Money, Money, Money – Must be Funny!

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.

"We value growing by encouraging each other"

“Cheerful giving is important, because it reflects something of God’s heart.”

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 . . .

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Executed?! That’s Not Fair!

After months of letters, appeals and pleas from citizens, lawyers and parliamentarians, including Australia’s Foreign and Prime Minister, the UN General Secretary Ban Ki-Moon, the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference, and Amnesty International, the Bali Nine ringleaders, Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan, were executed nearly two weeks ago by Indonesian authorities.

 Bali Nine members (top L-R) Myuran Sukumaran, Andrew Chan and Martin Eric Stephens, 2nd row (from L-R) Chen Si Yi, Tach Duc Thanh Nguyen and Matthew Norman, and 3rd row (from L-R) Scott Rush, Michael Czugaj and Renae Lawrence. Picture: Supplied Source: News Limited

Bali Nine members (top L-R) Myuran Sukumaran, Andrew Chan and Martin Eric Stephens, 2nd row (from L-R) Chen Si Yi, Tach Duc Thanh Nguyen and Matthew Norman, and 3rd row (from L-R) Scott Rush, Michael Czugaj and Renae Lawrence. Picture: Supplied Source: News Limited

In response, the Australian Government recalled its ambassador to Jakarta, the Australian Federal Police responded to criticism of their actions, and the Australian Catholic University created two “Mercy Scholarships” to be awarded annually to international students from Indonesia. It was a national outpouring of grief, regret and outrage, with Prime Minister Tony Abbott describing the executions as “cruel and unnecessary“.

Although some maintain that Chan and Sukumaran got exactly what they deserved, most Australians have responded in anger at Indonesia’s refusal to consider clemency. We were not happy with the way they were treated.

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The Heavy Toll of Christian Persecution

The recent massacre of Christian students in Kenya by Islamic militants was another gruesome reminder of the increasing persecution of Christians around the world.

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Keeping an eye on persecution globally

According to Open Doors USA, “2014 will go down in history for having the highest level of global persecution of Christians in the modern era.” Open Door predicts it will only get worse.

In its annual World Watch List, Open Doors identifies the top 50 countries where Christians face intense persecution. It takes many forms including torture, imprisonment, loss of home or assets, rape and death. Each month, on average 322 Christians are killed for their faith, 214 properties (churches or Christian homes) are destroyed and 722 acts of violence are committed.

Estimates are that over 100 million Christians are persecuted worldwide, making us the most persecuted religious group in the world, with Islamic extremism being the main source in 40 of the 50 countries on the list.

Last week, on April 14, it was one-year since the kidnapping of 276 girls from Chibok, Nigeria. They remain in rebel custody and little is known about their whereabouts or their circumstances. A small number who managed to escape from the Boko Haram camp reported being raped almost daily and that some have been killed because they refused to renounce their Christian faith.

Dr. Stephen Davis, an Australian negotiating to secure their release, says, “I have visited many villages and towns attacked by Boko Haram. I have seen firsthand the devastation and talked to families in the attacks. These are tragic stories of loss of life, slaughter, rape and the worst abuses of human life one can imagine.”

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Crucify Him!

As Christians we are perhaps more familiar than most with the slow and painful execution by crucifixion.

Invented by the Persians around 300 BC and perfected by the Romans by 100 BC, crucifixion describes the process where a convicted criminal is tied or nailed to a large wooden cross and left to hang until dead.the-crown-of-divine-grace1[1]

Did you know that the word ‘excruciating’ comes from the Latin, ‘to crucify’? It means pain like the pain of crucifixion, which is variously described as unbearable, severe and excessive mental and physical pain. It is believed to be the most painful death ever invented. Shockingly, it is used by ISIS in the Middle East today.

In Roman days, the condemned were usually stripped naked, nails were then driven through the wrists and just below the ankles, ropes provided reinforcement to tie the arms to the crossbeam, and then they are raised on the cross to hang. Although this process alone would cause severe pain and blood loss, it was not normally be the cause of death. With crucifixion, people die by suffocation.

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Forgiving the Unforgivable

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Rwanda is the land-locked country marked in orange

At Hobart Baptist we are currently in the middle of a series of messages on forgiveness, and how important it is not only for the church, but for society to be a forgiving community.

More often than not forgiveness is not easy and quite costly. This is certainly the case for the communities that were caught up in the genocide of 20 years ago that claimed an estimated 800,000 in Rwanda.

Now, two decades later, organisations such as World Vision and AMI (Association Modeste et Innocent) are still at work endeavouring to bring healing through reconciliation and forgiveness.

Australian John Steward first arrived in Rwanda in 1997 to manage a peace building and reconciliation program for World Vision. Now after 19 visits he has seen the program, based on the value of forgiveness, cautiously grow bringing a level of healing to communities once destroyed by hate.

Upon arriving he saw people, “full of fear, struggling to get food – frantic to get jobs, dislocated and separated from their communities.” Although the government was looking for justice and the church preached forgiveness, the message was too hard to hear because people were hurt and traumatised.

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Everyone Is Welcome!

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Tactile paving in Nagoya

It’s my belief that it is getting more difficult for Christians to live in our community which is founded on Christian values yet increasingly rejects the God of Christianity. We have much to learn about living in such an environment.

While on holidays recently, walking around Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hiroshima, Jenny and I became increasingly aware of the yellow tiles with raised patterns, about 30cm square, running along almost all footpaths. In shopping malls and railway stations, on footpaths above and underground arcades below, there they were again. We’ve seen them in Hobart, but not in such abundance. They tiles are for the blind so they can find their way. Using their stick to run across the patterns,they can navigate their way around.

It’s perhaps one thing our world should be commended for – giving attention and care to the disadvantaged in our community, in this instance the blind. Yet, while it should be applauded most people are totally unaware that this valuing of all people is part of our community because of its Christian heritage.

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Life! In All Its Fullness

Jenny and I had a wonderful two weeks in Japan despite the heat and humidity, because of course, it is the middle of summer there in August.

Towards the end of our time we were sitting on the cool second floor of the Starbuck’s overlooking Shibuya crossing, Tokyo – a five way intersection with a pedestrian-only segment in the cycle. Some say is the busiest crossing in the world. Up to 3,000 people walk across at any one time and an estimated half a million people every day. That’s more than double the population of greater Hobart. But it’s not so surprising, when you consider Tokyo’s population of 13.35 million people.

As we sat watching a series of traffic light cycles, with thousands of people swarming across, I wondered what they might have been thinking. Most of them, no doubt, were just going about their normal lives made up of the same things I do: eating, sleeping, working, playing, raising children, caring for loved ones, carrying burdens, worrying about the future and so on. Some were possibly racing to their next appointment, others were lost in a daydream and most were using their smart phone in one way or another.

In that moment I found myself marveling at the wonder of life itself.

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Mothers: Not taking them for granted

Wikipedia tells us, not surprisingly “that Mother’s Day has the highest number of phone calls.”

Interestingly, “the most collect calls are made on Father’s Day.” Obviously dads can pay. On Mother’s Day yesterday, many people rang their mothers or sent cards or even took them out for a meal or something similar.

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“On Mother’s Day many people ring their mothers or send cards or even take them out for a meal”

Although it is not a biblical day and many are discouraged by the commercialism of Mother’s Day, God calls us to honour our parents. Anytime that happens is surely a good thing, even if people are unaware they are following God’s desire.

This often happens the world over where people embrace a good thing unaware that God, the Creator, has already said we should do it. God is always at work in the world and in people’s lives even if they are totally unaware of it.

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Welcome Home!

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Jenny with our three children and some Indian friends

Although our trip to India was many years ago now, one of the strongest impressions that remains with Jenny and me is the experience of being welcomed into the home of people much poorer than we were and treated as special guests.

More than once, people gave from the little they had to serve a meal fit only for dignitaries. Their hospitality was a great blessing that changed our lives.

A quick look at church history shows how hospitality has always had a central place when the church has engaged well with its community. Throughout history faithful followers of Jesus have welcomed others into their lives, homes and churches and demonstrated the love of Christ in practical ways.

In the Bible hospitality is focused on . . .

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Australia: The Land of the Long Weekend . . . But why?

When the first convicts stepped onto Australian soil they faced the harsh realities of a strange land far from the familiarities of home. Dispossessed and disinherited this disparate and unlikely collection of soldiers and convicts met these unwelcomed challenges by doing all they could to dampen their effects.

Gambling, alcohol, sport and illicit sex became standard obsessions, becoming the foundation of a new nation that slowly grew out of the penal settlement. The “pursuit of pleasure” had “become the highest value and the avoidance of suffering the most vital of stratagems, in Australian life” (Ronald Conway, The Great Australian Stupor, 1985).

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Material Wealth = Pleasure = Happiness = Reason for Living

Given the beginnings of white settlement in Australia it is not hard to see why following Jesus has never been attractive in our country. “The greatest happiness of the greatest number” is the axiom we live by. As Ronald Conway puts it, “Material Wealth = Pleasure = Happiness = Reason for Living.”

So despite the lament many Christians voice over the decline of Christianity in Australia the reality is there was never much of any size to decline from. While the winds of culture may throw up great numbers of “Sunday Christians” from time to time there is little evidence to suggest a deep and practical faith has been in practice by more than a small minority.

The majority of Australians practice a form of “utilitarianism.” It proposes that in any situation the worth of an action is to be determined by its outcome, and the outcome is measured in maximising happiness and reducing suffering. Australians are not unique in this, in fact utilitarianism is the default moral position in the Western world, but it does take on a rugged and confident form within Australian culture which is often the envy of many across the world.

Given the strength of these elements in Australian culture it is no wonder that the Christian way of life has always been seen as somewhat irrelevant and inhibiting. The caricature of the church is that it declares evil all those things Australians desire for pleasure. Its concern is not conversion, but conformity. As a result the church has been pushed to the periphery, declared out of touch, and discarded as a dangerous relic from the past.

While Pontius Pilate asks, “what is truth?”, Australians ask, “will it work?”

Here is a clash of world views. While Pontius Pilate asks, “what is truth?”, Australians ask, “will it work?”, and we Christians will ask, “what is faithful?” We are called to be witnesses to the love of God and the compassion of Jesus. We are called to the task of reconciliation (2 Cor 4). However, as we endeavour to do this it is not surprising we have to reject the Australian pursuit of happiness as the main goal and objective of our lives; despite how tempting and attractive it might look for us Australians.

In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus prayed that we are to be in the world we are but not of it (Jn 17:15, 16). Our task is to live a ‘counter’ cultural life. We do not look to the world for suggestions as to how we are to be the church; we look to Jesus and the work of his Spirit. We are not surprised when the world around us finds us strange and threatening. That is not to say that we give up trying to relate. Rather that we do not ask the question of others “will it work?” but switch to asking, “what is faithful?”

May God grant to us his church the strength, grace and will that Jesus had; and the ability to live fully in this world as his witnesses even when our communities, work colleagues, school mates and even family members struggle to understand us.

Stephen L Baxter