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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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?
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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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.
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 >>>
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.
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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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.
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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In 1829 the Governor of New York at the time, Martin Van Buren, wrote to the American President, Andrew Jackson, demanding his Federal government preserve the country’s system of water canals. He was fearful of “the spread of a new form of transportation known as ‘railroads’”. The result he said, would be “serious unemployment,” “boat builders would suffer,” and that “towline, whip and harness makers would be left destitute.”
The problem with the ‘railroad’ he said was that “carriages are pulled at the enormous speed of fifteen miles per hour.” This was frightening to women, children and livestock, and passengers’ lives were in danger. He concluded that the “Almighty certainly never intended that people should travel at such breakneck speed.”
Change is never easy. Sometimes we love it, sometimes we tolerate it, sometimes it makes us angry, and sometimes it frightens us terribly. We can long for it and plan for it, yet at the same time we will fear it and even actively resist it.
Yet change is inevitable . . . Read more >>>
Although our trip to India was many years ago now, one of the strongest impressions that remains with Jenny and me is the experience of being welcomed into the home of people much poorer than we were and treated as special guests.
More than once, people gave from the little they had to serve a meal fit only for dignitaries. Their hospitality was a great blessing that changed our lives.
A quick look at church history shows how hospitality has always had a central place when the church has engaged well with its community. Throughout history faithful followers of Jesus have welcomed others into their lives, homes and churches and demonstrated the love of Christ in practical ways.
In the Bible hospitality is focused on . . .
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As Hobart becomes more and more multicultural city we shouldn’t be surprised to see significant changes in many churches as they too become multicultural. It’s been our experience here at Hobart Baptist Church; we also are on a journey becoming more and more a multicultural church.
So what does it mean to be a multicultural church? Obviously, it means we are a church with many nationalities represented. Our church is made up of people from quite a number of European nations, and . . .
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Despite what you read in the newspaper, Christianity is far from dead in Australia.
The last census figures released last year showed that the numbers calling themselves Christian have grown from 12.8 million in 2001 to 13.1 million in 2011. While the percentage of Christians declined from 66% to 61% it is significant overall numbers increased. Being a Christian may no longer have the social status it once had, however, these figures show us it is far from abnormal.
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A number of years ago in a television interview, Billy Graham was asked, “If you could wave your hand and make one problem in this world go away, what would that be?”
Without hesitation he quickly replied, “Racial division and strife.” Across the world racial problems continue to be a major cause of death, hunger and wars.
Australia is one of the most multicultural countries in the world, and although there are ethnic tensions, on the whole our communities are quite peaceful especially when compared to other parts of the world. Sadly, however, the vast majority of our church communities are homogeneous and do not reflect the diversity of our cities. Within most denominations there are many churches that maintain their particular ethnicity and/or language.
Yet, there are other churches whose worship and witness is multiethnic and are multicultural fellowships of believers in Jesus Christ. Despite the different backgrounds, languages and ethnicity of the people, they unite as one church. Hobart Baptist is one such church, with Karen refugees providing a vibrant edge to our fellowship. Perhaps more by God’s design than ours we are a church with people from various ethnic backgrounds. Such a church is close to heart of God.
On the night before he died, Jesus prayed for those who will believe in him through the message of the disciples (John 17:20-23). His prayer was for unity across his church so that the world will know God’s love and believe. Through his obedience and willingness to die on a cross, Jesus was “reconciling the world to himself” and his prayer is for his church as it continues that reconciling work. The Church is God’s answer to the separation we see at work in the world. Our churches are to be a demonstration to the world of ethnic and racial reconciliation expressed through our unity.
A biblical example
In the book of Acts, Luke tells the story of the birth and growth of the early church. He traces its early beginnings in Jerusalem and its movement from there across Asia and on to Rome. In one city Antioch, Luke gives us a glimpse of the type of church it was (Acts 11:19-26; 13:1ff). Antioch was an urban and ethnically diverse community with a population of one million people and the church reflected this. Its leadership team included Barnabas from Cyprus, a Hellenistic Jew; Simeon (nicknamed Niger, meaning he was black) most likely from North Africa; Lucius from Cyrene, an African; Manaen from Palestine who was most likely Greek, and Saul from Tarsus, a Jew and a Pharisee. From this impressive list we can deduce that the church in Antioch was an ethnically diverse congregation that brought together Asians, Greeks, Middle-Easterners (Arabs, Jews), and North Africans.
Here, in Antioch, we see an answer to Jesus’ prayer, a church demonstrating unity to the watching world. And I believe what we see at work here at Hobart Baptist is also, however small, an answer to Jesus’ prayer. That is not say it is easy. The fact Jesus prayed for us suggests it is a difficult task, yet the reality of his prayer demonstrates how it important it is.
It’s a spiritual problem
When Billy Graham put the eradication of racial division and strife at the top of his wish list, I sense he understood that this is a spiritual problem. And until our hearts are reconciled to the eternal God who loves all men and women equally, there will be no motivation to love those who are different than us.
May God continue to inspire and motivate us to be the church Jesus prayed we would be, by celebrating our diversity and working to maintain our unity.
Stephen L Baxter