Wounds That Heal

Wounds That Heal

Hypochondriacs come in two varieties.  The first variety is so certain that something is deadly wrong that he continually shuttles back and forth to the doctor armed with a detailed litany of possible symptoms and probable diagnoses.  This type of hypochondriac consumes Dr. Koop’s Self-Care Advisor: The Essential Home Health Guide for You and Your Family and has dog-eared every page.   But the second variety of hypochondriac is quite the opposite.  Certain that something is deadly wrong, he copes through denial.  The last thing he wants is for a doctor to confirm what he knows is already true – that the worst possible diagnosis lurks just beneath the veneer of good health and common symptoms.  This type of hypochondriac fears diagnosis and treatment more than sickness and death.   He is more comfortable with his perceived sickness than with the prospect or process of healing and health.  For he knows that the physician must wound in order to heal.

For whether the sickness is unsoundness of body or mind, the physician must often wound in order to heal.  To access a sickness, a cancer, an or an infection, surgeons and wound care specialists must painfully penetrate the surface that seems sound in order to address the issues that lie buried in tissue and obscurity.  Both to diagnose and to treat, quite often the healer must first make a wound.   This is true of the Great Physician as well.  He wields the scalpel of His living and active word, “piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:13)  He must make deep cuts to lay bear the diseased areas of our lives.  Not for our destruction, but for our healing.   The OT prophet says it so poignantly,

Come, let us return to the Lord; for he has torn us, that he may heal us; he has struck us down, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up,  that we may live before him.  Hosea 6:1-2

But the irony is that the deepest wounds made for our healing, were made to another entirely.  For we read of Jesus in another OT prophet,

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.  Isaiah 53:4-5

God wounds to heal.   We can see this in the life of Jacob and his sons.  Jacob refused all comfort over the loss of Joseph and resolved never to lay aside the mourner’s clothes.  Meanwhile his sons buried, deep in their souls, guilt and sin against their brother and their father.  They seemed irredeemably enslaved in the grip of a decades-old sin and its consequences.  Yet God wounds to heal. His living and active scalpel is sharp and uncovers the disease of sin, slowly calcifying their hearts.  He lays bare their terminal condition in order to transplant their stony hearts with hearts of flesh.   What grief or sin have your buried deep in your soul, refusing to be comforted and refusing the conviction of God’s Word and Spirit?  God has not forgotten it neither have you.

Join us this Lord’s Day, May 20, as we as we examine the continuing story of Jacob as his sons as God brings them to crisis and conviction in order to bring healing and forgiveness. As we consider their story we will also see the character of this God who wounds us to heal us.  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.

Beloved Enemy

Beloved Enemy

While I was often a mischievous boy, I was rarely rebellious or overtly disobedient.  On a few, memorable occasions, however, my mother uttered the phrase much feared by children of my generation — “go sit on your bed and wait until your Father gets home.”   Now my father was not overly harsh in his discipline, but he was certainly firm.  A season of “biblical chastisement” from him was nothing to be considered lightly.   The hours of silent reflection awaiting his ever-punctual arrival at 5:15 pm ranged the gamut of guilty emotions; fear of punishment, rationalization of wrongdoing, grief over future lost privileges and then true sorrow for sin and disappointment with myself.

The must crushing part of my dad’s discipline was not the sting of the swat or the stern discussion about the seriousness of sin, but it was the lines of unspoken, but not unexpressed, disappointment etched in his face.   Only now, as a father myself, do I realize that some of that disappointment was no doubt with himself and not in my actions alone, but no child can grasp that.   The comfort that I had in the midst of the approaching storm was that my father loved me.  Even as a boy, I grasped that though in discipline he seemed to be an enemy for a moment, he was a beloved enemy – bringing me by sorrow of body to sorrow of soul and thus to repentance and forgiveness.

The scripture paints of this picture of our Heavenly Father, who because of our sin is for a time our “beloved enemy.”   Romans 2:4 reminds us that it is the “kindness of God that leads to repentance” and Hebrews 12:5-6 which exhorts us,

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”

As the story of Jacob unfolds into the story of Joseph in the closing chapters of the book of Genesis, we see a pretty sorry portrayal of the lives and character of Joseph’s brothers.  They are violent, deceptive, contentious, spiteful, unbelievably disrespectful to their father, despisers of the covenant like their uncle, Esau, sexually immoral, just to name a few of their characteristics.   Their attempted murder of Joseph is only thwarted by some lingering vestigial conscience in Reuben and Judah and by the providential arrival of a caravan of slave traders.   For over twenty years, while Joseph languishes in slavery and prison in Egypt, they remain at home, never speaking of or dealing with their guilt toward their brother, their father and most of all toward God.

But God has not forgotten.  Just as he was a beloved enemy of their Father at Peniel, so God is slowly working to bring them to repentance through a remarkable reunion with Joseph who has now risen to great power and position in Egypt.   Does the Lord seem to be a threat or an enemy in your life?  Perhaps in His kindness, He is leading you to repentance and cleansing from some sin that has held power for far too long in your life. Maybe, just maybe, He is a beloved enemy whose woundings are to be trusted.

Join us this Lord’s Day, May 13, as we examine the continuing story of Joseph as his brothers appear before him to find food in the famine and find something much more powerful and needful.  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 you and join us for fellowship and conversation. We look forward to seeing you there.

I Spy

I Spy

Long road trips in 1973 were very different from their contemporary counterparts.   We had no DVDs, no mini-vans, no cup-holders, no electronic devices and no headphones.  My sisters an I would sit together in the back seat of our Galaxy 500, with its 2-60 AC (two open windows at 60 mph) and rough textured upholstery.   My father was impervious to the childhood lament, “we’re bored.”  It was up to us to come up with games to pass the time.  My dad drove very slowly and we absolutely never stopped unless it was a bona-fide health emergency.   We worked our way through the alphabet on road signs, searching diligently for that elusive word that began with ‘X.’  We counted Volkswagen Beetles.  And, our course, we played “I Spy.”

Today, “I Spy” has evolved into a series of elaborate picture books in which the items to be found are displayed in plain sight in a photograph littered with thematic clutter to distract and disguise the visual scavenger hunt.  One item always proved most elusive.  Once found, it seemed remarkable that it was so difficult to spot.  There it was, right on the page, not hidden or obscured, just surrounded by a thousand curious and compelling distractions.

The Bible can often feel that way for some.  Filled with names and dates and historical context, foreign to our education and experience, and with cultural practices so different from our own, we are often derailed by a thousand curious and compelling distractions, so that we don’t see what is there in plain sight.  Even the religious leaders of Jesus’ day viewed the Bible as a mere system of morals, of individual do’s and don’ts, such that they missed the picture because all they saw was brushstrokes.   Jesus rebuked them saying, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” (John 5:39)

The Bible reveals God’s nature and His promises.  It shows us our brokenness because of sin and the means of healing and wholeness through faith in Christ.  From beginning to end, the Bible bears witness about Jesus – his nature, our need of him, his finished work, his sufficiency.   Yet sometimes we can’t see the picture for the brushstrokes.   This is especially true sometimes in the narratives of the Old Testament.  An ancient pastor, Augustine of Hippo, once wrote “the new [testament] is in the old concealed; the old [testament] is in the new revealed.”   This is so poignantly pictured in the story of Joseph as he comes to power and provides food for the people during the years of famine.  Joseph, the Jew, rejected by his own and condemned by the state, by God’s miraculous providence, becomes a temporal savior of the world.  When the hungry come to Pharaoh for provision he sends them to Joseph as the only way to find life-giving provision.   The picture of Joseph feeding the victims of famine is a picture of the greater Joseph, Jesus, who as the bread of heaven feeds men’s hungry souls and gives life.

Join us this Lord’s Day, May 6, as we examine the continuing story of Joseph feeding the people during a severe famine and consider how this story points to a greater Joseph, the Lord Jesus, who gives life to hungry souls.  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 you and join us for fellowship and conversation. We look forward to seeing you there.

New Members Q & A

New Members Q & A

During the month of May, we will host a series of three gatherings on Thursday evenings to discuss membership in River City Reformed Church.  We will meet May 3, 17, and 24 from 6:30 – 7:30 pm in the Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church where we meet each Lord’s Day evening for worship.  For directions click here.

These gatherings will include discussion from to the book, “Don’t Swear in Church: Unless You Really Mean It” as well as conversation about what it means to be a Christian, why church membership matters and what it looks like, what it means to be an Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and what is distinct about the vision and ministry philosophy of River City Reformed Church.

These meetings are not required to pursue membership, but are meant to be a helpful introduction to it.  Childcare will be provided for those who want to utilize it.  Following these gatherings we will schedule time for families to meet with our Provisional Session to share their profession of faith and take vows of membership.

I pray that you will be able to join us as we take this next step together.

Practice Time

Practice Time

Every performer hates to practice.  Practice is humiliating.  It is the seemingly endless process of slowly transforming failure into mastery.  For every perfectly executed recital there are thousands of hours of scales, arpeggios and tears.  For every game-winning home-run, free-throw or field-goal there are hundreds of lonely, exhausting hours in the batting cage, the gym or on the practice field.  Few things in life that require greatness come to pass quickly or easily.

Yet we live in a culture of fast-food, quick-service and 1-click consumerism.  We do not need to wait for the next episode of our favorite show.  We can binge on a whole season of streamed content on demand.  Yet real craftsmanship and accomplishment takes time and care.   The calling of the Christian life is to be conformed to the image of Christ Jesus.  Christians are called ‘God’s workmanship, created for good works.’  But this is an often long and difficult process of conformity.  The Bible likens it to a refiner’s fire.

In his youth, God had spoken to Joseph in dreams, revealing a great and glorious purpose for his life. But almost from the moment those dreams were dreamed, Joseph’s life had appeared anything but great or glorious.  Nearly murdered by his jealous brothers, trafficked into slavery to foreign enemies, wrongly accused by his master’s wife, imprisoned by her husband, and forgotten by an influential fellow prisoner whose parole and vindication were foretold by Joseph through dream interpretation, Joseph’s life seemed off irredeemably off track.  Every move only seemed to be a move downward.  He was hardly on a trajectory toward a great and glorious purpose.

Yet God works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform.  Often, He works slowly in our lives in order to then work quickly.  The pathway to Joseph’s purpose was through humiliation, injustice and forsakenness.  Yet God had not forgotten him.  Far from it.  God purposed through these frowning providences to mold Joseph into a man ready to serve and lead when the time was right.  In a mere moment, in God’s moment, Joseph was transformed from prisoner to prime minister.

The hard truth is that there is no waste in God’s economy.  Every loop in Joseph’s downward spiral, every wrong he received for every good he had done was part of God’s plan to make him fit for what was coming.  None of Joseph’s suffering was gratuitous or unnecessary.  Every experience was just what was needed to make him the man God would use.  A. W. Tozer famously wrote “It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He has hurt him deeply” and Robert M. M’Cheyne noted that “it is not great talents God blesses so much as likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.”

Join us this Lord’s Day, April 29, as we examine the story of Joseph and consider how God works slowly in our lives in order to work quickly and use us powerfully.  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 you and join us for fellowship and conversation. We look forward to seeing you there.

Failure to Communicate

Failure to Communicate

The 1967 movie, Cool Hand Luke, immortalized the line, “what we have here is failure to communicate.”   We have all experienced the devastating effects of “failure to communicate.”  Communication is the life-blood of all relationships.  Without effective communication, two remain two, rather than becoming one.  One person may have love, admiration, respect, gratitude and compassion toward another, but when these remain unexpressed it is as if they don’t exist, or worse – the opposites are implied.   Silence imputes motives and imputed motives are rarely positive.  More often than not the motives we impute are animated by suspicion, insecurity and criticism.  And the more intimate the relationship, the more profound and intense are the effects.

This is seen most vividly when there is a failure to communicate with God.   While it is fashionable these days to claim atheism, most who adopt this label are really agnostics.  The agnostic does not reject the possibility of God’s existence, but holds that such a God, if He exists, cannot be known.  He is mute.   And a mute God is a dangerous God.   For if we have no way to know whether He is friend or foe or to what extent He holds sway over our lives, we can never rest.   The “what ifs” that grow out of our imputed motives for this God make us suspicious and fearful.  Like pagans, whose gods of wood and stone had mouths but could not speak and ears but could not hear, we construct fearful rituals to placate the expected anger of a unknown God.

If only we could hear from Him and know what kind of God He is.  As the ancient sufferer, Job, once said, “If only there were someone to mediate between us, someone to bring us together.” (Job 9:33)  Yet the consistent refrain of the Bible is that God has spoken.  He is not silent.  He is a God who reveals himself and does not hide away in obscurity or concealment.   The Psalmist declares

God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting…. Our God comes; he does not keep silence.  Psalm 50:1, 3

Later it is written

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.  Hebrews 1:1-2

The God of the Bible is not mute.  He has revealed Himself in many ways in the past and now, most clearly, through His Word.  From the beginning of history until this very day, God has not failed to communicate.  We see this in the life of Joseph during his enslavement in Egypt.  Though separated from homeland and family, God was with Him and spoke to him and through him to rescue the men of his times from famine and death and to point to a Greater Joseph who would come to save men from spiritual famine and eternal death.

Join us this Lord’s Day, April 22, as we examine the story of Joseph from Genesis 40 and consider how and why God reveals Himself to men.  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 you and join us for fellowship and conversation. We look forward to seeing you there.

Disappointment

Disappointment

Few experiences in life are more humiliating than being stood up.   As we sit alone at a café table or wait anxiously at a restaurant entrance, our emotions run the whole gamut of worry, then embarrassment, then anger, then bitterness, then disappointment, then perhaps jadedness.

The word disappointment literally means having an anticipated appointment unmade unexpectedly – an appointment with success, with accolades, with love, with companionship, or with the object of our desire.  When we are stood up our minds immediately rush to cast blame and identify a culprit for our disappointment.   Who is responsible? Who cancelled the anticipated appointment?  Sometimes our disappointment is with ourselves, sometimes it is with others, often it is with God.

The life of Joseph in Old Testament was marked with many bitter disappointments.  His father unwisely showed him great favoritism and Joseph unwisely lorded it over his brothers.  Not surprisingly, his brothers hated him with murderous rage and, at the first opportunity, seized him and sold him into slavery in Egypt.  Once there, he was unjustly accused by his master’s wife and thrown into prison and forgotten.

Later in Joseph’s life, he was able to look in his life’s rear-view mirror and declare to his brothers, “what you meant for evil, God meant for good.”  But as these events unfolded he no doubt experienced disappointment with his family, his situation and, perhaps, even his God.  In Joseph’s story we have a foreshadowing of Jesus’ humiliation and suffering as our savior.  But here we may also find wisdom to follow Christ in the midst of our own bitter disappointments.

Join us this Lord’s Day, April 15, as we examine the story of Joseph from Genesis 39 and consider what it looks like to follow Jesus in the midst of disappointment.  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 you and join us for fellowship and conversation. We look forward to seeing you there.