Come West, Young Man!

Come West, Young Man!

Long before Horace Greely penned those now famous words, “Go West Young Man,” the Apostle Paul heeded the call of the Man of Macedonia to go west to plant churches on a whole new continent.  He had formulated another plan, he thought he knew where he was headed, but the Holy Spirit changed his itinerary.

And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Acts 16:9

Paul answered the call to ‘go west’ and the gospel was planted began to take root in Europe.  The cultures there were very different. Support was uncertain.  And Paul had to adapt his usual modus operandi to engage cities without synagogues or significant Jewish enclaves.  But he went.

What about you?  You have your plans to serve, but what if God is calling you to “go west?”  What if God is calling you to Arkansas?  Come over and help us plant and grow Reformed Churches in the west.  

River City Reformed Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, is looking for a church planter intern/associate pastor to work with an experienced pastor, Howard Wheeler, to increase engagement in our community, share the load of preaching/teaching, and provide pastoral leadership for our growing congregation. Find out more by checking out  why we need another church in Little Rock.  For more details or next steps contact us.

New and Improved

Novelty is a fickle temptress.    We are all fascinated with new things.  The promise of something new is alluring.   A new restaurant, no matter what its offers, will boom for six months.    Every new social media platform renders all others passé.  And when Dr. Oz recommends a new product, demand skyrockets.   But it doesn’t take long for the euphoria of fashionability to yield to a longing for the good old ways – the old places, the old platforms, and the tried and true products.    Novelty is a fickle temptress.    We love change, so long as it doesn’t actually change anything.   As the excitement of discovery cools, we see that newer is not always better.  

But novelty does offer an appeal.   Businesses understand this.   This is why beloved restaurants tinker with their menus and discount furniture stores are perpetually going out of business only to reopen under a new name.   When market share stagnates, products become ‘new and improved’ and businesses go ‘under new management.’    The word ‘new’ pricks our attention.  It arouses consumer desire, but often, not consumer discernment.   

Just what is new?  How is it improved?  Why, if at all, did it need to be improved?   Is the change an improvement?   Some of us are old enough to remember the New Coke debacle of 1985, and it jaded us.   The phrase ‘new and improved’ evokes suspicion.   And ‘under new management’ is often an admission of serious problems — code for ‘we swept the floors and the staff out the door.’   When we hear ‘new and improved’ or ‘under new management,’ we would do well to ask some hard questions and exercise discernment.

But what is true of our economics is even more important for our theology.    When we hear of new teaching or a new interpretation of scripture or a newly discovered ancient text, we must ask some hard questions.    Just what is new?   How new is it?   Why is something new needed?   Is this new thing contrary to the clear truth of the whole counsel of scripture?    The easiest way to lead Christians astray is to provoke our fickle love of novelty – novelty in worship, in teaching, or in practical living.   Ever since the Fall, God’s children have fallen prey to new teaching about God’s nature and His promises.

When we hear about something new, we would do well to ask hard questions and exercise discernment.  Especially when we see that claim in scripture.   Theological understanding demands it.   God promises a new heart, new heavens and a new earth.   He promises to do a ‘new thing’ in the lives of his people as he unfolds redemptive history.  And in the midst of Jeremiah’s Book of Consolation in Jeremiah 31:31-34, God promises a New Covenant – a promise formative in the history and theology of the Church.   

Jesus speaks of the New Covenant as he institutes the Lord’s Supper.

And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”  

Luke 22:19-20

And the author of the Hebrews quotes Jeremiah 31 twice as he examines exactly what is and is not new about the New Covenant.  

But theological heterodoxy over the nature, membership, and significance of the New Covenant has been divisive in the church, especially since the Reformation.  For some it points to a new way, or dispensation, of salvation.  For others it demotes the Old Testament to a lesser revelation, providing historical background but no continuing authority or relevance for Christian practice.   And many believe it radically changes the nature of covenant membership and therefore the nature of the church.  

With so much at stake, we would do well to ask hard questions when we hear the word ‘new’ in regards to God’s covenant of grace.    Just what is ‘new’ about the New Covenant?   How ‘new’ is it?  And why was something ‘new’ needed?   Jeremiah 31 is the only place in the Old Testament where the New Covenant is mentioned, but the prophet and the whole counsel of God’s Word give us sufficient context to understand just what is ‘new’ about the New Covenant.   And why it is important.

Join us this week as we examine Jeremiah 31:31-40 and consider what is ‘new’ about the New Covenant and why it matters.  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.

Taking Comfort

Children can get comfortable in virtually any circumstance.  Alone or in a crowd, stretched out on their bed or cramped in a car seat, circumstance seems to have little to do with their comfort.   For children, comfort is rooted in assurance, not surfaces or society.   If they trust that dad and mom have everything well in hand, they can sleep anywhere and everywhere.   Parenting experts have long pointed out that when children have trouble going to sleep or staying in bed, they are often anxious that dad and mom don’t have it together.    Without assurance, they take no comfort.  With assurance they find comfort everywhere.

Adults are quite a different matter.   We are good at crafting comfortable circumstances — softer fabrics, ergonomic chairs, and bags of meds and supplements that eclipse Santa’s pack.  And spend our time, energy and brass seeking comfort, but little time being comfortable.   If comfort could be acquired, we would have palliated long ago.   Our lives are littered with the right pills and the right pillows.   We have therapeutic socks and smart mattresses.   We have more advanced and available health care than most of the world, but poorer health.   And with 5% of the world’s population, the United States consumes 95% of the world’s opioids.   We are comfortably numb, but devoid of comfort.  

Perhaps what we know about our children, we have failed to learn about ourselves.   Maybe comfort is derived more from assurance than circumstance.   Children gain assurance easily.   They have an unshakable faith in their parent’s wisdom and power.   Even when that faith is misplaced and disproven time and time again.   The willingness of children to rest in their parent’s word is remarkable.  

But as adults we are leery of trusting anyone but ourselves.   And often, we don’t trust ourselves.  Experience has jaded us.  We have been burned.  We have learned never to be at ease.   Even when our mattress is perfect, our medications potent, and our climate control pleasing, rest eludes us.   Real rest.  Soul rest.   The best we can do is to become comfortably numb.  If only we could trust that Our Father has it all together, that His promises and power could be trusted, that his love for us was real. 

Jeremiah spent four decades warning of Judah of judgment and exile.   Through warning after warning, God called the people to turn back to Him, but they would not.  They sought comfort down every path except the path of faith and repentance.   But God did not forsake them.  When hope seemed lost, God gave the prophet Jeremiah a word of comfort.  In the midst of the longest, and most sorrowful book in the Bible, we find bright promises of God’s grace.    Jeremiah 30-33 is often called the ‘Book of Consolation.’ 

Last week we examined Jeremiah 30 and considered how God consoles us in the midst of judgement.  But to take comfort from God’s promises, we must receive them.   We must believe them by faith.   We must turn back to Him.   We must rest in the assurance that Our Father has it all together.  The Heidelberg Catechism underscores this as it begins its summary of Christian doctrine with the question.

What is your only comfort in life and in death?

That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me, that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready henceforth to live unto Him.

Heidelberg Catechism, Question 1

With this assurance, we find comfort no matter what, whether in life or in death. Join us this week as we examine Jeremiah 31:1-30 and consider how God calls us to receive and experience the comfort He offers.  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.

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

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