Oh Those ‘Atheistic’ Christians!

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.Colloseum

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.

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Our Challenge: to be IN it, but not OF it

Crowd

“The question of how the church relates to the surrounding culture . . . was ever before them”

Throughout the centuries Christians have constantly wrestled with what it means to live as Christ’s followers in societies and communities that are morally and culturally challenging to their faith.

Even at the beginning, when small, fledgling churches were first established across the Roman world, Christians were surrounded by a pagan culture filled with mystery cults, mysticism, philosophical debate and speculation. The New Testament is full of letters to these churches, letters aimed at helping these Christian communities navigate how they are to follow Christ each in their particular context. The question of how the church relates to the surrounding culture and how the surrounding culture affects the church was ever before them.

These questions remain with us today. In our (post) modern culture we are surrounded with tsunami-like changes spanning across a wide range of religious, secular and scientific thought. Our faith is constantly being challenged and we are prompted to wonder just how we are to live in and relate to the culture in which we live.

Historically the church’s response has swung between two extremes: on the one hand capitulation/accommodation and on the other, separation. Neither of them is biblical.               Read on >>>

Living BEYOND the difficulties

Our Easter celebrations have come and gone so quickly!

Back to our routines

“We stopped to celebrate Easter only a week ago, yet we are back into our normal routines before we know it.”

We stopped to celebrate the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ only a week ago, yet we are back into our normal routines before we know it. Yet, the resurrection is so profound its truths transform every part of our lives, and in a very real way Easter lives with us every day.

In his first letter to the believers living in Corinth Paul writes how “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, [and] that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). While his death dealt with our sins, God vindicated Jesus by raising him to life again. His resurrection changed everything.

It transformed Peter from a mistake-prone bungler who denied and disassociated himself from Jesus, into a bold provocative advocate who stood in front of thousands of people on the day of Pentecost and called them to repent. What changed Peter? He later wrote, “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). The resurrection radically changed Peter for ever.

Peter’s life demonstrates a powerful insight, that the resurrection is more than a victory to be celebrated it is a reality to be lived.

It’s not by chance that the early church began meeting on Sundays, the day after the Jewish Sabbath. Read More >>>

 

God’s Hidden Presence

On the morning of his resurrection Jesus walked through the near-empty garden unnoticed.
Well almost
.

The_Garden_Tomb_2008

The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem where some scholars say Jesus was buried. Click the image for more info

Had he not asked Mary Magdalene why she was crying he would have remained hidden. Then even as she answered Jesus’ question she didn’t recognise him. That is until he called her by name, then the recognition came. (John 20:11-18)

There is a mystery about the presence of God. In Matthew’s gospel when he relates the story of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God,” implying that if one is not pure in heart then God may be hidden from view. Although the Bible makes clear that God is present everywhere and in everything is God’s presence (for instance Psalm 139:7-12), the darkness of our heart distorts our perception.

St Ephrem

St Ephrem

The 4th Century theologian St. Ephrem the Syrian expressed it neatly in the following verse . . .

Lord, your symbols are everywhere,
Yet you are hidden from everywhere.
Though your symbol is on high,
Yet height does not perceive that you are;
Though your symbol is in the depth,
It does not comprehend who you are;
Though your symbol is in the sea,
You are hidden from the sea;
Though your symbol is on dry land,
It is not aware what you are.
Blessed is the Hidden One shining out!

St. Ephrem uses the word “symbol” in its ancient meaning >>>

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Why Have You Forsaken Me?

In these weeks leading up to Easter I am focusing on the “Seven Sayings of Christ from the Cross.”

This week it’s Jesus’ words of abandonment taken from Matthew 27:46, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which translated means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Hanging on the cross, his body in agony from the torture of crucifixion, Jesus uses the opening verses of Psalm 22 written by David to express the depths of his agony. But it was not the physical pain that was the source of his cry, although it was no doubt intense, it was something far deeper and darker. In that excruciating moment, he felt the unbearable painfulness that comes from rejection and separation.

Jesus entered into a place where, as Paul the apostle expresses it in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (NIV).

Suffering

“His suffering was a mirror of our sufferings”

Such is the mystery and the majesty of the salvation of humanity that we can’t possibly know the depths of what Jesus felt in that moment. We can however appreciate it in some measure. Why? Because Jesus was as human and you and I are. His experience was that of every human being. His suffering was a mirror of our sufferings.

There are times when many of us, perhaps all of us, have experienced dark times when it felt like God had abandoned us. Life was hopeless, prayers went unanswered and despair was overwhelming. It such moments we too cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

But that’s not where the story ends. Read More >>>

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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The Greatest of These . . .

Last Sunday at Hobart Baptist Church we commenced a three part series on Faith, Love and Hope. This ‘triad’, as it is often called, is found in many places in the New Testament. It pops up in various combinations in several of Paul’s letters, but also in Hebrews and Peter’s first letter.faith hope love

The first week we looked at faith, and yesterday we focused on love. Perhaps the most well-known of the triads is found in First Corinthians: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (13:13).

Writing to a church in a society where knowledge was the highest value, and one by which everything else was judged, Paul insists that knowledge in and of itself is useless unless it is grounded in relationships permeated with faith, hope and love. It is a most radical statement, not only for his time but for today also.

It is easy for us to gloss over what Paul says because of its familiarity.

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One thing in common: Jew, Christian, Atheist

hindu-gods

“My first visit to India opened my eyes to the completely different world of polytheism”

It is never easy to fully appreciate how others see the world. As an Australian Christian who believes in one God, my first visit to India opened my eyes to the completely different world of polytheism (many-gods). What was fanciful and strange to me, was normal to millions of people. Bowing, praying and worshiping to multiple deities was way outside my understanding of what religion was all about.

Just as strange, but in a different sort of way, is the view of some that there is nothing but the natural world—no God, no gods, no higher intelligence—nothing. However, I am yet to find a “pure” atheist, most seem to accept that there may be something.

Did you know that the early Christians were considered atheists by the Romans? It started with the Jews. Read More >>>

 

You Foolish Galatians!

Recently at Hobart Baptist Church we recently began a new series of messages based upon Paul’s letter to the Galatians. I’m looking forward to all that God will bring out of it for us.

Saint_Paul_Writing_His_Epistles-_by_Valentin_de_Boulogne

“Traditional Christian art often depicted Paul at a desk, pen in hand. But this is not how it would have happened.”

When he wrote this letter, Paul had just arrived back in Antioch in Syria after his first short term mission journey that lasted about 18 months. It was here he heard news that the new communities of faith he helped establish in the region of Galatia were struggling. Concerned for their welfare, Paul wrote a very firm, even angry, letter to them.

Now when we say Paul ‘wrote’ a letter, it is good to remember this was 2000 years ago when literacy was sparse and the cost of materials high. Paul was not skilled at writing so he would have engaged a professional scribe.

Traditional Christian art often depicted Paul at a desk, pen in hand. But this is not how it would have happened. Nor is the image accurate of him pacing back and forth dictating furiously to his secretary. Rather, for Paul, letter writing would have been a very time consuming process.

He most likely would have been with his team in a room tossing around ideas that were captured laboriously by the secretary.

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The Bible: How to read it

Last week I began a series on God’s Mysterious Ways. The Bible reminds us that God’s ways are not our ways and God’s thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). When reading the Bible we are often left wondering why certain things happen the way they do.

In his book, Genesis: The Movie, Robert Farrar Capon suggests one of the reasons we are often confused and perplexed by the Bible is that we read it the wrong way. Rather than reading it as an instruction manual he encourages Christian to start “watching” it like a film. Only then, he suggests, will we begin to understand what God is up to.books_002

When we watch a movie we normally do so in one sitting. We don’t stop it every five or ten minutes to analyse each scene, but watch it to the end waiting for the threads to come together and the story resolve.

Capon suggests we read the Bible the same way. Rather than stopping every time we don’t quite understand . . .

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