God, Resurrection and Hope

In 2010, in an attempt to convey to fellow priests the comprehensive secularisation of western society, Cardinal Francis George, Catholic Archbishop of Chicago, stated, 

Cardinal George
“I expect to die in bed,” Cardinal Francis George

“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 . . .
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Seeing Scars

Seeing Scars
Our scars are often the result of accidents

It’s most likely true that everyone has at least one physical scar that with a good story behind it. Do you? For some of us, those who are a little bit older, there are more scars and more stories to share.
Our scars are often the result of accidents, and are noticeable because of the marks in the skin where it is a bit tougher than it used to be and doesn’t bend as easily as undamaged tissue. Yet, despite this, scars are God’s plan and part of our body’s healing response. They are part of life, part of God’s design and we all carry them.
Not all our scars are visible. Some are covered because of their location while others are covered because we don’t want them seen. Neither do all scars carry a good story . . .
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Resurrection life . . . making a difference

Over Easter the New York Times ran an article that commented in passing that Easter Sunday is the day Christians honour Jesus’ “resurrection into heaven.” A mistake which, once pointed out, was quickly corrected. Nevertheless, such an error reminds us of the growing ignorance in our Western world of Christian belief.

A new day dawning
A new day dawns . . .

This year’s Easter has come and gone and life returns to normal, almost as if the resurrection has no effect. But it wasn’t like that on the first Easter. I wonder whether Easter should make more of an impact in our lives. Maybe we too reflect the ignorance of the rest of our community.
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Droughts and Flooding Rains

Over the past months we have seen many natural disasters across Australia. It seems this summer we have lived up to Dorothea Mackellar’s description that we are a land of “droughts and flooding rains”. In fact Tasmania has not been immune with even the chaplain of our own Hobart Boy’s Brigade losing his family’s house in the bushfires.

Bushfire!
Even Tasmania has not been immune to
bushfires in 2013

While there are quite a few differing opinions regarding the extent to which humanity’s actions are the causes of recent climate change; that the climate is changing is quite obvious. How fast and in what ways it is changing is still open to debate.
These recent events serve to show that despite our best efforts we cannot control the weather no matter how much we would like to think we can. They remind us that we are at the mercy of weather patterns that are more powerful than we are.
Yet our desire to control the weather reveals, I believe, how we struggle to maintain a biblical view of our responsibility over creation. While we are called to be good stewards of creation we are never called to control it, but rather treat it with appropriate care.
Today the consensus of scientists is that the level of CO2 in the air and global temperatures are increasing, polar caps are melting, and sea levels are rising. The subsequent call for more care of our environment resonates deeply with our God given responsibility. However, I tend to agree with those who suggest . . .  Read more >>>

There’s Something About Jesus

Like many others leaders of messianic movements, Jesus’ life was nothing special when it ended as many of them did with a crucifixion. He was another dead leader with a band of

Resurrection
The Jesus they followed was alive!

disillusioned and scattered followers. But something happened. Before long numbers exploded and over the next 300 years they spread across the entire Roman Empire.
What was the difference? This Messiah was alive.
The Jesus they followed was alive
For nearly two thousand years Christians have . . .   Read More >>>

Goodbye Tall Poppy

Australia, many suggest, is one of the most egalitarian countries in the world. The heart of egalitarianism is treating all people as equals with any inequality, whether it be economic political, civil or social, being removed.
In Australia, rather than address our Head of State as Monsieur Presidente, as the France do, or Mr President, as they do in America, we just call them John, Kevin or Julia. Egalitarianism is so ingrained in our psyche that women were first able to vote in Australia, our unions are the oldest in the world and we are the forerunners of the eight-hour working day, equal rights, pensions and other social benefits.

Daisy in Field
Our “tall poppy syndrome” cuts down any who thinks of themselves above or better than the “average”.

Egalitarianism, it seems, began when Australia was one big prison and further developed under the colonial culture. It is evident in our value of “mateship” and in our irreverence for established authority. We expect people to behave with humility and not think of themselves better than others. Our “tall poppy syndrome” cuts down any who thinks of themselves above or better than the “average.” We are particularly critical of any authority that is pompous and appears out of touch.
From the beginning of white settlement the Australian church and its leaders have struggled within this environment and found it difficult to connect. The leadership looked out of place coming from the upper and middle classes of Anglican England when the convicts were primarily from the lower class or Catholic Ireland. As the convict colony developed into a nation and society became settled and diverse, the church found a place, albeit, still uncomfortable within the harsh and alien Australian environment.
It is no surprise that today the church is still considered old and out of touch. Australians remain suspicious and distrustful of the church’s motives. When our leaders comment on social issues such as poverty, land rights, taxation reform etc. they are told not to interfere but rather stick to things religious. Visiting Christian speakers often remark about the hardness of the Australian soul to the gospel.

“Authority, he demonstrated, is a responsibility not a ‘privilege’.”

Despite the difficulties the church faces there is much that Jesus modeled and taught that can connect with our egalitarian and anti-authoritarian ways. Jesus taught that authority and power are to be used for the benefit of others, not personal gain. Authority, he demonstrated, is a responsibility not a ‘privilege.’ Jesus never used authority for personal advantage but lovingly served to others. In fact, he was critical of the pompous displays of the religious authorities and reacted strongly against any inequalities.
To the “average” person of his day Jesus did not come across as pompous or authoritarian but rather as one who was for them. He did not stand aloof condemning, but was willing to share a meal with tax collectors, sinners, outcasts, and untouchables.
This Easter most Australians will take a holiday without reflecting on why it exists. They will not recognise in the death and resurrection of Jesus, a condemnation of the misuse of authority. They will miss the reality that he disarms authorities. They will not understand that this demonstrates once and for all the correct use of authority (Col 2:15). Sadly, they are unaware that all authority has now been given to Jesus (Phil 2:9-11) and he will one day return to set the world aright.
While Australian egalitarianism and anti-authoritarianism often leads Aussies to reject Jesus, there is something in these attitudes that should draw people to him. Let us pray that the Spirit of God may move in Aussies this Easter and that they may see in Jesus a kindred spirit rather than an authoritarian master.
Stephen L Baxter

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

Seeing the Resurrection in a New Light

There many things people find difficult about Jesus. One of them is believing his resurrection actually took place. In fact, the majority of Australians today consider such a view unreasonable, unrealistic, irresponsible and irrelevant.
Yet sadly, as never before, many in our community, families, schools, and businesses need to know the reality and power of the resurrection more than ever. Despite our affluence, many lives are full of despair, disillusionment and brokenness, while some endure a living death. They need resurrection, not just at the end of their lives, but tomorrow and next week. They need something to help them see past their misery and depression in hope and anticipation.
Simon Greenleaf (1783-1853) one of the principle founders of the Harvard Law School, and possibly one of the greatest legal minds who ever lived, believed the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a hoax and set out to disprove it. He was certain that a careful examination of the internal witness of the Gospels based upon his famous Treatise on the Law of Evidence (still in print today) would dispel all the myths at the heart of Christianity.
However, after a thorough examination of the evidence he came to the exact opposite conclusion. “It was impossible,” he wrote, “that the apostles could have persisted in affirming the truths they had narrated, had not Jesus Christ actually risen from the dead…”
Wouldn’t it be exciting if those we know facing hard times and are sceptical about the resurrection, came to the same realisation as Greenleaf and could see the resurrection for what it is? Life would take on new meaning and depth for them.

Wouldn’t it be exciting if those facing hard times could see the resurrection for what it is?

Believing in the resurrection brings hope and helps to bring appreciation that there is more to life than we face now. In the midst of our trials and struggles, we need to be reminded that God loves resurrection and is willing to bring it to our lives today.
However, there is a catch. The paradox to resurrection life is that you cannot have it without dying first. God only gives resurrection life to those who need it. So many of us want such life but without the dying part.
Yet, surprising as it may seem, when we go through difficult times we are closer to experiencing resurrection life than before. It is as if the experience of suffering and despair herald the coming of resurrection.
What difficult things are you currently facing that God wants to see changed? He is longing for you to reach out and trust him for the impossible, bringing new life out of dead things.
Are you ready to trust him?

Stephen L Baxter

Resurrection Sunday – New Life!

Did you know that the word Easter comes to us from the word “eastern” or “easterly?” That was the direction that a worshipper from the west should face when they reflect on the place of their redemption – namely Jerusalem.
From the Bible there is little evidence that Jesus was worshipped before the resurrection, yet it is certainly clear he was afterwards. In one of Paul’s early letters written to the church in Corinth around 55 AD, we read the famous Maranatha prayer, “Come O Lord”. Here Paul uses the Aramaic expression Maranatha giving us an insight into the prayer life of the early Jewish followers of Jesus. They knew he was alive and longed for his return just as he promised.
The resurrection had changed their lives completely. They hadn’t seen the resurrection, only the angels saw that, but they had seen the resurrected Jesus. This was no wishful thinking that came true in a dream or a vision. No, the focus in the Bible is that Jesus took the initiative and “appeared” before his disciples. In fact 1 Corinthians 15 says he appeared to a number of different groups and individuals at different places times in different places, even up to 500 people at one time.
On Easter Sunday we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus. It stands as the focus of our faith as we join with millions through history and around the world in celebrating the bodily resurrection of Christ. Without the resurrection there is no faith and reason to worship. But with it everything is changed. Death has been defeated, and victory over sin has been declared.
This is the hope of the world, the promise of new life for everyone, everywhere. May your life and family be full of this hope today and throughout the coming year.
Stephen L Baxter

Baptism: Dying and coming to life again

On September 11 this year a significant event will take place here Hobart Baptist Church. And it has nothing to do with the anniversary of the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers in New York. On that day the focus of our service will be the baptism of at least ten people coming from across our church including from our Karen community and our Church With No Walls congregation. What a wonderful day of celebration it will be. Water

Baptism is central to our life as Christians. It marks a significant point in our life of discipleship and is a public declaration that we follow Jesus.

Baptism is not a religious ritual or church tradition. It is far more important than that. Its significance and meaning is found in the death of Jesus. Jesus died in our place and for our sins, but more than that, as the Messiah and Son of God he was victorious over death. His resurrection confirms that victory and is a guarantee of the promise of new and everlasting life.

Baptism therefore is the means by which people who have repented of their sins and chosen to follow Jesus demonstrate their union with Christ. Baptism is a symbol of death and resurrection. By being immersed in water, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, each person acknowledges that Jesus’ death and resurrection is their death and resurrection. Baptism symbolises burial and cleansing; death to the old life of unbelief and resurrection to new life; purification from sin; the receiving of the Holy Spirit and becoming a member of the body of Christ.

Baptism is the defining mark, the crossing over a line, of moving from living in the kingdom of this world to living in the Kingdom of God. In many deep and profound ways, it is a demonstration of the good news of all that Jesus has done for us.

If you are considering baptism have a chat to your pastor or church leader; perhaps God is calling you too in a celebration of faith in Jesus, his death and resurrection.