Slaving Away

Slaving Away

My dad was “old school.” A child of the depression, he believed firmly in the value of child labor – especially mine. I had weekly chores for which I was paid, if I did them in a way that passed his rigorous requirements. By the pay was meager, especially when compared to the gratuitous, labor-free allowances received by most of my middle-class peers. During the summer I mowed the grass for $2 per mowing and during the fall I raked 1.3 billion leaves, working pro bono. Now, as an adult with a healthy work ethic and ability to appreciate the value of money in terms of the labor required to earn it, I am thankful that my dad was “old-school.”

But at the time, my thoughts of my dad’s parenting were not so charitable. I remember mowing the grass with our rickety push mower, glancing toward the neighbor’s yard where my friend was playing ball while his mother did the mowing. Now there was liberation I could get on board with, I thought. I recall actually thinking to my self that my dad treated me like a slave, that I had to “slave away” at yard work under a broiling Georgia summer sun, while my friend lived a carefree childhood of leisure and comfort.

Had I paid attention to the numerous passages in the Bible which speak to the work and attitude of slaves — both actual slaves and those who fancy themselves to be slaves like myself — perhaps I would have gained a heart of wisdom as a child. But like many who hear the Bible’s teaching on slavery, slaves and masters, I foolishly relegated it to what I believed were a collection of things in the Bible which have nothing to do with me.

The Bible deals very honestly with the issue of slavery and all the subtle forms it takes. While many today are impatient with the Bible’s apparent lack of forceful denunciation of slavery, they fail to recognize that the Bible is thoroughly opposed to slavery from beginning to end. Yet like many other things that arise from the darkness of men’s hearts, the Bible also prescribes pastoral instruction and care for those caught up in social injustices. Nowhere is this precept seen more clearly than Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:3-9 regarding the issue of divorce. The Bible does not condone or prescribe divorce, but it does regulate it and mercifully offer it to protect those suffering under the hardness of men’s hearts.

Beyond this, the Bible’s pastoral exhortations to slaves and masters or employees and employers instruct us how to do our work, no matter what the conditions, “as unto the Lord.” And it reminds us that there are, in fact, a great many people who are enslaved through human trafficking — 40+ million in 2018 — and that the Church must work tirelessly, evangelically, and socially, to eradicate this great evil.

These are all important applications, but above all, the Bible’s instruction to Christian slaves illustrates how we are to serve our Lord. We delight in calling Jesus our Savior, and rightly so. But if He is our Savior, then He is also our Lord. Christ delivered us from the slavery of sin, but as Christians we are His bond-servants, transferred from one kingdom to another. Paul points this out explicitly in 1 Corinthians 7:23

For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise, he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ.

One ancient pastor drives this point home, commenting on Paul’s instructions to slaves from 1 Timothy 6:1-2.

But if he exhorts servants to render such implicit obedience, consider what ought to be our disposition towards our Master, who brought us into existence out of nothing, and who feeds and clothes us. If in no other way then, let us render Him service at least as our servants render it to us. Do not they order their whole lives to afford rest to their masters, and is it not their work and their life to take care of their concerns? Are they not all day long engaged in their masters’ work, and only a small portion of the evening in their own? But we, on the contrary, are ever engaged in our own affairs, [yet] in our Master’s hardly at all. –John Chrysostom

Join us this Lord’s Day, January 13, as we examine what the Bible has to say about slavery, slaves and masters and consider what this means for us today. 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 you and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Constant Growth

Constant Growth

We all know the story of the tortoise and the hare – and its lesson.  Slow and steady wins the race.  Careful, measured, chipping progress often proves more effective than bursts of sound and fury.   The turtle is a symbol of this truth.  But the turtle has another notable quality worth envying.  Turtles will grow continuously, unless limited by environmental factors.  While their growth slows, turtles live long and large.   Unlike humans, they never reach a period of optimal maturity and then settle in for a long physical decline.  Scientists have noted that the organs of centenarian turtles differed little from young mature ones.  Like they way the move, slowly and steadily, they also grow — slowly and steadily.

We long for constant growth.  We spend lots of time, effort, and money searching for ways to reverse or slow the effects of aging, while turtle’s bodies do not decline from age.  Much like rings in a tree, turtles add rings to their shells as they age, but their bodies remain strong and growing.  We would love to see this kind of growth in our intellect, strength, and investments.  But, alas, there are few areas of human life that experience this kind of steady, constant growth.

The good news is that we can experience constant growth in the area that matters most – our spiritual life.  While physically we mature and then decline, the Bible sets no such expectation on our spiritual lives.  The exhortation we see in scripture is one of constant growth in godliness and spiritual maturity.   Though it may look more like a sine-wave than a positively sloping line, our spiritual growth should trend continually upward.   The Holy Spirit has given us many gracious means, such as bible reading, prayer, worship, fellowship, service and stewardship, that never lose effectiveness no matter how old we become.  Spiritual plateaus or declines should never be the norm, but only temporary occurrences.   They are warnings to get back to the means of grace given by the Spirit.

One of the most remarkable, but often overlooked, passages in the Gospel of Luke is the story of the boy Jesus in the Temple, listening and interacting with the great teachers of the Law.   This story is book-ended by two statements about Jesus growing in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.  Indicative of Jesus’ humanity was his progress – physically, mentally and spiritually.  Though morally perfect and without sin throughout his life, in his human mind and soul, he grew and developed in his understanding and in his faith.   Orthodoxy has always taught that Jesus’ mind and soul was a true mind and rational soul.  Though in him we find the inexplicable union of divine and human natures in one person, his human mind and soul were like ours, only not encumbered by sin.  For this reason, this passage teaches us two important truths — to expect continuous growth in our spiritual lives and to diligently use the means Spirit has given us to fuel this growth.

Join us this Lord’s Day, January 6, as we examine the story of the boy Jesus in the temple and consider what it teaches us about growing in grace.  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 you and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Assembly Required

Assembly Required

When my older children were small, gifts from mom and dad would often come with the disclaimer – “some assembly required,” three words that can be loosely translated, “frustration ahead.”  Christmas Eves became all-nighters, as I contended with the angst of too few screws or the uncertainty of too many, as I grappled with the apparent difficulties of translating Chinese instructions into English, and as I labored tediously through my own mechanical ineptitude.

Now, however, the work of getting parental gifts ready for use has shifted from Christmas Eve to Christmas Day, as the digital world has replaced the mechanical one.   I spend hours setting up accounts, reviewing permissions strategies, implementing parental controls and tightening, loosing and then tightening access again to internet sites and app stores.  Then, once all the prep work is done, the gifts must be integrated into the business of living.  The children and I must launch out into the brave new world of when, how, and how long you can, may and should use these gifts.  This is nothing new of course.  Any gift can radically change your life if you use it.  But this change does not happen overnight.  We have to learn how to wrap our lives around that gift.

If this is true of the consuming power of digital gifts such as a smart phone, tablet or computer, consider how much more it is true of the greatest gift we can receive – the gift of a Savior.  That gift changes everything about how we live, who we are, and where we are going.  When we receive Christ, we must wrap not only our minds, but our lives around Him.

The story of the coming of Christ in the Incarnation is the most dramatic story ever told.  While it reaches a beautiful high point with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, there is much, much more to this story – a story that has its origins in eternity past and its implications in eternity future, a story of epic failure and dramatic rescue, a story that reveals a God who is quite different from the one our fears imagine.  It is a story that engages us every day, and in every way imaginable.  Consequently, when Luke writes the account of Jesus birth in his gospel, he does not simply pan out from the manger and slowly fade the story from the image of Mary pondering and treasuring in her heart.   He gives two more vignettes of Jesus childhood which give deep insight into what it costs to receive Jesus into your life.

Join us this Lord’s Day, December 30, as we examine the first of these stories – the story of Jesus’ dedication in the temple and the words of Simeon and Anna as we consider what it means to wrap our lives around the gospel.  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 download the order of service. Come with a friend you and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

 

Unlikely Converts

Unlikely Converts

Nothing keeps Christ in Christmas like our annual viewing of The Lord of the Rings.  Now before you accuse me of sarcasm or heresy, consider that Tolkien’s Christian worldview shines brightly through every line of his books as well as through all twelve hours of the extended versions of Peter Jackson’s adaptation.  Against all odds, as the irresistible darkness, oppression and malice of a Dark Lord covers the world in shadow and sorrow, salvation comes to the ruined race of men from the most unlikely of heroes.   Like all great epic tales, great odds are overcome and great courage is exercised as common men perform uncommon deeds.

Tolkien’s magnum opus is filled with many nuggets of wisdom, spoken at salient points.  In one exchange, the main character, Frodo laments, “I wish the ring had never come to me,” as bearing it had become unbearable.  His friend, Gandalf responds, “So do all who live to see such times.  But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’”  But not all the quotable quotes have such gravitas.  Gimli, a dwarf, who provides no end of comic relief, quips when facing the prospect of a futile frontal assault on the Dark Lord’s stronghold, “certainty of death, small chance of success – what are we waiting for?”

The Lord of the Rings is a powerful story of courage, friendship, and redemption, eclipsed only by what its author once called “the only true myth” – the gospel.  The gospel is a story that is so unlikely, in which common men, empowered by faith, perform uncommon deeds and in which the ruined race of men is gloriously redeemed by a mighty hero, who took on the form of a servant and humbled himself, even to death on a cross.   The gospel is a story of unlikely converts, not of men whose moral excellence made them acceptable to God or earned his favor, nor men of power whose mighty deeds destroyed the power of their great enemies, death and the devil.  No, the gospel is a story of the weak and powerless, snatched as burning brands from the fire.

Nowhere is this seen more powerfully than in Luke 2 – a passage sometimes called, “the Christmas story.”   Here the Lord of glory is born into quiet obscurity while the only announcement is given to shepherds, the most despised and outcast class of society.  These enigmatic shepherds were the most unlikely of converts — men who were notoriously under suspicion, who were rejected from temple worship due to their habitual and ritual uncleanness, and whose word was not acceptable in the courts.  If anyone had hope to receive God’s goodwill and favor because of their works it was not these men.

Yet these were the men to whom God announced, “for unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  Unto “you!”  No one gave these men anything, but unto them God had given a savior!   Luther once wrote that “the gospel is in the personal pronouns.”  Like them, if we hope to receive God’s goodwill and favor because of our works, then we are sorely mistaken.  But the good news is that a savior has been born to us, Christ the Lord.  For you see, we are all the most unlikely of converts!

Join us this Lord’s Day, December 16, as we examine the story of the shepherds in Luke 2 and consider God’s powerful plan to save the most unlikely of converts.  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 you and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Making Preparations

Making Preparations

No day of the year requires more preparation than Christmas.  The demands of the season have become increasingly prodigious.  We must find just the right gift for all our friends and relations, synchronize calendars so that all events can be attended, and devise elaborate culinary plans for nearly six weeks of feasting.   And then there is the decorating which gets earlier and earlier every year as it gets more and more sensational.

The first mile marker on the road to Christmas for our family is the baking of the Christmas Cake.  Inspired by an episode of All Creatures Great and Small, Isabella bakes the cake in mid-October then methodically feeds it brandy for the next two months.   There is no rushing the Christmas Cake.  Some things cannot be hurried.  The preparation must be slow and intentional.  Every step is important.  No shortcuts are possible.  And at last, after months of waiting, the day arrives just before Christmas when the cake can be iced and enjoyed with great fanfare.

I suppose it makes sense that our Christmas preparations are slow and methodical, unfolding step by step.   Since the great event our celebration signifies, the incarnation of Jesus Christ, was also slow and methodical, revealed step by step in the history of God’s redeeming work among men.   The Bible puts it this way.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. Galatians 4:4-6.

God took His time.  He worked in the fullness of time.  He could have done things differently, but He sovereignly chose an unhurried pace to prepare men for His work of reconciling them to Himself.   From generation to generation He raised up men and women through whom He acted to remind us that He is not powerless or unconcerned to save us from ourselves and prepare us to receive Him as our Savior and King.   But how careful have we been to heed this preparation?  Or have we spent more time preparing  for mere signs of His grace than the grace those things signify?

One ancient preacher warned his congregation before observing the Lord’s Supper.

“Why come ye to this table, if you will not come to Christ?   Why come to signs and seals and despise the very thing they point to?”  

We could ask ourselves the same thing.  Have we spent months preparing for Christmas, but have no time for Christ?  John the Baptist was the great preparer – the forerunner of Jesus.  His life’s work was to “make ready for the Lord a people prepared.”   At his birth friends and neighbors gathered to celebrate his parent’s joy, they speculated on what the baby would grow up to become.

As his father’s unbelief gave way to belief, the Lord restored his speech and he uttered a long-delayed word of blessing.  But his blessing and thanksgiving were not about his baby boy, but about the one his son would herald.   John’s whole life would singularly revolve around preparing himself and others for Jesus.  And Jesus would later declare that of all those born of women, John was the greatest.   Nowhere is John’s greatness seen more brilliantly than in the following exchange with a Pharisee in John 3.

And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Can you say that?  Are you content to decrease, that Jesus may increase?  Does your life revolve around preparing yourself and others to love, serve and follow Jesus?   Join us this Lord’s Day, December 9, as we examine the account of the birth of John the Baptist in Luke 1:57-80 and consider our own calling to prepare ourselves and others for 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. Or download the December 19, 2018 Order of Service

Come with a friend you and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Gift Giving

Gift Giving

Christmastime is a season marked by many beloved and enduring traditions. But no ritual dominates American Christmas celebrations like gift giving. Thirty percent of all retail sales in the United States occur between Black Friday and Christmas. This amounts to a staggering $717,000,000,000 in sales. That breaks down to a little over $1,000 per consumer. For many of our friends and neighbors this means going to great lengths financially, incurring substantial debt.

The pressure to find the right gift can be enormous. For some on your list, perhaps the token box of chocolate covered cherries or a bag of holiday blend coffee nicely discharges a sense of seasonal obligation, but for friends and family, gifts must reveal the givers intimate perception of the receiver’s preferences and desires. While men love to receive a gift card for anything, woe to the insensitive husband who gives one to his wife. Men, the scripture commands us to “dwell with our wives according to knowledge.” (1 Peter 3:7) That means, you need to get her something that aptly reflects her preferences and desires – not a gift card. She expects you to know her well enough to be decisive about her gift. And so we go to great lengths to find and give the right gift to our beloved.

The preciousness of a gift reflects the preciousness of the relationship it celebrates. The home-made gifts of children are precious to their parents, because they are gifts of their love, creativity, and generosity. It is a gift that is invested with who they are. How precious are the gifts we give? Is our goal in gift giving to discharge a seasonal responsibility or to celebrate the preciousness of our love for others? It is worth noting that the whole tradition of giving gifts is commemorative. It commemorates the gift that we have been given the Incarnation – as the eternal, divine Son of God takes upon himself a human nature to give to us the gift of faith and life.

We think we know the story. We think we understand this gift, but the fullness of what God has done for us in the gospel is incomprehensible. Apostle Paul called it “the mystery of godliness, Christ Jesus manifest in the flesh.” When the Archangel Gabriel announced the Virgin Mary of God’s plan to make her the mother of the Messiah, his explanation of this mystery was mysterious.

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.”

But the angel’s point was not to explain the mechanics of Mary’s pregnancy, but the nature of our Savior. Jesus would be fully God and fully man, possessing a human nature, but not a fallen nature. Jesus alone would be capable of rescuing us from ourselves, able to stand in our place, and alone able to bear the weight of God’s justice that we might experience God’s mercy.

The story of the Virgin Birth is not just a story about God’s ability to do miracles, but it reveals to us the preciousness of God’s indescribable gift. Mary’s perplexity pulls back the curtain to allow us to glimpse the glory of Christ. God did not give us a token gift, but he gave a most precious gift. We read in scripture that “God did not withhold from us his only Son, but gave Him up for us all. How will He not give us all things in Him?”

The poet Luci Shaw captures beautifully the paradox of the Incarnation in her poem, Mary’s Song.

Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen to my arms. (Rest …
you who have had so far to come.)
Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
whose vigor hurled a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.
His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world. Charmed by doves’ voices,
the whisper of straw, he dreams,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed who overflowed all skies,
all years. Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught
that I might be free, blind in my womb
to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.
Luci Shaw

Join us this Lord’s Day, December 2, as we examine Gabriel’s announcement to Mary in Luke 1:26-38 and consider the greatness of God’s gift to us in the gospel. 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 you and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Breaking the Silence

Breaking the Silence

Every actor, every game-show host, every news anchor, and every preacher knows the importance of the dramatic pause. It heightens anticipation, it calls hearers to attention, it makes the heart race. It dials up the emotional intensity to the gravity of the word it so intently awaits. It is that silence which, for a moment, haunts the psyche of hearers as they struggle to predict or prepare for the coming word, suspended dreamlike between terror and hope. Such is the power of silence. It is hope, fear, uncertainty, disappointment, expectation all compressed by a sonic vacuum.

But what happens when that pause is more than a few fleeting seconds? What if that dramatic pause goes on for hours or days or weeks. Many couples have experienced the emotional estrangement that comes from a famine of words. Without the nourishing words of assurance, love and comfort, silence imputes motives that arise out of our worst fears and harshest assessments of those we love. But the silence of our beloved is nothing when compared to the silence of God. We can observe this keenly in the words of Psalm 22, a prayer which resonated on the lips of Christ upon the cross.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? Psalm 22:1

The songwriter, Andrew Peterson, expresses the tension this silence from God creates in our lives.

It’s enough to drive a man crazy; it’ll break a man’s faith
It’s enough to make him wonder if he’s ever been sane
When he’s bleating for comfort from Thy staff and Thy rod
And the heaven’s only answer is the silence of God

It’ll shake a man’s timbers when he loses his heart
When he has to remember what broke him apart
This yoke may be easy, but this burden is not
When the crying fields are frozen by the silence of God

And the man of all sorrows, he never forgot
What sorrow is carried by the hearts that he bought
So when the questions dissolve into the silence of God
The aching may remain, but the breaking does not
The aching may remain, but the breaking does not
In the holy, lonesome echo of the silence of God.   

The Silence of God, Andrew Peterson

Those final words are powerful. The man of all sorrows, he never forgot, What sorrow is carried by the hearts that he bought. Jesus — the Word made flesh — was born to speak God’s love, mercy and comfort into a dramatic silence that had lasted 400 years. God was not dead, not absent, not unconcerned, not idle. From before the foundation of the world, He had been bringing history to this point. “[When] the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law.” Galatians 4:4-5  The God of the Bible is a God that breaks the silence of fear, of sorrow, of uncertainty with comfort, joy and confident hope. He does this by sending His Son.

Zechariah knew something about the silence of God. As an aged priest, his whole life had been devoted to pleading for God to speak and to act on behalf of his people. How many years had he served God? How many he years had he prayed for the salvation of the Lord? How many thousands of times had he plead with God to redeem his people from the yoke of tyranny and sin? But where was an answer, any answer?

But Zechariah also had a personal plea. He and his wife, Elizabeth, had served God faithfully, but yet, God had closed Elizabeth’s womb. There was no child, no heir, no “sound of little feet that was the music they danced to week to week.” There was only stigma and silence from the God, whose service was their every thought and breath. Yet, silence is never the last word from God.

In the midst of this silence, Zechariah gets a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. He is called upon to offer prayers and burn the sacred incense before the most Holy Place in the temple. It would be easy to imagine how he might be tempted to doubt, yet it is in this very moment that God breaks His long silence. The dramatic pause is finished and the even more dramatic truth is spoken. All that God has promised is about to come about. The gospel, the good news, is revealed to Zechariah. And Zechariah, whose life had been a silent witness to the silent God, becomes the silent instrument God chooses to make known his broken silence in the gospel.

Join us this Lord’s Day, November 25, as we begin a short series of lessons from Luke’s Gospel in Luke 1:5-25 and consider the power of the gospel to break the silence of God in our lives. 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. And here for our order of service.  Come with a friend you and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.