They Weren't Stupid

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 20 July 2013.

There is a longstanding tendency for each generation to assume that those who have gone before them didn’t have quite as firm a grasp of the truths of our world as they do. The teenager is convinced that her parents are hopelessly out of touch, while her parents rejoice to know that they have a far clearer philosophy of parenting, and so it goes.

Working from the assumption that such rapid progress can be made in a single generation, modern society has done the maths and presumed that peoples from antiquity were colossally ignorant. They thought the earth was flat, after all - how intelligent could they be?

Round EarthThe ancient Greeks, from the fifth century BC, consistently taught that the earth was spherical. Perhaps our ignorance of their understanding reveals that we’ve had things backward.

We need to be on our guard against the sneer we’ve all absorbed from our culture. We’ve been taught that ‘they didn’t know that back then’, and that principle has been used to downplay all kinds of biblical truths. ‘Primitive’ societies weren’t as primitive as we were told.

As we turn to the book of Deuteronomy this week, let’s take care to remember: this was a real Moses speaking to a real nation of men, women, and children - all of them more than capable of rational thought. The distance between their world and ours is nowhere near as great as we assume. They weren’t stupid - but will we be?

Expect the Unexpected

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 20 July 2013.

AgarThursday night saw the feelgood moment of the week. The night before, 19-year-old Ashton Agar had been called up for his Test debut, playing for Australia in the first Ashes Test at Trent Bridge. It was obviously a pretty special moment for him, and his family had flown around the world to see him presented with his baggy green cap.

But on Thursday, his hour came. Australia were in a dire position with nine wickets down, nearly a hundred runs behind the English total, and Agar came to the crease. And stayed. Record after record fell. The highest debut score for the last man in for an Australian team...then for any team. Never before had a number eleven scored a fifty on debut. It had been more than a century since a number eleven topped the scoring for his team. And when it was over, having scored 98, it was the highest score ever achieved by a number eleven.

Nobody would have dreamed of this occurring; it was astonishing. And yet we find, time after time, that unexpected things take place. Human history keeps finding new and different ways to throw up variety. No doubt a moment’s reflection will lead you to think of more examples. We should expect the unexpected: it’s certain to come.

Nobody in 33AD was expecting a man to rise from the dead - not one who had been so efficiently tried, crucified, and entombed in the space of a few hours. Perhaps they should have.

And many don’t expect that Jesus should return in judgment one day...but he will. He’s certain to come.

We have a message to proclaim.

There Is A Time...

Written by Anthony Douglas on Friday, 05 July 2013.

Archbishop...for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven, Ecclesiastes 3 tells us. We live in an age of transience and change; nothing is permanent. Only with the return of Jesus will eternity take its final shape.

This coming week marks the 70th birthday of our Archbishop, Peter Jensen, and so brings his service to us in that role to a close - though don’t expect him to settle down to a life of grey nomadicity!

Nevertheless, it’s a good reminder to us to be thankful for all the things God has achieved through Peter in our midst over the last dozen years. Most significantly, he has led us in the diocesan mission and moved us to being more focussed on reaching our communities. His public profile has been substantial, and I believe has helped us in our own witness to others, but perhaps the greatest work has been the strengthening of our processes to protect adults and chilldren from abuse within churches. We have seen the impact of past scandal around the world, and should be glad that we have been so proactive in doing what is right. Peter has also led us through growth; it was his decision that enabled us to become our own parish, and we are not the only church to have seen such progress.

Most important of all, perhaps, has been his wisdom and godliness, and his genuine and warm support of the ministers in the diocese. Please pray that synod next month elects a man who will continue to enable our churches to go forward with the gospel!

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.

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