Leading in Prayer

Leading in Prayer

Every college has one – that lethal combination of professor and course which inspires dread and is the bane of degree-seeking students.  At Erskine College, this was Mr. Bittinger’s Finance class. He alone taught this required course for Business majors.  Many attempted to evade this threat to their GPA by taking Finance elsewhere during the summer and transferring their credit.  Mr. Bittinger was not an academic, but a professional — a hard-nosed, no-nonsense former comptroller who had little time or patience for ill-prepared future business leaders.

Class days alternated between lecture and exercises.  On exercise day, Mr. Bittinger would randomly select students to demonstrate the solutions to assigned homework in front of the class.   And his selection was remarkably random.  If you looked at him, he would choose you, if you looked at your shoes he would choose you.  If you sat in the front of the class and looked keen, he would choose you.  If you sat in the middle behind the class brain, he would choose you.  He had an uncanny knack for choosing you on just that problem that had given you fits.   Cutting class was not an option at Erskine.  There was nothing to do but gird up the loins of your mind and face the music.

We often feel this way when it comes time to lead in prayer at church and we know that the pastor is going to call on someone.  Pulses race, foreheads sweat, minds become suddenly empty, we stare at our shoes and then comes the call.   We do our best to remember the acronym, ACTS (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication) and avoid using the phrase “we just want to …” more than once.  But it still inspires anxiety and awkwardness.  If this sounds familiar you are in good company.  The following anecdote describes Stonewall Jackson’s struggle to lead in public prayer.

According to S.C. Gwynne’s Rebel Yell, Stonewall Jackson’s pastor once urged more congregation members to lead in prayer during the church prayer meeting. Afterward, Jackson went to see him, explaining to the pastor his fear of praying publicly. “But,” Jackson said, “if you think it my duty, then I shall waive my reluctance and make the effort to lead in prayer, however painful it might be.”

At the next meeting, the pastor called on Jackson. His prayer was “faltering, agonizing, [and] cringe-inducing.” For several weeks, the pastor didn’t ask him to pray again, not wanting to subject Jackson to what was obviously an ordeal.

So Jackson went back to see him. “My comfort or discomfort is not the question,” he protested. “If it is my duty to lead in prayer, then I must persevere in it until I learn to do it aright, and I wish you to discard all consideration for my feelings.” From then on, Jackson doggedly continued to lead in prayer, and, though Gwynne reports that he was never eloquent, he managed to become competent.

The Apostle Paul recognized that leading in public prayer is a critical part of our life in the body of Christ and in weekly worship.    In writing to his young apprentice, Timothy, he gives him needed instruction to pass on to the church about our manner and the matter of our corporate prayer life.   Far from being vain repetition that punctuates the movements of our worship service, corporate prayer breathes life into worship and provides the medium that carries us to the throne of God.   In Acts 4:31, we read that after the early church shared in corporate prayer, “the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.”

Join us this Lord’s Day, September 2, as we examine 1 Timothy 2:1-7 and consider the power and importance of corporate prayer to move us and enable us to speak the word of God with boldness.  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 worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Decluttering

Decluttering

We are all hoarders at heart.  While some may feel pride that they have not yet been featured on an episode of the reality TV show, Hoarders, we all collect and keep far more then we need.  Maybe this is more of a problem nowadays because of greater access to cheap consumer goods, or maybe it has always been a problem and I am just more aware of it because I am older.  After all, I remember 30 years ago when my grandmother died, we hauled off what seemed like hundreds of boxes of Jello she had “collected.”   She had examples of every packaging design from the 1970s and 1980s in her collection.   It is hard to let go.  After all we might need those things we have never needed.   Those ties might come back in style.  Those broken appliances and toys could one day be fixed.   We might find the device that fits that old power adapter.   And, of course, some of the things we can’t let go remind us of times and friends we have had to let go.   So, we live cluttered lives.

Of course, we know all about Marie Kondo’s books and the FlyLady’s website.  We have been exposed to countless books on decluttering and websites that give us the technical expertise to become masters in the art of decluttering.  Yet the problem is not one of technique, but of will.   How willing are we to let go?   Issues of the heart are always the heart of the issue.   Consider how this is true of the greatest and most perilous clutter that we tend to collect — unforgiveness.   Forgiveness is at the heart of the Christian gospel and the Christian life, but many Christians’ lives are cluttered with unforgiveness.  Like a hoarder’s house, so full of junk that it has become little more than a maze, many lives are so full of bitterness that there is no room of joy, love, peace or normal living.   The biblical words for forgiveness derive their meaning from the idea of letting go.  Letting go of the debts of others, letting go of the sins of others, and letting go of the hurts others have inflicted.   Like our clutter, we want it gone, but don’t want to let it go.

Yet the heart of the gospel is forgiveness and the one whose life is changed by the gospel is called to live a life of forgiveness.   We all know this, but we struggle with the implications.   In the book of Genesis, Joseph had a lot of reasons to be bitter and to store up resentments against his brothers, yet the Lord led him on a long journey of faith and forgiveness that allowed him to let go of the spiritual clutter that might have robbed him of life.   Join us this Lord’s Day, June 24, as we examine Genesis 45 and consider from the life of Joseph what it means to express and experience forgiveness.  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.

Switched at Birth

Switched at Birth

Our ancestry and our environment have a lot to do with who we are.  They are both strong formative factors, but neither is decisive nor determinative.   I recently read a news story about two women in Wisconsin who discovered at the age of 72 that they had been switched at birth and had grown up in one another’s families.

The women were born 31 minutes apart in the wee hours of Dec. 19, 1945, at a St. Paul Hospital.  Both women say they stood out as oddballs in their families. One was the only member of her family who wasn’t an avid athlete, while the other was the only athletic member of her own family, having played competitive softball well into her 50s.  One woman grew up the sole blonde in a family of redheads and brunettes, the other a redhead in a sea of blondes with blue eyes.

While pursuing her genealogy, one of the women submitted DNA to the genetic testing site, 23AndMe.com.  The results?  She was not related to anyone in her family.  The mystery deepened when a close relative also submitted DNA and found a name on her profile that appeared completely unrelated.   After making contact, it quickly became clear that the two women had grown up in each other’s family.   One more DNA test confirmed the fact.   Neither their ancestry nor their environment solely determined who they were, but rather their identity was a result of both.   But there is something far more important in determining who we are and that is who we follow.

In the closing chapters of the Book of Genesis, we have parallel stories of two brothers, Joseph and Judah.  Joseph’s story is well known.  The favorite son, doted on by his father, hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, who rises to become second only to Pharaoh in ruling over ancient Egypt.  Joseph’s story is distinguished by his remarkable care to be sensitive and faithful to God’s direction in his life.  Joseph acknowledges that it is God’s hand and plan, not ancestry or circumstances that are responsible for who, what and where he is in life.

Judah’s story, however, is radically different.  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.  The story of Joseph is intertwined with the story of Judah as God works in Judah’s life to graciously transform him from a worldly man to a godly man, from a man who portrays the worst of humanity to one who resembles the very best human ever, the Lord Jesus Christ.

In Genesis 44, we see the culmination of God’s transformative work in Judah’s life.  Ultimately who he has become is not determined by his ancestry or his environment, but by the surprising and gracious work of God in his life.  Do you know anyone whom you assume God has written off?  Is that person you?  Don’t be so quick to credit your ancestry or your environment for a ruined life.  The end of the story has not yet been written and God’s grace is the final word, if you will but find it.

Join us this Lord’s Day, June 17, as we examine the climax of the story of Judah as we see how the grace of God changed him from a dishonorable son, brother, husband, and father to a man transformed by God’s grace to become a man of honor who prefigures the Lord Jesus who would descend from his line.  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.

Irrationality

Irrationality

We usually think of irrationality as something that does not make sense — something that does not conform to a normal or reasonable way of thinking or acting.  When we can’t make sense of someone’s actions, we say they are acting irrationally.   But from a mathematical perspective, irrationality is the inability to express a number as a ratio of any two numbers.   For example, the number “pi”, so important in geometry and trigonometry cannot be expressed as a fraction.   While people revel in their ability to memorize “pi” to some number of decimal places, they can never trace it out to the end.  Being irrational, there is no end of decimal places for “pi.”   It is what we call irreducible.

In the same way many kind and well-meaning people will attempt to reduce the tragic or the happy providences of God in our lives to one specific purpose.  When we experience some profound sorrow, they will quote Romans 8:28 and proceed to conjecture as to what particular purpose God had in bringing that sorrow into our lives.   While there may be a grain of truth to their attempt at comfort, it is for most, cold comfort.

But God’s providences in our lives are like irrational numbers.  They are irreducible.  God is doing a million things in every one thing he ordains and brings to pass.  Some of those things are for us. And some are for others.  Some of his purposes may be clearly understood, but many will remain hidden to us.  Consider Job.  He never knew why God brought him through the trials he faced.  If Job had known, how satisfied do you think he would have been?   Yet Job’s faith was strengthened, Satan humiliated, and we are given hope to endure in the midst of a world that seems turned upside down.  The purposes of God in Job’s life will continue to unfold until the end of time.  You see, the providences of God are irreducible to some simple ratio or formula of understanding.  Mathematically speaking, God’s works are irrational, irreducible.

The reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 43 – 45 is an example of this.  This story unfolds much more to God’s work through Joseph than just a plan to save Egypt from famine.  Through nearly twenty years of trial and tragedy in Egypt, the brash young Joseph has become the wise, discerning and yet, humble, older Joseph.  God has been shaping him through adversity to come to a time of great need in the life of the ancient near East.  Yet that is only a fraction of what God was doing.  God was bringing comfort to an aging father, providing protective care for the future generations of the covenant family, working faith and repentance in Jacob’s wicked sons, instructing us in patient endurance, and setting before us a picture of the kindness of God through our savior’s suffering and redeeming work.   And this is by no means an exhaustive list.    For every work of God unfolds purposes beyond our lives, our times, and our understanding.

Join us this Lord’s Day, May 27, as we as we examine the continuing story of Joseph and his brothers as God unfolds more in their lives than they ever imagined and consider how God does the same in our lives.  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.

Who Is This?

Who Is This?

When someone mentions Jesus, what comes to mind?  Religious revolutionary? Social justice warrior?  Ethical teacher?  Failed Zionist leader?  Founder of a yet another world religion? Who is this Jesus?  For many it is a caricature, influenced by pictures you have seen or by clichés which permeate our cultural ideas of “the historical Jesus.”  Or perhaps you remember him from a collection of anecdotes or parables you heard as a child in some Sunday School.

Jesus’ own disciples struggled to understand who he was and what he came to do.  From time to time glimpses shined through their own preconceived notions of Him.  In a poignant moment, as they were crossing the Sea of Galilee, a furious squall sprang up and threatened to sink their small fishing boat.  Half of Jesus’ disciples grew up on these tempestuous waters, fishing with their families from their childhood.  Yet even they were convinced that they would not survive the trip.  They woke Jesus, who was asleep in the back of the boat.  They did not ask him to save them – for what miracle working teacher was a match for a force-ten gale?  They only asked, “don’t you care that we are about to die?”   Jesus stood up in the boat and with a word, brought the waters from tempest to mirror.   These seasoned seamen were almost speechless.  The only thing they could say of Jesus was, “who is this?”   They perceived there was much more to Jesus than even their imaginations could anticipate.

Who is Jesus?  The accounts of him at the end of the gospel of John are really very unexpected.  As he faces an unjust arrest, trial, and execution, we seem him not as a failed revolutionary swept up in the unstoppable tide of Roman tyranny and religious jealousy.  What we see is that Jesus is the one in complete control of everything that transpires.  He told his disciples, “no one takes my life from me.  I lay it down and I will take it up again.”

Think you know who Jesus is?  Come and find out as we walk through the final days of Jesus’ earthly life, from John 18-21.  Join us this Lord’s Day, March 18, as we examine John 18 and consider just who Jesus is and what he came to do.  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.