Forgiving the Unforgivable

rwan-LMAP-md
Rwanda is the land-locked country marked in orange

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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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.

Hobart Baptist Church
Hobart Baptist Church is one of the original ‘tabernacles’ built in Tasmania, Australia with help from Spurgeon’s grandson

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 >>>

Avoiding that Final Journey?

Death is one of those things we avoid in any way we can. We fill our lives with things, we immerse ourselves in books, movies or other fantasies, we focus on our careers neglecting everything else, we party, play and distract ourselves from the impending, inevitable reality.
However, we don’t do death like we used to. Once afraid of ‘meeting their maker’, today people are resigned to there being no meeting at all. No longer afraid of going to hell, most are fearful of going nowhere at all.

Religious Candles and Cross
Often today’s funerals are not even about the person who died but about “managing our grief.”

Today people want to die quickly, preferably in their sleep. In the past when most people had a Christian worldview even if they were not Christians, they wanted to know when death would come so they could be prepared. “Prepare for what?” you might wonder.
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All Change!

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The “Almighty certainly never intended that people should travel at such breakneck speed.”
Martin Van Buren
In 1829 the Governor of New York at the time, Martin Van Buren, wrote to the American President, Andrew Jackson, demanding his Federal government preserve the country’s system of water canals. He was fearful of “the spread of a new form of transportation known as ‘railroads’”. The result he said, would be “serious unemployment,” “boat builders would suffer,” and that “towline, whip and harness makers would be left destitute.”
The problem with the ‘railroad’ he said was that “carriages are pulled at the enormous speed of fifteen miles per hour.” This was frightening to women, children and livestock, and passengers’ lives were in danger. He concluded that the “Almighty certainly never intended that people should travel at such breakneck speed.”
Change is never easy. Sometimes we love it, sometimes we tolerate it, sometimes it makes us angry, and sometimes it frightens us terribly. We can long for it and plan for it, yet at the same time we will fear it and even actively resist it.
Yet change is inevitable . . . Read more >>>

A Moment to Remember

The school holidays finish this week in Tassie and the Year is about to begin with gusto. How has your year started? How did you fare with your New Year’s resolutions? How is your relationship with Jesus going?

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God said to Moses for the Israelites that this time of year will be for them “the first month, the first month of your year” (Ex 12:2)
While not many Australians associate the New Year with God and historians tell us that New Year has no religious background, nevertheless it can be an important time for us. At this time of year when the pace of life is a little slower, we can take time to reflect, reframing and realign before fully entering fully into the New Year.
Recently I was reading again the story of the Exodus when God liberated the children of Israel from Egypt leading them across the desert to the Promised Land. As they prepared to leave Egypt on the night of the Passover God said to Moses for the Israelites that this time of year will be for them “the first month, the first month of your year” (Ex 12:2).
While modern Israel follows the Georgian Calendar as we do, nevertheless God instructed them . . .
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Short Term Missions – Thailand

Last Thursday a small team from Hobart Baptist flew out of Hobart on a short trip to Thailand.  We are visiting areas where our Karen folk (pronounced with emphasis on the 2nd syllable) have come from, and spend time with cross cultural workers Jan and Jit Yawan. The weather is good in Thailand just now. The wet season finished three weeks ago and the temperature hovers around 35 C (95 F) during the day. Yes, quite a bit warmer than Tasmania!
There are seven on the team: four of the Karen congregation, including their two leaders, all travelling on new Aussie passports; and  three Australian born participants including myself. [googlemaps https://maps.google.com.au/maps?oe=utf-8&client=firefox-a&q=thailand+map&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Thailand&gl=au&ll=15.870032,100.992541&spn=45.078467,86.572266&t=m&z=4&output=embed&w=425&h=350]
Back in June 2011 after a six month process of prayer, discussion and reflection, the church adopted a Strategic Directions paper for the following three years. It included a goal to organise a short term mission trip to areas where our Karen folk are from. It is exciting to see that now, less than two and a half years later, it has become a reality.
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God is at Work!

There is always a sense of excitement when we see evidence of God at work in our lives and in our church. We are now a month into the New Year and our summer school holidays have finished with most schools starting back today.

Fairground Cafe Opens, MatNaomi, 28Jan13
Mat and Naomi serving their great coffee blend

Our Sunday morning children’s programs begin next week and Double Edge (youth group) starts on Friday, along with ‘Meet n Make’ and Boy’s Brigade starting soon. But even as we begin these programs, Fairground Café, an initiative focused on Elizabeth College, the Yr 11/12 College next door, is already up and running. It was, for many of us, a very moving moment when around 40 people gathered to pray for the Café and declare it open last Monday.
Despite the doom and gloom some in our community have towards the Church, the truth is Jesus is still building his church and he won’t be thwarted. I am confident that as we move into 2013 we can expect Jesus to continue his work amongst us and through us. In fact we have every reason to be confident and hopeful.  It is Jesus who is “the cornerstone that holds all the parts together” (Eph. 2:21) so we can expect it will prevail.
Fairground Cafe Opens 28Jan13
The Cafe as it looks from the school grounds . . . except this week there will be Elizabeth College students milling around

Yet, that doesn’t mean we can sit back and just let things happen, God calls us to be partners in the work of the gospel.
Over the past month or so as I’ve prayed and reflected on our church and God’s plans for us, a question formed in my mind as to what sort of church will the City of Hobart need in, say, five or six years; and what would it take for us to be one of those churches.
Over the past 100 years or so, Hobart Baptist has been, to varying degrees at different times, a bright beacon of the gospel in the city of Hobart. There was a time when the pastor of Hobart Baptist Church wrote the editorial for The Mercury, (F. W.  Boreham) and on Sunday evenings not only was our building in Elizabeth Street full, but immediately afterwards a second service was held in a packed City Hall. There was a time when the all aged Sunday school was so large, with over 400 attending, that it used rooms in Elizabeth College next door.
What would it mean for Hobart Baptist church to experience similar things again? Obviously times have changed, and so there would be profound differences, but the gospel has not changed. How do we faithfully present this gospel, in all its richness, to the particular culture that is the City of Hobart today? What would it mean to tweak our church life – our worship services, our programs, our outreaches, toward them? What would it mean for us to focus not on what we would like our church to be, but what our city needs our church to be?
This is the task before us. Fairground Café is exciting initiative but it is just one thing among many that we can and will be called to do.
As we move into 2013 it would be good for everyone to ponder these questions – whether part of HBC or not – what would it take for you to be the church in your city/town/region that God wants you to be? Yes! God is at work. I look forward to hearing what God reveals to you as you explore these questions.

Get a Second Chance this New Year

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“Don’t you just love New Years? You get to start all over. Everybody gets a second chance.”
In a scene at a New Year’s Eve party in the film Forrest Gump, Forrest is asked, “Don’t you just love New Years? You get to start all over. Everybody gets a second chance.” There is something in this statement that sums up one of our attitudes to the New Year. Many of us use it as an opportunity to reflect and dream about doing things differently in the future.
There is something within our human nature that longs for things to be different. The opportunity to start over, or a chance to do better, and the possibility of a clean slate is a longing deep within us.
The truth is we’ve all made decisions we wish we could change, or said things we which we hadn’t, and many of us would relish the opportunity to relive a part of our lives again. We all look back with regret in some way. It’s part of our human existence, so it is not surprising that we take the opportunity of the New Year to resolve to do things differently.
Yet how often do we fail to keep our resolutions. There is something about well-worn habits, lifestyles and attitudes that are not easily changed. This is as true of individuals as it is of communities. How many of the trouble spots across the world are continuing conflicts of past generations that still linger? Just like the Israel/Arab conflict that goes right back to Abraham and his two sons Ishmael and Isaac.
The good news we celebrate as Christians is that Jesus not only offers us the opportunity of second chance, but also the power of the Holy Spirit to be able to live differently.
The Bible is full of examples where God gives a second chance! The people of Israel were constantly and consistently called by the prophets to repent, refocus and restart their life with God. And Jesus repeatedly gave second chances—whether it was through healing, forgiveness or his teaching. Just like the woman accused of adultery whom Jesus saved from stoning, the lives of many people were changed—revitalized, renewed, and restored.
Even high profile people like the apostle Peter was given another chance (John 21:15-23) after he had denied Jesus three times (Mark 14:66-72). And Saul, who later changed his name to Paul, was a persecutor of Christians (Acts 7:58-8:3) before his life was transformed (Acts 9:1-19).

“The Creator of the universe became a human being and willingly suffered death so that you and I could have a fresh start

The good news of the story of Jesus Christ is that the Creator of the universe became a human being and willingly suffered death so that you and I could have a fresh start. The message is the promise of forgiveness, grace and mercy and it extends to every person. No one is exempt from failures and regrets and no one is exempt from the opportunity to receive God’s love and forgives and the promise of a second chance. This is more than a New Year’s resolution, it is a promise of change.
Of course, we can make a fresh start at any time; God’s grace is not restricted to a certain time of year. Yet New Year is as good a time as any to reflect, re-frame, realign and refocus our lives and take the opportunity of God working with us to see our lives take a positive turn in the right direction and for the better.
New Year’s resolutions may not last long, but when we repent and ask God for his help, all things are possible. We are not alone. What is it in your life that needs changing? What things do you think God would like changed? Why not talk to God about it and begin the adventure of a second chance.

What is success for the follower of Jesus?

Solomon is arguably the most successful person in the Bible. In his life he achieved much, gaining honour and wealth and a standing unequalled amongst kings. Yet, Solomon, despite his great wisdom and honour and wealth, concluded, “Everything is meaningless, utterly meaningless!” (Eccl 1:1) In his final analysis of life, recorded in the book of Ecclesiastes, success proved unfulfilling.

Wealth beyond measure
Solomon was arguably the most successful person in the Bible

In his autobiography, The Price of Success, the successful translator and essayist JB Phillips, wrote,
“I was well aware of the dangers of sudden wealth and took some severe measures to make sure that, although comfortable, I should never be rich. I was not nearly so aware of the dangers of success. The subtle corrosion of character, the unconscious changing of values and the secret monstrous growth of a vastly inflated idea of myself seeped slowly into me. Vaguely I was aware of this and, like some frightful parody of St Augustine, I prayed, ‘Lord, make me humble—but not yet’. I can still savour the sweet and gorgeous taste of it all—the warm admiration, the sense of power, of overwhelming ability, of boundless energy and never-failing enthusiasm. It is very plain to me now why my one man kingdom of power and glory had to stop.”

“I prayed, ‘Lord, make me humble—but not yet’.

Phillips’ struggle with the effects of success is common to all humanity, including Jesus. Yet Jesus taught that “the life you save is the life you lose”, (Lk 17:33) and he lived it. He was prepared to give his life away by dying in his culture’s most disgraceful manner. He had no money in the bank, and only a handful of followers remained to his death. He was, in terms of worldly success, a perfect fool and a failed messiah.
Although through the resurrection Jesus was exonerated and vindicated by God, he demonstrates for us that the life you guard, grasp and play safe with is the life of little worth to anyone, including you. This is the paradox: those who are most fully alive are those who give that life away.

“This is the paradox: those who are most fully alive are those who give that life away.

Solomon’s wealth and honour were spontaneous gifts of God, a blessing Solomon did not expect or seek. In contrast, the assurance of a long life was conditional on his following David’s example: walking in God’s ways and obeying him.
Therefore, in those sober moments when Solomon centred his life on God, is it any wonder that he expressed this final conclusion: “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man”? (Eccl 12:13)
Life is about relating to God, and thus gaining the power to live life according to his words. This is success, and it alone can produce true happiness, contentment and significance. 
Stephen L Baxter

Dream Weaving

Last Saturday many of the leaders from  Hobart Baptist Church took the opportunity to join with David Jones from Baptist Rural Support Services to dream and plan together about the ongoing work of God in and through the church.
One of the most important questions we can ask about our church is this: What kind of church do we want to be, or importantly, what kind of church does God want us to be? Answering such a question requires prayer and reflection, and over the past two years while I’ve been part of the church, we’ve done this on a number of occasions. Not that we can ever plan exactly what we will do, there are always interesting and different things God brings that change our best laid plans.

Our dreams as a church can become
concrete if we plan well

Despite these contingencies and changes there is one thing we can be clear of, we are called to be a church that witnesses to the good news of Jesus in the area God has placed us—Hobart. But what does it mean for us to be witnesses here in this location?
In thinking about this I’m reminded of Jesus’ prayer that we be “in” the world, but not of “it” (John 17:14-15). This is important. Some churches are so “in” the culture and embrace it so strongly that they lose their distinctiveness. Others are so “against” the culture that in their opposition they lose their relevance. Still others are so “above” the culture that they “super-spiritualise” life and lose all points of contact in the culture. When Jesus prays that we live “in” our culture he is not expecting us to be lost in it, he is praying that we be “for” our culture and engage it with a view to seeing it transformed.
Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, suggests that to be “for” a culture, a church should commit to a number of key principles. Here are two of them I believe are important for us at Hobart Baptist Church to reflect upon.
The first principle is that we commit to learn and speak the language of our culture. This means we avoid using “Christian-ese” or in-house jargon. We don’t use technical theological terms unless we explain them, and we never use any “we-them” language always aiming to be inclusive. Our desire is that we never want a non-Christian to be “lost” in our language or feel alienated.
A commitment to always talk as if non-Christians were present would mean we treat each other with respect, we would be humbly willing to admit our weaknesses and failures, yet we’d always be joyful about the difference the Gospel makes.
Being mindful of our language leads to a second commitment where we resolve to listen to people and to their “stories”. By treating each person as unique with a story to tell treats them with respect. By sincerely endeavouring to listen, understand, love and respect them unconditionally we honour them and yet will be willing to demonstrate how the Gospel of Jesus will meet their deepest longings.

“Jesus is the only one who can fulfil their greatest desire

To understand their deepest longings we would need to take time to gain knowledge and appreciation of their culture as it is encountered in the movies they see, the books they read and the music they play and so on. In understanding these hopes, dreams, stories, and fears, we look forward to the opportunity to demonstrate how Jesus is the only one who can fulfil their greatest desires.
What would happen to your church if you committed together to follow these simple principles? What do you think?  Would you like to give it a go?