This Christmas, thousands of Christians, if not millions, will be caught up in political and ethnic conflicts. Many will celebrate Christmas facing poverty, dislocation and the possibility of death. In countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, and parts of Indonesia and India, religiously motivated attacks are on the rise. Other countries, like Saudi Arabia, ban private church services and converting to Christianity is illegal.
Although we don’t face such troubles here in Tasmania Australia, we do, with many Western countries, face increasing scepticism about anything to do with God. Sometimes this is quite aggressive with attempts to muzzle Christians and keep their faith out of the public square.
But we shouldn’t be surprised. Jesus told his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” His statement is just as true now as it was then.
As we celebrate Advent this year Christians across the world will rekindle and renew their hope.
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In 2010, in an attempt to convey to fellow priests the comprehensive secularisation of western society, Cardinal Francis George, Catholic Archbishop of Chicago, stated,
“I expect to die in bed, my successor will die in prison, and his successor will die a martyr in the public square.”
His point was how a world divorced from God will inevitably come to a harsh end. In reading his quote I was reminded of the statement by George Orwell in his 1940 Notes on the Way where he said,
“For two hundred years we had sawed and sawed and sawed at the branch we were sitting on. And in the end, much more suddenly than anyone had foreseen, our efforts were rewarded, and down we came. But unfortunately there had been a little mistake: The thing at the bottom was not a bed of roses after all; it was a cesspool full of barbed wire… So it appears that amputation of the soul isn’t just a simple surgical job, like having your appendix out. The wound has a tendency to go septic.”
In the past week I’ve sat with Karen refugees in a temporary and primitive village nestled in a valley near the Thai-Burmese border, and I’ve sat with over 300 leaders at the Tasmanian Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast. Despite the nearly overwhelming contrasts between the two I was struck by this sobering reality . . .
The building Hobart Baptist Church meets in is just on the fringe of CBD of Hobart. It is a stately stone building modelled on Baptist Tabernacle in Stockport, England, and is uniquely located on the main road linking Hobart and North Hobart.
As a city church the congregation is drawn from across Hobart and across many nationalities. It is the oldest remaining Baptist church in Hobart with links back to the first Baptist church established in 1835.
At various times through its history the congregation has struggled to fit into the building, and at other times it has felt quite empty. Today, the church is made up of three congregations numbering nearly 250 people.
As a church we are on a journey . . .
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Despite what you read in the newspaper, Christianity is far from dead in Australia.
The last census figures released last year showed that the numbers calling themselves Christian have grown from 12.8 million in 2001 to 13.1 million in 2011. While the percentage of Christians declined from 66% to 61% it is significant overall numbers increased. Being a Christian may no longer have the social status it once had, however, these figures show us it is far from abnormal.
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I’ve recently returned from leading a study tour of the Middle East with a focus on Israel and the areas where Jesus lived and ministered. It certainly was a special, and challenging, time for everyone as we connected with the land and the people of the Bible.
Staying in hotels run by the local kibbutz provided insights into the lives of modern orthodox Jews. One evening meal had beef on the menu which meant that only soy milk was available for tea and coffee (consuming mixtures of cow’s milk and beef are prohibited according to Levitical law, Ex. 23:19, 34:26; Deut. 14:21).
Then there was the Shabbat (Sabbath) elevator which . . .
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