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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Last week I began a series on God’s Mysterious Ways. The Bible reminds us that God’s ways are not our ways and God’s thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). When reading the Bible we are often left wondering why certain things happen the way they do.
In his book, Genesis: The Movie, Robert Farrar Capon suggests one of the reasons we are often confused and perplexed by the Bible is that we read it the wrong way. Rather than reading it as an instruction manual he encourages Christian to start “watching” it like a film. Only then, he suggests, will we begin to understand what God is up to.
When we watch a movie we normally do so in one sitting. We don’t stop it every five or ten minutes to analyse each scene, but watch it to the end waiting for the threads to come together and the story resolve.
Capon suggests we read the Bible the same way. Rather than stopping every time we don’t quite understand . . .
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Years ago in my final years of High School we studied the Australian novel The Getting of Wisdom by Henry Handel Richardson (Ethel Florence Lindesay).
The story is about Laura Rambotham who leaves the sheltered world of her mother and enters a boarding school. Here she is a little fish in a big pond and Laura struggles in the new environment. The epitaph in the book says, “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding” (Proverbs 4: 7), but one is left wondering what wisdom has Laura gained.
Are you a wise person? Is that a fair question? If you think you are wise . . .
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How important is the Bible in your life? Most Australians would say “it is pretty irrelevant” without realising the extent to which a biblical perspective underpins the foundations of Australian society.
Then there are many in our community who want to rid Australia of all biblical influence, suggesting it is dangerous and divisive and unfit for any nation. This is such a narrow worldview.
As I led the recent Tabor Bible College study tour of Israel during April/May this year, one of the many things students grew to appreciate was how central the Bible (Old Testament) is to the Jewish nation. Whether they are religious or secular, every Israeli citizen is not only surrounded by historical biblical sites but the Bible is embedded in their daily life.
Marriages, divorces and funerals are recognised only if they are performed by an official Israeli religious authority. Civilian marriages are sanctioned but only if they are performed abroad. To matriculate from High School . . .
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Each year as our community celebrates Christmas it feels as if the name of Jesus is mentioned less and less. As multicultural sensitivities increase in the name of tolerance, the diminishing significance of Christmas is noticeable. More often than not it is called Xmas, and commercialisation has taken over.
Even phrases like “Merry Christmas!” are replaced with “Happy Holidays!” or “Seasons Greetings!” It seems like it won’t be long before the true Christmas story will only be heard in Christian churches.
The trend is clearly captured in surveys by McCrindle Research which show that only 15% of Australians now take part in religious events such as attending services, carol singing, and nativity play s at Christmas. Yet, a massive 87% of those who say they are nonreligious celebrate Christmas in some way, just not with any religious or spiritual meaning. Not surprisingly, perhaps, 56% of those who belong to a religion that doesn’t celebrate Christmas, such as Buddhists and Hindus, nevertheless still celebrate it. Australians see Christmas as being about presents, shopping and celebrations and only a third (37%), believe traditions such as exchanging gifts and a general ‘Christmas’ spirit are important.
These trends cause one to ponder on the future of Christmas. If trends continue it’s not hard to foresee that increasing numbers of people will celebrate Christmas with little or no reference to the birth of Jesus. Even so, despite the decline, Christmas Day will remain a legal holiday because our retailers and the economy could not survive without it. And no doubt Christians who observe Christmas as the celebration of Jesus’ birth will continue to be marginalised. We will need to be increasingly assertive if the wish to maintain the right to celebrate the birth of Jesus publicly.
In the light of such forces it is difficult to know what the future of Christmas holds. However, there is no need to despair or to give up hope, there is more to Christmas that that.
At the heart of the Christmas story is the miracle of God’s love and grace. Christmas is the story of baby born to be king, but rejected by the world. We should not be surprised that such rejection continues today.
“In the light of such forces it is difficult to know what the future of Christmas holds.
However, even despite betrayal, crucifixion and death, God’s plans are not thwarted. Though his faithful obedience to death, his vindication through the resurrection, and his promise to return; Jesus still embodies for us the promise of a new and better world.
The angels who heralded the birth of Christ declared the promise of peace on earth. It was the fulfilment of the visions of the Old Testament prophets that told of God’s intention to once and for all deal with evil and establish a new world order. In it the wolf and the lamb will lie down together and the earth will overflow with the knowledge of God, just like water covers the sea. The future of Christmas is assured, justice and peace will reign.
As we celebrate Christmas this year and worship Jesus our Lord may our lives, family and community be filled with hope, joy, peace and love. Even so, come Lord Jesus!
Stephen L Baxter
Yesterday at Hobart Baptist we had our sceond Combined Service. It’s a time when the three different congregations making up Hobart Baptist Church came together to worship at one service and celebrate our diversity. The children did not leave for their programs in the middle of the service, but remained with us for the entire time; and later we continued our worship by sharing a meal together.
Why would we do something like this? Why expend all this effort to change our normal pattern?
In Galatians 3:28 Paul says we are “all one in Christ,” “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female.” He reminds us that God does not see his people as the world sees them. God does not operate in categories of ethnicity, status or gender, but is in relationship with each person in the same way. When we gather together in our diversity we are reflecting something of the way God regards each one of us. Making room for each other and treating each other in the reality of that “oneness” becomes of itself an act of worship.
Throughout the Bible, from the Old Testament prophets to the New Testament letters, there is a theme of the promise of God of a New Creation – a world where everything is set right. In it, God’s Spirit fills everyone regardless of ethnicity, age, gender, or class. It is a place where that same Spirit gifts everyone for the common good of all. It is a place where broken lives and relationships are healed.
That’s why Jesus commanded us to be in unity. John records him saying (13:34-35), “A new commandment I give to you. Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this will all know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Being in unity despite our differences is a command of Jesus.
From this passage, the American theologian Francis Schaeffer concluded that according to Jesus, the world has the right to decide whether we are true Christians based on the love we show to other Christians. So when Jesus said we are to love on another he was talking about something real and observable, something that needs work, yet it is something that is at the heart of what it means to follow him.
That’s why we take being together seriously and why we make the effort to worship God in all our wonderful diversity. It was an enjoyable time together yesterday. For some there may have been things that happened that were not exactly to their taste and therefore a little uncomfortable. I encouraged those people to, as an act of worship, move past the discomfort and choose to celebrate the diversity God has blessed us with.
Perhaps you too find it difficult to embrace all God’s wonderful diversity and choose to stay in an environment where you are safe and comfortable. Let me encourage you too, to look past these things as your act of worship.
Stephen L Baxter