The shepherds must have been quite overwhelmed and awestruck that night when the heavenly host gathered to praise God proclaiming, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests” (Luke 2:14).
A quick reflection on world events over the past 12 months reveals the world still needs peace as much now as ever. In every nation and every community there is much pain and suffering, sorrow and injustice, sickness, violence and poverty.
We long for peace, and not just any peace. We long for a peace greater than just the end of hostilities, but one where justice is done and the human heart is changed.
Sixty years ago, during the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, American Baptist pastor, Martin Luther King Jr, proclaimed, “True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”
This is the peace the world needs and it is the peace the angels sang about. Yet, such a peace is hard to come by. Even in my own life I find it uncomfortably easy to slip from peace to hostility.
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When his disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, he began, “Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name.” That he taught his disciples to pray to Father, reminds us how Jesus constantly called God ‘Father’. In fact, he was always talking about his Father
Jesus told his disciples how his Father had sent him (John 5:36). How he had “come from the Father” and was “going back to the Father” (16:28). He remarked how he could “do nothing by himself… only what he saw his Father doing” (5:19). And in Matthew 11:27 he explained, “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” Jesus continuously explained how his coming to earth, his purpose on earth, and his leaving earth was all about revealing the Father.
But not only did Jesus call God ‘Father’, he taught his disciples to do the same. The Lord’s Prayer is perhaps the prime example. The first words are emphatic, “Our Father”.
By encouraging them to call God “our heavenly Father”, Jesus was teaching them about the loving relationship he had with Father. This profound a relationship, existing for all eternity, was now being opened for them. They were being brought into God’s family to share God’s life by God adopting them as children (Rom 8:15). This most intimate of relationships between God the Father and God the Son, a relationship of reciprocal love and respect, was now theirs to experience.
Despite the magnificence of the nature of this relationship, some Christians find . . .
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Ten days ago nine members of the Supreme Court in the USA, in a 5-4 ruling, declared same-sex “marriage” law across America. The result is that same-sex marriage can no longer be banned by any of the States. This new state of affairs was resolved by a small panel of seven men and two women. Many see this as a severe blow to democracy given that the people were not given a choice in the matter.
Although their decision does not change the biblical view of marriage, nor the view of millions of Christians across America, it nevertheless has significant implications for those who continue to hold the alternative, more traditional view. The result continues the marginalisation of Christians in the Western world.
The repercussions have already hit us. The calls for Australia to follow suit are growing louder and more strident. It seems only a matter of time before we fall into line. Then we, along with our American brothers and sisters, will need to work out our Christian response.
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Our Easter celebrations have come and gone so quickly!
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 >>>
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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In a recent interview, British theologian, N. T. Wright, warned when “anybody — pressure groups, governments, civilizations — suddenly change the meaning of key words, you really should watch out.”
It happened in Nazi Germany and in post-1917 Russia, and, he suggests, is happening today. He gives the example of trend to speak of “assisted suicide” rather than name it as a “killing.”
Wright then turns the current debate around same-sex marriage. He says that the word marriage has “for thousands of years (and across-cultures) meant between man and woman. Sometimes it’s been one man and more than one woman. Occasionally it’s been one woman and more than one man . . . but it’s always been male plus female. Simply to say that you can have a woman-plus-woman marriage or a man-plus-man marriage is radically to change that, because of the givenness of maleness and femaleness.”
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At the moment, the monthly men’s discussion group I am part of is reading through Philip Yancey’s book, What’s so Amazing about Grace.
Last month we month we discussed the chapter “Why Forgive?” In it Yancey quotes author Lewis Smedes, “The first and often the only person to be healed by forgiveness is the person who does the forgiveness… When we genuinely forgive, we set a prisoner free and then discover that the prisoner we set free was us.”
Strangely, we forgive not only for the benefit of the one we forgive, but also, perhaps more importantly, for ourselves.
Last month Desmond Tutu, the, now retired, South African Anglican archbishop, Nobel Peace Prize winner and social activist released his latest book, The Book of Forgiving. Co-written with his daughter, the Reverend Mpho Tutu, Tutu draws on his experience as the Chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa to guide people along a process towards forgiveness.
Why? Forgiveness is incredibly powerful.
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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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Early on in our marriage Jenny and I committed to making a priority of meeting with a small group of fellow Christians during the week.
We have hosted weekly small group meetings in our home in since that time. They have been variously been called home groups, small groups, growth groups, cell groups, bible studies, life studies and so on, and yet have generally retained the same key components – time to share life together over a meal, a Bible study and prayer.
I believe these informal get togethers have been one of the keys to the ongoing stability of our marriage, our family, our ministry and our lives. By sharing our lives with others over the years we have learnt and grown, laughed and cried and seen many answers to prayer. Our children were an integral part to our times too; they contributed and learnt the faith not only from us, their parents, but from other significant adults. The adults in turn were enriched by their presence.
These weekly gatherings have become so much a part of the rhythm of our lives as Christians it’s hard to imagine life without them. It’s hardly surprising that, as a pastor, it would be my preference that every Christian is part of one, whether it is a weekly Bible study, home group, small group, prayer group, mission group, or a task focussed group.
There is ample research to show that effective small groups are the backbone of growing, healthy congregations and the glue that holds them together. They are the place where people experience deeper levels of community, acceptance and accountability. They are the place where people learn from each other’s wisdom and experiences. Here trust can grow and vulnerabilities be shared. Here one can lean on another through times of trial and growth. Small groups are the place where personal care of each other deepens at a practical, prayerful and personal level.
One of the surprises Jenny and I received when we first started being part of Hobart Baptist Church was how few small groups and Bible studies there are. I’ve often wondered why this is the case.
One reason is perhaps that in the past many found their primary small group was Sunday School, but with the decline of the all-age Sunday school over recent decades, they didn’t move onto new forms. For others, perhaps, the idea of a Bible study may be threatening. For others the thought of small group may look too intimate and personal, still for others the possibility of being asked to contribute or read out loud might be daunting and for others the idea of going out at night could be a problem.
What is more, being a city church makes it difficult to have home groups. We are so scattered across the suburbs of Hobart that it is difficult to easily organise ourselves into groups. However, I don’t believe this shouldn’t stop us from trying. After all, if we want to be a thriving, growing, healthy church, Bible study groups will need to be part of who we are. Ultimately I would love to see everyone who is capable having the opportunity to be a member of a small group whether that be in a home or at our church during the week, even on the weekend whether it be during the day or the evening.
“If we want to be a thriving, growing, healthy church, Bible study groups will need to be part of who we are.
The early church culture we read about in the New Testament is one where Christians are praying together, studying God’s word together, and caring for one another. For Jenny and me, our experience is that small groups are the simplest and easiest structure to allow us to do this.
I believe every practicing Christian should be part of a small group of some description, and if you are not already, then I encourage you to seriously consider it. Look up the pastor in your local expression of the church, and ask him or her what groups you can join in your gepgraphical area. Costly though it may be, one day you will be very glad you did!
Stephen L Baxter