What is a Christian?

“What is a Christian?” asks J. I. Packer in his book “Knowing God.” His response may surprise you. Although he agrees the question can be answered many ways he suggests, “the richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God as Father.Encountering the father heart of god

Over the past couple of months at in our Sunday services at Hobart Baptist Church we have been exploring the wonder that God is our Father and we can call him ‘Dad’. In fact this is what makes the Bible’s New Testament so profound. In it we learn how the Creator of the universe wants to relate to us in very special and intimate way – as Father and children (John 1:12-13).

The Bible is very clear: not every person is a child of God. Sure, we are all made in God’s image, but that does not make us children of God. The Old Testament talks about God as Father but only to Israel as a nation and to their kings when they are crowned. Even in the New Testament it is only those who put their trust in Jesus Christ and confess their short comings that have the right to become children of God.

Being a child of God is not a universal right; it is a supernatural gift. This is what the New Testament is talking about when it says we are adopted.

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God’s Intended Complementaries

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N.T. Wright

In a recent interview, British theologian, N. T. Wright, warned when “anybody — pressure groups, governments, civilizations — suddenly change the meaning of key words, you really should watch out.”

It happened in Nazi Germany and in post-1917 Russia, and, he suggests, is happening today. He gives the example of trend to speak of “assisted suicide” rather than name it as a “killing.”

Wright then turns the current debate around same-sex marriage. He says that the word marriage has “for thousands of years (and across-cultures) meant between man and woman. Sometimes it’s been one man and more than one woman. Occasionally it’s been one woman and more than one man . . . but it’s always been male plus female. Simply to say that you can have a woman-plus-woman marriage or a man-plus-man marriage is radically to change that, because of the givenness of maleness and femaleness.”

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Grow Up!

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.

Baxter Family

We are very proud of our growing family. Here we are at our son’s recent engagement. Grandson Eli was otherwise distracted!

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 >>>

Mothers: Not taking them for granted

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.

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“On Mother’s Day many people ring their mothers or send cards or even take them out for a meal”

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 Sacred Nature of Unique Relationships

My grandma, Dad’s mum, was a very special person and I had a special relationship with her. Who she was, and what she said, still has an influence over me today. In her later years she wasn’t well, and she slept very little. But rather than complain about it she saw it as an opportunity, and thanked God that she had more time to pray.

At one point when I was in my early teens, Dad came up with the idea that my brother, sister and I should start calling him by his first name, Graham. We were a bit uncomfortable and embarrassed by this and slow to take up Dad’s suggestion.

Around this time we were visiting his parents and having a cup of tea in their sitting room. Dad announced his new idea. Quietly without any fuss Grandma drew me to herself, took both my hands and stared deeply into my eyes. She said, “Don’t do it Stephen! There is only one person in the world you can call ‘Dad’ and don’t rob yourself of that.” Well, that was the end of the matter. Dad never mentioned his idea again.

I remember the moment as if it were yesterday.

I love you Dad

Grandma had tapped into something that resonated deeply within me

I’ve reflected on that moment and told the story many times, and it hasn’t lost any of its potency nor is it any less profound. Grandma had tapped into something that resonated deeply within me. Today I would say that she tapped into something we can often lose sight of and discard – the sacred nature of unchangeable, unique and special relationships.

She tapped into something we can often lose
sight of and discard

Sacred is not a word we use much and when we do, we use it in a variety of ways. But I believe it is appropriate in this instance. Sacred is very similar to the idea of holiness, that is, something that is set apart and different from the ordinary. With a few words my grandmother described my relationship with my father as being different from every other relationship I have in the world. It is a unique relationship that no one else can have (although I may have relationships that approximate it) and the reason for this is that there is only one person in the world who ‘begat’ me.

I did not earn this relationship; it was a reality from my conception. I did not obtain it; it was given to me as a gift. I did not own it. I didn’t possess it. All I could do was live it, experience it, enjoy it, and honour it. In this sense it is sacred, different from the ordinary, set apart from every other relationship. Its uniqueness is reflected in that it is included in the Ten Commandments where it says to honour our parents (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16).

My grandmother taught me something profound that day. There are certain relationships in the world that are givens and it is important to acknowledge them, to live in them and bring out the best in them for the good of all. I could spend my life fighting them, or trying to disown them and change them; but in the end all I can do is work to live within them. Fighting only brings bitterness and estrangement and will not change the basic essence of them.

It is not surprising that the commandment goes on to say that we are to honour our father and mother “so that your days will be lengthened on the land your God gave to you.” Honouring has its own rewards.

I don’t think calling my father Graham would have been a mistake or a sin, but it did have the potential of diminishing a relationship which is precious and sacred. I am sure I could have called my dad ‘Graham’ and honoured him. But Grandma reminded me that there are some things in life that are precious and sacred and it is worth taking the time and effort to keep them so.

Stephen L Baxter

Dad’s Day D ‘n’ M*

Sunday was Father’s Day, a day full of commercialism and consumerism, yet one when we can pause and take time to give thanks for our dads, living and deceased. As with Mother’s Day, Father’s Day is more than often one of mixed emotions. In an ideal world, all of us would have positive feelings about our fathers. In reality, it is not true for many people.

"You matter to me"

Amongst any group of people there are those who did not or do not have a positive relationship with their father. From a biblical point of view this is not surprising given we are all broken, fallen human beings; coming from families that are never all they could be. But that doesn’t take away from the hurt, pain and sadness many of us carry. The result is that we can come into adulthood with what some psychologists call a “father-hunger’ which simply means that some of us have never truly been validated, nurtured or affirmed by a father figure.

Yet, the Bible calls us to honour our parents, something we can do despite the difficulties of the past, and something this Day gives us the opportunity to do.

Many men, despite having a “father-hunger” nevertheless go on to be very good fathers. Many women marry a man who is not emotionally absent like their father, and, by the grace of God, enjoy happy and fruitful marriages. Others, of course, are not as fortunate.

So what is a good father?
In the past a man was a ‘good father’ if he worked hard and provided well for his family. Today, we realise how much children need their dads to be loving and involved fathers. Children need time given generously and graciously, even if other matters are pressing. When a father takes time to listen to his kids, to laugh at their jokes, have fun with them, be present for the important events of their lives, he communicates an unmistakable message: “You matter to me.” Nothing says it better.

A good father loves his wife, and gives example to his sons what a loving man is like, while showing his daughters what they should expect in their own future. A good father has integrity. He keeps his word especially to his kids and his wife. In a time when a sense of honour and responsibility seem in short supply, children need such a model. Yet, a loving father does not live through his children. He does not expect to find his own identity nor sense of worth in what his children can accomplish, even as he takes pride in their good works.

Despite the stereotypes of men in our society, a good father is also a man of faith. He believes in a God of mercy and goodness. He is not embarrassed to talk about it, or to show his dependence on God. Such faith is a precious heritage to his children when lack of faith is everywhere.

Grace and mercy
Sadly, most have not experienced a father like this, and so Father’s Day is a day full of mixed feelings. As we remember our own father, no matter our own experience and memories of him, we have the opportunity to know and experience God as Father. Our Heavenly Father does not and will not let us down like our earthly fathers, and always has our best interests at heart. It is as we experience the love of our Heavenly Father that we can honour, and where appropriate forgive, our earthly fathers.

For us who know our Heavenly Father, it is possible for Father’s Day to be a day of honouring, forgiveness, healing and freedom as we allow the grace and mercy of God to impact our lives.
May God bless you and your family this Father’s Day.

Stephen L Baxter

*(Deep & Meaningful)