Grandstanding

Written by Anthony Douglas on Sunday, 10 March 2019.

AllianzIt’s pretty likely that not one of our political pundits would have been able to tell us two years ago that the defining issue for the 2019 state election would be football stadiums. Law and order, education, health, the state of the budget - even council amalgamations - all are more likely candidates. And yet, here we are, being asked to choose between two policy positions on public performance places for professional players. And yes, that last line was meant to sound ridiculous, because, frankly, it is!

Normally, all the fireworks take place on the field of play, but this week, the Labor leader cleverly managed the media circus to ensure that we would all spend our time reflecting on what price we were prepared to pay for comfy seats at the footy.

How do we think about voting in elections? The vast majority of people don’t have their names on a ballot paper, but still end up voting for themselves. We vote for the party with the policies that will suit us the best, increase our security, maximise our comfort... in short, who will look after us the best.

But a society exists to allow its members to cooperate, so that collectively the quality of life is better. If we are going to participate in our society, surely we should do so in a way that is not perverse! And that will mean seeking what is best, in this case, for the people of NSW. Working that out while the political candidates and the press are trying to tell me all about what will suit me... will mean that it’s good to pray for wisdom, and then trust God to look after the scoreboard.

Pell Mell

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 02 March 2019.

PellIt’s not often that old news arrives for the first time. The conviction of Australia’s highest-profile Catholic clergyman was a bombshell when the story broke this week. The fact that the media had had two months to write their stories meant that coverage was far more considered and varied than what we usually see - but it left the rest of us playing catch-up. How are we meant to think about this news?

First, we have to recognise that George Pell maintains his innocence, and this is a nobody-wins situation. There are at least two men whose lives have been irrevocably marred by what was done to them in the past. If Pell is guilty, then his appeal only prolongs the drawn-out impact of his sin, and if his appeal succeeds, that would twist the knife even further. If he is innocent, then we are reminded that our system of justice is often fragile, and it will have failed to bring justice to either Pell or those who he has been convicted of harming. And if we jail an innocent man, that injustice is matched by the travesty of the true abuser still walking in freedom.

Secondly, we should confess our own emotional response. If there is surprise, there shouldn’t be: we know that all of us are touched by sin - well, to be honest, pummelled mercilessly all our lives. Cardinals are not immune. Or if there is a smug satisfaction that he’s been done at last... should we not be more gladdened by the knowledge that Christ can forgive such sins, and worse?

This verdict is a mirror: we are all sinners, and all sinned against. The inadequacies of human justice show us the need for God’s judgment...and mercy. Thank Christ that we can have hope.

It's Really True

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 23 February 2019.

Famously, in the midst of fierce persecution, a Carthaginian Christian by the name of Tertullian concluded his written defence of his faith by declaring that persecution would not work, because ‘the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.’

Throughout history, this principle has been tested all too often, but has proved reliable. God’s church has blossomed in the midst of trials. Stories of martyrdom have proved to be moving and challenging for those left behind, whether they knew the victims personally or not.

Four years ago, a rampant Islamic State staged the execution of twenty-one Christians on a Libyan beach. The image of them lined up, kneeling in bright orange jumpsuits, was powerful. Just not how the murderers intended...

Church of MartyrsThe government of Egypt, dominated by Islam, nevertheless funded and supported the building of a new Christian church in the hometown of many of the victims. Such a donation is almost inconceivable.

The relatives of those slain testify to their comfort. “To be honest, I was happy when I saw my son in the video,” said the father of one of them, “because then I knew the place he had gone to. And when I saw that he died with the name of Jesus on his lips, I was very proud. I rejoiced!” The widow of another: “ISIS thought the killing of our relatives would destroy us. It did not. It revived us.”

And in the aftermath, stories are coming out about Muslims who have converted to Christianity. The church has found its voice, a voice that declares the only name by which we can be saved. When someone died for Jesus, you know they lived for him - and still do.   

You Don't Say?

Written by Anthony Douglas on Friday, 15 February 2019.

Speech - ConfusedIn the flurry of excitement coming from the Canberra press gallery this week, as the Federal government became the first in nearly a century to feel the sting of losing a legislative vote, I noticed yet again a strange anomaly. It was a pattern repeated over and over, and one you’ll no doubt be familiar with. The people that the bill was about were, without exception, referred to as either refugees or asylum seekers.

That’s intriguing, because Australia has spent many years treating them essentially as illegal immigrants. They are described as attempting to reach Australia illegally, and consequently have incurred penal responses. But we don’t seem to like giving them that label.

We’re playing a word game with ourselves, calling them a sympathetic term while conceiving of them less sympathetically. That’s dangerous, because it means we have raised an entire generation who think that an asylum seeker is someone who should be incarcerated.

We play the same tricks on ourselves in other fields too. Once upon a time, there was the greenhouse effect. It became global warming, and then later, climate change. The latest term is probably more accurate, but we tend to hear it as only speaking of warmer weather, and get confused about polar vortex events. There are plenty of other words whose proper meaning we abuse by consensus: ‘progressive’, ‘conservative’, ‘reforms’ ... the list goes on.

For a people who have staked our eternities on the trustworthiness of words to communicate truth, this should be a concern! Let’s watch our tongues, to make sure we say what we mean to say, and glorify God with our words.

It's Happening Again!

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 09 February 2019.

Do you find that you always get to this time of year and think to yourself, ‘Already?’ The summer has somehow slipped away, and all the things you’d intended to get done have not quite made it. The garden is still in want of attention, and that repair job on the house that you’d left for finer weather is wondering how much finer it could have been. Last year’s spring clean that was forgotten is now going to happen in the northern hemisphere’s spring ... that’s  right, isn’t it ...?

We keep making new resolutions for each new year, but often what we really need is instead a revolution - we need to see complete change in ourselves. Every set of failed resolutions becomes that year’s reminder of how stubborn we are at not improving ourselves. And that’s before we get to the list of all the ways that other people would like to see us change!

People often think that Christians are in it for the final reward, and let’s face it, the idea of living for eternity in a world restored to perfection is pretty attractive. But this should not obscure that one of the very greatest of delights about following Jesus is that he does enable us to change, in many and substantial ways, in this life.

RevolutionWe might be frustrated with ourselves, but we can look back and see how God’s Spirit has sanded away some of our rough edges. We can read the stories of people from times past whose lives were completely transformed by God’s grace. And we get to rejoice as we see his handiwork in our brothers and sisters, as we share life together here at church.

The revolution isn’t coming: it’s already underway...

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