Breathless

Written by Anthony Douglas on Friday, 09 November 2012.

I’ve been watching the recent film version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe with my scripture class over the last few weeks, and on Wednesday we watched the scene where Aslan dies as a willing sacrifice in place of the traitor Edmund. Many of the kids are unfamiliar with the story, and there was a collective gasp, followed by whispers of ‘Did he just die?’, ‘Is he really dead?’ and the like. The idea that one might die for the sake of another was, to be honest, a shock to them.

Today we remember the sacrifice of countless men and women who have died in war. They too drew their final breath and laid down their lives. They are not the only Australians who have lost their lives in our defence; we can think of police and fire officers, just to begin with. Nevertheless, their sacrifice was real, and costly, and meaningful, and so it is appropriate that at 11am we too will hold our breath for a moment, as we remember their gift to us.
Aslan

But it might have been for naught. There was no guarantee that their dying would achieve what they hoped for. I let my class keep watching until we witnessed Aslan’s resurrection, a reminder that Jesus’ own death was not futile. It is that death on our behalf that we remember and celebrate today as Max Hudson is baptised - that death and the subsequent resurrection that offer the hope of life to us all. And that, in the end, is what takes our breath away ... and gives it back.

So Easy to Miss

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 04 November 2012.

Last Wednesday was of course Hallowe’en; you’d have done well to not notice the occasion. Kids roaming the street in costume, searching for goodies...it’s become something of a custom in Australia in recent years.

But did you miss it? That apostrophe in Hallowe’en? It marks the abbreviation: Hallowe’en is All Hallows Evening, the night before All Saints Day in the church calendar. And, more importantly, it marks the date when Martin Luther chose to make his stand against the common practice in his day of extorting money from the poor, ostensibly to buy freedom from purgatory for their dead relatives.

It was bald-faced greed, filthy lucre at its worst; Luther’s objections provided the spark that set off the Reformation. It was 495 years ago now, but still an enormously significant event. Did you miss it?

You weren’t alone. When Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral, they were written in Latin. It was the equivalent of publishing something in an academic journal that doesn’t get read. And so, at the time, nothing much happened with them. It wasn’t until they were translated into German by friends of Luther the following year that they became widely known.

Luther SigThe world changed, and nobody noticed at the time. The gracious work of God is so easy to miss - sometimes even when it’s right under our nose! Praise God for the way he opened the eyes of his people to the treasures of his gospel, all those years ago... and for the way he does it still.

Buying Power

Written by Anthony Douglas on Thursday, 25 October 2012.

Synod is our church’s parliament, and usually involves tedium. We have just celebrated what we were looking forward to, but today I want to tell you about a pleasant surprise we weren’t anticipating.

A group of church representatives had been thinking about the future of the church within the diocese, and taken note of the predictions for population growth. In the next few decades, we can expect Sydney to swell by nearly a million people, and a substantial proportion - around 30% - will be living in entirely new suburbs in Sydney’s northwest and southwest, and in the Illawarra.

GreenfieldsThat’s hundreds of thousands of people living in new places - places where there is no existing church. What was proposed to synod was that the diocese needs to get in at ‘ground level’ as these new suburbs are developed, and make sure we buy parcels of land for churches to be built upon. These ‘greenfields’ projects are not cheap - each site could cost $2 million - but they are timely, as the same amount of land, bought subsequent to development, would cost many times more - and that’s presuming you can find it.

So the parishes joyfully agreed to contribute $2 million next year to buy land, and will likely continue this in future years. It means that we will donate a couple of thousand dollars - and be buying a whole new church! That’s buying power for you...but we won’t be buying places of power, we’ll be buying sites for sacrifice, service, love and grace.

What a privilege to share in such fellowship to grow God’s kingdom!

Building for the Future

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 20 October 2012.

TronFor just over two centuries, Christians have been meeting in a church in Glasgow called St George’s Tron - an odd name, perhaps, but a great church. William Phillip, the senior minister, gave the conference talks at CMS Summer School in Katoomba in 2009. It’s a good church, working hard at reaching the lost in the middle of the city.

Three years ago, the Church of Scotland decided that it was prepared to ordain homosexual ministers. Last year, it affirmed its decision by doing so.  This year, it refused to confirm that its churches were reserved for worshipping Jesus alone. The mind boggles. And so in June, St George’s Tron seceded from the Church of Scotland.

In the last couple of weeks, the Kirk has struck back. The denomination has begun legal action against the church to evict the congregations and claim the buildings and parish bank accounts. It’s also taking action against the senior minister and some of his staff.

The congregation has poured time and money into their church, and now they stand to lose it all ... but they can rejoice that they have been building for the future. They have built disciples of Jesus; they have built relationships of love and fellowship. Our security is not found in bricks and mortar or pounds and pence, but in the risen Lord Jesus. May they, and we, continue to trust in him alone!

The Myth of Christianity?

Written by Anthony Douglas on Friday, 12 October 2012.

GravestoneThis century has seen a decade of atheism - the loud voices of  Dawkins and Harris, the more measured tones of Hitchens and de Botton. Academic atheism has made its way out of the university and into the public sphere in a way that hasn’t been seen for some time.

Not surprisingly, this has been noticed by the media, and the story has been told many times: Christianity is in decline. Well, sort of...as long as you don’t look too carefully at the rest of the world - but it’s definitely in decline in the West. Atheism is ascendant.

It was encouraging to hear during synod what’s been happening in our neck of the woods, the Sydney diocese. Amongst the 4.5 million people who live here, the census last year found a princely 10,000 (0.2%) who described themselves as atheists. In fact, the greatest shift has been that more people have been describing themselves as having no religion rather than ignoring the question. As for us Anglicans - during the last decade, we’ve increased by 7%. It’s still a drop in the bucket, but it’s a start. In the same period, there have also been over a hundred new congregations planted, a 25% rise in the number of ministers working in the diocese, and an almost 90% rise in the money that parishioners have given to support church mnistry.

We’re not dead yet, no matter what reports of our demise have been issued - which means there’s plenty to get on with!

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