Ordinary

Ordinary

Who has time for anything less than extraordinary?  Only the most extreme, the newest, the hottest and the freshest will do.   Anything less is unacceptable.   All adjectives must be superlatives. ‘Fine’ used to mean exceptional, now it translates to barely acceptable.   To merely ‘meet expectations’ at work is an insult.  Any restaurant that hopes to survive must have an experimental kitchen and a menu forever in flux.  And advertising that promises anything less than the moon falls on deaf ears.   We have no room for the ordinary.   It does not matter what anyone claims so long as they claim to be extraordinary.

But most of life is lived in the ordinary.   To despise the ordinary and pine for the extraordinary is to despise most of our days, hours, moments, relationships, experiences, and blessings.   Jesus taught powerfully, but most of his illustrations were drawn from the ordinary things of life — plants, seeds, livestock, coins, and neighbors.  In both creation and providence God delights in the ordinary.

The Bible tells us that the Lord does not ‘despise the day of small things.’  But we usually do.   We want bigger, better, faster, sooner.  And this leads us to prize novelty.   We long for a life different from the one God placed us in.  The old, the tried and true, is passe. What is needed is a newer, better, shinier thing.   Surely the ‘new things’ has power to captivate and capture the heart.

Unfortunately, the church has bought into this love of novelty.   But this love of the new thing is not a new thing.   The ancient prophet Jeremiah warned the people of his day to “ask for the ancient paths.”   And the church today tries to attract the world by offering the extraordinary – the newest, most powerful, most dynamic experience possible.  And yet, She is declining and losing influence in our culture.   Perhaps in our pursuit of the extraordinary, we have lost sight of the power and joy of the ordinary.

Following Pentecost the church experienced extraordinary works of the Holy Spirit, but its most explosive growth resulted from the ordinary means of grace God had appointed. 

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. 

Acts 2:42-47

Wonders and signs followed the Word, fellowship, worship, prayer and the sacraments.   Ordinary means produced extraordinary results.   The same is true today.   But do we believe it?  Can we trust the means that God has given?  Do we believe what our catechism teaches us to believe?

The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption are, His ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.

– Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 88

Or is something more needed?   Can we improve on God’s appointed means?   Are they enough?   We often struggle with these questions.   But so did Moses.   He did not believe that the elders of Israel would believe God’s Word.  To accommodate weak faith, God gave signs to confirm His Words.   And against his objections, Moses returned to Egypt, doubtful anyone would believe the Lord.  Yet at the end of Exodus 4, we have a remarkable picture of the power of God’s Word to bring faith.

Then Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the people of Israel. Aaron spoke all the words that the Lord had spoken to Moses and did the signs in the sight of the people. And the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshiped.

Exodus 4:29-31

Quickly and completely, God’s Word produced faith in an unbelievable promise.   God’s means are always enough.  The Word never returns void.   The gospel is the power of salvation.  And ‘faith comes by hearing, hearing the Word of Christ.’   Not gimmicks, not slick ad campaigns, not moralism – but it is through the outward and ordinary means of grace that Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption, delivers sinners, and grows His church.   Do you believe this?

Join us this Lord’s Day as we examine Exodus 4:27-31 and consider the power of the ordinary means of grace to save sinners and grow the Church.

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

Signs and Seals

Signs and Seals

Selecting a wedding band was once a straightforward affair.   The only real decisions regarded size and engraving.   A gold band was a gold band.   Larger or smaller, bought at a pawn shop or jeweler, it was adiaphora – a matter of indifference.    And as a pastor, the language used in the wedding service at the giving of the rings was also straightforward.

The ring is a visible symbol of the spiritual covenant that you are making today before God.  The ring will serve for you, and for your children, and for all who see it as a reminder of the purity and the permanence of your marriage covenant.  

Like the gold in the ring which symbolizes purity and beauty, your love for one another is to be pure — unmixed and uncompromised by any other priorities, second only to your love for Christ.   And like ring whose shape, the circle, has neither beginning nor end, you are covenanting today, before God, to enter into a marriage that is permanent and unbreakable.

The gold in your ring may get scratched from time to time, but its beauty and luster will endure.  In the same way there will be trials in your relationship as you learn what it means to live as one-flesh, but your ring will be a constant testimony to you that God has brought you together for keeps. 

But now, during pre-marital counseling, I know to ask “what type of ring will you have?”  While the significance of the ring has nothing to do with what it represents, the liturgy must accommodate the wide diversity of materials now used in wedding bands.   Gold is no longer a given.  Millennials opt for titanium, silicone, and even tattoos.    Nothing says ‘permanence’ like a tattooed wedding band.

While I don’t jibe with everything the in her blog, I appreciate what Laura Ulveling writes in a post promoting GrooveLife alternative rings.

Your ring is simply a universally recognized symbol to show the world and each other that you have committed your life to someone. Whether the wedding ring you chose is cheap or extravagant, gold or platinum, diamond or silicone, its design has no impact on its value.

Even if you decide to exchange traditional wedding rings at the altar, you can still order a set of Groove rings for your adventurous days so you don’t lose your diamonds while you’re climbing waterfalls or deep-sea diving on your honeymoon!

A ring’s design has no impact on its value.  Signs illustrate.  Seals authenticate.  A wedding ring is a sign and seal of the covenant of marriage.   The ring does not make you married and the absence of one does not remove that covenant.   But the ring does point you, and everyone else, to the unbreakable fact that you belong to someone.  The ring can’t make you a spouse, but it can make you a liar.  You have made and received promises.  And those promises define everything about your life.  

One of the pervasive analogies of faith in the Bible is that of husband and wife.  Throughout the Old Testament, the Lord says to his people, “I will be your God and you will be my people.”   This is the wedding vow of the ancient world.   God is the husband to his people.  The New Testament picks up this analogy.  The church is the bride of Christ.   God makes a covenant of grace with his people.  A promise is made and sealed with his own blood in the person of Jesus.   And this promise changes everything.  

But there are days when life crashes in.  When experience seems to contradict or nullify God’s promises.   Can we trust his promises?  Can we trust him?  Is God a faithful spouse?   And when I am not faithful, will he still love me and keep his vows?   Psalm 103 declares that the Lord knows our “frame, that we are but dust.”  Yet, even in our spiritual fragility, he has compassion on us and shows steadfast, unwavering, unbreakable love.    To shore up our flagging faith and soothe our doubts, he gives us signs and seals – reminders of what he has promised and assurances that he is as good as his word.

In the Old Testament God gave repeated sacrifices and sacred spaces to teach the people to expect a once-for-all savior who would secure all God’s gracious promises.   Now, God has given us clearer signs and seals – baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  But their purpose is the same, to point us to his promises and assure us of his faithfulness.

Moses experience at the burning bush was intense.   God spoke and called Moses to deliver his people.   Moses had waited a lifetime for this opportunity.   But in is waning years, was it too late?  Moses’ response is unexpected.   The man who forty years ago rose quickly and decisively to right every wrong and to seek justice for every injustice, now wavers.   Four times Moses makes excuses and offers objection after objection.   Finally, he simply asks God to find someone else.    But God’s call is a command not an offer – a promise, not a proposition.  

A promise given to Abraham and renewed generation after generation to Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Amram, and now to Moses.  A promise guaranteed by God’s Word and Character and signed and sealed by circumcision.  Moses answers God’s call but we see hesitancy and unfaithfulness.   In one of the Bible’s most enigmatic passages the Lord meets Moses’ family on their way to Egypt with a mortal threat.  Why?  Because they had despised the signs and seals of God’s promise.   Moses is on his way to claim the temporal promises of the covenant of grace, but neglected to place its sign and seal upon his family.

How important are covenant signs?   Are they means of grace to be diligently used or nostalgic rituals to be casually employed?   The story of Zipporah and the ‘bridegroom of blood’ is no literary detour from the exodus, but gets to the heart of our faith.   Join us as we examine Exodus 4:18-26 and consider the importance of covenant ‘signs and seals.’

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

The Empty Chair

The Empty Chair

A disappearance is powerfully bewildering.   Every magician knows this.   Disappearance mystifies us.  We doubt what we just saw.  Was it really there?  Was it what we thought it was?  Where is it now?  What just happened?  A disappearance unsecures what was secure, makes us rethink what is real.   Calls remembrance into question.  Creates suspicion of others.   Whether David Copperfield is vanishing the Statue of Liberty or we are missing our car keys, a disappearance raises questions and fuels emotions – frustration, uncertainty and anger.

But if this is true of things that disappear, how much more is it true when people disappear.   People disappear from our lives in many ways.  Some are taken from us and some choose to leave.   Some leave expectedly and some suddenly.   Some may return or be found, but others may be gone forever.   Some circumstances make it easier to accept, but the disappearance of people from our lives is never easy.  Questions become more urgent and unanswerable.  And the emotions — grief, loneliness, and fear — become more consuming.   The empty chair casts a long shadow.

The Lord Jesus knew his “leaving day” was coming.  His departure would be hard for the disciples to understand and even harder to accept.   As he celebrated a last Passover with them, he explained the nature and necessity of his return to the Father.  They were grief stricken and filled with questions.   In John 14-16 we read how Jesus comforted them and answered their questions.  Then after he rose from the dead, he remained with them 40 days to prepare them for their part in the story of redemption.  After those 40 days, he ascended and returned to the Father with the disciples looking on.  Can you imagine their emotion in that moment?  Luke records the moment In Acts 1.

As they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.”

We might have expected the disciples to be dismayed at Jesus disappearance.  During the 40 days following his resurrection, Jesus had appeared and disappeared.  But this was different.  Jesus was gone for good this time.   But Jesus had taught them what his Ascension meant.  He would send them the Holy Spirit.  Far from being alone, now, in the person of the Spirit, Jesus would be more with them than ever.   At last he ascended to the throne and begun to rule, as they had long desired.   Luke tells us that they returned to Jerusalem with great joy.   The enemies who sought their lives were still enemies.  The dangers they would face remained.  The bodily presence of Jesus that they had followed and loved for three years was gone, never to return in their lifetimes.  Yet they have great joy.

The disciples now understood what Jesus’ Ascension meant and what it promised.  Do you?  Every week millions of Christians profess their faith together in the Apostles’ Creed.   Among its central doctrines is a profession that Jesus “ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.”  Yet many have never considered why this is such an important doctrine.   Join us this Lord’s Day as we examine Luke 24:50-53 and consider the hope and comfort we receive from the Ascension. 

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

Resurrection Hope in the Word of Christ

Resurrection Hope in the Word of Christ

“He is risen! He is risen indeed.”  While we often consider these words specially this time of year, these are the words we celebrate each and every Lord’s Day when we gather together.  As Christ rose on the first day of the week, so we too gather on the first day each week to worship Him.  

In Luke’s account of this day in which Christ was raised from the dead, we see a special emphasis on the teaching of Jesus concerning His death and resurrection.  As the women go to the tomb out of love, respect and compassion for Jesus, they still need to be reminded of this teaching.  They discover the tomb is empty, and the passage tells us they were “perplexed.” (Luke 24:4)  The men who appear to them, the angels, call to their minds the things that Jesus Himself had said regarding His crucifixion and His resurrection.  This was a testimony to the Word of Jesus Himself and to His faithfulness to that Word.  And as they now believe upon this Word, they take this message to the disciples.  

It is likely that we would expect the disciples to be the first at the empty tomb and the first to believe.  But they still struggle to understand and to trust.  They are resistant to the message they hear.  Peter, however, the disciple who had denied Christ three times, runs to the tomb and is in amazement when he sees himself that Christ is no longer there.  The passage tells us that “he went home marveling at what had happened.” (Luke 24:12)

There is much to consider in passage such as this one.  The resurrection brings great hope–because Jesus is alive, all of His people have hope of life eternal and the hope of the resurrection of their own bodies unto glory.  The resurrection gives us a hope that is truly unshakable.  

But we also see the importance of trusting in the Word of Christ.  Are you trusting His Word?  Do you trust what Jesus has claimed about Himself in the pages of Holy Scripture? We will consider this in more detail this Lord’s Day evening during worship at 5 The Commons at St. Andrews Church in Little Rock.  For directions, click here, or contact us for more information.  You can also join us on FacebookLive@RiverCityARP or on YouTube.

Behold Your King!

Behold Your King!

How many times have you misjudged someone, thinking they were weak, incapable, or a push-over? Then, unexpectedly, they act out of unforeseen strength to save the day and make a mockery of your precipitous assessment.   King George VI of England was such a man.   Encumbered with a speech impediment, a man of great natural reserve and deference, he was considered by English society to be a royal embarrassment.  He had none of the eloquence, confidence or charm of his elder brother and heir to the throne, Edward VIII.  

But for all of the appearance of strength, Edward had none.  His great love was not a love of duty or country, but a love of self.   His sordid affair with Wallis Simpson led him to abdicate the throne on the eve of Great Britain’s entry into World War II.    In his stead, the timid and unpromising, George VI ascended to the throne.   George hardly looked the part of King.  But for all his apparent weakness and inability, he had a strength none guessed.  His love of country and of duty and his strength of conviction guided Britain through its “finest hour.”  The remarkable story of George’s reign is told in the 2010 movie, “The King’s Speech.”

Outward appearances never define a king.  Samuel learned this when he went to the house of Jesse to anoint a successor to King Saul.   Saul had possessed a kingly bearing.  A head taller than every other man in Israel, Saul had looked like a King.  So Samuel looked for such a man among Jesse’s sons.  But the Lord warned Samuel,

“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him.  For the Lord sees not as a man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7

Samuel’s search led him to David, the smallest and least promising of Jesse’s sons, but the one who was a man after God’s own heart. (Acts 13:22)  Outward appearances never define a King.  

Luke’s account of the crucifixion is remarkable in many ways.  It gives scarcely any details about the crucifixion itself, but focuses attention on the reactions of those Jesus encountered as He traveled the way of suffering.   He was met with pity, mockery and bitter anger, but also remarkable and unexpected faith.   At every turn Luke declares the Kingship of Jesus.   Yet, Jesus hardly looks like a King.  To the eye he appears to be victim, not victor.  Luke uses the word ‘spectacle’ to describe the scene.   Those who looked upon this spectacle without faith saw Jesus as anything but a King.   But through faith others saw the King entering His kingdom.   Outward appearances never define a King. 

The “Daughters of Jerusalem” are warned by Jesus not to weep for Him, but for themselves.   They were looking at the cross and the Christ all wrong.   They did not understand what was unfolding before them.  They saw a victim suffering injustice, rather than a King bearing justice.  How do you look at the events of Good Friday?  What is your response to the cross?  Does it evoke pity, mockery, or despair?  Or does it call you to repentance, faith, and hope?

Join us this Lord’s Day as we examine Luke 23:26-49 and consider the Kingship of Christ, powerfully declared, brazenly rejected and savingly believed. 

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