Jesus, the Christian and the Church in Australia

Jesus and the Australian Christian

In 1999, Australian psychologist, social researcher and writer Hugh Mackay suggested the time was right for a revival in Australia.  He promptly went on to predict it wouldn’t happen, and was right. There has been no revival of faith in Australia in the two decades since. In fact, McCrindle Research confirms the number who call themselves Christian has fallen to 52%.

Even though the number of Australians identifying with no religion or a spiritual belief has risen to 32% there is still more than two thirds (68%) who do. In fact, the majority of Australians (55%) still believe in God, when God is defined as the Creator of the universe or Supreme Being. Similarly, the majority (53%) believe Jesus is very important to the history and culture of the world. That’s about the same percentage as those who call themselves Christian.

Of all those who call themselves Christian, only 15% of Australians attend church regularly. Less than a third. The figures confirm there hasn’t been a revival. They also suggest Jesus is still attractive to many non-church goers.

One such person was R. M. Williams the Australian bushman and entrepreneur.

>>> read more

The Future Isn’t What It Used To Be

“The future isn’t what it used to be.” French poet Paul Valery wrote these words over 90 years ago. Its just as true today. In our rapidly changing world the future looks scary. As a society we have moved from optimism to pessimism. In Tasmania today, particularly among our young people, their a great fear and cynicism towards the future, not only for themselves but for all of humanity.

The Blue Marble

The first pictures of planet Earth from outer space taken over 50 years ago brought a profound scientific and philosophical shift for many people. For the first time we saw our world as a small and lonely. Although beautiful, it sat suspended amid a vast, infinite and silent universe.

No longer was earth a series of continents, islands, nations, and peoples living in a fixed and unalterable environment. >>> CONTINUE READING

ANZAC Day – A Unique Moment for Aussies

Plaque WWI
WWI Memorial Plaque, Hobart Baptist Church

Last Saturday, along with millions of others across Australia and NZ, Hobart Baptist Church commemorated the Anzac Day Centenary holding our own service of remembrance.
Our unique focus was to honour those associated with Hobart Baptist Church who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Their names are listed memorial plaques hanging in our main building. Continue reading “ANZAC Day – A Unique Moment for Aussies”

Living BEYOND the difficulties

Our Easter celebrations have come and gone so quickly!

Back to our routines
“We stopped to celebrate Easter only a week ago, yet we are back into our normal routines before we know it.”

We stopped to celebrate the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ only a week ago, yet we are back into our normal routines before we know it. Yet, the resurrection is so profound its truths transform every part of our lives, and in a very real way Easter lives with us every day.
In his first letter to the believers living in Corinth Paul writes how “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, [and] that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). While his death dealt with our sins, God vindicated Jesus by raising him to life again. His resurrection changed everything.
It transformed Peter from a mistake-prone bungler who denied and disassociated himself from Jesus, into a bold provocative advocate who stood in front of thousands of people on the day of Pentecost and called them to repent. What changed Peter? He later wrote, “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). The resurrection radically changed Peter for ever.
Peter’s life demonstrates a powerful insight, that the resurrection is more than a victory to be celebrated it is a reality to be lived.
It’s not by chance that the early church began meeting on Sundays, the day after the Jewish Sabbath. Read More >>>
 

God’s Hidden Presence

On the morning of his resurrection Jesus walked through the near-empty garden unnoticed.
Well almost
.

The_Garden_Tomb_2008
The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem where some scholars say Jesus was buried. Click the image for more info

Had he not asked Mary Magdalene why she was crying he would have remained hidden. Then even as she answered Jesus’ question she didn’t recognise him. That is until he called her by name, then the recognition came. (John 20:11-18)
There is a mystery about the presence of God. In Matthew’s gospel when he relates the story of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God,” implying that if one is not pure in heart then God may be hidden from view. Although the Bible makes clear that God is present everywhere and in everything is God’s presence (for instance Psalm 139:7-12), the darkness of our heart distorts our perception.
St Ephrem
St Ephrem

The 4th Century theologian St. Ephrem the Syrian expressed it neatly in the following verse . . .

Lord, your symbols are everywhere,
Yet you are hidden from everywhere.
Though your symbol is on high,
Yet height does not perceive that you are;
Though your symbol is in the depth,
It does not comprehend who you are;
Though your symbol is in the sea,
You are hidden from the sea;
Though your symbol is on dry land,
It is not aware what you are.
Blessed is the Hidden One shining out!

St. Ephrem uses the word “symbol” in its ancient meaning >>>
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Why Have You Forsaken Me?

In these weeks leading up to Easter I am focusing on the “Seven Sayings of Christ from the Cross.”
This week it’s Jesus’ words of abandonment taken from Matthew 27:46, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which translated means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Hanging on the cross, his body in agony from the torture of crucifixion, Jesus uses the opening verses of Psalm 22 written by David to express the depths of his agony. But it was not the physical pain that was the source of his cry, although it was no doubt intense, it was something far deeper and darker. In that excruciating moment, he felt the unbearable painfulness that comes from rejection and separation.
Jesus entered into a place where, as Paul the apostle expresses it in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (NIV).

Suffering
“His suffering was a mirror of our sufferings”

Such is the mystery and the majesty of the salvation of humanity that we can’t possibly know the depths of what Jesus felt in that moment. We can however appreciate it in some measure. Why? Because Jesus was as human and you and I are. His experience was that of every human being. His suffering was a mirror of our sufferings.
There are times when many of us, perhaps all of us, have experienced dark times when it felt like God had abandoned us. Life was hopeless, prayers went unanswered and despair was overwhelming. It such moments we too cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
But that’s not where the story ends. Read More >>>

Take Heart!

Despite the many challenges facing the Australian today there are good reasons not to despair.

Tom Frame
Tom Frame of St Marks National Theological Centre

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.
Read More >>>
 

Looking Back to Look Forward

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“There existed a broad consensus . . . under-girded by a Christian worldview”
Once upon a time, not very long ago, Australian society was very different to what it is now.
Then there existed a broad consensus across social, cultural, intellectual, ethical, political and religious spheres under-girded by a Christian world view. Not that everyone believed, in fact the majority didn’t, yet society by and large operated as if it were true. Both formally and officially we lived in a ‘Christian’ country and the church had a central and influential place.
Christendom had existed in some shape or form across Europe from the conversion of the Roman Empire. By the time Europeans arrived in Tasmania the signs of its disintegration were already evident and it reached a tipping point midway through the 20th Century.
This broad consensus no longer exists, and Australian society no longer considers itself Christian. The church as a result no longer occupies a central position. In fact, most people have little or no knowledge of how it was, and those that do often do so with derision and contempt
By contrast many Christians look back with a certain fondness. Read more >>>

God’s Mysterious Ways

Stormy Coastline, Ireland
“God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform. He plants his footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm”

English poet and hymn writer, William Cowper (1731 – 1800) wrote these words, “God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform. He plants his footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm.” Cowper was no stranger to God’s mysterious ways.
His mother died when he was six, he was ill-treated by his father and boarding school left him scarred for life. He became a Christian during one of his numerous spells in care overseen by a believing doctor who later became his friend. His life-long battle with depression left him institutionalised many times with many unsuccessful suicide attempts.
His friend John Newton, writer of the hymn Amazing Grace and aware of Cowper’s disposition towards melancholy and despair, proposed a collaboration on a book of hymns together. “God moves in a mysterious way,” is the first line from one of those hymns.
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Pentecost: A Birthday!

The day of Pentecost is one of the most important days in the life of the church.
Just as each year you celebrate your birthday, at Pentecost we celebrate the birthday of the church. The events of that day so empowered a group of people and ignited such a passion in them that the effects are still felt in the world today. Have you ever prayed that God might do it again in your life, in your city?

Birthday candles, flame, wind
Just as each year you celebrate your birthday, at Pentecost we celebrate the birthday of the church.

On that day Jews from across the known world had gathered in Jerusalem for one of their annual celebrations. Only weeks before they had come for another festival, the Passover, when there had been a small disturbance when yet another messianic hopeful, Jesus of Nazareth, had been crucified by the Romans. His small band of followers were in hiding fearing reprisal and nowhere to be seen. There were rumours circulating that some people had seen Jesus alive.
Then, something unheard of took place.
Read More >>>