour mothers and motherhood.  After all, it gives us the opportunity to fulfil, if only in part, God’s commandment to honour our father and mother.
So on Sunday, I trust you took the opportunity to do just that, whether your mother is living or deceased. Yet, that will be easier some than for others.
Delights vs Realism
Sadly, for many in our community and churches Mother’s Day is a day of mixed emotions. On the one hand it conjures up memories of wonderful family life; of loving marriages and happy children. Thinking of our mothers brings warm and positive emotions to the surface. And when we think of our own children we remember the delights of motherhood.
In an ideal world all of us would have these feelings. In reality, it is true only for some. We can too easy fall prey to the idealised motherhood of TV, greeting cards, and gifts when the reality is that most women, if not all, do not fit these soft-focused fantasies.
The Bible shares this realism. Rachel, Hannah, and Sarah were infertile and experienced great heartache. Eve and Mary lost sons. And Ruth was childless and widowed at a young age. Far from fantasy, the Bible brings sober perspective to motherhood that is much more aligned with the realities of our world.
Today many women will experience motherhood as motherhood deferred due to late childbearing; or motherhood disrupted through divorce; or motherhood lost by infant/child death or miscarriage; and even motherhood unrealised due to infertility or undesired singleness.
Still others, male and female will experience the absence of motherhood due to distance, death, divorce or neglect. Many carry a scar or wound caused by the nurturing they failed to receive. Others will face again the suspicion that there is a link between their current emotional difficulties and their relationships with their mothers.

It is a day for celebrating with those who celebrate, and mourning with those who mourn

Moving on
So despite the ideal of Mother’s Day, there lies close to the surface the reality of a broken world. It is a great day for honouring and celebrating our mothers, but it is good remember this is easier for some than others. It is a day for celebrating with those who celebrate, and mourning with those who mourn.
It is also a day to remember, that despite our experiences and memories, we all have the opportunity to know and experience the love of God. It is as we accept his forgiveness and forgive others, mothers included, that we can move on from the pain and hurt of the past and be part of God’s worldwide family. Here everyone is loved, acknowledged, respected and cared for.
What does Mother’s Day mean to you? Are you able to celebrate with genuine joy and thankfulness? Or have you been scarred by  a difficult past? Either way, may I encourage you to move foward with hope and an attitude of acceptance and forgiveness.
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

Casseroles and Chocolate Cake

The Real Meaning of Fellowship
Last Sunday at Hobart Baptist we got together for the first of our monthly opportunities to share a “Fellowship Lunch”. This will be an important part of our life Casseroletogether, and we shared a delicious meal and lots of good conversation in the rear hall.
But why are these sorts of events important for a church family? When I preached last week, I explained how from the beginning God’s purpose in sending Jesus was not just simply to save individuals but to create a new humanity. For some this is a radical insight, particularly if you see Chocolate Cake“church” as attending a service for an hour or so on Sundays. But church is more than attending an activity, it is a lifestyle.
From its beginning the Church has been enlisted by Jesus to work with him in bringing God’s plan for a new humanity to completion. Throughout history the Church has done this with varying degrees of success. At times it has come close to being a true reflection of God’s future vision other times it has failed miserably.
If we look back to the church in its earliest days we can gain a glimpse of what it means to be part this big plan of God’s for humanity.
In the book of Acts we read that the early church devoted itself to four things: the apostle’s teaching, fellowship, breaking bread, and prayer (Acts 2:42). We can easily understand why they devoted themselves to “teaching” and “prayer”. “Breaking bread” could mean sharing a meal or the Lord’s Supper (Communion) and we can appreciate the importance of that. But what is “fellowship”? And why is it so important that they just didn’t have fellowship but they devoted themselves to it. And why is it second in the list before breaking bread and prayer?
Today we can reduce “fellowship” to the casual conversations we have over tea and coffee and biscuits in the hall on Sunday. Not that this is bad, but it no doubt falls short of what Luke is describing in Acts.
Four aspects to ‘Fellowship’
A quick look at how “fellowship” is described in the New Testament reveals it has four aspects—relationship, partnership, companionship, and stewardship.
1. Relationship: all believers are in relationship with each other because we share a common relationship with Jesus Christ. We are together in Christ and together form his community. Devoting ourselves to fellowship is not just about turning up at various activities but being devoted each other. Because we belong to each other, in that we share the same Lord, we commit ourselves to each other for the long term.
2. Partnership: Whereas relationship describes community, partnership describes activity. As sharers together in the person and life of Jesus Christ we become co-partners with him in his enterprise. Just as a business partnership is formed to attain a particular objective, we too are united together in a community relationship with a particular objective—to experience and demonstrate the new humanity God is bringing. Partnership says that we are called to work together in common purpose to obtain common objectives for the glory of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ.
3. Companionship: Being in relationship and working together with common purpose we will naturally enjoy companionship. Key words describing companionship are exchange, unity, and sharing. Working together we share concepts, feelings, ideas, information, needs and so on, which build relationship, empathy, regard and care. We are in it together.
4. Stewardship: A steward is one who manages the property of another. As stewards we recognize that all we have belongs to God and has been given to us in trust for his purposes. Believers in the early church willingly shared their material possessions. It came out of their shared relationship in Jesus Christ and their partnership in his ongoing work in the world.
As we shared lunch together these four words enable us to appreciate the importance of our “fellowship”. Sharing a meal together can be a demonstration of our devotion to it. What we are saying is that we appreciate that “fellowship” is foundational to living out the gospel in our community. It is just as important as teaching, prayer and breaking bread together.
Obviously fellowship just does not happen over a meal. Every time we join together, whether in large or small groups, our relationships, partnership, companionship, and stewardship is an expression of what it is to be part of the new humanity Jesus came to establish.
Being part of the church of Jesus Christ in Hobart is a challenge. Jesus calls us to a lifestyle that is countercultural to its secular orientation. Jesus calls us to be a demonstration of just how radical his vision is.
Let us keep on devoting ourselves to fellowship—relationship, partnership, companionship and stewardship—not only will it keep our faith alive and growing but it enable us to be the church God desires us to be.
What is your experience of sharing meals together. Do you think it enhances all these facets of fellowship?
Stephen L Baxter