Living Through History

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 08 July 2017.

As we keep exploring the history of the Reformation, you’ll have noticed that the stories we uncover aren’t dull. Men and women keep taking incredible risks, keep making incisive discoveries, never forsaking the gospel that had blazed to life in their generation.

What would it have been like to live through the Reformation? It’s hard not to wonder... Would we have had the same courage, the same initiative, the same dedication? If I had been Luther, would I have tried to be more politic? If I had been Zwingli, would I have taken up arms?

It’s not a new question, of course. We often take a similar approach as we read the Bible. Would I have done any better than Jesus’ disciples when listening to all his teaching? Would I have followed Moses through the Red Sea?

The thing is, we live in such ordinary times, so we mull over these adventures from our armchairs. It’ll never happen to us...

Apple TreeMartin Luther was once reputedly asked, as he worked in his veggie patch, what he would do if he knew for certain that Jesus’ return was the following day. His reply? He’d plant an apple tree. His point was that living the godly life is an everyday activity.

Luther didn’t know the firestorm that he would light, when he hammered his list to the door. He just knew it was the right thing for him to do, to be faithful to God and to his neighbours. No more do we know whether the choices we make might prove to change the world, or even just our part of it. But so what? Jesus called on his servants to be ready for the master’s return - and being ready meant being about their daily work. Let’s live our lives as if each day were our last...and be faithfully ordinary.

As Old as the Hills

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 01 July 2017.

Elderly ManThe story got swamped this week as the news broke of charges being laid against Cardinal Pell, but it was horrifying enough to regain our attention. The results of an investigation into aged care in Australia began to be published in the Fairfax press and through the ABC, and they were extraordinary.

For two reasons.

Firstly, because of the long and sad litany of shabby treatment of the aged by organisations that claim that caring for their residents is their reason for being. There were clear instances of exploitation, and compelling evidence that senior citizens are being trapped by punitive contracts and then bled dry within the timeframe decreed by corporate performance indicators. Most of the bad press went against one particular company; I even spotted an article that raised the possibility that some of the company’s top executives, seeing the stock price about to take a dive, took the opportunity to indulge in a little insider trading.

Secondly, and arguably more depressingly, the reports focused in upon financial matters. We were told repeatedly, breathlessly, precisely how many thousands of dollars various people had lost. It was harder to find a story that saw the disdain and dehumanising of the elderly as the greater crime.

Of course, these kinds of behaviour have been around forever. Humanity - or perhaps inhumanity - has long specialised in exploiting those who are weaker. It’s why the ten commandments included a call to honour our parents, and finish with the rejection of covetousness.

Our long failure, however, points us to one man who was able to honour his Father, and coveted only the humility of a cross.

The Church Sings

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 25 June 2017.

I asked the youth at SPX the other week what reasons they could think of for why Christians sing. We had a great discussion afterwards. But there’s another answer, a deeper answer, that I was struck by later. The church sings because we’re a mixed congregation that has been brought together.

Making MusicAn orchestra includes all kinds of instruments, and all sorts of musicians. Not every brass player is brazen, and not every violinist is highly strung. Together, however, their music weaves its magic, the volume rising and falling, the pace changing from piece to piece.

And then you add the voices. For many people, hearing the massed choir join a top-flight orchestra for Handel’s Messiah is a joyful ingredient of the Christmas season. For others, it’s the amateur but heartfelt crowd at the football belting out a national anthem or a local team’s song.

In the church, God brings together people from all walks of life. There are different ages, different personalities, different gifts, all working together as God’s people, all working together to serve one another and to proclaim the gospel. It’s not merely music without lyrics, though: we are people of the Word, and we have a message to adorn.

Look around you. Who are the percussionists - working in the background, steadily tapping out the rhythms of church life each week? Who plays the bass line, providing support to the weaker instruments? Who is the gentle piccolo, knowing just when to come in?

We make beautiful music - and not just because the composition is so exquisite. Don’t forget: we also have a master Conductor!

This Hurts Me More Than It Hurts You

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 18 June 2017.

Grenfell TowerAt times of grief, it is very common to hear accusations against God. How could you allow such a thing to happen? Don’t you care about the suffering of innocent people? What kind of good God stands by and does nothing?

It’s a genuine and appropriate question. It’s simply absurd to suggest a being greater than us who cares less than we do. And to place our trust in an indifferent deity leads to callous followers. If we simply bury our head in the sand on this, it’s a travesty that destroys our moral credibility.

So let’s start with one of our favourite responses: assigning blame. It didn’t take long to point fingers this week - the flames were still growing stronger when the managers and refurbishers were being put under the spotlight. In Luke 13, Jesus was asked about a recent disaster, and he did something surprising.

He blamed the victims.

But he didn’t stop there. Jesus warned us that we are all guilty. It’s only the kindness of God that we don’t all experience tragedy, all the time. We have so mucked up this world that we have no grounds for complaint. Humans start wars, commit murders, enslave and degrade each other; we spread disease, we exploit the weak ... and we cut corners for profit.

God is not standing idly by. He is constantly holding back the vast majority of what would go wrong without him. But if we lead a charmed life, protected from all the consequences of evil, then he knows we’d just keep going, and reach an afterlife that is far from charming.

God is not standing idly by. His own Son came to bear the brunt of evil, and break it. If we are to point our finger at the heavens, let it be to direct others to the Saviour we have to thank.

In the Real World

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 10 June 2017.

Down-to-earth is generally meant as a compliment, describing someone who isn’t prone to flights of fancy, who is reasonable and level-headed. Someone who can be trusted to think things through. We like to work with people who live in the real world. Frankly, it just makes good sense.

HawaiianAnd then there’s the Hawaiian pizza.

There’s different schools of thought on whether it’s acceptable to put pineapple on a pizza, but let’s not get into that. What we can all agree on is that pizza is an Italian creation, and Hawaii is not. The common but confounding pizza is Italian-American. Right? No - it was invented in Canada: let’s call it Italian-American-Canadian. Not so fast...the inventor, who died during the week, was a man named Sotirios Panopolous, an immigrant from Greece. So next time you tuck into a slice of Hawaiian, then remember it’s an Australian-Italian-American-Canadian-Greek cuisine...

The real world isn’t always as clear-cut as we think it to be. The more we come to understand, the more shades of grey we find. What we thought was ‘real’ and therefore true turns out to be a little more complicated.

And conversely, sometimes what is spiritual isn’t quite as vague and misty as we’re led to believe. Sometimes they’re crystal clear. Sometimes they’re the most real truth of all. Like when Abraham has his servant swear by “the LORD, the God of heaven and the God of earth”, because there’s no more profound a vow to be made.

In the real world...? Or would you prefer the one who is greater than the world, who made the world, who rules it still? Your God awaits...

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