Last Thursday a small team from Hobart Baptist flew out of Hobart on a short trip to Thailand. We are visiting areas where our Karen folk (pronounced with emphasis on the 2nd syllable) have come from, and spend time with cross cultural workers Jan and Jit Yawan. The weather is good in Thailand just now. The wet season finished three weeks ago and the temperature hovers around 35 C (95 F) during the day. Yes, quite a bit warmer than Tasmania! There are seven on the team: four of the Karen congregation, including their two leaders, all travelling on new Aussie passports; and three Australian born participants including myself.
Back in June 2011 after a six month process of prayer, discussion and reflection, the church adopted a Strategic Directions paper for the following three years. It included a goal to organise a short term mission trip to areas where our Karen folk are from. It is exciting to see that now, less than two and a half years later, it has become a reality. Read More >>>
. . . OR, A Divine Game of Chasey During the Sunday sermons at Hobart Baptist, we are currently making our way through the book of Acts and I keep emphasising how amazed I am at the number of times God takes action and the church plays ‘catch up’. Time and time again the Holy Spirit intervenes taking the initiative in the Christian community and the people have to adjust to the new thing happening. The story of Acts is the story of the forming of the church. The reason I believe it is important for us to study Acts is so we recognise when God is at work in our church and in our community. And more than that, so that we’ll be ready to “catch up” with what God is doing.
In his book, The Continuing Conversion of the Church, Darrell Gudermakes the compelling point that transformation (his word is conversion) should be the constant experience of the church. If the church is obedient to its Lord, it will continually experience transformation. Why? Because the church exists for God’s purpose and it is God who is at work within and amongst her to achieve these purposes. Years ago the German theologian, Karl Barth, made the comment: “There is a Church because there is a mission.” I said something similar last Sunday (June 17) when I suggested, “The church does not have a mission, instead, God’s mission has a church.” This is significant. The church will continue to experience transformation not because we want change, nor just because we live in a changing world, but because the church does not exist for itself.
The church was brought into existence with a purpose, and that purpose remains because God is at work achieving his purposes.
This is the importance of the book of Acts for us. It gives insight into what it means to be the church called into existence for the purpose of God. Sadly, a quick look at church history reveals we haven’t always been good at keeping this focus. Time and time again we get drawn into worrying about our survival rather than focussing on what God is doing in bringing the “kingdom” to earth. In fact, there are hints of this even in the New Testament. Guder remarks: “Whereas the early Christian community was established by Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit to be a missionary people sent into the entire world as salt, light and leaven, it began to be concerned with its identity, structure and survival.” As a result the perception of the gospel changed. The focus of salvation was no longer on the coming of the “kingdom” but upon meeting individual human needs. The same temptation is no less real for us today. Living in a consumer based, individualistic world it is easy to drift into believing salvation is all about my needs, my desires, and my wants focusing on what happens after death. The gospel is that, but it is far more. Being saved is being caught up in God’s big plan to bring salvation to planet earth as well as all the people who live on it. As Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10) The church’s focus is not about my salvation, but about God’s big rescue at work in and through his church. So here the challenges before you and me as we seek to live faithfully:
Are we going to allow the significant issues we face as a church (locally, but also across our state and nation) cause us to focus on matters such as “identity, structure and survival”; OR will we learn from Acts and ask God for the revelation, insight, illumination and wisdom to perceive what it is God is doing?
Will you and I allow ourselves to be caught up in God’s purposes; OR will we focus on our own needs?
Will you and I pray, “Lord, save us”; OR “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”?
My prayer is that during your journey through Acts you will be encouraged and inspired to “catch up” with the things God doing in your church, in your family and in your community. Stephen L Baxter