Sorry?

Sorry?

One of the places where human depravity is more clearly displayed than rush hour traffic, may be a child’s birthday party.   These gatherings, designed to celebrate a child’s special day, can easily turn into self-fests, with every attendee assuming that he, himself, is the reason for the season.   Meanwhile parents visit with one another in relative oblivion, until little Johnny Schmidt goes too far.

Then you hear it. “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt!  You tell little birthday Bobby you are sorry.”  Called from parental lethargy, Mrs. Schmidt arises, grasps John Jacob by the ear and marches him to the emotional remains of birthday Bobby and repeats the command.  “Say it!  Say your sorry! Say it now!” She bellows.

John Jacob barely opens his mouth and barely disturbs the air with his virtually inaudible, “Sor-ry.”  And everyone who observes this farce thinks the same thing.  The thought bubble above everyone’s head screams, “No You’re Not! You’re not one bit sorry!”  Everyone knows that John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt is anything but sorry.  Birthday Bobby knows it.  Mrs. Schmidt knows it.  And John Jacob smiles inwardly.  The use of a magic word has relieved him of all consequence.  Nothing has changed.  Bobby is still an emotional wreck, the party has been ruined, contrary to her self-deception, Mrs. Schmidt has not actually parented her son.  All that was broken is still broken.   But John Jacob has been released from trouble.  Or has he?

This is what most people think repentance looks like – like John Jacob using magical religious words, smooth words to remove consequence and relieve himself of obligation for his sin against God and others.  We mumble a half-hearted prayer, say “sorry” in liturgical dressing and, voila, everything is fixed.  Or is it?   We are so self-centered by nature that we can never escape the gravity of self-love in order to truly repent under our own power.   Repentance demands sorrow for how our sins affected others, not just how they affect us.   The Apostle Paul distinguishes between godly sorrow that rightly grieves its offense and worldly sorrow that only grieves its consequences.

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 2 Corinthians 7:10

Real repentance begins with God — with his kindness, with his grace, with the convicting work of His Holy Spirit.  Without this kind of real repentance, we live lives that are broken – broken in our relationship with God and broken in every other relationship as well.  It is not enough to say, “sorry” and think that magic words will put the world back the way it was before.  What we need is real, gracious, God-given repentance.

As God calls Judah to account for her sin through the prophet Jeremiah, His Words are not words of bare judgment, but a gracious call to repentance, grace, forgiveness, mercy and salvation.  This same call comes to us to show us the way home from the pig-sty of our own selfishness.   Have you received God’s gift of repentance unto life?  Do you want to see what that looks like and hear how to find it?

Join us this Sunday, July 14 as we examine the amazing grace of God and his call to come home in Jeremiah 3.  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.

Accepting the Call

Accepting the Call

The sound was unmistakable.  I can still hear it in my memory.  The sound of a wooden spoon stirring pancake batter in a Tupperware bowl.  It was the sound of Saturday morning.  My father did not cook often, but Saturday morning was his time to shine in the culinary arts.  My father loved pancakes — tall stacks of pancakes drowned in maple syrup.  But these pancakes, garnished with sausage, had a deeper significance.  As much as my Dad loved piles of carbs drenched with more carbs, pancakes prepared a man for work.   And work was the order of the day on Saturdays.   The early morning sound of pancake batter was the clarion call to wake for work.

For my childhood friends, Saturday morning was a time to sleep in and focus on the business of play.  But in our house, my father cast another vision.  His vision involved rising early, eating a hearty breakfast, loading the car with gardening tools and making the hour-long drive to our “property” to tend the tomatoes, squash, corn, string-beans and watermelons.   I was not an enthusiastic gardener, but I loved to be with my father.  I am quite sure my father could have gotten more done without me, but he took me because he wanted me with him in his work.

The challenges were great.  The roto-tiller was like a rodeo bronc.  Pulling weeds from the hard-baked Georgia clay bloodied my fingers.  The broiling hours under the summer sun seemed interminable.  And I can still hear the sound of the cicadas that formed the soundtrack of gardening adversity.   But there were great rewards — hearing the stories of my forefathers, seeing “the old places” where my family’s history unfolded, sharing peanut butter and banana sandwiches with my dad and the world’s coldest “Co-cola” (Georgian for Coca-Cola) from Mr. Crow’s General Store.   And the coup-de-grace was my father’s declaration at the end of the day that I had done a solid day of man’s work.  The call that came with the wooden spoon striking Tupperware was reluctantly heeded at the day’s dawning, but at day’s end, I was thankful for I had accepted the call.

That is often what God’s calling is like.  At first it is daunting and dreaded, filled with thoughts of adversity and self-doubt.  And often it is just as hard as we expected.  However, it is never a call merely to do a job, but to spend time at work with the Father.  While God does not need us to accomplish his plan and purpose, he delights to have us with him at work.  He chooses to call us to go with him.

We see this vividly in God’s call to the prophet Jeremiah.   God has work for Jeremiah to do.  He tells him to “gird up his loins” and get dressed for work, but first he tells him that even before he formed Jeremiah in his mother’s womb, he knew him and set him apart to declare the gospel to perishing men, women, boys and girls.   The language is tender, as of a father lovingly planning for a child yet unborn.  And most importantly, God is not just sending Jeremiah, pushing him out of the nest to face the cold, harsh realities of a world hostile to the gospel.  Notice the promise that animates Jeremiah’s call.  Twice the Lord tells the reluctant prophet, “do not be afraid … for I am with you.”

Jeremiah’s calling reveals important truths about our own callings.  God never merely send us out to work for him, but invites us to join him where he is in what he is doing.  Is it intimidating?  Is there self-doubt?  Of course, but we have the promise of his power and his presence.   Have you accepted God’s call?  His call to come to him through faith in Christ and then his call to join him in his work?

Join us this Sunday, June 30, as we examine Jeremiah’s call in Jeremiah 1:4-19 and consider what this teaches us about God’s call to 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. Come with a friend and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Big Shoes

Big Shoes

I admit it, it was afraid of the prospect of changing diapers.  When my first child was born, I told my wife I needed to change that first diaper so I could conquer my fears from the get-go.  But I had not done my homework.  I was not prepared for meconium. It was more than I had bargained for – much more.   But meconium was not the most shocking aspect of becoming a father.  Most unexpected was the realization that my children would look at me, the way I had looked at my own father.  I never for an instant believed that he did not know how to handle any and every situation. He always seemed to have a plan, to have things under control — except that is when he attempted to fix household appliances.

But as a new dad, I was painfully aware that I did not know how to handle any and every situation.  I did not always have a plan, nor did I have things under control.   As a child my confidence in my father made the uncertain certain, and made the impossible possible.  He taught me to plan, to write, to teach.  He taught me the importance of serving others, and in particular, of serving Christ.  He had his faults to be sure, but I am thankful to be my father’s son.  His shoes were very big.  I sat with him as he drew his last breath in this life.  I was surprised by an overwhelming sense of being untethered as he left us.  Though I was almost fifty years old with seven children of my own, the thought of a world without my father seemed unexpectedly daunting.

Our fathers define us.  Either by their place in our lives, or by their absence.  Some infused us with strength and confidence, while others saddled us with weakness and insecurity.   In one way or another we are all shaped by fatherhood.   But no Father-figure has more power to shape us than our Heavenly Father.  Unlike earthly fathers, our unbounded faith and confidence in Him is never misplaced.  Unlike our own fathers, every promise of His gets kept.  No sin or circumstance crashes in to derail his best intentions or unveil some sinister aspect of his character.   He is good and his steadfast love endures forever.  His mercies are new every morning and His faithfulness is great.  There is no shadow of turning with Him.  Not one of His promises ever fails and not one of His words ever falls flat.   Without Him we are truly untethered.

When Jesus’ disciples came to Him and asked Him, “Lord, teach us to pray,” Jesus taught them the pattern of prayer we commonly call, ‘The Lord’s Prayer.’  We have heard it so many times that it is hard to grasp how revolutionary it is.  The religious men of Jesus’ day spoke about God as their Father, but they never addressed Him as ‘Father.’  But Jesus taught us that God, our Father, delights in us.  He loves for us to draw near.  He wants us to call Him, ‘Father.’ He has gone to unimaginable lengths, in sending His only begotten Son, to adopt us as His own.  He promises to love us as we have never been loved, care for us, save us, sustain us, instruct us, and give us life.

Fatherhood defines us.  And God is the one who defines fatherhood.  This Father’s Day, June 16, celebrate the World’s Greatest Father with us as we gather to worship Him as His adopted sons and daughters.  River City Reformed Church meets 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.

Go West, Young Man!

Go West, Young Man!

Long before Horace Greely penned those now famous words, “Go West Young Man,” the Apostle Paul heeded the call of the Man of Macedonia to go west to plant churches on a whole new continent.  He had formulated another plan, he thought he knew where he was headed, but the Holy Spirit changed his itinerary.

And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Acts 16:9

Paul answered the call to ‘go west’ and the gospel was planted began to take root in Europe.  The cultures there were very different. Support was uncertain.  And Paul had to adapt his usual modus operandi to engage cities without synagogues or significant Jewish enclaves.  But he went.

What about you?  You have your plans to serve, but what if God is calling you to “go west?”  What if God is calling you to Arkansas?  Come over and help us plant and grow Reformed Churches in the west.   The culture is different.  The support is uncertain.  But the need is great.   Find out more by checking out  why we need another church in Little Rock. Or contact us.

Caricatures

Caricatures

As a boy, our summer vacations were highly anticipated and utterly predictable.    A week or two after school let out, we made the beloved pilgrimage to Panama City Beach.  Fulfilling all beach righteousness meant cheap rubber rafts, 2 x 55 (yes, 55mph) air conditioning, ice cream cones, sand burrs, driving up and down the strip looking for a hotel that was $1 cheaper than the place that seemed perfect, dinner at Captain Andersons, spoiled sand-dollars in the trunk and caricature artists.

Beachside caricature artists are an amazing mix of comic illustrator and psychoanalyst.  A few minutes of conversation and careful observation, empowers these seaside Michelangelos to capture both the appearance and essence of their subject with uncanny clarity.  While it is hard to describe what makes an effective illustration, we all know it when we see it.  The Bible prizes powerful illustration.  Apt words are like apples of gold in settings of silver.  Two thousand years of Old Testament types and shadows carefully illustrate the person and work Christ as no artist can (or may). While the complicated lives of the Bible’s protagonists illustrate the power of the grace to redeem and restore.

Judah’s story is a poignant example.  When we meet him, he is more like his uncle Esau than his father Jacob.  He leaves the family, marries into Canaanite culture, fathers wicked sons, treats his daughter-in-law shamefully, follows his own lusts and blames his ancestry and his environment for all his troubles.  He is the antithesis of his brother, Joseph.   But the Lord has not forsaken Judah. When God works in Judah’s life, he is graciously transformed from a man who portrays the worst of humanity to one who resembles the very best human ever, the Lord Jesus Christ, even offering himself as a surety for his brother Benjamin.  His transformation illustrates powerfully the power of God’s grace to do what circumstance and will-power can never effect.

Illustrations get our attention and draw us into story.  An author’s work may be compelling, but unless the cover art catches our eye will may never give it a read.  Only academic books that depend upon professorial compulsion can sport a cheerless cover.  While it is proverbial that you can’t judge the book by its cover, you will probably never judge it at all unless its cover is attractive.  In the same way, our lives are supposed to be salt and light to a tasteless and dark world.  While it is not sufficient to follow St. Francis’ maxim “preach always and, if necessary, use words,” how you live your life determines whether anyone will listen to your sermon.  The minister’s life is the life of his ministry.

Think about this question.  If you were the only Christian a person had ever seen, what would they know about Christianity?  And what is more, what would they think about it?  In his letter to Titus, the Apostle Paul, pens one of the most powerful statements about the effects of God’s grace when it takes root in our lives.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:1-14

The gospel does what Oprah, Dr. Phil and the whole pantheon of self-help gods can never do– liberate us from living as slaves to ourselves.  But if this is true, the lives of Christians should give evidence of this.  Paul instructs his hearers to let their lives illustrate the gospel.  He addresses old and young, men and women, wives and mothers, and especially pastors and church leaders.  But his crowning instruction and illustration is for servants – more specifically slaves – who serve masters who are both literally and figuratively Cretans.  He tells these slaves to work, submit, serve, show respect, and live before the face of God and men in such a way that “in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.”

Does your life adorn the gospel?  Does it illustrate the story of God’s grace?  If you were the only Christian a person had ever seen, what would they know about Christianity?”  And what would they think about it?  How do we adorn the teaching of God our Savior.

Join us this Sunday, June 9, as we examine Titus 2:9-10 and consider how our lives are to illustrate the power of grace to a graceless world.  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.

No Extras

No Extras

My acting career was short-lived and very boring.  Sure, I had those inspired roles in elementary school productions – the Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, Charlie Brown (a la the Coasters) in a Tribute to the 50s – but my shining moment came in 1979 when I was invited by the casting director of the movie Little Darlings to play the role of a random summer camper.

Ok, to be clear I was an “extra,” one of those dispensable figures in the background who more or less takes up space.   For two grueling Georgia summer days, I and my fellow Hollywood hopefuls donned our camp t-shirts, sat around for hours and then walked up and down a hill twice.  To be honest, I never even saw the movie.  I can’t say whether I appeared in any scenes with Tatum O’Neal, Jodie Foster or Matt Dillon.  My obvious talent in thoughtfully walking up and down a hill with a thousand other grade-schoolers never caught the eye of any other casting directors, but I did get paid $25.  That was enough to buy a few packs of baseball cards, a couple of Slurpees, and a trip to Six Flags Over Georgia.

Extras in movies are only significant for the space they occupy.  What they do or don’t do, what talents they have or don’t have, what they say or don’t say is all irrelevant.   They are visual filler, just providing a background for the real actors.  Unlike a movie, however, there are no extras in the body of Christ, the Church.  No person has no role.  And no person has a role which is dispensable, unimportant, or irrelevant.  Every person is absolutely necessary.  Churches sometimes treat members as though they are extras, never helping them to discover their gifts and callings and never asking or expecting them to serve and participate.  And often members act as though they are extras, assuming that they are just the crowd scene for the church’s main actors.  But scripture reminds us that there are no extras in the church.

But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor… 1 Corinthians 12:18ff

Paul’s illustrates this vividly every time he gives instructions in his letters to particular people or extends greetings to and from members of specific churches.   We often gloss over these sections in teaching and preaching, until we are reminded that every word of God is breathed out by Him and useful.  Like the genealogies of the Old Testament, Paul’s personal greetings are God’s word to encourage us, instruct us, and warn us to discern our gifts and callings and to take our part in the life and ministry of the church.  We need to be reminded that we are actors, not extras, in the drama of redemption.

Join us this Sunday, May 26, as we examine 2 Timothy 4:9-22 and consider how Paul’s personal greetings and instructions call us to discern our gifts and callings to take our indispensable place in the body of 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.

Leaving A Mark

Leaving A Mark

Hard as we try, it is impossible to ‘leave no trace.’  Our lives will always leave a mark.  But what kind of mark will we leave? Like a child’s name carved into a family heirloom, the marks we leave produce a mix of painful regret and powerful remembrance.   But what will be the final assessment?  Is it possible to live life and come to the end with no regrets?  As a pastor who thinks a lot about what is said and sung at funerals, I was shocked recently to hear that a perennial favorite song for funerals was “My Way” by Frank Sinatra.

In his ultimate tribute to a narcissistic life, Sinatra declared: “I’ve lived a life that’s full, I traveled each and every highway, and more, much more than this, I did it my way.”  But anyone who lives this way leaves tsunamis of brokenness and regret in their wake.  Assuming we do not live only for ourselves, is it possible to come to the end of our life without regrets?   Most of us would probably say no!  But the Apostle Paul says something shocking in a letter to his spiritual son, Timothy, as he talks frankly about his impending death.

“…the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:6-7

Paul has no regrets.  Not because he made no mistakes or  checked off every item on a bucket list.  From the world’s perspective his life was a failure.  He was from an influential family, studied with the luminaries of Jewish thought, and by his own assessment, was “advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.”  Yet, he threw it all away to follow Christ.  He might have looked back over his life with many regrets.  Others certainly did.  He brought death and destruction to Christian families before his conversion.  He caused riots all over Asia.  He had to say painful things to close friends.  He made enemies of his fellow Israelites everywhere he went.  He faced a death sentence simply for preaching the gospel.  Even many of his Christian friends had deserted him in his imprisonment.

Yet, Paul has no regrets, because unlike Frank Sinatra, he did not live life “his way,” but “Christ’s way.”  The indelible marks he left behind were carved out by faithfulness in following Christ, not the fickleness of worldly acclaim.  A more literal translation of Paul’s statement would be, “The good fight, I fought.  The race, I finished.  The faith, I have kept.”  God laid out the course of Paul’s life.  He simply followed.  He is not boasting in what he has done, but in what Christ has done. His past, his present, and his future can only be rightly assessed by what Christ has done, is doing and will do.  In another letter in which he describes his thoughts on death, he goes onto say, “it is God who works in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12)   The only way to come to the end of life with no regrets is to live a life of following Christ.

I once visited with a dying man who had a framed t-shirt hanging on his wall.  On it was printed, “live in such a way that the preacher won’t have to lie about you when you die.”  Will the pastor who conducts your funeral be able to preach from Paul’s words?  “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith?”  Will you be able to die with no regret, knowing that despite all the failures and failings in your life, you did it “Christ’s Way?”   Paul closes this short passage with a remarkable hope.

“… there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:8

Have you loved his appearing?  Have you loved his appearance in his Word, in his worship, and in his body, the Church?  Is the thought of his appearing a source of joy or terror for you?  Does Paul’s statement “my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” resonate with you?

Join us this Sunday, May 19, as we examine 2 Timothy 4:6-8 and consider what it looks like to live life without regret.  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.