Tin Men

Tin Men

Twice each year I undertake the Herculean task of cleaning the storage shed.  It takes an entire Saturday and involves nostalgic, logistical and utilitarian precision.  I have eight hours to unpack the geological column of our family history, triage the flotsam and jetsam to see what stays and what goes, clean out the remote corners of the shed, then pack it back with tetris-like precision.   Some things are easy.  High-school yearbooks and “special-things” stay.  Broken gardening vessels and punctured swimming floaties go.  But the perpetual members of the “on-the-fence” club are the old VBS craft projects.  They will not be used as décor, nor do they have any functional use.  Yet their value in nostalgia is worth its weight in gold.  Most prized among these are the family of “tin men.”

Like those pictured above, these creations were forged through the ambition of old-school VBS craft leaders and the patient endurance of the saints and children who assembled them.   They were meant to illustrate a very important truth, that the only hope for tin men is to receive a new heart.  Just as our only hope is to receive a new heart through faith in Jesus.  But they inadvertently stand witness to something else – to Christians whose outward profession declares orthodoxy, while their outward life-style professes heterodoxy.  Like tin men, many pious churchgoers have no new heart.  They know the songs, they recite the creeds, they pray the prayers, they fill the positions and the pews, but the testimony of their lives is at odds with the testimony of their lips.  Their confidence is not in the object of their faith, but the operation of their faith.  C. S. Lewis, described such men as “men without chests.”  He writes.

We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise…. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.

When God gives us a new heart, He gives also gives us new desires — desires to delight in His Law and to imitate His holiness.  Law and holiness are not the root of God’s grace in our lives, but they are always the fruit of it.  If we have no concern for God’s law or holiness, this is a warning sign that we are Christians without chests, spiritual tin men.  And tin men are in grave danger for a man without a heart is dead.

Spiritual tin men have great confidence, but their confidence is always a false confidence.  Jeremiah speaks to the spiritual tin men of his day calling them to “amend their ways.”  The were quite religious and loved all the ritual and activity, confident that their hope was in “the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.”  But  their lives showed that they had no concern for the Lord of the Temple, or his Law or His Holiness – sure evidence that they were men without chests.

Is your religion a grateful response to a gracious God?  Is your life animated by a new heart whose rhythm is in sync with God’s pace-making heart?   Does your life on Wednesday line up with your profession on Sunday? Or is your ritual, profession, and religious activity a cover-up for what is really under the hood – or rather what is not under the hood?   The Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz rightly understood his condition.

When a man’s an empty kettle
He should be on his mettle
And yet I’m torn apart
Just because I’m presumin’
That I could be kind of human
If I only had a heart. – The Tin Man

Are you a spiritual tin man?  Are you trusting in externals, in ritual, in your works, but lacking a new heart?  The beautiful truth of Jeremiah 7 is that amidst the prophet’s razor-sharp diagnosis, he offers the only sure remedy.

Join us this Sunday, August 18 as we consider the dangers of heartless Christianity and the only remedy for its terminal condition.  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 and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

At the Crossroads

At the Crossroads

“Two paths diverged in a wood, and I – I took the path less traveled and that made all the difference.”  Most of us are familiar with these words from Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken.  It has become somewhat of a mantra for a generation required to memorize it in elementary school.   But it is as sage advice as it seems?  Sure, God created us with a passion to explore, create and innovate.  This is part of our dominion mandate, but like everything else about man’s glorious design, the effects of the fall inevitably turn our love of novelty into self-destruction.

Untethered from our Manufacturer’s directions, our adventurous spirit turns rogue and pursues every path but the safe one.   Contrary to Robert Frost’s seeming wisdom, the Romans had a less speculative but more practical proverb — Via trita via tuta  or “the well-worn way is the safe way.”  We would call this way “tried and true.”  Just as every inventor and innovator knows, technology is iterative.   We reach new heights, not by abandoning the old ways, but by building on the tested foundations. Yet our human pride leads us to despise the old ways and go down the “road less traveled.”   Where does it lead?  Often to ruin and heartache or just plain lostness.

Our expression, “to come to a crossroads” means to come to a place in life where our direction will determine our destination, where a critical decision must be made about which way to go.  Which direction are you headed?  Are you at a crossroads?  Are you at the place where you must decide whether to venture down the road less traveled or find safety in the well-worn way?   The people of Jeremiah’s day were at a crossroads.   They were rushing headlong to destruction.  With backs turned to God, God sent his prophet Jeremiah as a watchman to call them to turn back.  Through Jeremiah He calls them.

Thus says the Lord:
“Stand by the roads, and look,
    and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way is; and walk in it,
    and find rest for your souls.
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’  – Jeremiah 6:16

The word translated “ancient”, means literally “eternal.”   God is not calling his people to return to tradition or simply “the way we have always done it.”  As social critic G. K. Chesterton warned us, “we have two great types — the advanced person who rushes us into ruin, and the retrospective person who admires the ruins.”  Simply being conservative is not enough, if what we are conserving are ‘ruins.’  Jeremiah’s call is to return not to the old ways, but the eternal ways — seek the well-worn, tried and true, eternally faithful path of God’s Word – His Word in Scripture and His Word Incarnate.

Life will bring us to many crossroads – crossroads in relationship, in vocation, in education and in a million life choices every day which have a lifelong impact.  Which path will you take – the road less traveled?  The path of pride and self-reliance? Or the via trita?  The right path at every crossroads is the same – “ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.”  Which way will you follow?   I pray that at the crossroads you ask for the eternal path and follow the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Join us this Sunday, August 11 as we consider our response when God brings us to the crossroads of life.  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 and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Self-Diagnosis

Self-Diagnosis

Long before there was Google, there was Dr. C. Everett Koop’s Self-Care Advisor: Essential Home Health Guide for You and Your Family.  A veritable hypochondriac’s playground, it was child’s play to follow the disease progression of every runny nose and headache to some dire diagnosis.  Certain members of our family were discouraged from consulting it, not because it wasn’t helpful, but simply because it was too easy to read our fears into every minor symptom.   And now we have Google, which allows us to believe every conceivable suggestion in the quest to convert our idiopathy into pathology.  While the internet is helpful at gaining awareness of our symptoms, it is not always the best diagnostic tool and often the worse prognostic tool.  Our preconceived fears make it impossible to be objective.

For this reason, we often give credence to every in-credible, speculative source of truth, while treating the most credible with skepticism or apathy.   Many, solidly convinced by Facebook posts reporting aliens in Area 51, scoff at the idea of Jonah being swallowed by a large fish or God creating the world in six twenty-four hour days.  But this credibility gap has less to do with the reasonableness of truth and more to do with its consequences.   There are no immediate consequences if I accept that there are aliens in Area 51, but there are pressing and immediate consequences if the Bible is true.   The moral demands of truth create a giant-blind spot for us called autonomy.

As bad as we are at self-diagnosing our physical ailments, the blind-spot of autonomy makes us utter quacks at recognizing our spiritual problems.   We hate to accept responsibility and look at everyone and everything else as the reason for our “dysfunction.”  The culture of victimization is as old as the world.  When confronted with his sin, the first man Adam quickly blamed both his wife and God.  “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree and I ate.” Genesis 3:12

But God has given us his word as a spiritual mirror, reflecting accurately our true condition. The scripture is able to accurately diagnose our spiritual condition and offer us the only known cure.  The problem is that our pride refuses to acknowledge what we see there.  God sent the prophet Jeremiah to his people as they approached the precipice of divine judgment, but their stubborn pride turned away from the thought of turning away from their sin.  As we look on from our perspective in history, we can see their foolish stubbornness and gasp at their stunning unbelief.  But are we that different?

Are we living our lives deaf and blind to the repeated calling of the word of God to confess and repent and find mercy?  Will we look into the mirror of the law of God and see our real diagnosis and seek the only cure?  Or will the blind spot of autonomy cause us to follow every quack remedy for our spiritually terminal condition?   Jeremiah condemned the people of his day because they wanted to be lied to about their condition.

“An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land:  the prophets prophesy falsely and the priests rule at their discretion; my people love to have it so.  But what will you do in the end? … [for the prophets and priests] have healed the wound of my people lightly saying, ‘Peace, peace’ when there is no peace.”  Jeremiah 5:31, 6:14

Join us this Sunday, August 4 as we consider what spiritual stubbornness looks like and see how the word of God diagnoses our real condition and offers us a proven cure.  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 and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Donor Match

Donor Match

Some days seem to take forever to arrive.   As a boy, Christmas day and the last day of school seemed as though they would never come.  Like a mirage on a hot summer highway, as you move toward them, they only seemed to be further away.  But what if that long-awaited day was a matter of life and death?  What if you were waiting for a heart or liver transplant in order to live?

Those who need an organ transplant are placed on a waiting list for a donated organ. Transplant organs are matched to patients based on a large list of criteria including: blood type, tissue type, medical urgency, body size, and distance from donor hospital to recipient hospital.  The process is never based simply on your position on the list.  Unfortunately, there are a lot more people on the waiting list than there are organs available each year.

Depending on how well you are, you may wait for your organ transplant at home or in a hospital. It is impossible to anticipate exactly when one will become available.  Some people wait only a few days while for others the wait much longer, possibly many months, if at all.  The waiting, the wondering, and the worrying become all consuming.  What if it never comes?  What if no match can be found for me?  As the time passes, desperation increases and the difficulty of holding on to hope grows exponentially. And if an organ is found, the danger of the transplant and high likelihood of rejection weigh heavily.

Then the call comes – a donor match has been found — and all the emotions converge.  Hope shines in and the life-giving gift is given by another whose gift cost them everything.   While heart and liver transplants have become almost routine today, it is never routine if it is you waiting and praying for a donor match.  But what if your fatal diagnosis is more than physical?  What if you have a failing soul and spirit?  What if your heart of hearts is failing for a lack of righteousness and faithfulness?  You seek diligently some other person – a counselor, a teacher, a lover, a friend — who can give you what you need to fill that growing emptiness in your heart, to stop the metastatic corruption of sin and guilt that threatens your life for all eternity.

But no matching donor can be found.  Every teacher, every counselor, every lover, every friend, every good man or woman, every role model — they are all on the waiting list as well.   Life is ebbing away, time is ticking, a donor must be found.   But where can we find a donor match for our sin-sick soul?   This was the question posed to the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 5.  Jerusalem has been given a terminal diagnosis.  The sin-sickness of the people had metastasized into every area of their lives from worship to family life to social injustice.  God commands Jeremiah.

Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem,
    look and take note!
Search her squares to see
    if you can find a man,
one who does justice
    and seeks truth,
that I may pardon her.    Jeremiah 5:1

Jeremiah looks everywhere.  He looks among the ordinary people.  He looks at the leaders, the wealthy, the scholars, and the movers-and-shakers.  Surely, he can find such a man among the priest and prophets.  But there is no match.  As the Psalmist said.

They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
    there is none who does good,
    not even one.  Psalm 14:3.

No even one!  No donor can be found.  The situation is desperate.   God had promised to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if only ten righteous could be found, but Jerusalem’s judgment depended on just one.  Despite Jeremiah’s diligent search no righteous man could be found.   This is the desperation of our own spiritual situation.  Dying from a depraved soul, we need a righteousness transplant.  But can a donor be found?  The good news is that a perfect donor match exists.

Jesus Christ is a perfect donor match for your diseased soul.  Made like us in every way, fully man yet fully God, His perfect obedience and atoning death on the cross make his perfect righteousness available to those who will receive it.   He alone is the way, the truth and the life.  But as with someone on the transplant list, it is not enough for the donor to be found.  The donated organ must be received by transplant.  This happens for us when we place our faith in Jesus and repent of our diseased life.  Have you received a transplanted life from Jesus?

Join us this Sunday, July 28 as we consider the good news that a donor match has been found to transplant in us the new heart we need to live.  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 and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Warning Label

Warning Label

We live in a world awash in warnings.  Everything has an incomprehensibly deadly disclaimer.  The simplest medical procedure, the latest app on our phone, the tortilla chips we dip in our salsa, all come with legal verbiage warning us of the dire consequences of going forward.   We are so inundated by warnings that we have become desensitized.  We don’t read the fine print, we just click ‘yes’ and plunge ahead, sure that the consequences, if any, will not be nearly so grave as the doomsayers say.

The problem with a world awash in warnings is that it has the effect of the boy crying wolf.  When a serious warning comes, we ignore it, confident it is as irrelevant and unlikely as all the other unheeded disclaimers.  During August 1945, American warplanes dropped leaflets on many Japanese cities, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to warn them of the disaster about to overtake them. The leaflets warned them to evacuate their cities and urge their government to surrender.  The people did not take the leaflets seriously.  Thinking it was propaganda, they ignored the threat and experienced complete devastation.

Are we equally apathetic when we hear of the judgment of God?  Have we heard so often about God’s judgement for sin that it holds no terror for us?  Have we repeatedly listened to the gospel preached, but never accepted it, presuming instead on God’s grace, inexplicably confident that “love wins” and “the God we imagine” would not be so harsh as to punish our sin eternally?

God is, indeed, a God of grace and mercy, but only because He is also a God of justice.  The Bible says that God is “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:26)   Those who have faith in Jesus’ finished work bearing God’s justice on their behalf are justified – that is, accounted right with God.  But those who have faith only in their own works must endure God’s justice themselves.  But God warns us repeatedly and calls us to return to Him.

The people of the prophet Jeremiah’s day, heard this repeated warning.  Jeremiah was like the faithful watchman, warning of the coming disaster and calling the people to faith and repentance.  But they were callous and apathetic.  Faced with unparalleled judgment for their sin at the hands of their enemies, they ignored the warnings dismissing them as the ramblings of a madman, confident in their power either to resist or negotiate their way out of trouble.  They chose instead to listen to those who preached that God did not care about sin and accepted everyone and everything just as they were.  And the people’s hearts were hardened.  They refused to repent.  Then they suffered the judgement of God.

What about you?  Have you ignored the warnings of the Bible?  Warnings that unless you seek refuge in Jesus, you will experience God’s judgement – in all its fury?  Have you become desensitized to your sin and its consequences?  Have you become comfortably numb to God’s threatening and unconcerned about standing before Him at the end of your earthly lives?  What is your response when you hear about God’s coming judgement?

Join us this Sunday, July 21 as we consider our response when God threatens judgement and calls us to return to Him.  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 and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Sorry?

Sorry?

One of the places where human depravity is more clearly displayed than rush hour traffic, may be a child’s birthday party.   These gatherings, designed to celebrate a child’s special day, can easily turn into self-fests, with every attendee assuming that he, himself, is the reason for the season.   Meanwhile parents visit with one another in relative oblivion, until little Johnny Schmidt goes too far.

Then you hear it. “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt!  You tell little birthday Bobby you are sorry.”  Called from parental lethargy, Mrs. Schmidt arises, grasps John Jacob by the ear and marches him to the emotional remains of birthday Bobby and repeats the command.  “Say it!  Say your sorry! Say it now!” She bellows.

John Jacob barely opens his mouth and barely disturbs the air with his virtually inaudible, “Sor-ry.”  And everyone who observes this farce thinks the same thing.  The thought bubble above everyone’s head screams, “No You’re Not! You’re not one bit sorry!”  Everyone knows that John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt is anything but sorry.  Birthday Bobby knows it.  Mrs. Schmidt knows it.  And John Jacob smiles inwardly.  The use of a magic word has relieved him of all consequence.  Nothing has changed.  Bobby is still an emotional wreck, the party has been ruined, contrary to her self-deception, Mrs. Schmidt has not actually parented her son.  All that was broken is still broken.   But John Jacob has been released from trouble.  Or has he?

This is what most people think repentance looks like – like John Jacob using magical religious words, smooth words to remove consequence and relieve himself of obligation for his sin against God and others.  We mumble a half-hearted prayer, say “sorry” in liturgical dressing and, voila, everything is fixed.  Or is it?   We are so self-centered by nature that we can never escape the gravity of self-love in order to truly repent under our own power.   Repentance demands sorrow for how our sins affected others, not just how they affect us.   The Apostle Paul distinguishes between godly sorrow that rightly grieves its offense and worldly sorrow that only grieves its consequences.

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 2 Corinthians 7:10

Real repentance begins with God — with his kindness, with his grace, with the convicting work of His Holy Spirit.  Without this kind of real repentance, we live lives that are broken – broken in our relationship with God and broken in every other relationship as well.  It is not enough to say, “sorry” and think that magic words will put the world back the way it was before.  What we need is real, gracious, God-given repentance.

As God calls Judah to account for her sin through the prophet Jeremiah, His Words are not words of bare judgment, but a gracious call to repentance, grace, forgiveness, mercy and salvation.  This same call comes to us to show us the way home from the pig-sty of our own selfishness.   Have you received God’s gift of repentance unto life?  Do you want to see what that looks like and hear how to find it?

Join us this Sunday, July 14 as we examine the amazing grace of God and his call to come home in Jeremiah 3.  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 and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Breaking Faith

Breaking Faith

Mrs. Dixon’s fourth grade class was a burgeoning nest of young love.  That was the year when girls leapfrogged past spiders on the list of interesting creatures in the life of a boy.   After lunch each day we would have a half-hour or so of time dedicated for quiet study.  But the subject most pursued during this “quiet time” was the study of relational engagement.  Notes were carefully constructed, though with little imagination or variance.  “Will you ‘go with me’? Yes __ or __ ”   Who knew that romance was so straightforward?  It is ironic that young love could be reduced to a form letter.

But if, perchance, the note was returned with the ‘Yes’ box marked, things immediately got complicated.  First, the idea of “going with” someone was amorphous.  Where were we going?  Were we actually going somewhere?  Was the relationship supposed to “go somewhere?”  Sure, there was some public identification as a couple, with all the requisite teasing that accompanied each ‘go-wither’s’ gender clique, but no one knew what happened next.  Then, quickly and without warning, the euphoria of a “Yes” on that original note was followed by the crushing news from everyone that you had broken up and that your beloved was now ‘going with’ someone else.   Relationships often were born and died without anything passing between boy and girl except a note.  While pride was briefly humbled in the dust, there was little relational pain, because after all, two days and a checked box on a passed note is not a recipe for intimacy.

All this relational callousness can never prepare you, however, for the real, deep, intense pain that comes from broken love.   When that person in whom your hopes, dreams, tears, and vulnerability have been lovingly vested breaks faith and moves on, it releases intense emotional energy.  Like the splitting of the powerful bonds that hold the atom together, relational fission creates massive devastation, sweeping away those in its shock-waves.  I pray that you have not experienced this personally, but I imagine that you have.   So much invested, so much given up and now what?   With every pain, a little callousness develops, a little trust is lost, a little hope is gone.   But have you ever considered how God reacts toward us when we break faith with him and move on and away from Him — the most intimate of lovers?

The ancient prophet, Jeremiah preached during a time of both apathy and antipathy toward the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  The Twentieth Century prophet, Francis Schaeffer, called Jeremiah the prophet for post-modern times, because our contemporary culture, like that of Jeremiah’s day, has turned away from love for God and has moved on in its headlong pursuit of self-love in a relational fission which has ignited stunning devastation.   In his very first recorded sermon, Jeremiah makes an impassioned plea on behalf of Israel’s divine husband to leave her sordid affairs and return to her true love, lest she destroy herself in the process.

How would we react if our beloved treated us as God’s people treated Him?  And before we cast too many stones on ancient Israel, let us be honest if things are really any different with us?   How patient, how tender, how willing to reconcile would we be with such a spouse?  Yet, in this word we hear the great grace God extended to the rebellious and unfaithful who have refused the fountain of living waters to drink from stagnant and broken troughs.

Join us this Sunday, July 7 as we examine a terrible picture of spiritual unfaithfulness in Jeremiah 2:1-13 and consider the deadly consequences of abandoning God but the life giving grace He extends to us in 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. Come with a friend and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.