Caring for the Caregivers

Caring for the Caregivers

There is no dismay quite like it.  That crushed look in the eyes of a child when they proudly present their latest masterpiece for mounting on the refrigerator and Dad asks, “what is it?”  “Can’t you tell?” responds a quivering little voice.  And immediately parental stammering and backpedaling begins.

I learned long ago, after many parental fails, to ask “tell me about this one?”  This little bit of painfully acquired wisdom has served me well.  As I visit with those who are suffering long-term illness and look at the pictures displayed around their homes – pictures that tell their story and that of their family — I ask “tell me about this one?”  Just as our children’s masterpieces are often unrecognizable to us, so the appearance of friends may become nearly unrecognizable as long-term sickness takes its toll.  I have noticed that even the best Hollywood makeup artists cannot quite capture the withering effects of prolonged illness.

But the one who is sick is not the only one who suffers.  Caregivers keenly feel the effects of their “labor of love.”   Often, I have asked a primary caregiver, “your loved one has you to care for her, but who is taking care of you?”  Sadly, more times than not the reply is “no one” — the caregiver had no caregiver.  And it shows.  Weariness of face and weariness of soul is hard to disguise.   And the effects are devastating.

But this is not only true for those caring for the physical needs of others.  The burdens of spiritual care are wearying to those who bear them.   Paul lamented that he wrote to the Corinthians “out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears.”  And in Romans, Paul wrote that he had “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” because of the unbelief of his fellow Israelites.  And in Colossians, we read of Epaphras who was frequently “wrestling in prayer” for his congregation.  Spiritual caregiving is strenuous and takes its toll on pastors and elders.  But who cares for the caregivers?  The answer Scripture gives is surprising.

In the Pastoral Epistles, Paul instructs Timothy in how the church is to behave as the household of God.  Following up on his commands regarding the support and care for widows, Paul gives important guidance about how the church is to care for its caregivers – its elders, especially those that labor in the word and in doctrine.

In the United States, on average, over 1700 pastors leave the ministry every year.  70% report suffering chronic depression and 80% believe that pastoral ministry has adversely affected their families.  Burnout is epidemic and extreme loneliness is characteristic.   Who is caring for these caregivers?  Paul’s admonition is that this is the collective work of the congregation.   Just as the congregation bears the burden of care for widows, who in turn have cared for the congregation, so the sheep are to provide care for the shepherds who have tended and fed the flock.

Join us this Lord’s Day, November 18, as we examine 1 Timothy 5:17-25 and consider the practical ways in which congregations care for their caregivers.  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.

Flood Stage

Flood Stage

The sheer power of water is unfathomable.  When it is raging, it sweeps away everything before it.  It overwhelms, inundates and immerses.  Among the repertoire of weather catastrophes, few are more dreaded than a flood.   In the past decade we have endured many powerful hurricanes, but in the wake of each, it was the flooding that brought the most sustained destruction, loss and suffering.   Floods both large and small are feared because of their irresistible power.  For this reason, we have gone to great lengths to control the effects of flooding.

But in the history of the world, floods often had a better reputation.  Ancient men, without the means of modern flood control, endured regular cycles of flooding.  But these floods were life-giving, nourishing the land so that it might bear food in abundance.   The “fertile crescent” was the result of this life-giving overflow of the banks of Middle Eastern rivers as new soil was deposited by the raging waters to renew land wearied by farming.   Flooding was often viewed positively in literary imagery as it is today.  For example, when we receive help, encouragement, empathy in a time of trial we say we were flooded with love and concern.    The Bible also uses the image of overflowing when it speaks in Luke 6 of giving.

… give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. Luke 6:38

Jesus also noted that it is “out of the overflow of the heart, that the mouth speaks” – a truth that comes with a warning that whatever floods our hearts will spill over onto those around us.   What is it that fills your heart?  What is it that spills over onto those around you?  What “heart-flood” will overwhelm, inundate and immerse your loved ones, friends, neighbors and even enemies?

Paul, writing to a young Timothy, instructs him carefully in how the church is to care for women facing disaster because of the death of their husbands.   More than any other issue of family life, Paul gives detailed instructions for the care of widows.  Widows and orphans were the most at-risk members of every ancient society, but God is a “defender of widows and a father to the fatherless” and his people are to “plead their cause” and care for them in their need – not as a substitute for the gospel, but as the overflow of the gospel.

When the gospel is carefully guarded through orthodox teaching, powerful prayer, biblical worship, and accountable leadership it will overflow those banks and result in a flood of intense and intensely practical love for our neighbors — love that provides, love that instructs and love that redeems.   Paul’s instructions regarding widows do not constitute a mere social gospel, but set the bar much higher, reflecting the truth later expressed by John that “we love because He first loved us.”   When our lives are filled with the deep, deep love of Jesus they will overflow with committed care for “the least of these.”   What about you?  Is your life in flood stage?

Join us this Lord’s Day, November 11, as we examine 1 Timothy 5:9-16 and consider the practical effects of living a life flooded by 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.

The Living Room

The Living Room

The old saying goes, “a man’s home is his castle.”  While there is some comfort in this, it is worth remembering that the primary architectural goal of a castle is to keep others out.  Castles have walls with battlements from which projectiles can be hurled and pots of boiling oil dumped on the heads of those who seek to gain entry.   A castle’s windows are designed for archers, not effective lighting.  And castles have moats – a feature that unequivocally says, “keep out, or else.”  Castles were not built for hospitality.  Castles were built to clearly draw the line between us and them.

The architecture of 1970’s Americana had an answer to this kind of bunker mentality.  It was called, the Living Room.  Not to be confused with the den, which was the private gathering spot for the nuclear family, the living room was a separate room designed and decorated for the reception of strangers.  This was the place where guests were received, where daughters were courted, and where outsiders became, for a brief time, insiders.  The Living Room served as a stone of remembrance that we lived in a world larger than just “us.”

Our society has grown increasingly divided, however.  We have our church groups, school groups, and various other groups.  And rarely do they cross-pollinate.  But this is not the normative expression of the Christian life.  Our faith must permeate, flavor and unite every realm of life.  We don’t hang up our Christianity on a hook at the back door of the church as we leave worship each week and only put it on again as we arrive the following Sunday.  The life of faith, modeled through our worship, is to be lived out in every sphere – our vocations, our avocations, and our families.  Like a living room, our faith forms the meeting place, the intersection, of all our little worlds.

In the New Testament, Paul wrote two letters to his young friend, Timothy, to instruct him in pastoral care.  To be sure, many of these instructions regarded doctrine, worship and organization within the local congregation.  But Paul also gave eminently practical instructions on questions of communication and family life, reminding Timothy and us that the gospel defines who we are, and what we are, everywhere that we are.

Join us this Lord’s Day, November 4, as we examine 1 Timothy 5:1-8 and consider how our faith informs some very practical matters of communication and family 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 you and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Knock Offs

Knock Offs

To say I was unpopular as a boy would be an understatement.   I wanted to fit in and find acceptance, but there were three significant strikes against me – I struggled with my weight, I loved to read the World Book Encyclopedia for fun, and I wore Trax shoes.   For those unfamiliar with vintage 80’s knock-off footwear, Trax were the K-mart Adidas want-to-bes.   But no one was fooled.   In a time when being a part of the “in-crowd” at school demanded the full complement of status symbols – Jordache, Izod and Adidas – wearing a K-Mart knock off was the worst of all possible worlds.

Discount stores finally figured this out and started producing their own distinctive, no-name brands.  At least a no-name brand says, “I don’t really care what you think; I’m more practical and not pandering to your good opinion.”  But the knock-off attracted all the wrong kinds of attention.   My father was trying to help, but as a child of the depression, he was oblivious to the narcissism of the age and the power of the status symbol.  He was far too practical (and wise) to spend beyond our means to purchase a logo.  But, alas, there was no anonymity for the wearer of Trax shoes.   Everyone knew you were trying to fit in but came up short.   No one was fooled by the knock-off.  It was important to be the real deal.

Authenticity is important.  We want this in our food, we this in our relationships, but what about our faith?  No outcry is more universally raised in reaction to Christians than the cry of “hypocrite.”   Once when the missionary E. Stanley Jones met with Mahatma Ghandi he asked him, “Mr. Ghandi, though you quote the words of Christ often, why is that you appear to so adamantly reject becoming his follower?” Ghandi replied, “Oh, I don’t reject your Christ. I love your Christ. It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ.”   No one is fooled by a knock-off.

The Apostle Paul in writing to Timothy pointed out the importance of authenticity for pastoral ministry.  He instructed him to preach the word, in season and out of season, but he also stressed the importance of living authentically as a follower of Christ before the believers in Ephesus.

… set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity… Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. 1 Timothy 4:12, 15-16

Walking the walk, makes our talk talk.   Just like Timothy, we are called to live authentically — our lives and doctrine corroborating one another.  Scottish pastor, Robert Murray M’Cheyne famously wrote.

“A minister’s life is the life of his ministry….  In great measure, according to the purity and perfections of the instrument will be the success. It is not great talents that God blesses so much as likeness to Jesus.  A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.”

Join us this Lord’s Day, October 28, as we examine 1 Timothy 4:11-16 and consider the importance of spiritual authenticity.  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.

Eating Well

Eating Well

My mother was the consummate Southern cook.  And my father was not an adventurous eater.  We had fried chicken twice every week, roast beef once, and never anything that might remotely be construed as ethnic food.   Every meal had white bread and some variety of gravy.  The metric of culinary success in our home was how well the meal satisfied the tastes of my father, not whether it was a significant source of nutrition.   As a consequence, I was a portly boy and my father labored to find husky, tough-skin jeans.

Americans spend considerable time and effort crafting food to please the palate, but little energy training the palate for food that will nourish.   We are familiar with the Hippocratic Oath which begins “first, do no harm.”  But Hippocrates is also reputed to have said, “let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.”

God has given us food ideally suited to nourish our bodies, protect us from sickness and promote healing.  He put our first parents in a garden with only one dietary restriction.  Adam and Eve were encouraged to eat everything except the one fruit which appealed to their sensual desire, but had no power to nourish.    Listening to flattering words and eating only to satisfy sensual desire brought unparalleled grief to our first parents – as it does to us.

Like food, the words we consume should nourish us.   Truth matters.   We were created to be nourished on a diet of God’s truth.  Only this brings spiritual health.  If we only consume spiritual junk food, then our souls are malnourished, and the diseases of unbelief and fear ravage our lives.   The Apostle Paul instructs his young friend, Timothy, that a good minister is not one who crafts palate-pleasing platitudes, but one who nourishes his people with biblical truth and warns them earnestly about the addictive allure myth, masquerading as spirituality.

Feeding and being fed on a diet of truth requires intentionality and discipline.     Paul wrote “train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”

Join us this Lord’s Day, October 21, as we examine 1 Timothy 4:6-10 and consider how best to feed our faith.  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.

Muddy Water

Muddy Water

I never liked to swim where I could not see the bottom.  Growing up in Georgia, our lakes and streams were usually murky.   Like the water used to rinse children’s paint brushes, our natural swimming areas always sported a milky, muddiness that left me fearing what might be lurking in the darkness, ready to nibble my toes or wrap itself around my legs.   We had special “old clothes” we would wear to such places, because once dipped in, they were beyond all hope of cleansing from the effects of a red clay baptism.    My own children do not have these concerns.  Our Arkansas swimming holes are quite different.  Infused with generous amounts of limestone worn away by the rushing streams, our natural pools sparkle with an electric blue clarity that invites and assures.  The clarity of the water gives hesitant children a clarity of perspective that nothing sinister waits beneath their feet.   When it comes down to it, none of us want to swim in muddy waters.

What is true of our swimming holes is also true of the ideas and experiences that shape who and what we are.  We all want clarity of perspective, but often we latch on to ideas or experience things that muddy the waters.  When we were children, everything was black and white.  Some cowboys were good and some were not.  It was simple to distinguish them because some wore white hats, while others donned black ones.   But then we realized that men in white hats sometimes committed black deeds and the waters got muddied.  Skepticism crept in regarding the people and the truths we thought were so clear.   As we sought clarity, we found murkiness.  Where would we look for truth?  Who can we trust?  As one ancient preacher mused, “the devil fishes in muddy waters.”

The enemy of our soul likes to muddy our waters.  His goal is to make us suspicious of truth, of one another and of God.  You don’t have to look very far in our world today and see that he seems to have had some success.  His favorite muddy fishing hole is false teaching and false teachers in the church.  Nowhere is doubt and suspicion more easily sown than in the very place which professes to be the pillar and buttress of the truth.  Yet Satan’s, strategies, though subtle are never surprising.  He always works in the same way.   He is never a bald-faced liar.  Jesus called Satan the father of lies and a liar from the beginning, but his lying is filtered through subtlety.  Like an evil chemist, he mixes healthful truth and poisonous deception.  He loves muddy waters.  God warns us of this time and time again, reminding us that His Word and Spirit bring clarity – that He is the Living Water.

Join us this Lord’s Day, October 14, as we examine 1 Timothy 4:1-5 to unmask Satan’s nefarious strategy by considering the sources, the content and the consequences of false teaching.  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.

Staying Focused

Staying Focused

As a boy, when I arrived home from school each day, two priorities dominated my agenda.  The first was to secure a snack — often something, not so healthy — and the second was to spend an hour watching television before diving into my homework – also not very healthy.   Ted Turner’s fledgling super-station curiously juxtaposed two cartoons starting at 3:35 – “The Flintstones” and “The Jetsons.”  One superimposed modern concerns, attitudes and lifestyles upon stone-aged men and women while the other superimposed futuristic technology and innovation upon contemporary concerns, attitudes and lifestyles.  The curious message of both cartoons was the same.  While the context of life changes radically, people are the same in every age.   The hopes, their problems, their needs are the same whether they are riding dinosaurs in the rock quarry or zipping around in spaceships.

Certainly, those of us who have lived very long have seen this.  People are people, even though the world today is radically different from the one in which we grew up.  We did not have computers, cell phones, video players of any type, remote controls, or even color television.  I was almost grown before I leaned that Gilligan’s shirt was not light grey.   The pace of technological change is staggering, as amazing discoveries are being made every day which fundamentally change our lives.   Scientific discovery is accelerating exponentially.   But the most important discovery sits outside the realm of science.

Curiously, every great discovery has been there all along, hiding in the cosmos and waiting to be uncovered through some unfolding chain of inquiry.  But the greatest truth, the one which affects the hearts and souls of men and women, is not discoverable.   It must be revealed.   This truth alone, expressed in the Christian gospel, has the power to change people from the inside out.  This truth has been entrusted to the Church, whose mission is to proclaim it.  While many great discoveries have improved the quality and quantity of human life, none of these have eternal impact.

But often the Church gets distracted and fails to keep the main thing the main thing.  Programs must be staffed and funded, buildings must be maintained, schedules must be managed, traditions must be observed, controversies must be addressed.  The church may pursue many good secondary things, but if not careful, it may lose sight of the first thing, the gospel.  No doubt Paul recognized this danger as he instructs Timothy how the church is to be organized, who is to do what, how worship is to be conducted, and how the needs of the congregation are to be met.   For this reason, he constantly reasserts the big picture in every discussion of details.   The structure of worship, the establishment of leadership and its qualifications, the concern to contend for truth, and to care for the marginalized all serve the same end – to declare the great mystery of godliness, revealed in the gospel.

Join us this Lord’s Day, October 7, as we examine 1 Timothy 3:14-16 to consider the importance of focusing our ministry as the Church through the lens of 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.