War of the Words

War of the Words

It is not news that fake news is not new.  On October 30, 1938, CBS Radio presented Orson Welles’ adaptation of H. G. Wells’ classic story, “War of the Worlds.” Welles’ adaption unfolded the action of the story through a series of new-flash style interruptions to what appeared to be regular programming.  Listeners who tuned in after the program’s disclaimer panicked as report after report came in of a massive Martian invasion, replete with giant war machines and poison gas clouds. The first commercial break in the program came almost 30 minutes after the introduction, fueling the illusion of realism.  Before the program even finished, the studio was flooded with police and public outcry arose against the networks’ apparent lack of concern in reporting fiction as though it were truth.

Fake news is not new.  It did not arise from the smoked-filled back rooms or the nefarious political machines of the 2016 Presidential campaign.  Factual falsity in media is simply the immoral end of the bias spectrum.   Man’s words are always saddled with some level of intentional or unintentional, benevolent or malevolent bias.  Persuasion is at the heart of most of our words, but when it is unhinged from moral restraint, it descends into the murky realms of exaggeration, mis-construal and flat-out lying.

Fake news is not new.  What is new to us is that no one seems to care if their news is fake.  Fake news no longer inspires the public outcry that followed in the wake of “War of the Worlds.”  The mantra of post-modernity, “true for you, but not for me” has given way to an utter lack of concern for truth, so long as the story is moving.  As one preacher noted, “we are living in a post-truth era.”  Arguing over whether something is true for you or me, or whether there is absolute truth, or whether something is consistent with that truth is passé.    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 foresaw that an unquenchable thirst for entertainment, not discourse, would result in a society in which “truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.”

But man was not created to live in a post-truth society, with truth 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.  Just as fake news is not new, neither is a “post-truth” society.  The people of Israel at the time of the exile to Babylon loved lies more than truth.  God assessed and warned them by the prophet Jeremiah.

An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction; my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes? Jeremiah 5:30-31

The Greco-Roman world also loved entertainment more than truth.  So much so, that dramatic oratory and rhetoric were often found among the events at Greek Games.   It was into this environment that God spoke, through the Apostle Paul, to urge his young protegee, Timothy, to unmask the promoters of “fake truth” and to rightly divide the Scriptures, breathed out by God to make men wise unto salvation and to teach, rebuke, correct and train men and women in godliness, holiness, beauty and love.  This exhortation is no less needed today than it was in First Century Ephesus.

Join us this Lord’s Day, August 19, as we examine 1 Timothy 1:3-12 and consider God’s instruction to us to consider “what is truth” and “where can we find it?”    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 conversation. We look forward to seeing you there.

Behaving in Church

Behaving in Church

As a child, I remember thinking that no hour passed so slowly as the one that passed between the call to worship and the benediction.  When I got my first watch, it seemed to sputter and stall and stand stock still during the last 10 minutes of the sermon as the preacher would “continue to close.”   The fidgeties kicked in and my legs seemed to swing on their own and kick the pew in front of me involuntarily attracting the unwanted and sharp gaze of my father.  Learning to be still and attentive in church was a challenge.

One of our core values at River City Reformed Church is multi-generational ministry in which all ages study, worship, fellowship and enjoy life together.   We are a family of families worshiping together.   We are teaching our children to worship as they worship with us.  Yet, we realize what a challenge this can be, especially for parents with several young children or children that are not used to being in worship.  But learning to behave and be attentive is a process that does not begin with the call to worship and end with the benediction.  It is learned by living life together as families and as the church.  And, not surprisingly, learning to behave in church is not a problem just for children.  Often grownups need more instruction and training in this than little ones.

The New Testament includes several letters from the apostles addressing the scandals, heresies, and divisions that rocked various fledgling congregations.   These troubleshooting epistles are critical for us, because our scandals, heresies and divisions are not novel.  As Solomon well noted, there is nothing new under the sun.  Be we also need careful, proactive instruction in how we are supposed to behave as God’s household, the church.  A principle of parenting that has served our family well is that the most effective instruction is given in periods of non-conflict.

To this end, the Holy Spirit has given us three little letters from the apostle Paul – 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus – often styled, the Pastoral Epistles.   In these letters, the Lord instructs us in how we are to behave in church as we live in the household of God.  Join us this Lord’s Day, August 12, as we examine 1 Timothy 1 and begin to consider what the Bible teaches us about living life together in God’s household.    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 conversation. We look forward to seeing you there.

Moving Pictures

Moving Pictures

Occupational therapy!  That is what my CrossFit workouts resemble.  Occupational therapy teaches you how to do familiar things in a new and easier way in order to accommodate physical weaknesses or limitations.  I have come to accept that I am, almost without exception, the oldest guy in our CrossFit box.  I am the king of “modifications” and “scaled” workouts.  Rare is the WOD in which I can click Rx on my results.   One modification, I have yet to be able to make, however, is to get the rest of my Wod-mates to accept  that 80’s rock is the best music to set the pace for the workout.  My hips don’t hop, and the only pop I am concerned about is the pop in my knee.

One of my favorites from those BC days was Rush.  Their innovative musicality coupled with evocative lyricism resonated with me as a teenager.   A favorite album was Moving Pictures.  The album’s concept was the great power of poetry and music to tell moving stories through snapshots of life.  Probably all of us have been moved to sorrow, joy, reflection or action by an iconic song, picture or story.  But no story has more moving pictures than the story of redemption, unfolded in the Bible, with its themes of mercy and grace and good triumphing over evil.  The Bible is no mere moralistic litany, it is a living and active story of a mighty hero who through self-sacrifice and great power defeated the arch-enemy of all men, sin and death.  In every vignette, every chapter, this story is unveiled in moving pictures.

The story of David and Mephibosheth from 2 Samuel 9 is, perhaps, one of the most moving of these pictures. Mephibosheth was the last member of the family of King David’s arch-enemy and predecessor, Saul.  Mephibosheth’s father, Jonathan, and grandfather, Saul, were killed in battle on the same day.  In the ensuing chaos, Mephibosheth’s nurse dropped him, rendering him lame for the rest of his life.   He was a ruined man from a ruined house.  His name meant “shameful thing.” He was a fugitive and lived every day in the fear of being discovered and brought to judgment.   Yet David’s love for Mephibosheth’s father, Jonathan, awakened in him a desire to show God’s mercy to any remaining members of Saul’s family, for the sake of his friend.  David searches and finds Mephibosheth, restores to him his ancestral lands, and treats him as one of his own sons.  What a shocking and tender story of grace, kindness, and mercy.  The moving picture of David’s kindness to a poor, lame, ruined man reveals the even more moving picture of God’s grace, kindness, and mercy toward us, who spiritually speaking, are far worse off than Mephibosheth.

Matthew Henry says it well in summing up the story of David and Mephibosheth.

Now because David was a type of Christ, his Lord and son, his root and offspring, let his kindness to Mephibosheth serve to illustrate the kindness and love of God our Saviour towards fallen man, which yet he was under no obligation to, as David was to Jonathan. Man was convicted of rebellion against God, and, like Saul’s house, under a sentence of rejection from him, was not only brought low and impoverished, but lame and impotent, made so by the fall. The Son of God enquires after this degenerate race, that enquired not after him, comes to seek and save them. To those of them that humble themselves before him, and commit themselves to him, he restores the forfeited inheritance, he entitles them to a better paradise than that which Adam lost, and takes them into communion with himself, sets them with his children at his table, and feasts them with the dainties of heaven. Lord, what is man, that thou shouldst thus magnify him!

Join us this Lord’s Day, August 5, as we as we examine the moving picture of David and Mephibosheth and consider the greatest of God’s kindness toward 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 conversation. We look forward to seeing you there.

The Last Word

The Last Word

As a pastor, few things are harder than preparing for a funeral.  Not only are you sharing personally in the grief of beloved friends, but you are bearing the grief of precious sheep.   The gravity of speaking the last words of a person’s life and the urgency pressed upon us to declare the gospel are heavy weights on the mind and heart of a pastor.   Last words must declare the faithfulness and goodness of God while preparing those left behind to embark upon the voyage of grief.  What we say at the funeral must frame life and loss with the certainty of God’s goodness.

Especially poignant is the graveside.  In the quiet intimacy of the grave, we feel keenly the tension between a palpable sense of finality and a nagging certainty that there is more.   Andrew Peterson says it well.

This is not the end here at this grave
This is just a hole that someone made
Every hole was made to fill
And every heart can feel it still–
Our nature hates a vacuum

This is not the hardest part of all
This is just the seed that has to fall
All our lives we till the ground
Until we lay our sorrows down
And watch the sky for rain

There is more
More than all this pain
More than all the falling down
And the getting up again
There is more
More than we can see
From our tiny vantage point
In this vast eternity
There is more.  

Andrew Peterson, “More”

For the believer, death is not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning.  There is more. The last episode of the first book of the Bible recounts two funerals.  Genesis begins with “in the beginning” and ends with “in a coffin in Egypt.”  God began by speaking life and beauty into the world, but man’s sinful rebellion brought death and decay.  We see the great distance man has fallen.  Death seems to have gained the upper hand.  We might be tempted to despair over how things have turned out.  But this is not the last word.

The famous statement of God’s sovereignty in Gen 50:20, “what you intended for evil, God meant for good” is one of grace and promise.  Man’s evil is not the last word.  God’s goodness is the last word.  What man has experienced and intended for evil in his fallen, sinful rebellion, God has worked for good by sending a redeemer in the person of His Son, Jesus.

We see this explicitly in Acts 2 as Peter declares,

“this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”  Acts 2:23-24

This is the great exchange in the gospel; Jesus who bore our sins, Jesus who through our evil intentions and actions, brings us forgiveness, mercy, and life.  This is the last word! Don’t let sin and death be the last word in your life.  Jesus came to give life and life to the full.

Join us this Lord’s Day, July 29, as we conclude our conversations from the Book of Beginnings and consider how God always speaks the last word — a word of redeeming grace to ruined sinners.  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 conversation. We look forward to seeing you there.

Black Package

Black Package

We all have those friends or family members who pride themselves on “speaking their mind.”  While they think it a great virtue, we find it a grievous vice.  What they really mean by “speaking their mind” is that they feel free to give unsolicited and harsh criticism.  We try to ignore their callous rudeness, but the problem is that they are often right in what they say.   I call it truth in a black package.  I once worked with a senior engineer who was our official team curmudgeon.  His unsolicited invective toward younger coworkers was always pointed but spot on.   Whenever coworkers ignored his opinions because of the black packaging, they met with disaster.  In the same way, many ignore the gospel, because it comes wrapped in the black packaging of sin and repentance, only to meet with disaster that lasts forever.

As Jacob comes to the end of his life, he gathers his sons to speak a word of blessing.  When we look at his words, however, some look more like a curse than a blessing.  They are future blessing wrapped in the black package of their past sins.  He has hard words for his sons as he reminds them of their past failures, but also points them to a gracious future through the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises by a Savior.   At emotional times like these in our own lives, we are often tempted to define ourselves by our past unfaithfulness, but here Jacob reminds his sons that they are defined by God’s future faithfulness.   Like Jacob’s hard blessings, the gospel first speaks words of conviction to us and then comforts us with words of grace.  One ancient preacher said that it is the needle of the law which draws the thread of the gospel.

Join us this Lord’s Day, July 22, as we examine Jacob’s blessing of his sons from Genesis 49 and consider how the gospel speaks hard words of conviction and gentle words of comfort as God calls us to be his sons and daughters.  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 conversation. We look forward to seeing you there.

The Bike Man

The Bike Man

A common fixture in many small communities is the “bike-man.”   The bike-man is not a mechanic who fixes your mountain bike or performance racer, though he is certainly an able mechanic.  The bike-man is the man who trawls the neighborhoods and garage sales in town, looking for junked or nearly junked bicycles, to restore and sell for next-to-nothing to children who need a good bike, but can’t really afford one.  His mantra is “every child needs a bike and every bike needs a child.”  He is motivated not by profit or by challenge, but simply out of the desire to see things that are thrown away, restored to useful and joyful purposefulness.   The bike-man is an apt metaphor for the God of the Bible, in whose image he is made.  For the persistent theme of Scripture is God’s redemptive purpose to take men, women, boys and girls “thrown away” by sin, and to renew and restore them to useful and joyful purposefulness.  And more than that, to give them a home where they will be loved and valued and cherished.

One of the Bible’s great themes is that of adoption.  We are familiar with the power of an adoption story.  When a child is victim of tragic circumstance or is unloved or uncared for, orphaned and thrown away, how beautiful it is when a parent comes and adopts that child into their family to cherish and nourish.   When we adopt we become like the bike-man, taking those others have set out on the curb, restoring them to useful and joyful purposefulness, and giving them a loving family.    More importantly we become like our Heavenly Father who adopts us who were set out on the curb by our sinful rebellion, yet reconciled and adopted because of the finished work of the God’s only-born Son.  The scripture says that our God, is a “father to the fatherless, [who] sets the lonely in families” and that through faith we have “received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

As the story of Jacob draws to a close in the final chapters of Genesis, we see the first account of an adoption in the Bible.  Jacob adopts his two grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh.   These boys were not homeless or uncared for, but Jacob adopts them to include them in the promises of God and to give them a stake with God’s people.   Likewise, God graciously adopts us through faith in Christ that we might know and trust in His good promises of salvation and eternal life and so that we might throw in our lot with His family, the Church, and not with those who are alienated and estranged and orphaned from God’s grace and from real community.

Join us this Lord’s Day, July 15, as we examine Jacob’s adoption of Ephraim and Manasseh from Genesis 48 and consider the beauty and power of our adoption as sons and daughters of God.  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 conversation. We look forward to seeing you there.

Resident Aliens

Resident Aliens

In our family, the Forth 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 of 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 are met in our day with sighs of resignation.     One particular “abuse” caught my eye this year.

He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

Our forefathers were committed to the value of immigration as a way of strengthening, not weakening, society.   To be sure immigration has its dangers and needs effective policies, but, properly understood, its diversity strengthens the fabric of society and brings glory to God (Rev 21:24).    Resident aliens have great power to influence and effect society.   They bring their particular cultural strengths to the table, but also foster the distinctives of their homeland.  They are a part of society, without losing their identity.

The Church is to be like this – resident aliens, “an island of one culture in the middle of another.” (cf. Phil 3:20)   But it must never be merely an enclave.  For while the Church fosters the culture of its heavenly homeland, its calling is to transform its sphere of influence, not just “coexist.”  The Church is a colony of resident aliens gathered to “name the name, to tell the Story, to sing Zion’s songs in a land that does not know Zion’s God.”

The closing chapters of  Genesis chronicle the sojourning of Jacob’s family into Egypt where they become resident aliens.  We see in their immigration the paradigm and paradox of the Christian life as they are placed by God’s providence in the midst of pagan Egypt, yet called to remain distinct as God’s covenant children.   Join us this Lord’s Day, July 8, as we examine Genesis 47 and consider our calling to live as resident aliens.  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 conversation. We look forward to seeing you there.