Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 20 October 2013.

CollapseCollapse is a sculpture installation in New Zealand that’s been sitting exposed to the elements for a couple of years. If you look closely, it’s apparent that its name is apt - this house of cards is in fact impossible. There are a number of elements that are unsupported and would fall in real life.

They don’t fall because the sculpture is made from aluminium, and each sheet of metal is firmly fixed to its neighbours. But that’s not what you see at first glance. Instead, you see fragility, and that’s the point. It’s meant to be a reminder of how finely balanced life is. We live on the edge of disaster.

We’ve seen that once more in the last week. The sudden arrival of bushfire season has taken us by surprise, and many have seen their world turned upside down. Life is fragile.

In the last week, both a friend and another friend’s brother have suffered strokes. There was no warning. These things steal upon us, unannounced. And yet their effects can be devastating and long-lasting. Life is fragile.

Equally, we could point to the political stalemate that held the US economy to ransom, and with it the world. Had common sense not finally made an appearance, the whole world could now be spiralling into a deep depression. Life is fragile.

As we pray for these different situations, with all they threaten, it is good to remember that our Father knows every hair on our heads, and it is his love and power that assure our good.

Gekko's Gaffe

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 12 October 2013.

Gekko‘Greed is good,’ Gordon Gekko famously said in the film Wall Street. While Michael Douglas might have been doing an excellent impression of a 1980s stockbroker, he was also sounding like a buffoon.

Unfortunately, his buffoonery is universal. Ask anyone at all whether they would like to have a million dollars, no strings attached, and they’ll say yes. With a look of hope in their eyes, even. While we might not want to be greedy, if we’re offered the chance to have something good, we’ll take it. We’d just prefer not to define that as greed.

Jesus told a parable about a farmer who enjoyed a bumper harvest. His crops yielded so much that he couldn’t store all his grain in his barns - so he built himself bigger barns, and patted himself on the back. ‘I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ He died that night, and never got to enjoy his hoard.

Collecting stuff is absurd, Jesus is saying, if it comes at the expense of knowing and loving God - for you’ll lose all the wealth you’ve accumulated. It’s also absurd, though, because it’s not really worth having so much. The rich man has to tear down his barns, pay to erect larger ones, and then store a low-value commodity for years. It’s a huge investment that makes no sense, financially, at all.

We gather so much stuff, and often realise later that we don’t really want it.What makes us, time after time, stash away bits and pieces that will only ever clutter our cupboards? Greed is goofy, really - but then, all sin is stupid.

As Jesus said: be rich towards God.

Hearts of Flesh

Written by Anthony Douglas on Friday, 04 October 2013.

During the Second World War, German forces besieged the city of Leningrad for more than two years, commencing in September 1941. The siege was not finally broken until January 1944, and many died in the interim.

In August 1942, Tanya Savicheva was discovered living alone in a tiny apartment in the city. She was only twelve years old, and desperately unwell. Although she was evacuated, she died in 1944, having never fully recovered.

At the Nuremberg Trials after the war, her diary was read out. In stark, brutal factuality, it listed her experience of the siege:
1.     Zhenya died on December 18, 1941, at twelve noon.Tanya
2.     Grandma died on January 25, 1942, at three in the afternoon.
3.     Leka died on March 17, 1942, at five o’clock in the morning.
4.     Uncle Vasya died on April 13, 1942, at two o’clock at night.
5.     Uncle Lesha on May 10, 1942, at four o’clock in the afternoon.
6.     Mama died on May 13, 1942, at 7:30 in the morning.
7.     The Savichevs are dead.
8.     Everyone is dead.
9.     Only Tanya is left.

We weep at such tragedy, though Tanya is a stranger to us. We weep, because we are made to weep, made to care for each other. We weep because our God also weeps for the suffering of our world. Because he cares, we care. If he had not made us like him, this world would be hell. Thanks be to God, that he makes us daily ever more like him.   

As Burning Embers

Written by Anthony Douglas on Wednesday, 25 September 2013.

EmbersEvery now and then, as a treat, we light a bonfire for the kids and toast some marshmallows. There’s lots of laughing, a good deal of marshmallow-gobbling, and a whole lot of washing to get the smoke out of our clothes. Before I go inside for the evening, though, I put the fire out.

A quick douse of the hose does for the flames; a whoof of steam rises; and then I check to see if the fire is out. It never is. There are some embers, every time, smouldering away at the bottom of the firepit. More water, more steam, and yet still they persist. They look unimpressive - barely aglow with heat - and yet they will continue to burn in their quiet way for hours.

In his book Weakness is the Way, Packer highlights the way John Bunyan used a glowing coal as a metaphor for the hope of the faithful believer. While outwardly, what we hope for seems a feeble, distant possibility, in reality it is strong and certain as a promise of the living God. Trials may come against us, and it may seem enough to extinguish our confidence in God, but the hope of the gospel is resilient and burns all the way to the dawn of our new day.

As we mourn the death of scores of brothers and sisters in Pakistan, we rejoice. Their deaths are not the end for them, but a glorious beginning. And out of the fire of their testimony, faith may well be born in others. As Beza testified, ‘it is the lot of the church of God ... to endure blows and not to strike them. But also may it please you to remember that it is an anvil that has worn out many hammers.’

The Capacitor

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 21 September 2013.

CapacitorsDuring the 1740s, a number of scientists began to experiment with something discovered by Ewald von Kleist - an electrical device that could hold a charge for a short time. The test for effectiveness of these ‘condensers’ or capacitors was how it felt to receive an electric shock from them. Van Musschenbroek, creator of the Leyden jar capacitor, said “I would not take a second shock for the kingdom of France” - from which we can safely conclude that it packed the appropriate punch.

Capacitors allowed electric devices to cope with interruptions to power, making possible a whole range of energy sources. They played a significant role in the development of the electronic age, and we use them everywhere now.

The thing is, they are only valuable because of their limitation. They can store current, but only for a tiny period of time. That means that electricity is passed back into the system, rather than being absorbed more permanently, and effectively lost.

It’s not a bad model for how we should view the financial resources God gives us. We work best as capacitors - not storing our wealth forever, but using it for the cause of God’s kingdom. We don’t offload it foolishly, or randomly - but our goal must never be to hoard, or we fall foul of Jesus’ warning about God and Mammon. The great lie of our age is that money stored is of value; the truth is, it achieves exactly nothing until it is used.

What’s your capacity?

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