Confirmation or Conformation?

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 30 November 2019.

With our confirmation service taking place tonight, it seems like a good time to ask the question: what does it mean anyway?

One approach is to take it literally: it’s a chance for those on whose behalf promises were made many years ago, when they were too small to speak for themselves, to publicly give their assent. They are confirming that those are promises that they would like to make for themselves.

The cynic might have a different view of things. They could suggest that this marks the successful indoctrination of young people, the culmination of a nefarious process that has been holding back humanity from time immemorial. It’s not confirmation, it’s conformation - we’re marking with joy that another group of spiritual lemmings have jumped off the same cliff to settle in for lives of ignorance.

IOI want to suggest a third angle. Tonight we gladly recognise that God has kept his promises. Though a baby has no claim on God, he has chosen to guard them and guide them through their maturing into thoughtful, compassionate and delighted followers of Christ. That’s not a work that they can do, nor that we can do in them. What we confirm is that we recognise that God’s Spirit has brought them to life.

It turns out that this is not merely a difference of a single letter, but the difference that a singular God makes: he does it all, for each of us, out of his kindness.

Or, for the more astronomically-minded, he makes each of us satellites orbiting our King.

Bill Shock

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 23 November 2019.

SewardWe all know that with new technologies come new ways for the unwary to end up running up a huge bill. Spam schemes, absurdly overpriced call charges to enter competitions, a computer that gobbles up your monthly download limits, and the like. You might get burned once, but you learn from it.

It’s nothing new. Way back in 1866, the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable was ready for use - quite a feat when you think about it. The honour of sending the first message fell to William Seward, the US Secretary of State at the time. He composed a diplomatic message of 780 words (which may have been a trifle ambitious), but because the content was sensitive, he encoded it into a sequence of three-digit numbers.

It turned out that the telegraph company had some relevant billing policies. Like that all numbers were to be spelled out. And that coded messages were charged at double the rate. Seward’s message ballooned to 3,772 words and cost a total of $19,540.40 - around what he would earn over three years. He refused to pay the bill, but lost a lawsuit and had to give in.

Given we’re so good at misjudging the cost of things, you’d think it would be prudent to investigate Jesus’ claims from the start. After all, if you get this wrong and the bill falls due, you won’t have a second chance to learn from the mistake...

Forgotten Heroes

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 16 November 2019.

Forgotten HeroesIt’s a sad irony that standing forgotten on a wall in a London park is a memorial dedicated to ordinary men, women and children who had heroically given their lives in the effort to save others. The project was conceived as a way to honour those whose memories would otherwise be lost.

The dangers of 19th century life meant that candidates were not hard to come by. Every year, one or more people would fit the criteria and be memorialised with a ceramic tile.

Thus, we can be reminded of 17-year-old Elizabeth Boxall, who died while trying to save a child from a runaway horse; David Selves, who at 12 died while attempting a rescue of his drowning friend; even little John Clinton, who at 10 drowned while helping an even younger child. And they are not even the youngest honoured.

Of course, there are countless memorials scattered all over the globe, indicators of how humanity values our forebears, and especially when they have made substantial contributions during their lifetimes.

By contrast, God forgets not a single one of his people, remembering every tear we’ve shed (Psalm 56:8). And he is not content with mere memories, but gives life to his fallen, though none of us have earned it. All because of another hero, one whom the world, despite its best efforts, cannot forget. His memorial is not the stone churches, not the crosses and plaques. Instead, it is the living church, built on the foundation of his sacrifice.

The New Australian Religion

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 09 November 2019.

It’s not sport, not the beach, not even real estate investment. Can you guess?

Annabel Crabb published an article during the week that analysed the attitudes of Australians to religion and its place in our society. It contained a number of interesting surprises:

  • While it’s reasonable to believe that over 70% of religious adherents believe that there is indeed religious discrimination in Australia, you might not have expected that 68% of those who follow no religion agree with them;
  • But mostly, they don’t see this as a problem - over 60% of Australians want people to keep their religious opinions to themselves;
  • In addition, only 15% of Australians think our society would be better off if we were more religious. And that’s including those who practise a religion!
  • 70% of us don’t trust religious leaders; half of these don’t trust such leaders at all.

But perhaps of greater significance than all of this is how Australians are choosing to define themselves. Religious belief is relatively unimportant, but so is occupation, sexuality and ethnicity. Gender and nationality are more significant, but the top of the pack is political belief. We are what we vote for, apparently. Our worship is the expression of our right to choose. Civic religion is in, despite our cynicism about politics.

Of course, you might not believe me...

Can Ye Believe It?

Written by Anthony Douglas on Saturday, 02 November 2019.

WestIn an age when fame is at its most monetisable, when social media influence is the key to power, there are few who can compete with the rap artist Kanye West. I say ‘rap artist’, but the reality is that West’s profession of choice is being Kanye West, and he’s monopolised it exceedingly well. As if being a successful star of popular music culture wasn’t enough, Kanye had the good sense to marry into the publicity behemoth known as the Kardashians by wedding Kim, the most famous of them all. Topping all that, Kanye has shown an amazing talent for stirring controversy and keeping his name in the public eye.

And this week, he released his new album, entitled ‘Jesus is King’.

To be clear, this is a man who at one time wanted people to refer to him as Yeezus. He’s always had an apparent interest in religious themes, but this time around, things appear different. West has been explicitly declaring himself a Christian, speaking of being born again. Is this for real?

And, just as significantly, should we care?

Certainly, we rejoice whenever someone professes faith in Christ. But does celebrity make it any different? From a worldly perspective, it sounds like a great opportunity to see Kanye showing a new-found humility. People may catch a whiff of the gospel, and be inspired to learn more. God can surely use the celebrity Christian.

But look around. How many of your brothers and sisters in Christ were led to trust him by A-listers? That’s what I thought too. Rumour has it, God’s strength works at its best through weakness!

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