Sorry?

Sorry?

One of the places where human depravity is more clearly displayed than rush hour traffic, may be a child’s birthday party.   These gatherings, designed to celebrate a child’s special day, can easily turn into self-fests, with every attendee assuming that he, himself, is the reason for the season.   Meanwhile parents visit with one another in relative oblivion, until little Johnny Schmidt goes too far.

Then you hear it. “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt!  You tell little birthday Bobby you are sorry.”  Called from parental lethargy, Mrs. Schmidt arises, grasps John Jacob by the ear and marches him to the emotional remains of birthday Bobby and repeats the command.  “Say it!  Say your sorry! Say it now!” She bellows.

John Jacob barely opens his mouth and barely disturbs the air with his virtually inaudible, “Sor-ry.”  And everyone who observes this farce thinks the same thing.  The thought bubble above everyone’s head screams, “No You’re Not! You’re not one bit sorry!”  Everyone knows that John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt is anything but sorry.  Birthday Bobby knows it.  Mrs. Schmidt knows it.  And John Jacob smiles inwardly.  The use of a magic word has relieved him of all consequence.  Nothing has changed.  Bobby is still an emotional wreck, the party has been ruined, contrary to her self-deception, Mrs. Schmidt has not actually parented her son.  All that was broken is still broken.   But John Jacob has been released from trouble.  Or has he?

This is what most people think repentance looks like – like John Jacob using magical religious words, smooth words to remove consequence and relieve himself of obligation for his sin against God and others.  We mumble a half-hearted prayer, say “sorry” in liturgical dressing and, voila, everything is fixed.  Or is it?   We are so self-centered by nature that we can never escape the gravity of self-love in order to truly repent under our own power.   Repentance demands sorrow for how our sins affected others, not just how they affect us.   The Apostle Paul distinguishes between godly sorrow that rightly grieves its offense and worldly sorrow that only grieves its consequences.

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 2 Corinthians 7:10

Real repentance begins with God — with his kindness, with his grace, with the convicting work of His Holy Spirit.  Without this kind of real repentance, we live lives that are broken – broken in our relationship with God and broken in every other relationship as well.  It is not enough to say, “sorry” and think that magic words will put the world back the way it was before.  What we need is real, gracious, God-given repentance.

As God calls Judah to account for her sin through the prophet Jeremiah, His Words are not words of bare judgment, but a gracious call to repentance, grace, forgiveness, mercy and salvation.  This same call comes to us to show us the way home from the pig-sty of our own selfishness.   Have you received God’s gift of repentance unto life?  Do you want to see what that looks like and hear how to find it?

Join us this Sunday, July 14 as we examine the amazing grace of God and his call to come home in Jeremiah 3.  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 and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Breaking Faith

Breaking Faith

Mrs. Dixon’s fourth grade class was a burgeoning nest of young love.  That was the year when girls leapfrogged past spiders on the list of interesting creatures in the life of a boy.   After lunch each day we would have a half-hour or so of time dedicated for quiet study.  But the subject most pursued during this “quiet time” was the study of relational engagement.  Notes were carefully constructed, though with little imagination or variance.  “Will you ‘go with me’? Yes __ or __ ”   Who knew that romance was so straightforward?  It is ironic that young love could be reduced to a form letter.

But if, perchance, the note was returned with the ‘Yes’ box marked, things immediately got complicated.  First, the idea of “going with” someone was amorphous.  Where were we going?  Were we actually going somewhere?  Was the relationship supposed to “go somewhere?”  Sure, there was some public identification as a couple, with all the requisite teasing that accompanied each ‘go-wither’s’ gender clique, but no one knew what happened next.  Then, quickly and without warning, the euphoria of a “Yes” on that original note was followed by the crushing news from everyone that you had broken up and that your beloved was now ‘going with’ someone else.   Relationships often were born and died without anything passing between boy and girl except a note.  While pride was briefly humbled in the dust, there was little relational pain, because after all, two days and a checked box on a passed note is not a recipe for intimacy.

All this relational callousness can never prepare you, however, for the real, deep, intense pain that comes from broken love.   When that person in whom your hopes, dreams, tears, and vulnerability have been lovingly vested breaks faith and moves on, it releases intense emotional energy.  Like the splitting of the powerful bonds that hold the atom together, relational fission creates massive devastation, sweeping away those in its shock-waves.  I pray that you have not experienced this personally, but I imagine that you have.   So much invested, so much given up and now what?   With every pain, a little callousness develops, a little trust is lost, a little hope is gone.   But have you ever considered how God reacts toward us when we break faith with him and move on and away from Him — the most intimate of lovers?

The ancient prophet, Jeremiah preached during a time of both apathy and antipathy toward the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  The Twentieth Century prophet, Francis Schaeffer, called Jeremiah the prophet for post-modern times, because our contemporary culture, like that of Jeremiah’s day, has turned away from love for God and has moved on in its headlong pursuit of self-love in a relational fission which has ignited stunning devastation.   In his very first recorded sermon, Jeremiah makes an impassioned plea on behalf of Israel’s divine husband to leave her sordid affairs and return to her true love, lest she destroy herself in the process.

How would we react if our beloved treated us as God’s people treated Him?  And before we cast too many stones on ancient Israel, let us be honest if things are really any different with us?   How patient, how tender, how willing to reconcile would we be with such a spouse?  Yet, in this word we hear the great grace God extended to the rebellious and unfaithful who have refused the fountain of living waters to drink from stagnant and broken troughs.

Join us this Sunday, July 7 as we examine a terrible picture of spiritual unfaithfulness in Jeremiah 2:1-13 and consider the deadly consequences of abandoning God but the life giving grace He extends to us in Christ.  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 and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Accepting the Call

Accepting the Call

The sound was unmistakable.  I can still hear it in my memory.  The sound of a wooden spoon stirring pancake batter in a Tupperware bowl.  It was the sound of Saturday morning.  My father did not cook often, but Saturday morning was his time to shine in the culinary arts.  My father loved pancakes — tall stacks of pancakes drowned in maple syrup.  But these pancakes, garnished with sausage, had a deeper significance.  As much as my Dad loved piles of carbs drenched with more carbs, pancakes prepared a man for work.   And work was the order of the day on Saturdays.   The early morning sound of pancake batter was the clarion call to wake for work.

For my childhood friends, Saturday morning was a time to sleep in and focus on the business of play.  But in our house, my father cast another vision.  His vision involved rising early, eating a hearty breakfast, loading the car with gardening tools and making the hour-long drive to our “property” to tend the tomatoes, squash, corn, string-beans and watermelons.   I was not an enthusiastic gardener, but I loved to be with my father.  I am quite sure my father could have gotten more done without me, but he took me because he wanted me with him in his work.

The challenges were great.  The roto-tiller was like a rodeo bronc.  Pulling weeds from the hard-baked Georgia clay bloodied my fingers.  The broiling hours under the summer sun seemed interminable.  And I can still hear the sound of the cicadas that formed the soundtrack of gardening adversity.   But there were great rewards — hearing the stories of my forefathers, seeing “the old places” where my family’s history unfolded, sharing peanut butter and banana sandwiches with my dad and the world’s coldest “Co-cola” (Georgian for Coca-Cola) from Mr. Crow’s General Store.   And the coup-de-grace was my father’s declaration at the end of the day that I had done a solid day of man’s work.  The call that came with the wooden spoon striking Tupperware was reluctantly heeded at the day’s dawning, but at day’s end, I was thankful for I had accepted the call.

That is often what God’s calling is like.  At first it is daunting and dreaded, filled with thoughts of adversity and self-doubt.  And often it is just as hard as we expected.  However, it is never a call merely to do a job, but to spend time at work with the Father.  While God does not need us to accomplish his plan and purpose, he delights to have us with him at work.  He chooses to call us to go with him.

We see this vividly in God’s call to the prophet Jeremiah.   God has work for Jeremiah to do.  He tells him to “gird up his loins” and get dressed for work, but first he tells him that even before he formed Jeremiah in his mother’s womb, he knew him and set him apart to declare the gospel to perishing men, women, boys and girls.   The language is tender, as of a father lovingly planning for a child yet unborn.  And most importantly, God is not just sending Jeremiah, pushing him out of the nest to face the cold, harsh realities of a world hostile to the gospel.  Notice the promise that animates Jeremiah’s call.  Twice the Lord tells the reluctant prophet, “do not be afraid … for I am with you.”

Jeremiah’s calling reveals important truths about our own callings.  God never merely send us out to work for him, but invites us to join him where he is in what he is doing.  Is it intimidating?  Is there self-doubt?  Of course, but we have the promise of his power and his presence.   Have you accepted God’s call?  His call to come to him through faith in Christ and then his call to join him in his work?

Join us this Sunday, June 30, as we examine Jeremiah’s call in Jeremiah 1:4-19 and consider what this teaches us about God’s call to 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. Come with a friend and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Ancient Paths

Ancient Paths

My father loved nothing more than a new ‘short-cut.’  He hated driving on the interstates in Atlanta and avoided them like the plague.  As an office equipment salesman, he had a good sense of the layout of the city, but his love of a new ‘short-cut’ was proverbial in our family for ‘long dangerous route that ended up getting us lost.’  On vacations, my older sister would act as navigator so when my dad could not resist the urge to ‘take the road less traveled’ she could get us back to the ‘road more reliable.’

Like my father, society today is obsessed with finding the new path, the fast-track, the short-cut.  Our evolutionary mind-set has deceived us into thinking that we are very different men than those who came before.  After all, our problems are modern problems, not like the ancient concerns of our forefathers.   Surely modern problems demand modern solutions – new paths, not the worn and rutted path of those traveling ahead of us.

But this quest for novelty pervades our thinking beyond the realm of technology into our morality and spirituality.  We clamor for a new ethic, more flexible and adapted to the shifting mores of men.   Progressive political candidates habitually call for the Church to hitch its theology to the wandering star of public opinion, rather than remain tied to some outdated idea of transcendent and absolute truth.  But what if our problems are not new?  What if they are just more technologically advanced versions of the same old problem – the problem man has faced from the very beginning?  It is a grave danger to view our problems as modern problems in need of modern solutions.  As one theologian has noted, “what modern problems need are ancient solutions.”

The men of the prophet Jeremiah’s day faced social, spiritual, and national ruin.  Caught in the crossfire of colliding world powers, they looked to modern solutions — globalism, multi-culturalism, and nationalism, rather than return to the ancient paths found in God’s Word.  They were masters of compromise and political intrigue.  Pragmatism was their only core conviction.  ‘Go along to get along’ was their motto.  But to no avail.  Their departure from God’s Word led them further and further from the only path to peace.

Though the people left God behind, He did not leave them.  He sent His Word and His prophet, Jeremiah, warning them not to follow the empty traditions of their fathers or adopt the modern mantra, ‘coexist.’  Jeremiah charges them sternly.

 Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.  But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’  Jeremiah 6:16

Take note of their response – “we will not walk in it.”  Sound familiar?  How like us, whose pride scoffs at anything we did not devise.   “How foolish,” we say, “to look to at outdated ideas like faith and repentance.  How narrow-minded and unscientific to believe in the God of the Bible.”  We must look to ourselves.  Solve our own problems.  But the only solutions to uniquely modern problems are the ancient ones revealed by a God who stands above and beyond time.

Join us this Sunday, June 23, as we look at the words of Jeremiah and consider how this ancient preacher speaks to our modern concerns with amazing relevance and clarity.  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 and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Big Shoes

Big Shoes

I admit it, it was afraid of the prospect of changing diapers.  When my first child was born, I told my wife I needed to change that first diaper so I could conquer my fears from the get-go.  But I had not done my homework.  I was not prepared for meconium. It was more than I had bargained for – much more.   But meconium was not the most shocking aspect of becoming a father.  Most unexpected was the realization that my children would look at me, the way I had looked at my own father.  I never for an instant believed that he did not know how to handle any and every situation. He always seemed to have a plan, to have things under control — except that is when he attempted to fix household appliances.

But as a new dad, I was painfully aware that I did not know how to handle any and every situation.  I did not always have a plan, nor did I have things under control.   As a child my confidence in my father made the uncertain certain, and made the impossible possible.  He taught me to plan, to write, to teach.  He taught me the importance of serving others, and in particular, of serving Christ.  He had his faults to be sure, but I am thankful to be my father’s son.  His shoes were very big.  I sat with him as he drew his last breath in this life.  I was surprised by an overwhelming sense of being untethered as he left us.  Though I was almost fifty years old with seven children of my own, the thought of a world without my father seemed unexpectedly daunting.

Our fathers define us.  Either by their place in our lives, or by their absence.  Some infused us with strength and confidence, while others saddled us with weakness and insecurity.   In one way or another we are all shaped by fatherhood.   But no Father-figure has more power to shape us than our Heavenly Father.  Unlike earthly fathers, our unbounded faith and confidence in Him is never misplaced.  Unlike our own fathers, every promise of His gets kept.  No sin or circumstance crashes in to derail his best intentions or unveil some sinister aspect of his character.   He is good and his steadfast love endures forever.  His mercies are new every morning and His faithfulness is great.  There is no shadow of turning with Him.  Not one of His promises ever fails and not one of His words ever falls flat.   Without Him we are truly untethered.

When Jesus’ disciples came to Him and asked Him, “Lord, teach us to pray,” Jesus taught them the pattern of prayer we commonly call, ‘The Lord’s Prayer.’  We have heard it so many times that it is hard to grasp how revolutionary it is.  The religious men of Jesus’ day spoke about God as their Father, but they never addressed Him as ‘Father.’  But Jesus taught us that God, our Father, delights in us.  He loves for us to draw near.  He wants us to call Him, ‘Father.’ He has gone to unimaginable lengths, in sending His only begotten Son, to adopt us as His own.  He promises to love us as we have never been loved, care for us, save us, sustain us, instruct us, and give us life.

Fatherhood defines us.  And God is the one who defines fatherhood.  This Father’s Day, June 16, celebrate the World’s Greatest Father with us as we gather to worship Him as His adopted sons and daughters.  River City Reformed Church meets 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 and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Go West, Young Man!

Go West, Young Man!

Long before Horace Greely penned those now famous words, “Go West Young Man,” the Apostle Paul heeded the call of the Man of Macedonia to go west to plant churches on a whole new continent.  He had formulated another plan, he thought he knew where he was headed, but the Holy Spirit changed his itinerary.

And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Acts 16:9

Paul answered the call to ‘go west’ and the gospel was planted began to take root in Europe.  The cultures there were very different. Support was uncertain.  And Paul had to adapt his usual modus operandi to engage cities without synagogues or significant Jewish enclaves.  But he went.

What about you?  You have your plans to serve, but what if God is calling you to “go west?”  What if God is calling you to Arkansas?  Come over and help us plant and grow Reformed Churches in the west.   The culture is different.  The support is uncertain.  But the need is great.   Find out more by checking out  why we need another church in Little Rock. Or contact us.

Caricatures

Caricatures

As a boy, our summer vacations were highly anticipated and utterly predictable.    A week or two after school let out, we made the beloved pilgrimage to Panama City Beach.  Fulfilling all beach righteousness meant cheap rubber rafts, 2 x 55 (yes, 55mph) air conditioning, ice cream cones, sand burrs, driving up and down the strip looking for a hotel that was $1 cheaper than the place that seemed perfect, dinner at Captain Andersons, spoiled sand-dollars in the trunk and caricature artists.

Beachside caricature artists are an amazing mix of comic illustrator and psychoanalyst.  A few minutes of conversation and careful observation, empowers these seaside Michelangelos to capture both the appearance and essence of their subject with uncanny clarity.  While it is hard to describe what makes an effective illustration, we all know it when we see it.  The Bible prizes powerful illustration.  Apt words are like apples of gold in settings of silver.  Two thousand years of Old Testament types and shadows carefully illustrate the person and work Christ as no artist can (or may). While the complicated lives of the Bible’s protagonists illustrate the power of the grace to redeem and restore.

Judah’s story is a poignant example.  When we meet him, 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. When God works in Judah’s life, he is graciously transformed from a man who portrays the worst of humanity to one who resembles the very best human ever, the Lord Jesus Christ, even offering himself as a surety for his brother Benjamin.  His transformation illustrates powerfully the power of God’s grace to do what circumstance and will-power can never effect.

Illustrations get our attention and draw us into story.  An author’s work may be compelling, but unless the cover art catches our eye will may never give it a read.  Only academic books that depend upon professorial compulsion can sport a cheerless cover.  While it is proverbial that you can’t judge the book by its cover, you will probably never judge it at all unless its cover is attractive.  In the same way, our lives are supposed to be salt and light to a tasteless and dark world.  While it is not sufficient to follow St. Francis’ maxim “preach always and, if necessary, use words,” how you live your life determines whether anyone will listen to your sermon.  The minister’s life is the life of his ministry.

Think about this question.  If you were the only Christian a person had ever seen, what would they know about Christianity?  And what is more, what would they think about it?  In his letter to Titus, the Apostle Paul, pens one of the most powerful statements about the effects of God’s grace when it takes root in our lives.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:1-14

The gospel does what Oprah, Dr. Phil and the whole pantheon of self-help gods can never do– liberate us from living as slaves to ourselves.  But if this is true, the lives of Christians should give evidence of this.  Paul instructs his hearers to let their lives illustrate the gospel.  He addresses old and young, men and women, wives and mothers, and especially pastors and church leaders.  But his crowning instruction and illustration is for servants – more specifically slaves – who serve masters who are both literally and figuratively Cretans.  He tells these slaves to work, submit, serve, show respect, and live before the face of God and men in such a way that “in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.”

Does your life adorn the gospel?  Does it illustrate the story of God’s grace?  If you were the only Christian a person had ever seen, what would they know about Christianity?”  And what would they think about it?  How do we adorn the teaching of God our Savior.

Join us this Sunday, June 9, as we examine Titus 2:9-10 and consider how our lives are to illustrate the power of grace to a graceless world.  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 and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.