Choose Wisely

Choose Wisely

I admit it.  I am absolutely syncretistic in my speech.   Wherever I live, the local accent and expressions find their way into my own.    On a recent family movie night, an ancient VHS tape surfaced of a presentation I gave in 1988.   Two things were notable.  First, I had as many verbal ticks then as now.  And second, my accent – it was positively “down home” – vintage Georgia.    I am without a doubt a verbal chameleon.  Yet, this is true for most of us. 

The attitudes and expressions of those around us together with the images and phrases we’ve invited into our souls will bubble up to the surface of our lives through our speech.  Beyond accents, inflection and expressions, movies, books and music often implant phrases into our psyche that become mainstays of our expression.  Brando’s eerie mantra from Apocalypse Now – “the horror,” and Ham Porter’s refrain from The Sandlot – “you’re killin’ me Smalls,” are go-to phrases for me.   But a favorite is the admonition of the Grail Knight from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – “choose wisely!”

After navigating the “leap of faith from the Lion’s Head,” Indy enters into a shine to the Holy Grail, guarded by an ancient knight.   The room is filled with different cups — elaborate and simple, some of precious metals and jewels, others of simple wood or glass.   In order to save his father’s life, Indiana Jones must choose the one true Holy Grail from the vast display.  But the first choice must be the right choice, for the Grail Knight warns him.

“You must choose, but choose wisely, as the true grail will bring you life and the false grail will take it from you.”

Indy must choose a cup to drink.  He must drink.  No other option is on the table.  He must choose – and choose wisely.   Life or death hangs on the choice.

We see a similar picture come into focus in Jeremiah 25.   The prophet is told to take the “cup of the wine of God’s fury” and make all the nations drink from it.   It is no mild vintage.  It has no smooth flavor.  This wine is neither light-bodied nor flavorfully rich in tannins.  No hints of this or notes of that.  And it does not finish well.  It is hard drink.  The cup of judgement.   Those who drink it, drink it down to the dregs.   It has no mild or pleasant effect.  The drinker becomes raging drunk and violently ill.   Bold drinkers think they can handle this liquor, but it reduces them to complete stupor.   But what if men simply refuse this choice?  What if they will not drink.   Note what the Lord says.

Thus, the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it…. And if they refuse to accept the cup from your hand to drink, then you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts: You must drink!’” 

Jeremiah 25:15, 28

Not to drink is not an option.   And there is no milder vintage.  But is there another cup?   The cup is a common picture of God’s judgment in the Bible.   But scripture reveals a remarkable promise —  that God, himself, will graciously take the cup from us.

Therefore hear this, you who are afflicted,
    who are drunk, but not with wine:
Thus says your Lord, the Lord,
    your God who pleads the cause of his people:
“Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering;
the bowl of my wrath you shall drink no more; 

Isaiah 51:21-22

But what is more, God himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, drinks our cup for us.

Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, … he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”  …Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”

Matthew 26:36-42

And then He gives us another cup, a different cup – the cup of blessing which we bless.

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

Matthew 26:26-28

Jeremiah was told to take the cup of the wine of the wrath of God and to make all the nations drink of it.  But there is another cup.   For those who choose wisely — who trust in Christ, not in themselves, who acknowledge God’s righteous judgment of sin, yet plead for His mercy upon sinners, there is the cup of blessing.  The Grail Knight spoke more than he knew when he cautioned, “choose, but choose wisely, as the true grail will bring you life and the false grail will take it from you.”  What cup will you choose?  The cup of the fury of God’s wrath?  Or the cup of Christ?

Join us this Lord’s Day, July 12 as we examine Jeremiah 25:15-38 and consider the choice God sets before us between grace and judgement.  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 join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP.

Adulting

Adulting

Language is never static.  It always has a backstory.  Languages are living things, constantly changing to reflect a culture.   Like rings on a tree, linguistic change charts cultural change.  Words indexed to outdated ideas or behaviors become, ‘archaic.’  And new words are created to reflect cultural realities our forefathers could not have imagined.   This process can occur very quickly, especially as technological change accelerates the use of jargon.    The English language grows most prolifically by the addition of new verbs formed out of of old or proper nouns.   For example, we ‘google’ and we ‘message’ – and we ‘adult.’   As accessories to these ‘nouns gone verbal,’ we add the corresponding gerund – e.g. “adulting.”

The recent proliferation of the new word, “adulting,” demonstrates well how language grows to communicate changing social mores.  The Urban Dictionary defines “adulting.”

Adulting (v): to carry out one or more of the duties and responsibilities expected of fully developed individuals (paying off that credit card debt, settling beef without blasting social media, etc). Exclusively used by those who adult less than 50% of the time.

Laura Shear offers an insightful critique of the word ‘adulting’ and the idea behind it, in a blog post entitled, Growing Up Vs. Adulting.  She notes.

These days, evolving into an adult appears to be less a reality than a choice. Young people in their late teens and early twenties flirt with adult-like behavior, try it on for size, or push it off a few more years. When they embrace it, they post it.  It’s all right there on their Instagram feed: paying off a credit card, changing the oil in the car, roasting a turkey… #adulting.

Amidst this rapidly changing social landscape, millennials and Gen Z kids are reinventing what it means to mature. And, crucially, when it happens. Studies show that the trajectory of childhood into adulthood has lengthened, making room for a new, relatively prolonged adolescence…. Researchers have labeled this new life stage “emerging adulthood.”

To practice adulting, you don’t actually have to be an adult.  You only have to play-act at responsibility long enough to make the post.  When “adulting” becomes mundane or challenging, we can step out of the hashtag.   Adulting gives us the perfect cover for evading hard things.  While older generations tend to criticize Millennials for their lengthened “trajectory of childhood” and their “ambivalence about adulthood,” it is at the core of mankind’s fallen, sinful nature to avoid responsibility.   We love to take cover in immaturity and irresponsibility, but faith calls us to grow, mature and to take responsibility.   The scriptural remedy for sinful failure is confession and repentance, not excuse making.   Christians take responsibility for sin, even if we have a good excuse.

The men of Jeremiah’s day tried to avoid responsibility.  For forty years the prophet pronounces the sin of the people of Judah and God’s threatened judgment.   They lived with their backs to God, but Jeremiah calls them to turn back.   When they do actually listen, they make excuses, but never repent – they never accept responsibility for their sin.   It is always someone else’s fault.   And eventually, they no longer even listen.

In Jeremiah 24 we encountered the doctrine of election.  As Nebuchadnezzer subjugates Judah, God gives Jeremiah a vision of good and bad figs.  Through this vision God declares that he has chosen some for destruction and others for deliverance.   Though they all deserve, judgement, God determines to be merciful to some.  Our reaction to this doctrine of grace should be relief, but too often it is evasion.

Paul anticipated this when he discussed election in Romans 9.   He points out that God, “has mercy on whomever He wills, and He hardens whomever He wills.”  Then immediately writes, “you will say to me, ‘Why then does he still find fault?  For who can resist His will?”  God’s sovereign decrees are never a theological excuse to evade responsibility for our sin.   When we look at Esau, Judas, and Pontius Pilate in scripture, we see men who had chance after chance to repent and turn back.  Yet they freely rejected Christ, despite many warnings.   Scripture presents two complimentary truths.  God is sovereign and we have real, free will.   It is a mystery, but it is true.  No matter what God decrees for us, we are responsible for our own sin.  Jeremiah 25 points to this truth in a remarkable way in regards to the pagan King Nebuchadnezzer. 

“Therefore, thus says the Lord of hosts: Because you have not obeyed my words, behold, I will send for…  Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants…. This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the Lord.”

Though he did not know it, Nebuchadnezzer is God’s servant.  In his free, wicked actions, he serves God’s purpose.  But this does not absolve him of responsibility for his atrocities.   God sovereignly decrees his conquest, but also holds him responsible for the sinful way he went about it.   In this same way, we cannot say, “it does not matter how I live, God will do what God will do.”  The doctrine of election is not fatalism.   It does not destroy the accountability of free moral agency that God has given to men.   We will be held accountable for our sin.  We cannot blame others.  And we certainly cannot say of God, “why does he still find fault?  For who can resist His will?”

Jeremiah called to the men of his day and us to repent.  “Turn now, every one of you, from [your] evil way and evil deeds… Do not go after other gods to serve and worship them, or provoke [God] with the work of our [your] hands.”   When God declares our sin, it is not enough to merely ‘adult.’  No, it is time to take responsibility through confession, repentance, and faith. 

Join us this Lord’s Day, July 5 as we examine Jeremiah 25:1-14 and consider the call to take responsibility through confession and repentance.  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 join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP.

The Horrible Doctrine

The Horrible Doctrine

In a recent study, Steven D. Levitt (of Freakonomics fame) discovered that people who decided to make major life decisions — quitting a job, getting engaged, getting divorced — were happier than those who took no action, and stuck with the status quo.  But what he also discovered was that, for many, the decision to shake up their lives was not the result of careful thought and deliberation. It was the result of a coin toss.   Would you decide to change jobs or relationships with a coin toss?  Or bet everything you have on the flip of a coin?

Most of us despise nothing more than for our success or failure, gain or loss, salvation or condemnation to be wholly dependent on others or, even worse, mere chance.   Despite its wretched theology, we tend to resonate with William Ernest Henley’s poem Invictus as he rages, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”  Yet we don’t have to live very long to recognize the delusion in this mantra.  

We are not so free as we like to believe.  And fate and evolution, to which so many ascribe, are, indeed, horrible doctrines.  Outcomes ruled by nothing more than time and chance destroy all hope of meaning, purpose, and lasting significance.  But at least victimization at the hand of impersonal time and chance, gives us little room to legitimately complain of injustice.  All we can say is “these things happen.”

But what if the decision that ordains and decrees the outcome of our lives, both temporally and eternally is made by a personal, all-powerful God without reference to our foreseen merit or demerit or consideration of our favorable or unfavorable circumstances?   On the surface such an idea is repugnant.  Though he taught it, Calvin labeled this a Decretum Horribile, or “horrible doctrine.”  Yet, this is exactly what the Bible describes as it unfolds the doctrine of election, and its theological corollary, reprobation.   Biblical support for these doctrines is copious.  But perhaps no passage is clearer than Romans 9:10-23

And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory

Romans 9:10-23

In the middle of Paul’s great exposition of grace, we find this “horrible doctrine.”  A doctrine which, in our pride, tempts us to accuse God of injustice, of being the author of sin, and of commanding apparently useless tasks such as evangelism or intercessory prayer.  In our hubris, election and reprobation are indeed “horrible doctrines.”   

Yet as we carefully consider what the Bible says about the total depravity of our fallen condition, these “horrible doctrines” soon become “doctrines of grace.”  Every aspect of our lives is affected by the guilt and presence of sin.   “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)   Were God to base His decision to save on anything in us, we would be hopelessly doomed.  

The early American pastor, Jonathan Edwards, once declared, “we contribute nothing to our salvation except the sin that made it necessary.”  And Jesus taught that “unless a man is born again [from above] he cannot see the kingdom of God.”    Those horrible doctrines, which at first fill us with indignation and accusation toward a Holy, Sovereign God, become gracious doctrines when the Holy Spirit enables us to see the depth of our sin.  

In scripture, these doctrines are always proclaimed to offer us assurance, not fill us with hopeless dread.  Such is the case in Jeremiah 24.   As the long-threatened judgment begins to unfold.  Nebuchadnezzar captures and conquers the land of Judah.  God gives the prophet a vision of two baskets of figs.   Through this vision, God declares his intention to save and restore some but to judge and condemn others, giving hope to the hopeless and warning to the heedless.  

On what basis do you appeal to God for his mercy?  Is it your works?  Your circumstances?  Your piety?   Is it enough?   Or is your hope in something much more solid?  Only in the calling and election of God is there assurance.   Have you answered His call? 

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out….  this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

John 6:35-40

Join us this Lord’s Day, June 28 as we examine Jeremiah 24 and consider the doctrines of election and reprobation – doctrines of grace, not horrible doctrines.  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 join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP.

Spotting the Fake

Spotting the Fake

Fake news is not new.  It was not invented by Russian hackers or media moguls during the 2016 Presidential campaign.   Fake news has been around since man first listened to the “Father of Lies” in the Garden.   News reporting is always saddled with some level of intentional or unintentional, benevolent or malevolent bias.  That news media has always been funded by advertising should make this obvious.  Persuasion is at the heart of most of our words, but unhinged from moral restraint, persuasion quickly descends into exaggeration, mis-construal and flat-out lying.

Fake news is not new.  What is new is that no one seems to care if their news is fake.  Fake news is no longer ‘news worthy.’  The mantra of post-modernity, “true for you, but not for me” has given way to a lack of concern for truth, so long as the story is moving.  The cardinal value for today’s man is emotional resonance not intellectual verity.  Does it grip me?  Does it grab me?  Does it move me?  These are the questions that have replaced, “Is it true?”  Neil Postman’s prophetic book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, rightly predicted a society in which “truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.”

But man was not created to live in society where truth is drowned in irrelevance.  Truth exists – absolute truth, truth that is revealed and not discovered.  Without this truth there can be no beauty, joy, peace, redemption, mercy, forgiveness, justice or love – only “how I feel.”  Without this truth there is never any “us,” only a “me.”  Truth matters.  But can we spot what is true and what is false? 

Back in my school days, my classmates clamored for quizzes that were True/False.  The logic was simple. It gives us a 50/50 chance.  But who wants to get 50% on a test?   I despised True/False quizzes.  Give me an essay question any day rather than statements that, if properly or improperly qualified, had so many caveats that truth or falsity was murky.   None of us are as good with True/False questions as we like to believe.   We do a poor job at spotting the fake.  Game shows, icebreakers, and fashion counterfeiters have abundantly proven this point.

Gullibility and a love for the sensational makes us easy prey for deceptive news.   We scroll over a shocking headline on social media and, without any credibility filtration, share it copiously.  Only later realizing that our integrity has just taken a very public nosedive.   In an article from the Freedom Forum Institute, Samantha Smith offers a quick guide to spotting fake news.  She warns us to check out sources, resist click-bait, look carefully at an article’s URL, compare the story with reputable news sources, beware of sloppy writing and the absence of quotes, and use media literacy sites such as snopes.com or factcheck.org.  Nothing she says amounts to rocket science, but the simplicity of her analysis shows how easily we can be duped.    But if we are so easily deceived regarding things that can be seen and verified, what about eternal and spiritual truths?

Jeremiah expressed himself most in lamentation.   Reading Jeremiah is exhausting.   The weeping prophet laments the coming judgement of God, the idolatry of the people, the oppression of the powerful, and even the wasting of the land because of the sin of the people.   But Jeremiah’s greatest lament was for the deception of the people through the false prophets and lying priests, even though he knows the people love it that way.   In Jeremiah 21-23, the prophet offers a scathing rebuke to the kings of Judah for their unfaithfulness, then in Jeremiah 23:9, the prophet brings the hammer of God’s word down on the false prophets.  And in his rebuke, he offers his beloved people a warning. 

Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’ 

Jeremiah 23:16-17

Jeremiah pleads with the people to discern the false prophets, reject their message, and turn back to the Lord.   But this warning is for us, as well.  We live in a world brimming with false teachers who ‘despise the word of the Lord’ and say ‘it shall be well with you’ to those who stubbornly follow their own heart.’   Their teaching is a ‘dark and slippery’ path that leads to death.   How well can we spot the fake?   Can we discern a false teacher from a faithful one?   Have we loved truth or falsehood?   Are we wary of those who attempt to “heal our wounds lightly, saying ‘Peace, peace’ when there is no peace.”

Join us this week as we examine Jeremiah 23:9-40 and consider the prophet’s guidance regarding the sources, symptoms and solutions to the problem 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.   Or join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP.

Time for Change

Time for Change

In our family, the Fourth of July ushers in the year’s second half with watermelon, a far-flung fireworks pilgrimage and, of course, home-made ice cream.  We usually gather with family and friends on the Fourth to share our best home-made ice cream and patriotic recitations, capped off by a reading of the Declaration of Independence.   While we are all familiar with the famous Jeffersonian platitudes on human equality and self-evident truths, the real meat of the Declaration is found in the “decent respect to the opinions of mankind” which required our forefathers to “declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

The Declaration’s rationale and sense of compulsion is remarkable for its clarity.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and, accordingly, all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

The modern reader would do well to pay close attention to the “history of repeated abuses and usurpations” of the late King of England by which he abolished the free System of English Laws.  For the litany of his tyranny reads like it was ripped from today’s headlines.  The governmental overreach that drove our forefathers to pledge their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to resist is met in our day with sighs of resignation.    The Achilles Heel of any Republic is that it may easily throw off one tyrant for a more corrupt collective tyrant.   As John Adams noted.

“Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Our leaders are a reflection of “we, the people.”  Our rulers are not hereditary kings or vassals of some foreign power.   They are our vassals.  They reflect our interests and our character, good or bad.  In the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln observed that we have a government, “of the people, by the people, for the people.”  But what kind of people are we? 

Nothing is more devastating to the life of a nation than for its people to live with their backs to God.   Every nation has some king.   While that king may not be a monarch on a throne, nations are ultimately governed by what its people seek to serve.   As Judah drew near to the brink of destruction at the hands of the Babylonians, the prophet Jeremiah’s calls to turn back to the Lord fell on deaf ears.  Like their forefathers in Samuel’s day, Israel had forgotten that the Lord is their only King. 

Israel’s kings were not dynastic.  They ruled by the assent of the people.  The people were not hapless victims of tyranny.  Their kings, like ours, reflected their concerns and character.  Though God had graciously given them a wise and godly ruler in Josiah, their loves and lives longed for the idolatry of Manasseh.   

As Jeremiah called them to turn back, they sighed, “It is hopeless, for [we] have loved [foreign gods], and after them [we] will go.”  When Josiah died, the people sought out his sons, who looked more like their great-grandfather, Manasseh, than their father.   Jeremiah noted that prophets, priests and rulers ruled by lies and deceit, because “my people love to have it so.” (Jeremiah 5:30)   

Today, our nation is awash in anarchist fervor.  The cry goes up to tear down and overthrow.  But the tyranny that grips us is not the tyranny of presidents, senators, representatives, judges, governors, mayors, or police.  No, the tyrant that rules our nation is “we, the people” living with our backs to a gracious and loving God.   We have sought every king except the King of Kings and served every lord except the Lord of Lords.  Jesus struck a nerve when he declared, “everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin… [but] if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  John 8:34-36

Who rules your heart?  Who reigns over your strength, mind, and soul?  Where do you look for deliverance and freedom?  In Jeremiah 21-23, the enemy is at the gates.  God’s judgment is at hand.   After forty years of resisting God’s call to repent, Judah’s king finally seeks an audience with the prophet.  Zedekiah vainly hopes for a miraculous deliverance as in the days of Hezekiah. 

But Jeremiah offers only the gospel.   He calls out the sins of Judah’s kings, calls the people to repent, and points them to a new king – a king of righteousness, justice and peace, King Jesus.   We are facing God’s judgement.   We cry out for some miraculous deliverance and God offers the gospel.  Repent, trust in His grace, and serve a new King.   It’s time for a change.  It’s time for new leadership.  It’s time for a new King – King Jesus.

Join us this week as we examine Jeremiah 21-23 and consider what king we serve.  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 join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP.