Raising a Stink

Raising a Stink

You can’t take them anywhere.   Friends, family, coworkers, acquaintances whose presence always creates drama.  Then trauma.   Nothing is satisfactory.  And everyone must know it.  The food is too hot, cold, slow, soggy, poorly plated.  The seats are too crowded, in the sun, in the shade, far away, too close.   The route is too twisty, trafficked, poorly designed.   Whatever is, is not acceptable.   They raise a stink about anything and everything.   And invite contempt to our merry parties, family gatherings, and joyful assembles.

‘Raising a stink’ is an apt phrase. To ‘raise a stink’ means to be vocal in one’s displeasure or to make a scene about something; to complain or object very angrily. Nit-pickiness, implacability, malcontentedness is like a bad smell.  It offends and repels. It sickens and induces strong reactions.   It is the smell of death – the death of friendships, relationships, fellowships.  

‘Raising a stink’ is an ancient idiom.  Before refrigeration smells were a matter of life or death.  By its smell, food was tested before it was tasted.   And people were identified by their savour, whether sweet or malodorous, as much as their appearance. We see this in the stories of the Bible.  

After the flood, Noah offered a burned sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Lord and we read, “and when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man.’”  Isaac commented that the Esau smelled like “a field which the Lord has blessed.” And in Revelation 8, saints prayers are compared to sweet incense rising to the Lord.   The scent of some is sweet.  But the scent of others raises a stink.  

Genesis 22:1 records that God ‘tested’ Abraham.  The word translated ‘tested’ comes from an ancient word which means to examine the integrity of meat by smelling it.  In Genesis 34, after Jacob’s sons murder the men of Shechem, Jacob says, “you have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land.”  And in Exodus 5:21, the people complain against Moses after his failed interview with Pharaoh. 

“The Lord look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”

EXODUS 5:21

In Exodus 4, Moses and Aaron met with the elders.   Quickly and completely, God’s Word produced faith in an unbelievable promise.  Moses had worried no one would believe him.  But without controversy all the elders and all the people believed God’s Word and responded.   Now it was Pharaoh’s turn.  But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened.  He not only refused Moses’ demands, but made the peoples’ lives more bitter.   And they complained to Moses. He had raised a stink.  

It is true that God’s Word always raises a stink with unbelievers.  The Bible is not a matter of indifference.  It makes demands.  It reveals what we are.  And what we are not.   The hubris of unbelief cannot tolerate God’s Word.  It always raises a stink.   Paul describes this well in the New Testament.

For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.

2 CORINTHIANS 2:15-16

The gospel is always pungent.   For some a pleasing aroma.  To others it raises a stink.  The gospel raised a stink with Pharaoh.  And it raises a stink with unbelievers in your life.  Moses and the people complained against God because of Pharaoh’s reaction.   What is your response when the gospel raises a stink?   Will you complain that God’s promises have failed?  Will you blame him for exposing you to persecution?   Will you value peace with lost men more than their peace with God? 

The gospel raises a stink.  But Moses raised a stink as well.   Pharaoh’s is not the only unbelief in this passage.   When the gospel did not act how and when Moses thought it should, he raised a stink.   How do you handle disappointment when the Lord does not act as you expect?  When His promises seem out of reach?   When following Christ appears to makes life worse, not better.   Exodus has much to say about disappointment.   Join us this Lord’s Day as we examine Exodus 5:1-23 and consider how we respond to disappointment.

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

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.