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

Work by faith for the glory of God

One of Martin Luther’s more provocative statements goes like this: “…the farmer in the field, or the farmer’s wife in the farmhouse, if they are doing their work by faith for the glory of God, are fulfilling as high and holy a calling as the pastor in the pulpit.”
Brother Lawrence said something similar thing in his book The Practice of the Presence of God where he determined to make sure he saw the presence of God in his kitchen as well as the church. His simple daily prayer was, “Lord of all pots and pans and things…make me a saint by getting meals and washing up the plates.”
Every Christian is called. ‘Calling’ is God’s way of expressing his will for each and everyone of us. We are all called to be saved, it is God’s desire “that no one perish, but everyone come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) We are also called to grow in discipleship, love of each other, and move onto maturity.
When we respond to his call it is an act of faith, belief and obedience. Each of us has a choice. We can choose to live ordinary lives, doing ordinary things, in ordinary ways without any extraordinary sense of purpose. Or, we can choose to invest time, talent and treasure in being obedient to God’s will and direction in our lives no matter what the task and how simple it seems.
This was one of the great rediscoveries of the Protestant Reformation: it doesn’t matter what you do or who you are, when God calls you he calls you to a life of serving him. It doesn’t matter what it is, it is whether we do it faithfully and lovingly that matters.
This is both an encouragment and challenge to us all. We can ask ourselves, is my life lived by faith for the glory of God? We can easily discount what we do just because it doesn’t seem significant, big, or spiritual enough. But we need to be reminded that anything we do, whether it is at work, at home, at school, voluntary or not, can be the highest and holiest of calls.
As you live this coming week, let me encourage you to talk it over with God. You may be surprised that he sees what you do in a very different way. Perhaps you work for the glory God in a way you hadn’t previously considered!

Stephen L Baxter

The Diversity of Jesus’ Church – in India!

Back in 1990, Jenny and I with our three young children and nine eager fellow travellers set out for a short term mission trek visiting our sister church which worked in the slums of Chennai (then called Madras). Chennai is in the province of Tamil Nadu, and is famous for its curries and very dark-skinned inhabitants.  [googlemaps http://maps.google.com.au/maps?oe=utf-8&client=firefox-a&q=madras&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Chennai,+Tamil+Nadu,+India&gl=au&ll=13.060422,80.249583&spn=10.580958,21.643066&t=h&z=6&output=embed&w=425&h=350]
For six weeks we shared life with our Indian brothers and sisters in Christ. It was there we learnt about the diversity of God’s church in ways we could never have imagined. It was a confronting, uncomfortable and challenging time; yet it was nevertheless an encouraging and life-changing experience.
On Sundays we sat on the floor through 2½ hour long services, with women on the right and men on the left, in humid, sweltering conditions. Most of the time we had little or no idea what was going on as men prayed and preached and women sang and wailed. We watched as the pastor prayed for Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists and Christians alike and then asked us to join in.

Dance in Worship
Two of our group in ‘half-saris’ (worn by older teen girls) dancing to a worship song as learnt at home. They are dancing surrounded by the women’s half of the congregation.

As leaders, one of our main tasks was to counsel our team as they experienced culture shock, and guide them to a godly and biblical way to understand the gulf of differences that existed between the Indians and us. The way they lived their Christian life, their theology and practice of church was something we had never encountered or experienced before.
We often pined for home, yet we learnt so much during those six weeks and it was sad when we came to leave. While their church services seemed so disordered, often leaving us confused and uncomfortable, we could not deny the reality that God was at work amongst them, despite our disquiet and questions.
As I look back now I think it was the first time I realised that despite what I’d assumed, the opposite of disorder is not order, or certainly not my idea of order. When things are uncomfortable, confusing and seemingly out of hand, I look for stability in what I know and what I experience. But living in Chennai  that was impossible, there was no escape. I couldn’t walk away, I couldn’t withdraw. After all, I was the leader.
Friends
Jenny with our three children and some Indian friends

What God taught me was that peace is the opposite of disorder, not order. The apostle Paul says as much in a little verse in 1 Corinthians where he says, “God is not a God of disorder, but of peace” (14:33). What a simple but profound statement, written to what was most likely the most dysfunctional church of the New Testament. Here was snobbery, sexual promiscuity, over-enthusiastic expression of spirituality, and disorderly times of worship. The church was divided and confused, and in the midst of their disarray Paul reminds them of the importance of peace, after all Jesus is the King of Peace (Hebrews 7:2) and the angels announcedat his birth that he would bring “peace on earth.”
Preaching
Here I am preaching at 2am at the New Year’s Eve all night prayer vigil!

The lessons I learnt in Chennai served me well just a few years later when I became the Managing Director of Australia’s largest Christian magazine at the time (On Being magazine). Through the magazine I came in contact with people with quite a wide diversity of experiences and expressions in following Jesus. I had the privilege of meeting and interviewing Christians from all persuasions and walks of life. Some were more conservative even fundamental, some were liberal, some charismatic and Pentecostal, some were orthodox and some unorthodox. Many thought their way of being and doing church was the “right” way, and some really struggled to appreciate the uniqueness of each other’s gifts, heritage and experience.
However, I found the experience of learning about all this variety was rich and rewarding. I was constantly reminded of God’s love of diversity and the how body of Christ is made up people from different backgrounds, heritage and experience. Such a range in understanding is not a problem to God, and I learnt that it shouldn’t be a problem to me either.
This is one of the things I find delightful about Hobart Baptist. We are made up of three quite distinct and different congregations. In essence it is a small expression of the diversity of the body of Christ. Alongside our more traditional Baptist heritage, we have our Karen congregation and their experience of church, living in refugee camps on the Thai-Burmese border. And alongside these we have Church With No Walls expressing their faith in God in different ways again.
I am constantly encouraged by the willingness of people to work at being one church in the midst of our diversity, endeavouring to encourage one another through the exercise of grace, forgiveness and love. Despite our differences we are to work at being united, and in doing so be obedient to the command of Jesus. On the night before he died Jesus prayed for us (John 14-17) and insisted that as disciples we demonstrate our unity by our love for one another.
That is not to say we agree on everything, in fact the reality is we don’t. But we can agree to be united despite our differences. Often Christians make the mistake of wanting other Christians to think the way they do. Still others believe everyone should worship or work the way they do. But we were made to be different – different gifts but the same Spirit, different services but the same Lord, different ministries but the same God (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). The Bible is clear: we are called to unity but not uniformity.
Unity is not about having big services with all the congregations together, nor is unity singing the same songs and doing everything the same way. That is conformity or sameness. Such uniformity is unbiblical.
How is it possible to live with such diversity? I believe unity is a journey, not a static point. Our focus is not order (although that maybe important) but peace. Why? Because we can experience peace even in the midst of disorder or when we feel uncomfortable. Unity is being united in purpose and allowing each other to get on with what they are called to. We may sing different songs, conduct our services differently and see the world differently, but what is important is that we all reach for the same goal. We want to see each other’s ministries flourish; we therefore pray for each other and help out wherever we can. This is unity! That is what God taught Jenny and me in India.
We discovered God is much bigger than our experience, our theology and our ability to understand. Our thinking was too small at the best of times. Once we relaxed and experienced peace, we were able to see God at work in new ways, and learnt to appreciate their “dis”-order in a new way.
We learnt that we can’t limit God to our comfort zone and say, “God, I only want you to work in what I’m comfortable with.” We learnt that Jesus is not a comfortable Saviour, and if we were looking for comfort we need to look elsewhere than Jesus. So despite the fact that Jesus is the Prince of Peace, it did not mean he was the Prince of Comfort. And although the Holy Spirit is called the comforter the Spirit’s job is not to make us comfortable.
God has not finished with Hobart Baptist Church, there is much more that the triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – desires for us. And if God is at work amongst us, we can guarantee that the journey will be uncomfortable and challenging; for me as well as you. Our assurance is that God is with us, and Jesus, the Prince of Peace, is our Saviour.
I encourage you to be at prayer for the various forms of the Church in Hobart and elsewhere. Pray also for those who are experiencing a sense of disorder wehre they are; that they may seek God’s peace, the peace that passes understanding; and that they may grow in love for others despite differences.
Stephen L Baxter

Australia and NZ Stop — ANZAC Day memories

WWI Charge
On the battlefront during WWI

This week I was taken again by the outpouring of emotion we see each year as Australia stops for Anzac Day.
The evening news bulletin showed men and women, young and old, taking the pilgrimage to Gallipoli with one grown man declaring it was the most significant day of his life. That the commemoration endures, when not so long ago that some declared it was about to die, could point to a hunger for spirituality that remains for many Australians.
Biblical scholar, and former Bishop of Durham Tom Wright, suggests spirituality is something like a hidden spring that continues to bubble up despite our materialism and secularism. Australian social commentator Hugh Mackay seems to say similar in his book What Makes us Tick —The Ten Desires That Drive Us, where our “desire for something to believe in” makes his list. He writes that regardless of the debates “about the possible meanings of ‘God’… there is a powerful human desire to believe in something in the realm of the non-material.” Although people are attracted to memorialising Anzac Day for many reasons, it could be that for some it is this hunger for spirituality that we see at work. It is interesting to ponder why this is might be so.
Despite the enduring popularity of Anzac Day, there are those who are not drawn into its commemorations. Many a returned soldier has never marched preferring to bury the past and allow nothing, not even Anzac Day, resurrect the memories and the trauma. As one reflected recently, “I don’t like Anzac Day, my father returned from war an alcoholic, he was a gentleman sober, but violent when drunk.”
Post traumatic stress, as we now call it, didn’t have a name then and was never diagnosed at the time. Australia lost many young men in both WWI and WWII, but not only on the battlefield. There were too many who returned physically and or mentally wounded. The scars of war are still carried today by wives, sons, daughters and grandchildren.
There are others, who despite the scars of war, stop on Anzac Day to remember family members and the prices they paid. Without idealising war, they remember in the midst of their pain. They are confronted with the futility of war, but thankful for the giving of lives in the hope of making for a better world.
This perhaps comes closer to the ‘spirit’ of the Anzac. Although not commonly acknowledged, the diaries and the stories of the first Anzacs reveal how faith and religion were part of Gallipoli with many finding comfort in Scripture, song and prayer as they confronted the possibility of dying.
Then as Australians began to erect war memorials across our country in every rural town, they found inspiration from Jesus and quoted in King James English with Jesus’ words, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Even at our modern Anzac Day commemorations we still sing the old hymns as we search to find reverence and meaning in our services.
Perhaps here is the spiritual link—the giving of oneself for others. Anzac Day commemorates what others did on our behalf and every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we commemorate what Jesus did for us. Perhaps it is here that Easter and Anzac Day overlap and why Australians find Anzac Day strangely moving and spiritual.
Have you ever attend an Anzac Day March? What was your experience? Did it make you stop and think?
I’d be keen to know your thoughts!
Stephen L Baxter