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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Your Obituary – How Will it Read?

Alfred-Nobel

Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, read his own obituary in the local newspaper

One morning Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel, read his own obituary in the local newspaper. It said, “Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, who died yesterday, devised a way for more people to be killed in a war than ever before. He died a very rich man.”

Nobel, obviously, was surprised and deeply affected. But, it wasn’t because he was presumed dead. The reporter had made a mistake as it was his older brother who had died. He was deeply affected because of what it said. He wanted to be remembered differently than the person who had invented an efficient way to kill people and amass a fortune. In response the Nobel Peace Prize was born.

Today Alfred Nobel is remembered more for his prize than for inventing dynamite.

Sometimes we are given the opportunity to reflect deeply on life and make a change. You hear bad news from your doctor; you have a near miss with a truck on the road; or you catch up with old friends at a school reunion – and it causes you to reflect. Am I heading in the right direction? Have I just drifted along? How would I like to be remembered?

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Pentecost: A Birthday!

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?

Birthday candles, flame, wind

Just as each year you celebrate your birthday, at Pentecost we celebrate the birthday of the church.

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.

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Following Jesus: An Amazing Adventure!

Yesterday was Pentecost Sunday, the day Christians traditionally celebrate the birthday of the Church. It was on this day nearly 2000 years ago that Jesus completed his mission on Harvest timeearth with the coming of the Holy Spirit.

The celebration of Pentecost is one of the three pilgrim festivals of the nation of Israel and falls 50 days after the Passover. It is a holiday celebrating the firstfruits of the harvest which declared God’s ownership of the land and God’s grace in that the land produced food.

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Catch Me if You Can!

 . . . OR, A Divine Game of Chasey

During the Sunday sermons at  Hobart Baptist, we are currently making our way through the book of Acts and I keep emphasising how amazed I am at the number of times God takes action and the church plays ‘catch up’.

Time and time again the Holy Spirit intervenes taking the initiative in the Christian community and the people have to adjust to the new thing happening. The story of Acts is the story of the forming of the church.

The reason I believe it is important for us to study Acts is so we recognise when God is at work in our church and in our community. And more than that, so that we’ll be ready to “catch up” with what God is doing.

Throughout the book of Acts God takes action, and the church plays ‘catch up’

In his book, The Continuing Conversion of the Church, Darrell Guder makes the compelling point that transformation (his word is conversion) should be the constant experience of the church. If the church is obedient to its Lord, it will continually experience transformation. Why? Because the church exists for God’s purpose and it is God who is at work within and amongst her to achieve these purposes.

Years ago the German theologian, Karl Barth, made the comment: “There is a Church because there is a mission.” I said something similar last Sunday (June 17) when I suggested, “The church does not have a mission, instead, God’s mission has a church.”

This is significant. The church will continue to experience transformation not because we want change, nor just because we live in a changing world, but because the church does not exist for itself.

The church was brought into existence with a purpose, and that purpose remains because
God is at work achieving his purposes.

This is the importance of the book of Acts for us. It gives insight into what it means to be the church called into existence for the purpose of God. Sadly, a quick look at church history reveals we haven’t always been good at keeping this focus. Time and time again we get drawn into worrying about our survival rather than focussing on what God is doing in bringing the “kingdom” to earth.

In fact, there are hints of this even in the New Testament. Guder remarks: “Whereas the early Christian community was established by Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit to be a missionary people sent into the entire world as salt, light and leaven, it began to be concerned with its identity, structure and survival.”

As a result the perception of the gospel changed. The focus of salvation was no longer on the coming of the “kingdom” but upon meeting individual human needs.

The same temptation is no less real for us today. Living in a consumer based, individualistic world it is easy to drift into believing salvation is all about my needs, my desires, and my wants focusing on what happens after death. The gospel is that, but it is far more. Being saved is being caught up in God’s big plan to bring salvation to planet earth as well as all the people who live on it. As Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10) The church’s focus is not about my salvation, but about God’s big rescue at work in and through his church.

So here the challenges before you and me as we seek to live faithfully:

  • Are we going to allow the significant issues we face as a church (locally, but also across our state and nation) cause us to focus on matters such as “identity, structure and survival”; OR will we learn from Acts and ask God for the revelation, insight, illumination and wisdom to perceive what it is God is doing?
  • Will you and I allow ourselves to be caught up in God’s purposes; OR will we focus on our own needs?
  • Will you and I pray, “Lord, save us”; OR “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”?

My prayer is that during your journey through Acts you will be encouraged and inspired to “catch up” with the things God doing in your church, in your family and in your community.

Stephen L Baxter

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

Catching the Wave

Last week at Hobart Baptist I began a series of sermons to work through the Book of Acts. I expect that as we read through Luke’s account of the early days of the church, we will be struck by the sense of momentum and adventure.

Those early days saw the emergence of communities of faith that were unique in the world because of their mutual accountability and generosity. People were drawn to God through an amazing mixture of radical community, miracles, and Holy Spirit-empowered living and witness. The result was a church that grew at an exponential rate.

But it was not all easy. The adventure was full of moments of great challenge and crisis. There were imprisonments and conflicts, persecution and even premature death. In a strange way these all added to the sense of wonder and adventure.

The impression you get reading Acts is that Jesus is building his church and the people are playing ‘catch up’. Time and time again God pops up and takes the initiative and everyone has to readjust to the new thing that his happening. Just like a surfer who sits on his surfboard waiting for a wave, Acts is like a story about a wave generated by the Holy Spirit which the followers of Jesus struggle to catch.  It is the story of God on the move and his people going along for the ride.

Perhaps you could also work your way through the book of Acts over the next few weeks?

If you do, it is my prayer that God will help you to see what the Holy Spirit is doing in your church community today; and then having perceived what he is doing we will have the courage to “catch the wave” and continuing being part of God’s great adventure.

I’d love to have your thoughts as you read it through! How does your ‘surfing’ go?

Stephen L Baxter