Life! In All Its Fullness

Jenny and I had a wonderful two weeks in Japan despite the heat and humidity, because of course, it is the middle of summer there in August.
Towards the end of our time we were sitting on the cool second floor of the Starbuck’s overlooking Shibuya crossing, Tokyo – a five way intersection with a pedestrian-only segment in the cycle. Some say is the busiest crossing in the world. Up to 3,000 people walk across at any one time and an estimated half a million people every day. That’s more than double the population of greater Hobart. But it’s not so surprising, when you consider Tokyo’s population of 13.35 million people.

As we sat watching a series of traffic light cycles, with thousands of people swarming across, I wondered what they might have been thinking. Most of them, no doubt, were just going about their normal lives made up of the same things I do: eating, sleeping, working, playing, raising children, caring for loved ones, carrying burdens, worrying about the future and so on. Some were possibly racing to their next appointment, others were lost in a daydream and most were using their smart phone in one way or another.
In that moment I found myself marveling at the wonder of life itself.
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You Foolish Galatians!

Recently at Hobart Baptist Church we recently began a new series of messages based upon Paul’s letter to the Galatians. I’m looking forward to all that God will bring out of it for us.

Saint_Paul_Writing_His_Epistles-_by_Valentin_de_Boulogne
“Traditional Christian art often depicted Paul at a desk, pen in hand. But this is not how it would have happened.”

When he wrote this letter, Paul had just arrived back in Antioch in Syria after his first short term mission journey that lasted about 18 months. It was here he heard news that the new communities of faith he helped establish in the region of Galatia were struggling. Concerned for their welfare, Paul wrote a very firm, even angry, letter to them.
Now when we say Paul ‘wrote’ a letter, it is good to remember this was 2000 years ago when literacy was sparse and the cost of materials high. Paul was not skilled at writing so he would have engaged a professional scribe.
Traditional Christian art often depicted Paul at a desk, pen in hand. But this is not how it would have happened. Nor is the image accurate of him pacing back and forth dictating furiously to his secretary. Rather, for Paul, letter writing would have been a very time consuming process.
He most likely would have been with his team in a room tossing around ideas that were captured laboriously by the secretary.
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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 >>>
 

The Mystery of Working out Your Faith

“God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform,” so wrote English poet William Cowper in 1779. God’s Mysterious Ways is the current theme of our Sunday morning messages at Hobart Baptist Church.

One of the mysteries of our Christian lives is how God works within us. The apostle Paul expresses the mystery well when he writes, “my dear friends . . . continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfil his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12, 13).
Even though God is at work within us changing us to be more and more like Jesus, we have to work at it too.

Golden Gift
Your relationship with God is a free gift, which cannot be earned

The reality of God’s grace is wonderful. His unmerited favour is the foundation and centre of our faith. We can’t earn our relationship with God, it is a free gift which can only be received. It is not a one-off event because every day of our lives God’s ongoing mercy, compassion, love and grace is there for us.
However, there is more to the Christian life than passively receiving God’s grace.       Read More >>>

Be a World Changer

Blurred christmas lights
“A little light transforms a dark room”

Salt and light are important ingredients to our everyday living. A little salt makes a big change in the way food tastes and a little light transforms a dark room. These ordinary everyday things are very powerful change agents.
When Jesus called his followers to be salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16) he was affirming a familiar theme in scripture. God’s first command to the first human beings on earth was “to work it and take care of it.”(Genesis 2:15). Then, even after the fall of humanity when most have rejected God, he reiterated the call to Noah (Genesis 9:1-3). Then when the people of Israel are in exile in Babylon he calls them to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:7).
Similarly, in the New Testament Peter encourages Christians to see how they can impact those who don’t believe by the way they live their lives (1 Peter 2:12).
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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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Ebony and Ivory – Perfect Harmony?

Perhaps one of the more difficult things to do in our contemporary society is to take an opposing stand on any popular moral issue.

Conflict
“Such statements are not welcome today and are branded intolerant”

If you try to present an alternative view on a subject, such as same sex marriage or abortion, you find yourself on the end of strong criticism and being branded intolerant.
This makes life difficult for Christians and has great implications for the way we evangelise. When Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6) he was making a bold claim. When he told his disciples to, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptised will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15–16), he was revealing the truth.
But such statements are not welcome today and are branded intolerant.
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Turning from and Waiting for

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.

Map of Mcedonia, including Thessalonica
Paul’s first letter to the church in Thessalonica relates well to the description of Paul’s ministry and movements in Acts 17-18.

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.
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Hope for the Church

There are many things that can cause us to despair the shape of the church today. Declining numbers, aging congregations and growing hostility can tempt us to think all is lost. However, there is reason to hope. 

child labour
The youngest workers  crawled underneath machines while in operation to gather up loose cotton. Many died when they got caught in the machinery.

In Britain – at the height of the Industrial Revolution in 1740 – poverty, social injustice, child labour, harsh living conditions and long working hours were rampant. Children aged five or six worked 14 to 16-hour days in mines, people were executed for petty crimes such as stealing a loaf of bread, drunkenness was rampant and gambling extensive. It lead philosopher Bishop Berkeley to lament that morality and religion had collapsed “to a degree that was never known in any Christian country.”[i] At St. Paul’s Cathedral London on Easter Sunday morning, 1740, only six people were in attendance for communion.
Jenny and I visited St Paul's Cathedral in 2012
Jenny and I visited St Paul’s Cathedral in 2012

It was in this context that God did a new thing: George Whitefield began to preach to coal miners in 1738. He in turn inspired the Wesley brothers, who turned Britain around.
Over the next five or so decades God transformed the lives of people and the society of Britain. Thousands upon thousands accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour, slavery was abolished, child labour laws introduced, trade unions established, and prisons reformed.
Reflecting on the history of the church over a century later . . .
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[i] Introduction to the History of Christianity, Dowley, 2014

Is that Walking on Sunshine? Or Perhaps It’s Eggshells!

For many Australians the very idea that there are Christian missionaries is offensive. Good willed people involved in such areas as agriculture, education, and medicine are okay, but if they talk about Jesus hoping to convince others of who he is, they become the target of anger and abuse. They are no longer acceptable.

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“Seeing others come to acknowledge Jesus as Saviour and Lord is the heart of what we are about”
Proselytism, the act of attempting to convert someone to another religion or opinion is an act some believe should never be attempted. Even some Christians are embarrassed about it, particularly in the light of the vocal and often strong criticism coming from many quarters.
Despite this, Christians are all called to be witnesses for Jesus endeavouring to help others see the reality of who he really is. Seeing others come to acknowledge Jesus as Saviour and Lord is the heart of what we are about. Yet this leaves many of us feeling in a bind. The very thing we are called to do is often misunderstood, criticised and lampooned by family, friends and neighbours.
Over the past few months at our deacon’s meetings at Hobart Baptist we have been watching a series of videos titled “Missional Conversations.” It is a resource developed by Crossover Australia (an initiative of the Baptist Union of Australia) to help churches ask and discuss the hard questions about their church’s mission strategies. These videos have provoked deep and probing discussions amongst our deacons.
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