Being Salt and Light

Taking seriously Jesus’ call to impact our community
A few years ago at the Australian Christian Heritage National Forum held in the Great Hall at Parliament House in Canberra I heard an encouraging story of faith. Keynote speaker Stuart Piggin talked of the impact of one man living the values of Jesus in his workplace and its effects on the company – and it happened here in Tasmania.
It is the story an underground mine where a dramatic increase in safety was the result of the work of one man who applied the personal and relational values of Jesus to his workplace.
Bob Mellows, a Christian mine manager, at the Cornwall coal mine in the Fingal Valley, saw that safety was best regulated not by the law of the land, but by the law of Love. He spoke to his men about how different the workplace would be if they treated each other in a way consistent with the teachings of Jesus.

Cornwall Coal from Fingal Valley, Tas

He made a study of the practical meaning of the word love in the New Testament and shared his findings with the miners. In a report to the ’98 Coal Operator’s Conference, he said, ‘It is not because of legalism that Jesus Christ told us to love God and love one another. It was because he knew it was essential to our well being in all aspects of life’. He went on to say that ‘The Foundation of Safety is loving one another (and ourselves). This is not merely an emotional condition. It is a choice of behaviour and the only basis for a satisfactory relationship.’
The Cornwall Mine’s safety improved when a breakthrough in relationships occurred. This resulted from the removal of barriers, the development of trust, and concern for the welfare of the other. The result? A dramatic turn around.
Between 1980 and 1990 there had been about 200 accidents reported each year at the Cornwall coal mine and the company paid between $50,000 and $250,000 per annum in compensation. But then during 1991/92 Bob Mellows’ biblical values were embraced and the accident rate dipped dramatically. By 1993 it dropped to practically zero and it has remained there since. Not surprisingly the cost of compensation also fell to almost zero.
Here we see a clear picture of how the values of Jesus work in the real world and a result when one person takes Jesus seriously and becomes salt and light in the community.
I wonder what would happen if all of us, inspired by the example of Bob Mellows, attempted something similar in our lives wherever we are – at work, home or school?
Stephen L Baxter

The Aussie Church – Can we survive our hostile enviroment?

The Australian outback is often described as harsh and unforgiving.
Many Christians Australian desertwould claim these words not only describe our land but also our spiritual environment.
Recently an acquaintance commented how friends of hers, newly emigrated from South Africa, were amazed at how ‘uncool’ it is to be a Christian in Australia and, further, how persistently the media engages in ‘church bashing’. In South Africa and many other nations, being a Christian does not have the stigma it carries in Australia.
Our cultural environment is unique. Anyone who aspires to be President of the United States must almost wear a badge which states, “I am a Christian”.
Obama FlierHowever, anyone who wants to be Prime Minister of Australia must hide their spirituality, saying, “It’s a private matter, so don’t ask me questions”. In fact, numbers of people who hold, or have held, positions of prominence in our country have related to me how the kingdom of God is often better served if they do not describe themselves as Christian.
Unhelpful stereotypes
That is not to say that our society is non-spiritual. Rather, it illustrates that spirituality, for Australians, is an embarrassing subject and that our culture has a limited range of images and metaphors it can use to express it. Even words such as ‘Christian’ and ‘church’ have all but lost their true usefulness and meaning; all they communicate are unhelpful stereotypes.
So how are believers responding to this uniquely hostile environment? Some act as if it is time to retreat into a ghetto – yet surely the appropriate response is to confront the challenge. This hostile Australian environment is as much a mission field as ever. The challenge we face is how to live as followers of Jesus in such a way that we communciate the gospel message to our fellow Australians.
To do this we need to live as missionaries within our own country. We need to adjust our mind-set, our language, our church lifestyles with its many forms and adapt to life in a hostile environment. It can be done. At different times throughout church history God’s people have worked hard in understanding their culture so that they can communicate the gospel to their communities.
Baptist churches across Greater Hobart have acknowledged the need to address these issues in a postive and proactive way. Our ‘2020 Vision’, to grow to 20 communities of faith with a total of 2000 people by 2020, is a way of expressing a hope that with God’s help we can transition into churches with mission, evangelism and church planting at the centre of all we do.
Will you pray that God will enable, not just Baptists to face these challenges with hope and courage, but Christians of all denominations throughout Hobart (and your locality)? Not only that, but will you pray that God raises up godly men and women to address these key issues and lead us through the necessary transitions?
Let’s look forward to seeing how God transforms his Church in Hobart and beyond!
Stephen L Baxter

“Has it Ever Occurred to You . . . ?”

There’s an old Peanuts comic strip where Snoopy is sitting on top of his kennel typing a manuscript. Walking by, Charlie Brown says, “I hear you are writing a book about theology. I hope you have a good title.”
“I have the perfect title,” says Snoopy thoughtfully. “Has it Ever Occurred to You that You Might Be Wrong?”
See the comic strip HERE.
It’s interesting, no matter how much we have read, thought, discussed or reflected upon truth, God’s truth is always greater. In fact, Jesus said he was the truth.
Despite the fact that only Jesus is truth, history records how often and how easy it is for some of God’s people to believe they have a monopoly on truth. Sadly, such a belief seems to breed an attitude of superiority and arrogance that lacks the graciousness to seriously consider another’s point of view. As Jonathan Swift, author of Gulliver’s Travels wrote, “There is none so blind as they that will not see.”
What is even sadder is how such close mindedness almost always brings division and discord between fellow Christians and churches.
Coming together
Last Sunday night, churches from many different denominations across Hobart gathered together, despite our differences, to celebrate our common core belief that Jesus is Lord and to pray for our city.
I have no doubt God is pleased when we make the effort to move past the things that divide and come together on the things that unify. We can do this in the midst of our diversity and I’m sure God enjoys it. All the  many different varieties of plants and animals God has created helps us appreciate how much he likes diversity. This is as true for the Church as it is for nature.
There are so many varieties of belief and practice, dress and singing, buildings and liturgy. It reminds me that Jesus prayed for unity, not unanimity. God likes our differences. In fact, in the same way that every person is unique, so too is every congregation that makes up the Church across the world.
Yet, with this diversity comes a complexity, and this complexity can be a source of great discomfort to many. We can easily be drawn to huddle together in like-minded groups for security and support. Now there is nothing wrong with joining together with others, but when the groups develop an “us” and “them” mentality where “we are right” and “they are wrong”, pain and disharmony often result.
Jesus calls us to unity. Such unity is not based on the way we worship or serve God, nor on the “purity” of our doctrine, but from our common commitment to Jesus as Lord. We are children of the same Father and are united by the same Spirit.
I pray that we will all continue to grow in our appreciation of the diversity of God’s people and that we will appreciate the breadth of God’s truth. There were close to 2,000 people present who made the effort to be part of the celebration on Sunday. And despite what might be a different cultural way of being church, we were nevertheless able to transcend the difference and worship our Lord together.
What’s your experience of coming together as Jesus’ Church?
Did you go you Church Together on Sunday? What was your response?
Stephen L Baxter

The Road to Success

Have you ever wondered what it is to be a successful Christian? In other words, what does it mean to be a successful follower of Jesus?
Solomon is arguably the most successful person in the Bible. In his life he achieved much, and gained honour, wealth, and a standing unequalled amongst kings. Yet Solomon, despite all this, concluded, “Everything is meaningless, utterly meaningless!” (Ecc 1:2)His final analysis, recorded in the book of Ecclesiastes, was that ultimately success proved unfulfilling.
In his autobiography, The Price of Success, JB Phillips, the Bible translator and essayist, 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 . . . 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.”
A life of worth
Phillips’s struggle with the effects of success is common to us all, including Jesus. After all, he was tempted in every way we are. Yet Jesus taught, “The life you save is the life you lose.” (My paraphrase of Mark 8:35) Not only did he teach it, he lived it. He had no money in the bank, and only a handful of followers at the end. He was, in terms of worldly success, a perfect fool and a failed (dead) messiah.
However, through the resurrection, Jesus was exonerated and vindicated by God. His life was and is an example for us all. He demonstrated that the life you guard, grasp and play safe with is the life that is of little worth to anyone, including you. This is the paradox he taught and demonstrated: those most fully alive are those who give their lives away.
The secret to success . . .
Solomon’s wealth and honour were gifts of God, a blessing Solomon did not expect or seek. In contrast, the assurance of a long and satisfying life was conditional on his following David’s example: walking in God’s ways and obeying him. Something he found difficult to do. In his sober moments, when Solomon centred his life on God, he concluded, “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13) When he wasn’t so clear, life was confusing and meaningless.

There is a secret to success and it is not about wealth, recognition or fame

We can learn from Solomon. There is a secret to success and it is not about wealth, recognition or fame. Successful living is relating to God, and living according to his words. This alone can produce true happiness, contentment and significance.
In our world dominated by individualism and consumerism, where advertising bombards us with promises of life, it is good to learn where true success lies from Jesus, the true source of life.
How has your success affected you?
Or in contrast, how much do you desire to be successful?

Stephen L Baxter