Do you ever get up uptight or defensive when there is a conversation about giving and generosity? In his second letter to the Corinthian church, Paul reminds them they had promised to collect money for believers in other places. He is asking them to make good on their promise and to do so as cheerful givers (2 Cor 9:7 NIV). Obviously there was the possibility they were not so happy to be reminded. By encouraging us to be cheerful givers, Paul implies our giving will always be accompanied by some sort of attitude and emotion. We can give cheerfully or reluctantly; we can give in freedom or under compulsion,;we can give with joy or with mourning.
Being cheerful givers is important, because it reflects something of God’s heart. It was he who gave his only Son willingly and with ultimate delight so that we might share in eternal life and enjoy life in all its abundance. God wants us to be like him in his giving so that we might share with him in and enjoy his life. Giving, in this sense, is not limited to money. It can be our time and our resources. It may be as simple as a smile or giving someone your full attention when they want to talk to you. How are you going? What is your current attitude to giving? Are you giving cheerfully, or is there some reluctance or grumbling sneaking into it? Are you trusting God for salvation, but struggling to trust him with your time and finances? For most, if not all of us, cheerful giving does not come naturally. Since sin entered the world, we all have a disposition towards selfishness and fear. It is easy to become protectors of what God has given us rather than . . . Read On >>>
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 >>>
In his longest recorded prayer as found in John 17, Jesus not only prays for his immediate 12 disciples, but for the many who would believe their message. And what was his prayer? Over and over and again he prays for their unity. “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23). What would happen in our churches if we all joined Jesus in his prayer? What would it mean for Hobart and Tasmania (or your town and region) if all churches, despite our differences, operated with the unity Jesus prayed for? The heartfelt nature of Jesus’ prayer calls attention to the reality that genuine fellowship among Christians is one of the most powerful tools for evangelism. Forward! >>>
“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 >>>
In a series of messages on revival the great Welsh preacher-teacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones turned to the end of Mark 9. Here Jesus comes off the mountain to find the disciples unsuccessfully trying to free a boy from a demon. After a quick rebuke, Jesus heals the boy and the disciples ask why they couldn’t do it. Jesus explains how this kind is only expelled by prayer. Lloyd-Jones suggested Jesus used this incident to teach his disciples a lesson: the ordinary, business-as-usual way of doing things, no longer worked. Different times calls for different measures. Using the story as an allegory, Lloyd-Jones suggested the boy represents contemporary Western culture; the demon is its underlying assumptions, and the disciples are the church. His conclusion was that our past methods of evangelism, while perfectly good for their time, no longer worked in today’s world. The world had changed. The old methods no longer applied. We are dealing with a different, difficult ‘spirit’. Although the Lloyd-Jones’ message was given in 1959, it is still relevant today. Read More >>>
It was the Christian German philosopher Georg Hegel (1770-1831) who wrote, “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.” It’s a brilliant paradoxical statement that contains two seemingly contradictory statements: we learn from history and we do not learn from history. Which is true? Well, actually, both. That’s the nature of paradox. It is a statement that consists of two truths laid side by side that appear self-contradictory or even absurd. Yet the statement itself is ultimately true. The Christian life is a life of paradox because there is much that is wonderfully mysterious about God. And a paradox is profound way of communicating that mystery. Jesus said, “All those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11) Paul wrote, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Now, how can you be humbled and exalted at the same time? And how can Paul be weak and strong at the same time? Don’t they cancel each other out? It’s the nature of paradoxes that when two true statements that contradict each other are combined the result is not a contradiction. Rather, in putting them together an even deeper truth is revealed. As physicist Neils Bohr affirmed, “The opposite of a true statement is a false statement, but the opposite of a profound truth can be another profound truth.” Read More >>>
Malcolm Muggeridge once asked, how do you boil a frog? His answer was not to drop it into a pot of hot water, as it will immediately jump out. Rather, you place it in a pot of cool water and gradually raise the temperature. Then the frog will remain in the increasingly hot water and die without even noticing.
Some suggest this is a good illustration of the church across the Western world. The world we live in has gradually changed and we have been caught unaware, and now, the situation is quite perilous. Across the media the church is often portrayed as irrelevant in contemporary Australian society. Christian views are seen as relics of a bygone era, out of step with the community and even downright dangerous to the future. That the majority of Australians still tick the Christian box in our Census is but a historical memory. The process of change, in areas such as science, technology, bureaucracy and the media, has pushed Christian ideas and ideals to the margins. Less than 10% of the population are ‘regular’ church goers (where regular means at least once a month), which leaves the vast majority of the 60% who nominate Christianity as their religion amongst those who regard the church as irrelevant. In response it is not surprising to find that the Church is often tempted to respond by striving all the harder to be relevant. We see it throughout the churches, in our worship, in our literature and in our architecture. Read On >>>
Did you know Christians were branded as atheists in ancient Rome? Whereas today an atheist is one who doesn’t believe in the existence of a god or gods, in those days an atheist was someone who did not participate in the public worship of the gods. In Rome, religion worship was a public affair; something akin to supernatural insurance. People believed religious activities placated the gods, not only to protect your against their wrath, but more importantly protected the empire. Those who did not participate were therefore a threat to the well-being of the community and to the Roman Republic. As a result they were ostracised, at times persecuted and widely known as atheists. Christians were among them. Refusing to join the public worship of the gods and choosing to exclusively worship their own God, Christians were misfits and rebels, and treated accordingly. It would seem strange to call a Christian an atheist in Australia today, and certainly Christians would be somewhat bemused. But in profound ways we are not too different from our brothers and sisters in the early church. Despite their protests, the worldview of today’s secularist is a strong faith/hope foundation very much akin to the religious views they ridicule. Read More >>>
There are many implications for Christians in the increasingly secular and Christophobic Australian culture. The decline in comprehensive, considered and constructive religious reporting in our media is but one of those. In accepting the Ridley Marketplace Institute and ETHOS Faith and Work Awards earlier this year, recently retired Age journalist, Barney Zwartz, lamented that the time is fast approaching when religion “will mostly be ignored in the news columns… and that will accelerate wider society’s dissociation and ignorance.” In many ways his insights reflect an ignorance already at work in our community. Most Australians think of Christianity as outmoded and irrelevant to modern society, yet despite this 60% of them still tick the “Christian” box on Census night. Strangely they are willing to criticise Christianity while at the same time continue to label themselves Christian. Such an ironic contradiction illustrates just how ignorant Australians are of what it means to be a Christian and to follow Christ. The typical stereotyping of Christianity as a white, male, European, English speaking religion also adds to the misunderstanding. The reality is quite different. Read More >>>