Do We Remember?

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 25 March 2018.

ArnaudIt’s relatively easy to find his name and photograph. Arnaud Beltrame was a French police officer stationed in the south of France, until this week. Until Friday, actually, when he was one of the first to arrive at the supermarket where an Islamist terrorist had taken around fifty hostages.

The police were able to get a number of the hostages out, but one woman was being held as a human shield. The gunman had already killed and wounded a number of people, and the situation was volatile.

Arnaud volunteered himself in place of the woman, and she escaped. He took his mobile phone in with him, so police could hear what was happening inside; as a result they knew when the attacker began killing his hostages and they stormed the building instantly. The terrorist was killed.

And Arnaud was wounded. He died of his injuries hours later. He had laid down his life for a stranger, becoming a captive so she could be free.

You can find his story, if you look. He will no doubt be long remembered by that woman and her family. But the world will forget his heroism, as it has forgotten similar heroes in the past.

Yet there is one name that, try as it might, the world has been unable to erase. One name, because only one man offered himself in place of countless souls held captive by our fear of death, and gave his life in exchange for our freedom to live. Jesus wasn’t just the first responder to our crisis, he was the only one. And the only one we’ll ever need.

Jesus is to Blame

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 18 March 2018.

GoatHe’s our most socially acceptable punching bag. You try it: pick a social issue, work out which position is unfashionable, and then show how it’s the fault of the church/the religious people/that Jesus who started it all. The beauty of this game is that you win every time – even if fashions change! You can always pin it on Jesus...

There’s a couple of reasons why the blame is so easily laid on him. The first, sadly, is that far too often his followers are guilty as charged. Jesus may have laid out a compelling moral vision for human society, but none of his fans seems able to achieve it, and some fall far short.

Secondly, it’s undeniable that Jesus has managed to get his fingers into just about every pie. Love him or hate him, you have to admit that his influence on the world is second to none. Toss in a couple of thousand years of people debating over his teachings, and it’s no surprise that he can be enlisted in support of all kinds of ideas.

Sometimes Christians will get upset when they feel Jesus is copping it unfairly. Regardless of whether they have a point or not, there’s a good chance that we’re all missing the point. Jesus didn’t just expect to be blamed; he wanted it. Not because he had self-esteem issues, but because his goal was to take all the blame in the world.

He’s our scapegoat: the Bible coined that term, and it did so to point to Jesus, the only one who can take the blame, and make our wrongs right.

That's a Shame

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 11 March 2018.

ShameI don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but society in recent times has become quite shameful - but not in the way you think I mean. Sure, we can make observations about some of the despicable ways that individual people have behaved, and we can protest against government policies or social opinions, but it’s about more than this.

When I say we’ve become shameful, it’s because we are far more willing to shame people. It used to be that those caught doing wrong would be convicted in the courts and sentenced appropriately. Now, however, all that is preceded by a public humiliation in newspapers, radio shows, TV reports, and most importantly, online.

Whether it’s Barnaby, or Warner, or another Hollywood big shot, the pattern is the same. It’s not sufficient for a single representative of society - a judge - to pass sentence. Now we must all do it, preferably as loudly and publicly as possible.

It’s a trend my Bible study group were thinking about this week. We are used to thinking about sin and guilt, forgiveness and innocence, but perhaps it’s time to start also thinking about questions of shame and honour as we reach out to our world. So let me get you started:

‘Let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.’ (Hebrews 12:2)

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!

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