Converge is an annual gathering of Australian Baptist representatives in Canberra to advocate on issues close to the heart of our movement and the represent the 1000+ churches nationally.
This year, nearly 40 Australian Baptists from across Australia gathered for two days of lobbying and advocacy. Nicholas Alexander (Lifeway Devonport), Stephen Baxter (Mission Director & Hobart Baptist pastor) and I, Anthea Maynard (Team leader Launceston City Baptist) attended as delegates through the support and generosity of Tas Baptists.
The key objective was to elevate the ongoing and protracted crisis in Myanmar as a priority. We were asking for action from our elected representatives. Groups of four delegates from different locations met with members of parliament to introduce the situation. They then presented three asks and shared a personal story by a person from Myanmar. With more than 20,000 Baptists from Myanmar in Australia, this is an important opportunity to support them. As well, we advocated as part of a wider, ecumenical effort (with the Catholic and Uniting Churches).
Our campaign “We Must Not Forget About Myanmar” has postcards outlining the three asks to Senator the Hon. Penny Wong, Minister for Foreign Affairs. These postcards will be available through Baptist World Aid and Australian Baptist Ministries (see below). We hope that 20,000 printed postcards will end up on the desk of the Foreign Minister.
With different humanitarian crises happening around the world, the emergency for the people of Myanmar has fallen off the radar of the international community. This is our opportunity to make a difference. The United Nations Humanitarian chief, Martin Griffiths recently said, ‘successive crises in Myanmar have left one third of the population in need of humanitarian aid’.
Justice beyond ourselves
This was my first experience of Converge. It was a unique opportunity to work alongside Australian Baptist representatives from diverse roles and locations to highlight the needs and recent experiences of the people of Myanmar. It is my prayer awareness and support will grow, along with members of parliament noticing Christians advocating for issues justice beyond ourselves.
In my group, there were two delegates from the Myanmar Baptist community. Sui, from Perth WA, has recently graduated from nursing. She arrived in Australia as a refugee with her mother at the age of eight. Sui shared of her recent trip to some refugee camps on the Indian border. Sui encountered stories from elderly ladies who had fled their villages due to airstrikes. This year, airstrikes have increased dramatically in Myanmar to a current total of 289. Stronger, focused sanctions are needed to limit the capacity of the Junta to trade.
Biak was the other delegate, from Coffs Harbour NSW. She shared how her mother’s and father’s villages were burned to the ground in September this year. This was very distressing for her and her extended family.
The overall response by parliamentary representatives was engaging and positive. The Myanmar delegates were encouraged, and grateful to raise their voice with other Australian Baptists.
Have you ever thought about the cultural context of the word REDEMPTION? For most people in Tassie, the word has little or no spiritual or religious meaning. Any association with God and his work in and through Jesus has been lost. But that does not mean it is unredeemable.
According to the latest census, most Tasmanians have no religion. Or so they say. The move away from religion, particularly among younger generations, has been observed for decades. For those still attending church it is clearly seen and felt every Sunday. Church attendance is no longer high on people’s priorities, and that includes those who claim to be Christians. That’s not to say people are not spiritual, they’ve just rejected institutional forms of religion.
Along with this rejection has come a significant loss of a biblical literacy, particularly among younger generations. The Bible stories and biblical words, once common knowledge in the community for believers and non-believers alike, are no longer familiar. This has set up a widening communications gap between the Church and the community, which the Church has seemed reluctant, or perhaps incapable of bridging. Notwithstanding a number of valiant attempts to bridge the gap with varying levels of success.
The Bible stories and biblical words, once common knowledge in the community, are no longer familiar.
Redemption is one of those words that has lost almost any of its biblical meaning. For most in our community, the words ‘redemption’ or ‘redeem’ are associated with ‘gift cards’ more than anything else. They can be spotted in the aisles of the checkout of any large retail store.
More than likely, you have used them as a gift when you can’t think of anything else to give. And no doubt you have received one for the same reason. Many of them sit on our bedside tables, or take up room in our wallets, for months, until we get around to “redeeming” them.
A second, less common usage, has to do with making someone or something seem less bad. We talk of a person “redeeming themselves” when they do something good after they had a failure. We also point out “redeeming qualities” in someone or something that would otherwise be considered dull or mediocre.
So today, the words ‘redemption’ or ‘redeem’ have little association with God and his action through Jesus Christ. A quick search on Google reflects this, with very few mentions of God. And if it does, it is termed as if it is an antiquated use of the word.
But does this mean we should stop using the word ‘redemption’? Is it a lost cause? Or can we set about “redeeming redemption”? I believe so.
The first two chapters of Genesis give us a small glimpse of the world God first intended. A friend of mine describes living in Eden as living in “right relations”. It outlines a clear plan of how humanity is to relate to each other, the world around them, and to the God who made them. But things got messed up very quickly and relations – with God, with each other and with the earth – became strained and dysfunctional.
God’s response to this brokenness was a patient drawn-out process to do whatever it costs to set things right again. It reached its highpoint in the life of Jesus Christ, and continues to this day. This is biblical redemption: God reclaims the broken and sets it on a course to a renewed and completed wholeness.
This is the story of hope, where a miraculous restoration follows deep despair and total loss. This theme of brokenness and renewal, or human breakthrough after failure, is powerful and uplifting. It is the plot line of any great narrative whether it be a novel or a movie or real life. Just think of your favourite movie. Good Will Hunting, Star Wars – Return of the Jedi, Gran Torino, Les Misérables, Cinderella Man, Rain Man, I can only imagine, the Marvel series and so on. The story of redemption, it seems, is hard wired into our psyche.
Given the theme of redemption is so much a part of who we are, surely the potential power of the word ‘redemption’ remains, it just needs to be repurposed for our contemporary world.
It’s all about relationship
In the New Testament, ‘redemption’ basically has two aspects.
On the one hand we read of Christ’s atonement for the sins of the world, as in: “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3). On the other hand, we read of Christ’s victory over the powers of evil, as in: “we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. But … God sent his Son … to redeem those under the law” (Gal 4:3b, 5a, see also 2 Cor 4:3-5, Phil 2:8-11). The focus of the first is our relationship with God, while the focus of the second is our relationships in the world.
Both are critical for our understanding of redemption. However, historically, the church has emphasised redemption in terms of our relationship with God at the expense of our liberation into freedom as “sons of God”. By paying more attention to making things right with God we have neglected making things right with our neighbours, and significantly for younger generations, making things right with the environment.
Perhaps it is here the word ‘redemption’ can find redemption! Perhaps redeeming redemption is a thing after all.
Despite the brokenness of our world and the despair people feel, Jesus reminds us that at the heart of this vast universe is love, and that the great Creator has always and has never stopped loving us. Humanity is God’s great project and despite the havoc caused by sin, God’s heart was never hardened against us. Instead, it is our hearts that were hardened against God. Yet God, who is always ready to point out our “redeeming qualities” amid all that is dull, mediocre or severely broken, set about freeing us.
So, what is Redemption?
Redemption is God’s gracious act of releasing us from all the things that cause our hearts to be hard. It is a liberation from the slavery of bitterness, shame, rage and anger, and the powers that locked us into mediocracy, harmful habits, undermining attitude.
Through redemption, we are rescued so we might find our way back to life, to health and to living the way life was meant to be. It brings us back into right relations with God, with each other and with the world upon which we live.
Redemption is so powerful and wonderful that it can even redeem itself. At its heart, redemption is a gift. Jesus. He is God’s great “gift card” available for everyone. All we need to do is redeem him.
By Tasmanian Baptists Mission Director Stephen Baxter
Just over a year ago, images from the James Webb Space Telescope were released with great fanfare. Orbiting around the sun, the telescope began to peer deeply into outer space, capturing infrared glimpses of distant stars, clouds and galaxies formed billions of years ago.
With the Webb telescope we can probe the mysterious structures and origins of the universe in new and exciting ways. As its website declares, “We wonder. It’s our nature. How did we get here? Are we alone in the universe? How does the universe work?”
Since the beginning of human life, generation after generation ask these questions. And we continue to ask them in our day even as, and because of, the amazing images the Webb continues to provide.
Astronomers estimate there are some 100 billion stars in the Milky Way, the galaxy where earth is located. They also guess there is some 2-trillion galaxies across the known universe. That’s a lot of stars. Something like one septillion, or 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. With a number like that, no wonder we continue to ask who on earth are we are.
Genesis remains adequate
For millennia, the early chapters of Genesis have inspired millions. Its proposition that our existence came about through the action of a generous, wise, and benevolent Creator is literally awesome. Those introductory chapters of the Bible are a small and unique glimpse into the intentions and desires behind life as we know it.
Generation after generation have returned to those words for inspiration. Each has brought their own interpretation, borne out of their desires and the limits of their knowledge. Today, in the light of our increasing knowledge through instruments like the Webb telescope, it is time to do our own work of interpretation.
It’s not that Genesis is inadequate, for it remains God’s revelation to us. However, previous interpretations can seem somewhat inadequate in the light of recent discoveries.
Is it possible to revisit these first few chapters of Genesis and retell the story of our beginnings in a way that captures and recaptures our imaginations, imaginations shaped by the images of the Webb telescope?
The first hearers of the Genesis story of creation had little sense of the size, nature, and scope of our world. Let alone the Universe. Over the following centuries as human knowledge grew, each generation reimagined the story of life in the light of their expanded knowledge.
For example, when people did not travel far from their place of birth, knowledge was limited to, and dependent upon, the place where one lived and upon the information gleaned from visitors. When explorers returned with fascinating tales of distant lands, peoples and creatures, one’s appreciation of the world grew.
When people did not travel far … knowledge was limited to, and dependent upon, the place where one lived and … from visitors.
For those who wrote and compiled the Old Testament, their horizon was limited to the Middle East. By the time of the New Testament writers, it had expanded to the Roman Empire.
Around the time of the Protestant Reformation, the horizon included Europe and parts of Asia and Africa. Then, there was the significant expansion through the nautical exploration of people like Columbus. And as well, through the proposal by Copernicus that the earth revolved around the Sun – not the other way around. The reformation/renaissance period became one of rapid discovery and change. This had a profound and transformative effect on every aspect of Western culture, including Christianity.
Around the time of the Protestant Reformation, the horizon included Europe and parts of Asia and Africa.
Our world today is amid a similar period of rapid change. Propelled by technology and space travel, today’s horizon has literally moved out of this world. We are the first generations in human history to look back at earth from outer space. This change of perspective is having a profound and transformative effect on the life of every person living on our planet.
This picture of a fragile, vulnerable, and isolated Earth suspended amid the vast emptiness of space, changed the world. As historian Robert Poole suggests,
“The sight of the whole Earth, small, alive, and alone, caused scientific and philosophical thought to shift away from the assumption that the Earth was a fixed environment, unalterably given to humankind, and towards a model of the Earth as an evolving environment, conditioned by life and alterable by human activity, it was the defining moment of the twentieth century.”
The ‘Pale Blue Dot‘ is a similar photo, and just as profound. The 1990 Voyager 1 spacecraft took it when 6.4 billion kilometres away from earth. This photo, together with the ‘Blue Marble’, signifies a defining moment in our expanding horizon.
In the light of this expansion, many old stories we told ourselves, about who we are, no longer seem adequate. The exploration of space, the insights of modern science, rapidly changing technology and the communication revolution, contribute to destabilising old metanarratives.
Today, for the first time in human history, and despite the remaining differences in language, customs, worldviews and religion, there is a collective “knowing” that we all share the one planet, with the one history and the one destiny. Everything is interrelated, everything is dependent. We need each other. The future is ours together. We can no longer operate in isolation.
A stark question for Christians
Contemporary answers to the perennial questions of “Who am I?”, “How did we get here?” and “What does the future hold?” must take the insights of this expanded horizon into account. Any spirituality or religion appearing indifferent or ignorant to our ‘fragile’ world, or displays a reluctance to work ‘together’ for the future, is quickly dismissed. It is seen as out-of-date, inadequate, irrelevant and even dangerous.
Any spirituality or religion that appears indifferent or ignorant to our ‘fragile’ world . . . is quickly dismissed as out-of-date.
Christians today face a stark question. Is the story of creation in Genesis capable of giving an answer that will satisfy the yearnings of those who ask them in the light of the Webb telescope? I believe the answer is yes. But we will need to do some deep reframing.
This is not a new enterprise. The Reformers had to do something similar when they encountered new discoveries and technological advances. They reimagined and reinterpreted the Genesis creation story of their day. Like them, we need to arrive at a narrative big enough and meaningful enough to recapture our imaginations. It will provide a new vision for what God is doing in our world.
This is the task before God’s people who live in this moment.
I pray God will enable and equip us to develop a spirituality/theology aware of these expanded horizons which is attuned to the spiritual longings of contemporary Tasmanians. Wouldn’t it be great if this new awareness enlivened searching hearts with the hope, love and joy found in Jesus Christ?
Stephen Baxter is the Senior Pastor at Hobart Baptist, and is Tasmanian Baptists Mission Director.
Mission Director Stephen Baxter’s “Deep Thought” article challenges readers to “retell the story of our beginnings in a way that captures our imaginations, imaginations shaped by the images of the Webb telescope”. He concludes that “…we need to arrive at a narrative big enough and meaningful enough to recapture our imaginations”.
It is an incredible claim to suggest that the truth of God’s word is merely the product of how well we can imagine what it is saying. The idea that the Scriptures are confined by human imagination is a denial of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. God’s word is bigger and more meaningful than any human mind could have put together. When we treat it in this way, we open the door for compromise on a whole suite of fundamental doctrines. It also confuses passages that are clear in their meaning and suggests that clear statements can not be made in Scripture that are not open to reimagination sometime in the future.
Stephen appeals to the Reformers who had to reimagine and reinterpret the Genesis creation story but fails to mention that they did so by “Sola Scriptura” – returning to scripture alone and NOT the faulty word of man. They were intent on using Scripture first to interpret the world we live in not the other way around.
It should be no surprise then that Martin Luther concluded: “Now we know from Moses that about six thousand years ago the world was not yet in existence”.
Augustine said as early as the 4th century AD:
“Let us then omit the conjectures of men who know not what they say, when they speak of the origin and nature of the human race. They are deceived too, by those highly mendacious documents which profess to give a history of many thousand years, though, reckoning, by the sacred writings, we find that not 6000 years have yet passed”
What has the James Webb telescope actually achieved? It has simply enhanced the Psalmists claim that the heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1). Did mankind really discover through observation of the 1972 ‘Blue Marble’ photo that earth hangs “suspended amid the vast emptiness of space” when the oldest book in the Bible says: “He stretches out the north over empty space; He hangs the earth on nothing.” (Job 26:7). Doesn’t that suggest the ancients were not limited by their own knowledge in expressing God’s truth, but rather through His divine revelation to us?
Stephen’s opening statement that the universe “formed billions of years ago”, means that Genesis 1-11 cannot be taken seriously despite his claims that it can. The second that you invoke vast ages is the moment that you must accept that the rocks are billions of years old and that the fossil evidence of death they contain is a result of the actions of the Creator Jesus, not the result of Adam’s sin. Stephen has acknowledged that he sees no problems with billions of years of animal death prior to sin.
Theologians must realise that the Big Bang is an attempt to explain the universe without reference to God. Science finally caught up with scripture just over a century ago and realised that the universe had a beginning so they concocted the idea of the Big Bang. It has many failings as a scientific theory but for Christians we accept that Jesus Christ is creator and that “He alone spreads out the heavens” (Job 9:8). Given that we do not even understand the physics of Jesus walking on the water, why do we think we can come up with the physics of his most amazing miracle – the creation of the universe? It is a special arrogance of mankind into which Christians should not be drawn.
So Christians take heed of Paul’s warning:
“20 O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called:21 Which some professing have erred concerning the faith.” (1 Tim 6:20-21 KJV)
The Big Bang is false scientific babbling which Christians should avoid, relying rather on God’s power as expressed in Psalm 33:6
“By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth” (Ps 33:6 NIV)
The claim that Old Testament writers were limited in their knowledge to the Middle East is also false on a number of levels. Firstly, mention of Tarshish (Europe), Cush (Africa) and the travels of Solomons fleet, abroad for 3 years, suggest much wider knowledge of the world.
However, more importantly, the Scriptures come to us as a result of revelation.
“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways,2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.” (Hebrews 1:1-2 NIV)
In Exodus 33:11 we learn: “So the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.”
Do we know more than Moses? Jesus himself gives us a stark warning about this: “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.” (John 5:46 NIV)
The Hebrews 1:2 verse also highlights that God has spoken to us through His Son. When Jesus comments on marriage, that in the beginning God made them male and female, it actually means “in the beginning” not 13.6 billion years after it as Big Bang timeframes would currently require.
Baptists have always been a movement who have highly prized the truth of Scripture. Spurgeon was one of few voices that opposed Darwin in his day. “If God’s Word be true, evolution is a lie. I will not mince the matter: this is not the time for soft speaking.” (Spurgeon 1886). It disappoints me to read an article in our Baptist news on such an important topic that includes no scripture references at all.
Perhaps the thoughts of long-age astronomer John Eddy can shed light on why Christians get drawn into the idea of vast ages. He said:
“I suspect that the sun is 4.5 billion years old. However, given some new and unexpected results to the contrary, and some time for frantic recalculation and theoretical readjustment, I suspect we could live with Archbishop Ussher’s value of the earth and sun [6 thousand years]. I don’t think we have much in the way of observational evidence in astronomy to conflict with that”. (John Eddy PhD (astrogeophysics), Solar Astronomer, High altitude Observatory, Boulder Colorado. In Geotimes, vol.23 1978)
It is important to note that Eddy states his belief in billions of years but admits that it is not because of the observational evidence. Rather, it is due to his underlying belief system upon which he then builds his picture of history. Christians are in the fortunate position where we can rely on the words of the one who was there at the creation of the universe and who told us what He did in His word.
The James Webb telescope is an amazing example of human ingenuity and engineering that helps us explore the wonders of creation, but it most certainly does nothing to cause us to compromise our clear understanding of Biblical Creation.
I want to sincerely thank Stephen Baxter for a frank and friendly discussion on this topic.
Craig Hawkins The Point Baptist Church | Creation Research – Tasmania | Creation Discovery Centre Tasmania
On Sunday 5th February 2023, Marrawah Baptist Church held their final service when 78 people squeezed in to give thanks. They took it out with a bang. You can watch snippets of the service via YouTube, below.
Personally, my ministry started in Marrawah, and I had the privilege of MC’ing the service. A long time ago, I led the local youth group, and gave my first sermon in the mid-90’s. Patrick Bakes, who has been a regular speaker and encourager at Marrawah, shared a couple of songs.
Ted Nibbs, who has also been a regular speaker at Marrawah for many decades, gave the final sermon. This was complemented by Stephen Baxter (Mission Director for Tasmanian Baptists). Both men spoke of the seasons of God’s work, and the sewing of seeds over the years, but also the courage to know when it is time to complete a chapter and see what God opens next.
However, the people worthy of note are those who kept this church functioning these recent, sparse years: Peter and Silvia Godman, and Ada Baldock.
FROM LEFT: People gathered early; Pre-service morning tea; The building was packed out!;Speakers on the day.
Seventy Years of Service
Marrawah Baptist church began in 1953, and during our closing service one of the founding members, Miriam Godman, shared some of the history. Marrawah has grown and commissioned many missionaries, held thriving Girls Brigades, summer-clubs, hosted ‘GodStock’ (Christian Surfers of Tasmania camp), and was often the starting point for Bike for Bibles.
Stephen Baxter reflected on the day saying, “It was my privilege, on behalf of Tas Baptists, to join the folk at Marrawah as they celebrated the faithfulness of God and to give thanks for the service of many people over many decades.
“It was also a day of mixed emotions. Our Baptist work was the last remaining church to close in Marrawah. There was grief in that, but also hope and expectation for what God might do next.”
Is there something else in the pipeline at Marrawah? “Watch this space,” was all Stephen could say.
The thanksgiving service at Marrawah Baptist was a sad occasion as the doors were closed for the last time. But please pray with us as we determine God’s will for Marrawah.
Tas Baptist’s Mission Director, Stephen Baxter, has had some time out to ponder and reflect from a distance. It’s amazing what a trip beyond Tasmania’s shores can do to shift your perspective!
We are well and truly into 2023. Kids are back at school, church programs get underway, and life returns to its familiar rhythm. Jenny and I have just returned from a time in Spain to be with our daughter, Alice, and son-in-law, AJ, on the birth of their daughter, Koa.
Spain, like Australia, is very secular. This got me wondering what God thinks about all these people going about their lives, without giving much thought to the deep and essential questions of life. The question was heightened by the fact that Alice and AJ are in Spain working with others in bring the good news of Jesus to Spaniards.
My thinking has remained with me as I return to Tasmania.
THE CHURCH: From Spain, to Tasmania, to Marrawah!
Last Sunday I was with the Marrawah church as they celebrated their final church service. It was a day of celebration and sadness. As I looked at the pictures of the past, spoke with people, and heard their shared memories, it was clear that over the years God has been at work in special ways.
But times change, and the church as it was, is no longer viable. Marrawah is a little picture of the church in Australia and Spain. It is no longer the centre of our communities like it was. However, that does not mean it is the end of the church. Rather, it is the end of a certain form of church that worked well for a season, and needs to adjust for a changing world.
God has given everything needed through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. But because the world keeps changing, the church needs to be constantly renewing itself. As Germain theologian Helmut Thielicke put it,
The gospel must be preached afresh and told in new ways to each generation, since every generation has its own unique questions. The gospel must constantly be forwarded to a new address, because the recipient is repeatedly changing his place of address.
Fresh wind, B L O W
On the day of Pentecost God did a new thing and the church was born. Whenever we celebrate that day, it is a reminder of the need for constant renewal. A quick survey of church history reveals just that. The Holy Spirit is at work renewing the church from age to age, enabling and equipping it to be the church of its particular age. May it be so here in Tasmania.
Returning home, this is my prayer for Tasmanian Baptists, and I encourage it to be yours too: that God would blow a fresh movement of the Holy Spirit through us, that we might be vibrant churches with a revitalised theology finely attuned by the Holy Spirit to the changing needs of a changing world.
Let me encourage you to join me in praying this prayer.
Stephen Baxter Mission Director Tasmanian Baptists
During 2022, the Mission and Leadership Development Team were very busy, supporting Tasmanian Baptist churches.
So … how are Tas Baptists going? Read on to find out.
Click for a MaLD Reflection
On the Front Foot
As I look forward to 2023 it is with great hope and with a deep sense that significant challenging times lie ahead of us. These challenges are reflected in the significant change to the religious landscape of Tasmania over the past 20 years.
The latest Census figures show how those nominating as “Christian” has dropped from 69.9% in 2001 to 38.4% in 2021; and over the same period, those nominating as “no religion/secular belief” has risen from 17.2% to 49.9%.
In the five years between the 2016 and the 2021 Census, those of “no religion/secular belief” overtook “Christian” as the largest religious grouping.
This is such a dramatic change, I’m sure I cannot fully appreciate what it means for our mission and ministry. Nevertheless, I’m convinced God has been preparing us for this moment.
How Tasmanian Baptists are responding
These changes have not caught us by surprise. More than a decade ago we deliberately embarked on transitioning to become a mission-shaped movement. More recently, our focus has been on building a team of new generation pastoral leaders. Although there is still more to do, we are making significant gains.
So, where to from here?
The Tas Baptist Council is currently in the middle of a review. They want to listen to our churches in this moment, and hear from God, to clarify our next steps. It is hoped a report will be ready to present to next year’s Mid-year Assembly in May.
My encouragement to us all is the words God spoke to Joshua, “be bold and courageous”.
Given the changing nature of society, complete with some significant economic challenges thrown in, I suspect the years ahead will be quite demanding and tough. Yet, God is with us, and this turns any threat into an opportunity. We are not caught on the backfoot, but are instead progressing with confidence.
So let us move ahead full of faith, hope and love.
Every year feels big (and small) when thinking about church, community, and leadership.
It’s like thinking about family. There is no winner. Just the time-period of a year spent sustaining a community, growing leaders, deepening relationships, and dealing with setbacks.
I find it simultaneously rewarding, and challenging. As well, it is easy to let the setbacks dominate any discussion, because they are the easiest to remember.
Which is why at the end of every year I focus on what brought me joy.
Tas Baptist Pastors and LEADERS’ Musters
Courage | Presence | Proximity
I loved our March get together in Hobart, and our discussions on Courage. They set me up for the year in so many ways. I particularly loved our end reflections, and conversations I had with many, as we mutually encouraged one and other.
As the year has gone on, our conversations around Presence (Burnie) and Proximity (Launceston) have felt large. It feels like it is a constant conversation at the moment, where we are calling each other into presence and authenticity.
It brings me joy to spend time with you.
How we have carried courage, been present, and responded to our calling is something that gives me great hope as we head into 2023.
Blessings and Grace and Peace to you this Christmas.
There is a deep, quiet, and joyous sense of gratitude in my spirit about our Tasmanian Baptist community and what God is doing among us.
This year I have had the privilege of noticing an increased sense of team among our pastors, and walking alongside people as they courageously choose to follow God and his ways. I have seen an increase in bravery and vulnerability, understanding of self and of God, and a willingness to listen to and follow the promptings of Holy Spirit.
There is a stirring that God is doing something fresh, and we get to participate and co-create. No doubt there will be more challenges ahead, but what a privilege this is!
As we turn to 2023 …
I sense an invitation for us to know God better through the presence of Holy Spirit.
There is an invitation to find guidance for better ways of engaging. To find guidance to better engage with our communities and those around us with hospitable love and transformational grace.
I sense courage (bravery + vulnerability) and deep friendships will be integral to leaning into the kingdom of God, with patience and perseverance. I also sense an invitation to lovingly and prophetically speak into younger generations. To pull down the barriers in ourselves and our faith communities as we learn to know God and each other afresh.
Questions for you to ponder …
What is God’s invitation to you for 2023?
What does it look like for you to carve out time to dwell in God’s presence?
Who are the safe people that you can increase vulnerability with?
How can you build relationships with people of different generations?
That’s an important question I was asked recently. It was asked not out of personal concern, but about the future of planet earth. They had attended church for a time, and had heard “the Good News”. But from their perspective it didn’t sound like good news at all because it seemed to have little to say about environment, and survival of humans.
There are many in our community who feel the same. The way we tell the story of Jesus just seems irrelevant to their key worries.
Sometimes our telling of “the Good News” is heard as “believe in Jesus and get a free ticket out of earth to heaven”. When it is heard that way, God sounds disconnected, detached and quite disinterested in what happens in our lives, here on earth today.
Our emphasis on ‘heaven’ has neglected earth, and turned it into something like an incidental waiting room for the afterlife.
Setting to Rights
This is far from what Jesus taught. In his book Simply Christian,N. T. Wright states, “Despite what many people think … the point of Christianity is not ‘to go to heaven when you die’ [rather it is] to put the whole creation to rights”. Paul says the same things when he writes, God’s purpose is “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
God’s purpose is “to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.
Ephesians 2:10 (NIV)
Paul’s focus is not on getting from earth to heaven. In fact, it is the other way round — it is about getting heaven down to us.
If we think of all the things that go wrong in the world, it’s easy to picture a huge gap between heaven and earth. But that’s not how the Bible describes it. Heaven is not a long way away; it is very close.
In fact, Jesus was always on about seeing what God was up to in the world. He often declared the “kingdom of heaven has come near”. But despite all his miracles and healings, people struggled to see it.
An inquisitive religious teacher Nicodemus came to see Jesus. Although impressed by what he saw in Jesus, he wanted to know more. Jesus said to him that, “no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”To observe and understand what Jesus was on about, to see God’s kingdom at work, Nicodemus needed a new set of eyes.
“To observe and understand what Jesus was on about, to see God’s kingdom at work, Nicodemus needed a new set of eyes.“
Change Your Mind!
And it wasn’t just Nicodemus. We all need a new set of eyes.
Jesus announced, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Mt 3:3, 4:17). The English ‘repent’ isn’t a great translation of the original Greek, metanoia. But at least it’s better than the Latin translation (Vulgate) which reads, “Do penance! For the Kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
Martin Luther was sure penance was not what Jesus meant, and translated metanoia as ‘change your mind,’ which is better than our ‘repentance’.
Metanoia comes from two Greek words, metá meaning “beyond” or “after”, and noeō meaning “perception”, “understanding” or “mind”. So, an even better translation is perhaps “think beyond”. This means Jesus was saying, “prepare yourself for what is about to come—open your mind, your heart, your eyes.”
“Jesus’ emphasis was not on the failings of the past, but upon the potential of the future“
The Good News is not that Jesus has come to whisk us away to heaven. Rather he came to reunite heaven and earth. His purpose was for heaven and earth to interlock and overlap. To be woven together in a vibrant tapestry which Paul calls “the new creation”.
Jesus didn’t come to make us sorry for our sin, although that is a helpful part of the process. Instead, he wanted us to be excited by a fresh start. His emphasis was not on the failings of the past, but upon the potential of the future.
God deeply cares about the future of our world, and that is exactly why Jesus came. He calls us to a new life focussed on love for each other in the power of the Spirit. If we all lived that way, then the future of the earth would be ensured. Surely, this is Good News, and surely this is what our world needs to hear.
Stephen Baxter suggests we can take courage, even when things feel really dark.
On one occasion when the Jewish religious leaders again questioned Jesus why he healed on the Sabbath, he replied, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working … the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.” (John 5:17, 19 NIV)
These words are the inspiration for my prayer for many years, “Father, help me to see what you are doing so I may be like Jesus, and do nothing by myself, but mimic your work in the world.”
However, I’ve discovered that sometimes it’s difficult to see what God is doing.
Let me explain . . .
It was a dark moonless night in early Spring. I was about 12 years old, and we were holidaying at my grandfather’s farm. A highlight of any stay was staying up late to go spotlighting. On this particular night, just after turning into our first paddock, we got bogged. The ute was up to its axles in mud, and it was going nowhere.
After my uncle set off to fetch a tractor from the farmhouse a few kilometres away, my brother, father, grandfather and I sat in the back of the ute. While we were waiting, we gazed in awe at the night the sky.
There are some things about God, and the beauty of creation, which can only be seen and appreciated in the dark.
It was in the outback, a long way from anywhere with no moon and no lights. The stars shone like diamonds. It was a magical moment as we followed satellites and shooting stars and talked of planets, suns, galaxies and God. The display of beauty and power filled my heart with wonder and awe.
An unexpected realisation
Recently, I’ve reflected on how that moment illustrates a profound insight. There are some things about God, and the beauty of creation, which can only be appreciated in the dark.
This realisation is somewhat counter-intuitive, because we normally associate God with light, and for good reason. The Bible is full of metaphors about God being light, and the opposite of darkness. However, it also speaks of God creating darkness, and darkness being as light to God (Ps 139:12).
The Bible is also full of people who encountered God in the darkness, not just physical darkness, but the dark times of life. I’m thinking of Job, Jacob, Esther, Jonah, the sisters of Lazarus, the apostle Paul, and Jesus himself.
Suffering and loss, grief and betrayal are the fertile soil where deep lessons to do with wisdom and compassion germinate and grow.
Some things, it seems, can only be learned through dark times. Suffering and loss, grief and betrayal are the fertile soil where deep lessons to do with wisdom and compassion germinate and grow.
There are many who suggest we live in dark times. A global pandemic, wars in Europe, Asia and Africa, concerns around the changing climate and culture wars across the West are just a few examples. It is a challenging moment for the Church too, particularly in the West. Our churches on the whole, are shrinking, there is much antagonism towards us, and many are working to suppress our voice and action.
Our response: to take courage
It is right to lament and work for solutions to the challenges we face, but there is more to this moment than that. Although our natural reaction is a “fight or flight” response, there is another way – we can take courage.
In this dark moment we can trust in God’s goodness. We can be assured of God’s love, presence and good purposes. And we can be alert to all God has to show us: things new and profound, things we have never seen before, things we could never see in the light.
So my encouragement is for us to pray, and keep on praying, “Father, help us to see what you are doing that we may be like Jesus and do nothing by ourselves, but mimic your work in our world, to the glory of your name.”
Stephen Baxter is Tasmanian Baptist’s Mission Director
It takes courage to take hold of Reengaging, Reimagining and Realigning
By Mission Director, Stephen Baxter
2022 is upon us, but it in Tasmania, it hasn’t been the easiest of beginnings.
Jenny and I were blessed to attend our daughter’s wedding in Spain in late December. While we were away, Tasmania’s borders opened for the first time in 18 months, paving the way for the COVID virus to re-enter our state.
By the time we returned home in the first week of January, so much had changed. Mandatory mask-wearing had become the norm, and a careful hesitancy by people meant our streets and shops felt somewhat empty.
Tasmanian churches changed over that time too. Facemasks are now mandatory for church services, although it has been the norm for many around the world for quite a while. Not surprisingly, attendance numbers are down as many, for various rational reasons, have chosen to stay home preferring online services instead.
God’s promise to us
It is no understatement to say we live in trying times — for both our communities and our churches. Yet, it is in such a time like this, that God promises not to leave us but to be with us. In 2 Corinthians 1:3-4, Paul says God is the “Father of compassion and the God of all comfort who comforts us in all our troubles”. We are all thankful for that.
May God comfort you amid all the disruption and uncertainty you are experiencing at the moment.
This is a prayer we can pray for ourselves and each other. It is certainly my prayer for you. May God comfort you amid all the disruption and uncertainty you are experiencing at the moment.
I also pray God will use this time to continue the transformation process for all of our churches. The Bible is full of times when God has used difficulties, struggle, and even suffering, to renew the people of God.
Whether it was the wilderness experience of the Israelites fleeing Egypt for the Promised Land, or their exile experience in Babylon, or the persecution of the church in the early days by the Roman Empire, God is always at work in times such as these. Indeed, for Jews and Christians at all times, God never wastes hard times. Comfort and renewal are at work side-by-side. I trust that is true for us too.
These words are designed to help us understand and commit to what we sense God is doing among us –
To reengage with the mission of God in our communities,
To reimagine what church might look like as we take seriously that we are to be salt and light in our communities, and
To realign the resources of our churches and union to enable us to be the church God calls us to be.
It seems to me that God is using this “COVID-moment” to help move us along the transformation path as expressed in our 3 Rs (Reengage, Reimagine and Realign). If that is correct, we can be comforted God is at work amid the challenges. And our response should be a resounding “Yes” to cooperate with God in this transformational work.
I’m not suggesting this is easy. It takes courage to say “Yes” to God.
It takes courage to trust, and courage to keep going. It takes courage to accept God’s compassion and God’s comfort. It takes courage to live with and open heart. It takes courage to love, accept and forgive. And it can take courage to comfort others. As Paul goes on to say, God comforts us, “so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (1 Corinthians 1:4).
(en)Courage one another
Our theme for 2022 is (en)Courage.
It is an encouragement to take courage, to embrace what God is doing amongst us, and to receive God’s comfort at this time. All with a view to not just receiving courage, it but passing it on into our communities.
We’ll share more about this in the months ahead. But in the meantime, this is my prayer for you, and I trust we may pray it for each other:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ (1 Corinthians 1:3-5).
Wednesday 24th November, Hotel Grand Chancellor Hobart
This year’s Tasmanian Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast brought together like-minded people from across Tasmania to pray for our State, our leaders, parliamentarians, businesses, schools, communities, and community organisations; our families, youth, and children.
Over 400 people attended this, the 16th annual Tasmanian Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast. It was attended by Church and business leaders, aid agency representatives, and many other Christians from across the state.
A record number of State and Federal politicians attended, 26 out of a possible 40. This included the Premier Peter Gutwein, the Deputy Premier Jeremy Rockliff, and Leader of the Opposition Bec White. Jacquie Petrusma MP welcomed all as the Parliamentary Host.
Tasmania’s Young People
The breakfast was chaired by Stephen Baxter (Tas Baptist Mission Director), who oversees the TPPB organising committee. The newly formed Calvin School Choir, pictured below, performed for those gathered.
Prof. Patrick Parkinson, the speaker at the recent Tasmanian Baptist Annual Assembly, gave an overview of some of his achievements. He spoke about the care and nurture of young people in Tasmania, and presented some concerning statistics. Having suffered childhood abuse, and his current blended family, he spoke into those numbers with heart-warming vulnerability and authority.
As usual, Stephen Baxter gave a very insightful framing to begin the morning. It is reproduced here for you . . .
Let me take a moment to explain why I believe we are here.
We gather in the name and spirit of Jesus to pray for our state and its people. From the oldest to the youngest, those doing well and those not so well, those who lead and those who serve.
Across this room we are a rich and diverse tapestry of culture, experience, outlook and belief, believers and non-believers alike. We do life together on this magnificent island, Tasmania – lutruwita. We are wrapped in the world’s purest air, graced with magnificent forests and magical lakes, lined with epic coastlines and surrounded by crystal clear water. It is a slice of heaven. We are truly blessed.
Yet, our lives, public and private, could be better. Perhaps, more than ever, we are rightly aware of the wrongs of the past, sensitive to racism and injustice, and conscious of the need to care for our environment. But the same time we are distracted by fear and anger. It shapes our lives.
A damaging polarisation is at work. We see it in the rage and resentment that prioritises victimhood and grievance over community and resilience. We see it in the violence – verbal, written and physical – that seeks to silence the opinions of others. The result sadly, is division, conflict, and animosity, even between good people. And it solves little.
At the same time, we are losing the art of forgiveness. We dredge up things from someone’s past suggesting it defines them today – conveniently forgetting each of us is more than the worst we have done.
Some advocate the removal of faith from the public square. They do so unaware that true faith nurtures confession, repentance, and the potential for redemption and restoration. If we are to overcome the significant challenges we face, I am convinced we need to include faith.
As a spiritual leader I appreciate you might be sceptical. I am deeply aware the Church, in its various forms, has let our community down in so many ways. I know I speak for many when I say I’m sorry.
Churches are not exempt from the need for confession and repentance. We are always learning and relearning how to follow Jesus. His execution by the authorities of the day, which included the religious, was a brutal form of cancel culture. They did not like what he said so they silenced an innocent man.
We all can learn from his response. It was not resentment or rage, but a cry, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing”. We all need forgiveness. The resurrection of Jesus reveals God is willing to give it.
Love, acceptance and forgiveness. It’s what holds our lives and families, our communities and our future together. Every day, inconspicuously and unheralded, thousands of Tasmanians just ‘do it’. They don’t seek wealth, power, or fame, but quietly do what needs to be done: lending a hand, sharing a meal, volunteering at emergencies, caring for the forgotten, and courageously standing for what they believe.
It’s spiritual. It is what lights and sustains the fires of excitement, passion, vision and sacrifice.
It is the spiritual that will help us learn afresh how to respect one another, how to engage in civil dialogue, and how put aside our differences for the sake of the common good.
That’s why we come to pray.
Stephen Baxter, Tasmanian Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast 2021
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