The Nature of Sacrifice

Written by Anthony Douglas on Thursday, 06 April 2017.

The ancient world was a dangerous place for domesticated animals. Sacrifices were all the rage - to win the favour of the gods for your crops and herds, or to deflect whatever misfortune had come upon you, and everything in between. In many cases it was simply part of the rhythm of life.

And so it feels very far away. Our pets are safe, though the chickens have been asking after their eggs... Yet the concept persists. We speak of people making sacrifices all the time: the dedicated athlete, the devoted parent, the ambitious careerist. No longer is the thing sacrificed merely a household’s animal; now it is more likely to be our time, our money, our freedom or our futures. In many ways it is now more costly than it once was.

So why, in our more godless modern world, do people continue to make such sacrifices? The answer, usually, is that it’s an exchange. The sporting champion gives up some of their childhood in hope that it will make the difference between competence and glory for them. The young graduate works late each night in hope of future promotions. Sometimes the exchange is retrospective, such as a parent wanting to give their child the same precious upbringing that they received years ago.

Agnus DeiWhat’s remarkable about Jesus’ sacrifice? Let me count the ways: he sacrifices himself, which is unusual; it is us that gain from the sacrifice more than him; and most significant of all, where we sacrifice to gain an advantage, Jesus’ sacrifice restores him to his proper place. He isn’t paying his price for what he wants, he’s paying our price for trying to deny him.

The Big Wet

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 02 April 2017.

It was around a fortnight ago that the weather bureau was spruiking a story for the press about how light a cyclone season it had been for Australia this year. There had been a relatively mild cyclone called Blanche that gave the Top End a drenching at the start of March, but that was the worst of it. It was a puzzling anomaly that had meteorologists across the world scratching their heads, according to the manager of climate prediction services, Dr Andrew Watkins. “The projections are for fewer tropical cyclones but when we do get them, they will potentially be more intense, just not this year,” he told the press.

Those last few words remind us of our limitations. For all our satellites and computer modelling, we still can’t see what is coming with certainty. We are, in the end, at the mercy of God.

Indeed. It’s the mercy of God that he promised never to flood the world again back in Genesis 9. While Debbie has been very busy this week, nevertheless we know that the waters will recede. While sadly there has been loss of life, nevertheless these have been the exceptions, rather than universal.

DebbieWe know, however, that God has set a day when Jesus will return to claim his planet and his people, and to establish justice for all. Debbie and all our other disasters remind us not to get too comfortable, too smug, too sure of our futures. They point us back to Jesus as our saviour, and remind us of the truth our world tries so hard to ignore...

That we are, in the end, at the mercy of God.

Between Fear and Cowardice

Written by Anthony Douglas on Friday, 24 March 2017.

“The world is passing through troubling times.”

I’m sure that others have said as much, but one source suggested that the above sentiment was drawn from a sermon by Peter the Hermit in 1274. Nothing new under the sun, as they say - and we know that one goes back even further!

How are we to respond to adversity? Is there a Christian position that applies to all different kinds of situations? I think maybe there is.

Fear is a universally experienced human emotion; I think we can even see Jesus feeling trepidation in the garden of Gethsemane. There is nothing sinful about feeling afraid ... but cowardice is a different matter. Cowardice is what you call it when you act on your fears.

Cowardice goes wrong twice: firstly, because it reveals a failure of trust that God will look after his people, and secondly, because it assumes that the responsibility to preserve myself from dangers is entirely mine.Cowardice It’s a denial of faith, combined with the arrogance of despair. And when looked at through that prism, it’s easy to see how perverse it is.

The frightened child knows to turn to their parent for succour. In the same way, God invites us to trust him, as he has always done. He knows our weaknesses, and loves us still. His final words to Jonah should be a great comfort to the hamfisted such as me: “Should I not be concerned about that great city?”

Foaming at the Mouth

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 18 March 2017.

It probably wasn’t the big story you’d have expected this week. So many crazy things seem to be on offer - the latest clanger from the States, another tragedy in Syria, more cricket wars with India. It’s a great time to be trying to make a living out of newsprint, that’s for sure. But nobody would have predicted Coopersgate...

Keeping It LightTo begin with, a beer company is at face value a pretty unlikely sponsor for the Bible Society. But then they tried something really audacious: a demonstration that it is possible for adults to courteously disagree with one another, while taking pains to ensure that they understand each other’s point of view. And just to make sure they set the bar high, they picked same-sex marriage as the topic for debate.

It was always likely to be a train wreck. The only thing that was mildly surprising was how quickly the hoi polloi managed to see a video released by a niche Christian ministry. Once the cap was off the bottle, though, the outrage went straight to maximum. Coopers ducked and weaved; the Bible Society took it on the chin; and, interestingly, Tim Wilson made the very point that the video had intended. We just don’t know how to think any more.

This is the age of the knee-jerk reaction. It has become a virtue to sound off on any topic as quickly as possible - in order to obtain maximum self-righteousness.

Tilting at windmills is just so 17th century Spain these days. We might have to resort to prayer instead.

Not Fake News

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 12 March 2017.

It’s not everyday that I receive a letter from the Archbishop, but it does happen from time to time. What’s never happened before is to receive a letter from four archbishops, but that’s what came to us on Friday afternoon. Our current archbishop, and all three of his living predecessors. I think it’s safe to presume they thought it important.

They were writing to ask for help with an appeal that Anglican Aid has just launched to combat the effects of both violence and famine in East Africa. You may have heard that there is acute famine in a number of African countries; just yesterday the United Nations was reporting that around $4.5 billion dollars was needed to save those in danger of starvation - just in East Africa.

We hear less about the situation in South Sudan. Wracked by civil war, the nation is suffering while its leaders and their opponents wage a devastating conflict and ignore the damage. The town of Kajo-keji was recently caught up in the violence, and virtually overnight its population fled over the southern border into Uganda. Its population was just shy of 200,000 people.

East AfricaThese crises are affecting our brothers and sisters. I suspect it was not a coincidence that our Friday morning Bible study happened to reach James 2:16 this week (look it up!), and we were reminded that we worship a God who has shown us mercy.

Our family took the hint. If you too are in a position to help this time, you can donate to the appeal by visiting, or by calling them on 9284 1406. And all of us can pray...

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