A Particular Kind of Boldness

A Particular Kind of Boldness

After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. Acts 4:31

It takes courage on multiple levels to live as a representative of Jesus Christ. Courage before Christ himself, to have the nerve to say Yes, Lord, I’ll be your person in this place as opposed to Master, I know you are a hard man … so I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground.

But courage also, of course, in the face of the world, because when we endeavour out in Jesus’ name, we’re likely to receive the same full gamut of different responses that Jesus himself received – welcomed and honoured through to mocked, despised and rejected.

Now this is nothing to do with success or failure. If you board a ship and share Christ, all 100 passengers may receive you happily. Or they may hate you and throw you overboard. Neither outcome necessarily means you’ve represented Jesus well or badly. Each could be a beautiful worship and service to Jesus.

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The point is, it’s out of your control. There is no way to program the mission of God so that an outcome is guaranteed. God refuses to simply reprogram the robots, but instead makes himself vulnerable to rejection. (Paradoxically, wonderfully, he wins our hearts through having his broken.)
So the boldness we need, and the boldness the first disciples sought and received from God, is not an imperviousness to rejection, like a coat of armour so strong we can simply crash through and feel no pain. On the contrary, it is the courage to feel that pain.

It’s interesting that the word gallantry has two main definitions: ‘Great bravery in battle’ and ‘polite and respectful attention in courtship’. Do you see how these are linked? Both involve the willingness to be shot down. The boldness that sacred agents need by the Spirit is this Christlike form of boldness. It steps out from behind safe cover. It takes the first steps forward toward the other because they have God’s attention and God’s respect. It is prepared to suffer pain, but it takes pains not to inflict it.

The more we can take that posture and those steps in all the places God sends us, the more likely we are to in fact receive a very positive response. So let’s spend less time calculating our chances and more time asking God for his kind of boldness. If you’re thinking of inviting someone to church, or Alpha etc – worry less about whether they might say no, than about how their life may be if no one invites them at all.

 

Author: Andrew Turner is Director of Crossover for Australian Baptist Ministries. 

Photo by Manfred Richter (CC)

 

Thanks so much to all who have supported the Australian Baptist Easter Offering – which funds Crossover to Help Australian Baptists Share Jesus. It’s not too late to contribute if you haven’t.

The Turning of the Tide

The Turning of the Tide

March 1st 2024

I blinked and had to look at the number a second time: 34%! Each year we gather the number of baptisms reported by Australian Baptist state associations, and there was a 34% increase from 2022 to 2023. Wow! But what to make of it?

It could be a whole range of things. Perhaps Australian Baptists got a whole lot better at reporting! (I imagine plenty of baptisms go un-counted, and while that’s frustrating for statisticians, it’s rather how things should be in a decentralised movement like ours.)

Or was it a post-Covid bump? Possibly, but I’m not convinced. Was it our National Baptism Week initiative? No, given the 6-month lag in collecting the numbers, they’ll show up next year. I had been expecting a rise of over 20% simply based on what I was hearing anecdotally from pastors and leaders. But 34% is remarkable – what could possibly explain it?

Well, I think the answer could possibly be Jesus. Why on earth would so many people want to be baptised? Hang on, why would they not? Let’s remember that belonging to God’s family through faith in Christ is the normal and sensible thing given the unfolding of his kingdom, the place in it he offers, and the promise of his Spirit! We can get lost in studying the tea leaves of culture and economy to see whether people will or won’t like Jesus – and find that we believe more in the power of culture and economy than in the power of the gospel to captivate people of all cultures and economies.

That said, I do wonder whether wave of baptisms is another indication of the ‘turning of the tide.’ The church in the West has long been adjusting to the end of Christendom and the loss of (mandatory) popularity that entailed. Many have become resigned to endless decline – a narrative that’s entrenched itself even as church participation has increased.

As Western culture increasingly becomes a spiritual desert, however, should we be surprised that spiritual thirst increases? Along with stories of baptisms, I’ve been inundated with stories of ‘gatecrashers’ – people (especially young adults) walking into churches that neither advertised nor invited them – and asking to be introduced to Jesus and Christianity.

Ten years ago the ‘New Atheist Movement’ held the floor among Western intellectuals, but it has died much faster than any church it mocked, and in its place we now see the ‘New Theist Movement’ – including such opinion-leaders as Jordan Peterson, Tom Holland and Ayaan Hirsi Ali (now openly a Christian). For more on this see Justin Brierley’s The Surprising Rebirth of Belief in God book and podcast.

So are we seeing the turning of the tide – even the beginnings of revival? It’s 20 years too early to say. But keeping our heads – indeed keeping our eyes on Jesus – our confidence to live for and witness to him should be based on him, rather than the fickle fashions of our culture. Let’s be absolutely confident in Christ, and in pointing people to him, regardless of whether they’re likely to applaud or imprison us.

Author: Andrew Turner is Director of Crossover for Australian Baptist Ministries. 

Crossover exists to Help Australian Baptists Share Jesus. 

So That’s What a Bushel Is

So That's What a Bushel Is

October 1st 2023

There’s an art to inviting without inviting: ‘We must have you over for a meal sometime.’ Just look at the sheer beauty of that sentence. It has all you want in warmth and friendliness, without, you know, ever having to actually eat with the person. 

Australian Baptists are generally a warm and happy bunch. According to the NCLS1 results, Baptist churches are the place to be: 88% of us have a strong sense of belonging, 89% agree that our church is inclusive of different kinds of people, and 78% found it easy to make friends in our local church. Considering the epidemic of loneliness in Australia, our communities are some sort of dream land. But are we really as inclusive as we say?

There’s another, more troubling figure in our survey results. Those of us who ‘invited to a church service here any friends/relatives who don’t currently attend a church’ has fallen significantly – from 41% in 2006 to 27% now. For the first time, the inclination of Baptists to invite an outsider has fallen below the inclination of outsiders to accept such an invitation! 29% of non-church Australians say they are ‘Extremely likely’ or ‘Very likely’ to attend a church service if invited by a friend or family member.2

Friends, this raises serious questions that go deeper than our choices of outreach resources and evangelistic technique. Let us search our hearts with the question, ‘Do we really want people to be included, like God wants them to be included?’ I know there’s more to mission than inviting people to church, but there’s not less to mission than that.

If we still believe that well-worn myth that ‘nobody’s interested’ in church, we’re wrong! And if we lower a bowl (that’s what a bushel is) over our lamp Mt 5:15 as though to keep the light and warmth to ourselves, we’re very wrong! It doesn’t just hide the flame, it smothers it.

Let’s arrest the slide of Sunday gatherings becoming weekly quiet times, when we withdraw from the world. (We need those daily.) No, when we gather, it should be our time to shine. What better way to show people Christ, than to show them the body of Christ?

Author: Andrew Turner is Director of Crossover for Australian Baptist Ministries. 

Crossover exists to Help Australian Baptists Share Jesus. 

The Scandal and the Wonder

The Scandal and the Wonder

August 1st 2023

I’ve been working on baptism resources lately, and it’s mainly straightforward – Don’t forget to bring them up again. But there are curly issues too, like When is a person ready to be baptised?

There are extreme answers to this. Some denominations say ‘At birth!’ Others, concerned about post-baptism sin, have concluded ‘Just before death!’ You’ve likely narrowed it down somewhat from those extremes, but the question remains.

If we baptise people on their first interest in Jesus, how do we know it isn’t merely a crush? Six weeks later they might be into Buddha or basket-weaving. It’s not a new phenomenon – the Parable of the Sower Mt13 speaks of flash-in-the-pan believers as one of four main types of people who hear the gospel.

But if we delay, how long? For there’s another type (thorny ground) who hang around much longer but in the end are similarly unproductive. And Jesus’ next Parable (The Wheat and Weeds) speaks to the difficulty of discerning which is which anyway.

In the 3rd to 5th centuries, churches enrolled new believers into several years of instruction in faith and morals. Their way of life was closely observed. The final hurdle was to learn the creed and be able to recite it by heart. Then baptism. There’s something admirable about the commitment to intentional discipleship, but there’s something troubling too.

The scandal and wonder of the gospel is that people can be reconciled to God instantaneously. The returning prodigal isn’t required to spend a few years in the workers’ quarters, proving his reformation. He gets the ring of family-belonging five minutes after turning up in rags.

Discipleship is a process, certainly. But it’s at our peril that we shape it (or allow it to be perceived) as a staircase up to acceptance with God and inclusion with his people.

So what’s the choice? Shall we be casual, or die-hard? Lax, or strict? It needn’t be so binary. Why not have a rigorous system for strengthening new believers, but place baptism at the start rather than the end? There’s a new life to learn, but it’s not something we earn. Dallas Willard aptly put it, ‘Grace is not opposed to effort, it’s opposed to earning.’ The Great Omission

When the Ethiopian eunuch says ‘There’s a pool of water – what’s to stop me being baptised?’ Ac8 we don’t see Philip answering ‘Well you’ve only passed the Isaiah exam.’ But neither does the New Testament see disciple-making as dipped-and-done. Baptism has always been an initiation – a start line.

Some will start and then stumble. But the danger of baptising someone who may fall away is vastly outweighed by the danger of withholding baptism because they might. Best, I think, is to baptise all who are willing to follow Jesus … straight into a supportive and disciplined community.

 

Author: Andrew Turner is Director of Crossover for Australian Baptist Ministries. 

Crossover exists to Help Australian Baptists Share Jesus. 

Six Simple Questions

Six Simple Questions

June 6th 2023

Sacred agents have a priestly duty – in fact sacred agent is just a fun way of saying priest. All of Jesus’ people are called into one version or another of this ministry, and together we are being formed as “a royal priesthood” (1Pe2), which will never not be amazing.
Priests always face two ways – towards God and towards people. To be effective as sacred agents, let’s not only think about how we talk to people, but also how we talk to God. So whether you’re going brilliantly or feeling far from effective, here are some great questions/requests you could bring to him.

  1. “Would you please fill me with your Spirit?” Jesus is the vine and we’re the branches. We can only give to others what we ourselves have received, so all effective sacred agents have found ways to ask and to receive much from God. The good news is that God eager to give! Jesus couldn’t have been more emphatic about this: We’re not only allowed to ask for God’s Spirit, we’re urged to. (Lk11) Amazing things happen when God pours his love into our hearts. And apart from this, not much really happens at all.
  2. “Please show me where I’m blocking your flow.” Jesus was equally emphatic in teaching that God’s blessings are not just for us but are to be through us. “If anyone is thirsty, let them come to me and drink … streams of living water will flow from within them.” (Jn7) But there can be objects, attitudes, habits, fears or doubts that choke the ministry God wants us to have and reduce it down to a trickle. Asking God to bring such things to light is highly strategic and good us as well as others.
  3. “To whom are you sending me to today?” It’s easy for us to look at our day and just see tasks, appointments and duties. God sees people. And if we’re available to Him, there will be people he wants us to not just brush past, or even for us to go out of our way to meaningfully connect with on his behalf.
  4. “Please give me a real sense of how much you love them.” We’re usually called to be more than messengers, who simply say ‘God wants you to know XYZ’. Even if all we have for someone is a brief word, we’ll be much more likely to share it (and share it well) if we have a sense of how deeply and powerfully God longs for them.
  5. “Who should I partner with in blessing them?” This question moves us from seeing ourselves as solo superheroes. We may have individual assignments from God for sure, but often we’re called to work as a body, which is wonderful and powerful and a witness in itself. If someone has a need and the solution is not in my hand, my hand may still have a role to play – pointing, connecting, or passing along.
  6. “Please give me wisdom and courage to know and play my part today.” Along with God’s Spirit, wisdom is the other thing that the Bible makes clear we’re allowed to ask for with guaranteed results. A sacred agent is not called to do everything, nor to do nothing. We just need to know our part and be ready to play it.

It’s possible that the simplicity of these questions could have disappointed you. They’re not exactly rocket science, are they? But for those who dare to actually ask them, there’s transforming power that leaves rocketry looking pretty boring by comparison.

Author: Andrew Turner is Director of Crossover for Australian Baptist Ministries. 

Crossover exists to Help Australian Baptists Share Jesus. 

Exscribo Divina – An Easter Exercise

Exscribo Divina - An Easter Exercise

March 20th, 2023

Ten or twelve years ago, while chatting socially with a woman who worked as a psychologist, I mentioned rather sheepishly that I had a fear of flying. “You should come and see me,” she said, “I can help with that.” Before I could deflect, she added, “You know, often it’s associated with a childhood trauma. Were you in an accident when you were young?” Indeed I was. Intrigued, I asked what could be done, and to her financial detriment she just said, “Well, come and see me if you like. But you might find that just having had this conversation will have helped.”

What? A passing conversation of all of two minutes? But then the strangest thing happened. When I next flew – some weeks later – the fear was just gone. I am still absolutely amazed by this, that just a few words can have such power, power beyond argument or persuasion or logic. It’s like she had spoken directly to my nervous system.

If you’ve been following Jesus for a while, Easter can be a little strange. We celebrate the heart of the good news, but it doesn’t seem like news anymore. We know how it goes. God bless all the preachers stretching their heads to come up with a fresh angle on this old story! But Easter can just come and go if we let it.

So here’s a little exercise I’ve found helpful to keep the heart from dozing:

Copy out Mark 14-16 and Isaiah 53. Copying Scripture* is slow. Slow enough that sure, I notice little things I hadn’t considered so much before. But it’s not about that – it’s about letting the words hit me in a different way. I’ve just been immersing myself in the wonder of it all. Opening myself up to “just having had this conversation” with God.

My intention here isn’t to know more. Perhaps it’s to know better or deeper. My fear of flying wasn’t logical, and it wasn’t fixed by following logical steps. I did get information, but strangely sideways, so that it got deep enough in me to make a genuine difference.

This is not just something we can do for ourselves but with others too. Perhaps there’s someone in your life who’d be willing just to read through it with you? Not for analysis or explanation or even persuasion – you might find there’s other powerful ways that God works his healing magic both in and through you.

*You can call it Exscribo Divina if the people you’re trying to impress only speak Latin

Author: Andrew Turner is Director of Crossover for Australian Baptist Ministries. 

Crossover exists to Help Australian Baptists Share Jesus. Please support our Easter Offering in 2023.

Volunteer at Baptistcare

What volunteers are saying about Baptistcare

Perhaps you are thinking about using some of your time to volunteer. Baptistcare has opportunities across metro and regional areas for you to volunteer your time, skill and presence to support elderly people towards living meaningful lives.

Meet Norma, a Baptistcare volunteer:

Norma lives in regional WA and after retiring started her volunteer life in hospice care. It was, however, the time her dad spent in a Baptistcare residence which inspired Norma to volunteer with Baptistcare. Her father asked Norma if after his death she would visit residents who weren’t as fortunate as he was to have family and friends to care for them.

So when Norma is not at a Zumba or yoga class, meditating, playing croquet or gardening she can be found volunteering with Baptistcare.

Recently we asked Norma some questions.

Why do you volunteer at Baptistcare? 

I started because of my father’s request, and I continue because I can see there is always some benefit in my volunteering. One of the most memorable experiences I have had was the opportunity to write a biography for a resident. Her family knew very little of her early life and used some of the work as part of her eulogy. People are so grateful for the volunteers and Baptistcare are supportive and never pressure the volunteers to do more than they can.

What would you say to anyone thinking about volunteering with Baptistcare?

Come with empathy and be sure that if you volunteer someone will benefit.

 

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much” – Helen Keller

 
 
If Norma’s story has inspired you, go to the Baptistcare volunteer page by clicking the logo below and submit your expression of interest in becoming a Baptistcare volunteer.

 

Baptism Resurfaces

Baptism Resurfaces

March 9th, 2023

I was visiting a country church, and a young woman shared that she’d “been looking forward to getting baptised for ages”. They sure breed them tough out there – in the city we only baptise people for a few seconds!

As Baptists, you’d think we would be bigger on baptism. Strangely it seems to have drifted into the background over recent decades. Was it somehow due to our emphasis on action, on faith lived out practically in mission and justice? Against the importance of eating with neighbours, listening to the marginalised and shopping ethically, did baptism get lumped into the category of empty religious rituals, potentially a hypocritical substitute for actual righteous living? “If you want to please God, feed the poor! Don’t prance about in water or fiddle around with bread and juice and singing and saying prayers.”

If that’s how we thought, silly us. It suits the spirit of the age to claim that Christian worship and social righteousness are opposites when in truth there is a massive correlation between the two. Far from baptism being an act of washing one’s hands of real-world responsibilities, it points to and empowers them. The act of baptism is tangible, it is bodily. It steps the new or young believer’s faith out of the realm of ideas and philosophy and into the physical and the actual. It’s like taking me, a war-history buff, and inducting me into the army as a soldier, fitting me out with a uniform, and enrolling me in basic training. Things just got real. Baptism is for those who realise Jesus’ kingdom is real, and their need to get real with him.

So it’s pleasing to see baptism rise again in recent months as a topic and practice of priority for Australian Baptists. We’re re-learning what’s been right in front of us: that lasting transformation for good is driven by and made possible by a real connection to the living God. The real experience of reconciliation to God, knowing forgiveness, security, identity, and empowerment by the Spirit – these are what will result in transformed households, neighbourhoods and nations. It is those who seek shortcuts to the kingdom without the King and justice without the Judge who are in greater danger of wasting time with empty words, token actions and performative hypocrisy.

So pointing people to Jesus and, crucially, giving them an accessible way into his army of peaceful conquerors – this is our deep privilege. It’s not a retreat into religiosity, it’s an advance towards true progress.

Crossover will be encouraging and resourcing churches to speak of and offer baptism more openly and more often. Some might say this is about empty symbolism – we see it as giving more people an opportunity to find life to the full – and to bring life to their world in turn.

Author: Andrew Turner is Director of Crossover for Australian Baptist Ministries. 

Crossover exists to Help Australian Baptists Share Jesus. Please support our Easter Offering in 2023.

Faith Runs Deep in Australia

Faith Runs Deep: a new video series exploring stories of faith across Australia to be released through Olive Tree Media.

May 3rd, 2022

A unique 12-part video series unearthing stories of faith that have impacted Australia is being released by Olive Tree Media on Wednesday, 4th May.

 

Faith Runs Deep unearths stories of more than 40 Australians past and present who have been impacted by Jesus and have gone on to have a significant influence within the Australian community.

 

The series has been produced by Olive Tree Media, makers of the award-winning series, Jesus the Game Changer and Towards Belief. Olive Tree CEO Karl Faase, worked with their experienced production team as well as Karl’s wife and series producer Jane Faase, filming some of the material as they drove across Australia in an iconic Australian Holden ute.

 

Faase commented, “This is a unique video series, with high production values telling stories that few know about and unearthing the deep influence of Christian faith in the Australian culture.”

 

“We need a shift in the narrative around Christian faith in our country and telling inspirational stories of people who have had a deep influence in our country and culture is what we are seeking to do.”

 

The series has three plots, first the historical and academic reflections. The second is personal stores from today of people whose lives have been impacted by the gospel including musician Colin Buchanan, ex deputy PM John Anderson, bull rider Tim Kelly, indigenous artist Narelle Urquhart, AFL premiership winner Shaun Hart and Olympian Eloise Wellings. Lastly, stories of the host and producer behind the series, Karl and Jane Faase, which will introduce viewers to some of the unique and as yet untold stories from their lives and journey of faith.

 

Faase commented, “We see the series being used in churches and ministries across Australia as a demonstration of where faith runs deep in our nation that will serve as an inspiration and encouragement to the church.”

Faith Runs Deep will be released at Excelsior College in Sydney on Wednesday, 4th May, both as a live event and online. The trailer will be available at the end of April.

To find more information and see how you can support this series, click on the logo to head to their website.