Asking For A Friend?

Asking For A Friend?

English is a hard language to learn.   It plays fast and loose with its own rules of grammar.   And it refuses to conform to the basics of linguistics shared by virtually every other language — basics such as gender, case, and predictable syntax.   No doubt, this is a consequence of the long and storied history of English-speaking peoples.   As J. R. R. Tolkien noted, there is no such thing as a language without a history.   As English-speakers ventured out across the globe during the Age of Exploration, they imported bits and pieces of language and expression from a myriad of other cultures into the warp and woof of the mother tongue.   Consequently, the irregularity of the grammar and, especially, the pervasive use of idiom makes English one giant inside joke.  

One, not so subtle, example is the phrase, “asking for a friend?”  Nothing is more disingenuous than this qualifier.   We tack it on to uncomfortable or embarrassing questions.  Questions that, if actually from us, would surely reveal what we want to conceal.    But like the Emperor with new clothes, everyone knows the game, but no one will admit it.   We all know who is really asking the question.   “Asking for a friend” does not conceal anything – quite the contrary.   Yet we all play the game.   And the asker is allowed to lay all censure for shocking questions upon some imaginary friend.   The question is depersonalized allowing us to broach delicate concerns in third person rather than first or second.   Asking for a friend makes questions academic, not biographical.  Or so we think.

But there is a remarkable exception to this ruse – a time when “asking for a friend” is just that.   And that is intercessory prayer.   Typically, our chief concern in prayer is typically ourselves, asking for the things we want or need.   And, indeed, there is nothing wrong with this.  Scripture calls this dimension of prayer supplication, which is another way of saying “to ask.”   The Bible encourages us to ask God for what we need.  Jesus instructed his disciples and by extension us.

And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” 

Luke 11:9-13

And in another place, Jesus promised, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.” (John 16:23)   Jesus’ brother, James, wrote, “you do not have, because you do not ask.” But then goes on to warn you ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.”(James 2:4)   We are instructed to ask boldly.  The author of the Hebrews reminds us of this.  “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

But James warning should give us pause.  What should we ask for?  What types of things?  And how do we ask?   Interestingly, most of the instruction in Scripture regarding involves praying for others.   While we are certainly to ask for our own needs, the bulk of our asking is to be for others through intercessory prayer.   And like most other aspects of our prayer, the prayer of the gathered church should model the trajectory for our private prayer.    The Apostle Paul, in giving instruction to Timothy regarding worship in the Ephesian Church wrote.

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 

1 Timothy 2:1-4

The church has always understood this to mean that in public worship we are to pray for others – for those responsible for government, for the peace purity and prosperity of the church, for the general welfare of society and for the spread of the gospel among all peoples.   Christian worship puts a strong emphasis on intercessory prayer, particularly in public worship.    John Calvin noted that intercessory prayer exhibited the church’s core value.

“It has pleased God to work with human beings through human beings.  We are creatures of need. We need God and we need each other.  It is therefore through the ministry of other people that God in his wisdom has chosen to bless us.  It is in our intercession for each other that we realize what it is to be the Church.”

Just as Jesus’ prayer was characterized by intercession, so must ours be.   We are to “ask for a friend.”  We are to be bold askers at the throne of grace and mercy.  But much, if not most, of our asking is for others.   When we gather in church and pray alone in our closet, how much of our asking is “asking for a friend?”

In our idiom, “asking for a friend,” is a euphemism for our own concerns.   But when it comes to Christian prayer we are called to ask boldly for others through the ministry of intercession.    Join us this Lord’s Day, May 31 as we gather for worship both in person and by live-stream and consider Psalm 122 which calls us to pray for the sake of our brothers and to intercede for the church, the world, and our neighbors.

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.   Or join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP.

The Last Word

The Last Word

Everyone has one – the one person in your life who must always have the last word.  Whatever your great exploits, they have climbed higher, caught more, gone faster.   No story is complete until they have added the exclamation point of their own last word.   Though perhaps otherwise unremarkable, they are grand-masters of one-upsmanship.  Yet their quest for notoriety has gained only infamy.

No one likes a know-it-all.  No one enjoys the one-upsmans’ self-agrandizing sagas.  Far from inviting admiration, the know-it-all only invites scorn.   We all have this person in our lives.  You are not that person are you?  Let this be a lesson.  Don’t seek the last word.  Learn the art of humility.  As Solomon wisely cautioned.

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
a stranger, and not your own lips.  Proverbs 27:2

You never know as much as you think.  You are not the smartest or most accomplished person in every gathering.   Praise others and you will be thought praiseworthy.  Learn to exalt others and you will be exalted.   Let another speak the last word.  Exercise restraint against the temptation to focus the lens back on yourself.   To gain discipline in this area helps us to remember that God always rightly has the last word in our lives.   Simon the Pharisee was a know-it-all and learned this the hard way when he invited Jesus to his party and an unexpected guest arrived.

Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw [a woman of the city touching Jesus], he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Luke 7:39-37

No one likes a know-it-all.  But what if the know-it-all in your life really did know it all?  What if He knew how everything would turn out.  One who not only knew the future, but determined it.  One who knew you better than you knew yourself.  Who knew how to loved you and knew what you loved better than yourself.   One who knew exactly what trials and triumphs were best for you.   One who, despite knowing all your thoughts and intentions, your failings, your rejections, still loved you better than you loved yourself?  Would you give that know-it-all the last word?  Would you prefer that know-it-all’s last word to your own?

Jeremiah 18 is a well know passage.  Here the Lord sends Jeremiah down to the local Pottery Works to watch and wait for a Word from the Lord.   As Jeremiah saw the potter work and rework the lump of clay on the wheel, shaping and reshaping, the Lord revealed to Jeremiah his sovereignty over all His works.   He has created all things for Himself and He may do with them as He pleases.   No man may complain or command His purposes.  He always has the last word.   And in this passage His last word is ‘grace.’   Even now though God’s people have provoked Him time and time again in the most despicable ways,  God speaks ‘grace.’

Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it.  Jeremiah 18:5-7

The God who previously declared, “I am tired of relenting,” offers mercy if His people return to Him.   If they repent, He will relent.  God who may sovereignly do whatever he pleases with his marred clay, extends grace – the hope of being reshaped by the loving, careful hand of the master Potter.   But rather than yielding the last word to the gracious Know-It-All, prideful Judah must have the last word – and what a dreadful last word it is.

“But they say, ‘That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’  Jeremiah 18:12

What about you?  When the Lord speaks the best, last word, the word of grace, will you let that be the last word?  Or must you speak the last word yourself, “following your own plans” according to the stubbornness of your heart.   Jeremiah 18 is a remarkable passage about God’s steadfast grace toward stubborn, ungrateful rebels.   What is the last word in your life?   What last word defines you?

Join us this Sunday, February 23, as we examine Jeremiah 18 and consider the power and beauty of God’s sovereignty exercised toward us in grace.  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.

Graduation Gifts

Graduation Gifts

It is that time of year.   The time when graduation invitations compete with gardening catalogues for space in our mailbox.  With each invitation comes the challenge of selecting the perfect gift – a gift that reflects the interests and achievements of the graduate, yet communicates a larger vision for their future.  What will you get for the graduate in your life?  Graduates, what gifts do you hope to receive?  When I graduated, the most popular gifts were Cross Pen and Pencil sets, inspirational books, written especially for the graduation gift market by positivity-power gurus, and the perennial favorite of graduates, cash.  I appreciated the kindness of the givers – especially those who gave money – but none of the gifts challenged me with a vision for the next step.

Many graduation gifts are congratulatory, but not visionary.  Graduation is often celebrated as the last step and not the next step. But the word graduation inherently anticipates the next step, which is why it is sometimes called ‘commencement.’  Like a mark on a graduated cylinder, graduation is the line that marks the beginning of the next stage of life.  What is now behind was preparation for what is ahead.   The entire focus is on what is next.  What will our gifts communicate about the next step?  What vision will our gifts paint for our graduates, for their future, their identity and their way of life?

At the end of the Gospel of Matthew we encounter a remarkable graduation of sorts.  Jesus’ time with his disciples has come to an end.  Their three years watching him, learning from him, loving him, and following him in his earthly ministry are giving way to what is next – making disciples of the nations by going, baptizing and teaching in the power of the Holy Spirit which he sends.  The disciples have graduated from the rabbinic school of the Lord Jesus Christ.  They no longer call him Teacher.   Now he is Lord.  Their language has radically changed and their lives are about to radically change as well.

Jesus has summoned them to a mountain in Galilee to receive their commission, to graduate to the next step in their calling to follow Him.  They were moving out and into uncharted territory, leaving the comforts of the homes and towns they knew so well without the visible presence of the teacher who had guided them every day for three years.  Jesus calls them to a mountain top to give them a vision, not of what they can potentially do if they work hard enough, but a vision of what He will do by working in and through them.  Jesus gives them gifts – a vision, an identity, and a way of life – that will turn the world upside down.

Join us this Sunday, April 28, as we examine Matthew 28:16-20 and consider the vision, identity and way of life that Christ gives us as He turns the world upside down through the work of His Church in the 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.

Defining Moment

Defining Moment

By March, 1836, the situation had become desperate for the Texans holed up the Alamo.  The defenders answered Santa Anna’s surrender demand with a round from the fort’s cannon.  In response, Santa Anna, ran up a red flag and ordered his buglers to play Deguello – a cadence instructing his troops to show no quarter.  The die was cast.  The time for negotiation was past.  William Barrett Travis had committed his men to either victory or death.

Shortly before Santa Anna’s final assault, Travis assembled the garrison and with his sword drew a line in the sand in front of his men.  Any man who desired to leave and live could simply walk away.  But those who would stay and die must step across the line in the sand.   According to legend, every man, except one, crossed that line and vowed to die for the cause of freedom.

This was a defining moment in the history of our country.  The death of the Alamo defenders galvanized support for the Texas Republic and fueled American Westward expansion.   The doomed men inside the Alamo would never know the impact of their fateful decision.  Crossing Travis’ line was a defining moment and gave rise to an expression we all use.  To draw a line in the sand means to make a decision from which there is no retreat.  It is a moment which defines us.

Each of us will face defining moments – points at which our choices will establish what characterizes our lives, choices from which there is no going back.  But there is no more significant line in the sand than the one we are invited to cross when we are confronted with the resurrection of Jesus.  Not one of the gospels describes the moment of Jesus’ resurrection, but every gospel examines the responses of all those confronted with the evidence.  There were many reactions – fear, obstinacy, joy, and skepticism – and most importantly faith.   The resurrection of Jesus is the defining moment of all human history.  Belief or unbelief in the resurrection is the central issue of the Christian faith.  The Apostle Paul put it bluntly.

if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.… if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 1 Corinthians 15:14-19

What is your response to the resurrection of Jesus?  How does this moment in history define you?  Is belief in the resurrection a line in the sand you won’t cross?  Join us this Sunday, April 21, as we examine Matthew 28 and consider how our response to the resurrection defines 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.

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.

Triggered

Triggered

The technology of cap-guns has advanced exponentially since I was a boy.  My sons’ cap pistols fire ring-caps.  Every cap fires!  And when all eight shots are discharged and all aggressors vanquished, the next ring can be loaded in seconds.  My friends and I had rolls of paper caps.  Loaded with surgical care and threaded into the trigger mechanism with the skill of a reel-to-reel projectionist, in theory the caps would roll so that the charge was positioned under the hammer.  This was only theory, however.  Most rolls had more mis-fires than good caps.  Ultimately, our father’s hammer proved to be the only reliable weapon.  With clumsy triggers and constant misfeeds, our guns were not responsive.  Today’s cap pistols, like today’s people, are much more sensitively triggered.

It doesn’t require much to set either off.  Post-modernism and social media have produced a perfect recipe for triggered people.  Ready to get fired up at any suggestion which conflicts with our cherished mantras, we have lost the ability for reasoned dialogue.  A recent writer noted that while accepting others and agreeing with others have traditionally not been the same thing, now there is no degree of acceptance without total agreement.  The odd thing about post-modernity which declares that a thing can be “true for you, but not for me,” is that post-moderns ruthlessly demand their “truth,” which needs no universal basis, receive universal acceptance.

Everything seems to provoke a strong reaction.   But few things provoke a stronger reaction than the claims of Christ.   C. S. Lewis famously noted that Jesus was either “the Son of God or a madman or something worse.”  You must either accept his claims or reject him as delusional.  Jesus asks his disciples “who do men say that I am?”  When they reported the various theories of the men of their age, he pointedly asked them – “But you, who do you say that I am?”

This question is nowhere more poignantly posed than from the cross.  Soldiers mocked him, religious leaders taunted him, women mourned him, many who passed by could not have cared less, the disciples abandoned him and the Father forsook him – but then declared him to be all that he claimed to be.   There are many paintings of that famous scene, but one of the most compelling is James Tissot’s “What Our Lord Saw From the Cross.”  In this painting we see all those who are gathered around.  Pictured in their faces and their demeanor are their reactions to the most significant event in history.  They were all triggered in one way or another.  How does the cross trigger you?  What is your reaction to this moment in time which is so eminently significant for your own life and your own death?

Join us this Lord’s Day, April 7, as we examine Matthew 27 and consider the different responses of those who witnessed the crucifixion and as we reflect on our own response.  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.

 

Cross Examined

Cross Examined

We all love a good trial.  Our forefathers were spot-on in describing man as having a “legal frame.”  Consider the evidence.   Think about your viewing habits.  Most trending shows on Netflix revolve around crime or courtroom drama.  And lest you think this love of trial drama is simply the undue influence of media, recall the last time you cut the cake at a children’s birthday party.  “His piece is bigger!” “She got more icing!”  “I wanted the corner piece!”  “It’s not fair!”  There is no more effective prosecutor than a small child, lodging accusations of unfairness.  Children are powerful lawyers, because man has a legal frame.  We are born with it.  We do not need to learn it.

Made in the image of a just God, we are wired to demand justice.   But like everything else about us, the fall corrupted our understanding of justice.  We still cry out for it.  But instead of understanding it as conformity to God’s character and will, we tether justice to our own will.  Few of us decry the privation of others as unfair, but when we are deprived of what we expect we demand justice.   But what if we got it?  What if we got justice, not according to our own want or will, but according God’s standard – a standard which penetrates beyond our words and actions to our thoughts and attitudes?

Perhaps we love fictional crime drama because it satisfies our need to see justice done, without complicating it with the complexities of our own sin.   In sixty minutes, confusion gives way to clarity and good triumphs over evil no matter what means it uses to get there.   But our lives are not so tidy.  In our real story, we are the fugitives who face a justice none of us can bear.   Yet the scales of God’s justice do not weigh the arguments for and against our guilt, but rather God’s justice and His mercy.

It is remarkable how much legal imagery the Bible uses to picture our condition.  The Old Testament anticipates a redeemer who will set prisoners free.  In the New Testament, both Jesus and the Holy Spirit are pictured as advocates, God the Father is often likened to a judge, redemption depends upon a declaration of judicial righteousness and our condemnation is set aside in Christ.   And in a well-known passage in Romans.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, … so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.  Romans 3:23-26

History’s greatest courtroom drama is recorded in Matthew 27.  Following an irregular grand jury indictment, Jesus is brought before the criminal court on charges trumped up by religious rivals.  In Pontius Pilate’s courtroom we see the greatest miscarriage of human justice in history.  Everyone is guilty – the judge, the prosecutors, the jury – everyone, that is, except the one on trial.  He alone is innocent.  Evidence is ignored and the judge is captive public opinion and his own corrupt history.  Despite his declarations of Jesus’ innocence, Pilate condemns him to death and compounds injustice by releasing Barabbas, a condemned man, truly guilty of all the charges leveled against Jesus.

As spectators, we recoil at this apparent travesty of justice until we realize we are not just spectators.  Jesus is not a hapless victim of human injustice, but a willing sacrifice to divine justice – justice that is rightly ours to bear.   It is not just Barabbas’ cross that Jesus bore, but ours.   God is just.  His justice cannot ignore our crimes or allow them to go unpunished.  But in His mercy God is the justifier of those who have faith in Christ.

Join us this Lord’s Day, March 31, as we examine Matthew 27 and consider the greatest courtroom drama in history as it unfolds Christ’s innocence and condemnation for our guilt and pardon.  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.