Just What They Were Thinking

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 03 February 2018.

JohnsonYesterday marked the 230th anniversary of the preaching of the first sermon in Australia. The First Fleet had found their way to Port Jackson and begun the process of making a home of the terrifyingly alien landscape, and Sunday came around. The chaplain to the new colony, a young man named Richard Johnson, had a congregation of around a thousand, with most of them convicts.

After a journey of more than eight months, they had arrived in the height of the Australian summer looking for a home. It was going to be back-breaking work for many years to come. Johnson had just the passage...

‘What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits toward me?’ (Psalm 116:12)

It might not have been the obvious choice, but it was timely. It would have been so easy for the people to feel sorry for themselves, to gripe and complain. Johnson turned their eyes instead towards God, and took for granted that they were blessed. Now it was important for them to see the labours ahead of them as opportunities to show their gratitude to God by serving one another.

Johnson wasn’t all talk. Despite facing tremendous opposition to his ministry, he continued to both preach and live the gospel. He set up a universal school system for the children of the colony and a fund to care for orphans. He almost single-handedly built the colony’s first church, able to hold 500 people. He tried to care for the local indigenous people.

All because he loved Jesus and his gospel, and wanted to share it with others. For God had been good to him!

She Gets It

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 28 January 2018.

Rachael DenhollanderRachael Denhollander is certainly entitled to ask the question that today’s psalm raises: if God is good, why on earth is life so unfair?

As a teenage gymnast, Rachael was referred to a specialist for treatment, and was abused by him instead. A year and a half ago, she finally found the courage to file a police complaint against him, and this week, he was sentenced for his crimes against well over a hundred other victims. Rachael was the public face for all of them, deliberately suffering the loss of privacy and friendships to ensure that the story could not be swept under the carpet again.

This week, she was the 156th person to make a victim impact statement in court: her chance to tell the judge how much damage she had suffered, and to call for justice against her abuser.

She did that, and then turned to face him, and told him the gospel. Not just a tract, or a simple outline; she diagnosed precisely where he had blocked himself off from God’s grace, and told him how he could break free of the prison he had built for himself over decades.

It was undeniable. Not only did she grant him her forgiveness, but she also wanted him to find God’s forgiveness. And she told him why - because she too had sinned, but had found God’s gift of repentance and faith, and there was nothing sweeter. Before all the world, she gave her testimony and displayed God-given kindness.

God is good when we don’t deserve it. That’s not fair, that’s grace. And Rachael Denhollander gets it.

I'm the Sucker

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 20 January 2018.

There’s a sucker born every minute, it’s said. Well, it’s true about me, at least. If it’s new, I’ll give it a try. I don’t know that I’m alone, though – in general, anyway. I think it’s probably innate in human nature to enjoy novelty. We like learning new things, having new experiences, meeting new people.

Wilsons PromDuring the school holidays I was able to visit Wilson’s Promontory in Victoria for the first time. I’m not the most nature-loving person by any means, but I was blown away. I’d never seen landscape like it. Vast beaches surrounded by enormous boulders. Mountains made of sand. Blue rivers that snaked their way calmly to the sea. I’m not on retainer with Vic Tourism, but I should be. This place was magnificent, but new to me, and all the sweeter for it.

And to be honest, it reminded me of God. Specifically, it reminded me that he’s a god who loves variety even more than I do. He delights in what’s different, and we see the proof of it all the time: not just different landscapes, but different animals, different stars, different smells. Most of all...different people.

The ancients were naturally polytheists. They imagined there must be all sorts of different gods, each responsible for the different parts of life. How could one deity be interested in the whole gamut of differences in the universe? And yet he is, for the Bible testifies that he made everything, and Jesus affirmed that he came to die for every one of us.

If, like me, you admire the variety in this world, then I’d suggest that’s the imprint of God on you. If, like me, you feel different from everyone else you meet, then let me suggest it’s good to know that God loves you for it!

The News

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 06 January 2018.

Latest NewsIt’s a new year, and if last year was anything to go by, there’ll be all sorts of new things happening in our world. No doubt you’re hoping to be the cause of some of them yourself - perhaps you’ve made some resolution, or there’s some kind of life change coming, or you’re planning to try some new hobby.

And what a relief! Last year had plenty of things to regret; perhaps 2018 will do better. It’s got a new slate to work with, at any rate. We like new because we see so many problems with old. Old age has its challenges; old ways of doing things are less effective; old cars rust out.

I think that’s why we call it ‘the news’. It could have been the ‘recents’, or the ‘presents’, but as a culture we went with news, because it’s hopeful in tone - something we need when so much of the content is not so promising.

The truth, though, is that we’re waiting for the big news. So far the biggest, the best, has been the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection for us, but there’s a bigger story coming. One day, he’ll return, and all our news will instantly become olds. All will fade into shadows at the glory of that day.

So we as God’s people celebrate each new day, because we know it brings us closer to the New Day. Yet while we wait, there are new things to do, new ways to grow, new works that we can do to love and serve our great God.

Happy New Day!

Old Friends and Bookends

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 30 December 2017.

BookendsWe come to the end of 2017, the year we marked the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Along the way, we met some new friends (of significant antiquity!), and I thought it might be good to remember them once more.

We began with John Calvin, who was a fitting companion as we thought through the nature of freedom, and discovered how what has eluded humanity’s clutches since the Fall was what God had given us at the very beginning, and gives us again in Jesus.

Next was Jan Hus, a forerunner of the Reformation, who never got to see the deep impact of his faith. But neither did the patriarch Abraham...

Martin Luther, who did so much to free the consciences of believers, rounded off our series on Galatians.

Ulrich Zwingli, who died fighting unarmed to protect the gospel faith of his parishioners, thought the struggle was worth it. Isaac and Jacob learned that lesson hard as well!

Thomas Cranmer, who shepherded a recalcitrant kingdom from darkness to understanding, echoed the ministry of the prophet Hosea - because of his love for them, even when it was not returned.

Guido de Bres, always on the run but determined to live out his charge...he and Joseph were both echoes of Jesus, weren’t they?

And finally Theodore Beza, who encouraged the suffering church to stand firm, just as the apostle John did and does in the book of Revelation.

A great cloud of witnesses indeed, to a great God. May we similarly honour God in the year to come!

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