Care Instructions

Care Instructions

It is proverbial that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’   And while no one can deny the power of illustration, a picture without a word of explanation is worthless.  Words have a level of precision in communication that pictures can never attain.  We call pictures, illustrations, for just that reason.  They adorn or clarify words, but never replace them – a fact lost on the author/illustrators of modern instruction manuals.  Words have been replaced with undecipherable instructo-glyphs.  Yet no decoder ring or Rosetta Stone can be found in the packaging.

Pictographic laundry care labels are equally mysterious, especially for men, who already struggle with the basic idea that more than one load is ever needed.  Left to our own devices, all our clothes would be two sizes too small and a dingy, grey shade of pink.  Men are by nature insensible to the significance of laundry care.  But any man who has loved and lived with a woman recognizes the importance of making this important.   You only get one, or maybe two, chances at shrinking your wife’s perfect fitting top before you tempt her to keep a record of wrongs.   So men, take time to learn the laundro-glyphic arts and treat the sorting and laundering of clothes with utmost care.  Because how you care for your wife’s laundry is directly related to your care for your wife.

This principle has an important analog in spiritual life as well.  Intimate relationships require great care and attention.  They cannot be neglected or treated carelessly.  In a very strange passage of scripture in thirteenth chapter of Jeremiah, God compares his people, Israel, to a linen loin cloth.  As is the occupational hazard of biblical prophets, Jeremiah acts out the illustration.  The linen loin cloth is a precious garment.  The prophet is instructed to handle it carefully and not even wash it.  Just as the loin cloth is designed to be worn, clinging intimately to its owner, so God’s people are made to cling to him.  When this intimacy is treated with great care and attention it brings glory to God and joy to man.

But God shows the people the effects of carelessness, apathy, and neglect on this relationship.  He tells the prophet to make the long journey to the Euphrates River.  There he is to bury the linen garment in the cleft of a rock along the riverbank and to leave it for some time.   Placed in a harsh environment and neglected, it predictably spoils.  And as anyone who has owned a linen garment knows, if it suffers neglect and abuse it is impossible to restore.  God’s people had not protected and cared for their intimate relationship with their creator.  They were created for him and him alone.  They were made, perfectly fitted, to cling closely.  But when this intimate fellowship is neglected and abused, how can it be restored?  There is a warning here for us.  We were made to glorify and enjoy our Creator.  We were spoiled beyond hope by sin, yet God’s grace reclaimed us, restored us, and called us to cling to him.  Like Jacob and Peniel, we are not to let go.

But how careful are we to heed these “care instructions?”  Have we become careless and neglectful in the intimate relationship with Christ to which we have been called?  Have we put ourselves in the clefts of other rocks? Or buried ourselves into other pursuits? Or allowed other things to flow in and through us apart from a love for Christ?   How carefully are you heeding the instructions to care for your spiritual life?  Are you more careful with your woolens than your relationship to Christ?

Join us this Sunday, October 27 as we examine this important reminder from Jeremiah 13 to guard and cherish with care our intimate fellowship with God through Christ.  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.

Sad Songs

Sad Songs

Why is it that the music that grips our souls is filled with sorrow and brokenness?   Think about it.  Without these themes country and western music would disappear and Delilah’s overnight radio program would be reduced to a three-song playlist.   A happy song can lift our spirits for a moment, but a sad song resonates our whole being.   It’s images, its expressions, its vocalization of our own grief is powerful.  Happiness can be superficial, but sorrow has a rich topography – with dark, foreboding peaks and deep valleys.   Sorrow is a richly woven tapestry more common to our human experience than joy.  We can instinctively feel the truth of the Solomon’s sage observation, even though it seems counterintuitive.

It is better to go to the house of mourning
    than to go to the house of feasting,
for this is the end of all mankind,
    and the living will lay it to heart.  Ecclesiastes 7:2

So, it is no wonder that the Psalms in the Bible contain many more songs of lament than songs of joy.   The Holy Spirit instructs us to lay our sorrows before a God who is not a cold, indifferent higher power, but a Heavenly Father who delights to hear cry of his children and wipe away their tears, who loves us with a depth and intensity that we can scarcely grasp.  As Calvin aptly noted, the Psalms reflect the anatomy of the soul and teach us how to exercise faith even in the midst of fear, pain and sorrow.

And Jesus, our Savior, made like us – truly human though also fully God — was a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” who bears our sorrows and carries our griefs.   The depth of our character and our being is revealed more clearly in our sorrow than in our joy.   As Jesus’ sorrow is highlighted in the gospels we perceive the depth of his love for broken sinners.   He wept over the unbelief of his people.

Jeremiah demonstrated this same type of grief for the people of his day.   Often called the weeping prophet, Jeremiah’s sharp pronouncement of judgment and urgent calls to repentance are interleaved with songs of sorrow over the unbelief of his people.   Some of these are interspersed throughout his sermons while others are collected in Lamentations.

But in Jeremiah 12 we encounter another lamentation – not from the lips of Jeremiah, but from God himself.  Here we see God singing a lament over his people because of their unbelief.   It is a song that gives us a picture of the depth of God’s love – love that weathers unfaithfulness, love that holds out mercy, love that longs to restore.   To despise God’s love, grace, and salvation, to trample underfoot the blood of the covenant is to be worthy of all His wrath – yet in wrath, He remembers mercy.

From Jeremiah, we have heard of our sin and of the certainty of God’s justice.  We have heard time and time again God’s willingness to have us back, calling us to turn back from having turned backs.   But here we see His grief over our lostness and over every sin that clings so closely.  We see how he feels about us.   There is no harsh, cold, indifference.  There is no eagerness to judge and destroy.   In his love and compassion for us, he has gone to the extremity of entering into our condition in the person of Jesus, to satisfy justice and show mercy.   Our impassible God is no dispassionate God.  His love and concern for us is beyond what we can grasp.  In this passage we are called the “beloved of [His] soul.”

Not sure how God feels about you?   Join us this Sunday, October 20 to find out.  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.

Saying “I Do”

Saying “I Do”

Do you remember your wedding vows?  Perhaps you remember saying, “I do,” but do you remember what you agreed to when you said it?  As a pastor, I get to stand with couples as they make vows to live as husband and wife “for as long as [they] both shall live.”   For newlyweds this is a day of joy, celebration, and anticipation.  The weightiness of their vows waits for the happy couple in their future.  But I also walk with couples to the end of this vow through the valley the shadow of death.  As joyful as it is to hear couples recite vows at their wedding, it is a pastor’s sacred privilege to observe vows faithfully discharged on a couple’s last day as husband and wife.

Not long ago, I sat with “June” at the bedside of her husband of sixty-nine years.   As his earthly life was fading, she told me the story of their life together.  It was a hard story.  A life of challenges, setbacks, disappointments, sickness and some good times too.   “How did you make it through?” I asked.  Never looking up, she quoted without hesitation.

“For whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.”  Ruth 1:16-17

As she spoke, I was struck by the remarkable picture of faithfulness.   That vow, so easily spoken seven decades earlier, had been faithfully kept through poverty and plenty, sickness and health, better and a great deal of worse.   It was not merely promised.  It was lived.

It is powerful to see vows made and kept, “so long as [they] both shall live.” Far too often it is a pastor’s grief to see vows made and broken.  This kind of grief was what caused the weeping prophet, Jeremiah, to weep.  Yes, he was sorry for the consequences of God’s judgement against his own people, family, and land, but much deeper than that, he grieved a marriage broken – a marriage between Christ and His Church.

Years before Jeremiah’s time, Moses stood before the people on the edge of the Promised Land and administered the wedding vows.   The covenant was confirmed by the words of God, “I will be your God and you will be my people” – the language of a wedding in ancient Israel.   But the covenant came with both promised blessings for faithfulness as well as threatened  curses for unfaithfulness.   Both to the blessings to the curses, Israel consented, declaring, “Amen, so let it be.”

But now in Jeremiah’s day, the marriage of the people to their God is faltering.  The people have strayed.  They have treated every other lover as a husband (Baal in Hebrew) and have despised their true husband.   They have been unfaithful to their vows.  In fact, they have forgotten their vows.  The consequences, the curses, for their unfaithfulness are coming home to roost.  The prophet reminds them, warns them, and points them back to the vows they had made so many years ago.  And so he reminds us.

The life of a Christian is one of making and keeping vows to our beloved.  Not in order to earn His love, but because He loves us.  Christ’s love is what captivates us to live lives of grace and gratitude.   This is what Jeremiah reminds the people as he pleads with them to turn away from being “turned away” and to turn back and follow Christ.

Join us this Sunday, October 6, as we consider the warning from Jeremiah to remember our first love and the vows we have made to belong wholly and only to Him.  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.

A Time to Mourn

A Time to Mourn

The older I get, the more emotional I have become.  I have always been a bit of a stoic but, now children’s stories and sermon illustrations easily choke me up.  I try to pass these episodes off as dramatic pauses, but in reality I can’t read The Three Trees or Papa Panov’s Special Day or recount poignant sermon illustrations without turning into an emotional mess.   As I reflect on why this is, I have come to believe that with more of life’s water under the bridge, those stories and illustrations bear a strong resemblance to my own stories and my own grief – grief over opportunities and people lost and grief over my callousness to God’s grace and insensitivity to His presence.

But I have also come to understand that grief is a normal part of life.   Though it often takes us by surprise, it is not unexpected.  The longer we live, the more grief we live with.  Grief is not contrary to faith, nor a lack of faith.   Indeed, Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.  At the tomb of Lazarus and in the midst of the Triumphal Entry, “Jesus wept.”   In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said that His soul was “sorrowful unto death.”  And Jesus’ faith and knowledge were complete and He was in perfect communion with the Heavenly Father.   Yet He was “acquainted with grief.”  Grief is a part of life in this fallen world.  Being a Christian does not change this, it only changes how we respond to it.

I appreciate the wisdom of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 3.  He notes that life “under the sun” is a life with seasons.

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; …
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; …. 

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart. —  Ecclesiastes 3:1-10

There is a time to mourn, a time to grieve.  But grief can be complicated.  Each person’s “Tear Soup” requires different ingredients, different cooking times, and has unique complex flavors.   Grief brings complexity to our feelings and to our faith.  Grief challenges the clichés by which we live and confronts us with the God who IS, and not the God we imagined.    But God has not left us without guidance for our grief.  His Holy Spirit is often called, in Scripture, the “Comforter.”  This Comforter inspired chosen men of old to give us words to speak, pray, and sing in the Psalms to teach us how to grieve.   John Calvin famously noted, regarding the Psalms,

I have been accustomed to call this book, I think not inappropriately, “An Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul;” for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror. Or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn to the life all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated.  

John Calvin, Preface to Commentary on the Psalms.

And we have many examples in Scripture of grief observed.   Jeremiah’s emotional confessions and lamentations are potent examples.   Jeremiah is known as the “weeping prophet.”   As one commenter noted, he was “never a dispassionate observer of his nation’s sufferings, but entered into the anguish of the people and suffered with them….  [He bore] a message of divine judgement while at the same time sharing the sufferings of the people…. [He was a man] torn asunder between God and the people, to both of whom [he] was bound with deep ties.”  (The Book of Jeremiah, J. A. Thompson)

In Jeremiah 8 and 9 we encounter the prophet in the depths of complex and conflicting grief over the sin and judgment of Judah.  God has called us to draw near to observe his grief to instruct us how to grieve over the sin and judgment of our own time.   In Jeremiah’s grief we see the necessities, complexities, expansiveness and available comfort for our grief – grief over our own sin and loss, and over that of our people.

Join us this Sunday, September 8, as we consider how the example of Jeremiah instructs us to grieve when it is a “time to mourn.”  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.

Tin Men

Tin Men

Twice each year I undertake the Herculean task of cleaning the storage shed.  It takes an entire Saturday and involves nostalgic, logistical and utilitarian precision.  I have eight hours to unpack the geological column of our family history, triage the flotsam and jetsam to see what stays and what goes, clean out the remote corners of the shed, then pack it back with tetris-like precision.   Some things are easy.  High-school yearbooks and “special-things” stay.  Broken gardening vessels and punctured swimming floaties go.  But the perpetual members of the “on-the-fence” club are the old VBS craft projects.  They will not be used as décor, nor do they have any functional use.  Yet their value in nostalgia is worth its weight in gold.  Most prized among these are the family of “tin men.”

Like those pictured above, these creations were forged through the ambition of old-school VBS craft leaders and the patient endurance of the saints and children who assembled them.   They were meant to illustrate a very important truth, that the only hope for tin men is to receive a new heart.  Just as our only hope is to receive a new heart through faith in Jesus.  But they inadvertently stand witness to something else – to Christians whose outward profession declares orthodoxy, while their outward life-style professes heterodoxy.  Like tin men, many pious churchgoers have no new heart.  They know the songs, they recite the creeds, they pray the prayers, they fill the positions and the pews, but the testimony of their lives is at odds with the testimony of their lips.  Their confidence is not in the object of their faith, but the operation of their faith.  C. S. Lewis, described such men as “men without chests.”  He writes.

We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise…. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.

When God gives us a new heart, He gives also gives us new desires — desires to delight in His Law and to imitate His holiness.  Law and holiness are not the root of God’s grace in our lives, but they are always the fruit of it.  If we have no concern for God’s law or holiness, this is a warning sign that we are Christians without chests, spiritual tin men.  And tin men are in grave danger for a man without a heart is dead.

Spiritual tin men have great confidence, but their confidence is always a false confidence.  Jeremiah speaks to the spiritual tin men of his day calling them to “amend their ways.”  The were quite religious and loved all the ritual and activity, confident that their hope was in “the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.”  But  their lives showed that they had no concern for the Lord of the Temple, or his Law or His Holiness – sure evidence that they were men without chests.

Is your religion a grateful response to a gracious God?  Is your life animated by a new heart whose rhythm is in sync with God’s pace-making heart?   Does your life on Wednesday line up with your profession on Sunday? Or is your ritual, profession, and religious activity a cover-up for what is really under the hood – or rather what is not under the hood?   The Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz rightly understood his condition.

When a man’s an empty kettle
He should be on his mettle
And yet I’m torn apart
Just because I’m presumin’
That I could be kind of human
If I only had a heart. – The Tin Man

Are you a spiritual tin man?  Are you trusting in externals, in ritual, in your works, but lacking a new heart?  The beautiful truth of Jeremiah 7 is that amidst the prophet’s razor-sharp diagnosis, he offers the only sure remedy.

Join us this Sunday, August 18 as we consider the dangers of heartless Christianity and the only remedy for its terminal condition.  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.

At the Crossroads

At the Crossroads

“Two paths diverged in a wood, and I – I took the path less traveled and that made all the difference.”  Most of us are familiar with these words from Robert Frost’s poem, The Road Not Taken.  It has become somewhat of a mantra for a generation required to memorize it in elementary school.   But it is as sage advice as it seems?  Sure, God created us with a passion to explore, create and innovate.  This is part of our dominion mandate, but like everything else about man’s glorious design, the effects of the fall inevitably turn our love of novelty into self-destruction.

Untethered from our Manufacturer’s directions, our adventurous spirit turns rogue and pursues every path but the safe one.   Contrary to Robert Frost’s seeming wisdom, the Romans had a less speculative but more practical proverb — Via trita via tuta  or “the well-worn way is the safe way.”  We would call this way “tried and true.”  Just as every inventor and innovator knows, technology is iterative.   We reach new heights, not by abandoning the old ways, but by building on the tested foundations. Yet our human pride leads us to despise the old ways and go down the “road less traveled.”   Where does it lead?  Often to ruin and heartache or just plain lostness.

Our expression, “to come to a crossroads” means to come to a place in life where our direction will determine our destination, where a critical decision must be made about which way to go.  Which direction are you headed?  Are you at a crossroads?  Are you at the place where you must decide whether to venture down the road less traveled or find safety in the well-worn way?   The people of Jeremiah’s day were at a crossroads.   They were rushing headlong to destruction.  With backs turned to God, God sent his prophet Jeremiah as a watchman to call them to turn back.  Through Jeremiah He calls them.

Thus says the Lord:
“Stand by the roads, and look,
    and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way is; and walk in it,
    and find rest for your souls.
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’  – Jeremiah 6:16

The word translated “ancient”, means literally “eternal.”   God is not calling his people to return to tradition or simply “the way we have always done it.”  As social critic G. K. Chesterton warned us, “we have two great types — the advanced person who rushes us into ruin, and the retrospective person who admires the ruins.”  Simply being conservative is not enough, if what we are conserving are ‘ruins.’  Jeremiah’s call is to return not to the old ways, but the eternal ways — seek the well-worn, tried and true, eternally faithful path of God’s Word – His Word in Scripture and His Word Incarnate.

Life will bring us to many crossroads – crossroads in relationship, in vocation, in education and in a million life choices every day which have a lifelong impact.  Which path will you take – the road less traveled?  The path of pride and self-reliance? Or the via trita?  The right path at every crossroads is the same – “ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.”  Which way will you follow?   I pray that at the crossroads you ask for the eternal path and follow the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Join us this Sunday, August 11 as we consider our response when God brings us to the crossroads of life.  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.

Self-Diagnosis

Self-Diagnosis

Long before there was Google, there was Dr. C. Everett Koop’s Self-Care Advisor: Essential Home Health Guide for You and Your Family.  A veritable hypochondriac’s playground, it was child’s play to follow the disease progression of every runny nose and headache to some dire diagnosis.  Certain members of our family were discouraged from consulting it, not because it wasn’t helpful, but simply because it was too easy to read our fears into every minor symptom.   And now we have Google, which allows us to believe every conceivable suggestion in the quest to convert our idiopathy into pathology.  While the internet is helpful at gaining awareness of our symptoms, it is not always the best diagnostic tool and often the worse prognostic tool.  Our preconceived fears make it impossible to be objective.

For this reason, we often give credence to every in-credible, speculative source of truth, while treating the most credible with skepticism or apathy.   Many, solidly convinced by Facebook posts reporting aliens in Area 51, scoff at the idea of Jonah being swallowed by a large fish or God creating the world in six twenty-four hour days.  But this credibility gap has less to do with the reasonableness of truth and more to do with its consequences.   There are no immediate consequences if I accept that there are aliens in Area 51, but there are pressing and immediate consequences if the Bible is true.   The moral demands of truth create a giant-blind spot for us called autonomy.

As bad as we are at self-diagnosing our physical ailments, the blind-spot of autonomy makes us utter quacks at recognizing our spiritual problems.   We hate to accept responsibility and look at everyone and everything else as the reason for our “dysfunction.”  The culture of victimization is as old as the world.  When confronted with his sin, the first man Adam quickly blamed both his wife and God.  “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree and I ate.” Genesis 3:12

But God has given us his word as a spiritual mirror, reflecting accurately our true condition. The scripture is able to accurately diagnose our spiritual condition and offer us the only known cure.  The problem is that our pride refuses to acknowledge what we see there.  God sent the prophet Jeremiah to his people as they approached the precipice of divine judgment, but their stubborn pride turned away from the thought of turning away from their sin.  As we look on from our perspective in history, we can see their foolish stubbornness and gasp at their stunning unbelief.  But are we that different?

Are we living our lives deaf and blind to the repeated calling of the word of God to confess and repent and find mercy?  Will we look into the mirror of the law of God and see our real diagnosis and seek the only cure?  Or will the blind spot of autonomy cause us to follow every quack remedy for our spiritually terminal condition?   Jeremiah condemned the people of his day because they wanted to be lied to about their condition.

“An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land:  the prophets prophesy falsely and the priests rule at their discretion; my people love to have it so.  But what will you do in the end? … [for the prophets and priests] have healed the wound of my people lightly saying, ‘Peace, peace’ when there is no peace.”  Jeremiah 5:31, 6:14

Join us this Sunday, August 4 as we consider what spiritual stubbornness looks like and see how the word of God diagnoses our real condition and offers us a proven cure.  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.