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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Reach One . . .

Over the past few weeks at Hobart Baptist I’ve talked about our program Reach One. Reach One is an encouragement for each one of us to connect with one person who does not yet know Jesus, just like the disciple Andrew did.

I’ve always enjoyed the story about the disciple Andrew. He was Peter’s brother, and the first thing he did when heard about Jesus was to was to find his brother and tell him, “We have found the Messiah,” and brought him to Jesus (John 1:40-42). The results of that encounter are significant: while Andrew remained in the background as a disciple, Peter became a major leader among them.

An initiative of 2020 Vision, Reach One aims at encouraging every person attending a Baptist church in Hobart to be involved connecting with our community. It is not a major undertaking, it just asks each one of us to befriend at least one person who does not know Jesus and reach out to them in love, service, and prayer. It is not a program, but a journey where we each develop a relationship over the coming year. Then later in the year there will be events where we can invite our prayerfully gained friends to get to know others and hear about Jesus.

Reaching one person at a timeHobart Baptist is not alone in this. Baptist Churches from across Hobart are working together trusting God will reach out through us into our families, schools, work places and communities.

It is not a new idea. Writing to the Corinthian church Paul says, “God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ‘s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20, The Message Bible). It doesn’t matter whether we are young or old, God has given us a task: to share with others the hope we have in Jesus (1 Peter 3:15). Imagine what could happen if every one of us took this challenge seriously and began to pray asking God to help us reach out to at least one other person.

But some of us will ask, how do I tell someone about Jesus? What do I say? Where do I start? The story of Andrew is a great example and our series on the book of Acts gives us some pointers. While we don’t know everyone, we all have a circle of relationships including friends, neighbours, or family. Among them there is no doubt somebody whom we could get to know with the hope that one day we’ll be able to share about our personal experience with Jesus. It is one person introducing Jesus to another.

My prayer is that God may encourage and inspire you to pray and ask, who is Jesus prompting me to get to know? Who does Jesus want to reach out to through me? Imagine what the outcome could be if we all were inspired to Reach One.

The success of failure . . . and the failure of success!

Often when discussing how Jesus said we – his disciples – would do even great things than he did, people look stunned and ask, “Even walk on water?”

I respond, “Jesus was not the only person to have walked on water.”

Incredibly surprised they ask, “Who else did?”

Peter,” I reply.

And almost dismissively they say, “Oh yes, that’s right” (see Matt 14:22-31).

Their response reminds me how often we view things through the lens of failure rather than success. We think of Peter as one who sank in the water, forgetting that to sink, he first had to walk on the water.

We overlook the reality that Peter daringly stepped out of a boat into the darkness in the middle of the lake of Galilee. We don’t stop to imagine what Peter must have felt in those moments to choose to step out of the boat. We miss the point that it was a moment of triumph, Peter actually walked across the top of the water.

Sadly, our recollection of the event is coloured by the next few moments when Peter’s resolve quivers and he begins to sink. “What a failure,” we conclude forgetting what he has just achieved and missing the fact that there were 11 cowards who never got out of the boat. We are quick to condemn Peter, and slow to condemn the others.

Why are we so quick to do so?
Why see Peter as a failure rather than a success?
Why is success such an obsession and failure such a problem?

Perhaps it is part of our fallen nature. When Jesus taught he turned the world’s value systems upside down. For instance, those whom the world considers rejected by God are in fact blessed (blessed are the poor); and those who are gentle and humble inherit the earth (blessed are the meek) rather than those who are aggressive and charismatic (see the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5).

When Jesus taught, he turned the world’s value systems
upside down.

Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God – a place where God rules with a very different value system. While on earth Jesus formed a little group around him whom he prepared for the coming kingdom.

Peter’s walking on water was part of that learning and it seems like Peter learnt well. Even though he sank that night, at least he had a go. Ultimately Peter is the one who has the courage to stand on the day of Pentecost and explain what is going on. It is he who has the courage to stand and testify before the Sanhedrin. It is he who, when commanded by them to stop preaching in Jesus’ name, tells them that he can’t obey and will continue to preach (Acts 4:13-20 and 5:27-32).

Failing and Learning
Peter did not ‘fail’ that night on the lake; rather he had a very good moment of learning. He demonstrates an important principle for us all: successful people fail every day just like everybody else, but they view their ‘failure’ as an opportunity, not as a threat.

In fact, from the world’s point of view Jesus was just another failed Messiah. It appears that his career was cut short and his dreams never realised; his plans were thwarted and his work unfinished. However, the resurrection changed everything. The ‘failure’ of Jesus in fact becomes the hope of the world. All our failures now have the opportunity to become successes.

When Jesus chose obedience to Father he knew it meant choosing failure by the standards of the world. In doing so he demonstrated once and for all what true success is. When stripped down to its basics, success is faithfulness and obedience to the will of God – everything else is lost in comparison.

When we come to look at the church today, and at the lives of fellow Christians, it is too easy for us to view the church and each other through the worldly lens of success.

Thankfully God doesn’t view us that way. Jesus demonstrates for us this amazing paradox: the failure of success, and the success of failure.

May God grant you a renewed mind to view the work through this lens of the Kingdom of God.

Stephen L Baxter

Hospitality and the Healthy Church

Writer Henri Nouwen once noted that hospitality means,

“The creation of a free space where the stranger can enter and become a friend instead of an enemy. Hospitality is not to change people, but to offer them space where change can take place.”

In other words it is the art of creating an environment where people feel valued, cared for, comfortable and become open to change.

I believe God wants every church to be like that, including amongst the gathering of Christians I lead at Hobart Baptist. People remark how friendly our church is and that’s great feedback. But not an excuse to rest; we have still more to learn. It is easy to let our friendliness gravitate to being friendly to each other and forget about our guests. I often wonder about the number of people who have recently moved to Hobart and visit us for one or two Sundays but never return. I ask myself, do they find us friendly?

The apostle Peter hints that creating an environment where people feel valued, cared for and comfortable is not easy. In one of his letters he encourages Christians “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” (1 Peter 4:9) suggesting he knew it would be no easy task and one we can easily allow to fall away.

Although we may be a “friendly” church, I’m not sure every visitor experiences us that way. There are many reasons why, but one has to do with the fact that friendliness means different things to different people. Some visitors are more reserved and find too many conversations and too much fussing somewhat overwhelming, whereas others enjoy lots of contact and being made a fuss of.

Similarly, some are motivated by the gaps they see in a church and so feel wanted, whereas others will easily feel overwhelmed by the needs and sense they being “recruited” by well-meaning folk even on their first Sunday with us.

Such diversity in peoples’ likes and dislikes calls for great sensitivity on the part of the church. Creating the environment where people feel free to enter and explore according to their own pace requires sensitivity to know how to talk with people being careful not to overwhelm them with our enthusiasm.

Some of us are more gifted and sensitive in this regard than others. Some have the ability not only to enjoy meeting new people and helping them feel welcome, but are able to set them at ease in unfamiliar surroundings. Others of us don’t find it quite as easy, feeling a little overwhelmed ourselves at the thought of making the first move to greet another. Yet this is no reason not to try. Those who are more gifted can be an inspiration and model to the rest of us.

I heard recently the suggestion that the expression of hospitality is a sign of a healthy church. Just like Jesus was open and sensitive to people around him, the church that offers a welcome displays a heart like Jesus’. It is not surprising that words hospitality and hospital have a similar Latin root; and interesting in that they both lead to the same result: healing.

Hospitality is not an option for us. It is an extension of Jesus’ work through his Church. As we were welcomed by him into God’s family, he calls us to welcome those he brings into our midst. Whether that is before, during or after our service; we need to be alert for visitors standing by themselves. They can’t be left like that, but greeted with a smile and a sensitivity that doesn’t overload or overwhelm them.

Peter reminds us that hospitality is not an option. So let us be encouraged to get on with it and be alert, welcoming and sensitive. Let us work together to create an environment where people feel valued, cared for, and comfortable, and let’s get on and do it without grumbling.

Everyone has had good and bad experiences when visiting new churches. What’s your story?

Stephen L Baxter