The Power Booster

The Power Booster

Every economy has a currency.     And the currency of my childhood was Hot Wheels.   We traded for them.   We did every odd job to save up for them.   One’s standing in the community was measured by wealth in Hot Wheels.   My own holdings boasted a copper-colored 1970 Chevelle SS.   Many cars came and went – fast cars, funny cars, and even some tricked out trucks – but the Chevelle was ‘my precious.’   Only covetousness for my best friend’s “power booster” ever tempted me to part with it.   The power booster was a crown jewel in a Hot Wheels based economy.

Before the power booster, Hot Wheels were either boy-powered or gravity fed.   But the power booster changed everything.    Fueled by massive ‘D’ batteries, the power booster had two rubber wheels spinning in opposite directions astride the track.  It would grab a slowing car and accelerate it with a balance and force not possible with boy-power.   A skilled engineer knew the sweet spot, a few feet before the loopity-loop just beyond a curve.  Care demanded just enough force to get the cars around the track without stopping or derailing.  

Worship on the Lord’s Day is the power booster of the Christian life.   More than mere rest from the week passed, the Lord’s Day, with its public and private worship, pours restfulness into the week ahead.    We enter worship coasting on fumes but leave with balance, speed, and power. Worship resets our minds to what is real.  Shows us who is sovereign over our daily chaos.  Frames our lives by grace not the grind.  And reminds us we are an “us,” not an “I.” 

For this very reason we are cautioned not to “forsake assembling together” in Hebrews 10:25.    Without worship we will derail or lose momentum.    But assembling for worship has faced unexpected challenges over the past six months – challenges unimaginable a year ago.   Pastors and elders have wrestled with distinctions between the essentials of worship and its circumstances.   Civil magistrates have stepped on and over constitutional protections and religious liberties.    And brothers and sisters in Christ have gone to civil war over differing views on the circumstances of assembly.   

But, in our debates over the finer points of what it means to “assemble” and whether or not the use of masks is a veiled attempt at a new Vestiarian Controversy, have we  missed the forest for the trees?  Have we idolized our positions and lost sight of the truth that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath?   Have we exchanged delight for the Sabbath in the pursuit of duty? The prophet Isaiah frames this concern well.

“If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
    from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
    and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
    or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;
then you shall take delight in the Lord,
    and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
    for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”  Isaiah 58:13-14

Isaiah 58:13-14

Is your attitude toward the Lord’s Day one of delight?    Or do you grumble your way through with a confessional precision that amounts to little more than a “trampling of [God’s] courts?”  Debating what it means to “assemble together,” is important.   Theology matters. And worship must be according to Scripture.

But are we as concerned about the effects of faithful worship as we are its circumstances?   Do the people we meet during the week believe we have been in God’s presence?   Does it show?  Even through cloth masks, can they see “we all, with unveiled face, [have beheld] the glory of the Lord, [and] are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”  

Worship is the power booster of the Christian life.   It takes flagging Christians and gives the balance and momentum to negotiate tight turns and upside-down loops.   It keeps us moving and on the tracks.  Join us this week for worship as Pastor Chris Love from Church of Amazing Grace brings God’s Word from Revelation 2:23-29 as we consider “To the One Who Conquers: A Call to Personal Perseverance.” 

We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.    You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP

Conflict Management

Conflict Management

Parting words are powerful words.   They live in the lives of recipients long after their sound has died away.   They have power to bless or curse.  Parting words establish new courses and callings for those who heed them.   Small talk has no place in them.   Each word and action matters.   Like words of poetry, though used sparingly, each is full and potent.

We see this in Jesus’ last words to his disciples.   They were contentious, dull, self-serving, self-seeking and consumed with the pecking order.   But on the night before his crucifixion, Jesus prepares them for his departure.  His actions and words command a new pattern.   They are to love and serve one another.   This is how they will be known.

He washed their feet, the duty of a slave, not a Lord, then instructed them.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you…  A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

John 13:12-17, 34-35

This is how the world should see the church.   This is how the world expects to see the church.   But what does the world actually see?  Do people know we are Christ’s disciples by our love for one another?   Too often, the world sees irreconcilable conflict in the church.   We are more known for division than unity.   And in a world hopelessly divided, why would anyone look to the church for leadership when pagans seem to manage conflict more graciously and effectively than Christians.

We are commanded to “[bear] with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” and “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”   Yet, more churches are planted through division rather than obedience to the Great Commission.   To be sure, God providentially uses for good what we mean for evil.    Yet, how many have fled from Christ and Christianity, because of the Christians they knew and observed.   How many have fled from Christ because they have observed you?

Once when the missionary E. Stanley Jones met with Mahatma Ghandi he asked him, “Mr. Ghandi, though you quote the words of Christ often, why is that you appear to so adamantly reject becoming his follower?”  Ghandi replied, “Oh, I don’t reject your Christ. I love your Christ. It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ.”   While Ghandi’s excuse was just that, an excuse, it ought to convict us.   How do we handle conflict in the church?   How gracious and prayerful are we when conflict is unavoidable?   Do others see our love – love for Christ, love for the Word of God, and love for one another in how we respond to conflict?

Jeremiah’s ministry was filled with conflict.   God warned him it would be that way.   Jeremiah had no illusions of picket fences or of honeymoons.   From the get-go, God told Jeremiah he would have conflict “against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the Lord, to deliver you.” 

But Jeremiah’s greatest conflict was with those in the church, with priests and the prophets.   As God’s judgement unfolded against Judah, He sent Jeremiah to warn the people to submit to His discipline through Nebuchadnezzar.   If the people would repent and submit they would live.   To strengthen the message, God told Jeremiah.

“Make yourself straps and yoke-bars, and put them on your neck.… Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel…  I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, my servant, to serve him. All the nations shall serve him and his son and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes.” 

Jeremiah 27:2, 6-7

Nothing provokes conflict in church like a sermon on submission.   Immediately Jeremiah is opposed, called a liar and a false prophet.   Everything he prophesied was contradicted.   And the yoke-bars and straps, were wrenched from his neck and broken.

In that same year, at the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah… Hananiah the son of Azzur, the prophet from Gibeon, spoke to me in the house of the Lord, in the presence of the priests and all the people, saying, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house, which Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. I will also bring back to this place Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the exiles from Judah who went to Babylon” 

Jeremiah 28:1-4

Jeremiah often complains and confronts, but here his response to the false prophet is remarkable.   With gracious, prayerful wisdom the prophet rebuts the false teacher and disarms his false gospel.    Jeremiah’s life is quite literally an open book.   We often see his anger, but here we observe a godly example of how to handle conflict within the church.  An example worthy of imitation.  Join us this coming Lord’s Day as we examine Jeremiah 28 and consider how to respond to conflict within the church.

We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.    You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP

Lost and Found

Lost and Found

Before we posted our souls on social media, we had bumper stickers.   Back in the day, the bumper was the place to vent malcontentment.  And those posts were indelible.   But now the younger generation has taken up the ancient mantle.   No minivan is complete without its stick family of 5 and twin soccer balls emblazoned with the children’s names.   And every hipster’s Subaru rear window has Nativ© headlining the Get-Out-There motif – a gallery, never complete without a quote from Tolkien — “Not all those who wander are lost.”

Indeed, not all wanderers are lost.  But many are.  And lost people want deeply to be found.   You don’t have to read too many castaway stories or play hide and seek with many small children to realize that lost people are consumed with being found – they just don’t always understand what that looks like.   The problem with being lost is that it is easy to be overlooked.   Lost people are notoriously hard to see and recognize.   How many lost hikers have heard the helicopters overhead and the calls of searchers long before they were found?   

Children learn early that it is easy to be overlooked.   When they play hide-and-seek they quickly grow impatient with lostness and hiddenness.  The real object of their game is not to be hidden, but to be found.    If not quickly discovered, they rustle the curtains or mimic wild animal noises from behind the couch.   Nothing is more terrifying than the thought that Daddy won’t find them and they will remain hidden and alone.   Lost people want deeply to be found.

But there is a lostness much more profound than the lostness of the castaway or the children’s game.   To be lost from the love, care, and comfort of our Creator – to be aliens and strangers to the God’s promises and, by nature, children of wrath is a lostness the Bible describes as “deepest darkness.”  When the Lord warned Adam, “you shall not eat [from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil], for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die,” He was speaking a death more crushing than mere physical death.   In his first sin, Adam plunged himself and us into spiritual lostness and ruin. 

The lost can feel the weight of their lostness, but cannot find any way to be found.    And when you are this lost, it is easy to believe that you will never be found.  Will anyone see us?  Will anyone recognize that we are lost?  Will anyone look for us?    Does anyone know where we are?  Will anyone care enough to come?  These are the questions that keep us awake.  We often speak of ‘finding ourselves,’ but only another – a rescuer — can find us when we are this lost.  

Zacchaeus – the wee little man – in Luke 19 was lost.   He tried to find himself in work and in wealth.  And, in both he was at the top of his game.   He was no mere tax collector, but the chief-tax collector.   He oversaw all tax collection in Jericho, a fabulously wealthy and progressive city.   And he was fabulously wealthy.   But it came at a cost.  Success cost him his identity and his integrity.   His name, Zacchaeus, meant “righteous one.” But his reputation was that of an odious sinner.   All he had gained was nothing compared to what he had lost.   He was lost and longed to be found.

Perhaps Zacchaeus had heard about Jesus.  That he was a “friend of tax collectors and sinners.”   The religious establishment had no place for Zacchaeus in their lives or their religion.   But maybe this Jesus would be different.    Casting aside all pretense at dignity, he sought a vantage point from the branches of a roadside Sycamore tree.   What kind of man was Jesus?  He had to see.  You might think at first glance that Luke 19 is a story about Zacchaeus looking for Jesus.  But it is actually quite the opposite.  It was Jesus who came to Jericho looking for Zacchaeus.

Zacchaeus was unable to see Jesus because of the crowds and because of his size.  But Jesus knew exactly how to seek and find this wee little lost man.   Obstacles may obscure our view of Jesus, but are never unseen to Him.  He knows how to seek and to find us.   That was what He came to do.   In this story Jesus is only days from the cross, but he pauses to seek and find Zacchaeus.  Luke 19:1-10 is a remarkable story about the power of the gospel and the love of God for those who have wandered and are lost.  Join us this Lord’s Day, July 26 as we examine this passage and see how God’s love for us unfolds in the seeking and the saving of Zacchaeus. 

Please note, this Lord’s Day only, we will meet at 10:30 am on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP.   We will not meet in-person this week, but will resume our in-person gathering for worship, next Lord’s Day, August 2.  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.   

The Horrible Doctrine

The Horrible Doctrine

In a recent study, Steven D. Levitt (of Freakonomics fame) discovered that people who decided to make major life decisions — quitting a job, getting engaged, getting divorced — were happier than those who took no action, and stuck with the status quo.  But what he also discovered was that, for many, the decision to shake up their lives was not the result of careful thought and deliberation. It was the result of a coin toss.   Would you decide to change jobs or relationships with a coin toss?  Or bet everything you have on the flip of a coin?

Most of us despise nothing more than for our success or failure, gain or loss, salvation or condemnation to be wholly dependent on others or, even worse, mere chance.   Despite its wretched theology, we tend to resonate with William Ernest Henley’s poem Invictus as he rages, “I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”  Yet we don’t have to live very long to recognize the delusion in this mantra.  

We are not so free as we like to believe.  And fate and evolution, to which so many ascribe, are, indeed, horrible doctrines.  Outcomes ruled by nothing more than time and chance destroy all hope of meaning, purpose, and lasting significance.  But at least victimization at the hand of impersonal time and chance, gives us little room to legitimately complain of injustice.  All we can say is “these things happen.”

But what if the decision that ordains and decrees the outcome of our lives, both temporally and eternally is made by a personal, all-powerful God without reference to our foreseen merit or demerit or consideration of our favorable or unfavorable circumstances?   On the surface such an idea is repugnant.  Though he taught it, Calvin labeled this a Decretum Horribile, or “horrible doctrine.”  Yet, this is exactly what the Bible describes as it unfolds the doctrine of election, and its theological corollary, reprobation.   Biblical support for these doctrines is copious.  But perhaps no passage is clearer than Romans 9:10-23

And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God’s purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls— she was told, “The older will serve the younger.” As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.”

What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory

Romans 9:10-23

In the middle of Paul’s great exposition of grace, we find this “horrible doctrine.”  A doctrine which, in our pride, tempts us to accuse God of injustice, of being the author of sin, and of commanding apparently useless tasks such as evangelism or intercessory prayer.  In our hubris, election and reprobation are indeed “horrible doctrines.”   

Yet as we carefully consider what the Bible says about the total depravity of our fallen condition, these “horrible doctrines” soon become “doctrines of grace.”  Every aspect of our lives is affected by the guilt and presence of sin.   “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)   Were God to base His decision to save on anything in us, we would be hopelessly doomed.  

The early American pastor, Jonathan Edwards, once declared, “we contribute nothing to our salvation except the sin that made it necessary.”  And Jesus taught that “unless a man is born again [from above] he cannot see the kingdom of God.”    Those horrible doctrines, which at first fill us with indignation and accusation toward a Holy, Sovereign God, become gracious doctrines when the Holy Spirit enables us to see the depth of our sin.  

In scripture, these doctrines are always proclaimed to offer us assurance, not fill us with hopeless dread.  Such is the case in Jeremiah 24.   As the long-threatened judgment begins to unfold.  Nebuchadnezzar captures and conquers the land of Judah.  God gives the prophet a vision of two baskets of figs.   Through this vision, God declares his intention to save and restore some but to judge and condemn others, giving hope to the hopeless and warning to the heedless.  

On what basis do you appeal to God for his mercy?  Is it your works?  Your circumstances?  Your piety?   Is it enough?   Or is your hope in something much more solid?  Only in the calling and election of God is there assurance.   Have you answered His call? 

All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out….  this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

John 6:35-40

Join us this Lord’s Day, June 28 as we examine Jeremiah 24 and consider the doctrines of election and reprobation – doctrines of grace, not horrible doctrines.  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.   Or join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP.

Spotting the Fake

Spotting the Fake

Fake news is not new.  It was not invented by Russian hackers or media moguls during the 2016 Presidential campaign.   Fake news has been around since man first listened to the “Father of Lies” in the Garden.   News reporting is always saddled with some level of intentional or unintentional, benevolent or malevolent bias.  That news media has always been funded by advertising should make this obvious.  Persuasion is at the heart of most of our words, but unhinged from moral restraint, persuasion quickly descends into exaggeration, mis-construal and flat-out lying.

Fake news is not new.  What is new is that no one seems to care if their news is fake.  Fake news is no longer ‘news worthy.’  The mantra of post-modernity, “true for you, but not for me” has given way to a lack of concern for truth, so long as the story is moving.  The cardinal value for today’s man is emotional resonance not intellectual verity.  Does it grip me?  Does it grab me?  Does it move me?  These are the questions that have replaced, “Is it true?”  Neil Postman’s prophetic book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, rightly predicted a society in which “truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.”

But man was not created to live in society where truth is drowned in irrelevance.  Truth exists – absolute truth, truth that is revealed and not discovered.  Without this truth there can be no beauty, joy, peace, redemption, mercy, forgiveness, justice or love – only “how I feel.”  Without this truth there is never any “us,” only a “me.”  Truth matters.  But can we spot what is true and what is false? 

Back in my school days, my classmates clamored for quizzes that were True/False.  The logic was simple. It gives us a 50/50 chance.  But who wants to get 50% on a test?   I despised True/False quizzes.  Give me an essay question any day rather than statements that, if properly or improperly qualified, had so many caveats that truth or falsity was murky.   None of us are as good with True/False questions as we like to believe.   We do a poor job at spotting the fake.  Game shows, icebreakers, and fashion counterfeiters have abundantly proven this point.

Gullibility and a love for the sensational makes us easy prey for deceptive news.   We scroll over a shocking headline on social media and, without any credibility filtration, share it copiously.  Only later realizing that our integrity has just taken a very public nosedive.   In an article from the Freedom Forum Institute, Samantha Smith offers a quick guide to spotting fake news.  She warns us to check out sources, resist click-bait, look carefully at an article’s URL, compare the story with reputable news sources, beware of sloppy writing and the absence of quotes, and use media literacy sites such as snopes.com or factcheck.org.  Nothing she says amounts to rocket science, but the simplicity of her analysis shows how easily we can be duped.    But if we are so easily deceived regarding things that can be seen and verified, what about eternal and spiritual truths?

Jeremiah expressed himself most in lamentation.   Reading Jeremiah is exhausting.   The weeping prophet laments the coming judgement of God, the idolatry of the people, the oppression of the powerful, and even the wasting of the land because of the sin of the people.   But Jeremiah’s greatest lament was for the deception of the people through the false prophets and lying priests, even though he knows the people love it that way.   In Jeremiah 21-23, the prophet offers a scathing rebuke to the kings of Judah for their unfaithfulness, then in Jeremiah 23:9, the prophet brings the hammer of God’s word down on the false prophets.  And in his rebuke, he offers his beloved people a warning. 

Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you, filling you with vain hopes. They speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord. They say continually to those who despise the word of the Lord, ‘It shall be well with you’; and to everyone who stubbornly follows his own heart, they say, ‘No disaster shall come upon you.’ 

Jeremiah 23:16-17

Jeremiah pleads with the people to discern the false prophets, reject their message, and turn back to the Lord.   But this warning is for us, as well.  We live in a world brimming with false teachers who ‘despise the word of the Lord’ and say ‘it shall be well with you’ to those who stubbornly follow their own heart.’   Their teaching is a ‘dark and slippery’ path that leads to death.   How well can we spot the fake?   Can we discern a false teacher from a faithful one?   Have we loved truth or falsehood?   Are we wary of those who attempt to “heal our wounds lightly, saying ‘Peace, peace’ when there is no peace.”

Join us this week as we examine Jeremiah 23:9-40 and consider the prophet’s guidance regarding the sources, symptoms and solutions to the problem of false teaching.  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.   Or join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP.