Under Pressure

Under Pressure

One of creation’s great wonders is water.   The earth and its inhabitants are made of it.   Unlike most matter, water rebels against convention as it moves from liquid to solid.   While most substances become denser when they freeze, water expands.    And in a world teeming with aquatic life, that difference is crucial.  Ice floats.   If it sank, aquatic life would be forced to the surface as lakes, ponds, and rivers froze, depriving plants and creatures of warmth and oxygen.  But in God’s remarkable design, ice floats, insulating and preserving aquatic life.

This past week, however, many discovered that what is a blessing to fish, is not so great for plumbing.   Added to the sounds of children sledding and car wheels spinning, was the groaning of pipes and the rushing of water.   The pipes under our house burst.   Or rather should I say, one pipe burst.   The rupture to a single span of copper pipe was only half an inch long.   Yet the force and volume of the leak was prodigious.  The sound was like the sound of many rushing waters.   The pressure required to get water from lake to tap is immense.  And in a frozen instant, that pressure can bring unbelievable destruction.

And, so it is with the circumstances of our lives.   We live under the pressure of uncertainty.  We try to prepare, to plan, to insulate and anticipate.   Yet we can never get it quite right.  We all think want to know the future.  That is, until we do.   The older you get, the more you realize that prescience is not a panacea.   Foresight, when we get it, frustrates because we rarely have the power to alter or avert what is foreseen.   Foreknowledge without omnipotence easily leads to paralysis.    A pastor once commented that “anxiety comes from an awareness of our finitude.”   Hence, we say “ignorance is bliss.”  Or as Wendell Berry expressed it through Port William resident, Mat Feltner, “The mercy of the world is that you don’t know what’s going to happen.”   But ignorance is only mercy if you know and trust the one who is neither ignorant nor impotent regarding the future.

Jesus’ message to the Church in Smyrna in the Revelation is remarkable.   It contains neither commendation, nor condemnation.   Jesus never says, ‘nevertheless, this I have against you.’   This brief message has but one message, “hold fast!”   No matter what comes, “hold fast!”  The pressures building against Christians in Smyrna were dire and intense.   And worse, they were betrayed by those who ought to have been brothers.    Jesus words are concise and succinct.   “Be faithful unto death.”   How would you like to receive this message?   No matter what happens do not break with your faith.  Do not turn away.   Do not compromise.   Rest in the Faithful One, the first and the last, who died and came to life.

Persecution comes in all different shapes, sizes, and intensities.  We do not get to pick our cross.  We are only instructed to pick it up and carry it.   Paul wrote to Timothy, “all who live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  (2 Timothy 3:12)   Perhaps that is not what you signed up for when you gave your life to Christ.  But there it is.   We may seek compromise to avoid it.  Or seek mere relief rather than peace.   But consider the words of Ralph Erskine.  ”Some may bless themselves they were never assaulted by the devil and yet they are but sleeping, as it were, in the devil’s cradle and he is rocking them.”

What is your response to persecution?  To the intense pressure that comes with taking up a cross and following Christ?   Where will you seek rest?  In the promises of the Faithful one or the devil’s cradle?  Join us this week as we continue our survey Revelation as we examine the message to the Church in Smyrna in Revelation 2:8-11 and its encouragement to persevere in the face of extreme pressure.

We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm at The Arkansas DreamCenter at 1116 Daisy L Gatson Bates Drive in Little Rock for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP or on YouTube.

No In-Person Worship for February 21, 2021

No In-Person Worship for February 21, 2021

Please pray for our host church, St. Andrew’s Church, Little Rock and their leadership. Their Sanctuary and the Commons, where River City Reformed meets, was damaged this week by weather related flooding due to broken water lines. 

Until repairs are completed we will not be able to meet at St. Andrews.  We are looking for a temporary location for in-person worship, but WILL NOT meet in person this Lord’s Day, February 21, 2021. You can join us online at  Facebook Live @RiverCityARP or on YouTube.

Stay tuned for more details on a temporary meeting location. When repairs are completed we will resume meeting from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info. 

Falling Out of Love

Falling Out of Love

How did you celebrate Valentine’s Day?  We spent it huddled inside as Snowpocalypse 2021 descended.  Our family celebration with its hand-made cards and home-made fondue is postponed until the Winter Storm Warning expires.   But we do not need a day on the calendar, and more importantly, we must not wait for a day on the calendar to express love for loved ones.   

Roses, chocolates, and Hallmark cards are not to be despised.  That is unless that is all there is.    Our love must never be a casual thing.  We speak of “falling in love” and “falling out of love” as though it is a sickness or spontaneous whim.    But whirlwind romances lead to precipitous marriages then often to heartbreaking divorces as men and women follow only their heart’s desire.  

But love is not a thing to be fallen into or out of.  It grows out of commitment and grows into even greater commitment.   We don’t make vows to love one another so long as we both shall “feel like it.” Do you remember your wedding vows?  Perhaps you remember saying, “I do,” but do you remember what you agreed to when you said it?  As a pastor, I get to stand with couples as they make vows to live as husband and wife “for as long as [they] both shall live.”  

For newlyweds this day is a day of joy, celebration, and anticipation.  The weightiness of their vows waits for the happy couple in their future.  But as a pastor, I also walk with couples to the end of this vow through the valley the shadow of death.  As joyful as it is to hear couples recite vows at their wedding, it is a pastor’s sacred privilege to observe vows faithfully discharged on a couple’s last day as husband and wife.

Not long ago, I sat with “June” at the bedside of her husband of sixty-nine years.   As his earthly life was fading, she told me the story of their life together.  It was a hard story.  A life of challenges, setbacks, disappointments, sickness and some good times too.   “How did you make it through?” I asked.  Never looking up, she quoted without hesitation.

“For whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.”

RUTH 1:16-17

As she spoke, I was struck by the remarkable picture of faithfulness.   That vow, so easily spoken seven decades earlier, had been faithfully kept through poverty and plenty, sickness and health, better and a great deal of worse.   It was not merely promised.  It was lived.    She had not lost her first love.   The intensity of her love for her beloved had not waned with adversity or prosperity or familiarity.  Quite the contrary, it had grown.    Romance may wane and take new forms, but love must grow.   When it does not grow, when it declines, when love for our beloved is diminished because of a growing love for ourselves, then something is dreadfully wrong.  Even if all seems well on the surface.

The Ephesian Church was a church on the move.   They were hard workers.  They were straight as an arrow, doctrinally.   They had solid elders who knew how to spot a fake, a mile away.   They strenuously resisted the compromising theology of the progressive Nicolaitans.   Though they lived in a city and culture, unpromising for the Christian faith, by all appearances, they were prospering as a church.  But for all their theological acumen, solid eldership, and commitment to hard work, they were missing the most important ingredient to the Christian life – a growing love for Christ and for one another.  

The Risen Christ makes a shocking accusation – “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”  For all their praiseworthy attributes, Jesus’ verdict is so serious that if not remedied, they would cease to be a church – “I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”

How do we measure our health as a church?  By growth in numbers?  By increased giving?  By broader ministry reach into our community?  By powerful, theologically rich teaching?   Or by proven, solid leadership?   All these things are important.   But without love – growing love for Christ and for one another, all these excellent attributes are, in the words of Paul, “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”  Has the church abandoned its first love to pursue self-love?   Have you abandoned love for Christ and for one another in order to love and serve yourself?  

Jesus remarked, “love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)   Do people recognize that we are followers of Jesus Christ by the way we love Him and one another?  If not, He is coming — coming to take our lampstand.

Join us this week as we continue our survey Revelation as we examine the first of the “Letters to the Seven Churches” consider how this opening message to the Church at Ephesus is a warning to us of the danger of abandoning the love we had at first.

Please Note:  Our host church, St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, is currently closed because of weather related flooding due to broken water lines.   Until repairs are completed we will not be able to meet in-person.  But, you can join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP or on YouTube.

When repairs are completed we will resume meeting from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info. 

An Urgent Message

An Urgent Message

The beginning of a book often sets the tone for the rest.  Perhaps you may think of a book you have read in which you were gripped by the introduction, and then you paid close attention to the themes that would follow from it.  Perhaps you think of a classic such as The Tale of Two Cities.  Many people, even if they do not even know the rest of the story, can quote the opening line. 

When it comes to the gospel accounts in Scripture, it is helpful to think of the author’s own introductions.  Matthew and Luke detail the birth of Christ and the genealogies of Christ.  John, calls our attention to the fact that Jesus Christ is God, and that He pre-existed even Creation itself.  He has always been, and the apex of history itself is that moment in which “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14).  Mark, however, begins with the ministry of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, and then jumps straight into the ministry of Christ.  No time is spent on the birth narratives or genealogies. Mark takes us right into the action of Christ’s ministry. 

Mark’s Gospel is a Gospel of immediacy.  Mark takes us from one scene to the next without much time for transition.  There is a sense of urgency in Mark’s message.  Mark knew that he was setting Christ forth before his readers.  You feel Mark’s evangelistic push throughout the Gospel.  There is an utter seriousness to what Mark is doing, and the book drives us to ask these questions–1. “Who is Jesus?” And 2. “Who am I worshipping?” 

As we read Mark, we see that Jesus Christ is the Son of God become Man; we see that Jesus Christ is the authoritative Lord, and that Jesus Christ is the compassionate Savior; we see that Jesus Christ is the condemned and crucified sin-bearer; we see that Jesus Christ is the risen King.  Mark answers our first question.  The second question is one we must ask ourselves.  Are we bowing before the majesty of Christ, or are we seeking life some other way?  We see in Mark 1:1-11 that Jesus is in fact the great Savior of sinners.  We must look unto Him for life.

As Mark introduces the book, he opens with the statement, “The beginning of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (Mark 1:1)   Mark is showing us just whose Gospel this is.  It is not Mark’s Gospel, but good news from God, himself — good news to a world lost in sin.  Jesus Christ is the One who will lay down his life for sinners so that they might live. 

Mark also gives us a glimpse into the ministry of John the Baptist.  John the Baptist is the one who will point others to Christ, and he is indeed a great prophet.  But Mark wants us to see that Jesus is greater than John the Baptist.  Many were tempted to view John the Baptist as the Christ, but John himself would say, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.”  (1:7)   Mark and John direct us to the One who is greater that we may put all our confidence in Him. 

Mark concludes his introduction, with Jesus’ baptism.  We see how He identifies with His own people, and we are directed to His saving work at the Cross and resurrection.  As the heavens are torn open, we are reminded that this Christ also by His blood tore the veil that stood between us and the throne of grace.  

Mark’s message is urgent.  From its opening lines, the action unfolds, apace, toward the great redemptive work of Christ.  There is an utter seriousness to in what Mark has written, confronting us with the question, “How urgent is the gospel?”   Join us as we examine Mark 1:1-11 to consider the urgency of the gospel in our own lives.

We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP or on YouTube.

Moving Pictures

Moving Pictures

Occupational therapy!  That’s 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 what they call “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 and acknowledge 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 – moving pictures. 

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.

Everywhere you look in scripture you see moving pictures of Jesus.  With Abraham on Mt. Moriah, Jesus is there.   With Mephibosheth at David’s table, Jesus is there.   With fearful disciples on the stormy Sea of Galilee, Jesus is there.   And in the midst of seven Asian churches facing persecution and turmoil, Jesus is there.   Painted in the words of Scripture, these moving pictures reveal the presence and power of a Savior who is “God with Us.” While Scripture never describes what Jesus looks like, it thoroughly describes what Jesus is like.  

Nowhere is this idea more vividly portrayed than in John’s inaugural vision in the Revelation.   This vision of Christ among the golden lampstands, is, as pastor Richard Phillips noted.

… representative of God’s intention for the entire book.  John is suffering oppression because of his faith in Jesus.  This first vision sets before him the sovereign glory of Christ, complete with emblems of his triumphant, saving work, so that John will be encourage to endure in worship of and service to his Lord.” 

Reformed Expository Commentary on Revelation, Richard Phillips.

We must fix our eyes on the mighty and victorious Jesus revealed only in Scripture.   Not just the Jesus who was, but the Jesus who is and who is to come.  The one who is the same yesterday, today and forever, the Living One, who died, but is now alive forevermore.  The One who holds the keys to death and hell.   As the author of Hebrews encourages us.

Run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:2-3

Adversity is ingrained in the Christian life.   Victory is gained not through avoiding, but overcoming it.   John Calvin observed, “the church of Christ has been so divinely constituted from the beginning that the Cross has been the way to victory, death the way to life.”  Strength to endure adversity, tribulation, and turmoil, comes not from some place deep within us, but from the depths of knowing Christ.  

Join us this week as we continue our survey Revelation as we examine Revelation 1:9-20 and consider how this opening vision reveals, not what Jesus looks like, but what Jesus is like so we might fix our eyes on Him, know Him, and run with endurance.

We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP or on YouTube.