The Power Booster

The Power Booster

Every economy has a currency.     And the currency of my childhood was Hot Wheels.   We traded for them.   We did every odd job to save up for them.   One’s standing in the community was measured by wealth in Hot Wheels.   My own holdings boasted a copper-colored 1970 Chevelle SS.   Many cars came and went – fast cars, funny cars, and even some tricked out trucks – but the Chevelle was ‘my precious.’   Only covetousness for my best friend’s “power booster” ever tempted me to part with it.   The power booster was a crown jewel in a Hot Wheels based economy.

Before the power booster, Hot Wheels were either boy-powered or gravity fed.   But the power booster changed everything.    Fueled by massive ‘D’ batteries, the power booster had two rubber wheels spinning in opposite directions astride the track.  It would grab a slowing car and accelerate it with a balance and force not possible with boy-power.   A skilled engineer knew the sweet spot, a few feet before the loopity-loop just beyond a curve.  Care demanded just enough force to get the cars around the track without stopping or derailing.  

Worship on the Lord’s Day is the power booster of the Christian life.   More than mere rest from the week passed, the Lord’s Day, with its public and private worship, pours restfulness into the week ahead.    We enter worship coasting on fumes but leave with balance, speed, and power. Worship resets our minds to what is real.  Shows us who is sovereign over our daily chaos.  Frames our lives by grace not the grind.  And reminds us we are an “us,” not an “I.” 

For this very reason we are cautioned not to “forsake assembling together” in Hebrews 10:25.    Without worship we will derail or lose momentum.    But assembling for worship has faced unexpected challenges over the past six months – challenges unimaginable a year ago.   Pastors and elders have wrestled with distinctions between the essentials of worship and its circumstances.   Civil magistrates have stepped on and over constitutional protections and religious liberties.    And brothers and sisters in Christ have gone to civil war over differing views on the circumstances of assembly.   

But, in our debates over the finer points of what it means to “assemble” and whether or not the use of masks is a veiled attempt at a new Vestiarian Controversy, have we  missed the forest for the trees?  Have we idolized our positions and lost sight of the truth that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath?   Have we exchanged delight for the Sabbath in the pursuit of duty? The prophet Isaiah frames this concern well.

“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
    from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
    and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
    or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;
then you shall take delight in the Lord,
    and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”  Isaiah 58:13-14

Isaiah 58:13-14

Is your attitude toward the Lord’s Day one of delight?    Or do you grumble your way through with a confessional precision that amounts to little more than a “trampling of [God’s] courts?”  Debating what it means to “assemble together,” is important.   Theology matters. And worship must be according to Scripture.

But are we as concerned about the effects of faithful worship as we are its circumstances?   Do the people we meet during the week believe we have been in God’s presence?   Does it show?  Even through cloth masks, can they see “we all, with unveiled face, [have beheld] the glory of the Lord, [and] are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”  

Worship is the power booster of the Christian life.   It takes flagging Christians and gives the balance and momentum to negotiate tight turns and upside-down loops.   It keeps us moving and on the tracks.  Join us this week for worship as Pastor Chris Love from Church of Amazing Grace brings God’s Word from Revelation 2:23-29 as we consider “To the One Who Conquers: A Call to Personal Perseverance.” 

We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons 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

Owning Up

Owning Up

We knew she had them, but we never saw them – eyes in the back of her head.   Like the answer to the children’s catechism question, “we could not see them, but they always saw us.”   Just when we thought we were under the radar and outside maternal surveillance, we were called to account.  But parental omniscience is not just the province of mothers.   Fathers can have it too.   My father was very in tune with my sinful tendencies.   One particular example from my youth is seared into my memory.  

My friends and I were going downtown, but the train did not come as far as our neighborhood. So we drove to the station in Decatur.    The station did not have much parking, but was happily located right across the street from the Maud M. Burrus Public Library.   The library had plenty of free parking, each spot adorned with a warning — “library patrons only, all others will be towed.”  With dire words and prophecies of doom, my father warned me against the temptation to park there.   But my 1973 Goldenrod Impala needed space.  It yearned for free parking and lots of it.  So, as children often do, I disregarded my father’s instruction.

When we returned at day’s end, to my horror, the Impala was gone.   It was the sum of all fears.   Adrenaline surged.  A dreadful panic seized me.  Where could it be?  How will we get home?  And how would I explain this grievous crime to my father?  Then I saw it, a sight worse than any scenario I imagined.   Parked in a corner of the lot, far from where I left it was the Impala.   He knew!   He knew I was not to be trusted.  He knew I had ignored his wise warning.   The ugly truth could not be concealed.   I had deliberately disobeyed.   Wriggling out was not an option.   My only option was to own up and to accept whatever came.

Much to my surprise, the consequence was not as severe as it could have or should have been.   My father knew the shock of his masterstroke was, itself, quite potent.    His goal was not to punish, but to discipline – to instruct me in the pain of disobedience and lead me to the freedom that comes from submission.    Indeed, punishment and discipline, though both painful, are radically different.

Punishment’s goal is to inflict, to harm, to exact.   It covers the debt of justice by demanding the value of what was taken by the hand of a perpetrator.   It seeks no redemption, no rehabilitation, and no restoration.   It is guided by wrath not mercy.   Vengeance is its telos — an eye for every eye, and a tooth for every tooth.  But discipline is quite a different matter.   Discipline is concerned for growth, change, fruitfulness, and maturity.    It is guided by love and governed by relationship.   Discipline is redemptive, rehabilitative, and restorative.   This is what it seeks.   It teaches us that freedom and fruitfulness come from submitting to yokes not breaking bonds.

We see this truth remarkably laid out for us in Hebrews 12:5-11

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” …For at the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

How will we respond to the Lord’s discipline?  When afflictions come.  When frowning providences are the only providence we know.   When we encounter many trials of various kinds?  Will we be like the God’s enemies in Psalm 2 who say, “Let us burst [His] bonds apart and cast away [His] cords from us.”   Or like God’s sons, who will “take [His] yoke upon us, and learn from [Him].”   

Punishment is for God’s enemies.   They will be destroyed by it.   They will rail against it and resist it.   They will not repent, but only raise a clinched fist.   They will call to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb.”   But children receive loving discipline if they will submit to it.   Though it may be painful it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness in the end.   How willing are you to submit to the discipline of God?  Is your desire of comfort and relief greater than your desire to be conformed to the likeness of Christ?  

The Lord chastised Judah in Jeremiah’s day.  The best and brightest had been carried off to Babylon.   Zedekiah was placed on the throne only as a steward.   But the people were not content to submit to the God’s discipline.  They plotted rebellion.  And Jeremiah warned them with a powerful illustration.

This word came to Jeremiah from the Lord.  “Make yourself straps and yoke-bars, and put them on your neck.… Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel…  I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, and I have given him also the beasts of the field to serve him. All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes….  But if any nation or kingdom will not serve this Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, I will punish that nation with the sword, with famine, and with pestilence, declares the Lord, until I have consumed it by his hand.”

Jeremiah 27:2-8

If they submit they will live.  But if they rebel, they will experience the just punishment of God.   What about you?  How will you respond when God lays a heavy hand upon you?  When he brings discipline because of sin?   Will you own up?  Will you submit?  Will you put your neck under the yoke?   Join us this Lord’s Day, August 2 as we examine Jeremiah 27 and consider what it means to submit to the Lord’s discipline.  

We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons 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

Lost and Found

Lost and Found

Before we posted our souls on social media, we had bumper stickers.   Back in the day, the bumper was the place to vent malcontentment.  And those posts were indelible.   But now the younger generation has taken up the ancient mantle.   No minivan is complete without its stick family of 5 and twin soccer balls emblazoned with the children’s names.   And every hipster’s Subaru rear window has Nativ© headlining the Get-Out-There motif – a gallery, never complete without a quote from Tolkien — “Not all those who wander are lost.”

Indeed, not all wanderers are lost.  But many are.  And lost people want deeply to be found.   You don’t have to read too many castaway stories or play hide and seek with many small children to realize that lost people are consumed with being found – they just don’t always understand what that looks like.   The problem with being lost is that it is easy to be overlooked.   Lost people are notoriously hard to see and recognize.   How many lost hikers have heard the helicopters overhead and the calls of searchers long before they were found?   

Children learn early that it is easy to be overlooked.   When they play hide-and-seek they quickly grow impatient with lostness and hiddenness.  The real object of their game is not to be hidden, but to be found.    If not quickly discovered, they rustle the curtains or mimic wild animal noises from behind the couch.   Nothing is more terrifying than the thought that Daddy won’t find them and they will remain hidden and alone.   Lost people want deeply to be found.

But there is a lostness much more profound than the lostness of the castaway or the children’s game.   To be lost from the love, care, and comfort of our Creator – to be aliens and strangers to the God’s promises and, by nature, children of wrath is a lostness the Bible describes as “deepest darkness.”  When the Lord warned Adam, “you shall not eat [from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil], for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die,” He was speaking a death more crushing than mere physical death.   In his first sin, Adam plunged himself and us into spiritual lostness and ruin. 

The lost can feel the weight of their lostness, but cannot find any way to be found.    And when you are this lost, it is easy to believe that you will never be found.  Will anyone see us?  Will anyone recognize that we are lost?  Will anyone look for us?    Does anyone know where we are?  Will anyone care enough to come?  These are the questions that keep us awake.  We often speak of ‘finding ourselves,’ but only another – a rescuer — can find us when we are this lost.  

Zacchaeus – the wee little man – in Luke 19 was lost.   He tried to find himself in work and in wealth.  And, in both he was at the top of his game.   He was no mere tax collector, but the chief-tax collector.   He oversaw all tax collection in Jericho, a fabulously wealthy and progressive city.   And he was fabulously wealthy.   But it came at a cost.  Success cost him his identity and his integrity.   His name, Zacchaeus, meant “righteous one.” But his reputation was that of an odious sinner.   All he had gained was nothing compared to what he had lost.   He was lost and longed to be found.

Perhaps Zacchaeus had heard about Jesus.  That he was a “friend of tax collectors and sinners.”   The religious establishment had no place for Zacchaeus in their lives or their religion.   But maybe this Jesus would be different.    Casting aside all pretense at dignity, he sought a vantage point from the branches of a roadside Sycamore tree.   What kind of man was Jesus?  He had to see.  You might think at first glance that Luke 19 is a story about Zacchaeus looking for Jesus.  But it is actually quite the opposite.  It was Jesus who came to Jericho looking for Zacchaeus.

Zacchaeus was unable to see Jesus because of the crowds and because of his size.  But Jesus knew exactly how to seek and find this wee little lost man.   Obstacles may obscure our view of Jesus, but are never unseen to Him.  He knows how to seek and to find us.   That was what He came to do.   In this story Jesus is only days from the cross, but he pauses to seek and find Zacchaeus.  Luke 19:1-10 is a remarkable story about the power of the gospel and the love of God for those who have wandered and are lost.  Join us this Lord’s Day, July 26 as we examine this passage and see how God’s love for us unfolds in the seeking and the saving of Zacchaeus. 

Please note, this Lord’s Day only, we will meet at 10:30 am on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP.   We will not meet in-person this week, but will resume our in-person gathering for worship, next Lord’s Day, August 2.  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.   

Worst-Case Scenario

Worst-Case Scenario

I have a diverse library.  Every “ology” can be found – theology, technology, sociology, anthropology, and mythology, just to name a few.  Widely varied genres and perspectives live on my shelves.  My catalog runs the gamut from ancient to contemporary, orthodoxy to heresy, and the profound to the absurd.   Seriousness and satire have a home in my world of ideas – a cosmos framed both on shelves and in clouds.    

In the outer reaches of this cosmos is a book entitled, The Worst-Case Scenario Handbook.   Supplied to me by a bookstore-owning friend, who usually plied me with theology, this little quod absurdium purports to give strategies for life’s worst-case scenarios.  For example, when aliens invade, it is imperative to construct a headpiece of tin-foil.   As is well known, aliens are telepathic.   Only a tin-foil headpiece can foil their telepathy.   The only alternative is simply to stop thinking.   Just don’t think about anything.   Clear your mind.  This is the only foolproof way to avoid alien domination.

Perhaps this explains why critical thinking seems to have disappeared.  Maybe our culture is preparing for an alien invasion.  We have clearly stopped thinking – at least any thoughts other than the mantras du jour fed to us by (anti)social media.   Critical thinking, and its expressive corollaries, free speech and robust dialogue are now anathema.   Dialogue has been replaced with cancel culture – a group-think which refuses to admit any narrative other than that clearly delineated by a viral hashtag. Meanwhile everyone and everything at odds from the approved narrative is declared “dead to us.”  While I am not sure that Central, Central Intelligence or Big Brother and his Ministry of Truth are behind the cancel-culture, it is certainly enforced through social media.

But cancel-culture is not new.   Media campaigns and boycotts are as old as the Fall of Mankind.  Public shame and commerce have long been powerful tools for policy change, for better and for worse.  What is new is the amazing speed with which shame and commerce is effected through social media.   The uneditable and unanswerable animosity unleashed by social media cancels without appeal.  The “brakes” of time – and therefore reflection — were never installed.  Time to reflect, to think carefully, to analyze motive, context and deeper intent is missing.   There is no time for thoughtful action, only violent and immediate reaction.   As social critic, Neil Peart, noted, “conform or be cast out.”  These are the options – the only options.

Cancel-culture strikes at the core of the Christian’s identity.   Christians are animated by the gospel.  Thought, speech and actions are to be transformed by the renewing of minds not conformed to the pattern of the world.   Thus, christians are fundamentally at odds with the ethos of cancel-culture.   Truth is not socially determined, but authoritatively revealed.   And that authority is not Twitter.   On the continuum of “conform or be cast out,” Christians will always be castaways.  The received and revealed gospel is the compelling means of grace for our lives and our world.  Our compulsion, our commission is to share it, preach it, declare it and defend it.    Yet, the gospel’s presupposition of a brokenness no state or hashtag can fix is obnoxious to the cancel-culture.   In its opposition to Christianity, cancel-culture reduces Peart’s “conform or be cast out” to only one option – “conform,” willingly or unwillingly.

And so, Christians find themselves is a familiar place – the place of persecution.   This is nothing new.   As Jesus unfolds the ethics and expectations of a life animated by grace, he concludes with are remarkable statement. 

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.  

Matthew 5:10-16

We love to proclaim and sing about being the salt of the earth and a city set on a hill, but notice how Jesus connects these to a faithful response to persecution.  The cancel-culture wants to silence the gospel and the truth of God.    How are we to respond?  Are we to soften our message?  Conform it to the differing expectations of culture?  Reassess our calling or the sphere in which we execute it?   These are all questions Jeremiah faced.   The “Temple Sermon” was one of his earliest and most memorable sermons.  Jeremiah was probably optimistic as he preached.   But the moment the sermon ended the cancel-culture attacked.   “You shall die” was the response of the religious establishment.   “Jeremiah, conform or be cut off.”

When God called Jeremiah, he warned him that this would be the case.

But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them. And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the Lord, to deliver you.

Jeremiah 1:17-19

How would Jeremiah respond?  How will we respond?  As Paul wrote to a young Timothy, “indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Timothy 3:12)   It is only a matter of time before you face the ultimatum, “conform or be cast out.”  What will be the response to this worst-case scenario?

Join us this Lord’s Day, July 19 as we examine Jeremiah 26 and consider the Jeremiah’s response to the cancel-culture of his day.  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 join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP.

Choose Wisely

Choose Wisely

I admit it.  I am absolutely syncretistic in my speech.   Wherever I live, the local accent and expressions find their way into my own.    On a recent family movie night, an ancient VHS tape surfaced of a presentation I gave in 1988.   Two things were notable.  First, I had as many verbal ticks then as now.  And second, my accent – it was positively “down home” – vintage Georgia.    I am without a doubt a verbal chameleon.  Yet, this is true for most of us. 

The attitudes and expressions of those around us together with the images and phrases we’ve invited into our souls will bubble up to the surface of our lives through our speech.  Beyond accents, inflection and expressions, movies, books and music often implant phrases into our psyche that become mainstays of our expression.  Brando’s eerie mantra from Apocalypse Now – “the horror,” and Ham Porter’s refrain from The Sandlot – “you’re killin’ me Smalls,” are go-to phrases for me.   But a favorite is the admonition of the Grail Knight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – “choose wisely!”

After navigating the “leap of faith from the Lion’s Head,” Indy enters into a shine to the Holy Grail, guarded by an ancient knight.   The room is filled with different cups — elaborate and simple, some of precious metals and jewels, others of simple wood or glass.   In order to save his father’s life, Indiana Jones must choose the one true Holy Grail from the vast display.  But the first choice must be the right choice, for the Grail Knight warns him.

“You must choose, but choose wisely, as the true grail will bring you life and the false grail will take it from you.”

Indy must choose a cup to drink.  He must drink.  No other option is on the table.  He must choose – and choose wisely.   Life or death hangs on the choice.

We see a similar picture come into focus in Jeremiah 25.   The prophet is told to take the “cup of the wine of God’s fury” and make all the nations drink from it.   It is no mild vintage.  It has no smooth flavor.  This wine is neither light-bodied nor flavorfully rich in tannins.  No hints of this or notes of that.  And it does not finish well.  It is hard drink.  The cup of judgement.   Those who drink it, drink it down to the dregs.   It has no mild or pleasant effect.  The drinker becomes raging drunk and violently ill.   Bold drinkers think they can handle this liquor, but it reduces them to complete stupor.   But what if men simply refuse this choice?  What if they will not drink.   Note what the Lord says.

Thus, the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it…. And if they refuse to accept the cup from your hand to drink, then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: You must drink!’” 

Jeremiah 25:15, 28

Not to drink is not an option.   And there is no milder vintage.  But is there another cup?   The cup is a common picture of God’s judgment in the Bible.   But scripture reveals a remarkable promise —  that God, himself, will graciously take the cup from us.

Therefore hear this, you who are afflicted,
    who are drunk, but not with wine:
Thus says your Lord, the Lord,
    your God who pleads the cause of his people:
“Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering;
the bowl of my wrath you shall drink no more; 

Isaiah 51:21-22

But what is more, God himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, drinks our cup for us.

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, … he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”  …Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”

Matthew 26:36-42

And then He gives us another cup, a different cup – the cup of blessing which we bless.

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Matthew 26:26-28

Jeremiah was told to take the cup of the wine of the wrath of God and to make all the nations drink of it.  But there is another cup.   For those who choose wisely — who trust in Christ, not in themselves, who acknowledge God’s righteous judgment of sin, yet plead for His mercy upon sinners, there is the cup of blessing.  The Grail Knight spoke more than he knew when he cautioned, “choose, but choose wisely, as the true grail will bring you life and the false grail will take it from you.”  What cup will you choose?  The cup of the fury of God’s wrath?  Or the cup of Christ?

Join us this Lord’s Day, July 12 as we examine Jeremiah 25:15-38 and consider the choice God sets before us between grace and judgement.  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 join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP.