Rich Pickings

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 27 August 2016.

CornucopiaIt is surprisingly easy to enjoy yourself, you know. Surprising, because this world is so demonstrably broken. If we were to number all the ways in which relationships fail to be what they should, or our bodies fail us, or the world around us betrays us, we’d never finish.

So it is surprising that it should be easy to find joy, but easy it is. On any given day there’s a pretty good chance that the weather will make us glad.  We get good moments to share with our loved ones all the time. We get the pleasure of sleep, or of good food, or of a nice warm fire. We see beautiful landscapes and magnificent creatures.

Only when we think about the character of God does it become unsurprising. Of course a god who is generous would freely offer all the riches of this beautiful world to us, even to those who are in rebellion against him. Were he to hold back on those that had not pleased him, he’d be a god of works, not grace.

But we excel at abusing his kindness. Good gifts are perverted by our touch, so that love is tainted to lust, freedom to self-indulgence, and abundance to greed. We take what is pure and pristine and make it grubby. That which is useful and suits its purpose we make decrepit.

There is only one answer for our ingratitude. Not the one we deserve, but the one chosen by an almighty creator who will not be thwarted. “He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’” (Revelation 21:5).

Thank God.


Written by Anthony Douglas on Friday, 19 August 2016.

If I were walking down the road, and spotted a Toyota parked outside a house, it’s not really difficult to imagine that it might belong to the residents of that house, or somebody visiting them.

If I walked on and saw a bike leaning against a tree, then it’s likely that a kid has just forgotten to put it away, and they’ll be along later to retrieve it.

If I walk still further and spy a $20 note fluttering along the footpath, then obviously somebody’s dropped it - but it’s unlikely that they know where, and it’s become fair game. It’s a windfall for me.

If at the end of the road I come to a mine, and walk into the shaft, and see a gold nugget peeking from the wall, then it’s my lucky day. I’ll dig it out and be significantly wealthier.

MineWe have a spectrum of ownership, socially agreed and generally accepted. Certainly, if a company drills for oil and brings it to the surface, we see it as theirs to dispose of. Yet who put the oil there? God. Whose nugget is it? God’s. Who created the materials used to build the car, or the ingenuity to invent the bike? God.

All we have in this world, including our very selves, and every minute that we’re alive, is a gift of God, loaned to us for our wise use. But we get very possessive of it, don’t we? We resent being overtaxed by government. We resent people wasting ‘our’ time. Hmm... Perhaps we need to think less of what is ‘mine’, and more of who is ‘his’. “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).

What Means the End?

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 07 August 2016.

Ends and MeansThe ends justifies the means - it’s a proverbial saying that is often quoted when someone feels they need all the support they can get: they know that their method for obtaining a result is morally dubious, and the only way to excuse it is by pointing to a supposedly otherwise unobtainable good outcome.

It’s a proverb, but not one that’s true. All sorts of wicked actions have done far better than they deserve, not least because of the mercy of God. Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, and in the long run this saved the lives of perhaps millions during a famine. But it was still a despicable act. More to the point, those who executed Jesus were still committing murder.

So I’ve never put much stock in the saying ... but it turns out I was wrong. I was just misconstruing it. It’s usually meant to imply that the good end excuses dodgy means, and this is surely false. But as we learned at Basecamp yesterday, the end can and should influence us to better means. It makes us act more justly.

We all live with the future in mind to varying degrees. Human beings are capable of planning ahead and acting accordingly. It’s just that most of us fail to look far enough ahead. The certainty that Jesus will one day return in judgment is what is to drive our ethical decisions.

‘So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.’ (2 Peter 3:14)

False Perspective

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 31 July 2016.

“I see.”

We say that all the time, and we mean it to be a clear declaration that we understand something. Human beings have an awful lot of confidence in their power of sight. Want evidence? Ask an eyewitness. Want a diagnosis? See a doctor. Want something done right? See to it yourself.

When you try swapping those terms for a different sense, it doesn’t just sound ridiculous, it looks plain daft. Nobody would trust a ‘tastewitness’, or want to go and hear a doctor. And of course, if you were watching, you might have noticed that two sentences ago, the stronger conclusion was that something looked daft.

PerspectiveThe trouble is that our vision isn’t quite as clear as we imagine. We can’t always trust what we see. A simple street sign, pointed the wrong way, is sufficient to give the lie to the vaunted powers of our eyes.

They’ve failed us from the beginning, actually: ‘When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.’ And thus it has continued to be; Proverbs 27:20 tells us the truth: ‘Death and destruction are never satisfied ... and neither are the eyes of man.’

As it turns out, it’s our hearing that gives us a surer footing. As we hear the word of God, we hear truth about ourselves and our Lord. As we explore the question of how God speaks, let’s make sure that we’re listening!

Two Ways to Learn

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 24 July 2016.

AppleWe were looking at the opening chapters of Genesis at SPY on Friday night, and the inevitable question came. Spend any length of time looking at how the Fall unfolds in Genesis 3, and someone will almost always ask the ‘what if’.

‘What if they hadn’t eaten the fruit from the tree?’ Quick as a flash, another kid supplied the answer: Adam and Eve would have lived on, but they wouldn’t have been as clever. It made sense - we had just established that the fruit indeed had its advertised effect, leaving the man and woman feeling deeply ashamed, and knowing themselves unworthy to be in God’s presence.

The trouble with this answer is that it immediately leads to a cost-benefit analysis. Would we want to live forever if we were that thick? Is it worth the cost of dying to have access to all the things that human ingenuity has won for us since?

I suggested a different answer. Had Adam and Eve resisted the temptation, they would have also gained the knowledge of good and evil. Fallen Adam knew himself to have done evil; faithful Adam could have known himself to have done right.

God isn’t setting us up to fail with his booby-trapped paradise. Instead, he was setting us up to learn the beauty of choosing obedience. You can learn that a stove’s hotplate burns by sticking your hand on it, or you can learn by trusting the parent who warns you. No prizes for picking which way to learn is the smarter one.   

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