08/15/2021 | “In, But Not Of” | Revelation 18

08/15/2021 | “In, But Not Of” | Revelation 18

Struggling to make a decision is not necessarily a lack of decisiveness, but more often a function of ‘decision fatigue.’  And for the Christian there is a decision fatigue much more persistent than our covid mitigation strategy.   How are we to live in the world, but not be of the world?  What is our relationship to culture?    

Revelation is a book of unveilings.  And in Revelation 18, the Lord unveils the destruction of Babylon, the Harlot, who pictures rebellious, worldly culture.   The people of God are commanded to come out of her.  And while her lovers mourn her downfall from a distance, those who belong to God give thanks for her destruction.   At first glance this seems an ungracious, or even vindictive, portrait of the church. But a deeper examination reveals important insights into the responsibility and the relationship of the church to the world.  This week we examine Revelation 18 and consider what this passage says about our calling to be ‘in the world,’ but not ‘of the world.’

The Big Day

The Big Day

Every little girl dreams of the big day.   Satin and silks flow.   The whoosh of veil and train keep cadence with Mendelsohn’s March.   Sparkles, twinkles, and smiles adorn every face.  Discreet tears appear at the corners of Daddy’s eyes.  All the rituals are observed — no detail may be omitted.   Bouquets are tossed and garters are launched.   The happy couple is feted in every way possible.  Rice, or birdseed, or sparklers send the new family off in wedded bliss.  Every hope for the future is signed and sealed by the gathering of dearly beloved in the sight of God.   The glorious day, the big day has come at last.  All that is left is the hard work of happily, forever after.

Weddings should be joyful affairs.   Celebrations of the first order.    Whether lavish or simple, no expenditure of joy should be spared.   It is a day to gather and celebrate what God said was “very good.”  Jesus chose to begin his public ministry, celebrating a wedding at Cana.   And at the end of all things, Jesus completes his redemptive work, celebrating the wedding supper of the Lamb.  He commented regarding marriage, “…at the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.  For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two will become one flesh.  So, they are no longer two but one.  Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not separate.” 

In both the Old and New Testaments, marriage is a human reflection of the covenant love of the Lord for His people.   Throughout the Bible, the Lord makes the wedding vow – “I will be their God and they will be my people.”   The LORD is the husband of Israel, and Christ is the husband of the Church.   In an exhortation to husbands and wives, Paul reminds the Ephesians that Christ and the Church are the ideal for marital fidelity.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

Ephesians 5:25-32

Marriage radiates a beauty no casual relationship can imitate.   It nourishes, cherishes, cleanses.   As one theologian commented, “marriage produces efficacious love” – a love that has a powerful effect, a love mediated by something other than love of self.   Its effect is to beautify.   All substitutes fall short.    

The final visions of Revelation make this point quite vividly.   The contrast begun in Revelation 17 and continuing through Revelation 19 contrasts the Harlot and the Bride.  A contrast which emphasizes the distinction between the deadly deceptive charms of the world, pictured as a luxuriant but violent prostitute, and the enduring, life-giving beauty of Christ’s church, pictured as a radiant bride.  

In a world where Christ promises persecution while conformity to the world promises peace, it is easy to lose sight of this distinction between harlot and bride.   But in Revelation 19 the Lord unveils for John, and for us, a picture of The Big Day – the promised wedding supper of the Lamb. 

Weddings teach us to celebrate and expect great things.    Revelation 19 shows God’s people, small and great celebrating all we should expect God to be and do.   What great expectations breathe life into your hopes and dreams?   Are you living in expectation of The Big Day?    Join us this week as we examine Revelation 19 and consider how we are to live expectantly, even in the midst of adversity.

We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm at The Arkansas DreamCenter at 1116 Daisy L Gatson Bates Drive in Little Rock for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP or on YouTube

Decision Fatigue

Decision Fatigue

Are you tired yet?   Tired of ‘all things Covid?’  Tired of protocols?  Tired of rapid tests?  Tired of feeling like everything is inside a bubble?  Tired of not being able to understand the cashier because of two masks and a layer of plexiglass?  Tired of the calculus of doom?  Life these days is filled with all kinds of fatigue.  Fatigue was not something I heard much about as a boy, but now it is everywhere. 

Caregiver fatigue is creating burnout and impacting care for the sick and elderly.   And while media pins ICU bed shortages on the unwashed masses, a nursing shortage is more to blame.  Then there is compassion fatigue.  Compassion fatigue is a creeping callousness toward suffering due to an overload of caregiving.   Those suffering compassion fatigue struggle to care about those they care for.  Now I am hearing about Decision Fatigue.  

Every routine action now requires an elaborate decision matrix.  The complexity of quarantine calculus requires a Cray supercomputer.   The statistics used as decisioning criteria are a classic GIGO (garbage-in, garbage-out) paradigm.  Facebook friends are obliterating straw men left and right, decrying the uninformed by declaring their own unsubstantiated misinformation to be self-evident to all non-Cretans.  We are going to war over decisions we are ill-equipped to make.  Mask or not? Vax or not?  The emotional exhaustion wrapped up in these questions is creating decision fatigue.   Struggling to make a decision is not necessarily a lack of decisiveness but more a function of fatigue. 

But for the Christian there is a decision fatigue much more persistent than our covid mitigation strategy.   How are we to live in the world, but not be of the world?  What is our relationship to culture?    The question has challenged the church throughout its existence: “How are Christians to engage and relate to the surrounding culture? How should we then live? What does it look like to be in the world but not of it?”

H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic book, Christ and Culture, he wrestles with this question. Niebuhr proposed five models:  Christ against culture; Christ of culture; Christ above culture; Christ and culture in paradox; and Christ the transformer of culture.  While Niebuhr does not resolve the tension this question creates, he puts his finger on its nuances.  While at some level each category resonates with Scripture and our experience, what is the complete picture?

Another theologian has described the church as a community of resident aliens.  Resident aliens have great power to influence and effect society.   They bring their particular cultural strengths to the table, but also foster the distinctives of their homeland.  They are a part of society, without losing their identity. The Church is to be like this – resident aliens, “an island of one culture in the middle of another.” (Phil 3:20)   But it must never be merely an enclave.  For while the Church fosters the culture of its heavenly homeland, its calling is to transform its sphere of influence, not just “coexist.” 

Revelation speaks to this question pointedly.   Written to a church under pressure to conform or be cast out, Revelation graphically pictures what it means for the church to be in the world but not of the world.   In the history of interpretation, however, this message has often been obscured by its apocalyptic medium.  

Revelation is a book of unveilings.  Beginning in chapter 17, the Spirit unveils the hideous nature and doomed future of worldly culture united only by its rebellion against God.   Though alluring and seductive, its ways are the ways of death.   In the chapters that follow, the church is warned and encouraged.  Warned not to be seduced from the way of Christ to the way of the world.  And encouraged by holding fast to Christ the church will endure eternally in radiant beauty and peace.

In Revelation 18, the Lord unveils the destruction of Babylon, the Harlot, who pictures rebellious, worldly culture.   The people of God are commanded to come out of her.  And while her lovers mourn her downfall from a distance, those who belong to God give thanks for her destruction.   At first glance this seems an ungracious, or even vindictive, portrait of the church. But a deeper examination reveals important insights into the responsibility and the relationship of the church to the world.  Join us this week as we examine Revelation 18 and consider what this passage says about our calling to be ‘in the world,’ but not ‘of the world.’

We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm at The Arkansas DreamCenter at 1116 Daisy L Gatson Bates Drive in Little Rock for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP or on YouTube.

08/08/2021 | “Beauty and the Beast” | Revelation 17:1-21

08/08/2021 | “Beauty and the Beast” | Revelation 17:1-21

The seductive appeal of worldliness to supply meaning, fulfillment and safety, is a deadly ruse.   Revelation 17 begins a new division within John’s visions.  A division which emphasizes the distinction between the deadly deceptive charms of the world, pictured as a luxuriant but violent prostitute, and the enduring, life-giving beauty of Christ’s church, pictured as a radiant bride.  

In a world where Christ promises persecution while conformity to the world promises peace, it is easy to lose sight of this distinction between harlot and bride.   But the Lord unveils for John, and for us, a clear revelation of the deadly beast that lies in wait beneath great worldly allure.  Join us this week as we examine Revelation 17 and consider the seductive allure of seeking meaning, fulfillment, or safety from the things of this world.

“Beauty and the Beast,” Revelation 17

08/01/2021 | “Spiritual Cirrhosis” | Revelation 16

08/01/2021 | “Spiritual Cirrhosis” | Revelation 16

Revelation 16 reminds men of the completeness, the inescapability, the eternality of God’s wrath against unatoned sin.    Yet it reveals something even more dreadful.   Those hardened against grace, are hardened even more in judgement.   As bowls are emptied, men experiencing God’s righteous judgement express no sorrow, no remorse, no repentance.   The penitent thief, standing under judgement declared, “do you not fear God since you are under the same sentence of condemnation, and we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward for our deeds.”   But men experiencing the bowls of God’s wrath “cursed the name of God, did not repent and give him glory.”   They were hardened.  Hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.  Hardened because they saw only a God of wrath and fury, not the God of grace and mercy. 

What about you? Has disappointment with life, or perhaps with God himself, hardened you?   Can you feel yourself growing more and more this way?  Is hardening in your mind, attitude, and relationships metastasizing into your spiritual life as well?    Is God only a God of wrath and fury to you, or do you know him as a God of grace and mercy?  Join us this week as we examine Revelation 16 and consider its warning against “spiritual cirrhosis.”

“Spiritual Cirrhosis,” Revelation 16