#StayStrong

#StayStrong

When I was in school, we were required to take a foreign language.  I chose German mostly because of my interest in WWII.  But there are two things I grew to appreciate about the German language: its love of following the rules, and its tendency to make new words by simply piling up existing words.   With the possible exception of Scandinavian languages, German vocabulary contains some of the world’s longest words — words with a history and context built-in.

It is often difficult to communicate context, especially emotional context, with our words, especially when our words are reduced to tweets.  Faced with this shortcoming, social media had extended verbal expression through emojis and #hashtags.   Now everything must have a hashtag.  Like mushrooms after rain, they spring up everywhere words abound – attempting to give clarity, context and community to our thoughts.  Paradoxically, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook posts typically have more #hashtags than content.  #Hashtags allow us to attach our words to a cause and to a conversation larger than our expression.  This is the power of slogans – slogans printed on hats, slogans inscribed on wristbands, and slogans embedded in #hashtags.

But, while slogans have power to stir the imagination, much more than a catchy #hashtag is needed to actually change the world.   The Apostle Paul understood this.  As he nears the end of his life, imprisoned and facing Roman execution, he writes a second letter to his protegee, Timothy, to encourage him to hold fast to his calling in the face of mounting opposition, both inside and outside of the church.  Just as the Lord commanded Moses’s successor, Joshua, to “be strong and courageous,” Paul charges his successor, Timothy, to #StayStrong.

But he gives him more than a slogan.  He leaves him with powerful illustrations of just what it takes to #StayStrong.  Paul had turned the world upside down with his gospel and he knew that it took much more than a viral #hashtag.   Likewise, we are commanded to #StayStrong in our calling as followers of Christ and world-changers.  But we need someone to show us the way.   Through Paul’s instructions to Timothy, we have several vivid pictures that mark out a pattern for us to follow in order to #StayStrong in Christ.

Join us this Lord’s Day, March 1, as we look at this pattern in 2 Timothy 2:1-13 and learn what it takes to #StayStrong.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  Click here for directions. Come with a friend and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Apt Words

Apt Words

It’s probably no surprise that I was never a cool kid.  As a child I struggled with my weight, I was shy and awkward, I always knew the answer to the teacher’s question, and I sported Trax shoes.  Needless to say, I was a favorite target for the old sign-on-the-back gag.  It wasn’t “kick-me,” but words a little more soul destroying like “ask me why I’m so uncool?”  Or worse.  My only solace was the merciful, fellow-uncool kid who would take the burden from my back with full knowledge he would be next.  Yes, kids can be cruel.  But that is only because they are miniature sinners.

Whoever said, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” was living in total denial.  You can probably recall harmful words hurled at you by some peevish child on a playground, decades ago — words which shaped your view of yourself and opened wounds which never healed.  A word can break much more than skin and bone.  Words have the amazing capacity to bless or to curse.

The English playwright who penned the phrase, “the pen is mightier than the sword,” was merely echoing the ancient words of Scripture when it says that God’s word is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  The power of words goes deep.  Words are the very fibers wound into the threads which weave the fabric of the cosmos.  God spoke and it came to be.  Jesus is the Word, through whom, by whom and for whom all things exits.  All things are upheld by the Word of God’s power.

As people created in the image of God, we know well the power of words to stir life in others or to rob them of their very selves.   No wonder God tells us that we will be judged for every idle word.  Like guns shot into the air, careless words make deadly wounds.  The Biblical opposite of the careless word is the apt word.  Solomon wrote, “an apt word is like apples of gold in settings of silver.”  Our word “apt” means fitting, or appropriate.  It derives from a Latin word which means something that is fastened to another thing.  Our words fasten on to others, like signs stuck secretly on the back.  Are they words of blessing or cursing?  What words are you fastening onto others?

As Paul faces death, awaiting execution in Roman dungeon, his mind turns toward his young friend Timothy.  He is reminded of Timothy’s sincere faith, but also the hard row he must hoe as a pastor in Ephesus.  He pens a second letter, not principally to instruct, but to encourage.  To fasten onto Timothy, words which embolden and strengthen – words of life and not death, words which are for us as well as we wrestle with fear, discouragement and spiritual exhaustion.

Join us this Lord’s Day, February 24, as we continue our study of 2 Timothy 1 and think about the power of the apt word.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  Click here for directions. Come with a friend and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Empowerment

Empowerment

The things we create to serve us often become the most unrelenting tyrants.  Designed to empower us with the promise of greater choice and productivity, technology often leaves us feeling powerless.  Our smartphones daily outsmart us.  Automated customer service can chat with us about every question we don’t need answered, while ruthlessly blocking us from speaking with any real human.  The great promise of personal empowerment often comes with a profound sense of powerlessness.  Perhaps this is why we love superhero stories.

The best superheroes appeal to us, because most days they are ordinary people just like us.  They have their struggles, their weaknesses, and their tragic backstories.  But they have something else.  Something that, when put on, eaten, or spoken, turns them from victim to victor and empowers them to save the world.  As a boy, I was not a big fan of Marvel comics, but I did like Popeye.  Popeye endured a lot of abuse at the hands of Bluto, but when the chips were down and Olive Oyl was in grave danger, Popeye rose to the moment through the transformative power of canned spinach.

But why spinach?  Apparently, in 1870, Erich von Wolf, a German chemist, examined the amount of iron within spinach.  In recording his findings, he accidentally misplaced a decimal point, changing the iron content in spinach by an order of magnitude. While there are actually only 3.5 milligrams of iron in a 100-gram serving of spinach, the accepted fact became 35 milligrams. Once this incorrect number was printed, spinach’s nutritional value became legendary as a proto-superfood.  So, when Popeye was created, studio executives recommended he eat spinach for his strength, due to its vaunted health properties. Apparently, Popeye helped increase American consumption of spinach by a third!

Spinach is indeed a superfood, but it cannot empower us face failure, discouragement, and even death with courage and conviction.  For that, something far more powerful is needed –encouragement.  Every Christian believer has the unbreakable promises of reconciliation with God, eternal life and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but the enemy of our soul is a crafty worm who masterfully speaks into our deepest self-doubt and fear with the only lie he knows – “Did God really say?”  But God uses the work and words of encouragers in our lives to break the hold Satan’s lie has over us.  This is why we are commanded to “encourage one another and build each other up.”

As the Apostle Paul nears the end of his life, he writes a final letter to his son in the faith, Timothy.  His first letter was filled with instructions about how to order life in the Christian community, the Church. But this second letter is one of personal encouragement for a young man facing setbacks in his ministry.  The word encouragement means literally to “infuse with courage.”  And this is exactly what Paul does.  He speaks tenderly, yet boldly into the life of his young friend, reminding him that he is not alone, that there is a bigger picture than his circumstances, and that God has given him all the gifts he needs to serve faithfully and effectively.  Spinach is a superfood, but encouragement is empowerment.  Who is your encourager?  And who are you encouraging?

Join us this Lord’s Day, February 17, as we begin our study of 2 Timothy and consider our calling to be encouragers.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  Click here for directions. Come with a friend and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

A Sure Thing

A Sure Thing

One of the by-products of copious interstate driving is an ample opportunity to critique of billboards.   Billboards are a powerful way to make a statement.  They are unquestionably effective at catching your eye.  And they are larger than life, which means they will immortalize both the praiseworthy and the cringeworthy message.    I recently saw a local bank billboard which boldly proclaimed – “We want all your money!”   To paraphrase Inigo Montoya, “They keep using that phrase — I don’t think that phrase means what they think it means.”

Trusting others with our money is no small matter.   It is hard to come by, but easy to lose a grip on.   We grow suspicious when someone asks for it.   And we don’t want to invest our money with just anyone.  We need to be assured that it will be invested safely and soundly and will increase in value over the long haul.  We want a personal relationship with our financial adviser.  Horror stories abound and success stories are rare.  When someone gives us an investing tip, we often receive it with polite suspicion.  There is no sure thing – no guarantee.  Or is there?

The Bible has a lot to say about money.   Jesus’ teaching on money was more prolific than his teaching about heaven.  Much of what he had to say was shocking and unexpected.  And in Paul’s letters to Timothy, we also find warning after warning about how church leaders and its members should regard and use their money.   Included in this teaching, in a postscript to his first letter, is one of the best investment strategies a Christian can employ.

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. 1 Timothy 6:17-19

Far from advocating government-sponsored, or even church-sponsored, wealth redistribution, Paul gives those with worldly means – and those without — clear and succinct instruction how to be rich in a way that lasts beyond life in this world.   A good financial adviser should counsel regarding the relationship between risk and return. This is investing 101.  High return requires high risk.  But the Bible points to an investment strategy with a guaranteed high rate of return that continues undiminished forever with no market corrections or downturns.

Join us this Lord’s Day, February 10, as we finish our study of 1 Timothy and consider an investment strategy that produces real riches.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  Click here for directions. Come with a friend and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Family Resemblance

Family Resemblance

Long before social media took up the mantle as spokesman for cliché Christianity, the church sign attempted to carry the torch.  Church signs are notorious haunts for heretical theology, inflammatory rhetoric, and worn out puns.   Like the writer’s empty page, church signs are literary tyrants, always demanding concise, profound, and engaging posts.  Rarely does one hit this mark.  Often, they do not even hit the target.   But not too long ago, I saw a church sign that resonated with me.   “If God is our Father, then shouldn’t there be a family resemblance?”

While not a novel thought, it is a powerful word.   The scripture reminds us that it is God’s will for us to be conformed to the image of Christ, the only begotten and beloved Son.  We are also called to be “imitators of God as dearly loved children.”  And in John 8, Jesus calls out the Pharisees when he points out that the testimony of their lives contradicts their claim to be children of Abraham and Sons of God.  Like a skillful prosecutor, Jesus builds the case that they resemble Satan more than God and then makes a stunning summation.

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. John 8:44

How well do we resemble our Heavenly Father?  As others examine our lives, as they certainly will, what conclusion will they draw about our Father’s identity?  While imitating someone does not make us their child, being someone’s child will inevitably lead to imitation.   As Paul concludes the first letter to Timothy, his son in the faith, he warns him — “keep a close watch on yourself and your doctrine.”  Timothy must not imitate self-serving false teachers of Ephesus, but must remember that he is a “man of God” whose life should draw a sharp contrast to men who pursue religion for their own gain.   As he closes his letter, Paul points out some hallmarks of the Christian life – hallmarks that are not just for Timothy, but for you and I as well.

Join us this Lord’s Day, February 3, as we examine 1 Timothy 6:11-16 and consider what it means for us to bear a family resemblance as children of the King.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  Click here for directions. Come with a friend and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Greener Grass

Greener Grass

The grass is always greener on the other side.  Isn’t that what they say?  But, by now I’m sure you have learned that this is only an optical illusion, a trick of perspective.  Because when the “other side” becomes “this side,” the maxim still holds true – the grass is greener on the other side – and back we go.

No doubt you have experienced this effect at the grocery store.  Your line is moving at glacial speed.  The manager call light is blinking.  You are tenth in line behind someone recharging a prepaid phone card with the contents of their spare-change jar.   Then you see it – the express lane.  Moving rapidly, only three customers, with fewer than ten items each.  You know better, but you can’t resist the urge to switch lanes.  Immediately you realize your folly as your new queue-mates bog down in a quagmire of spills, missing bar codes, and declined debit cards.

Like a cow, craning her neck through a barbed-wire fence for grass no different from the field in which she stands, the search for contentment can seem futile.   We can’t stop believing the grass is really greener on the other side.   And so, we are always moving on to another thing, another person, another place, trying to find what we can’t describe, but think we would know if we found it.

But discontentment is the inevitable result of stuffing moth and rust into the eternal longings.  Temporal things – relationships, possessions and experiences — can never satisfy eternal needs.  There is nothing wrong with relationships, possessions, and experiences.  These supply our needs and bring great delight.  But they will never be enough.  If we pin our hopes on them to give rest to our restlessness, we will be disappointed and discontent.  English pastor and author, John Stott, wrote.

 “Possessions are the traveling luggage of time; they are not the stuff of eternity.  It would be sensible therefore to travel light.”

And an even older pastor, Augustine of Hippo, famously confessed.

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

Join us this Lord’s Day, January 27, as we examine 1 Timothy 6:3-10 and consider the toxic effects of discontentment and the effective prescription for contentment.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  Click here for directions. Come with a friend and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

From the Inside Out

From the Inside Out

Few creatures appear more benign than the guinea pig.  Only slightly discernable from a Tribble, the soft purring and endearing squeaks of the cavy make it a favorite pet of gentle souls and small children.  But despite their proverbial predictability, they can still surprise you.  For instance, it is almost impossible to tell when a guinea pig is pregnant.   You peek under their hiding place one day and, behold, there where you expected to find one pig is a litter of fluffy piglets. It is as though they fell from the sky.

More than this, though characterized by a patient and even temperament, guinea pigs can show flashes of intense anger   Like the “harmless little bunny” guarding the Cave of Caerbannog in Monty Python’s Holy Grail, the guinea pig has a dark side — “a vicious streak, a mile wide” — which when awakened may inflict great harm.  My daughter discovered this attempting to separate males who were vying for the attention of a female.  With unexpected ferocity, one of the boars latched on to her thumb and bit down to the bone, inflicting a terrifying wound.

In the ER, the doctor (after regaling us with tales of all the gruesome wounds he had seen during his residency at Cook County Medical in Chicago) informed us that for deep wounds, no stitches would be used.  “Wound like yours,” he said, “must heal from the inside out.”   Keep it clean and give it time.  To close the wound on the surface would only increase the likelihood of infection and would prevent deep healing below the surface.  Sure enough, eventually the deep and nasty wound healed.  There was a scar, but my daughter’s thumb was saved.

As in all our experiences, there is a spiritual parallel.  We are often eager to address the deepest wounds with the most superficial and external treatments.  Throw more resources over it and it is bound to heal.  Yet the deepest wounds must heal from the inside out.   Perhaps this is why the social injustices, addressed so pervasively in the Bible, are met with the same prescription – the gospel.   The deep wounds that have been inflicted by the sinful depravity of men must heal from the inside. What is needed are new hearts, not merely new circumstances.   Yes, there is merciful care like a wound dressing that must be topically applied to the site of social and spiritual wounds to aid healing.  But these mercies are not to be confused with the power and source of healing – this is the error of the social gospel.  Until hearts find healing in Christ, a mere change in circumstances will only prolong the wounds, inhibit healing, and increase the likelihood of infection.

This is why the Bible does not always prescribe the kind of external social change we expect, even when it acknowledges and abhors the social injustices we experience.  This is certainly true of what the Bible says about slavery.  While  unequivocal in its condemnation of slavery, the Bible instructs slaves to live lives that are transformed even when their circumstances are not.  The gospel takes the long view.  When men learn to walk in grace, peace and mercy, social transformation inevitably follows.   And sometimes it follows quickly.   Recall when Paul and his companions came to Thessalonica in Acts 17, their enemies declared, “those who have turned the world upside down, have now come here.”  Paul and his companions were not social revolutionaries, but in a short time their gospel had turned their world upside down – from the inside out.

Join us this Lord’s Day, January 20, as we examine what the Bible has to say to us about how we may live changed lives in the midst of unchanged circumstances.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  Click here for directions. Come with a friend and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.