“If You Are Standing Fast”

“If You Are Standing Fast”

The letter to the Thessalonians is written in the midst of trial.  The Thessalonian Christians faced opposition to their faith in God, and so did the Apostle Paul.  And as Paul has written to the Thessalonians, he expresses concern that perhaps the Thessalonian Christians have drifted.  One of the things we notice about Paul throughout his writing is that he cares deeply for the Christians that God has allowed him to serve and to impact.  He had seen the Thessalonian Christians converted and had a major role in establishing that church.  But here he is clearly concerned that in the midst of opposition, perhaps the Thessalonians would not remain fixed on the firm foundation of Christ.

            But as Timothy, one of Paul’s co-laborers goes to visit them, he brings back word that they are indeed growing and still have a deep affection for Paul and a love for the gospel that he had preached.  And Paul says something very interesting in light of this.  He writes in verse 8, “For now we live, if you are standing fast in the Lord.” (English Standard Version)  He has such an affection for the people of God, for this congregation that he has been separated from for so long, that he ties their faithfulness to the Gospel in with his very life.

            But Paul is a God-centered pastor.  He knows that their continued faithfulness depends not ultimately on their own ability or even on his own pastoring, but in the power of God to keep them.  That is really the hope of every Christian.  How do you know that you will remain in the faith, that you will persevere?  It is grounded in the power of God.  That is where our chapter concludes, with Paul’s confidence in the Lord: “Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you,  and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” (Verses 11-13)

We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm at The Arkansas Dream Center 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.

Photo by Kalen Emsley on Unsplash.

Missing Out

Missing Out

“What did I miss?”   We scarcely need ask this anymore.   Modern life comes with a pause button.   In a digital world can put all our stories on hold while we attend to the tyranny of the urgent.    But ‘back in the day,’ you only had one shot to catch the latest episode of your favorite story.   If you missed it, you missed it.  

Such was my lament over Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.   It aired only once a year – the first Sunday of December at 8 pm.    There were no video tapes, no streaming video, no second chances.  If you missed it, you missed it.   And while my father was not completely opposed to me watching it on a Sunday evening, the problem was – we were never home.   Sunday evening was a time for “Training Union” (i.e. discipleship) and evening worship.   The service ended at 7:00 pm, the church was 32 minutes from home. 

Allowing for modest post worship conversation, getting home in time was always technically doable, but we made it.   Invariably, my father would have deacon’s meeting, or a visitor would appear and my parents would engage in lengthy ‘get-to-know-you’ conversation. Of course, my parents had chosen the ‘better things.’  Looking back, the claymation of Rudolf was sub-par, the story’s ideology reprehensible, and the once-venerable Santa recast as a selfish, unrepentant bigot.   But at the time, watching Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman were required to fulfill all righteousness at the festive season.   I was an adult before I saw the opening sequences.   

Perhaps, in retrospect, it is better that I missed Rudolf and got to see my father’s service and hospitality!   Sometimes it is better to miss something than make it.    Robert Corrigan of Clam Point, Massachusetts discovered this when he overslept and missed his flight to LA.   He arrived at the departure gate just as his plane was pushing back.   An hour later, he was still at the airport, waiting for a standby flight, when he saw the news that his flight, United #175, had crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.  Missing that flight saved his life. 

Revelation 15 unfolds the final chapter of the drama of redemption.  Seals have revealed God’s judgements and Trumpets have announced them.   All men deserve these judgements.   But a great and marvelous sign appears, a woman from whom would come a redeemer, a Lamb, slain, who saves and seals his own with the seal of the living God, the Holy Spirit.   Every last sealed saint is brought safely to salvation.   Despite the fury of the dragon and his beasts, nothing overcomes them.   They are the overcomers.  The final judgements of God are about to be poured out.  With them, the wrath of God is finished.  But like the Israelites of Goshen, those who belong to the Lamb miss these terrible plagues.

Revelation 15 begins with a great contrast.  The saved and sealed sing of the mercy and grace of God, even as a righteous and holy God sets the stage for His wrath to be poured out against a warned world.   Scripture says that we are all, by nature, children of wrath.   But only through faith in Christ, will we become children of the King and escape from the wrath to come.   What about you?  Are you still a child of wrath?  Are these terrible bowls in your future?  Or will you miss out – miss out on unrepentance, on wrath, on judgement, and on eternal death.    Some things are better to miss.   Join us this Lord’s Day as we examine Revelation 15:1-8 and consider the great joy of missing out on the righteous and holy judgement of God.

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

Homeward Bound

Homeward Bound

Animals have an uncanny ability to find their way home.   Pet lore is replete with Homeward-Bound-like tales of Chance, Sassy, and Shadow overcoming perilous journeys against unbelievable odds to return to their people.   We don’t know how they do it — how they sense direction, how they navigate the way home.   Especially since we, their masters, are so easily disoriented and often profess, ‘you can’t go home again.’

The journey of the salmon is a dramatic illustration of an animal’s ability to find its home.   Salmon spawn upstream, in freshwater pools.   As they grow, they migrate to the sea.  They travel thousands of miles through open ocean to feed.    But when it is time to become parents, they travel back to the spot where they were born.  This amazing journey is much observed, but little understood.  Scientists theorize that salmon are guided by sense of direction and smell.  

As the salmon makes its initial trip to the sea, it somehow ‘records’ the chemical signatures, as well as celestial, barometric, and geomagnetic details of the waterways through which it passes.   This enables the salmon to geotag its birthplace.   Capable of discerning the chemical signature of its birth-pond to parts per billion, the salmon literally follows its nose home.

The ability of the salmon to find its way home is beyond belief, but it pales in comparison to the promise of Scripture that the Lord ‘knows his own’ (2 Timothy 2:19) and will not lose any that belong to him.   Nothing can keep him from finding us.  No one can snatch us from his hand.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God which is ours in Christ Jesus.   We know this intellectually, but it is easy to feel lost sometimes.   Our sin and circumstance often seem to obscure his love, his promises, and his mercy.    While scripture exhorts us to assurance, we all struggle to feel that our calling and election are sure.   When the day comes for us to stand before him, will He recognize us?   When the Lord comes again in glory will we be obscured among the tares?  

Any child, lost in a crowd, knows this fear.   They cry out for their parents, but the voices and bodies of the crowd swallow them up, threatening to prevent their reunion.   Have you every felt that way spiritually?  Lost and afraid you would never be found?  Fortunately, the scripture promises us that the Lord is perfectly able to find us, rescue us, and bring us to himself.  

At the beginning of Revelation 14, the true Lamb appears with those where were sealed by the living God with the Holy Spirit.  God’s own, there pictured as ‘the 144,000.’   The church militant has become the church triumphant.   In his fury, the Dragon made war against them, but there were no casualties.  Their number is not diminished.   Every one sealed is saved.  Not one is lost.   Despite the ravages of the enemy, the people of God stand victorious and sing victory songs before the throne. 

And as Revelation 14 unfolds even further, the scene moves from the first-fruits, to the finished harvest.   At the end of the age, the Lord returns in glory to collect all of his own and to carefully distinguish the wheat from the tares, the sons of light from the sons of darkness. None are confused.  None are mixed.   None end up in the wrong basket.  God loses none he purposed to save.  None are lost who trusted in grace.   But all are lost who trusted in their works or wits.   Do you have this kind of assurance?   If not, where is your hope? 

Are you trusting in God’s grace in Jesus, or in your own works or wits?  Final judgement before a Holy God is a certainty.  Scripture is unequivocal in this truth.   But it is equally adamant that “all who come to [Jesus] will never be cast out.”   Join us this Lord’s Day as we examine Revelation 14:14-20 and consider the assurance of God’s promise that he is coming again and when he does, he will take us – all of us that are his – to himself.   No child of his will be left behind.

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

Tunnel Vision

Tunnel Vision

Chickens are not the smartest creatures on God’s green earth.   When they actually fly, they invariably land in danger.   Despite an acute ability to spot food on the ground in front of them, they prefer to chase each other to the point of exhaustion when one finds a grub.  Though provided with spacious, clean, inviting nest boxes, they pile up two or three deep in some cramped spot to lay eggs.  And they mindlessly pursue any spot of red anywhere and on anything.    Their tiny brains are remarkable only for the remarkably dumb things they do.

But for all the shortcomings, the chicken’s vision is truly amazing.   Having eyes on each side of their head gives the chicken a 300° field of vision.  The left eye is far-sighted to keep an eye to the sky, while the right is near-sighted to provide microscopic vision of the ground in front of them.   With more cones than humans, they see a larger spectrum of color and more subtle contrasts.   This makes them sensitive to the most minute movement in their environment.   And even if a chicken is blind, it has a special gland in the top of its head that distinguishes daytime from nighttime.   The chicken’s vision is truly remarkable.   While their brains are small, their perception is enormous.

Human perception, by contrast, is more limited.   Our field of vision is only 180°, assuming our peripheral vision is perfect.   But peripheral vision is easily reduced by injury or trauma.   Extreme stress can limit our sight to just what is in front of us; a condition we call ‘tunnel vision.’    Tunnel vision is dangerous because it removes visual context.  And visual context is critical in order to understand what we see.     High stress encounters by soldiers and law enforcement have documented the tragic consequences of tunnel vision.   Unintentional victims have been wounded or killed, because combatants simply did not see them in the field of vision.    Tunnel vision can be dangerous, and even deadly.

But tunnel vision is not only a danger for our physical eyesight.    We can develop tunnel vision in our spiritual perspective, assessing our circumstance without the context faith peripherally provides.   The enemy of our soul, the ancient Serpent, Satan, wants to blind us to the truths of God’s power and promises.   He creates drama and trauma in our lives, then voices a new possibility.  “Did God really say?”   Perhaps God did not mean it?  Perhaps God cannot be trusted?   Perhaps we must look elsewhere for truth? 

Satan is forever working to foster suspicion of God.  And accusation against you.   To give us tunnel vision.  His relentless assaults on God’s promises wear us down, destroy hope, and fill us with despair.    Satan wants us to see only the insurmountable crisis and unsolvable brokenness right in front of us.  But not the promises of God which surround us.

We see this unfold in Revelation 13.   Satan’s rage against God is focused on God’s people, the church.   Two beasts arise, making war against the saints, conquering them through crushing power and relentless propaganda.   The picture seems hopeless.   But that is not the end of the story.   In this book of comfort, God restores peripheral vision, revealing the rest of the story.   Satan’s conquest is short lived.   The true Lamb appears with those where were sealed by the living God with the Holy Spirit.   Their number is not diminished.   Every one sealed is saved.  Not one is lost.  

Despite the ravages of the enemy, the people of God stand victorious and sing victory songs before the throne.   The lies of the Dragon were just that.  His boasts, his threats, his accusations, his propaganda all come to nothing.   The Lamb is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  And the saints, who did not love their lives unto death have conquered the Dragon by the blood of the Lamb and the testimony of Jesus.

Have you developed tunnel vision in your spiritual life?   Has hopelessness gripped you, chipping away at your faith?   In Revelation 14, God corrects our vision.   He restores the periphery of faith and heals us of tunnel vision.   The attacks of the enemy are powerful, but they cannot snatch one single saint from the hand of their God, nor separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  Join us this Lord’s Day as we consider Revelation 14 and learn to avoid spiritual tunnel vision.

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

Propaganda

Propaganda

‘Propaganda’ is an ugly word.   It conjures images of the Third Reich, Tokyo Rose, and the Soviet-era news agency, TASS.   The dictionary defines it as:

Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.

As a boy, I pitied the Soviet people –oppressed by their own government and media through a systematic campaign of selective reporting, misinformation, and outright manipulation.   I was glad to live in a free society with a free press where government and media trafficked only in facts.   Propaganda was the tool of tyrants. Or so I thought.

But propaganda has a long and varied place in the history of communication.   Words have power even swords cannot wield.   Men are more easily compelled to yield freedoms and convictions to words, ideas, and slogans than brute force.   Especially when they believe these words, ideas, and slogans are unadulterated with bias or ulterior motives.

We pity those under the thumb of propaganda as we scroll mindlessly through highly curated social media, censored news feeds, Instagram influencers, and clairvoyant popup ads.   We decry media bias and quickly fall in line with whatever our feed feeds us to think.    The hubris that tells us ‘we are invulnerable to propaganda’ is what makes us even more vulnerable.  

What is worse, the more our lives are mediated by our devices, the more propagandized we become.    John Stonestreet recently noted in an interview on The World and Everything In It“we have been catechized by our devices – to react and not think.”   He explains.

Think of how many times a story makes everyone breathlessly angry. And just a few hours or days later, the larger context comes out, either through more video being released, and suddenly realize the entire story is wrong. Or the entire story that you reacted to was wrong. Now, I don’t know any way around that other than have better habits than everybody else. Don’t feel like you have to tweet about something because somebody, you know, says, anybody who doesn’t speak up is complicit. That’s bogus language, based on a society that is addicted to quick takes an outrage instead of the truth. 

Words are powerful.   Ideas have consequences.    Satan’s war against God, against Truth, and against the Church began in the Garden of Eden as a war of words.   As Adam and Eve stood gazing at the forbidden fruit, Satan voices a new possibility.  “Did God really say?”   Perhaps God did not mean it?  Perhaps God cannot be trusted?   Perhaps we must look elsewhere for truth? 

Satan’s tactics have not changed.  He is a liar and the father of lies.  Lying is his native speech.  He is not merely trying to win us to his position or gain our support by his propaganda, he wants us dead.   He hates us because we bear God’s image.   His repeated failure to secure God’s throne has not wearied him.   On the contrary, he is more enraged than ever.  

Revelation 13 unfolds this rage.   Two beasts emerge.  One from the sea and one from the earth.  An unholy Trinity of counterfeits to Father, Son, and Holy Spirit emerge in the dragon, the beast from the sea, and the beast from the earth.   They are poor counterfeits but they lead the world astray to make war against the Church.

The first beast is a wild brute.  He unleashes Satan’s fury by a frontal assault against the church — pursuing, crushing, and destroying.  But Satan also has a more subtle strategy.  A second beast arises from the earth.  He appears as a lamb with two small horns, but speaks with the voice of a dragon.  While he looks gentle, harmless, and trustworthy, his words are anything but.  Through this beast, Satan assaults the Church in the realm of ideas and words, forever working to foster suspicion of God.  

How careful are you to test the spirits of this age?   To view your world, not through your devices, but through the Word of God?   Join us this week as we examine Revelation 13:11-18 and consider the call to resist Satan’s ministry of propaganda.

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