Every Christmas and Easter, one of my duties as State Leader for Tasmanian Baptists is to write a short reflection for the Mercury Newspaper.
My earliest memories of Christmas are a jumble of excitement, carol singing, presents, meals with the extended family and trotting off to church. My grandfather led the choir there and his baritone solos had won him many a competition.
Aged about five, I was taken to hear Handel’s Messiah because Dad was singing in it. I remember going to sleep half way through only to be woken for the Hallelujah chorus. I promptly went back to sleep again! Despite this, or perhaps because of it, I’m deeply moved by the chorus and the carols.
The book of Philippians is sometimes called “The Epistle of Joy”. JOY. We don’t really know how to define it, but we know that we like it and many of us spend most of our lives trying to find it. We look for joy in our jobs, in relationships, in temporary pleasure. But at the end of the day, all these things will fall short. They will leave us empty and unfulfilled and we start looking somewhere new the find our joy. But as believers, we have never-ending access to the most powerful source of true joy. In his spiritual biography appropriately entitled “Surprised by Joy”, C.S. Lewis says joy moved him more than anything else.
He writes, “No one who has ever experienced it would ever exchange it for all the happiness in the world.”
Lewis distinguished Joy from both pleasures and happiness. Happiness is a fleeting emotion based on external circumstances. But true joy is different – it is something that comes from within. It’s a deep abiding peace and sense of contentment and strength that is due to something internal. Joy is deep in the heart, in the spirit, in the essence of our being. The way to pleasure is power. The way to happiness is happenstance. The way to Joy is Jesus. During April and May the sermon series at Hobart Baptist Church focuses on the gift of joy. By studying Philippians we’ll be surprised by the counter-intuitive, supernatural nature of joy. This joy is something no circumstance can give you, and no circumstance can ever take away. You can catch up with the sermons by clicking HERE Please let me know if you learn some new insights, or are encouraged by any of the sermons! Stephen L Baxter
Greetings to all as another year begins! The start of every year is often one full of anticipation for many people. It presents a moment of opportunity for a fresh beginning, a chance to start over, and a hope for a better year. While New Year’s resolutions may not be for everyone, for most of us there lurks in the back of our mind a list of things we would like to do better. Whether we want to ‘turn over a new leaf’ or ‘start from scratch’, looking ahead to the coming year is like a blank canvass stretched out before us. There are 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days, or 8,750 hours full of opportunity and promise waiting to be explored. Sometimes our hopes for the New Year are born of disappointments, grief or pain from the past. Sometimes they are born of dreams, visions or the hopes for ourselves or others. Others times they come from the promptings of our heart through the Spirit of God or God’s word to us from the Bible. Though the Bible doesn’t mention New Year resolutions, it does urge us to examine our lives regularly. The call to “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) reminds us how difficult it can be in the midst of a noisy world to find the space to connect with God. Yet Paul encouraged the Corinthians to “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith” (2 Cor 13:5) and Lamentations suggests we “examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord” (Lam 3:40). And Jesus often withdrew to isolated places to reflect and prayerfully discern the Father’s will (Lk 5:16). Perhaps you could take some timeout this January to sit quietly, reflect on your life and spend time with God. Here’s some thoughts to help you on your way . . . Read more >>>
The shepherds must have been quite overwhelmed and awestruck that night when the heavenly host gathered to praise God proclaiming, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests” (Luke 2:14). A quick reflection on world events over the past 12 months reveals the world still needs peace as much now as ever. In every nation and every community there is much pain and suffering, sorrow and injustice, sickness, violence and poverty. We long for peace, and not just any peace. We long for a peace greater than just the end of hostilities, but one where justice is done and the human heart is changed. Sixty years ago, during the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, American Baptist pastor, Martin Luther King Jr, proclaimed, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.” This is the peace the world needs and it is the peace the angels sang about. Yet, such a peace is hard to come by. Even in my own life I find it uncomfortably easy to slip from peace to hostility. Read On >>>
Writing in The Mercury’s TasWeekend recently (Nov 14), columnist Charles Wooley commented, “That’s the principle of the separation of church and state. To be less highfalutin, I think that just as we try to keep politics out of sport, our politicians should try to keep religion out of politics. It’s annoying to the large numbers who don’t share their particular faith and, besides, it only makes politicians look stupid.”
Wooley’s view no doubt reflects what many Tasmanians think, although how many it is hard to say. It is hardly an original suggestion and rather clichéd, yet in today’s society, it is somewhat naïve. Despite what some might believe, the Australian constitution does not preclude religion in politics. What it does stipulate is that “The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion” and “The Commonwealth shall not make any law … for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion”. The aim is to ensure no one denomination or religion becomes the official national church, and no person, no matter what their religious belief, will be barred from participating because of their religion. This is freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. The argument that religion has no place in politics stands on a fallacy and an assumption secularism is somehow “value neutral”, while religion remains “value charged”. Read More >>>
Slowly, subtly, and almost unnoticed it happens to the best of churches. It is detectable in churches in the Bible; it is found in churches across Australia.
Quietly we drift away from our core calling. Rather than focusing outwardly into the world of the lost, the lonely and the broken, we gaze inwardly at each other. Rather than caring and praying for those who don’t know Jesus, we spend our time and money caring for ourselves. Church members and church buildings become our focus. Jesus called his disciples to go and make disciples. We are all called to be missionaries. Wherever we live or work or go to school that is the focus of our mission. For those of us who live in Australia, that means being a missionary right here. Here in Tasmania, and within the denomination of which I am a part, regaining a healthy mission focus in our churches is the heart of Tasmanian Baptists’ desire to be a “mission shaped movement”. It’s not as easy as it might sound. Once a church has become inwardly focused, there is a tendency to cling to the traditional ways of doing things and change becomes difficult, sometimes seemingly impossible. Quite often the process of refocusing a church outwardly, and bringing mission to its heart, is a very painful process. The tension between adopting new strategies for mission and maintaining . . . Read More >>>
It’s been suggested one of the most important things you do in life is decide what’s important in life – who you are and what you do. It is as true for followers of Jesus as it is for anyone. As we choose to embrace the values of the Kingdom of God our lives change forever. In fact, so radical is the resulting transformation that Jesus described it as a re-birth.
Following Jesus is like starting life all over again. It is seeing everything in life from a totally new perspective. It changes our priorities and what’s important in our lives. These new values come from our relationship with Jesus Christ, by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and through our reading of the Bible. Although some values develop quickly, others take years, perhaps decades, to develop. Churches have values too. Along with our beliefs, there are the guiding principles to the way we live life together. No matter the breadth of our diversity, our individual expertise, our backgrounds or our culture, the church operates on a set of values that determine the way we relate to each other and the world around us. Sometimes we are not be aware what our values are, however a good look at the choices we make and the way we live will reveal them. Read More >>>
Last week Karl Faase, Australian Christian communicator, media presenter, and social commentator, was in Hobart speaking at Family Voice events. The former senior pastor of Gymea Baptist, is well informed about the challenges faced by the church in Australia today. Faase suggested that the average Christian attending church regularly on a Sunday has lost confidence in what they believe. The sad result is an unwillingness, even an inability, to engage in conversations about Christianity during the week. However, he encouraged Christians not to be silenced by the media’s caricature of the irrelevancy of Christianity, its heralding of the Church’s demise and its increasing hostility both. Rather, he said, it is time to regain hope in the gospel and boldness in our proclamation. “We need to move from fearful silence to positive engagement.” Citing research by Olive Tree Media (his company) and McCrindle Research, Faase explained how Australians show significant “warmth” to Christianity contrary to what is commonly assumed. When asked, “What best describes your current beliefs and attitude towards Christianity?” 25%, who don’t consider themselves as Christians, are warm towards Christianity. This is on top of the 33% who described themselves as Christian (whether they are or not is another matter). What this shows is that nearly 60% of Australians have an open stance towards Christianity and are willing to talk about it. Read more >>>
“What is a Christian?” asks J. I. Packer in his book “Knowing God.” His response may surprise you. Although he agrees the question can be answered many ways he suggests, “the richest answer I know is that a Christian is one who has God as Father. Over the past couple of months at in our Sunday services at Hobart Baptist Church we have been exploring the wonder that God is our Father and we can call him ‘Dad’. In fact this is what makes the Bible’s New Testament so profound. In it we learn how the Creator of the universe wants to relate to us in very special and intimate way – as Father and children (John 1:12-13). The Bible is very clear: not every person is a child of God. Sure, we are all made in God’s image, but that does not make us children of God. The Old Testament talks about God as Father but only to Israel as a nation and to their kings when they are crowned. Even in the New Testament it is only those who put their trust in Jesus Christ and confess their short comings that have the right to become children of God. Being a child of God is not a universal right; it is a supernatural gift. This is what the New Testament is talking about when it says we are adopted. Read On >>>
Recently I have been leading a men’s discussion group studying a biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. Bonhoeffer was a German theologian and pastor who spoke out against the political developments in his country in the 1930s. He saw grave danger in the rise of Führer cult which merged the two Nazi ideals of a militarized state and a utopian world base on the Aryan “super race”. The joining of these forces resulted in a world war with the death of millions, the Jewish holocaust, and the devastation of a continent. In the years before the Third Reich gained ultimate power, Bonhoeffer saw the magnitude of the threat long before others. He spoke up with courage, becoming being ridiculed even amongst church colleagues. When he dared question Hitler’s assurances, he was painted an alarmist. In response he wrote, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” The eighth of May this year was the 70th year anniversary of the surrender of Germany which ended World War II in Europe. While the world has seen progress in many areas since, wars continue to rage across the world. No matter where they are, nations still engage in conflicts and remain vulnerable to rule by totalitarian administrations. Even in Australia there is evidence of totalitarian tendencies. Read more >>>