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! >>>

Prayer Needed! The World Has Changed

Mk 9:14-29

“Jesus used this incident to teach his disciples a lesson: the ordinary, business-as-usual way of doing things, no longer worked”

In a series of messages on revival the great Welsh preacher-teacher Martyn Lloyd-Jones turned to the end of Mark 9.

Here Jesus comes off the mountain to find the disciples unsuccessfully trying to free a boy from a demon. After a quick rebuke, Jesus heals the boy and the disciples ask why they couldn’t do it. Jesus explains how this kind is only expelled by prayer. Lloyd-Jones suggested Jesus used this incident to teach his disciples a lesson: the ordinary, business-as-usual way of doing things, no longer worked. Different times calls for different measures.

Using the story as an allegory, Lloyd-Jones suggested the boy represents contemporary Western culture; the demon is its underlying assumptions, and the disciples are the church. His conclusion was that our past methods of evangelism, while perfectly good for their time, no longer worked in today’s world. The world had changed. The old methods no longer applied. We are dealing with a different, difficult ‘spirit’.

Although the Lloyd-Jones’ message was given in 1959, it is still relevant today.

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What Seems to be Foolishness is God’s Masterstroke

It was the Christian German philosopher Georg Hegel (1770-1831) who wrote, “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.” It’s a brilliant paradoxical statement that contains two seemingly contradictory statements: we learn from history and we do not learn from history.Pinocchio

Which is true? Well, actually, both. That’s the nature of paradox. It is a statement that consists of two truths laid side by side that appear self-contradictory or even absurd. Yet the statement itself is ultimately true.

The Christian life is a life of paradox because there is much that is wonderfully mysterious about God. And a paradox is profound way of communicating that mystery.

Jesus said, “All those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:11) Paul wrote, “For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10). Now, how can you be humbled and exalted at the same time? And how can Paul be weak and strong at the same time? Don’t they cancel each other out?

It’s the nature of paradoxes that when two true statements that contradict each other are combined the result is not a contradiction. Rather, in putting them together an even deeper truth is revealed. As physicist Neils Bohr affirmed, “The opposite of a true statement is a false statement, but the opposite of a profound truth can be another profound truth.”

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The Heavy Toll of Christian Persecution

The recent massacre of Christian students in Kenya by Islamic militants was another gruesome reminder of the increasing persecution of Christians around the world.

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Keeping an eye on persecution globally

According to Open Doors USA, “2014 will go down in history for having the highest level of global persecution of Christians in the modern era.” Open Door predicts it will only get worse.

In its annual World Watch List, Open Doors identifies the top 50 countries where Christians face intense persecution. It takes many forms including torture, imprisonment, loss of home or assets, rape and death. Each month, on average 322 Christians are killed for their faith, 214 properties (churches or Christian homes) are destroyed and 722 acts of violence are committed.

Estimates are that over 100 million Christians are persecuted worldwide, making us the most persecuted religious group in the world, with Islamic extremism being the main source in 40 of the 50 countries on the list.

Last week, on April 14, it was one-year since the kidnapping of 276 girls from Chibok, Nigeria. They remain in rebel custody and little is known about their whereabouts or their circumstances. A small number who managed to escape from the Boko Haram camp reported being raped almost daily and that some have been killed because they refused to renounce their Christian faith.

Dr. Stephen Davis, an Australian negotiating to secure their release, says, “I have visited many villages and towns attacked by Boko Haram. I have seen firsthand the devastation and talked to families in the attacks. These are tragic stories of loss of life, slaughter, rape and the worst abuses of human life one can imagine.”

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Living BEYOND the difficulties

Our Easter celebrations have come and gone so quickly!

Back to our routines

“We stopped to celebrate Easter only a week ago, yet we are back into our normal routines before we know it.”

We stopped to celebrate the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ only a week ago, yet we are back into our normal routines before we know it. Yet, the resurrection is so profound its truths transform every part of our lives, and in a very real way Easter lives with us every day.

In his first letter to the believers living in Corinth Paul writes how “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, [and] that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). While his death dealt with our sins, God vindicated Jesus by raising him to life again. His resurrection changed everything.

It transformed Peter from a mistake-prone bungler who denied and disassociated himself from Jesus, into a bold provocative advocate who stood in front of thousands of people on the day of Pentecost and called them to repent. What changed Peter? He later wrote, “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3). The resurrection radically changed Peter for ever.

Peter’s life demonstrates a powerful insight, that the resurrection is more than a victory to be celebrated it is a reality to be lived.

It’s not by chance that the early church began meeting on Sundays, the day after the Jewish Sabbath. Read More >>>

 

God’s Hidden Presence

On the morning of his resurrection Jesus walked through the near-empty garden unnoticed.
Well almost
.

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The Garden Tomb in Jerusalem where some scholars say Jesus was buried. Click the image for more info

Had he not asked Mary Magdalene why she was crying he would have remained hidden. Then even as she answered Jesus’ question she didn’t recognise him. That is until he called her by name, then the recognition came. (John 20:11-18)

There is a mystery about the presence of God. In Matthew’s gospel when he relates the story of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God,” implying that if one is not pure in heart then God may be hidden from view. Although the Bible makes clear that God is present everywhere and in everything is God’s presence (for instance Psalm 139:7-12), the darkness of our heart distorts our perception.

St Ephrem

St Ephrem

The 4th Century theologian St. Ephrem the Syrian expressed it neatly in the following verse . . .

Lord, your symbols are everywhere,
Yet you are hidden from everywhere.
Though your symbol is on high,
Yet height does not perceive that you are;
Though your symbol is in the depth,
It does not comprehend who you are;
Though your symbol is in the sea,
You are hidden from the sea;
Though your symbol is on dry land,
It is not aware what you are.
Blessed is the Hidden One shining out!

St. Ephrem uses the word “symbol” in its ancient meaning >>>

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Why Have You Forsaken Me?

In these weeks leading up to Easter I am focusing on the “Seven Sayings of Christ from the Cross.”

This week it’s Jesus’ words of abandonment taken from Matthew 27:46, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which translated means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Hanging on the cross, his body in agony from the torture of crucifixion, Jesus uses the opening verses of Psalm 22 written by David to express the depths of his agony. But it was not the physical pain that was the source of his cry, although it was no doubt intense, it was something far deeper and darker. In that excruciating moment, he felt the unbearable painfulness that comes from rejection and separation.

Jesus entered into a place where, as Paul the apostle expresses it in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (NIV).

Suffering

“His suffering was a mirror of our sufferings”

Such is the mystery and the majesty of the salvation of humanity that we can’t possibly know the depths of what Jesus felt in that moment. We can however appreciate it in some measure. Why? Because Jesus was as human and you and I are. His experience was that of every human being. His suffering was a mirror of our sufferings.

There are times when many of us, perhaps all of us, have experienced dark times when it felt like God had abandoned us. Life was hopeless, prayers went unanswered and despair was overwhelming. It such moments we too cry out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

But that’s not where the story ends. Read More >>>

Crucify Him!

As Christians we are perhaps more familiar than most with the slow and painful execution by crucifixion.

Invented by the Persians around 300 BC and perfected by the Romans by 100 BC, crucifixion describes the process where a convicted criminal is tied or nailed to a large wooden cross and left to hang until dead.the-crown-of-divine-grace1[1]

Did you know that the word ‘excruciating’ comes from the Latin, ‘to crucify’? It means pain like the pain of crucifixion, which is variously described as unbearable, severe and excessive mental and physical pain. It is believed to be the most painful death ever invented. Shockingly, it is used by ISIS in the Middle East today.

In Roman days, the condemned were usually stripped naked, nails were then driven through the wrists and just below the ankles, ropes provided reinforcement to tie the arms to the crossbeam, and then they are raised on the cross to hang. Although this process alone would cause severe pain and blood loss, it was not normally be the cause of death. With crucifixion, people die by suffocation.

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Living IN the World (but not OF it)

In his longest recorded prayer in John 17, Jesus prays for his disciples and notes how we are “not of the world” but are “sent into the world” (John 17:15-16). His expectation is that we will continue his mission by remaining in the world although we will live differently from the world and be his transforming agents within it.

Ever since that prayer, Jesus’ followers have struggled to maintain the tension of living ‘in’ the world yet not being ‘of’ the world. It is not as easy as it sounds and so Paul reminds us, “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould” (Romans 12:2 Phillips), suggesting we need to be on guard or else it will happen.

Christmas Rush

“For many, Christmas is little more than time off work and an opportunity to over-spend, over-eat, and over-celebrate”

This is perhaps never as true as with Christmas. For most of our community Christmas is little more than time off work and an opportunity to over-spend, over-eat, and over-celebrate. It’s a time to party with colleagues and mates and for the vast majority a time to catch up with their birth family.

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“Go and Baptise Them”

Water bubble and waves

The word “baptism” was taken from the Greek language of the New Testament where it simply meant to “immerse in water”

Yesterday morning at Hobart Baptist Church we celebrated new followers of Jesus declaring their commitment to him in baptism.

The word “baptism” was taken from the Greek language of the New Testament where it simply meant to “immerse in water”. Immersing people in water was an important symbol in biblical times and practised in a number of societies across the Middle East. It symbolised dying to a past way of living and identifying with a new way of living for the future.

Today, thousands of years later, it is still used it as a way for people to demonstrate to their friends, family, co-workers and themselves that their lives have changed. It symbolises dying to your old life by going down under the water, and coming up out of the water symbolises being born again into a new life. It is a powerful way of saying we immerse ourselves in all that Jesus is about and publicly declare this reality.

One special feature of the baptisms yesterday was those who were baptised. Read More >>>