Jesus : Church : Unity

In his longest recorded prayer as found in John 17, Jesus not only prays for his immediate 12 disciples, but for the many who would believe their message. And what was his prayer? Over and over and again he prays for their unity.john-17-20-26

“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23).

What would happen in our churches if we all joined Jesus in his prayer? What would it mean for Hobart and Tasmania (or your town and region) if all churches, despite our differences, operated with the unity Jesus prayed for?

The heartfelt nature of Jesus’ prayer calls attention to the reality that genuine fellowship among Christians is one of the most powerful tools for evangelism.

Forward! >>>

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Christians: The new non-believers

At the Tasmanian Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast last week I had the opportunity to provide a short introduction to this annual event. I thought you might like to read a transcript of my speech as many attendees were very encouraged by what I said:

As we gather in the name and spirit of Jesus of Nazareth, we do so in the midst of great cultural turmoil. Within our community are forces at work endeavouring to overturn century-old norms and practices around key moments in life – at birth, marriage, and death. I speak, of course, about abortion, same-sex marriage and euthanasia.

Outback Cross

“Despite the place Christianity has played in Australia’s history . . . to call oneself a Christian in Australia today invites responses of curiosity, condescension and cool dismissal.”

In that maelstrom of competing voices and visions of the future, many find the very notion of a ‘prayer’ breakfast somewhat strange, antiquated and even dangerous.

Despite the place Christianity has played in Australia’s history, and despite its ongoing contributions, to call oneself a Christian in Australia today invites responses of curiosity, condescension and cool dismissal. Christians are often painted as intolerant, naive, superstitious, and even backward. It is not uncommon to hear Christians put down, not only in casual conversation, but across social and mainstream media.

This caricature, I suggest, is quite false. It falls a long way short of many Christians who join with others to care for millions of Australians in homeless shelters, refuges, aged care facilities, disability services, soup kitchens, detox facilities etc. The contrast between them and the Christianity portrayed is quite striking.

But why? Why such a contrast?

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Church: There for us? OR There for others . . .

I think we sometimes forget God has entrusted us with the task of bringing the good news of his love, as demonstrated in Christ, to our local community – wherever it iswe are.

We can so easily be tempted and fall into the trap of believing the church exists only for us, and conveniently ignore God’s desires. In recent years here are Hobart Baptist where I am the Senior Pastor, we have reaffirmed we want to be a mission-oriented church and we are steadily moving more and more in that direction.

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For decades we sent missionaries overseas to various tribal groups

To be faithful to our task we not only need a renewed and refreshed understanding of the Gospel, we need to have an insightful understanding into Australian culture. Without it we repeat the mistakes of the past and fail to understand the changing nature of our community.

For decades we sent missionaries overseas to various tribal groups armed with the task of carefully and painstakingly exploring and documenting the cultural narratives and history of their people group with the aim of discovering how best to bring the Gospel to them.

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Map It!

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“Maps have proven to be one of the clearest forms of communication ever”

Across countries, cultures and time, maps have proven to be one of the clearest forms of communication ever developed. They are most efficient and effective when it comes to recording, storing and transferring information, even when complex ideas need to be passed on, with simplicity accuracy and readability.

Maps take many forms. We are most familiar with geographic maps that locate mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes, and so on, in spatial relationship. We use them to locate our current position so we can plan where we want to go, and how to get there.

Maps are also used to communicate information in such areas as population, economic, and weather patterns. We also have tools such as mind maps, cognitive maps and conversational maps. They too are aids for navigation whether the terrain is geographic, demographic or psychographic.

Martin Robinson

Robinson says, “It is necessary for the church to rethink its stance entirely”

It is also helpful to picture history as a map. History is never a re-creation of past events but a tool to understand the past in ways that help us recognise who we are, where we are and where we might be headed.

Nearly 20 years ago Martin Robinson, previously director of Mission and Theology at the Bible Society in Britain and now principal at Springdale College, wrote in his book To Win the West, “It is necessary for the church to rethink its stance entirely and to become a missionary church within the West.”

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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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Boom to Bust: Church Life Cycles

Back in the 1960s, our Hobart Baptist church building was full to capacity and overflowing on a weekly basis. There are a number of people still attending the church who remember it packed every Sunday with around 400 people. An all-aged Sunday School met at Elizabeth College next door because there wasn’t enough room for everyone in the church building.

A lot has happened in the past 50-60 years, both in the community and the church, and those days have long since gone. Yet, there is no reason why it can’t happen again at some time in the not too distant future.

Hobart Baptist Church

Hobart Baptist Church is one of the original ‘tabernacles’ built in Tasmania, Australia with help from Spurgeon’s grandson

Today Hobart Baptist Church is made up over 250 people. Whether people attend the 10am service, the Karen language service, the Church With No Walls ministry or our communities of faith meeting in homes, we are a sizable number. There is no doubt God is at work amongst us and there a signs of growing and healthy church. There are many reasons to be very encouraged.

As with all organisms, the church goes through times of growth . . . Read More >>>

Unity vs Diversity

Yesterday at  Hobart Baptist Church we had our monthly combined worship service. It’s called ‘combined’ because Hobart Baptist is in fact four distinct congregations with people of many different ages and racial backgrounds.

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“Hobart Baptist is in fact four distinct congregations with people of many different ages and racial backgrounds”

After our service we continued our worship with lunch together, and if you had hung around for lunch you would have noticed that one of the striking features of this church is our diversity.

Hobart Baptist Church is a not only a multiracial church but a multicultural one as well. By multiracial I refer to a church with people from different ethnicities and languages but with a single common culture. By multicultural, on the other hand, I refer to a church not only of people from different backgrounds, cultures and languages, but they are encouraged to retain their cultural distinctives, resulting in more than one culture.

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Churches: Does Yours Speak Aussie?

At various times during the past 200 years, the church across Hobart has experienced times of strength and weakness, growth and decline. The past few decades have been a challenging time as the number of Hobartians attending church has significantly declined. The same is true of cities all across Australia.

Aussie Church

The church across Australia has experienced times of strength and weakness, growth and decline

While we all feel the effects of this decline, we are unsure as to why it has happened. Pressures from secularisation, rising individualism, consumerism, the increasing power of the state over the church, and urbanisation are no doubt all contributing factors. However, issues within the church itself are also important causes.

While we can despair at the state of the church locally, internationally there is reason for great celebration and hope. The church grew from small beginnings in Jerusalem 2000 years ago, yet today it has over 2 billion adherents worldwide. It continues to grow significantly in many places across the world even if in Australia, and most parts of the Western world, the opposite is true. A worldwide perspective encourages us to raise our expectations of what God can and is doing.

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Governments: there to solve all our problems?

A little over a week ago, Tasmanians voted resulting in a change of government. There were no military action, riots or bloodshed just a smooth transition, somewhat abnormal relative to the rest of the world. It is something we can celebrate about our country and be very grateful for.

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Is there another way to respond?

However, many of us are not content or happy with some of the decisions and actions taken by our governments. In fact, there are things that distress us greatly such as abortion law reform and the treatment of asylum seekers. It is not difficult to become cynical, even bitter and then ultimately become prayerless for our government. Is there another way to respond?

Recently I’ve been pondering whether our disappointment and disdain is fuelled, at least in part, by an overly optimistic expectation of the potential and character of governments. Much of the commentary in the media operates with the presumption that governments should somehow solve all the problems of our society.

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Don’t Ask A Fish

Goldfish in fishbowl

“A fish . . . has no means to convey what it takes for granted”

An old Chinese proverb says, “If you want to know what water is, don’t ask the fish.” A fish has never lived outside its watery environment, it has no experience or language to describe its natural environment, and so it has no means to convey what it takes for granted.

The same can be true for us. Much of what we accept as normal, because we were born into and it experience every day, is beyond our ability to appreciate and describe. It is only as we get older that we might begin to realise our experience of life is unique and special in certain ways and is not the experience of everyone.

We take so much for granted. Compared to the rest of the world, living in Hobart is very comfortable. We are amongst the richest people in the world with access to some of the cleanest water and air on the plant. We are surrounded by magnificent beauty and most of us do not need to worry about shelter or food.

At the same time we live in a society that is very secular, consumer-driven, and individualistic. Most people take it for granted and assume it is the only way to exist. However, as Christians there is much we find about our community that is contrary to our values and way of thinking. We are constantly confronted by them and often feel like a fish out of water.

Across the centuries in many and various ways, Christians have been at odds with their surrounding culture, which is not surprising as we are called to stand firm against conforming (Rom 12:1-3). For us, it is a constant challenge to preserve our Christian worldview when our values clash with prevailing attitudes of our community, neighbours and families. The pull of the surrounding environment is compelling and often causes us to drift from our values without even realising it is happening.

Over the past 50 to 60 years community values have changed so much we are now living our Christian lives in the midst of a hostile environment. We are in the middle of a spiritual battle which competes for our hearts and minds. Our beliefs are constantly challenged, and often rejected. We can easily feel overwhelmed and begin to flounder against strong intimidating forces.

Yet we have a job to do. It is not to retreat but stand firm and relearn how we are to live as Christians in our changing world. We have to learn how to be missionaries in our community, our neighbourhoods and our families. This will require God-given insight, wisdom and passion. It will require theological reflection and a good dose of compassionate courage. It will require refreshed minds understanding again what we believe and why we believe it. It will require recharged hearts and strengthened wills. It will require deepening relationships as we walk and work together in being the witnessing community of faith God calls us to be.

With God’s help we can do what the fish cannot do – we can grow to understand and describe the environment we live in so we can live differently. Paul the apostle said we are to be “transformed by the renewing of our minds” and to “not let the world squeeze you into its mould” (Romans 12:1-3, JB Phillips).

May God strengthen us as we allow him to change and equip us to be living witnesses to him in our world today.

Stephen L Baxter