How Much More

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 15 December 2019.

In formal logic, there is a structure of argument called ‘a fortiori’. The idea is that if one thing can be proved, it may then also prove something that is implicit in it. If I tell you that there’s no way I’m ever giving you a Rolls Royce for Christmas, then a fortiori, you can conclude that you’ve got little chance of getting two Rolls out of me either.

PlaceboIn medicine, the placebo effect is well known. People who are given a pill, if they believe it will be effective against something, are more likely to find it effective even if it has no medicinal qualities. Their belief in the placebo does the work.

A couple of years ago, a Hong Kong psychologist called Victoria Wai-lanYeung discovered a new aspect of the placebo effect. She gave some subjects a gift of a tube of ‘anaesthetic cream’, and found that simply possessing the tube reduced their pain, even without using it.

It seems merely thinking you could take a medicine can create a placebo effect; how much more then will the actual taking of the medicine do so.

So what? The idea that  one day Christ will return for his people is a comforting one; when he actually does so will be more comforting still! But for now, how much more comfort do we draw from knowing, not merely thinking, that he will return...

Still Standing, But Not Standing Still

Written by Anthony Douglas on Wednesday, 04 December 2019.

AspenIn a national park in Utah there resides what it likely the largest organism in the world. Scientists estimate it weighs about 6,000 tonnes. Something that heavy is bound to be pretty huge, and it is: it covers around 43 hectares.

It’s a tree. It looks like thousands of them, but they all share the same root system - a system that is thought to be 80,000 years old. Quaking aspen, as the trees are called, are clones of one another. And while they tend to be found more frequently in Canada, it turns out the dry conditions of Utah are ideal for long life.

In the breeze, the leaves appear to quiver or tremble, giving the aspen its name. Yet this fragility is an illusion; the strength of the hidden roots means new trees can grow very swiftly. It’s a resilient, stubborn, and spectacularly beautiful part of God’s creation.

It’s just like the church: seemingly fragile, easy to knock over, and yet, the church remains after two thousand years, stronger than ever. It too is a beautiful creation of a loving God, steadily growing into a mighty forest.

As long as it remains connected to the root: Jesus Christ. Otherwise, it will rot quickly, and be good for nothing, not even burning.

Let’s hold on to our king this Christmas, above all else.

Confirmation or Conformation?

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 30 November 2019.

With our confirmation service taking place tonight, it seems like a good time to ask the question: what does it mean anyway?

One approach is to take it literally: it’s a chance for those on whose behalf promises were made many years ago, when they were too small to speak for themselves, to publicly give their assent. They are confirming that those are promises that they would like to make for themselves.

The cynic might have a different view of things. They could suggest that this marks the successful indoctrination of young people, the culmination of a nefarious process that has been holding back humanity from time immemorial. It’s not confirmation, it’s conformation - we’re marking with joy that another group of spiritual lemmings have jumped off the same cliff to settle in for lives of ignorance.

IOI want to suggest a third angle. Tonight we gladly recognise that God has kept his promises. Though a baby has no claim on God, he has chosen to guard them and guide them through their maturing into thoughtful, compassionate and delighted followers of Christ. That’s not a work that they can do, nor that we can do in them. What we confirm is that we recognise that God’s Spirit has brought them to life.

It turns out that this is not merely a difference of a single letter, but the difference that a singular God makes: he does it all, for each of us, out of his kindness.

Or, for the more astronomically-minded, he makes each of us satellites orbiting our King.

Bill Shock

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 23 November 2019.

SewardWe all know that with new technologies come new ways for the unwary to end up running up a huge bill. Spam schemes, absurdly overpriced call charges to enter competitions, a computer that gobbles up your monthly download limits, and the like. You might get burned once, but you learn from it.

It’s nothing new. Way back in 1866, the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable was ready for use - quite a feat when you think about it. The honour of sending the first message fell to William Seward, the US Secretary of State at the time. He composed a diplomatic message of 780 words (which may have been a trifle ambitious), but because the content was sensitive, he encoded it into a sequence of three-digit numbers.

It turned out that the telegraph company had some relevant billing policies. Like that all numbers were to be spelled out. And that coded messages were charged at double the rate. Seward’s message ballooned to 3,772 words and cost a total of $19,540.40 - around what he would earn over three years. He refused to pay the bill, but lost a lawsuit and had to give in.

Given we’re so good at misjudging the cost of things, you’d think it would be prudent to investigate Jesus’ claims from the start. After all, if you get this wrong and the bill falls due, you won’t have a second chance to learn from the mistake...

Forgotten Heroes

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 16 November 2019.

Forgotten HeroesIt’s a sad irony that standing forgotten on a wall in a London park is a memorial dedicated to ordinary men, women and children who had heroically given their lives in the effort to save others. The project was conceived as a way to honour those whose memories would otherwise be lost.

The dangers of 19th century life meant that candidates were not hard to come by. Every year, one or more people would fit the criteria and be memorialised with a ceramic tile.

Thus, we can be reminded of 17-year-old Elizabeth Boxall, who died while trying to save a child from a runaway horse; David Selves, who at 12 died while attempting a rescue of his drowning friend; even little John Clinton, who at 10 drowned while helping an even younger child. And they are not even the youngest honoured.

Of course, there are countless memorials scattered all over the globe, indicators of how humanity values our forebears, and especially when they have made substantial contributions during their lifetimes.

By contrast, God forgets not a single one of his people, remembering every tear we’ve shed (Psalm 56:8). And he is not content with mere memories, but gives life to his fallen, though none of us have earned it. All because of another hero, one whom the world, despite its best efforts, cannot forget. His memorial is not the stone churches, not the crosses and plaques. Instead, it is the living church, built on the foundation of his sacrifice.

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