A Prayer for St Peter's

Written by Anthony Douglas on Friday, 31 May 2013.

PrayerLike many modern organisations, churches often have some kind of vision or mission statement - a short summary of what they hope to achieve, what they’re aiming for. It’s a slogan, intended to help motivate and focus their congregation on a common purpose.

At our AGM we adopted an alternative idea: not a vision statement, but a prayer. A prayer recognises that ultimately what happens at St Peter’s is not the consequence of our vision, strategy, commitment or labours, but of God’s goodness to us. It still expresses our hopes for our church, but couches it in a way that keeps our perspective anchored on God.

What follows is an exploration of this prayer, drawing out its assumptions and aspirations, so that we as a church share a common understanding.

As God’s children –
    Shaped by the Bible
    Saved by Christ
    Known by the Father
    Made new by the Spirit –
We seek to
    Know him more
    Trust him more
    Obey him more
    Glorify him more
All under his sovereign hand, as we await his Son’s return.

The first thing to observe is structural - there are two large chunks, representing our identity and purpose respectively, the ‘who we are’ and the ‘what we pray’. In itself, this is a key part of understanding the whole thing. Our goal at St Peter’s is to live out our identity as children of God.

It’s like any family; we share the same history, the same hopes and dreams, the same challenges. Nobody joins a family intending to stand apart from it!

But note also where the authority lies: we are God’s children, who seek to obey him. We live our lives under his (sovereign) authority - but it’s a loving authority under his hand, not his fist.

The first half unpacks our identity as God’s children in four key respects.

To begin with, we are shaped by God’s Word; just as it was the Word that created the world, it’s his Word that recreates us as we hear him speak to us through it. The message we hear is of the cross, the death Jesus underwent in order to save us from the consequences of our own failings.

Both of these, to a certain extent, are available to all. That God knew us and chose us before the beginning of time, however, is deeply personal and individual. Similarly, without having been made new by his Spirit, we would remain dead to him.

Together, however, these four mean that we are adopted into God’s family; furthermore, they describe how he continues to grow us as his children.

The second half of this prayer outlines our aspirations, what we hope for as a community of God’s people. These things are beyond us - hence such prayer is essential - but are certainly not beyond God’s reach.

The four elements are sequential, and build upon each other. As we come to know God more, we recognise how worthy of our trust he is. As our trust in him grows, we will obey his commands more consistently. And as our obedience grows, our acts of service will reflect on the God who enables them, bringing him glory as the world sees him at work through us.

We will never finish growing in these areas. This is our task, on this earth, for our lifetime. We do not hope to ‘pay God back’! We are simply growing into the fullness of the kingdom that Jesus’ return will establish forever.

The things we seek are also consequential: each flows from its respective element in the first group of four. The Bible that shapes us enables us to know God more; our assurance of salvation strengthens our faith; the privilege of being chosen by God motivates us to live as citizens of his kingdom; the renewing work of the Holy Spirit enables us to succeed in that, bringing honour to God.

And finally, these are also cyclical. Our waiting provides the time for us to grow in our identity and our activity. As the Spirit keeps remaking us, we are further shaped by God’s Word, affirmed in our assurance, and deepened in our relationship with God. As we continue to glorify him, our knowledge, trust and obedience will continue to develop.

Such is the nature of God’s work in us, and our work in him.

Evil Grins

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 25 May 2013.

Tim BosmaOn May 6th, Tim Bosma hopped in the back seat of his truck while two men took it for a test drive - he’d been advertising it for sale. A week later, his charred remains were found in a field. The two men have been arrested and charged, and no doubt will be convicted of a barbaric, horrific crime of random wickedness.

At Tim’s funeral, his wife said, “The devil led the vilest form of evil down our driveway and he smiled at me before driving Tim away.” It’s a chilling image of the casual shamelessness of evil.

On May 22nd, Lee Rigby was randomly selected from a London street by two men, knocked down by their car, and then brutally hacked to death. His killers remained at the scene, proclaiming their intention to bystanders and media alike. Again, the most profound evil demonstrated its lack of shame.

It makes us weep, and despair. How can any human being be so callous about the life of another? Our ability to empathise with each other is meant to be one of the things that sets us above other animals.

Of course, we can find comfort in the response of others to these crimes. People all over Ontario kept their eyes peeled for Tim, and no doubt enabled police to find his body and his murderers quickly. In London, passers-by held Lee’s hand as he died, and shielded him from further attacks with their own bodies. But such humanity still leaves us with two bodies. Tim and Lee are still dead.

Thanks be to the God who has defeated death and given us new life. He alone is the one who can wipe that smile off the face of evil, for he has already beaten it.

Making Sense

Written by Anthony Douglas on Monday, 13 May 2013.

BrainI’m not as rational as you think I am.

We’re accustomed to seeing ourselves as modern, thoughtful beings who live our lives as wisely as possible. We take advice from the experts; we rely on the discoveries brought to us by science. We aren’t superstitious, and nobody’s going to take us for a fool. In short, we’re rational beings.

But how true is this? Try proposing marriage to someone by enumerating all their positive qualities along with their major flaws and see how you go. Or perhaps you’d prefer to compare the frequency of motor vehicle accidents by paint colour before you select the hue of your next car. Do you weigh out your breakfast cereal to ensure that you’re getting the correct proportion of your daily recommended intake of vitamin B2?

No? Neither do I! While we are perfectly capable of rationally considering each and every thing we do, we resist the temptation. The boredom alone would kill us, I suspect. The reason, of course, is that we are not merely rational. We are also capable of emotion, intuition and discernment. There are different circumstances that call for different approaches. The trick lies in working out which to apply, and what they can each tell you.

How then are we to think about religious questions? Are they meant to be rationally determined, or are they matters of gut feeling? The answer is that it depends on how they present themselves. Some faiths are mostly philosophies; the circumstances of their founding are irrelevant to their followers. Christianity, on the other hand, is deliberately located within history; it matters that Jesus lived and died.

The historians long ago established the factuality of Jesus’ life; there are no serious objections to that. But what next? Our world has tended to say that there’s not much that can be proved beyond this, and that’s true. What matters next is whether the claims of Jesus make any sense of our world. Do we live in a world where love, sacrifice, determination and compassion belong? Do we, with Jesus, despise hypocrisy, greed and arrogance? Then perhaps there’s something to him...

The Rights of the Terminally Ill

Written by Anthony Douglas on Friday, 03 May 2013.

  • The right to be considered fully human, despite the fact that they can no longer maintain the pretence of immortality that the rest of us keep playing at
  • The right to be considered dignified already
  • The right to appropriate levels of palliative care
  • The right to not have their satisfaction with life dictated to them by medical professionals
  • The right to not be made to feel a burden on family or society simply because their illness is progressive
  • The right to believe that their doctor may be incorrect about their illness or how long they may have left
  • The right to not be treated as simply resource-consumers
  • Conversely, the right to have their contribution to their relationships recognised as valid and valuable
  • The right not to be considered a political problem
  • The right to hear the gospel and reconsider their relationship with God, even when it has been admitted that they will die
  • The right to value being alive

It’s absurd to be simultaneously discussing the rights of the disabled to have a life and the rights of the temporarily disabled to end theirs. Our world is so confused about basic matters of life and death. Who can rescue us from this body of death? Only Jesus Christ our Lord.

Out of the Blue

Written by Anthony Douglas on Friday, 26 April 2013.

Tragically, we have been reminded once more of the way that disaster can strike without warning. Three spectators in Boston were killed, and a number more lost limbs, all through the malevolence of two brothers. We can be glad that their bomb-making was so amateur.

It’s another instance of the out-of-the-blue-ness of suffering and evil. Rarely do we see it coming. A stroke doesn’t send a reminder call to let you know it’s coming. Bushfires don’t pencil themselves in our diaries. And Job certainly didn’t expect all the sorrows that befell him.

But it’s not just the bad that comes unheralded. For one day, more than two thousand years ago, a child was born. The witnesses were few, the occasion hardly noticed...but that child was the Son that God had sent, out of the blue sky, to come to our rescue. Who would have imagined it possible? Who would have dreamed up such a plan? Who would have thought that evil could find itself struck down by the shocking, scandalous death of God’s chosen king...out of the blue?

Blue HillsA few weeks ago, I got a phone call from Tamworth. A mother wanted to know whether her son might be able to be baptised at St Peter’s during the school holidays, while her family were down visiting their relatives. It would mean that the godparents could be there. It was out of the blue, of course, but that’s totally in character for God.

He has always confounded our expectations. Calling one young child into his kingdom, 500km away from home? That’s my kind of surprise!

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