Behaving in Church

Behaving in Church

As a child, I remember thinking that no hour passed so slowly as the one that passed between the call to worship and the benediction.  When I got my first watch, it seemed to sputter and stall and stand stock still during the last 10 minutes of the sermon as the preacher would “continue to close.”   The fidgeties kicked in and my legs seemed to swing on their own and kick the pew in front of me involuntarily attracting the unwanted and sharp gaze of my father.  Learning to be still and attentive in church was a challenge.

One of our core values at River City Reformed Church is multi-generational ministry in which all ages study, worship, fellowship and enjoy life together.   We are a family of families worshiping together.   We are teaching our children to worship as they worship with us.  Yet, we realize what a challenge this can be, especially for parents with several young children or children that are not used to being in worship.  But learning to behave and be attentive is a process that does not begin with the call to worship and end with the benediction.  It is learned by living life together as families and as the church.  And, not surprisingly, learning to behave in church is not a problem just for children.  Often grownups need more instruction and training in this than little ones.

The New Testament includes several letters from the apostles addressing the scandals, heresies, and divisions that rocked various fledgling congregations.   These troubleshooting epistles are critical for us, because our scandals, heresies and divisions are not novel.  As Solomon well noted, there is nothing new under the sun.  Be we also need careful, proactive instruction in how we are supposed to behave as God’s household, the church.  A principle of parenting that has served our family well is that the most effective instruction is given in periods of non-conflict.

To this end, the Holy Spirit has given us three little letters from the apostle Paul – 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus – often styled, the Pastoral Epistles.   In these letters, the Lord instructs us in how we are to behave in church as we live in the household of God.  Join us this Lord’s Day, August 12, as we examine 1 Timothy 1 and begin to consider what the Bible teaches us about living life together in God’s household.    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.

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.

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.

The Rest of the Story

The Rest of the Story

The term ‘community’ has become fashionable.  Everyone talks about its importance and how to create it.  We speak of shared vision and mission, of breaking down barriers and distinctions, and of inclusion and tolerance.  Yet community is created neither by the obliteration nor exaltation of individualism.  Real community depends upon something objectively transcendent to the individual and the group to which he belongs.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together expresses this pointedly.

Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. Let him who is not in community beware of being alone… We recognize, then, that only as we are within the fellowship can we be· alone, and only he that is alone can live in the fellowship. Only in the fellowship do we learn to be rightly alone and only in aloneness do we learn to live rightly in the fellowship. It is not as though the one preceded the other; both begin at the same time, namely, with the call of Jesus Christ. Each by itself has profound pitfalls and perils. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair. Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.

Christianity declares that the only transcendent reality powerful enough to create lasting community is the resurrection of Jesus and the life that comes through believing in Him.  Often the gospel is viewed simply as a path for personal, individual redemption.   But it is much more than just that.  God has reconciled us to himself through the cross and, consequently reconciles us to one another.  Sin is a breaker and divider.  The gospel restores community.

John’s gospel holds a surprising ending.  The story of Jesus appears to end in John 20 with an invitation to the skeptical to examine the strong evidence for the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and a final summary of Jesus’ life and work,

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  John 20:30-31

Then, unexpectedly, we find a postscript in John 21.  One more vignette of the risen Jesus with his disciples, not to further prove the reality of the resurrection, but to answer the question “What’s Next?”  How does the resurrection powerfully change the lives of those who believe in it?  What does following Christ mean in light of the resurrection?  What does it look like to experience life together?

Join us this Lord’s Day, April 8, as we examine the John’s postscript and consider what it looks like to live in light of the resurrection.  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.