On Being Together

Yesterday at Hobart Baptist we had our sceond Combined Service. It’s a time when the three different congregations making up Hobart Baptist Church came together to worship at one service and celebrate our diversity. The children did not leave for their programs in the middle of the service, but remained with us for the entire time; and later we continued our worship by sharing a meal together.

Casserole

We shared a delicious lunch together yesterday

Why would we do something like this? Why expend all this effort to change our normal pattern?

In Galatians 3:28 Paul says we are “all one in Christ,” “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female.” He reminds us that God does not see his people as the world sees them. God does not operate in categories of ethnicity, status or gender, but is in relationship with each person in the same way. When we gather together in our diversity we are reflecting something of the way God regards each one of us. Making room for each other and treating each other in the reality of that “oneness” becomes of itself an act of worship.

Throughout the Bible, from the Old Testament prophets to the New Testament letters, there is a theme of the promise of God of a New Creation – a world where everything is set right. In it, God’s Spirit fills everyone regardless of ethnicity, age, gender, or class. It is a place where that same Spirit gifts everyone for the common good of all. It is a place where broken lives and relationships are healed.

That’s why Jesus commanded us to be in unity. John records him saying (13:34-35), “A new commandment I give to you. Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this will all know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Being in unity despite our differences is a command of Jesus.

From this passage, the American theologian Francis Schaeffer concluded that according to Jesus, the world has the right to decide whether we are true Christians based on the love we show to other Christians. So when Jesus said we are to love on another he was talking about something real and observable, something that needs work, yet it is something that is at the heart of what it means to follow him.

That’s why we take being together seriously and why we make the effort to worship God in all our wonderful diversity. It was an enjoyable time together yesterday. For some there may have been things that happened that were not exactly to their taste and therefore a little uncomfortable. I encouraged those people to, as an act of worship, move past the discomfort and choose to celebrate the diversity God has blessed us with.

Perhaps you too find it difficult to embrace all God’s wonderful diversity and choose to stay in an environment where you are safe and comfortable. Let me encourage you too, to look past these things as your act of worship.

Stephen L Baxter

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God is Sovereign Over All – He works in spite of human failings

I believe to be one of the most important themes in the Book of Acts is the sovereignty of God.

God is sovereign over all

God is Sovereign over all, from Heaven to Earth

While some read Acts as if it is a manual for church life or church growth, (although there are things to learn about these) closer inspection reveals this is not Luke’s purpose in writing the story of the early church. Luke does not set out to describe how the early Christians got things right and in doing so forced God to act, rather, he tells the story of broken, flawed and fallen saints, just like you and me, through whom God worked in spite of their human failures. And even when they do appear to get things right, God often carries out his purposes in new, different and unexpected ways.

Luke begins exploring this theme right at the beginning in Acts 1. Here, 120 followers of Jesus look for a replacement for Judas, who is now dead. Although Matthias is chosen, Luke never mentions him again in his writings. It is Saul, introduced in Acts 8 and converted in Acts 9; who then undergoes a name change to Paul in Acts 13; who ultimately fulfils the task of apostle and is the driving force behind the gospel’s acceptance by Gentiles. The man-made-made choice in Acts 1, is overturned by God in Acts 13.

Similarly Stephen and Philip, two of those chosen in Acts 6 to be deacons to care for widows, become more effective evangelists than the apostles they were appointed to assist. And then, despite the fact that Jesus told his disciples they would be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and right across the world (Acts 1:8), it is not their initiative but the persecution described in Acts 8 following the death of Stephen, that finally gets them out of Jerusalem. They took no initiative at all, but God used persecution to get them moving.

Obviously there isn’t the space to explore all the examples of human failings in Acts, but these few serve to illustrate that Luke does not give us a formula that we can follow to get the results we desire. There is no simple pattern outlined that we are to follow that will ensure a church grows – just as there is no pattern to follow ensuring we receive the power of the Spirit as happened at Pentecost.

One of the primary purposes of the Book of Acts is to show the story of God at work. Luke starts his account before the birth of the church and follows its growth through persecution until it reaches the capital of the known world, Rome. Throughout the story Paul illustrates how God acts the way he wants, when he wants, and no one can thwart his purposes. Then even when the church appears to get it right, God retains the right to do it his own way.

Working through the Book of Acts, the reader comes back again and again to this theme of the sovereignty of God. There are no formulas, no patterns, no manuals, just a loving God, at work in his world, drawing people to himself.

Can you think of times in your life when, despite your own poor efforts, God turned up anyway?
If so, Id love to hear about them!

Stephen L Baxter