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. 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 . . . Read more >>>
English poet and hymn writer, William Cowper (1731 – 1800) wrote these words, “God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform. He plants his footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm.” Cowper was no stranger to God’s mysterious ways. His mother died when he was six, he was ill-treated by his father and boarding school left him scarred for life. He became a Christian during one of his numerous spells in care overseen by a believing doctor who later became his friend. His life-long battle with depression left him institutionalised many times with many unsuccessful suicide attempts. His friend John Newton, writer of the hymn Amazing Grace and aware of Cowper’s disposition towards melancholy and despair, proposed a collaboration on a book of hymns together. “God moves in a mysterious way,” is the first line from one of those hymns. Read More >>>
Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday, often called the “birthday” of the church. On Pentecost we celebrate a major turning point in the life of the early Christian church when the Holy Spirit ‘came upon them’.
In the weeks following Jesus’ death and resurrection, a small band of followers had huddled together hiding from the authorities that crucified Jesus. But on the day of Pentecost (Pente = 50 days after resurrection) they were transformed, and with great boldness and clarity began spreading the good news that Jesus was alive and Lord over all. (See Acts 2.) The world has never been the same since, with Jesus’ followers now numbering more than two billion and still growing. Over the past weeks at Hobart Baptist Church we have been focusing on the Holy Spirit and how important he is to the church and our lives. Without him there wouldn’t be a church. Read More >>>
The day of Pentecost is one of the most important days in the life of the church. Just as each year you celebrate your birthday, at Pentecost we celebrate the birthday of the church. The events of that day so empowered a group of people and ignited such a passion in them that the effects are still felt in the world today. Have you ever prayed that God might do it again in your life, in your city?
On that day Jews from across the known world had gathered in Jerusalem for one of their annual celebrations. Only weeks before they had come for another festival, the Passover, when there had been a small disturbance when yet another messianic hopeful, Jesus of Nazareth, had been crucified by the Romans. His small band of followers were in hiding fearing reprisal and nowhere to be seen. There were rumours circulating that some people had seen Jesus alive. Then, something unheard of took place. Read More >>>
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. 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. Read More >>>
The carriage was tightly packed with passengers as they settled down for the long journey. Among them were the regulars, those tired workers returning home from long night shifts in city factories. There were also children returning home after their term at boarding school, and there were some tourists eagerly anticipating their new adventure.
In the corner, near the window, was an old man. Next to him, by the window, was a younger man in his mid-30s. As the train moved out of the station the younger one started talking excitedly and loudly. “Dad, do you see the trees and the way they move in the wind. It’s wonderful isn’t it?” “Dad, look at the rain. Isn’t the way it falls beautiful.” “Hey Dad, look at the grass, what a lovely colour green is.” And so on.
Everyone heard the running commentary and thought it a somewhat strange. However, the longer it continued the more frustrated they become and began murmuring amongst themselves. The young man, unaware of their discomfort, continued his joyful observations.
Suddenly it became too much for one passenger who turned to the old man saying, “Can’t you keep him quiet? It is all very off putting. If he is unwell take him to hospital.”
The old man gracefully turned to the passenger and smiled. Read More >>>
Over the past 50 to 60 years the church in Australia has certainly faced many challenges, and those challenges still persist today. We face growing scrutiny and increasing critique from many directions, even as our churches experience declining attendance and aging facilities. Often we are left bewildered and lost as to how we should live in this changing and challenging environment.
Writing to the church in Thessalonica, Paul speaks encouragement from reports he had heard about them. He writes of “how [they] turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath” (1 Thess. 1:9-10). Paul praises them for two things: for no longer worshiping idols but only the Creator God; and for waiting for Jesus to rescue them from God’s impending judgement. I wonder if the example of the Thessalonians could be helpful for us in working out how we should live. We don’t talk about idols much today, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. Read more >>>
At the recent engageHOBART conference, Jenny and I led a workshop on Developing an Aussie Gospel. In our workshop we explored what we might be able to do to make the gospel message more meaningful in our Australian culture. This is no easy task. Our community has changed so much over the past 50 years, and recently we have witnessed a growing criticism of the church that is increasingly hostile. Although we are called by Jesus to be messengers of the “good news” of the Kingdom there are many who in no way believe our message is “good” news at all. In addition to exploring new ways of doing ‘church’ and revisiting some of our many treasured forms, we also need to learn how best to communicate the gospel to Australians. Read More >>>
Over Easter the New York Times ran an article that commented in passing that Easter Sunday is the day Christians honour Jesus’ “resurrection into heaven.” A mistake which, once pointed out, was quickly corrected. Nevertheless, such an error reminds us of the growing ignorance in our Western world of Christian belief.
This year’s Easter has come and gone and life returns to normal, almost as if the resurrection has no effect. But it wasn’t like that on the first Easter. I wonder whether Easter should make more of an impact in our lives. Maybe we too reflect the ignorance of the rest of our community. Read more . . .
Late last year Olive Tree Media (lead by Karl Faase from Gymea Baptist Church, Sydney) released survey results that inquired into attitudes among Australians toward Christianity and why Aussies don’t readily accept Christian faith. Results show that despite 61% of Australians calling themselves Christian at the last census (2011), 60% say they don’t in fact know a Christian. This seems to confirm the hunch that many tick the “Christian” box even though they no longer, if ever, have taken it seriously. Not surprisingly, the survey reveals that half of the Australian population have fixed ideas and are not at all open to exploring or investigating other religious views and practices. Karl Faase concludes that this leaves only 20% of the Australian community who genuinely “are open to spirituality and the idea of the existence of God.” However, this 20% still struggles to connect with the Christian church or faith. The survey found that even among those who consider themselves ‘spiritually open’ there are blockages in “attitudes and beliefs that they hold towards the church and Christianity.” These include questions of science, the existence of suffering, a perceived hypocrisy in the church, and the perceived failure of Christian leaders. Faase suggests these “belief blockers are creating an almost impenetrable wall to faith.” My guess is that you find nothing new in these survey results. Like me, your experience confirms there are many among our acquaintances, families, and friends for whom discussions about faith, belief, church and Christianity are no-go areas. You too have felt the “impenetrable wall” and like me are somewhat surprised when someone is willing and wanting to have an open discussion. How do we respond? Over the past months each Sunday at Hobart Baptist we have been making our way through the Book of Acts. We have been observing the church in its infancy as it learnt what it meant to be the church in response to the continuing work of Jesus in the world. In many ways we are just like those early Christians. They too lived in a society of “impenetrable walls.” They too experienced a community where most did not want to explore or engage in conversation. And just like them, we too are learning what it means to be church.
“We too are learning what it means to be church . . .
Although we live in a different part of the world, at a different time and in different circumstances, it is still the same Jesus we follow, and it is this Jesus that is still at work in the world. In our exploration of Acts, we have seen time and again how the journey of the early church was an ongoing response to what God was doing. Whether it was on the day of Pentecost, Ananias and Sapphira’s demise, persecution of the believers, the conversion of Saul, or Peter’s experience with the centurion Cornelius, the early church had a job of keeping up with the actions of the Holy Spirit around them. In asking “how do we respond?” to the challenges we face in our day, we can turn to Acts and see that the answer lies in seeing where God is already at work in our world. When Jesus was challenged for healing a cripple on the Sabbath he responded saying he only does what he sees his Father doing (John 5:19). Jesus’ example is helpful for us. It gives us a model as to how we can respond to the challenges we face today. The Olive Tree Media survey suggests that only one in five people are genuinely open to listen . . . So may God grant us the grace and insight to know what it is God is doing in our Aussie communities and to lead us to those whose attitudes are open to Christian things; may he grant us the courage to be bold; and give us the wisdom and strength to respond just as Jesus would. Stephen L Baxter