Re-Solved

Written by Anthony Douglas on Friday, 25 November 2016.

ResolutionsWe must be slow learners. Or possibly insane. After all, one popular definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result on the last occasion.

We have this expression about ‘turning over a new leaf’ to describe a renewed effort in some particular area. Yet if you look inside any blank exercise book, you’ll find the pages identical. Why should a new leaf be any better than the ones that came before?

Nevertheless, we like to give it a shot, and good on us. I’d far rather an optimistic ‘have a go’ attitude over despair and lethargy. And if you’re like me, there are any number of bad habits that it would be great to dispose of in the pursuit of a better character and more joyful life.

Perhaps the better question is why we take the approach of making resolutions. If I’ve always had an excessive fondness for, say, ice cream sundaes, how does resolving to swear off them actually change anything? I’ve still got the same fondness, the same opportunities. And it was me that gave into temptation 308 times previously...so why should I believe myself this time?

Such changes tend to work best when we’re not relying just upon ourselves. We could have our family members conspire to eat all ice cream as soon as it enters the house, to reduce opportunity, for example. Or we could agree to padlock the freezer.

That’s a trivial example, of course, and even there we struggle. When it comes to deeper sins, there’s only one place to turn for help: the God who can bring light out of darkness, and who died to cleanse us.

Going Too Far In

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 19 November 2016.

“When a view becomes popular in culture, it seems certain some theologians will discover it in the Bible and church tradition.” (John Frame, theologian)

It’s hardly rocket science to recognise that each of us is shaped, to an extent, by the culture we live in. The people we grow up amongst share their view of the world with us, and we accept or reject them. We might not take all the answers that our culture supplies, but we almost certainly do swallow all of the questions.

Like most human interactions, this can be both helpful and unhelpful. The Reformation, for example, received an enormous boost from the intellectual fashion of the day for going back to the original source if you wanted to understand things properly. And at a day-to-day level, we admire teachers as effective if their students learn to speak and write in our common language correctly.

Scripture TwistingBut we should be critical of our culture as well. Theologically, we know that every culture will have dark stains upon it, little corners where sin dwells. We might want to be present in the world in order to reach out with the gospel, but woe betide us if we are taken captive by the world, so that we twist our gospel to suit it.

“If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:19)

What Changed?

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 12 November 2016.

WolfYou might have noticed a degree of bewilderment descend upon the planet this week, as the unexpected became merely the unanticipated. The free world has a new leader-in-waiting, and it’s generated an extraordinary amount of comment.

Excuse me if I disagree. Our leader-in-waiting has been biding his time since his resurrection, and while his return is unanticipated by many, it is still just as certain as it ever was. And in the meantime, Donald Trump is about to discover just how little power a president actually has. Already he has learned that he cannot prevent people marching in protest. Soon he will learn which of his policies will never fly. And by the time he takes office, he’ll have been fitted for the straitjacket known as bureaucracy.

Of course, God has been telling us this for millennia. Psalm 146 reminds us not to put our trust in ‘princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing.’ No man - or woman - can avoid death, no matter how hard they try.

There has only ever been one person capable of making the world great again, since human beings broke it in the beginning. He doesn’t campaign for our vote; he has no-one to contest his authority. But he does call us to place our trust in him - the one ‘who remains faithful forever.’ There were many who called him a loser as he hung on his cross - but give me that kind of leader any day!

A Plague o' Both Their Houses

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 06 November 2016.

My VoteIf you cast your mind back to June this year, you might remember that the campaign was in full swing. And had been for some time. There was a definite air of electoral fatigue about, and the general consensus was that eight weeks was far too long to put up with.

Thank God we’re not Americans, then.

Their election campaign began on March 23rd last year, and will conclude in a couple of days’ time. All up, 596 days, which makes us seem positively ungrateful. And of course, it has become very apparent that this election is going to be a tight race to last place, a contest defined by who cannot avoid losing enough. Both major candidates are deeply unpopular, to an unprecedented degree.

I’ve been praying that God would be kind in how this election plays out. It’s simply compassionate to want to see any country led well, and there are flow-on effects onto the world stage to consider as well. But lately, I’ve realised that there is another aspect that needs prayer: this election cycle has demonstrated more clearly than ever before that many of the American people are fundamentally mistrustful of each other, and of their political leaders. There is a corrosive bitterness evident on both sides of the contest, and that indicates a deep malaise in American society.

It is tragic that a nation so full of churches has forgotten how to love and forgive in public life. Let’s pray that the gospel - rather than the overhyped American patriotism, which has failed them - might bring true healing and renewal.

Dreamworld

Written by Anthony Douglas on Friday, 28 October 2016.

DreamworldThe story played out with agonising slowness. At first, the radio merely reported that there had been an accident, and that people were trapped. Then came the suggestion that there might have been a fatality. By evening, we knew it was worse still. Then the next day came the news that two children had survived, but would bear the scars of seeing their parents die.

Death is always tragic; when it comes unexpectedly, even more so. In this particular case, we feel the sting even more strongly because it was an amusement park - a place dedicated to fun, to family, to holidays. Death feels even more like an invader.

And he is. He utterly is. He’s the uninvited guest in God’s good creation. At least, uninvited by God; it was we who opened the door and let him enter. Ever since, he has cast his pall over this world, robbing us of true joy, dimming our delight in all that God has made for us.

So we will all fall asleep, one day: but not ‘never to wake up’. Instead, we will wake from this shadowed world, this dreamworld, into the true world. ‘Happily ever after’ will die as a cliche, and rise as a barely adequate attempt to describe the beauty of eternity in Christ. As Aslan says, ‘The dream is ended; this is the morning.’

We know the God of all comfort, but so many do not. Some will grieve, some will rage. We will see blame apportioned as if explanations and guilt could assuage this loss. May we pray for true comfort, true hope, and that many will rouse themselves from slumber and seek out their Creator.

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