Decluttering

Decluttering

We are all hoarders at heart.  While some may feel pride that they have not yet been featured on an episode of the reality TV show, Hoarders, we all collect and keep far more then we need.  Maybe this is more of a problem nowadays because of greater access to cheap consumer goods, or maybe it has always been a problem and I am just more aware of it because I am older.  After all, I remember 30 years ago when my grandmother died, we hauled off what seemed like hundreds of boxes of Jello she had “collected.”   She had examples of every packaging design from the 1970s and 1980s in her collection.   It is hard to let go.  After all we might need those things we have never needed.   Those ties might come back in style.  Those broken appliances and toys could one day be fixed.   We might find the device that fits that old power adapter.   And, of course, some of the things we can’t let go remind us of times and friends we have had to let go.   So, we live cluttered lives.

Of course, we know all about Marie Kondo’s books and the FlyLady’s website.  We have been exposed to countless books on decluttering and websites that give us the technical expertise to become masters in the art of decluttering.  Yet the problem is not one of technique, but of will.   How willing are we to let go?   Issues of the heart are always the heart of the issue.   Consider how this is true of the greatest and most perilous clutter that we tend to collect — unforgiveness.   Forgiveness is at the heart of the Christian gospel and the Christian life, but many Christians’ lives are cluttered with unforgiveness.  Like a hoarder’s house, so full of junk that it has become little more than a maze, many lives are so full of bitterness that there is no room of joy, love, peace or normal living.   The biblical words for forgiveness derive their meaning from the idea of letting go.  Letting go of the debts of others, letting go of the sins of others, and letting go of the hurts others have inflicted.   Like our clutter, we want it gone, but don’t want to let it go.

Yet the heart of the gospel is forgiveness and the one whose life is changed by the gospel is called to live a life of forgiveness.   We all know this, but we struggle with the implications.   In the book of Genesis, Joseph had a lot of reasons to be bitter and to store up resentments against his brothers, yet the Lord led him on a long journey of faith and forgiveness that allowed him to let go of the spiritual clutter that might have robbed him of life.   Join us this Lord’s Day, June 24, as we examine Genesis 45 and consider from the life of Joseph what it means to express and experience forgiveness.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  Click here for directions. Come with a friend you and join us for fellowship and conversation. We look forward to seeing you there.

Switched at Birth

Switched at Birth

Our ancestry and our environment have a lot to do with who we are.  They are both strong formative factors, but neither is decisive nor determinative.   I recently read a news story about two women in Wisconsin who discovered at the age of 72 that they had been switched at birth and had grown up in one another’s families.

The women were born 31 minutes apart in the wee hours of Dec. 19, 1945, at a St. Paul Hospital.  Both women say they stood out as oddballs in their families. One was the only member of her family who wasn’t an avid athlete, while the other was the only athletic member of her own family, having played competitive softball well into her 50s.  One woman grew up the sole blonde in a family of redheads and brunettes, the other a redhead in a sea of blondes with blue eyes.

While pursuing her genealogy, one of the women submitted DNA to the genetic testing site, 23AndMe.com.  The results?  She was not related to anyone in her family.  The mystery deepened when a close relative also submitted DNA and found a name on her profile that appeared completely unrelated.   After making contact, it quickly became clear that the two women had grown up in each other’s family.   One more DNA test confirmed the fact.   Neither their ancestry nor their environment solely determined who they were, but rather their identity was a result of both.   But there is something far more important in determining who we are and that is who we follow.

In the closing chapters of the Book of Genesis, we have parallel stories of two brothers, Joseph and Judah.  Joseph’s story is well known.  The favorite son, doted on by his father, hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, who rises to become second only to Pharaoh in ruling over ancient Egypt.  Joseph’s story is distinguished by his remarkable care to be sensitive and faithful to God’s direction in his life.  Joseph acknowledges that it is God’s hand and plan, not ancestry or circumstances that are responsible for who, what and where he is in life.

Judah’s story, however, is radically different.  He is more like his uncle Esau than his father Jacob.  He leaves the family, marries into Canaanite culture, fathers wicked sons, treats his daughter-in-law shamefully, follows his own lusts and blames his ancestry and his environment for all his troubles.  He is the antithesis of his brother, Joseph.   But the Lord has not forsaken Judah.  The story of Joseph is intertwined with the story of Judah as God works in Judah’s life to graciously transform him from a worldly man to a godly man, from a man who portrays the worst of humanity to one who resembles the very best human ever, the Lord Jesus Christ.

In Genesis 44, we see the culmination of God’s transformative work in Judah’s life.  Ultimately who he has become is not determined by his ancestry or his environment, but by the surprising and gracious work of God in his life.  Do you know anyone whom you assume God has written off?  Is that person you?  Don’t be so quick to credit your ancestry or your environment for a ruined life.  The end of the story has not yet been written and God’s grace is the final word, if you will but find it.

Join us this Lord’s Day, June 17, as we examine the climax of the story of Judah as we see how the grace of God changed him from a dishonorable son, brother, husband, and father to a man transformed by God’s grace to become a man of honor who prefigures the Lord Jesus who would descend from his line.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  Click here for directions. Come with a friend you and join us for fellowship and conversation. We look forward to seeing you there.

Irrationality

Irrationality

We usually think of irrationality as something that does not make sense — something that does not conform to a normal or reasonable way of thinking or acting.  When we can’t make sense of someone’s actions, we say they are acting irrationally.   But from a mathematical perspective, irrationality is the inability to express a number as a ratio of any two numbers.   For example, the number “pi”, so important in geometry and trigonometry cannot be expressed as a fraction.   While people revel in their ability to memorize “pi” to some number of decimal places, they can never trace it out to the end.  Being irrational, there is no end of decimal places for “pi.”   It is what we call irreducible.

In the same way many kind and well-meaning people will attempt to reduce the tragic or the happy providences of God in our lives to one specific purpose.  When we experience some profound sorrow, they will quote Romans 8:28 and proceed to conjecture as to what particular purpose God had in bringing that sorrow into our lives.   While there may be a grain of truth to their attempt at comfort, it is for most, cold comfort.

But God’s providences in our lives are like irrational numbers.  They are irreducible.  God is doing a million things in every one thing he ordains and brings to pass.  Some of those things are for us. And some are for others.  Some of his purposes may be clearly understood, but many will remain hidden to us.  Consider Job.  He never knew why God brought him through the trials he faced.  If Job had known, how satisfied do you think he would have been?   Yet Job’s faith was strengthened, Satan humiliated, and we are given hope to endure in the midst of a world that seems turned upside down.  The purposes of God in Job’s life will continue to unfold until the end of time.  You see, the providences of God are irreducible to some simple ratio or formula of understanding.  Mathematically speaking, God’s works are irrational, irreducible.

The reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 43 – 45 is an example of this.  This story unfolds much more to God’s work through Joseph than just a plan to save Egypt from famine.  Through nearly twenty years of trial and tragedy in Egypt, the brash young Joseph has become the wise, discerning and yet, humble, older Joseph.  God has been shaping him through adversity to come to a time of great need in the life of the ancient near East.  Yet that is only a fraction of what God was doing.  God was bringing comfort to an aging father, providing protective care for the future generations of the covenant family, working faith and repentance in Jacob’s wicked sons, instructing us in patient endurance, and setting before us a picture of the kindness of God through our savior’s suffering and redeeming work.   And this is by no means an exhaustive list.    For every work of God unfolds purposes beyond our lives, our times, and our understanding.

Join us this Lord’s Day, May 27, as we as we examine the continuing story of Joseph and his brothers as God unfolds more in their lives than they ever imagined and consider how God does the same in our lives.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  Click here for directions. Come with a friend you and join us for fellowship and conversation. We look forward to seeing you there.

Wounds That Heal

Wounds That Heal

Hypochondriacs come in two varieties.  The first variety is so certain that something is deadly wrong that he continually shuttles back and forth to the doctor armed with a detailed litany of possible symptoms and probable diagnoses.  This type of hypochondriac consumes Dr. Koop’s Self-Care Advisor: The Essential Home Health Guide for You and Your Family and has dog-eared every page.   But the second variety of hypochondriac is quite the opposite.  Certain that something is deadly wrong, he copes through denial.  The last thing he wants is for a doctor to confirm what he knows is already true – that the worst possible diagnosis lurks just beneath the veneer of good health and common symptoms.  This type of hypochondriac fears diagnosis and treatment more than sickness and death.   He is more comfortable with his perceived sickness than with the prospect or process of healing and health.  For he knows that the physician must wound in order to heal.

For whether the sickness is unsoundness of body or mind, the physician must often wound in order to heal.  To access a sickness, a cancer, an or an infection, surgeons and wound care specialists must painfully penetrate the surface that seems sound in order to address the issues that lie buried in tissue and obscurity.  Both to diagnose and to treat, quite often the healer must first make a wound.   This is true of the Great Physician as well.  He wields the scalpel of His living and active word, “piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:13)  He must make deep cuts to lay bear the diseased areas of our lives.  Not for our destruction, but for our healing.   The OT prophet says it so poignantly,

Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up,  that we may live before him.  Hosea 6:1-2

But the irony is that the deepest wounds made for our healing, were made to another entirely.  For we read of Jesus in another OT prophet,

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.  Isaiah 53:4-5

God wounds to heal.   We can see this in the life of Jacob and his sons.  Jacob refused all comfort over the loss of Joseph and resolved never to lay aside the mourner’s clothes.  Meanwhile his sons buried, deep in their souls, guilt and sin against their brother and their father.  They seemed irredeemably enslaved in the grip of a decades-old sin and its consequences.  Yet God wounds to heal. His living and active scalpel is sharp and uncovers the disease of sin, slowly calcifying their hearts.  He lays bare their terminal condition in order to transplant their stony hearts with hearts of flesh.   What grief or sin have your buried deep in your soul, refusing to be comforted and refusing the conviction of God’s Word and Spirit?  God has not forgotten it neither have you.

Join us this Lord’s Day, May 20, as we as we examine the continuing story of Jacob as his sons as God brings them to crisis and conviction in order to bring healing and forgiveness. As we consider their story we will also see the character of this God who wounds us to heal us.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  Click here for directions.

Beloved Enemy

Beloved Enemy

While I was often a mischievous boy, I was rarely rebellious or overtly disobedient.  On a few, memorable occasions, however, my mother uttered the phrase much feared by children of my generation — “go sit on your bed and wait until your Father gets home.”   Now my father was not overly harsh in his discipline, but he was certainly firm.  A season of “biblical chastisement” from him was nothing to be considered lightly.   The hours of silent reflection awaiting his ever-punctual arrival at 5:15 pm ranged the gamut of guilty emotions; fear of punishment, rationalization of wrongdoing, grief over future lost privileges and then true sorrow for sin and disappointment with myself.

The must crushing part of my dad’s discipline was not the sting of the swat or the stern discussion about the seriousness of sin, but it was the lines of unspoken, but not unexpressed, disappointment etched in his face.   Only now, as a father myself, do I realize that some of that disappointment was no doubt with himself and not in my actions alone, but no child can grasp that.   The comfort that I had in the midst of the approaching storm was that my father loved me.  Even as a boy, I grasped that though in discipline he seemed to be an enemy for a moment, he was a beloved enemy – bringing me by sorrow of body to sorrow of soul and thus to repentance and forgiveness.

The scripture paints of this picture of our Heavenly Father, who because of our sin is for a time our “beloved enemy.”   Romans 2:4 reminds us that it is the “kindness of God that leads to repentance” and Hebrews 12:5-6 which exhorts us,

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”

As the story of Jacob unfolds into the story of Joseph in the closing chapters of the book of Genesis, we see a pretty sorry portrayal of the lives and character of Joseph’s brothers.  They are violent, deceptive, contentious, spiteful, unbelievably disrespectful to their father, despisers of the covenant like their uncle, Esau, sexually immoral, just to name a few of their characteristics.   Their attempted murder of Joseph is only thwarted by some lingering vestigial conscience in Reuben and Judah and by the providential arrival of a caravan of slave traders.   For over twenty years, while Joseph languishes in slavery and prison in Egypt, they remain at home, never speaking of or dealing with their guilt toward their brother, their father and most of all toward God.

But God has not forgotten.  Just as he was a beloved enemy of their Father at Peniel, so God is slowly working to bring them to repentance through a remarkable reunion with Joseph who has now risen to great power and position in Egypt.   Does the Lord seem to be a threat or an enemy in your life?  Perhaps in His kindness, He is leading you to repentance and cleansing from some sin that has held power for far too long in your life. Maybe, just maybe, He is a beloved enemy whose woundings are to be trusted.

Join us this Lord’s Day, May 13, as we examine the continuing story of Joseph as his brothers appear before him to find food in the famine and find something much more powerful and needful.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  Click here for directions. Come with a friend you and join us for fellowship and conversation. We look forward to seeing you there.

I Spy

I Spy

Long road trips in 1973 were very different from their contemporary counterparts.   We had no DVDs, no mini-vans, no cup-holders, no electronic devices and no headphones.  My sisters an I would sit together in the back seat of our Galaxy 500, with its 2-60 AC (two open windows at 60 mph) and rough textured upholstery.   My father was impervious to the childhood lament, “we’re bored.”  It was up to us to come up with games to pass the time.  My dad drove very slowly and we absolutely never stopped unless it was a bona-fide health emergency.   We worked our way through the alphabet on road signs, searching diligently for that elusive word that began with ‘X.’  We counted Volkswagen Beetles.  And, our course, we played “I Spy.”

Today, “I Spy” has evolved into a series of elaborate picture books in which the items to be found are displayed in plain sight in a photograph littered with thematic clutter to distract and disguise the visual scavenger hunt.  One item always proved most elusive.  Once found, it seemed remarkable that it was so difficult to spot.  There it was, right on the page, not hidden or obscured, just surrounded by a thousand curious and compelling distractions.

The Bible can often feel that way for some.  Filled with names and dates and historical context, foreign to our education and experience, and with cultural practices so different from our own, we are often derailed by a thousand curious and compelling distractions, so that we don’t see what is there in plain sight.  Even the religious leaders of Jesus’ day viewed the Bible as a mere system of morals, of individual do’s and don’ts, such that they missed the picture because all they saw was brushstrokes.   Jesus rebuked them saying, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” (John 5:39)

The Bible reveals God’s nature and His promises.  It shows us our brokenness because of sin and the means of healing and wholeness through faith in Christ.  From beginning to end, the Bible bears witness about Jesus – his nature, our need of him, his finished work, his sufficiency.   Yet sometimes we can’t see the picture for the brushstrokes.   This is especially true sometimes in the narratives of the Old Testament.  An ancient pastor, Augustine of Hippo, once wrote “the new [testament] is in the old concealed; the old [testament] is in the new revealed.”   This is so poignantly pictured in the story of Joseph as he comes to power and provides food for the people during the years of famine.  Joseph, the Jew, rejected by his own and condemned by the state, by God’s miraculous providence, becomes a temporal savior of the world.  When the hungry come to Pharaoh for provision he sends them to Joseph as the only way to find life-giving provision.   The picture of Joseph feeding the victims of famine is a picture of the greater Joseph, Jesus, who as the bread of heaven feeds men’s hungry souls and gives life.

Join us this Lord’s Day, May 6, as we examine the continuing story of Joseph feeding the people during a severe famine and consider how this story points to a greater Joseph, the Lord Jesus, who gives life to hungry souls.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  Click here for directions.

Come with a friend you and join us for fellowship and conversation. We look forward to seeing you there.

Straight Talk

Straight Talk

More was broken in The Fall than we even begin to imagine.   The first external effect of The Fall shows up in the brokenness of intimate fellowship and communication between a man and his wife.  Almost immediately concealment takes the place of clarity.  Any man who loves a wife or daughter recognizes that this effect of the fall is still in play.  Men struggle with subtlety in language.  We are often incapable of setting the words spoken by our beloved in the proper emotional context necessary to decipher what seems to us to be coded messages.

Perhaps you’ve seen the YouTube video that parodies this through a mythical product called the “Manslater.”   The Manslater is a device that translates what a woman says in “simple man words.” When a woman says, “I’ll be ready in 5 minutes,” the Manslater translates it into: “Me ready 30 minutes.” Using “emotion and female logic deciphering technology,” this device can also work on men. When a man says to a woman: “Wow,” the Manslater translates it to: “Your beauty is stunning!”  As much as this resonates with us, the reality is that only the gospel can reconcile the brokenness sin brings to our relationships and communication.

But it is no secret that men need straight talk.  Though we don’t often like it, we need bluntness — iron that sharpens iron and the wounds of a friend.  The Letter of James in the New Testament fits this bill.  James speaks forcefully and bluntly to the matters that men struggle with: anger, speaking when we should be listening, unguarded speech, failure to pay attention to God’s Word, favoritism, and faith that talks but does not walk, just to name a few.  In the short space of five chapters, James issues a radical call to a faith in Christ that is expressed, not merely professed.

Join us, Friday mornings in May from 7:00 – 8:00 am at Blue Sail Coffee, downtown in Technology Park, 417 Main St., Little Rock for fellowship, prayer and discussion, as we gather with other men to learn from The Letter of James and consider some straight talk about walking the walk.