Making Arrangements

Making Arrangements

Few things in my childhood inspired procrastination like completing a project for the Science fair.  I always had good ideas and a clear plan of attack, but I could never seem to get started.  If I had started working when I started worrying, I would have finished with months to spare.  But I just kept putting it off.  The tyranny of the blank page and the inertia of beginnings is a very strong emotional force.  A procrastinator at rest tends to remain at rest.  As the weeks ticked by, anxiety would grow until a mid-February meltdown called my father into action.  When it came to our projects, my father was a master logistician.  He would map out a plan and a schedule and put the wheels into motion.  With his own projects, however, it was a different story.  He would often quote Scarlett O’Hara – “Tomorrow — I’ll think about that tomorrow.”

That is what he said to me, when I suggested it might be important to make funeral plans.  He had absolutely no interest in thinking about those things.  The inertia of beginnings is at its strongest when it comes to making funeral plans.  But as a pastor I have noticed how helpful advanced funeral planning is for a grieving family.  From decisions about burial places and furnishings, to the logistics of services, down to the music and readings you want used – all these things give you the opportunity to make sure what matters most is shared with those who matter most as they grieve.   The thoughts shared at the funeral set the trajectory of grief and establish hope beyond the grave – hope that this is not the end, but only the end of the beginning — hope that there is more to come.

At first glance, it seems that Jesus’ burial arrangements were anything but planned.  The only preparation the gospels speak of is the anointing of Jesus at Bethany by Mary, the sister of Lazarus.  Victims of crucifixion could be claimed for burial only by their family. If not, they were thrown unceremoniously into unmarked graves.   The circumstances of Jesus death made it virtually impossible for his family to claim his body.  But as Good Friday ebbs away toward the Sabbath, events unfold which reveal that Jesus’ Heavenly Father had providentially made remarkable plans for his funeral, plans foretold hundreds of years before by the prophet Isaiah, who wrote, “And they made his grave … with a rich man in his death.” (Isaiah 53:9).

Jesus burial established a remarkable trajectory of hope for all who believe in him.  Had he been tossed into a Roman burial pit, many compelling proofs of the resurrection would have been lost.  But by God’s advanced funeral planning for His Only Begotten Son, he is buried in a prominent place, in a grave secure from unseen access, in a new, unused tomb, wrapped in grave-clothes that would be abandoned, in a tomb sealed and guarded tenaciously by his enemies.   God works through the courage of Joseph of Arimathea and the cowardice of the religious leaders to assure us that Christ is risen indeed.  Every detail of Jesus’ burial furnishes forensic proof of the resurrection and assures us of  our own redemption.

Join us this Lord’s Day, April 14, as we examine Matthew 27:57-66 and consider the significance of the death and burial of Jesus.  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.

Surely Not I?

Surely Not I?

In a culture where identity politics rule the public square, I think it is fair to say that we are not very good at objective self-reflection.  Like Narcissus, we are captivated with self-image, either loving ourselves without question or hating ourselves without knowing why.  Both these flavors of narcissism are products of the Fall, a legacy of man wanting to be his own god, longing to worship himself.  In this idolatry we lose the ability to see ourselves as we are, recognize the true source of our brokenness and pursue the only path to sharing in the divine nature.

The modern quest for wholeness has centered on self-esteem.  But the folly of this quest is exposed in a decades-long psychological survey which found that American students have more self-confidence and self-esteem than ever, but less ability than students forty years ago.  A recent survey of college freshmen showed they are increasingly likely to label themselves as gifted in writing ability, while objective test scores indicate that actual writing ability has gone down since the 1960s.

Another study observed the same phenomena in math and science.  In the study, an average American student with high confidence scored only 551 on a standardized test in which a score of 500 is the statistical norm.  The study concluded that while Western students believe that they are doing well in mathematics – they are, in fact, lagging behind other nations.  This self-esteem/ability gap was even more pronounced in Europe, where  self-identified high achievers averaged scores of 514, barely above the statistical norm.

In contrast students in non-Western cultures, who viewed their abilities as average, consistently outperformed their Western counterparts by a wide margin, averaging scores above 630 on the same test.  Even non-Western students with low self-confidence averaged 544.  A recent article rightly notes.

This generation was raised to value self-esteem above discipline and achievement. Consequently, students are feeling better than ever about themselves while performing worse. We have become a nation of narcissists.

As tragic as this may be to knowledge and ability, it is absolutely fatal to the soul.  Self-esteem hardens us to the reality of our sin and the need for a deliverance completely outside ourselves.  Only those who have, as one preacher noted, “a wholesome self-distrust which a glimpse into the slumbering possibilities of evil in our hearts out to give us all,” are able to rightly understand the seriousness of their predicament.  This is seen in living color at the Last Supper as painted for us in Matthew’s gospel.

The Passover was one of the most joyous times of the year.  Families were gathered, the traditions were observed, the feast was lavish, the old, old stories were recounted, songs were sung.  Jesus was gathered with his family – his disciples, ‘The Twelve,’ men who had been with him through thick and thin, for three years of 24 x 7 ministry.  As the feast begins, however, Jesus shatters the jubilant mood with a deafening call to self-reflection.   “One of you will betray me!”  One of the Twelve!  Not a Roman, or a Pharisee, or a Sadducee, or a Herodian – one of you will betray me.   Men who routinely argued over who was the greatest are now confronted with their own frailty in the face history’s most notorious treachery.   At that moment eleven men recognize just how powerful sin can be, but one is hardened.  “Surely it is not I, Teacher?” says Judas, refusing to examine himself and come.

How willing are you to see your life through the lens of the gospel?  To recognize the absolute despotism of your sin and yet the liberating power of God’s mercy to you in Christ?   How willing are you to examine yourself and come?  Join us this Lord’s Day, March 17, as we examine Matthew 26:1-35 and consider the gospel’s call to self-examination and redemption.  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.

Learning to Rest

Learning to Rest

When I was a boy, Ted Turner’s fledgling Superstation served up a daily heapin’ helping of 50’s and 60’s pop culture.  Afternoons were fed by a diet of Gilligan’s Island, The Munsters, Leave it to Beaver, The Beverly Hillbillies and  I Love Lucy.  We all nurtured a crush on Mary Ann, because Ginger was out of our league. We shared Marilyn Munster’s pain as the ugly duckling.  We had a neighbor-kid like Eddie Haskell who snowed the adults and terrorized the kids, and we wondered why Lucy and Ricky slept in twin beds when none of our parents did.

As an adult, however, I uncovered the answer to that final enigma.   Like many married couples, my wife and I have very different preferences for a good night’s sleep.  I throw off all the covers and  roll over and over like a rotisserie chicken.  Meanwhile my wife has four layers of progressively heavier covers, values stillness, and maintains a vast collection of strategically placed pillows.  And then there are the rice socks, microwaved every night, to provide her with the warmth my feet cannot generate.  Years ago, a massive reordering of bedrooms out our house, led to a marital revolution.  My wife and I found ourselves left with two single beds pushed together.   Dual climate control and independent suspension in the bedroom have done wonders for sleep and marriage. 

It is curious that we require so many props and preferences to sleep.  The thing we were created to spend the most time doing, is the most elusive and complicated dimension of our lives.  We accumulate more and more sleep strategies – “my-pillow,” memory foam beds, sleep therapy, teas and supplements, but we still struggle to ever feel rested.  We pour our heart, soul, and strength into the pursuit of leisure, be we have no idea how to actually rest.

Perhaps, rest — so fundamental to human life — eludes our grasp because we refuse to consult our instruction manual.  The Bible has a lot to say about rest and speaks of it as one of God’s great gifts.  It is woven into the fabric of time.  God created the seventh day specifically for the purpose of rest that man’s life would not be one of unending toil.

Jesus noted that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.   Both the promised land and life in heaven is pictured as rest – not the cessation of productive life or endless sleep, but life lived without strife and adversity.   Perhaps rest is so elusive for us because sin and its effects make it hard to envision life without the strife and adversity.

The apostle Paul, in his final words in Timothy commands him to “stay strong” in the face of weariness and failure in ministry.  But Paul gives Timothy more than a hashtag or a silicon bracelet.  He gives him a word of substance.  The key to staying strong is not trying harder, but learning to rest in Christ.  This sounds great, but how do we do that?  If we can’t figure what it looks like to get eight hours of sleep, how are we going to be able to rest in Christ?   Paul gives Timothy a powerful picture when he tells him,

Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15

Paul’s prescription is simple.  “Timothy spend your time with God’s Word and not with the words of men.”  Be diligent to learn and meditate on God’s promises, grasp the height, depths and breadth of His steadfast love for you, and seek wisdom from His Word to cut away all the unrestful words that infect our hearts with despair.  To rest in Jesus, we must rest in the promises and truth found in His Word.   What does it take for you to rest?  Have you learned to rest in Christ?

Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission spent many years struggling to connect with the people in the Chinese interior.  He worked harder and harder without any results.  He was exhausted.  In a letter to a friend he expressed his frustrations.  His friend’s wise response became his “spiritual secret.”

How then to have our faith increased? Only by thinking of all that Jesus is and all He is for us: His life, His death, His work, He Himself as revealed to us in the Word, to be the subject of our constant thoughts. Not a striving to have faith…but a looking off to the Faithful One seems all we need; a resting in the Loved One entirely, for time and for eternity. – Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret

How to have faith increased?  Not by striving after faith, but by resting in the faithful one.  Join us this Lord’s Day, March 10, as we examine 2 Timothy 2:14-19 and learn how to rest in Christ.  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.

Will You Hold the Ropes?

Will You Hold the Ropes?

You may have heard of William Carey, the “father of modern missions”; but perhaps you have never heard of his good friend Andrew Fuller.  Before leaving for India, Carey famously told Fuller, “I will go down into the pit, if you will hold the ropes.”

Fuller held the ropes by traveling all over the British Isles, raising funds and preaching missions-related sermons. The missionaries in India and other early fields could concentrate on their ministry in the field because they knew Fuller was holding the ropes for them.

William Carey was courageous and faithful to his call, but he would not have been able to go to India and establish his mission work if not for all those “holding the ropes.” Church planting pastors and the seedling churches they plant, like those early missionaries, depend on you to “hold the ropes.”

Are you willing to hold the ropes for your ARP Church plants?

  • Will you give of your substance?
  • Will you pray for your church planting pastors and their congregations?
  • Will you write, visit, and call them to encourage them?
  • Will you move to their city and be a part of what they are doing?

Will you hold the ropes?  We would ask you to partner with us at River City Reformed Church in Little Rock and join us as a “rope holder.”  You can find out more at https://rivercityarp.org/partner-with-us-financially/.  We would also encourage you to consider holding the ropes for our other ARP church plants.  You can find more info and links to give at https://outreachnorthamerica.org/directory/.

#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.