Unbreakable

Unbreakable

The cool kids never got it — the fascination uncool kids have with graphic novels.   We called them comic books back in the day.   Their plot rarely varied.   A terrible accident exposes the ninety-pound weakling to some toxic power.   He escapes death, but is mysteriously mutated.  The power that should have killed him, becomes part of him.  As he learns when and how to use it, he brings justice to the unjust, care for the uncared for, and protection to the unprotected.   What should have killed him made him stronger.  And the zero becomes the superhero.

Every bullied kid wants to believe this can happen.    We all want to be the victor, not the victim.   To find some secret power to be an overcomer.   Especially when the deck seems stacked against us.   Abuse from those who despise us, disappointment with those who love us, and discontentment with ourselves all threaten to crush us beneath a load too heavy to shrug off.  If only we had a superhero power.  Then maybe we could stand against the weight of this fallen world.   But as it is, who can stand?   

Revelation 6 is a disquieting read.   As the Worthy One comes forward to open the book of ‘God’s Wonderful Plan for the World,’ the world and everything in it is coming apart at the seams.   The Lamb’s Book of Comfort is anything but comforting.   Conquest, wanton bloodshed, famine and social injustice, death, intolerance and persecution, and cosmic disintegration are all on the docket.   The worlds groans under the weight of the Fall. 

Kings and great ones, generals and the rich and powerful, for all they possess, offer nothing but despair.   Once victors, they are now victims.  In a dramatic scene, men flee from the wrath of the Lamb.  They would rather be crushed in caves than face God’s justice.   In hopelessness they cry out, “who can stand?”  For all their power they are powerless.  The weight of a fallen world is unbearable.  Who can stand?   

Though uttered in despair, this question is not without an answer.   The narrative of God’s unfolding judgement is paused by a remarkable picture of God’s grace.    Revelation 7 offers an interlude in the unfolding apocalypse.  And gives us a complementary vision of grace.  In wrath the Lord remembers mercy.   “Who can stand?”   Those who have the seal of the Living God, they will stand.   They stand victoriously in this world as the ‘Church Militant’ and in eternity before God’s throne as the ‘Church Triumphant.’  

Like characters in graphic novels, we too are marginalized by our sin.   Victims of Adam’s Fall and our own fallenness, we are dead in sins and transgressions.   “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” (Ephesians 2:4-5) 

By no power of our own, God graciously places in us a power greater than that in the world.    He makes victors out of victims.   He seals us with His Name and the Name of the Lamb, the name that is above every other name, the name that causes every knee to bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth.   Who can stand against those who are sealed with the Name of our God and of the Lamb?   No matter how the world tries to break those who belong to Jesus, they are unbreakable.   “God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: The Lord knows those who are his.” (2 Timothy 2:19)

Are you broken?  Does your world seem to be coming apart at the seams?  Have you thought, “can I stand?”   Those who belong to the Lamb will stand, now and forever.   Simply come to Jesus in faith and repentance.   You are invited.  He said, “come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) and “whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (John 6:37)   Join us this week as we examine Revelation 7 and see how Jesus transforms the broken into the unbreakable.

We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm, outside on The Pavilion at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd 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.  For the Order of Service, click here.

Photo by Yogi Ramadhan on Unsplash

Change of Venue for Easter, April 4, 2021

Change of Venue for Easter, April 4, 2021

WEATHER PERMITTING, we will meet this Sunday from 5:00 pm to 6:30 pm for worship and fellowship OUTSIDE on the Pavilion at St. Andrews’ Church.  Click here for directions. Please bring enough chairs for your family plus extra for guests.

In case of inclement weather, we will meet at The Arkansas Dream Center located at 1116 Daisy L Gatson Bates Drive in Little Rock.  Get the latest updates on our venue at our Facebook Page

You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP or on YouTube.

On Being Lukewarm

On Being Lukewarm

It is always an error in judgement to guess what a congregation is thinking.  Even if they are giving verbal and non-verbal feedback, interpretation is a fool’s errand.   When it comes to an audience, what you see is definitely not what you get.   Swaying, or nodding or “that’s right” from enthusiasts does not mean they are dialed in.   And the inert crowd who spend the sermon staring at their shoes may not be checked out.   Just because someone seems asleep and another is saying “Amen!” does not mean you really know what is going on inside.

The deportment of a listener is often more about culture than comprehension.   Feedback does not mean the hearer is really hearing:  hearing with their ears, their minds, their hearts, or their souls.   Especially if the word lands a punch.    It is easy to zealously agree when a speaker brings hard truth for the guy in the next seat.  But when it is our turn, will we listen?   How loud is our “Amen” then?

How willing are you to say “Amen” when a hard word hits home?   When it penetrates the pretense?  And divides the deepest thoughts and intents of the heart?   The message to the Church in Laodicea in Revelation 3 is familiar.   They are the lukewarm church.  

“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

This church was lukewarm.   Not frigid, nor on fire.   They were middling, going through the motions, not getting too excited about Jesus, God, or the Bible.   No fanatics here.   No controversies either.  Nothing but moderation.   And while we say, “moderation in all things,” the lukewarmness of the Laodicean Church made Jesus sick to his stomach.   He is sickened by their complacency and contentment with a “form of godliness” but with no pursuit of its power.

Jesus knows their works – but none are worth mentioning.   Their only noteworthy work is that they are not what they should be.   Not very impressive.   The Church in Laodicea is the only one of the Seven Churches to receive no positive praise – only rebuke.   Not because they are a Synagogue of Satan.  Nor because they have failed to discipline heretics or silence false teachers.   But because in Laodicea, “just enough is good enough” when it comes to following Christ.  

There is no concern to grow in the knowledge and grace of the Lord Jesus.   They are content with what they have, who they have, and how they have always done things.    Then top that off with a stunning lack of spiritual self-awareness.  “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”

What if we made such a statement?   “We are rich in our faith and need nothing.   We don’t need anything or anyone else.  We are content with our spiritual progress.   We love our little group, just as it is.  We are comfortable with things the way they are.  We don’t see any point in stirring the pot by getting all hot and bothered about Jesus.”   The Laodiceans think they have it all together.  But Jesus offers a stinging rebuke.  In a city famed in the ancient world for its ophthalmology, they could not have been more blind.  

They have laid up treasure, but are not rich toward God.  Spiritually they are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.   But not just them.  This is the assessment of all who are lukewarm toward Christ.   Content that “just enough is good enough.”  Who have no desire to pursue and follow Christ.

Are you content with your relationship to Christ?   Is just enough, good enough for you?   Are you hot?  Or cold?  Or lukewarm?   The Lord speaks a hard word.   He is “The Amen.”   He is the faithful and genuine witness.  He has a hard but faithful word for a soft and unfaithful church.   Will we hear it?  Or will we bow up or turn a deaf ear.

Jesus’ word is sharp, but something tender shines through his rebuke.    Christ does not cut this church loose, take their lampstand, or cast them away.   Instead, he calls them back.   “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline.”   In the ancient language, he used a word for love that declares tender affection for those indifferent toward Him.  

They have everything they need from church but have put Christ outside.   He stands at his own door and knocks.   What about us?  Have we been so satisfied with our church, our programs, our fellowship, our spiritual pursuits, that we have pushed Jesus out of the center?  And even out of the church?   If we are pursuing something other than Christ, we too are growing lukewarm.

An account Scottish pastor, Ebenezer Erskine, illustrates this well.

A lady who was present at the observance of the Lord’s Supper, where Ebenezer Erskine was assisting, was much impressed by his discourse. Having been informed who he was, she went next Sabbath to his own place of worship to hear him. But she felt none of those strong impressions she experienced on the former occasion. Wondering at this, she called on Erskine, and stating the case, asked what might be the reason of such a difference in her feelings; he replied, ‘Madam, the reason is this—last Sabbath you went to hear Jesus Christ; but to-day, you have come to hear Ebenezer Erskine.’

Who do we come to church to see?  What do we come to worship?  Who will we follow?   Whose love constrains and animates us?   If the answer is not ‘Jesus’ you might want to take your temperature.   Are you growing lukewarm?   Join us this week as we consider Revelation 3:14-21 and consider the diagnosis and the remedy for lukewarm Christianity.

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.  For the Order of Service, click here.

Photo by Kane Reinholdtsen on Unsplash

The Open Door

The Open Door

I grew up in a culturally diverse community.    Nowhere was this more evident than at the Belvedere Plaza Theater.   In the age before Netflix and Hulu we caught the latest flicks on the big screen.   At the Belvedere, watching a movie was a true communal experience.   The audience was fully engaged.   We did not merely watch the drama unfold.   We advised, chided, and cheered the characters, especially if the movie was suspenseful.    The Dolby surround-sound was drowned out by cries of “Girl! Don’t you go in there!”  And “don’t you do it.  You know he’s gonna get you.”  Every warning louder and more earnest than the one before.

Hapless teens strolling through abandoned campgrounds were always walking through doors better left alone.   They clearly needed our counsel.  And my little theater community was not shy about warning them, loudly and colorfully, to watch out and keep out.  Everyone knew that an open door led to nothing good. 

We all have a fear of open doors.   Yes, they represent opportunity, but they also represent uncertainty.   Uncertainty about what is ahead of us and uncertainty about what is inside of us.  We never know what is behind the next door.    Or how we will handle it.   But the open doors we often fear the most, are those the Lord opens.  

Though opened by the Lord who loves us through all eternity, who gives us life and works all things for our good, we struggle to shake off the fear that we know more about our happiness than He does.   That it is somehow a divine trap.  He opens a door that no man can shut.  But will we follow Him to it and through it?  

The message to the Church in Philadelphia in Revelation 3 is remarkable.   Christ has no word of condemnation, only commendation for this church.   His message to them is filled with the imagery of the open door.  He is the Lord who holds the keys.  He is the one who opens doors which no one can close and closes those which no man can open.   Philadelphia was founded as a gateway city — not to defend the Greek cities to the west, but to evangelize peoples of the east with Greek life and culture.   And now the Lord has a more important gospel for the Philadelphian Christians to carry.    

He calls them to the open door.  Doors in the Bible often represent new opportunities for ministry, but they also represent the path from life to death and from loneliness into community.   All these things are part of Christ’s call come to and through the door he has opened.  For Christ not only opens the door but, John’s gospel tells us, He is the door – the way, the truth, and the life.    He is the only way for us to come to the Father, find real community, and pursue a life of meaning and purpose. 

He has opened a door which no man can shut.  Are you afraid to go through it?    Join us this week as we examine the message to the Church in Philadelphia from Revelation 3:7-12 and consider the call to follow Christ through the open door.   

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. For the Order of Service, click here.

Staying Awake

Staying Awake

“Gravity is stronger in my bed.”   My daughter’s insight was incisive.   Certainly, there is some multiplier, some unaccounted for coefficient in the calculus of rising from bed that makes it so difficult.   As a young man, getting up was a challenge.   I had multiple alarm clocks, hidden in different places (but never the same places twice) to get me on my feet for that early morning appointment.  But all too often, even this dynamic algorithm was not enough.   Forcing yourself awake is hard.   Clearing away the fog of the dream world and breaking free of nocturnal atrophy takes a strong act of will.

But staying awake can be equally demanding.   Pulling an all-nighter seems like a bold stroke at 7:00 pm.  But at 3:00 am when the euphoria takes hold and every bad pun becomes hilarious, the wisdom of this stratagem wanes.   As a software engineer, I pulled many all-nighters.   The challenge to stay focused, stay sharp, and guard against the careless mistake or misstep grows exponentially as night plods toward dawn.   But with every passing hour, vigilance becomes more critical to success.  Especially as downtime is winding down and users are waking to work.

Staying awake, remaining on guard, staying on track is an occupational hazard of the third-shift.   The sunless, sleepless hours draw minds and bodies toward drowsy and dangerous complacency.   But falling asleep is an even great danger in our spiritual lives.   Persecution and adversity are enemies to our faith.  But complacency is equally deadly.  Yet much more subtle and common.  The Bible warns us from cover to cover to “watch out,” “take heed,” and remain vigilant. 

This is the warning to the Church in Sardis in Revelation 3.   To the world they seemed alive.   They did the things churches do.  They said the things Christians said.  They were untroubled by persecution or pressure.   But complacency was their undoing.   Despite appearances they were dead.   And Jesus warns them to “wake up.”    Their complacency was proverbial in the ancient world.  Twice the seemingly impregnable citadel of Sardis had been captured, simply by a failure to remain on guard.

Sardis had once been the jewel of the Lydian empire, ruled by Croesus, a fabulously wealthy and ambitious king.   So ambitious that he dreamed of victory over Cyrus and the Persians.   Croesus inquired of the Oracle at Delphi about his chances.  She told him that war with Cyrus would result in the “downfall of a great empire.”   But he never guessed this meant his own.    After a series of humiliating defeats, Croesus, retreated to the safety of Sardis.

High on Mt. Tmolus in western Turkey, sheer cliffs protected Sardis on three sides.   It could be easily defended by a small force.   But Cyrus always thought outside the box.   He offered a large reward to any man who could find a way into the city.  A Persian guard, Hyroeades, scanning the walls, noticed a Lydian soldier drop his helmet from the defenses then climb down to retrieve it.   Sensing an opportunity, Hyroeades led a small group of men to find and make the harrowing climb.   When they reached the battlements, they discovered them completely unguarded.  

In their complacency and overconfidence, the Lydians did not even post a guard.  Hyroeades threw open the gates and the city fell.    The story of Sardis’ fall is proverbial.   But it was a proverb they never took to heart.   This story repeated itself a few hundred years later following the conquests of Alexander the Great.   And at the time Revelation was written it repeated itself in the life of the Church in Sardis.

How careful are we to be on guard in our spiritual life?   In Gethsemane, Jesus’ disciples could not stay awake.   How crushing it must have been to hear Jesus’ lament.

And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy.

Matthew 26:40-42

What about you?  Are you spiritually asleep?  Has the relative safety and comfort of being a Christian in our culture caused you to leave your life unguarded?  How easily does the enemy of your soul exploit the unguarded areas of your thoughts, your words, your actions, your loves, and your ambitions?   Jesus commanded to the Church is Sardis is to “stay awake,” remain watchful.   For the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.  

Paul’s warning to the Corinthians is apt for us. “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” 1 Corinthians 10:12.   How watchful are you?   Are you struggling to stay awake in your spiritual life?   Join us this week as we examine Revelation 3:1-6 and consider the call to “wake up.”   

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.