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

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

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

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

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.