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.

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.

Donor Match

Donor Match

Some days seem to take forever to arrive.   As a boy, Christmas day and the last day of school seemed as though they would never come.  Like a mirage on a hot summer highway, as you move toward them, they only seemed to be further away.  But what if that long-awaited day was a matter of life and death?  What if you were waiting for a heart or liver transplant in order to live?

Those who need an organ transplant are placed on a waiting list for a donated organ. Transplant organs are matched to patients based on a large list of criteria including: blood type, tissue type, medical urgency, body size, and distance from donor hospital to recipient hospital.  The process is never based simply on your position on the list.  Unfortunately, there are a lot more people on the waiting list than there are organs available each year.

Depending on how well you are, you may wait for your organ transplant at home or in a hospital. It is impossible to anticipate exactly when one will become available.  Some people wait only a few days while for others the wait much longer, possibly many months, if at all.  The waiting, the wondering, and the worrying become all consuming.  What if it never comes?  What if no match can be found for me?  As the time passes, desperation increases and the difficulty of holding on to hope grows exponentially. And if an organ is found, the danger of the transplant and high likelihood of rejection weigh heavily.

Then the call comes – a donor match has been found — and all the emotions converge.  Hope shines in and the life-giving gift is given by another whose gift cost them everything.   While heart and liver transplants have become almost routine today, it is never routine if it is you waiting and praying for a donor match.  But what if your fatal diagnosis is more than physical?  What if you have a failing soul and spirit?  What if your heart of hearts is failing for a lack of righteousness and faithfulness?  You seek diligently some other person – a counselor, a teacher, a lover, a friend — who can give you what you need to fill that growing emptiness in your heart, to stop the metastatic corruption of sin and guilt that threatens your life for all eternity.

But no matching donor can be found.  Every teacher, every counselor, every lover, every friend, every good man or woman, every role model — they are all on the waiting list as well.   Life is ebbing away, time is ticking, a donor must be found.   But where can we find a donor match for our sin-sick soul?   This was the question posed to the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 5.  Jerusalem has been given a terminal diagnosis.  The sin-sickness of the people had metastasized into every area of their lives from worship to family life to social injustice.  God commands Jeremiah.

Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem,
    look and take note!
Search her squares to see
    if you can find a man,
one who does justice
    and seeks truth,
that I may pardon her.    Jeremiah 5:1

Jeremiah looks everywhere.  He looks among the ordinary people.  He looks at the leaders, the wealthy, the scholars, and the movers-and-shakers.  Surely, he can find such a man among the priest and prophets.  But there is no match.  As the Psalmist said.

They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
    there is none who does good,
    not even one.  Psalm 14:3.

No even one!  No donor can be found.  The situation is desperate.   God had promised to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if only ten righteous could be found, but Jerusalem’s judgment depended on just one.  Despite Jeremiah’s diligent search no righteous man could be found.   This is the desperation of our own spiritual situation.  Dying from a depraved soul, we need a righteousness transplant.  But can a donor be found?  The good news is that a perfect donor match exists.

Jesus Christ is a perfect donor match for your diseased soul.  Made like us in every way, fully man yet fully God, His perfect obedience and atoning death on the cross make his perfect righteousness available to those who will receive it.   He alone is the way, the truth and the life.  But as with someone on the transplant list, it is not enough for the donor to be found.  The donated organ must be received by transplant.  This happens for us when we place our faith in Jesus and repent of our diseased life.  Have you received a transplanted life from Jesus?

Join us this Sunday, July 28 as we consider the good news that a donor match has been found to transplant in us the new heart we need to live.  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.

Sorry?

Sorry?

One of the places where human depravity is more clearly displayed than rush hour traffic, may be a child’s birthday party.   These gatherings, designed to celebrate a child’s special day, can easily turn into self-fests, with every attendee assuming that he, himself, is the reason for the season.   Meanwhile parents visit with one another in relative oblivion, until little Johnny Schmidt goes too far.

Then you hear it. “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt!  You tell little birthday Bobby you are sorry.”  Called from parental lethargy, Mrs. Schmidt arises, grasps John Jacob by the ear and marches him to the emotional remains of birthday Bobby and repeats the command.  “Say it!  Say your sorry! Say it now!” She bellows.

John Jacob barely opens his mouth and barely disturbs the air with his virtually inaudible, “Sor-ry.”  And everyone who observes this farce thinks the same thing.  The thought bubble above everyone’s head screams, “No You’re Not! You’re not one bit sorry!”  Everyone knows that John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt is anything but sorry.  Birthday Bobby knows it.  Mrs. Schmidt knows it.  And John Jacob smiles inwardly.  The use of a magic word has relieved him of all consequence.  Nothing has changed.  Bobby is still an emotional wreck, the party has been ruined, contrary to her self-deception, Mrs. Schmidt has not actually parented her son.  All that was broken is still broken.   But John Jacob has been released from trouble.  Or has he?

This is what most people think repentance looks like – like John Jacob using magical religious words, smooth words to remove consequence and relieve himself of obligation for his sin against God and others.  We mumble a half-hearted prayer, say “sorry” in liturgical dressing and, voila, everything is fixed.  Or is it?   We are so self-centered by nature that we can never escape the gravity of self-love in order to truly repent under our own power.   Repentance demands sorrow for how our sins affected others, not just how they affect us.   The Apostle Paul distinguishes between godly sorrow that rightly grieves its offense and worldly sorrow that only grieves its consequences.

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 2 Corinthians 7:10

Real repentance begins with God — with his kindness, with his grace, with the convicting work of His Holy Spirit.  Without this kind of real repentance, we live lives that are broken – broken in our relationship with God and broken in every other relationship as well.  It is not enough to say, “sorry” and think that magic words will put the world back the way it was before.  What we need is real, gracious, God-given repentance.

As God calls Judah to account for her sin through the prophet Jeremiah, His Words are not words of bare judgment, but a gracious call to repentance, grace, forgiveness, mercy and salvation.  This same call comes to us to show us the way home from the pig-sty of our own selfishness.   Have you received God’s gift of repentance unto life?  Do you want to see what that looks like and hear how to find it?

Join us this Sunday, July 14 as we examine the amazing grace of God and his call to come home in Jeremiah 3.  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.

Accepting the Call

Accepting the Call

The sound was unmistakable.  I can still hear it in my memory.  The sound of a wooden spoon stirring pancake batter in a Tupperware bowl.  It was the sound of Saturday morning.  My father did not cook often, but Saturday morning was his time to shine in the culinary arts.  My father loved pancakes — tall stacks of pancakes drowned in maple syrup.  But these pancakes, garnished with sausage, had a deeper significance.  As much as my Dad loved piles of carbs drenched with more carbs, pancakes prepared a man for work.   And work was the order of the day on Saturdays.   The early morning sound of pancake batter was the clarion call to wake for work.

For my childhood friends, Saturday morning was a time to sleep in and focus on the business of play.  But in our house, my father cast another vision.  His vision involved rising early, eating a hearty breakfast, loading the car with gardening tools and making the hour-long drive to our “property” to tend the tomatoes, squash, corn, string-beans and watermelons.   I was not an enthusiastic gardener, but I loved to be with my father.  I am quite sure my father could have gotten more done without me, but he took me because he wanted me with him in his work.

The challenges were great.  The roto-tiller was like a rodeo bronc.  Pulling weeds from the hard-baked Georgia clay bloodied my fingers.  The broiling hours under the summer sun seemed interminable.  And I can still hear the sound of the cicadas that formed the soundtrack of gardening adversity.   But there were great rewards — hearing the stories of my forefathers, seeing “the old places” where my family’s history unfolded, sharing peanut butter and banana sandwiches with my dad and the world’s coldest “Co-cola” (Georgian for Coca-Cola) from Mr. Crow’s General Store.   And the coup-de-grace was my father’s declaration at the end of the day that I had done a solid day of man’s work.  The call that came with the wooden spoon striking Tupperware was reluctantly heeded at the day’s dawning, but at day’s end, I was thankful for I had accepted the call.

That is often what God’s calling is like.  At first it is daunting and dreaded, filled with thoughts of adversity and self-doubt.  And often it is just as hard as we expected.  However, it is never a call merely to do a job, but to spend time at work with the Father.  While God does not need us to accomplish his plan and purpose, he delights to have us with him at work.  He chooses to call us to go with him.

We see this vividly in God’s call to the prophet Jeremiah.   God has work for Jeremiah to do.  He tells him to “gird up his loins” and get dressed for work, but first he tells him that even before he formed Jeremiah in his mother’s womb, he knew him and set him apart to declare the gospel to perishing men, women, boys and girls.   The language is tender, as of a father lovingly planning for a child yet unborn.  And most importantly, God is not just sending Jeremiah, pushing him out of the nest to face the cold, harsh realities of a world hostile to the gospel.  Notice the promise that animates Jeremiah’s call.  Twice the Lord tells the reluctant prophet, “do not be afraid … for I am with you.”

Jeremiah’s calling reveals important truths about our own callings.  God never merely send us out to work for him, but invites us to join him where he is in what he is doing.  Is it intimidating?  Is there self-doubt?  Of course, but we have the promise of his power and his presence.   Have you accepted God’s call?  His call to come to him through faith in Christ and then his call to join him in his work?

Join us this Sunday, June 30, as we examine Jeremiah’s call in Jeremiah 1:4-19 and consider what this teaches us about God’s call to us.  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.

Ancient Paths

Ancient Paths

My father loved nothing more than a new ‘short-cut.’  He hated driving on the interstates in Atlanta and avoided them like the plague.  As an office equipment salesman, he had a good sense of the layout of the city, but his love of a new ‘short-cut’ was proverbial in our family for ‘long dangerous route that ended up getting us lost.’  On vacations, my older sister would act as navigator so when my dad could not resist the urge to ‘take the road less traveled’ she could get us back to the ‘road more reliable.’

Like my father, society today is obsessed with finding the new path, the fast-track, the short-cut.  Our evolutionary mind-set has deceived us into thinking that we are very different men than those who came before.  After all, our problems are modern problems, not like the ancient concerns of our forefathers.   Surely modern problems demand modern solutions – new paths, not the worn and rutted path of those traveling ahead of us.

But this quest for novelty pervades our thinking beyond the realm of technology into our morality and spirituality.  We clamor for a new ethic, more flexible and adapted to the shifting mores of men.   Progressive political candidates habitually call for the Church to hitch its theology to the wandering star of public opinion, rather than remain tied to some outdated idea of transcendent and absolute truth.  But what if our problems are not new?  What if they are just more technologically advanced versions of the same old problem – the problem man has faced from the very beginning?  It is a grave danger to view our problems as modern problems in need of modern solutions.  As one theologian has noted, “what modern problems need are ancient solutions.”

The men of the prophet Jeremiah’s day faced social, spiritual, and national ruin.  Caught in the crossfire of colliding world powers, they looked to modern solutions — globalism, multi-culturalism, and nationalism, rather than return to the ancient paths found in God’s Word.  They were masters of compromise and political intrigue.  Pragmatism was their only core conviction.  ‘Go along to get along’ was their motto.  But to no avail.  Their departure from God’s Word led them further and further from the only path to peace.

Though the people left God behind, He did not leave them.  He sent His Word and His prophet, Jeremiah, warning them not to follow the empty traditions of their fathers or adopt the modern mantra, ‘coexist.’  Jeremiah charges them sternly.

 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

Take note of their response – “we will not walk in it.”  Sound familiar?  How like us, whose pride scoffs at anything we did not devise.   “How foolish,” we say, “to look to at outdated ideas like faith and repentance.  How narrow-minded and unscientific to believe in the God of the Bible.”  We must look to ourselves.  Solve our own problems.  But the only solutions to uniquely modern problems are the ancient ones revealed by a God who stands above and beyond time.

Join us this Sunday, June 23, as we look at the words of Jeremiah and consider how this ancient preacher speaks to our modern concerns with amazing relevance and clarity.  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.

Graduation Gifts

Graduation Gifts

It is that time of year.   The time when graduation invitations compete with gardening catalogues for space in our mailbox.  With each invitation comes the challenge of selecting the perfect gift – a gift that reflects the interests and achievements of the graduate, yet communicates a larger vision for their future.  What will you get for the graduate in your life?  Graduates, what gifts do you hope to receive?  When I graduated, the most popular gifts were Cross Pen and Pencil sets, inspirational books, written especially for the graduation gift market by positivity-power gurus, and the perennial favorite of graduates, cash.  I appreciated the kindness of the givers – especially those who gave money – but none of the gifts challenged me with a vision for the next step.

Many graduation gifts are congratulatory, but not visionary.  Graduation is often celebrated as the last step and not the next step. But the word graduation inherently anticipates the next step, which is why it is sometimes called ‘commencement.’  Like a mark on a graduated cylinder, graduation is the line that marks the beginning of the next stage of life.  What is now behind was preparation for what is ahead.   The entire focus is on what is next.  What will our gifts communicate about the next step?  What vision will our gifts paint for our graduates, for their future, their identity and their way of life?

At the end of the Gospel of Matthew we encounter a remarkable graduation of sorts.  Jesus’ time with his disciples has come to an end.  Their three years watching him, learning from him, loving him, and following him in his earthly ministry are giving way to what is next – making disciples of the nations by going, baptizing and teaching in the power of the Holy Spirit which he sends.  The disciples have graduated from the rabbinic school of the Lord Jesus Christ.  They no longer call him Teacher.   Now he is Lord.  Their language has radically changed and their lives are about to radically change as well.

Jesus has summoned them to a mountain in Galilee to receive their commission, to graduate to the next step in their calling to follow Him.  They were moving out and into uncharted territory, leaving the comforts of the homes and towns they knew so well without the visible presence of the teacher who had guided them every day for three years.  Jesus calls them to a mountain top to give them a vision, not of what they can potentially do if they work hard enough, but a vision of what He will do by working in and through them.  Jesus gives them gifts – a vision, an identity, and a way of life – that will turn the world upside down.

Join us this Sunday, April 28, as we examine Matthew 28:16-20 and consider the vision, identity and way of life that Christ gives us as He turns the world upside down through the work of His Church in the world.  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.