Overwhelmed?

Overwhelmed?

Are you overwhelmed yet?  Every sphere of life seems turned upside down right now.  Surely we have learned not to ask, “how much worse can it get?”   But with every news-cycle, the catalog of catastrophes expands.   While not to the level of the Biblical plagues, we can well imagine how the people of Ramses’ Egypt felt.   Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does.    But as bad as the circumstances of last year have been, even worse are the downstream consequences.    Life has always been uncertain, but we feel it more keenly now.  And with that, mental, emotional, and spiritual crises have produced a far greater impact than the events that triggered them. 

A recent article in JAMA, makes some pretty startling observations.

Since February 2020, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has led to at least 200 000 deaths in the US and 1 million deaths worldwide. These numbers probably underestimate COVID-19 deaths by 50%, with excess cardiovascular, metabolic, and dementia-related deaths likely misclassified COVID-19 deaths.

This devastating pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of daily life. While nations struggle to manage the initial waves of the death and disruption associated with the pandemic, accumulating evidence indicates another “second wave” is building: rising rates of mental health and substance use disorders.

This magnitude of death over a short period of time is an international tragedy on a historic scale. Focusing on the US, the number of deaths currently attributable to COVID-19 is nearly 4 times the number killed during the Vietnam War. This interpersonal loss at a massive scale is compounded by societal disruption. The necessary social distancing and quarantine measures implemented as mitigation strategies have significantly amplified emotional turmoil by substantially changing the social fabric by which individuals, families, communities, and nations cope with tragedy. The effect is multidimensional disruption of employment, finances, education, health care, food security, transportation, recreation, cultural and religious practices, and the ability of personal support networks and communities to come together and grieve.

A June 2020 survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of 5412 US adults found that 40.9% of respondents reported “at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition,” including depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress, and substance abuse, with rates that were 3 to 4 times the rates 1 year earlier.2 Remarkably, 10.7% of respondents reported seriously considering suicide in the last 30 days.2 The sudden interpersonal loss associated with COVID-19, along with severe social disruption, can easily overwhelm the ways individuals and families cope with bereavement.

The events of 2020 were bad.   And, unfortunately, for many, 2021 may get worse.   As Christians, how do we respond when life is absolutely overwhelming?   We profess that our faith gives us strength “many trials of various kinds.”  We are instructed to “count it all joy.”   We declare that we can endure “all things through Christ who strengthens us.”   We have an expectation that things will work out because, “if God is for us, who can be against us.”  Yet, when things go from bad to worse, how do those scripture truths hold up as threads in the fabric of our lives.  How do we keep from being overwhelmed? Or do we?

Or perhaps the question is not ‘how do we keep from being overwhelmed,’ but are we ‘overwhelmed by the wrong things?’   The Apostle Paul points to this paradox, writing to the ancient Church at Corinth. 

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies….  So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 

2 Corinthians 4:8-10, 16-18

Through a remarkable series of comparisons, Paul admonishes us to be overwhelmed by the grace of God, not the gravity of the present crisis.   Perhaps our problem is that we are overwhelmed by the wrong things?   A friend once noted that ‘fear is simply faith pointed in the wrong direction.’  Are you overwhelmed?  Overwhelmed by fear of what will happen next?  Or overwhelmed with faith in the One who is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Join us this week as we examine 2 Corinthians 4:7-18 and consider the calling as Christians to be overwhelmed by the things that will last forever.  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 or on YouTube.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

New Math

New Math

Math – you either love it, or you hate it.  It inspires no ambivalence.   It’s rigidity, its precision, its unforgiving exactitude is what haters hate and lovers love.   The unyielding constancy of mathematical relationships in the cosmos are a testimony to a predicable universe.   In an ever-changing world, math is changeless.   Even cosmological change, itself, is governed and measured by unchanging mathematical relationships.

But while mathematical truths do not change, the techniques and the technology of mathematicians do.   This is observed whenever you attempt to help a small child with homework.   “It’s only long division,” you think.  Certainly, you are qualified to help your young padawan mathematician with that.   But then you encounter it – ‘new math.’   All the methods you learned and the tools you used, back in the day, to navigate the rigors of math are now different.    You begin to say things like, “let me show you an easier way.”  Or “I don’t know why this ‘new math’ overcomplicates everything.”  

Everyone is frustrated.  You in your attempt to help.  And your third-grader, who is now more confused than ever.    Even my undergraduate degree in applied mathematics, does not empower me to teach ‘new math’ to teach my children.   We think we see the problem and its solution clearly, only to realize our assumptions and our approaches are all wrong.   But this is not only a problem in math.  

What is true of math, is often even more pronounced in our spiritual lives.   On the surface, our problems seem to be merely a matter of logistics, resources, or relationships.   We believe we have a clear grasp of the problem and the solution, only to realize our assumptions and approaches are all wrong.  Wrong because they lacked any consideration of faith.  In the Christian life there is nothing in which faith does not play the leading role.   Paul pointed this out when he wrote, “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23)   Nothing is aspiritual.

Jesus’ disciples discovered this in a remarkable way in the ‘feeding of the five thousand.’  The setting for this story is complex.  The disciples had just completed a highly acclaimed ministry tour of Galilee.  The gospel was preached, demons cast out, and lives changed.  And the local powers took notice.   Herod took notice.   Herod, who had just executed John the Baptist, feared this new groundswell of preachers and teachers.  The Twelve were exhausted.  They had not even had time for a meal together.  Jesus, too, was exhausted emotionally by the news of John’s death.   They crossed the Sea of Galilee to get away for a few days.   But as often happens in the lives of those in ministry, the vacation turned into work. 

Throngs from the surrounding towns and cities found Jesus.  They  came out to his ‘desolate’ retreat to find healing and truth – over five thousand families.   Jesus did not turn them away, but cared for them.   As the day wore on, however, exhaustion and hunger take their toll.   The disciples instruct Jesus to send the people away to find food and lodging.   But Jesus tests them.  “You give them something to eat!”   Jesus puts a brewing humanitarian crisis back in their laps.   How will they ever meet such a need?  What did they learn on their ministry tour?  What did they learn from his teaching that day?   What have they learned of his power and faithfulness? 

The disciples believe this is a crisis of logistics.   But it is really a crisis of faith.   Will they operate by faith or sight?  Can they trust Jesus to provide for those he calls?   Will they grasp that spiritual life and practical life are not mutually exclusive?   The mathematics of feeding this crowd are staggering.   And, the mathematics of their resources are ludicrous.   What can Jesus do with one boy’s lunch?  The disciples thought they understood the problem and its solution, but their assumption and approach was all wrong.  

More than rest and food, they needed to trust Jesus with the math!   Eight months wages might have provided a small bit of bread for most of the crowd.  But in Jesus’ hands a boy’s lunch fed thousands until they were full.   And there were leftovers!  Not scraps, but uneaten servings.  Twelve baskets full to feed the empty stomachs and faith of The Twelve. 

What will Jesus do with your life, if you place it his hands?  What will he do with your modest or lavish resources?  With your plans and desires?  With your time?   Perhaps you are concerned that if you give these to the Lord, he will take, but not give?  That you will not have enough?  Or that you can’t trust how he will use what you think actually belongs to you.  

Only John’s account of the feeding of the five thousand mentions the boy whose lunch became food for thousands.   We don’t know anything about him, his reasons for being there or if he struggled to yield what was his to his master.  What we do know is that when he put what little he had in the Jesus’ hands, he had more than he needed and so did thousands more.  Jesus taught.

Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. 

Luke 6:38

Can you trust God with your resources, your desires, your plans, your time, your family, your heart, mind, soul, and strength?   Maybe it’s time to find out.   Join us this week as we examine John 6:1-14 and consider the call to exercise faith in giving.

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 or on YouTube.

The Great Exchange

The Great Exchange

Big Tech is under the microscope.   For years social media has been accused of allowing supposed foreign actors to shape public opinion.  But, of late, it seems that Big Tech has cut out the middlemen – editing, crafting, and censoring public discourse and behavior directly.   How many of your posts have been “reviewed by independent fact checkers” and found wanting.  But this is nothing new.   Traditional media and commerce have done this forever.   Print media has always reported through political bias to offer you a predigested conclusion.  And large retailers intend you to buy what they offer, rather than what you want.

While Big Tech’s motives are always in question, its effects are unquestionable.   Technology changes behavior.   It always seeks to automate and streamline, manual time-consuming tasks.   This is what technology does.    Years ago, as the internet moved from the world of academia to commerce, retailers tried to leverage this new access to consumers.   But there were obstacles.   Shipping costs and difficulty exchanging or returning items created trepidation for buyers.   Enter Amazon Prime.   However you feel about Amazon, their introduction of free-shipping and no-hassle returns, more than any other innovation, opened the floodgates of ecommerce.

We all want gift exchanges to be easy.   No one wants to wait in line at Customer Service only to get store credit.  No one wants to search endlessly to find the return right address for a mail-order purchase and then have to pay shipping equal to the item’s original price.   Until Amazon, the cost of gift exchanges was high.   But now online retailers have made this process virtually painless.   Click, print, and take the return to the UPS Store and you are done.   Ease of exchange has been revolutionary.  None of us wants to endure the costs of a difficult gift exchange.   Anymore we are shocked at a seller that expects us to pay return shipping.   Forgotten are the days of difficult exchanges.

So perhaps it is extremely difficult grasp of the fullness of what it cost Jesus to make the greatest exchange.    When we think of the Incarnation, we consider the poverty and obscurity of his coming or of the constant rejection he experienced – “He came to His own, but His own received Him not.”   But our thinking about his humiliation never goes far enough.   We think of his humility in terms of what would humble us.  But the very act of the eternal God taking upon himself our nature is a humiliation of inconceivable magnitude.   While grace is free to us, it is not cheap.   All the brokenness and curse and wrath of God that our sin brings and deserves was placed upon him.   And all the righteousness that he attained was accounted to us, when we give ourselves to him.   The Apostle Paul pens this great mystery concisely when he wrote.

We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21

The incarnation was the costliest exchange in the history of gift giving.   God’s grace and mercy toward us came at an unfathomable cost.   Our forefathers expressed described this cost as Christ’s humiliation and described it this way in the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

Q. 27. What did Christ’s humiliation consist of?

A. Christ’s humiliation consisted of his being born in a low condition, living under the Law, undergoing the miseries of this life, undergoing the wrath of God and the cursed death of the Cross, and in being buried and continuing under the power of death for a time.

Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 27

Yet this costliest of exchanges brings about the most extraordinary exchanged lives in the recipients of God’s gracious gift.   Paul describes this exchanged life in 2 Corinthians 5.

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

2 Corinthians 5:14-17

Literature is filled with compelling stories of exchanged lives — The Prince and the Pauper, or A Tale of Two Cities.  But there is no more compelling story than the “Son of God becoming man, so that men could become sons of God.”   This week as we conclude our study of the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s teaching on the Incarnation by considering the costliest exchange in history — the humiliation of Christ.   Join us as we examine 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 as we consider what this exchange meant for Jesus and what it means for us.

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 or on YouTube.

Lessons and Carols, 2020

Lessons and Carols, 2020

The story of the coming of Christ in the Incarnation is the most dramatic story ever told.  While it reaches a beautiful high point with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem,  there is much, much more to this story – a story that has its origins in eternity past and its implications in eternity future, a story of epic failure and dramatic rescue, a story that reveals a God who is quite different from the one our fears imagine.  As singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson puts it.

Gather round, ye children come
Listen to the old, old story
Of the pow’r of Death undone
By an infant born of glory
Son of God, Son of Man. (Andrew Peterson)

Come and experience the rest of this story in God’s own words and in song as we share in An Evening of Lessons and Carols together at 5:00 pm on Sunday, December 13, in the Commons at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, 8300 Kanis Rd, Little Rock.  For directions click here or email us at rivercityarp@gmail.com for more details.   We look forward to seeing you there.

The Eye of the Beholder

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.   But what does this mean?   Is appearance everything? Are the glamour magazines to be believed?    No, beauty comes in many different shapes, sizes, and proportions.  God has made everything (and everyone) beautiful in its time.   The discerning eye finds beauty in every form.   We know this instinctively.   Yet, we don’t believe it about ourselves. 

Our fallenness has given us a creaturely discontent with the Creator’s genius.   But who are the most beautiful people you know?   And why are they beautiful?  Is it the proportion of their face, their coloring, or the shape of their features?   No, their beauty appears by contrast — kindness when others are cruel, resilience in the midst of adversity, joy when sorrow is the order of the day.   Beauty radiates through contrast not conformity.   God delights to create beauty through contrast.

He created a world of contrasts.  Contrasts which give, even this fallen, groaning, creation a beauty that leaves poets speechless.   He began with light and made the world responsive to it.   Light creates color and contour, clarity and, yet, concealment.   Lighting gives everything perspective.  And changing light reveals something new in the familiar.   Lighting and contrast are foundational to visual beauty.   Through lighting and shading artists breathe life into their work.  

But as with all things God made, sensory experience has an analog with spiritual truth.  Spiritual truth in scripture is often taught by way of contrast.   The Bible tells the triumphal story of how God rescues us from sin, self, and Satan.   But the story only becomes compelling when we realize our desperate condition.   Until we grasp how bad we are, we cannot see how good the good news is.  

The Fall plunged us into irrecoverable ruin.   And until we are convinced of this, we will never seek Christ and find redemption.    The beauty of the gospel can only be appreciated in contrast to the ugliness of our condition apart from Christ.   Our forefathers expressed it this way in the Westminster Larger Catechism.

Q. 27. What misery did the fall bring on mankind?

A. The fall brought on mankind the loss of communion with God and his displeasure and curse, so that we are by nature children of wrath, slaves to Satan, and justly liable to all the punishments of this world and that which is to come.

Q. 28. What are the punishments of sin in this world?

A. The punishments of sin in this world are either inward, as a blindness of mind, a reprobate sense, strong delusions, hardness of heart, horror of conscience, and vile affections; or outward, as the curse of God on the creatures for our sakes, and all the other evils that befall us in our bodies, names, states, relations, and employment, together with death itself.

Q. 29. What are the punishments of sin in the world to come?

A. The punishments of sin in the world to come are everlasting separation from the comforting presence of God, and very grievous torments in soul and body, without intermission, in the fire of hell forever.

Westminster Larger Catechism in Modern English

Our condition is stark.   Our ruin is total.   Every faculty of our being, every dimension of our life, every moment of our existence from now until all eternity is utterly ruined.   We go through life with a nagging sense of misery.   We try to cover it with fig leaves – experience, pleasure, education, accomplishment, possessions.   We know, instinctively, the truth of our forefather’s words.   But misery is not the last word.  

The first chapter of Ephesians is a literary masterpiece.   In one long breath, Paul extols the beauty and richness of God’s grace to those who are ‘in Christ.’   The Ephesian church faced severe crises internally and externally.   False teaching and persecution were leading many to ‘abandon their first love.’  So, God pulls back the curtain to show them the truth of their situation ‘in Christ.’   And to drive the point home, he reminds them of what life was like outside of Christ.  In this great contrast we find a clear and concise picture of our lost condition.

Join us this season as we walk through the Westminster Shorter Catechism, Questions 19-23, and consider, ‘why and how Jesus became man in order to save us from ourselves.’  This week we begin in Ephesians 2:1-3, 12 by examining the misery of the condition into which the Fall and our own sin have brought us.  

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 or on YouTube