Men’s Bible Study

FeaturedMen’s Bible Study

In 1968, Little Rock native, Charles Portis, published his most famous novel, True Grit, as a weekly serial for the Saturday Evening Post.  The story’s main character, Rooster Cogburn, is a washed up, over-the-hill lawman — a man whose vices had robbed him of every shred respect and responsibility.  No one expected much of Rooster Cogburn.  Nor did he expect much from himself.  But young Mattie Ross recognized that somewhere deep inside of him was a man of ‘True Grit.’

The world today does not expect much from men.  The growing cultural ambiguity over gender has brought confusion to men regarding their unique identity and calling, robbing men of respect and responsibility.  The concept of masculinity has become a vacuum which has sucked up every worldly idea of what makes a man a man.

Men are looking for role models, someone to follow – a narrative to fill the vacuum.    In his book, The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell astutely noted that men are drawn to stories of strong men.  But what he failed to grasp is that it is real men, not mythical ones, whose examples are needed.

Such men are not to be found in legend or in the movies, but in the Bible.  Contrary to the assertions of skeptics, the Bible the most well attested collection of historical stories of great and influential real men.  Men who wrestled with the question, “What does it mean to live and lead like a man?”  Nehemiah was one of these men.  He was a man with ‘true grit.’ The Book of Nehemiah reveals some essential principles for godly manhood, but,

“we do not come to the Bible primarily to study a man’s character or Christian methods, we come to meet God; a message has little value unless it brings us to the feet of our Savior.” Alan Redpath.

Men today are searching for significance — significance in their manhood, their vocation, their role within the family and their world.  Men want to know how to live and lead.  Nehemiah was confronted with these same challenges as he sought to reform the church and state of his day.   His example has much to teach us as men.

Join with other men as we gather Thursday mornings, beginning July 27, from 6:30 – 7:30am at Panera Bread, 10701 Kanis Rd, Little Rock, for fellowship, prayer and discussion of godly manhood from the life of Nehemiah.

 

Unlikely Converts

Unlikely Converts

Nothing keeps Christ in Christmas like our annual viewing of The Lord of the Rings.  Now before you accuse me of sarcasm or heresy, consider that Tolkien’s Christian worldview shines brightly through every line of his books as well as through all twelve hours of the extended versions of Peter Jackson’s adaptation.  Against all odds, as the irresistible darkness, oppression and malice of a Dark Lord covers the world in shadow and sorrow, salvation comes to the ruined race of men from the most unlikely of heroes.   Like all great epic tales, great odds are overcome and great courage is exercised as common men perform uncommon deeds.

Tolkien’s magnum opus is filled with many nuggets of wisdom, spoken at salient points.  In one exchange, the main character, Frodo laments, “I wish the ring had never come to me,” as bearing it had become unbearable.  His friend, Gandalf responds, “So do all who live to see such times.  But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’”  But not all the quotable quotes have such gravitas.  Gimli, a dwarf, who provides no end of comic relief, quips when facing the prospect of a futile frontal assault on the Dark Lord’s stronghold, “certainty of death, small chance of success – what are we waiting for?”

The Lord of the Rings is a powerful story of courage, friendship, and redemption, eclipsed only by what its author once called “the only true myth” – the gospel.  The gospel is a story that is so unlikely, in which common men, empowered by faith, perform uncommon deeds and in which the ruined race of men is gloriously redeemed by a mighty hero, who took on the form of a servant and humbled himself, even to death on a cross.   The gospel is a story of unlikely converts, not of men whose moral excellence made them acceptable to God or earned his favor, nor men of power whose mighty deeds destroyed the power of their great enemies, death and the devil.  No, the gospel is a story of the weak and powerless, snatched as burning brands from the fire.

Nowhere is this seen more powerfully than in Luke 2 – a passage sometimes called, “the Christmas story.”   Here the Lord of glory is born into quiet obscurity while the only announcement is given to shepherds, the most despised and outcast class of society.  These enigmatic shepherds were the most unlikely of converts — men who were notoriously under suspicion, who were rejected from temple worship due to their habitual and ritual uncleanness, and whose word was not acceptable in the courts.  If anyone had hope to receive God’s goodwill and favor because of their works it was not these men.

Yet these were the men to whom God announced, “for unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  Unto “you!”  No one gave these men anything, but unto them God had given a savior!   Luther once wrote that “the gospel is in the personal pronouns.”  Like them, if we hope to receive God’s goodwill and favor because of our works, then we are sorely mistaken.  But the good news is that a savior has been born to us, Christ the Lord.  For you see, we are all the most unlikely of converts!

Join us this Lord’s Day, December 16, as we examine the story of the shepherds in Luke 2 and consider God’s powerful plan to save the most unlikely of converts.  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.

Making Preparations

Making Preparations

No day of the year requires more preparation than Christmas.  The demands of the season have become increasingly prodigious.  We must find just the right gift for all our friends and relations, synchronize calendars so that all events can be attended, and devise elaborate culinary plans for nearly six weeks of feasting.   And then there is the decorating which gets earlier and earlier every year as it gets more and more sensational.

The first mile marker on the road to Christmas for our family is the baking of the Christmas Cake.  Inspired by an episode of All Creatures Great and Small, Isabella bakes the cake in mid-October then methodically feeds it brandy for the next two months.   There is no rushing the Christmas Cake.  Some things cannot be hurried.  The preparation must be slow and intentional.  Every step is important.  No shortcuts are possible.  And at last, after months of waiting, the day arrives just before Christmas when the cake can be iced and enjoyed with great fanfare.

I suppose it makes sense that our Christmas preparations are slow and methodical, unfolding step by step.   Since the great event our celebration signifies, the incarnation of Jesus Christ, was also slow and methodical, revealed step by step in the history of God’s redeeming work among men.   The Bible puts it this way.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. Galatians 4:4-6.

God took His time.  He worked in the fullness of time.  He could have done things differently, but He sovereignly chose an unhurried pace to prepare men for His work of reconciling them to Himself.   From generation to generation He raised up men and women through whom He acted to remind us that He is not powerless or unconcerned to save us from ourselves and prepare us to receive Him as our Savior and King.   But how careful have we been to heed this preparation?  Or have we spent more time preparing  for mere signs of His grace than the grace those things signify?

One ancient preacher warned his congregation before observing the Lord’s Supper.

“Why come ye to this table, if you will not come to Christ?   Why come to signs and seals and despise the very thing they point to?”  

We could ask ourselves the same thing.  Have we spent months preparing for Christmas, but have no time for Christ?  John the Baptist was the great preparer – the forerunner of Jesus.  His life’s work was to “make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”   At his birth friends and neighbors gathered to celebrate his parent’s joy, they speculated on what the baby would grow up to become.

As his father’s unbelief gave way to belief, the Lord restored his speech and he uttered a long-delayed word of blessing.  But his blessing and thanksgiving were not about his baby boy, but about the one his son would herald.   John’s whole life would singularly revolve around preparing himself and others for Jesus.  And Jesus would later declare that of all those born of women, John was the greatest.   Nowhere is John’s greatness seen more brilliantly than in the following exchange with a Pharisee in John 3.

And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Can you say that?  Are you content to decrease, that Jesus may increase?  Does your life revolve around preparing yourself and others to love, serve and follow Jesus?   Join us this Lord’s Day, December 9, as we examine the account of the birth of John the Baptist in Luke 1:57-80 and consider our own calling to prepare ourselves and others for 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. Or download the December 19, 2018 Order of Service

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

An Evening of Lessons and Carols

An Evening of Lessons and Carols

The story of the coming of Christ in the Incarnation is the most dramatic story ever told.  While it reaches a beautiful high point with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem,  there is much, much more to this story – a story that has its origins in eternity past and its implications in eternity future, a story of epic failure and dramatic rescue, a story that reveals a God who is quite different from the one our fears imagine.  As singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson puts it.

Gather round, ye children come
Listen to the old, old story
Of the pow’r of Death undone
By an infant born of glory
Son of God, Son of Man. (Andrew Peterson)

Come and experience the rest of this story in God’s own words and in song as we share in An Evening of Lessons and Carols together at 5:00 pm on Sunday, December 23, in the Commons at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, 8300 Kanis Rd, Little Rock.  For directions click here or email us at rivercityarp@gmail.com for more details.   We look forward to seeing you there.

Getting Christmas

Getting Christmas

Our family has many Christmas traditions – the annual tree pilgrimage, dinner at The Grapevine, the Christmas Cake, the advent storyboard calendar, and iconic holiday movies, which for us include Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the ever-poignant, A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Despite its ancient vintage, Charles Shultz’ classic cartoon commentary on Christmas confusion is spot on.   What is the point of this ever-expanding season each year?  Lucy touts community involvement, Sally just wants her fair share and Snoopy capitalizes on Christmas commercialism.  But Charlie Brown just doesn’t get Christmas.   His epic fail in choosing a Christmas tree brings his contemplation to a head in the following exchange with Linus.

Charlie: I guess you were right Linus; I shouldn’t have picked this little tree. Everything I do turns into a disaster. I guess I don’t really know what Christmas is about. Isn’t there anyone who understands what Christmas is all about?

Linus: Sure, I can tell you what Christmas is all about. Linus goes to center stage, spotlight. Linus: “And there were in the same country Shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘fear not, for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you. Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in the manger.’ And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men.’”

Linus: That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Linus points Charlie in the right direction, but there is much, much more to this story – a story that has its origins in eternity past and its implications in eternity future, a story of epic failure and dramatic rescue, a story that reveals a God who is quite different from the one our fears imagine. As singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson puts it.

Gather round, ye children come
Listen to the old, old story
Of the pow’r of Death undone
By an infant born of glory
Son of God, Son of Man.

Come and experience the rest of this story in God’s own words and in song as we share in An Evening of Lessons and Carols together at 5:00 pm on Sunday, December 23, in the Commons at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, 8300 Kanis Rd, Little Rock.  For directions click here or email us at rivercityarp@gmail.com for more details.   We look forward to seeing you there.

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