All Too Clear

Written by Anthony Douglas on Friday, 07 September 2018.

I’m writing from the Anglican Future Conference in Melbourne, where we’ve gathered to think about how to proclaim Christ with ‘truth and grace in an uncertain future.’ Though it rained as I reached the city, so there’s limits to the uncertainty...

That said, it is true that our society continues to change at an ever-increasing pace, and the foundations that were so solid a decade or two ago are not merely weakened, but in many cases washed away. It’s very easy to feel swamped by the forces that seek to repress the gospel, whether explicitly or just by accident.

Looking UpSo it was encouraging to be pointed to 2 Chronicles 20, where poor Jehoshaphat, king of Judah, receives the news that a massive horde has already invaded his territory and is coming for him. He has no chance at matching them, and he is terrified. He turns to God instinctively, trusting in him completely, and God delivers him in extraordinary circumstances. God was with his people, no matter how many surrounded them.

In the same way, Jesus was afraid on that last night in Gethsemane, but he too looked to God for rescue. Although he was surrounded by his enemies, and deserted by his friends, God did not leave him in the grave, but delivered him from death. God was with his Son.

And so we too can have confidence, no matter how hostile our culture appears. Be clear-sighted about the threats, and clear-sighted about the saviour: “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.” (2 Chronicles 20:12)

Careful What You Wish For?

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 01 September 2018.

TonightlyWith this year’s new Prime Minister officially fair game (that is, sworn in and on the job), it didn’t take long before he came under fire for decisions and actions that people weren’t in favour of. The ABC’s comedy show Tonightly ran a sketch that featured a mock Christian worship band.

Their satirical take on Scott Morrison’s faith did its job well. Secularists were delighted to see religious hypocrisy named and ridiculed. Many Christians were up in arms at the insult to them and particularly to Jesus, and it’s a fair point. They chose to misrepresent what Jesus taught and what Christians believe in order to pretend support for the PM.

But the surprising thing is not that the gospel was mocked on national television - that’s pretty much a daily occurrence. No, the surprise was this: the thrust of the satire was to imply that Morrison should have acted in line with his faith in dealing with refugees. The areligious Aunty was commending Jesus’ ethics, and calling for his followers to live by them.

That, I believe, is a Freudian slip. It reveals that the people behind the song really do value Christian ethics, and especially value Christians who are seeking to be authentic. While the world might complain when we believe things that are out of fashion, at the same time they become furious when we aren’t living up to things they do believe in. Reaction to the discoveries of the recent Royal Commission make that abundantly clear.

So here then is another reason for living with integrity and sincerity as a Christian: our non-believing friends really like seeing it. In fact, they even admire Jesus for it. Perhaps we can help them get to know him...

Nothing Doing

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 26 August 2018.

Slow News DayIt was a pretty quiet week, wasn’t it? Nothing much happening in the world of politics, locally or internationally. The usual professional sport, but no big matches of significance. Dull weather again, no sign of any rain...

Or maybe not.

What’s interesting is that whether it’s a monumentally big week, or a glacially slow one, the newspapers still print the same number of pages, and the TV news still runs fro the same length of time. It’s almost as if the media have a good understanding of our attention spans.

We live in the world of the new, where the most exciting things are what’s happening right now. Our greatest scientific achievements lie just ahead. Watching movies in 3D is passé, again. If it’s not right now, it’s not all that interesting.

That can mean that when it comes to sharing the gospel with people, there’s nothing doing. It’s an old story and belongs in the past, they’ll think. Good news is no news.

This response is utterly juvenile: infants have short attention spans and can be distracted easily by presenting them with something new and shiny. Adults are meant to value things that have stood the test of time: stories of legendary sporting victories, of military genius, of classic family anecdotes.

An incredible victory, the enemy defeated, the greatest story ever told - check, check, check. We’ve got a great story to tell, and if it seems like there’s nothing doing, it’s because Jesus left nothing undone.

Uncharitable

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 18 August 2018.

TV Guide“Transported to a surreal landscape, a young girl kills the first person she meets and then teams up with three strangers to kill again.”

“A federal agent in Chicago hampers the work of an enterprising American job creator.”

Rick Polito has won his fifteen minutes of fame by crafting somewhat sardonic synopses of movies for newspaper TV guides. Sure, it is strictly accurate to acknowledge the above as descriptions of The Wizard of Oz and The Untouchables, but somehow it doesn’t seem quite fair. Funny, perhaps, but not fair.

Polito was doing it for humour, but we all tend to do it out of anger. People have this way of painting our opponents in the worst possible light, assuming the least flattering interpretation of their words and actions. It’s sad, because it doesn’t achieve anything - nobody is going to be persuaded to adopt your point of view if they feel they’ve been misunderstood and not heard properly.

And it has a terrible pedigree. After all, when Jesus turned up in first century Palestine, he forced people to a choice: would they believe he was the messiah God had promised, or would they condemn him as a blasphemer? The least charitable interpretation was the one that they went with in the end, and that ought to give us pause.

Thank God that things didn’t go according to our plan. Instead, born into a confused land, a young man died and rose again as the first person in a new humanity, and then teamed up with dozens of people to save more still!

Treadmill

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 11 August 2018.

Ant MillI confess I’ve never looked upon a treadmill with any enthusiasm; it’s always seemed like a necessary efficiency to me. But it does have a significant advantage: you can always get off and stop walking.

Army ants are completely blind, and navigate by scent. Chiefly, they’re actually following the pheromones of other army ants. And sometimes, this is a recipe for disaster.

If a column of army ants accidentally crosses its own tracks, then the lead ants will follow their own scent, and march in a circle known as an ant mill. They will march, on and on, until the whole column of ants dies of exhaustion. Their instinct is to follow the safe path that’s been taken before, and with every circuit, the pheromone trail gets stronger, and the endless walk appears safer than ever.

Ants  are, of course, incredibly social creatures. They cooperate intensively, and by necessity trust the whole colony to perform every required deed. Their strength individually is tiny, but when they work in concert they can achieve incredible feats.

They’re like us, actually. Our cooperative society has learned much and worked well for the good of humanity. But are we any good at spotting when we’ve trapped ourselves in a viciously circular argument? I can think of a few places where I know our society is digging deep ruts without any real grounds for taking a particular path.

Fortunately, our God can open blind eyes.

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