Remembering the King

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 07 April 2018.

MLKThis last week marked the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, which has obviously been a significant moment for American society. Retrospectives and tributes have abounded.

But it was a line from an editorial that caught my eye:

“The simple fact is that by placing King on a pedestal and viewing his struggle as a closed chapter in history many Americans escape the harsh realities that both he and contemporary minority groups continue to endure.”

It makes a telling point, doesn’t it? By treating MLK as a tremendously important historical figure, he is both honoured and sequestered. The culture can feel satisfied about its enlightened appreciation of the good King achieved, while simultaneously avoiding any threat lingering from what he had to say.

Sounds like another King I know. Jesus was a pretty great teacher (except for a few things we disagree with him on, where clearly he was just trapped by his ignorant culture); we should respect what he achieved and hey, even build on his legacy. Let’s love one another and let everything else alone. That was what he was trying to say, right?

Thank God (literally!) Jesus can’t be marooned in the first century, but is alive today, and continues to speak to our world through his word and through the lips of his people. May he indeed be honoured, though without historical handcuffing - but may he also be heard loud and clear!

Fall-Tampering

Written by Anthony Douglas on Friday, 30 March 2018.

Broken StumpsIt’s been all over the news all week - in fact, you could be forgiven for thinking it was the only news all week. Members of Australia’s men’s cricket team were caught red-handed (or perhaps, yellow-handed and red-faced) in the act of tampering with the ball they were using in a Test match against South Africa.

The howls of outrage and despair began almost instantly. Never has it been clearer how dearly Australian society worships its sporting idols, and how vengefully we will turn on them when we find that they’re only human after all.

They were cheating, and it could not be borne. The punishments began to roll thick and fast, and players used to making millions every year were suddenly losing them in a matter of days. Ball-tampering, it seems, isn’t just unfair, but also intolerable.

Which brings us to Easter and what was achieved by Jesus’ death on a Roman cross. The Bible is clear: our offences against God are of a scale and magnitude that we cannot escape, and he sees them better than any cameraman. We were rightly condemned, and our due punishment would not have just excluded us from the team, but from life itself.

At this point, our rescuer steps in. Jesus single-handedly confounds the effects of humanity’s fall into sin, and bears the reproach of God for us. Death will not have us; the umpire declares us not out.

It is not in the least bit fair, and thank God for that.

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)

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