A Complete Failure

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 03 March 2018.

I have a book - The Book of Heroic Failures - which recounts stories of people who have found magnificently hamfisted ways to stuff up in some field of endeavour. It’s funny, but the truth is, their failures are neither heroic nor truly magnificent.

Allen GardinerAllen Gardiner is another story. Born at the end of the 18th century, he joined the Royal Navy and distinguished himself swiftly and rose through the ranks to command a ship in his early thirties. And then it was all downhill from there. The Navy no longer wanted him. His wife died after a decade of marriage.

Gardiner decided to try his hand at mission work. From 1834 to 1838, he sought to establish churches amongst the Zulus, but none of them succeeded. Undeterred, he moved his efforts to Chile for the next five years, but again found his labours stymied.

He decided to focus on reaching the people of Patagonia, but was unable to persuade any mission agency to support him - so he started his own in 1844. The first missionary sent out returned home unsuccessful after a year. Meanwhile, Gardiner sailed to Bolivia but failed again here too.

Finally, Gardiner went to Patagonia himself in 1850, with six companions. Conditions were terrible, and their supply ship failed to turn up with more provisions. All seven of them starved to death.

Gardiner was a heroic, magnificent failure. His mission agency? The South American Mission Society, which would go on to send missionaries all over the continent.

False Alarm

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 25 February 2018.

Billy GrahamIt looks like Donald Trump missed this opportunity - normally he loves to label something as fake news, but he let this one through. On Wednesday, the story broke that Billy Graham, at the age of 99, had died. The obituaries that no doubt had been prepared years earlier were all released, and columnists wrote their pieces.

But they were all scooped by the man himself. Almost twenty years ago he wrote his first obituary:

“Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”

There are countless millions around the world who have much to thank Graham for. His impact upon Australian society can only be described as extraordinary, but we were not alone in this.

Yet as he himself would hurry to point out, anyone who owed anything to his ministry owed it to Jesus Christ, who has been calling his brothers and sisters for millennia. While Graham had a number of particular gifts, and they were used well in God’s service, the chief and integral one was his determination to simply preach Christ at every opportunity, and leave God to do the work.

The news that concerned Billy Graham this week wasn’t about his death; rather, he was no doubt glorying in the good news that he preached for most of his life. It’s a human interest story alright, and one with a great ending!

Righting Wrongs

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 17 February 2018.

Justice1We haven’t got a monopoly on this, but it’s certainly true that Australian society possesses a deeply-held desire for justice. Perhaps it’s an inheritance from our convict history, I don’t know. Whatever its origins, it’s definitely a part of our culture, and one we can be glad of. Where some will see an injustice and accept it with a fatalistic shrug before moving on, we’re far more likely to want to act.

I’m really glad about this, and I imagine you are too. Of course, we would be. We come from a culture that teaches us to see the world that way. Other societies, other peoples, however, might not. So who is right? Is it right to value right, or does it not matter? The longer you think about that question, the more uncomfortable and unsettling it becomes.

Yet our troubles are only just beginning. Even if we simply award ourselves a gold star for being on the right side of that fight, we still are left with the challenge of finding an umpire. If I want to yell at the referee for what looks like a bad call to me, what happens when the referee yells back? Who gets to decide between us? Or is there some way for us to sit down after the game and find a resolution?

As Christians, we have a great answer for this. We know that God is good, and that he shows us what that looks like in his Word, and especially in Jesus. All we need beyond that is the humility to reject Adam and Eve’s desire to decide right and wrong for themselves, and to turn in trust to our Father who loves us.

The Olympic Aims

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 11 February 2018.

Faster, higher, stronger. The motto of the Olympic movement is fairly well known, and largely uncontroversial. The idea of the competition is, after all, to compete - and therefore to aim to exceed the efforts of your fellow competitors. It’s a goal that fits perfectly with the mood of society over the last few centuries, as technological progress and population growth have seen a steady march forward. Or at least, that’s what we tell ourselves.

KoreaThis year’s Winter Olympics will prove an interesting challenge to the competitive agenda, for they take place in the midst of an unusual situation. North and South Korea have been officially at war for decades, and this subtext has been prominent in the months leading up to the Games. Yet at the last moment, the North have decided to send a team of athletes, and in some sports, the two nations will combine to field a united Korean team. They will lay aside their rivalry to compete against other rivals.

It’s an illustration of the absurdity of competition. Sure, it’s fine in sports, but we as a race have ... well, we call ourselves a race, don’t we? We choose to compete by default, when so often it is actually cooperation that is called for. Sin leads us to struggle against one another, and has forced us to struggle to survive.

But the gospel shows another way. Jesus’ supreme service means that we can live to serve instead - and when we do, we find that the church is indeed stronger, that we raise each other higher. All because of something just a little bit better than Faster - Easter!

Just What They Were Thinking

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 03 February 2018.

JohnsonYesterday marked the 230th anniversary of the preaching of the first sermon in Australia. The First Fleet had found their way to Port Jackson and begun the process of making a home of the terrifyingly alien landscape, and Sunday came around. The chaplain to the new colony, a young man named Richard Johnson, had a congregation of around a thousand, with most of them convicts.

After a journey of more than eight months, they had arrived in the height of the Australian summer looking for a home. It was going to be back-breaking work for many years to come. Johnson had just the passage...

‘What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?’ (Psalm 116:12)

It might not have been the obvious choice, but it was timely. It would have been so easy for the people to feel sorry for themselves, to gripe and complain. Johnson turned their eyes instead towards God, and took for granted that they were blessed. Now it was important for them to see the labours ahead of them as opportunities to show their gratitude to God by serving one another.

Johnson wasn’t all talk. Despite facing tremendous opposition to his ministry, he continued to both preach and live the gospel. He set up a universal school system for the children of the colony and a fund to care for orphans. He almost single-handedly built the colony’s first church, able to hold 500 people. He tried to care for the local indigenous people.

All because he loved Jesus and his gospel, and wanted to share it with others. For God had been good to him!

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