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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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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Forgiving the Unforgivable
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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Under the Radar
There is a lot to be encouraged by in Jesus’ words to his disciples, “I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18).
Jesus says “my” church, which reminds us the church is not ours but his. He also says that he is building his church, underlining again that the task is his, not ours. Not that we are passive, mind you, we still have work to do, but Jesus makes clear where the authority and responsibility for the church really lies.
All this is heartening. Despite the challenges we face in the church in Australia today, Jesus is taking the lead and it is not all up to us. The church will prevail not because of our hard work or intelligence, but because of Jesus and that “the gates of Hades” cannot stop it.
Despite what we might feel, there is ample evidence from around the world that affirms this reality. In a recent interview in Christianity Today, Dave Garrison talks about his new book, A Wind in the House of Islam. His book describes how around the world Muslims are coming to faith in Jesus Christ and it is believers from Muslim backgrounds who are leading these Muslims to Christ in increasing numbers. Most of this is taking place in Muslim-majority nations rather than the West and almost completely under the radar.
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Everyone Is Welcome!
It’s my belief that it is getting more difficult for Christians to live in our community which is founded on Christian values yet increasingly rejects the God of Christianity. We have much to learn about living in such an environment.
While on holidays recently, walking around Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hiroshima, Jenny and I became increasingly aware of the yellow tiles with raised patterns, about 30cm square, running along almost all footpaths. In shopping malls and railway stations, on footpaths above and underground arcades below, there they were again. We’ve seen them in Hobart, but not in such abundance. They tiles are for the blind so they can find their way. Using their stick to run across the patterns,they can navigate their way around.
It’s perhaps one thing our world should be commended for – giving attention and care to the disadvantaged in our community, in this instance the blind. Yet, while it should be applauded most people are totally unaware that this valuing of all people is part of our community because of its Christian heritage.
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Everyone loves to watch their children and grandchildren growing up, and Jenny and I are no exception.
As parents, one of our key responsibilities is to help them grow up well. It begins with things as simple as eating. At the start we feed them, hoping it isn’t too long before they can feed themselves. We read them stories looking forward to the time they can read on their own. As they get older we become their taxi driver eagerly anticipating the day when they get their driver’s licence.
We want our children to grow to be mature, self-supporting, capable adults whose lives will make a difference. To do that we nurture and discipline, explain and discuss things, train and mentor them. Sometime we allow them to go into difficult and uncomfortable situations hoping they will grow. Sometimes we withdraw our presence and support so they learn to do things without us. As they grow we add more responsibilities hoping to encourage them to take responsibility for all aspects of their lives.
Some kids can’t wait to grow up, others find it difficult. Either way, growing up is something we all face and can’t avoid. In fact, it continues throughout our lives. The moment we stop learning, growing and maturing is the moment we die.
The same is true following Jesus. Read More >>>
Boom to Bust: Church Life Cycles
Back in the 1960s, our Hobart Baptist church building was full to capacity and overflowing on a weekly basis. There are a number of people still attending the church who remember it packed every Sunday with around 400 people. An all-aged Sunday School met at Elizabeth College next door because there wasn’t enough room for everyone in the church building.
A lot has happened in the past 50-60 years, both in the community and the church, and those days have long since gone. Yet, there is no reason why it can’t happen again at some time in the not too distant future.
Today Hobart Baptist Church is made up over 250 people. Whether people attend the 10am service, the Karen language service, the Church With No Walls ministry or our communities of faith meeting in homes, we are a sizable number. There is no doubt God is at work amongst us and there a signs of growing and healthy church. There are many reasons to be very encouraged.
As with all organisms, the church goes through times of growth . . . Read More >>>
Churches: Does Yours Speak Aussie?
At various times during the past 200 years, the church across Hobart has experienced times of strength and weakness, growth and decline. The past few decades have been a challenging time as the number of Hobartians attending church has significantly declined. The same is true of cities all across Australia.
While we all feel the effects of this decline, we are unsure as to why it has happened. Pressures from secularisation, rising individualism, consumerism, the increasing power of the state over the church, and urbanisation are no doubt all contributing factors. However, issues within the church itself are also important causes.
While we can despair at the state of the church locally, internationally there is reason for great celebration and hope. The church grew from small beginnings in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, yet today it has over 2 billion adherents worldwide. It continues to grow significantly in many places across the world even if in Australia, and most parts of the Western world, the opposite is true. A worldwide perspective encourages us to raise our expectations of what God can and is doing.
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What is it that you treasure most about life? What do you savour, what do you dream about, and what do you plan for?
Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). The things we treasure tell us a lot about ourselves.
It’s not that it’s wrong to treasure things, but the challenge Jesus presents is to treasure things that are good and profitable for us. He advised his disciples not to “store up treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19-20).
While the word treasure conjures up images of gold chests and pearls, the context reveals that Jesus is simply saying that a “treasure” is anything to which we give affection and value.
Jesus divides treasure into two categories: earthly treasure and heavenly treasure. Material treasures are fleeting, because they can be moth eaten or corroded and will eventually pass away; while heavenly treasures endure, lasting forever (Matthew 6:19). In other words there are two ways to live . . .
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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.
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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