No Extras

No Extras

My acting career was short-lived and very boring.  Sure, I had those inspired roles in elementary school productions – the Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, Charlie Brown (a la the Coasters) in a Tribute to the 50s – but my shining moment came in 1979 when I was invited by the casting director of the movie Little Darlings to play the role of a random summer camper.

Ok, to be clear I was an “extra,” one of those dispensable figures in the background who more or less takes up space.   For two grueling Georgia summer days, I and my fellow Hollywood hopefuls donned our camp t-shirts, sat around for hours and then walked up and down a hill twice.  To be honest, I never even saw the movie.  I can’t say whether I appeared in any scenes with Tatum O’Neal, Jodie Foster or Matt Dillon.  My obvious talent in thoughtfully walking up and down a hill with a thousand other grade-schoolers never caught the eye of any other casting directors, but I did get paid $25.  That was enough to buy a few packs of baseball cards, a couple of Slurpees, and a trip to Six Flags Over Georgia.

Extras in movies are only significant for the space they occupy.  What they do or don’t do, what talents they have or don’t have, what they say or don’t say is all irrelevant.   They are visual filler, just providing a background for the real actors.  Unlike a movie, however, there are no extras in the body of Christ, the Church.  No person has no role.  And no person has a role which is dispensable, unimportant, or irrelevant.  Every person is absolutely necessary.  Churches sometimes treat members as though they are extras, never helping them to discover their gifts and callings and never asking or expecting them to serve and participate.  And often members act as though they are extras, assuming that they are just the crowd scene for the church’s main actors.  But scripture reminds us that there are no extras in the church.

But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor… 1 Corinthians 12:18ff

Paul’s illustrates this vividly every time he gives instructions in his letters to particular people or extends greetings to and from members of specific churches.   We often gloss over these sections in teaching and preaching, until we are reminded that every word of God is breathed out by Him and useful.  Like the genealogies of the Old Testament, Paul’s personal greetings are God’s word to encourage us, instruct us, and warn us to discern our gifts and callings and to take our part in the life and ministry of the church.  We need to be reminded that we are actors, not extras, in the drama of redemption.

Join us this Sunday, May 26, as we examine 2 Timothy 4:9-22 and consider how Paul’s personal greetings and instructions call us to discern our gifts and callings to take our indispensable place in the body of 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.

Leaving A Mark

Leaving A Mark

Hard as we try, it is impossible to ‘leave no trace.’  Our lives will always leave a mark.  But what kind of mark will we leave? Like a child’s name carved into a family heirloom, the marks we leave produce a mix of painful regret and powerful remembrance.   But what will be the final assessment?  Is it possible to live life and come to the end with no regrets?  As a pastor who thinks a lot about what is said and sung at funerals, I was shocked recently to hear that a perennial favorite song for funerals was “My Way” by Frank Sinatra.

In his ultimate tribute to a narcissistic life, Sinatra declared: “I’ve lived a life that’s full, I traveled each and every highway, and more, much more than this, I did it my way.”  But anyone who lives this way leaves tsunamis of brokenness and regret in their wake.  Assuming we do not live only for ourselves, is it possible to come to the end of our life without regrets?   Most of us would probably say no!  But the Apostle Paul says something shocking in a letter to his spiritual son, Timothy, as he talks frankly about his impending death.

“…the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:6-7

Paul has no regrets.  Not because he made no mistakes or  checked off every item on a bucket list.  From the world’s perspective his life was a failure.  He was from an influential family, studied with the luminaries of Jewish thought, and by his own assessment, was “advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.”  Yet, he threw it all away to follow Christ.  He might have looked back over his life with many regrets.  Others certainly did.  He brought death and destruction to Christian families before his conversion.  He caused riots all over Asia.  He had to say painful things to close friends.  He made enemies of his fellow Israelites everywhere he went.  He faced a death sentence simply for preaching the gospel.  Even many of his Christian friends had deserted him in his imprisonment.

Yet, Paul has no regrets, because unlike Frank Sinatra, he did not live life “his way,” but “Christ’s way.”  The indelible marks he left behind were carved out by faithfulness in following Christ, not the fickleness of worldly acclaim.  A more literal translation of Paul’s statement would be, “The good fight, I fought.  The race, I finished.  The faith, I have kept.”  God laid out the course of Paul’s life.  He simply followed.  He is not boasting in what he has done, but in what Christ has done. His past, his present, and his future can only be rightly assessed by what Christ has done, is doing and will do.  In another letter in which he describes his thoughts on death, he goes onto say, “it is God who works in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12)   The only way to come to the end of life with no regrets is to live a life of following Christ.

I once visited with a dying man who had a framed t-shirt hanging on his wall.  On it was printed, “live in such a way that the preacher won’t have to lie about you when you die.”  Will the pastor who conducts your funeral be able to preach from Paul’s words?  “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith?”  Will you be able to die with no regret, knowing that despite all the failures and failings in your life, you did it “Christ’s Way?”   Paul closes this short passage with a remarkable hope.

“… there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:8

Have you loved his appearing?  Have you loved his appearance in his Word, in his worship, and in his body, the Church?  Is the thought of his appearing a source of joy or terror for you?  Does Paul’s statement “my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” resonate with you?

Join us this Sunday, May 19, as we examine 2 Timothy 4:6-8 and consider what it looks like to live life without regret.  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.

Take, Eat!

Take, Eat!

Nothing is more unsatisfying than to request our food through a box, receive it through a slightly larger box and then eat it in an even larger box, as fast as possible without anyone else.  Food is communal.  Anyone who has been a part of a group knows that the table is a primary medium to move a group from a crowd to a community.   Food is not utilitarian.  Though, of course, food has nutritive utility – to nourish and heal — its purpose runs much deeper.  It brings us together.  This has always been true.  In the ancient Book of Proverbs, it is “Loud Lady Folly” who declares that bread eaten in secret is pleasant, while “Wisdom” sets a table.   Feasting calls us together and keeps us together.

The Bible connects most of life to eating.   In the beginning, God places man in a garden and invites him to eat from every tree except one.  Time and time again meals figure prominently in the unfolding of God’s redemptive purposes.  The catalyst for the Fall was food, the patriarchs deceive and are deceived through food, and God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery is illustrated in the Passover meal.  All of the major expressions of God’s grace toward man are pictured through feasts.  The sign and seal of God’s grace in Christ toward us, of our community in Him, and of our ongoing spiritual nourishment in Him is a meal, The Lord’s Supper.   The consummation of all things is described as The Wedding Supper of the Lamb.  Those whom God calls to care for His people are called ‘pastors,’ a derivative of the word for shepherd, and they are told to feed their flocks.

Food is important to God and a consuming part of our daily lives.  It pictures God’s grace and our dependence upon Him.  But it also points us to something more. In response to Satan’s suggestion that Jesus end his forty day fast in the wilderness by turning the stones into bread, Jesus quotes from an Old Testament passage about the real point of food.

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Deuteronomy 8:3

Food is indispensable to physical life.  Without it we starve and die.  But notice what this passage says, even food is not as fundamental to life as God’s Word.  How much time each day do you spend thinking about, acquiring, preparing, eating, and recovering from meals?  Now compare that to time spent preparing, hearing, and applying God’s Word in your life?  Are we as concerned about being nourished by Scripture as we are food?  The prophet Amos noted that God’s ancient people were in the midst of a famine – “not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.” Amos 8:11

Two things lead to spiritual malnutrition, refusing to ingest God’s Word and filling up on spiritual junk food.  These were the problems Timothy faced in Ephesus.  His congregation had cultivated an appetite for sugary snacks, not nourishing truth.  They would “not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears … accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and … turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”  Sound teaching was no longer palatable.  They had ruined their appetite for truth by filling up on empty calories.  They wanted a word that would conform God to their image, not conform them to His.  What about you?  Are you cultivating your palate for “sound teaching” or binging on teaching that suits your passions?  What guides our conscionable hearing of God’s Word?  Desire for affirmation or transformation?

Join us this Sunday, May 12, as we examine 2 Timothy 4:1-5 and consider how we can cultivate a healthy appetite for truth and guard against spiritual malnutrition.  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.

Modern Problems

Modern Problems

As we get older it gets harder to remember.  Appointments slip our minds.  Keys, wallets and phones go mysteriously AWOL.  And the names of loved ones?  Where did they all go?  We, jokingly, call this the “new normal.”  But is it?  Memories are not as immutable as we think.  Contemporary scientific studies indicate that our memories are altered each time they are recalled.  Like fragmentation on a computer hard drive, the more experience we accumulate the more vulnerable our memories become to fragmentation.  So, take heart!  This is really a problem of knowing more, not remembering less.  This is why we never remember our parents saying the things to us that we find ourselves saying to our children.  Surely our parents never had to tell us to “stop looking at our sister.”   As parents, we spend half our words saying what we never thought we would have to say to our children.

But consider how true this is of society at large?  Who could have guessed that a time would come when you can be fired for referring to a person, who in every respect appears to be a man, using masculine pronouns?  And when science is crystal clear that life begins at conception, that abortion rights would expanded and infanticide celebrated?   Our founding fathers based our “Declaration of Independence” on certain truths which they declared to be ‘self-evident.’  But in our post-modernity we have declared no truths to be self-evident or even real.  We are daily confronted with modern problems we never imagined and must say things we never thought would need to be said.  But are our modern problems really new problems?

Calling problems, “modern problems” implies that we need modern solutions.  An evolutionary mindset demands an evolution in all thought – both human and divine.  It clamors for a new ethic, more flexible and adapted to the shifting mores of men.   Progressive political candidates habitually call for the Church to hitch its theology to the wandering star of public opinion, rather than remain tied to some outdated idea of transcendent and absolute truth.  But what if our problems are not new?  What if they are just more technologically advanced versions of the same old problem – the problem man has faced from the very beginning?

It is a grave danger to view our problems as modern problems in need of modern solutions.  As one theologian has noted, “what modern problems need are ancient solutions.”  This is no new idea.  The Apostle Paul noted the same thing.  In 2 Timothy 3, Paul spoke of a world coming apart at the seams – a world in which men, animated by self-love are going from bad to worse, having a form of godliness but denying its power.  Yet, he does not instruct Timothy to abandon the old ways and find modern approaches or a way to ‘coexist.’  He charges him sternly to follow the old paths, to apply the ancient truths of God’s word to the ‘modern problems’ of his age – the same problems that confront us today.

Join us this Sunday, May 5, as we examine 2 Timothy 3:1-17 and consider the ancient solution to our modern problems  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.

Graduation Gifts

Graduation Gifts

It is that time of year.   The time when graduation invitations compete with gardening catalogues for space in our mailbox.  With each invitation comes the challenge of selecting the perfect gift – a gift that reflects the interests and achievements of the graduate, yet communicates a larger vision for their future.  What will you get for the graduate in your life?  Graduates, what gifts do you hope to receive?  When I graduated, the most popular gifts were Cross Pen and Pencil sets, inspirational books, written especially for the graduation gift market by positivity-power gurus, and the perennial favorite of graduates, cash.  I appreciated the kindness of the givers – especially those who gave money – but none of the gifts challenged me with a vision for the next step.

Many graduation gifts are congratulatory, but not visionary.  Graduation is often celebrated as the last step and not the next step. But the word graduation inherently anticipates the next step, which is why it is sometimes called ‘commencement.’  Like a mark on a graduated cylinder, graduation is the line that marks the beginning of the next stage of life.  What is now behind was preparation for what is ahead.   The entire focus is on what is next.  What will our gifts communicate about the next step?  What vision will our gifts paint for our graduates, for their future, their identity and their way of life?

At the end of the Gospel of Matthew we encounter a remarkable graduation of sorts.  Jesus’ time with his disciples has come to an end.  Their three years watching him, learning from him, loving him, and following him in his earthly ministry are giving way to what is next – making disciples of the nations by going, baptizing and teaching in the power of the Holy Spirit which he sends.  The disciples have graduated from the rabbinic school of the Lord Jesus Christ.  They no longer call him Teacher.   Now he is Lord.  Their language has radically changed and their lives are about to radically change as well.

Jesus has summoned them to a mountain in Galilee to receive their commission, to graduate to the next step in their calling to follow Him.  They were moving out and into uncharted territory, leaving the comforts of the homes and towns they knew so well without the visible presence of the teacher who had guided them every day for three years.  Jesus calls them to a mountain top to give them a vision, not of what they can potentially do if they work hard enough, but a vision of what He will do by working in and through them.  Jesus gives them gifts – a vision, an identity, and a way of life – that will turn the world upside down.

Join us this Sunday, April 28, as we examine Matthew 28:16-20 and consider the vision, identity and way of life that Christ gives us as He turns the world upside down through the work of His Church in the world.  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.

Defining Moment

Defining Moment

By March, 1836, the situation had become desperate for the Texans holed up the Alamo.  The defenders answered Santa Anna’s surrender demand with a round from the fort’s cannon.  In response, Santa Anna, ran up a red flag and ordered his buglers to play Deguello – a cadence instructing his troops to show no quarter.  The die was cast.  The time for negotiation was past.  William Barrett Travis had committed his men to either victory or death.

Shortly before Santa Anna’s final assault, Travis assembled the garrison and with his sword drew a line in the sand in front of his men.  Any man who desired to leave and live could simply walk away.  But those who would stay and die must step across the line in the sand.   According to legend, every man, except one, crossed that line and vowed to die for the cause of freedom.

This was a defining moment in the history of our country.  The death of the Alamo defenders galvanized support for the Texas Republic and fueled American Westward expansion.   The doomed men inside the Alamo would never know the impact of their fateful decision.  Crossing Travis’ line was a defining moment and gave rise to an expression we all use.  To draw a line in the sand means to make a decision from which there is no retreat.  It is a moment which defines us.

Each of us will face defining moments – points at which our choices will establish what characterizes our lives, choices from which there is no going back.  But there is no more significant line in the sand than the one we are invited to cross when we are confronted with the resurrection of Jesus.  Not one of the gospels describes the moment of Jesus’ resurrection, but every gospel examines the responses of all those confronted with the evidence.  There were many reactions – fear, obstinacy, joy, and skepticism – and most importantly faith.   The resurrection of Jesus is the defining moment of all human history.  Belief or unbelief in the resurrection is the central issue of the Christian faith.  The Apostle Paul put it bluntly.

if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.… if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 1 Corinthians 15:14-19

What is your response to the resurrection of Jesus?  How does this moment in history define you?  Is belief in the resurrection a line in the sand you won’t cross?  Join us this Sunday, April 21, as we examine Matthew 28 and consider how our response to the resurrection defines us.  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.

Making Arrangements

Making Arrangements

Few things in my childhood inspired procrastination like completing a project for the Science fair.  I always had good ideas and a clear plan of attack, but I could never seem to get started.  If I had started working when I started worrying, I would have finished with months to spare.  But I just kept putting it off.  The tyranny of the blank page and the inertia of beginnings is a very strong emotional force.  A procrastinator at rest tends to remain at rest.  As the weeks ticked by, anxiety would grow until a mid-February meltdown called my father into action.  When it came to our projects, my father was a master logistician.  He would map out a plan and a schedule and put the wheels into motion.  With his own projects, however, it was a different story.  He would often quote Scarlett O’Hara – “Tomorrow — I’ll think about that tomorrow.”

That is what he said to me, when I suggested it might be important to make funeral plans.  He had absolutely no interest in thinking about those things.  The inertia of beginnings is at its strongest when it comes to making funeral plans.  But as a pastor I have noticed how helpful advanced funeral planning is for a grieving family.  From decisions about burial places and furnishings, to the logistics of services, down to the music and readings you want used – all these things give you the opportunity to make sure what matters most is shared with those who matter most as they grieve.   The thoughts shared at the funeral set the trajectory of grief and establish hope beyond the grave – hope that this is not the end, but only the end of the beginning — hope that there is more to come.

At first glance, it seems that Jesus’ burial arrangements were anything but planned.  The only preparation the gospels speak of is the anointing of Jesus at Bethany by Mary, the sister of Lazarus.  Victims of crucifixion could be claimed for burial only by their family. If not, they were thrown unceremoniously into unmarked graves.   The circumstances of Jesus death made it virtually impossible for his family to claim his body.  But as Good Friday ebbs away toward the Sabbath, events unfold which reveal that Jesus’ Heavenly Father had providentially made remarkable plans for his funeral, plans foretold hundreds of years before by the prophet Isaiah, who wrote, “And they made his grave … with a rich man in his death.” (Isaiah 53:9).

Jesus burial established a remarkable trajectory of hope for all who believe in him.  Had he been tossed into a Roman burial pit, many compelling proofs of the resurrection would have been lost.  But by God’s advanced funeral planning for His Only Begotten Son, he is buried in a prominent place, in a grave secure from unseen access, in a new, unused tomb, wrapped in grave-clothes that would be abandoned, in a tomb sealed and guarded tenaciously by his enemies.   God works through the courage of Joseph of Arimathea and the cowardice of the religious leaders to assure us that Christ is risen indeed.  Every detail of Jesus’ burial furnishes forensic proof of the resurrection and assures us of  our own redemption.

Join us this Lord’s Day, April 14, as we examine Matthew 27:57-66 and consider the significance of the death and burial of Jesus.  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.