Gift Giving

Gift Giving

Christmastime is a season marked by many beloved and enduring traditions. But no ritual dominates American Christmas celebrations like gift giving. Thirty percent of all retail sales in the United States occur between Black Friday and Christmas. This amounts to a staggering $717,000,000,000 in sales. That breaks down to a little over $1,000 per consumer. For many of our friends and neighbors this means going to great lengths financially, incurring substantial debt.

The pressure to find the right gift can be enormous. For some on your list, perhaps the token box of chocolate covered cherries or a bag of holiday blend coffee nicely discharges a sense of seasonal obligation, but for friends and family, gifts must reveal the givers intimate perception of the receiver’s preferences and desires. While men love to receive a gift card for anything, woe to the insensitive husband who gives one to his wife. Men, the scripture commands us to “dwell with our wives according to knowledge.” (1 Peter 3:7) That means, you need to get her something that aptly reflects her preferences and desires – not a gift card. She expects you to know her well enough to be decisive about her gift. And so we go to great lengths to find and give the right gift to our beloved.

The preciousness of a gift reflects the preciousness of the relationship it celebrates. The home-made gifts of children are precious to their parents, because they are gifts of their love, creativity, and generosity. It is a gift that is invested with who they are. How precious are the gifts we give? Is our goal in gift giving to discharge a seasonal responsibility or to celebrate the preciousness of our love for others? It is worth noting that the whole tradition of giving gifts is commemorative. It commemorates the gift that we have been given the Incarnation – as the eternal, divine Son of God takes upon himself a human nature to give to us the gift of faith and life.

We think we know the story. We think we understand this gift, but the fullness of what God has done for us in the gospel is incomprehensible. Apostle Paul called it “the mystery of godliness, Christ Jesus manifest in the flesh.” When the Archangel Gabriel announced the Virgin Mary of God’s plan to make her the mother of the Messiah, his explanation of this mystery was mysterious.

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.”

But the angel’s point was not to explain the mechanics of Mary’s pregnancy, but the nature of our Savior. Jesus would be fully God and fully man, possessing a human nature, but not a fallen nature. Jesus alone would be capable of rescuing us from ourselves, able to stand in our place, and alone able to bear the weight of God’s justice that we might experience God’s mercy.

The story of the Virgin Birth is not just a story about God’s ability to do miracles, but it reveals to us the preciousness of God’s indescribable gift. Mary’s perplexity pulls back the curtain to allow us to glimpse the glory of Christ. God did not give us a token gift, but he gave a most precious gift. We read in scripture that “God did not withhold from us his only Son, but gave Him up for us all. How will He not give us all things in Him?”

The poet Luci Shaw captures beautifully the paradox of the Incarnation in her poem, Mary’s Song.

Blue homespun and the bend of my breast
keep warm this small hot naked star
fallen to my arms. (Rest …
you who have had so far to come.)
Now nearness satisfies
the body of God sweetly. Quiet he lies
whose vigor hurled a universe. He sleeps
whose eyelids have not closed before.
His breath (so slight it seems
no breath at all) once ruffled the dark deeps
to sprout a world. Charmed by doves’ voices,
the whisper of straw, he dreams,
hearing no music from his other spheres.
Breath, mouth, ears, eyes
he is curtailed who overflowed all skies,
all years. Older than eternity, now he
is new. Now native to earth as I am, nailed
to my poor planet, caught
that I might be free, blind in my womb
to know my darkness ended,
brought to this birth for me to be new-born,
and for him to see me mended
I must see him torn.
Luci Shaw

Join us this Lord’s Day, December 2, as we examine Gabriel’s announcement to Mary in Luke 1:26-38 and consider the greatness of God’s gift to us in the gospel. We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock. Click here for directions. Come with a friend you and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Getting Ready for Church

Getting Ready for Church

My father was a rigorous logistician.  Every trip, no matter how short, was meticulously planned and documented with copies of the itinerary sent to all reasonably close relatives — “just in case.”  But when it came to getting our family ready for church on the Lord’s Day, he met with serious challenges.  He would be up before dawn shaving and brewing the coffee, waking my mom to make the blueberry muffins, waking my sisters to start the glacial process of feminine adornment, and helping me get dressed complete with a thorough application of comb and Vitalis to direct my unruly coif.  Saturday afternoons would find the men-folk polishing and shining white patent-leather shoes and Saturday evenings always included the study of Sunday School lessons.  But even with my father’s careful planning and direction, we rarely left the house on Sunday mornings at the published departure time.   I can still see him pacing in the driveway, puffing furiously on his pipe, trying to maintain his composure as the clock ticked.

Why is it so hard to get ready for church?  Every other day of the week we manage to get dressed, find something to eat, collect all the important trappings of the day, and depart at some early hour for work, school or play with the logistical proficiency of Fed-Ex.   But when we are preparing for church, it seems everything is harder.  Hair just won’t work.  Razors cut deeper.  One of every pair of shoes is AWOL.  The right clothes are rumpled or in the laundry.  Every child has been switched into three-toed sloth mode.  And we suddenly discover that our Bible and our keys are playing hide and seek.   At last we trundle everyone in the car and arrive for worship, breathless and emotionally exhausted and totally unprepared to enter the presence of the Lord of All Creation.

How are we to account for this mysterious disturbance in the space-time continuum on the Lord’s Day?  We cannot blame it on any astronomical or celestial phenomena since the seven-day cycle we call our “week” is the only measure of time not based on the rotation or revolution of stars, planets, or moons.  Maybe, just maybe, the problem lies closer to home.  Perhaps it is reflective of our values and priorities.  We prepare well for what we value.  What does our preparation for worship say about the value we place upon the communion of the saints in worship on the Lord’s Day?   In the original language of the New Testament, the word used for Friday (the day before the Jewish Sabbath) was literally translated, “preparation day?”   How much of the day or days before the Lord’s Day are devoted to getting ourselves ready for church?

This is not a new concern.  In 1 Timothy 2, Paul writes to his friend, Timothy, to urge him to give needful instruction to the church concerning personal preparation for worship.  In a passage that excites controversy in our modern world of gender confusion, because it dares to differentiate the roles of men and women in worship, Paul’s real focus is on how men and women are to prepare their bodies, their minds, and their hearts for church.

Join us this Lord’s Day, September 9, as we examine 1 Timothy 2:8-15 and consider the practical aspects of our physical, emotional and spiritual preparation for worship.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  Click here for directions. Come with a friend you and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Black Package

Black Package

We all have those friends or family members who pride themselves on “speaking their mind.”  While they think it a great virtue, we find it a grievous vice.  What they really mean by “speaking their mind” is that they feel free to give unsolicited and harsh criticism.  We try to ignore their callous rudeness, but the problem is that they are often right in what they say.   I call it truth in a black package.  I once worked with a senior engineer who was our official team curmudgeon.  His unsolicited invective toward younger coworkers was always pointed but spot on.   Whenever coworkers ignored his opinions because of the black packaging, they met with disaster.  In the same way, many ignore the gospel, because it comes wrapped in the black packaging of sin and repentance, only to meet with disaster that lasts forever.

As Jacob comes to the end of his life, he gathers his sons to speak a word of blessing.  When we look at his words, however, some look more like a curse than a blessing.  They are future blessing wrapped in the black package of their past sins.  He has hard words for his sons as he reminds them of their past failures, but also points them to a gracious future through the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises by a Savior.   At emotional times like these in our own lives, we are often tempted to define ourselves by our past unfaithfulness, but here Jacob reminds his sons that they are defined by God’s future faithfulness.   Like Jacob’s hard blessings, the gospel first speaks words of conviction to us and then comforts us with words of grace.  One ancient preacher said that it is the needle of the law which draws the thread of the gospel.

Join us this Lord’s Day, July 22, as we examine Jacob’s blessing of his sons from Genesis 49 and consider how the gospel speaks hard words of conviction and gentle words of comfort as God calls us to be his sons and daughters.  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 and here for our order of service. Come with a friend you and join us for fellowship and conversation. We look forward to seeing you there.

Providence

Providence

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

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

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

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

But Joseph’s story is not a mere illustration that bad things sometimes work out, rather it is a picture of God’s promise of a savior in Jesus Christ.  It is this promise that forms the focal point of God’s Providence.  Join us this Lord’s Day, March 11, as we examine Genesis 37 and consider how the story of Joseph anticipates the unfolding of God’s promises to rescue and deliver us from our deadly enemy.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  Click here for directions.

Come with a friend you and join us for fellowship and conversation. We look forward to seeing you there.

Setting the Stage

Setting the Stage

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

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

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

Join us this Lord’s Day, March 4, as we examine Genesis 37 and consider how the story of Joseph anticipates the unfolding of God’s promises to rescue and deliver us from our deadly enemy.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  Click here for directions.

Come with a friend you and join us for fellowship and conversation. We look forward to seeing you there.

Eye for an Eye

Eye for an Eye

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

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

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

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

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

Join us this Lord’s Day, February 18, as we examine Genesis 34 and this consider how we respond to injustice, abuse and evil.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  Click here for directions.

Come with a friend you and join us for fellowship and conversation. We look forward to seeing you there.

Moving Day

Moving Day

Inca Court was a little utopian outpost on the frontier of a fledgling dystopian America.  The small suburban Atlanta street where I grew up had only ten houses.  Until I left home for college, it was the only home I had ever known.  None of the families on our street ever moved in or out.  None of the parents in any of those homes ever moved in or out.  We never knew the curiosity of new neighbors and never coped with the stress of leaving Inca Court behind. There were no Moving Days on Inca Court. In a mobile society marked by constant transition, Inca Court was sociological anomaly.

My first significant move was phenomenally stressful – filled with logistical angst and existential self-doubt.  Was I crazy to leave the familiar, the comfortable, the settled, the influential, the known – even with its problems and challenges – for the uncomfortable, the unsettled, the uninfluential, the unknown?  Life transitions are fertile fields for lush and verdant anxiety, yet as followers of Jesus, we have been chosen to live a pilgrim life and to farm these fields.  Our God is always moving, always at work, even to this very day.  To be a follower means to follow – to follow a God who never changes, but often calls us to change, a God who never leaves or forsakes, but often calls us to leave and forsake.  Followers of Christ in scripture were often on the move, tracing the movement of God.

But… When do we go?  How do we leave?  How do we know?  How do we tell them we are leaving?  What will happen when we leave?  Or when we arrive?  Following God and leaving the familiar is tough.  In Genesis 31, Jacob senses it is time to go. God calls him to leave his in-laws and return to Canaan.  But like us, Jacob’s relationships are complex and complicated.  How and when should he leave?  How should he approach the issue with his family?  What will he leave behind and what will he find ahead of him?  Leaving is tough.

Join us this Lord’s Day, January 28, as we continue to trace the story of Jacob from Genesis 31 as he flees deteriorating relationships with his in-laws to return to Canaan, where his embittered brother Esau awaits.  In this account we see some critical truths about following God when he brings us to Moving Day.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  Click here for directions. Come with a friend you and join us for fellowship and conversation. We look forward to seeing you there.