The Adventure Continues

Greetings to all as another year begins!

The start of every year is often one full of anticipation for many people. It presents a moment of opportunity for a fresh beginning, a chance to start over, and a hope for a better year.

While New Year’s resolutions may not be for everyone, for most of us there lurks in the back of our mind a list of things we would like to do better. Whether we want to ‘turn over a new leaf’ or ‘start from scratch’, looking ahead to the coming year is like a blank canvass stretched out before us. There are 12 months, 52 weeks, 365 days, or 8,750 hours full of opportunity and promise waiting to be explored.

Sometimes our hopes for the New Year are born of disappointments, grief or pain from the past. Sometimes they New Year Calendarare born of dreams, visions or the hopes for ourselves or others. Others times they come from the promptings of our heart through the Spirit of God or God’s word to us from the Bible.

Though the Bible doesn’t mention New Year resolutions, it does urge us to examine our lives regularly. The call to “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10) reminds us how difficult it can be in the midst of a noisy world to find the space to connect with God. Yet Paul encouraged the Corinthians to “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith” (2 Cor 13:5) and Lamentations suggests we “examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the Lord” (Lam 3:40). And Jesus often withdrew to isolated places to reflect and prayerfully discern the Father’s will (Lk 5:16).

Perhaps you could take some timeout this January to sit quietly, reflect on your life and spend time with God.  Here’s some thoughts to help you on your way . . .

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Patient Waiting | Hopeful Expectation

Psalm 27 encourages us to “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14) This is a fitting encouragement as we begin Advent this week.

Advent Wreath

Advent is the time of celebration over the four Sundays leading up to Christmas

Advent is the time of celebration over the four Sundays leading up to Christmas and ending on Christmas Eve. Although there is no mention of it in the Bible, many people find it not only an enjoyable time but one that is spiritually enriching. It is, like the Psalm suggests, a time of great anticipation, of waiting, expecting, and hoping.

The entire nation of Israel had waited centuries for their Messiah to appear. Luke tells us the devout and righteous Simeon had been “waiting for the consolation of Israel” (Lk 2:25) and the prophetess, Anna, was “looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem” (Lk 2:38).

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Let’s Throw a Party!

Tony Campolo, an American sociologist, writer, pastor, and public speaker, tells a story of a time when he was speaking in Honolulu, Hawaii. Due to jet lag he was awake at 3 o’clock in the morning so went out to get breakfast and the only place he could find open was a bit of a dive. Assessing the food may not be good for him ordered a coffee and donut.

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Campolo . . . suggested they throw a party for her

As he sat there, in walked eight or nine boisterous prostitutes who promptly sat next to him. Feeling out of place and about to leave he overheard one woman say, “Tomorrow’s my birthday. I’m going to be 39.” Her companions responded quite sarcastically, “So you want cake? You want us to throw a party?”

“I’m just saying it’s my birthday. You don’t have to hurt my feelings,” the woman responded, “I’ve never had a birthday party in my life.”

After they had left Campolo asked the cook if they came every night. Responding “yes” the cook asked, “why d’ya wanna know?” Campolo mentioned he had heard her say tomorrow is her birthday and suggested they throw a party for her. The cook and his wife thought it was a great idea and mentioned her name was Agnes.

So that’s what they did. Read More >>>

 

Let’s Not Lose Them

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’.

Jesus' followers

“The world has never been the same since, with Jesus’ followers now numbering more than two billion and still growing”

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.

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Paradoxically Speaking . . .

Have you noticed how the writer of the book of Proverbs urges us to seek wisdom? (Read Proverbs Chapter One to find out.) It a great idea, but not as easy as it seems, particularly given the strange nature of wisdom.

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You can’t judge a book by its cover

We’ve all been told that we are “not to judge a book by its cover”, nevertheless “the first impression is a lasting impression.” We’ve heard it said “too many cooks will spoil the broth,” but also “two heads are better than one.” And although “knowledge is power,” equally so “ignorance is bliss”.

There is also a saying, “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.” Stop and read that again slowly. Here are two opposite statements that, when put in the one sentence, are no longer contradictory but transform into a wise saying.

Wisdom can often be quite paradoxical. Paradox is like that, a statement that initially looks absurd and self-contradictory turns out to not only be true but wise.

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Navigating the Landscape

Have you ever thought about the difference between the ability to read a map and the ability to navigate? Despite their similarity they are quite different skills.

To read a map you need to know how different symbols and topographical features are used. For instance, blue symbols are associated with water, and the distance between contour lines shows a slope’s gradient.

Navigation, on the other hand, is the ability not only to read the map, but use this information to locate where you are in relation to the surrounding landscape and from there, determine the way ahead.

Man's hand pointing on street map

“Bushwalkers know that ‘setting the map’ is perhaps the most important of all navigational skills”

Bushwalkers know that ‘setting the map’ is perhaps the most important of all navigational skills. It involves positioning the map so surrounding features line up with your location. It doesn’t matter if the map is upside down or sideways, knowing where you are in relation to everything else is critical.

That’s why it’s dangerous when visibility diminishes and features in the landscape become hard to see. When this happens maps quickly lose their usefulness.

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Get with the Program!

The rediscovery of Missio Dei, has been described by some as one of the most important theological rediscoveries of the twentieth century. The Latin Missio Deimeans “the mission of God” or “the missionary God” and has at its heart the idea that we, the church, are part of a big story beginning in the heart of God. God is at work redeeming his world and this work culminated through the obedience of Jesus to death and resurrection. It continues today through the sending of the Spirit and the commissioning of the church to work with God in that mission.

The fledgling Church grew beyond all expectation

On Sundays at Hobart Baptist we are currently working our way through the book of Acts, Luke’s story of the beginnings of the church. Luke’s story had two parts. In part one, the Gospel of Luke, he tells the story of Jesus’ personal and public ministry on earth. Now in part two, the book of Acts, he describes the beginning of Jesus’ ministry from heaven, exercised by the Holy Spirit through his people the church.

As we work our way through Acts we will see again and again how God is at work through the church helping the church fulfil God’s mission. We see, surprisingly, how the early church did not have a ‘missions program’, the reason being is that it was the missions program. The church did not produce missional activities because the missionary God was at work and the church were those activities. In other words, the church did not define mission, the mission of God defined the church.

We see, surprisingly, how the early church did not have a ‘missions program’, the reason being is that it was the missions program.

Acts reinforces what the whole Bible records, that the mission of God is the centrepiece of history and demonstrates what it looks like when the church is commissioned to help God with that mission. It highlights that we are the missional people of God.

Every one of us, whether individually or corporately, are on a mission, but it is not our mission. This mission emanates from the heart of God. It is not an add-on to other church activities, it is the very reason for our existence. Everything else is we do is peripheral.

We are God’s missional community called into existence to be the outworking of the missional heart of God. We have been given the Spirit to equip us as we join God in the mission to renew the world with the gospel.

My prayer is that we will be inspired by our series in Acts:

  • That it will give us insights into the missional heart of God
  • That we will find ourselves more and more aware of what God is doing in the lives of those around us.
  • And that we will be a church ready to be used by God however and whatever that might mean.

How about you?

Stephen L Baxter

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