Gift Giving

Gift Giving

Christmastime is a season marked by many beloved and enduring traditions. But no ritual dominates American Christmas celebrations like gift giving. Thirty percent of all retail sales in the United States occur between Black Friday and Christmas. This amounts to a staggering $717,000,000,000 in sales. That breaks down to a little over $1,000 per consumer. For many of our friends and neighbors this means going to great lengths financially, incurring substantial debt.

The pressure to find the right gift can be enormous. For some on your list, perhaps the token box of chocolate covered cherries or a bag of holiday blend coffee nicely discharges a sense of seasonal obligation, but for friends and family, gifts must reveal the givers intimate perception of the receiver’s preferences and desires. While men love to receive a gift card for anything, woe to the insensitive husband who gives one to his wife. Men, the scripture commands us to “dwell with our wives according to knowledge.” (1 Peter 3:7) That means, you need to get her something that aptly reflects her preferences and desires – not a gift card. She expects you to know her well enough to be decisive about her gift. And so we go to great lengths to find and give the right gift to our beloved.

The preciousness of a gift reflects the preciousness of the relationship it celebrates. The home-made gifts of children are precious to their parents, because they are gifts of their love, creativity, and generosity. It is a gift that is invested with who they are. How precious are the gifts we give? Is our goal in gift giving to discharge a seasonal responsibility or to celebrate the preciousness of our love for others? It is worth noting that the whole tradition of giving gifts is commemorative. It commemorates the gift that we have been given the Incarnation – as the eternal, divine Son of God takes upon himself a human nature to give to us the gift of faith and life.

We think we know the story. We think we understand this gift, but the fullness of what God has done for us in the gospel is incomprehensible. Apostle Paul called it “the mystery of godliness, Christ Jesus manifest in the flesh.” When the Archangel Gabriel announced the Virgin Mary of God’s plan to make her the mother of the Messiah, his explanation of this mystery was mysterious.

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.”

But the angel’s point was not to explain the mechanics of Mary’s pregnancy, but the nature of our Savior. Jesus would be fully God and fully man, possessing a human nature, but not a fallen nature. Jesus alone would be capable of rescuing us from ourselves, able to stand in our place, and alone able to bear the weight of God’s justice that we might experience God’s mercy.

The story of the Virgin Birth is not just a story about God’s ability to do miracles, but it reveals to us the preciousness of God’s indescribable gift. Mary’s perplexity pulls back the curtain to allow us to glimpse the glory of Christ. God did not give us a token gift, but he gave a most precious gift. We read in scripture that “God did not withhold from us his only Son, but gave Him up for us all. How will He not give us all things in Him?”

The poet Luci Shaw captures beautifully the paradox of the Incarnation in her poem, Mary’s Song.

Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen to my arms. (Rest …
you who have had so far to come.)
Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
whose vigor hurled a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.
His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world. Charmed by doves’ voices,
the whisper of straw, he dreams,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed who overflowed all skies,
all years. Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught
that I might be free, blind in my womb
to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.
Luci Shaw

Join us this Lord’s Day, December 2, as we examine Gabriel’s announcement to Mary in Luke 1:26-38 and consider the greatness of God’s gift to us in the gospel. 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 worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Breaking the Silence

Breaking the Silence

Every actor, every game-show host, every news anchor, and every preacher knows the importance of the dramatic pause. It heightens anticipation, it calls hearers to attention, it makes the heart race. It dials up the emotional intensity to the gravity of the word it so intently awaits. It is that silence which, for a moment, haunts the psyche of hearers as they struggle to predict or prepare for the coming word, suspended dreamlike between terror and hope. Such is the power of silence. It is hope, fear, uncertainty, disappointment, expectation all compressed by a sonic vacuum.

But what happens when that pause is more than a few fleeting seconds? What if that dramatic pause goes on for hours or days or weeks. Many couples have experienced the emotional estrangement that comes from a famine of words. Without the nourishing words of assurance, love and comfort, silence imputes motives that arise out of our worst fears and harshest assessments of those we love. But the silence of our beloved is nothing when compared to the silence of God. We can observe this keenly in the words of Psalm 22, a prayer which resonated on the lips of Christ upon the cross.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? Psalm 22:1

The songwriter, Andrew Peterson, expresses the tension this silence from God creates in our lives.

It’s enough to drive a man crazy; it’ll break a man’s faith
It’s enough to make him wonder if he’s ever been sane
When he’s bleating for comfort from Thy staff and Thy rod
And the heaven’s only answer is the silence of God

It’ll shake a man’s timbers when he loses his heart
When he has to remember what broke him apart
This yoke may be easy, but this burden is not
When the crying fields are frozen by the silence of God

And the man of all sorrows, he never forgot
What sorrow is carried by the hearts that he bought
So when the questions dissolve into the silence of God
The aching may remain, but the breaking does not
The aching may remain, but the breaking does not
In the holy, lonesome echo of the silence of God.   

The Silence of God, Andrew Peterson

Those final words are powerful. The man of all sorrows, he never forgot, What sorrow is carried by the hearts that he bought. Jesus — the Word made flesh — was born to speak God’s love, mercy and comfort into a dramatic silence that had lasted 400 years. God was not dead, not absent, not unconcerned, not idle. From before the foundation of the world, He had been bringing history to this point. “[When] the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law.” Galatians 4:4-5  The God of the Bible is a God that breaks the silence of fear, of sorrow, of uncertainty with comfort, joy and confident hope. He does this by sending His Son.

Zechariah knew something about the silence of God. As an aged priest, his whole life had been devoted to pleading for God to speak and to act on behalf of his people. How many years had he served God? How many he years had he prayed for the salvation of the Lord? How many thousands of times had he plead with God to redeem his people from the yoke of tyranny and sin? But where was an answer, any answer?

But Zechariah also had a personal plea. He and his wife, Elizabeth, had served God faithfully, but yet, God had closed Elizabeth’s womb. There was no child, no heir, no “sound of little feet that was the music they danced to week to week.” There was only stigma and silence from the God, whose service was their every thought and breath. Yet, silence is never the last word from God.

In the midst of this silence, Zechariah gets a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He is called upon to offer prayers and burn the sacred incense before the most Holy Place in the temple. It would be easy to imagine how he might be tempted to doubt, yet it is in this very moment that God breaks His long silence. The dramatic pause is finished and the even more dramatic truth is spoken. All that God has promised is about to come about. The gospel, the good news, is revealed to Zechariah. And Zechariah, whose life had been a silent witness to the silent God, becomes the silent instrument God chooses to make known his broken silence in the gospel.

Join us this Lord’s Day, November 25, as we begin a short series of lessons from Luke’s Gospel in Luke 1:5-25 and consider the power of the gospel to break the silence of God 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. And here for our order of service.  Come with a friend you and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Saying Grace

Saying Grace

Thanksgiving and the Super Bowl perennially vie with one another as the “Black Friday” of the grocery world. All week my sorties to the local Kroger have evoked the imagery of a slow drain – where too much water is being pushed through too little pipe. Say what you like, “the meal” is the heart of an American thanksgiving. But is that really a problem?

In Scripture, thanksgiving is often accompanied by a feast. All of God’s mighty acts of redemption are pictured in the feasts of Israel. Jesus’ first sign, the turning of water into wine in Cana, was central to a protracted wedding feast. The only miracle recorded in all four gospels, apart from the resurrection, was the feeding of five thousand families on a Galilean hillside. We don’t know all Jesus taught them that day, but we know how he fed them. So much of Jesus’ ministry was centered around meals that the Pharisees accused him of being a glutton and a wine-bibber. The great Passover meal was the annual celebration of thanksgiving and remembrance for God’s mighty deliverance. And the Passover pointed to the greater deliverance through the blood of the Lamb of God – a deliverance pictured in the Last Supper. Thanksgiving is well celebrated “at table.”

For Christians, there is no greater illustration of this than the Lord’s Supper, called in Scripture and in the lingo of the Church, “the eucharist” – a Greek word for ‘thanksgiving.’ One theologian has rightly noted that how we approach every table in our lives should be instructed by our approach to that table. A table which reminds us that God is merciful, kind, gracious, holy and just and like Mephibosheth, we who are unworthy to come, are worthily able to come through the worthiness of another. This table is the great thanksgiving meal which celebrates the incomparable and incomprehensible goodness of God toward ruined sinners. This table celebrates our adoption as God’s children by faith in the finished work of the Only Begotten Son. This table teaches us to celebrate the goodness of God, not merely our feelings about ourselves. This table teaches us how to come to our family thanksgiving tables today.

Enjoy the meal. Enjoy the day. Celebrate the goodness of God. Celebrate with thankfulness that He joyfully calls us to be His. Celebrate the gifts he has given, even though a great many of them seemed hardly like gifts at the time. Celebrate His mercies which are new every morning and His faithfulness which is great. Celebrate the families He has given you along with the opportunities for self-sacrifice and sanctification that come with them. Give Thanks. The word eucharisto, which we translate thanksgiving means, quite literally, ‘good grace.’ Our thanksgiving may be celebrated in many ways, alone or with others, by a variety of activities, with certain foods that are required to “fulfill all righteousness.” But let all your thanksgiving “say grace,” declaring what scripture teaches us to proclaim whether in joy, sorrow, in peace and in conflict.

For the Lord is good;
His steadfast love endures forever,
and His faithfulness to all generations. Psalm 100:6

Caring for the Caregivers

Caring for the Caregivers

There is no dismay quite like it.  That crushed look in the eyes of a child when they proudly present their latest masterpiece for mounting on the refrigerator and Dad asks, “what is it?”  “Can’t you tell?” responds a quivering little voice.  And immediately parental stammering and backpedaling begins.

I learned long ago, after many parental fails, to ask “tell me about this one?”  This little bit of painfully acquired wisdom has served me well.  As I visit with those who are suffering long-term illness and look at the pictures displayed around their homes – pictures that tell their story and that of their family — I ask “tell me about this one?”  Just as our children’s masterpieces are often unrecognizable to us, so the appearance of friends may become nearly unrecognizable as long-term sickness takes its toll.  I have noticed that even the best Hollywood makeup artists cannot quite capture the withering effects of prolonged illness.

But the one who is sick is not the only one who suffers.  Caregivers keenly feel the effects of their “labor of love.”   Often, I have asked a primary caregiver, “your loved one has you to care for her, but who is taking care of you?”  Sadly, more times than not the reply is “no one” — the caregiver had no caregiver.  And it shows.  Weariness of face and weariness of soul is hard to disguise.   And the effects are devastating.

But this is not only true for those caring for the physical needs of others.  The burdens of spiritual care are wearying to those who bear them.   Paul lamented that he wrote to the Corinthians “out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears.”  And in Romans, Paul wrote that he had “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” because of the unbelief of his fellow Israelites.  And in Colossians, we read of Epaphras who was frequently “wrestling in prayer” for his congregation.  Spiritual caregiving is strenuous and takes its toll on pastors and elders.  But who cares for the caregivers?  The answer Scripture gives is surprising.

In the Pastoral Epistles, Paul instructs Timothy in how the church is to behave as the household of God.  Following up on his commands regarding the support and care for widows, Paul gives important guidance about how the church is to care for its caregivers – its elders, especially those that labor in the word and in doctrine.

In the United States, on average, over 1700 pastors leave the ministry every year.  70% report suffering chronic depression and 80% believe that pastoral ministry has adversely affected their families.  Burnout is epidemic and extreme loneliness is characteristic.   Who is caring for these caregivers?  Paul’s admonition is that this is the collective work of the congregation.   Just as the congregation bears the burden of care for widows, who in turn have cared for the congregation, so the sheep are to provide care for the shepherds who have tended and fed the flock.

Join us this Lord’s Day, November 18, as we examine 1 Timothy 5:17-25 and consider the practical ways in which congregations care for their caregivers.  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 worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Handel’s Messiah

Handel’s Messiah

ArkansasChoralSocietyThe Arkansas Choral Society in conjunction with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra and the University of Arkansas-Monticello will present their 88th Annual performance of Handel’s Messiah Friday, November 30, 2018 at Calvary Baptist Church in the Heights.

Silent auction begins at 6:30 pm and the concert begins at 7:00 pm. For more info, call 870-820-9645 or go to the Arkansas Choral Society’s website for more information, or to purchase tickets.

 

 

 

 

Flood Stage

Flood Stage

The sheer power of water is unfathomable.  When it is raging, it sweeps away everything before it.  It overwhelms, inundates and immerses.  Among the repertoire of weather catastrophes, few are more dreaded than a flood.   In the past decade we have endured many powerful hurricanes, but in the wake of each, it was the flooding that brought the most sustained destruction, loss and suffering.   Floods both large and small are feared because of their irresistible power.  For this reason, we have gone to great lengths to control the effects of flooding.

But in the history of the world, floods often had a better reputation.  Ancient men, without the means of modern flood control, endured regular cycles of flooding.  But these floods were life-giving, nourishing the land so that it might bear food in abundance.   The “fertile crescent” was the result of this life-giving overflow of the banks of Middle Eastern rivers as new soil was deposited by the raging waters to renew land wearied by farming.   Flooding was often viewed positively in literary imagery as it is today.  For example, when we receive help, encouragement, empathy in a time of trial we say we were flooded with love and concern.    The Bible also uses the image of overflowing when it speaks in Luke 6 of giving.

… give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. Luke 6:38

Jesus also noted that it is “out of the overflow of the heart, that the mouth speaks” – a truth that comes with a warning that whatever floods our hearts will spill over onto those around us.   What is it that fills your heart?  What is it that spills over onto those around you?  What “heart-flood” will overwhelm, inundate and immerse your loved ones, friends, neighbors and even enemies?

Paul, writing to a young Timothy, instructs him carefully in how the church is to care for women facing disaster because of the death of their husbands.   More than any other issue of family life, Paul gives detailed instructions for the care of widows.  Widows and orphans were the most at-risk members of every ancient society, but God is a “defender of widows and a father to the fatherless” and his people are to “plead their cause” and care for them in their need – not as a substitute for the gospel, but as the overflow of the gospel.

When the gospel is carefully guarded through orthodox teaching, powerful prayer, biblical worship, and accountable leadership it will overflow those banks and result in a flood of intense and intensely practical love for our neighbors — love that provides, love that instructs and love that redeems.   Paul’s instructions regarding widows do not constitute a mere social gospel, but set the bar much higher, reflecting the truth later expressed by John that “we love because He first loved us.”   When our lives are filled with the deep, deep love of Jesus they will overflow with committed care for “the least of these.”   What about you?  Is your life in flood stage?

Join us this Lord’s Day, November 11, as we examine 1 Timothy 5:9-16 and consider the practical effects of living a life flooded by grace.  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 worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

The Living Room

The Living Room

The old saying goes, “a man’s home is his castle.”  While there is some comfort in this, it is worth remembering that the primary architectural goal of a castle is to keep others out.  Castles have walls with battlements from which projectiles can be hurled and pots of boiling oil dumped on the heads of those who seek to gain entry.   A castle’s windows are designed for archers, not effective lighting.  And castles have moats – a feature that unequivocally says, “keep out, or else.”  Castles were not built for hospitality.  Castles were built to clearly draw the line between us and them.

The architecture of 1970’s Americana had an answer to this kind of bunker mentality.  It was called, the Living Room.  Not to be confused with the den, which was the private gathering spot for the nuclear family, the living room was a separate room designed and decorated for the reception of strangers.  This was the place where guests were received, where daughters were courted, and where outsiders became, for a brief time, insiders.  The Living Room served as a stone of remembrance that we lived in a world larger than just “us.”

Our society has grown increasingly divided, however.  We have our church groups, school groups, and various other groups.  And rarely do they cross-pollinate.  But this is not the normative expression of the Christian life.  Our faith must permeate, flavor and unite every realm of life.  We don’t hang up our Christianity on a hook at the back door of the church as we leave worship each week and only put it on again as we arrive the following Sunday.  The life of faith, modeled through our worship, is to be lived out in every sphere – our vocations, our avocations, and our families.  Like a living room, our faith forms the meeting place, the intersection, of all our little worlds.

In the New Testament, Paul wrote two letters to his young friend, Timothy, to instruct him in pastoral care.  To be sure, many of these instructions regarded doctrine, worship and organization within the local congregation.  But Paul also gave eminently practical instructions on questions of communication and family life, reminding Timothy and us that the gospel defines who we are, and what we are, everywhere that we are.

Join us this Lord’s Day, November 4, as we examine 1 Timothy 5:1-8 and consider how our faith informs some very practical matters of communication and family life.  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 worship. We look forward to seeing you there.