Shock and Awe

Shock and Awe

“Shock and Awe, simply Shock and Awe!”  For most, this phrase entered our vernacular from CNN Reporter, Peter Arnett, describing the stunning exhibition of US airpower from his hotel in Baghdad on March 21, 2003.   The second Gulf War had begun.   Operation Iraqi Freedom was underway.  We watched live as coalition airpower obliterated Saddam Hussein’s Presidential compound on the Tigris and other government and military sites in and around Baghdad.   ‘Shock and Awe’ was meant to make a statement, to break the will of Saddam’s army — to end a war before it began.

Military strategists as far back as Sun Tzu have understood the value of destroying the enemy’s will to fight.   But the concept of ‘Shock and Awe’ was meant to take it to the next level.  It is Sherman’s ‘total war’ on steroids.   The phrase ‘shock and awe’ was originally introduced by Harlan Ullman in a 1996 Pentagon study.  For Ullman, ‘shock and awe’ defined a concept of engagement so massive and sudden that the enemy would be stunned, confused, overwhelmed, and paralyzed.

But the coalition bombardment that began on March 21, 2003 was nothing compared to the ‘Shock and Awe’ described in Revelation 19 as the world’s final battle that pictures the return of Christ in judgement.   Kings and captains, mighty men, men both free and slave, small and great gather for battle.  Summoned by the King of Rebels, the ancient Dragon and his Beast and False Prophet, they have come to resist the will of their rightful King, the Lord Jesus Christ.  They trust in everything false and swear allegiance to the King of Lies and Murder.    They think this will be their moment – and indeed it is.  Just not the moment they expected.

As the Lord Jesus appears in power and glory, the armies of heaven following after Him, He brings ‘Shock and Awe’ His enemies never anticipated.    “Every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the tribes of the earth will wail on account of him…. Kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and rich and powerful and everyone slave and free, [will hide] themselves in caves and among the rocks of the mountains calling to the mountains, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb.’”

Their swagger and boasting, rebellion and hatred of the Lord will come to nothing in an instant.   The mighty power of the Beast and the pervasive influence of the False Prophet dissipate at the appearing of the one who is Faithful and True, who slays His enemies with the sword of the Word of God.    The return of Christ comes as ‘shock and awe’ to His enemies, and ours.   But to those who have loved not their lives unto death, who have held to the testimony of Jesus, who have been sealed with the seal of the Living God, the “shock and awe” of His coming causes them to cry ‘Glory!’

We are reminded in Philippians that

God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Some will confess Jesus’ Lordship out of love for their King.  Others will confess it under compulsion of judgment.   When Jesus comes, He comes with ‘shock and awe.’   For those who submit to Him in grace, there is joy.   But for those who refuse His light and easy yoke, submission comes only in judgement.   As one theologian noted regarding that moment.

“Either judgment is done on [Christ] at the cross [on our behalf], or else, failing that, judgement is done by him as people’s unforgiven sin sends them to hell.”

Have you submitted to his grace?  Or are you resisting your rightful King, gathering together with the King of Rebels and the enemies of the Living God?   ‘Shock and awe’ is coming.   Are you ready?   Join us this Sunday as we examine Revelation 19:11-21 and the great promise and the great warning of Christ’s return.

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

An Impossible Partnership

An Impossible Partnership

Rivalries are often in good fun.  Perhaps you have a favorite football team, and you enjoy the “rivalry game” each year.  Growing up in Alabama, it was often quite clear whether one’s allegiances were to the Alabama Crimson Tide or to the Auburn Tigers.  But even in activities such as sports, rivalries can get out of hand.  Imagine a rivalry over something as important as the ministry of the church, the worship of God and the conversion of the lost.  Paul was an Apostle set apart by God for the proclamation of the Gospel, and yet there were many who opposed Paul.  Some set themselves up as rivals to his teaching and were proud of their own giftings.  This ought to be a warning to us not to be swept up by those who point to their own abilities ultimately; rather, we ought to seek teachers that point us to Jesus Christ.

Paul’s response to these teachers who set themselves up as Paul’s rivals serves as a backdrop for the book of 2 Corinthians.  And when we come to 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1, we see Paul quite concerned that false teaching is seeking to disrupt the church.  The Corinthian church is being tempted to allow worldly principles to shape its practice.  Paul, in this passage, gives a warning both to the church and to the individual Christian not to have a partnership with that which is in conflict with the Gospel of Christ.  As a Christian is in union with Christ, this precludes a union with idols.

Paul is not saying that a Christian is not to live in the world and not to interact with the world; in fact, Paul well knows that Christians live in the midst of an unbelieving world.  Along with this, Paul is entirely devoted to evangelism of the lost.  But Paul is concerned that the church not allow its doctrine, worship or practice be shaped by the unbelieving world.  And Paul is also concerned that believers live according to the Word of God—it is in this that believers will be able to share light in the world. 

Paul gives the command in 2 Corinthians 6:14, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.”  His command is in essence not to be in any partnership that diminishes our claim to union with Christ.  Paul goes on to demonstrate this with a series of questions.  One of those questions is “Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (verse 14)  Christ Himself is said to be the light of the world, and John tells us in the opening of his Gospel account that “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”  Christians have hope in the true Light, Jesus Christ, and in union with Him we may share that Light in the darkness of this world.  Have you found this Light?  Have you been brought out of darkness into Light in Christ?  Join us this week to consider Christ, the great salvation offered in Him, and how He impacts our life and worship. 

Join us this Lord’s Day at 5 PM at the Arkansas Dream Center located 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 David Gabrić on Unsplash.

The Big Day

The Big Day

Every little girl dreams of the big day.   Satin and silks flow.   The whoosh of veil and train keep cadence with Mendelsohn’s March.   Sparkles, twinkles, and smiles adorn every face.  Discreet tears appear at the corners of Daddy’s eyes.  All the rituals are observed — no detail may be omitted.   Bouquets are tossed and garters are launched.   The happy couple is feted in every way possible.  Rice, or birdseed, or sparklers send the new family off in wedded bliss.  Every hope for the future is signed and sealed by the gathering of dearly beloved in the sight of God.   The glorious day, the big day has come at last.  All that is left is the hard work of happily, forever after.

Weddings should be joyful affairs.   Celebrations of the first order.    Whether lavish or simple, no expenditure of joy should be spared.   It is a day to gather and celebrate what God said was “very good.”  Jesus chose to begin his public ministry, celebrating a wedding at Cana.   And at the end of all things, Jesus completes his redemptive work, celebrating the wedding supper of the Lamb.  He commented regarding marriage, “…at the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.  For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two will become one flesh.  So, they are no longer two but one.  Therefore, what God has joined together, let man not separate.” 

In both the Old and New Testaments, marriage is a human reflection of the covenant love of the Lord for His people.   Throughout the Bible, the Lord makes the wedding vow – “I will be their God and they will be my people.”   The LORD is the husband of Israel, and Christ is the husband of the Church.   In an exhortation to husbands and wives, Paul reminds the Ephesians that Christ and the Church are the ideal for marital fidelity.

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

Ephesians 5:25-32

Marriage radiates a beauty no casual relationship can imitate.   It nourishes, cherishes, cleanses.   As one theologian commented, “marriage produces efficacious love” – a love that has a powerful effect, a love mediated by something other than love of self.   Its effect is to beautify.   All substitutes fall short.    

The final visions of Revelation make this point quite vividly.   The contrast begun in Revelation 17 and continuing through Revelation 19 contrasts the Harlot and the Bride.  A contrast which emphasizes the distinction between the deadly deceptive charms of the world, pictured as a luxuriant but violent prostitute, and the enduring, life-giving beauty of Christ’s church, pictured as a radiant bride.  

In a world where Christ promises persecution while conformity to the world promises peace, it is easy to lose sight of this distinction between harlot and bride.   But in Revelation 19 the Lord unveils for John, and for us, a picture of The Big Day – the promised wedding supper of the Lamb. 

Weddings teach us to celebrate and expect great things.    Revelation 19 shows God’s people, small and great celebrating all we should expect God to be and do.   What great expectations breathe life into your hopes and dreams?   Are you living in expectation of The Big Day?    Join us this week as we examine Revelation 19 and consider how we are to live expectantly, even in the midst of adversity.

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

Decision Fatigue

Decision Fatigue

Are you tired yet?   Tired of ‘all things Covid?’  Tired of protocols?  Tired of rapid tests?  Tired of feeling like everything is inside a bubble?  Tired of not being able to understand the cashier because of two masks and a layer of plexiglass?  Tired of the calculus of doom?  Life these days is filled with all kinds of fatigue.  Fatigue was not something I heard much about as a boy, but now it is everywhere. 

Caregiver fatigue is creating burnout and impacting care for the sick and elderly.   And while media pins ICU bed shortages on the unwashed masses, a nursing shortage is more to blame.  Then there is compassion fatigue.  Compassion fatigue is a creeping callousness toward suffering due to an overload of caregiving.   Those suffering compassion fatigue struggle to care about those they care for.  Now I am hearing about Decision Fatigue.  

Every routine action now requires an elaborate decision matrix.  The complexity of quarantine calculus requires a Cray supercomputer.   The statistics used as decisioning criteria are a classic GIGO (garbage-in, garbage-out) paradigm.  Facebook friends are obliterating straw men left and right, decrying the uninformed by declaring their own unsubstantiated misinformation to be self-evident to all non-Cretans.  We are going to war over decisions we are ill-equipped to make.  Mask or not? Vax or not?  The emotional exhaustion wrapped up in these questions is creating decision fatigue.   Struggling to make a decision is not necessarily a lack of decisiveness but more a function of fatigue. 

But for the Christian there is a decision fatigue much more persistent than our covid mitigation strategy.   How are we to live in the world, but not be of the world?  What is our relationship to culture?    The question has challenged the church throughout its existence: “How are Christians to engage and relate to the surrounding culture? How should we then live? What does it look like to be in the world but not of it?”

H. Richard Niebuhr’s classic book, Christ and Culture, he wrestles with this question. Niebuhr proposed five models:  Christ against culture; Christ of culture; Christ above culture; Christ and culture in paradox; and Christ the transformer of culture.  While Niebuhr does not resolve the tension this question creates, he puts his finger on its nuances.  While at some level each category resonates with Scripture and our experience, what is the complete picture?

Another theologian has described the church as a community of resident aliens.  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.” (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.” 

Revelation speaks to this question pointedly.   Written to a church under pressure to conform or be cast out, Revelation graphically pictures what it means for the church to be in the world but not of the world.   In the history of interpretation, however, this message has often been obscured by its apocalyptic medium.  

Revelation is a book of unveilings.  Beginning in chapter 17, the Spirit unveils the hideous nature and doomed future of worldly culture united only by its rebellion against God.   Though alluring and seductive, its ways are the ways of death.   In the chapters that follow, the church is warned and encouraged.  Warned not to be seduced from the way of Christ to the way of the world.  And encouraged by holding fast to Christ the church will endure eternally in radiant beauty and peace.

In Revelation 18, the Lord unveils the destruction of Babylon, the Harlot, who pictures rebellious, worldly culture.   The people of God are commanded to come out of her.  And while her lovers mourn her downfall from a distance, those who belong to God give thanks for her destruction.   At first glance this seems an ungracious, or even vindictive, portrait of the church. But a deeper examination reveals important insights into the responsibility and the relationship of the church to the world.  Join us this week as we examine Revelation 18 and consider what this passage says about our calling to be ‘in the world,’ but not ‘of the world.’

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.

Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast

Beautiful things can be deadly.   Sensory appeal is often a trap designed to catch and kill.  The most poisonous frogs are the most colorful.  The prettiest mushrooms are the deadliest.   The anglerfish draws prey to its luminescent lure in the darkest depths of the sea.   And there are carnivorous plants that attract prey through sight and smell.

Botanists have categorized over 630 species of carnivorous plants.   Through color, smell, and visual features, these plants attract, trap and digest insects and animals to supply the nutrients they need.  Larger varieties are capable of digesting reptiles and small mammals. While others specialize in single-celled organisms.  Aquatic varieties eat crustaceans, mosquito larvae and small fish.

Among the most beautiful varieties are Sundews.   Sundews are “flypaper” plants that trap prey in sticky hairs on their leaves.  Long tentacles protrude from their leaves, each with a sticky gland at the tip which produce droplets of nectar. These droplets look like dew, glistening in the sun.  The nectar attracts prey, powerful adhesive traps it, and enzymes digest it. Once an insect becomes stuck, nearby tentacles coil around the insect and smother it.  Sundews kill their victims in 15 minutes, but digest them over weeks.  Interestingly, the plant’s deadly secretions are harmless to the assassin bug, which hides on the plant to prey on the helpless victims.  Sundews are indeed beautiful plants, but their beauty is intended to kill.

Beauty is often deadly.   And not just for insects.  Things that appeal to our senses and appetites may kill us as well.  Solomon surrounded himself with beautiful things, but both in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, he noted their deceptive nature.   In Proverbs, he remarked, “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain.”    And in Ecclesiastes, he opined, “’Come now, I will test you with pleasure, enjoy yourself.’ But behold, this also was vanity.”  

Solomon even personified Folly as a seductive woman.

The woman Folly is loud;
    she is seductive and knows nothing.
She sits at the door of her house;
    she takes a seat on the highest places of the town,
calling to those who pass by,
    who are going straight on their way,
“Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”
    And to him who lacks sense she says,
“Stolen water is sweet,
    and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”
But he does not know that the dead are there,
    that her guests are in the depths of Sheol. 

Proverbs 9:13-18

Our fairy tales have taught us that beauty often conceals a beast.   Revelation 17 gives us a vivid picture of this truth.  The seductive appeal of worldliness to supply meaning, fulfillment and safety, is a deadly ruse.   Revelation 17 begins a new division within John’s visions.  A division which emphasizes the distinction between the deadly deceptive charms of the world, pictured as a luxuriant but violent prostitute, and the enduring, life-giving beauty of Christ’s church, pictured as a radiant bride.  

In a world where Christ promises persecution while conformity to the world promises peace, it is easy to lose sight of this distinction between harlot and bride.   But the Lord unveils for John, and for us, a clear revelation of the deadly beast that lies in wait beneath great worldly allure. 

Join us this week as we examine Revelation 17 and consider the seductive allure of seeking meaning, fulfillment, or safety from the things of this world. 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.