The Last Word

The Last Word

As a pastor, few things are harder than preparing for a funeral.  Not only are you sharing personally in the grief of beloved friends, but you are bearing the grief of precious sheep.   The gravity of speaking the last words of a person’s life and the urgency pressed upon us to declare the gospel are heavy weights on the mind and heart of a pastor.   Last words must declare the faithfulness and goodness of God while preparing those left behind to embark upon the voyage of grief.  What we say at the funeral must frame life and loss with the certainty of God’s goodness.

Especially poignant is the graveside.  In the quiet intimacy of the grave, we feel keenly the tension between a palpable sense of finality and a nagging certainty that there is more.   Andrew Peterson says it well.

This is not the end here at this grave
This is just a hole that someone made
Every hole was made to fill
And every heart can feel it still–
Our nature hates a vacuum

This is not the hardest part of all
This is just the seed that has to fall
All our lives we till the ground
Until we lay our sorrows down
And watch the sky for rain

There is more
More than all this pain
More than all the falling down
And the getting up again
There is more
More than we can see
From our tiny vantage point
In this vast eternity
There is more.  

Andrew Peterson, “More”

For the believer, death is not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning.  There is more. The last episode of the first book of the Bible recounts two funerals.  Genesis begins with “in the beginning” and ends with “in a coffin in Egypt.”  God began by speaking life and beauty into the world, but man’s sinful rebellion brought death and decay.  We see the great distance man has fallen.  Death seems to have gained the upper hand.  We might be tempted to despair over how things have turned out.  But this is not the last word.

The famous statement of God’s sovereignty in Gen 50:20, “what you intended for evil, God meant for good” is one of grace and promise.  Man’s evil is not the last word.  God’s goodness is the last word.  What man has experienced and intended for evil in his fallen, sinful rebellion, God has worked for good by sending a redeemer in the person of His Son, Jesus.

We see this explicitly in Acts 2 as Peter declares,

“this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”  Acts 2:23-24

This is the great exchange in the gospel; Jesus who bore our sins, Jesus who through our evil intentions and actions, brings us forgiveness, mercy, and life.  This is the last word! Don’t let sin and death be the last word in your life.  Jesus came to give life and life to the full.

Join us this Lord’s Day, July 29, as we conclude our conversations from the Book of Beginnings and consider how God always speaks the last word — a word of redeeming grace to ruined sinners.  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.

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.

Providence

Providence

In 1973 a quarter was very valuable.  As children, we were worked hard – taking out the trash, washing the pets, raking leaves – to earn the quarter that would give us purchasing power for the weekly bike trek to the 7-11.  The lure of that quarter was great — so great, indeed, that my sister once sold me to a neighbor for just that princely sum.

Mr. Bailey was a kind man and he drove a school bus.  On warm spring days I would help him wash his bus.  His driveway was steep and perfectly suited to the task.  It was my job to man the hose.   I would mount the front steps of the bus and turn the hose, full blast, on the seats and the floor.  The sheer ecstasy of hosing out the inside of a school bus was something only a seven year-old boy can fully appreciate.

As dinnertime approached, my sister came to collect me.  No doubt, to my sister, I was a tedious and trying lad.  When she arrived, Mr. Bailey made an unexpected proposal.  What if he kept me and gave her a quarter instead?  She did not hesitate.  She gladly accepted the quarter and left me with Mr. Bailey.  My sister certainly did not hate me, it was just that she was sure a quarter was worth more than a little brother.

For Joseph, things did not turn out quite that way.  Though the youngest son in his family, he was given the privilege and the status of a firstborn.  His father, Jacob, loved him above his eleven brothers and gave him a princely robe that stood constant witness to his father’s favoritism.  To make matters worse Joseph was careful to report his brother’s misdeeds to their father.  He shared with his brothers his dreams that he would one day rule over them.    His brothers hated him with murderous rage and at the first opportunity seized him and sold him into slavery in Egypt.  As often happens in Scripture, however, their evil action towards God’s chosen man becomes the very act which leads graciously to their salvation.  Remarkably, many years later, Joseph meets and forgives his brothers, recognizing that “what you meant for evil, God meant for good.”

But Joseph’s story is not a mere illustration that bad things sometimes work out, rather it is a picture of God’s promise of a savior in Jesus Christ.  It is this promise that forms the focal point of God’s Providence.  Join us this Lord’s Day, March 11, as we examine Genesis 37 and consider how the story of Joseph anticipates the unfolding of God’s promises to rescue and deliver us from our deadly enemy.  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.

Setting the Stage

Setting the Stage

A good story teller strikes a careful balance between preparing the reader for the climax and surprising him when it comes.   In a gripping tale, we sense what will ultimately happen, yet remain riveted to the unfolding action and gasp in surprise when the expected occurs.  Skilled writers accomplish this through literary techniques such as foreshadowing and flashback.   Far from destroying interest or inducing boredom, setting the stage for the climax only heightens anticipation and along the way creates imagery and categories of thought through which we process the moment when all the strands of the plot are at last woven together.

No story creates this effect more powerfully than the story of the God who rescues and redeems men, women, boys and girls who appear hopelessly enslaved by sin and death.   As the Bible unfolds this epic, the stage is set through the stories of many men, women, boys and girls whose failures and victories create anticipation, imagery and categories of thought to understand the power of the moment when the central hero, Jesus, declares “It is finished.”

The story of Joseph in the Book of Genesis is one of these stories.  More space is given to the life of Joseph than to any of the patriarchs.  His story involves intrigue, deception, power, heroism, joy and tragedy.  In it we see trial and triumph, forgiveness and redemption.  Joseph’s life story sets the stage for the climactic moment when God saves the world, frees slaves from the deadliest of tyrants, and leads the weary into rest.

Join us this Lord’s Day, March 4, as we examine Genesis 37 and consider how the story of Joseph anticipates the unfolding of God’s promises to rescue and deliver us from our deadly enemy.  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.

Eye for an Eye

Eye for an Eye

“Fool that I am, that I did not tear out my heart the day I resolved to revenge myself…. Hatred is blind; rage carries you away; and he who pours out vengeance runs the risk of tasting a bitter draught.” ― Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo

Dumas’ Count of Monte Cristo is a brilliant exposition of the Bible’s warning, ‘Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”’ (Romans 12:19)   As Edmond Dantes sets out to avenge himself on the three men responsible for his imprisonment and ruin, he learns a terrible lesson — that the law of unintended consequences makes mere mortals poorly suited to avenge themselves in the name of perfect justice.  Dantes finds that his attempts to gain personal justice for the injustice done to him perverts justice and multiplies injustice toward others.  Every twist and turn of his perfectly planned and executed revenge meets with an unintended tragic end.

We are exhorted in scripture to be merciful to the wicked and ungrateful, as our Father in Heaven is merciful to us.  When the God commands men in the Bible to exact “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” it is with a view toward limiting vengeance and not encouraging it.   The warning is not to take a head for an eye or a life for a tooth.   God is perfectly just, but he is also a God of mercy and he calls us to act likewise.

But this is a great challenge for us who live in a world filled with injustice, abuse, and evil.  Can we trust God’s justice and vengeance?  Or must we take matters into our own hands?  How are we to respond when we endure abuse, injustice and evil as individuals and a people?  What is our duty?  What are our limitations?  These are hard questions, often with no easy answers.

Genesis 34 details the terrible account of the rape of Dinah, Jacob’s daughter.   Her wealthy and prominent abuser engages in an attempted cover-up, but seems sincere in remorse.   Her father seems wracked by inaction.  And her brothers avenge a terrible crime with an even more heinous and far-reaching response.   No one in the story sought counsel from God.  None of these responses forms a biblical precept for responding to abuse, but rather paradigmatic antithesis.  The failure of Jacob, Hamor, Shechem and Jacob’s sons to bring proper resolution is a foil for what is to come – the gospel.  In the gospel we find a God who is both just and merciful.  He alone can provide justice tempered with mercy, reconciliation and restoration in response to injustice, abuse and evil.

Join us this Lord’s Day, February 18, as we examine Genesis 34 and this consider how we respond to injustice, abuse and evil.  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.