Eradication

Eradication

Ah! Remember those heady days when we shook hands and inwardly laughed at the Asian tourists who wore masks?  It seems years ago, but it was only March 2020.   How we long to return, to undo all that Covid has done.   Some still look forward to the day when “all this is over.”  But will it be?  Will it ever really be ‘over?’ 

Epidemiologists define ‘over’ in two different ways.   First there is disease elimination.  Elimination means zero cases in a defined geographic area.   Elimination is ‘over’ with a small ‘o.’   Elimination does not mean the disease is gone, just inactive in a particular region.  Eradication is what we want.    Eradication means zero cases world-wide following deliberate efforts to prevent and treat a disease.   The only human disease considered eradicated is smallpox.  And it was only declared to be eradicated in 1980.   To be eradicated, a disease must be both preventable and treatable.   But we currently have no proven strategies for either when it comes to Covid-19.   As with smallpox, eradication, if it were to ever come, is a difficult and distant future reality.   Will we every be ‘over’ Covid-19?   

Eradication is unlikely.  Elimination is probably a distant likelihood.  But ‘over’ could come sooner in a different form factor.  Most probably being ‘over’ Covid looks like learning to live with it through lifestyle adjustments that become a permanent part of our social intercourse.   Practical eradication comes when, though still present, we by and large ignore it.   This kind of practical eradication through a willful apathy is probably the best we can achieve in the near term.   And while this may be a necessary coping strategy when it comes to Covid, it is deadly when it comes to Scripture.

Since the dawn of time, ungodly tyrants have sought to eradicate scripture.   Yet, no matter how often it has been confiscated or burned, God’s Word will not be silenced.  The Bible is eradication-proof and proves Newton’s third law, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.    Every attempt to forcibly eradicate the Bible only caused it to proliferate.   Though practical eradication does occur.  Like Covid, learning to coexist with the Bible, while largely ignoring it, provides a kind of practical inoculation against its truths.   Unfortunately, this is reflective of our society today.

In his article, The Scandal of Biblical Illiteracy, Al Mohler concludes.

While America’s evangelical Christians are rightly concerned about the secular worldview’s rejection of biblical Christianity, we ought to give some urgent attention to a problem much closer to home–biblical illiteracy in the church. This scandalous problem is our own, and it’s up to us to fix it.

Researchers George Gallup and Jim Castelli put the problem squarely: “Americans revere the Bible–but, by and large, they don’t read it. And because they don’t read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates.” 

Christians who lack biblical knowledge are the products of churches that marginalize biblical knowledge. Bible teaching now often accounts for only a diminishing fraction of the local congregation’s time and attention. 

We will not believe more than we know, and we will not live higher than our beliefs. The many fronts of Christian compromise in this generation can be directly traced to biblical illiteracy in the pews and the absence of biblical preaching and teaching in our homes and churches.

In Jeremiah 36 we find the terrible picture of Judah’s King Jehoiakim, burning the words of the Prophet Jeremiah.  He was not open to what God’s Word had to say.   But he was not the only one.   The people of his time neither listened, nor inclined their ears to hear God’s word through the prophets.   “Neither the king nor any of his servants who heard all these words was afraid, nor did they tear their garments.”   When God’s people have little concern for God’s Word, disaster cannot be far behind.   The people of Jeremiah’s day only wanted positive messages.   Words of sin, judgment, and wrath, were not what they wanted to hear.   While Jehoiakim’s Bible burning shocks us, what should shock us more is that the people who heard all these words were not afraid, nor did they think God’s Word applied to them.

It is easy to sit in judgement on Jeremiah’s generation, but how different are we?   How careful are we to hear and heed God’s Word?   We have more flavors of the Bible than Baskin-Robbins has ice-cream.   God’s word has never been more accessible.   Mao and Stalin and Voltaire tried their best to eradicate it, but could not.  But what Mao, Stalin, and Voltaire could never accomplish, the Church effects through growing ignorance.   We profess to be a ‘people of the book,’ but is the Bible authoritative and sufficient in our lives?   The response of Judah’s king and Judah’s people to the word of God offer a warning and challenge – how careful have we been to love and live God’s Word?

Join us this Lord’s Day as we examine Jeremiah 36 and consider faithful and unfaithful responses to God’s Word.  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.

Cathedral Builders

Cathedral Builders

One of the biggest challenges to space exploration is the sheer amount of time required to travel from one place to the next.   Given today’s propulsion technology, inter-stellar travel is, by necessity, multi-generational.   Project management in our digital age focuses on compressing the schedule, getting it done faster and more efficiently.  We roll out major technology platforms and build skyscrapers in months, not years.   But how good are we at project management spanning generations?   Can we maintain vision?  Sustain design commitments?  And keep our attention focused for three or four consecutive generations? 

As we turn our eyes to the heavens to think about traveling to Mars and beyond, our greatest challenge is the shortness of our life-span.    Here it is helpful to look back to our medieval past.    Men in the middle ages also had their eyes to the heavens.   But they planned to travel by building great cathedrals.    Projects that, without hydraulics and power equipment, took hundreds of years to complete.  

The cathedral in Rouen, France, took 735 years to complete and the great Münster in Cologne, 632 years.    On average the great cathedrals of Western Europe required 275 years to complete, three or four generations of craftsmen.  Andreas Hein has written a fascinating comparison between the challenges of space travel and cathedral building.  He concludes that “the products of our space program are today’s cathedrals.”

The sheer faithfulness of multi-generational craftsmen, to commit generation after generation of their families to build something they would never see finished, brings to mind the great hall of faith in Hebrews 11.

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for…. These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

Hebrews 11:1-2, 39-40

How steadfast is our faith?   We often struggle to maintain “faith once for all delivered to the saints” in our own lifetimes.   Do we have a vision to see that all the generations of our family, love the Lord with heart, mind, soul and strength?   The promise annexed to the Second Commandment is that the Lord shows “love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.”   Is that our vision?  Do we have a multi-generational vision for faithfulness to Christ in our families?  Are we Cathedral builders?  Do we have our minds set upon things above?  And do we desire this to be the vision that animates every generation of our progeny?

During the reign of King Jehoiakim, the prophet Jeremiah warned the people to turn back to the Lord.   They were a faithless generation and they were training the next generation to be even more faithless.  Time and time again, Jeremiah points out that even Judah’s young ones were caught up in their parent’s idolatry.    They refused to listen to the words of the living God, or even incline their ear to what he had to say.    But in their midst, God had placed a ready example to rebuke His people.   

The Rechabites had been commanded by their forefather, Jonadab, not to drink wine or live in houses or cultivate fields or have vineyards.    They were to live a simple, pastoral life, avoiding the settled comforts of contemporary culture.   For over 250 years, they had carefully followed the instructions of their dead ancestor.   God instructs Jeremiah to publicly challenge their convictions.  Yet their commitment to Jonadab’s instruction was unshakable.   While the Lord does not specifically commend their commitments, He does commend their commitment.

It is rare in scripture for God to commend men for their faithfulness.  Jesus commends a centurion in Matthew 8:10, saying, “truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.”  And in Jeremiah 35, the Lord commends the example of the Rechabites.  In faithless Judah, they are a remarkable example of steadfast commitment.    They provide a powerful illustration of one generation discipling the next.   

What do our lives illustrate?   Can the Lord point to us in the midst of a faithless generation as an example worth nothing?  What will the world know of our faith by observing our descendants in 250 years? Join us this Lord’s Day as we examine Jeremiah 35 and consider the power of multi-generational faithfulness. 

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.

Waffling

Waffling

My freshman year I learned a new definition of ‘waffling.’   Rumors had surfaced of a nefarious freshman hazing ritual.   We did not know what or when, but we knew it was coming – something called ‘waffling.’  Then the distant late-night darkness separating upper class Pressley Hall and freshman Grier Hall was shattered by the tribal shouts of “Wa-ffle, Waaa-ffle, Waaaa-ffle!”   Like the opening of Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” on they came.  

Out of respect for ancient tradition and good taste, I am not at liberty to describe ‘waffling.’   But it involved tennis rackets, hair brushes, shaving cream, and the systematic capture of all freshmen males.   But like much in life, the terror of anticipation was worse than the experience.

For most, however, the word ‘waffling’ carries far less sinister overtones, though perhaps more detrimental effects.   The urban dictionary defines ‘waffling’ as

“Acting indecisively, unable to make up one’s mind; playing the safe middle ground due to one’s own lack of conviction or sense of morality.”   

We often associate waffling with political candidates, who promise one thing to one group, then something contrary to another.   They adopt one position until challenged, then retreat to another.   Wafflers say what others want to hear and do what others want done.   They have no conviction except to gain approval.   Commitments are guided by ‘what works’ not ‘what do I believe is true.’  

Real leaders are ‘thermostats’ who change their environment.  Wafflers are ‘thermometers,’ who merely read and reflect the temperature of the room.    Unlike statesmen, who act for the next generation, waffling politicians think only of the next election.  But while political waffling is disingenuous and disappointing, when someone close to us waffles on an important commitment it is devastating.    We have all been the victim of a waffler.   Or perhaps we have waffled putting approval above conviction. 

King Zedekiah, was a waffler.   He was not a man to be trusted.   He went back on virtually every promise he made in Scripture.  But he aptly reflected his kingdom.   Judah was a kingdom of wafflers.   They had more gods than towns and more altars than streets.  They sought approval from whoever would offer it.  Everyone that is except from the Lord their God.  Persistently the Lord sent prophets to call them to return, but they were not returners.   They were wafflers.  Offering flocks and herds and rivers of oil in sacrifice, but never a change in their hearts or lives.

Jeremiah prophesied that God would judge them for their waffling.  And at last judgement came.  With Nebuchadnezzar’s vast allied army besieging Jerusalem and the homes of the leading citizens bulldozed to shore up the city walls, it seemed at last that the people’s hearts were yielding to the Lord’s call to return.   At a moment of great danger, Zedekiah committed to a course of repentance, going so far as to issue his own emancipation proclamation to the enslaved Jews in Jerusalem.  Like the Ninevites in Jonah’s day, God’s threatened judgement seemed to be rending hearts, not just garments.

But Zedekiah was the king of the wafflers.   When Nebuchadnezzar temporarily lifted the siege to engage an approaching Egyptian army, Judah waffled.  They revoked the emancipation proclamation and returned their brothers and sisters to slavery.    Their repentance was only a farce, what the apostle Paul would later call ‘worldly sorrow’ rather than ‘godly sorrow.’ Concerned only with worldly consequences, rather than eternal offenses.  But God takes covenant breaking and false repentance seriously.  The consequence of their false repentance would serious – deadly serious.

What about you?   Are you a waffler?  The call to follow Christ begins with the call to repent.   When Jesus began his ministry, he “came proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, … the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15)   And the first of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses asserted “when our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.”   Repentance, turning to God, is at the heart of the Christian life.  But false repentance, is no repentance at all.   Waffling when God calls us to repent, brings only judgement.   But how can we tell false repentance from true repentance?

Join us this week as we examine Jeremiah 34 and consider some of the marks of a false repentance.  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.

Consolation Prize

Consolation Prize

My childhood was filled with aspirational experiences.   We had no participation trophies. And the only gifts at birthday parties were for the birthday boy.   We recognized that some excelled and some did not.  We accepted that some were celebrated and others were celebrants.   But we did have consolation prizes.   For those with little skill on the carnival midway, a toy from the consolation prize box was great comfort.

Consolation prizes were my lot.  I never mastered the midway.   My ring toss was never a ringer.   My penny never made it into the glass.   And shooting gallery ducks had no fear when I stepped to the line.  I never won the giant stuffed panda.  But I always got a consolation prize.  And those consolation prizes were often the most memorable.   The bolo paddle and sliding 5×5 puzzles were epic fun.   But the mother of all consolation prizes was circular maze.   Five concentric tracks, slotted and pitted, that made getting the ball to the center spot a matter of great skill and tenacity.   Oh, to have back a fraction of the hours I spent navigating circular mazes.   Who wants a giant stuffed panda when you can have a circular maze?   Often the consolation prize was the best prize of all.

A consolation prize is not the same as a participation trophy.   It is meant to console your failure, not celebrate your contribution – not matter how minor.   We are not all winners.  And sometimes our contribution contributed to failure.   Participation trophies say nothing of glory or grace.   “We showed up.”   That is all they can declare.   But a consolation prize is a picture of grace.   You deserved nothing, but there was something good for you anyway. 

We think of a consolation prize as something of lesser worth or value, less glorious.   And perhaps that is true on the carnival midway.   But when it comes to the important things, consolation prizes are priceless.   No matter what you earn in life, the greatest things you possess will be graciously given – the love of a wife who is better than you deserve, the trust of your children who have no idea how little you really know.   The gifts that bring real and lasting joy are never things we have earned or achieved. 

Real joy comes from consolation prizes.  Gifts graciously given, not because you earned them or won them, but given by those who love you to bring comfort and consolation.   No one ever owed me a consolation prize.  There was no expectation of earning a prize just for showing up.  The consolation prize was always given to console me in my failure, in my falling short.   This is what makes it the better prize.  This is what God does for us.   We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.    Falling short is what we do., what we are.  We have no skill or capital or piety to escape the state of sin and misery that is our spiritual condition.   As the Bible puts it.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 

Ephesians 2:8-9

But what is this grace that is given?  What does the consolation prize look like?   Is it merely a free pass on a bad afterlife?  Is it a do over on all our mistakes?   Is it a spiritual painkiller to take the edge off of life — an opiate for the masses?   Curiously, the Bible does not describe God’s gracious gift as a state, a circumstance, or a feeling.  While grace affects each of these, grace itself refers to the thing given – and that thing is a person. The ubiquitous John 3:16 reminds us what this greatest consolation prize is.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

John 3:16

Grace is given in knowing Christ, not simply his benefits.   Phillip Melancthon put it succinctly, “to know Christ, is to know his benefits.”  You cannot separate them.   Christ, himself, is the gift.   Christ is not given for us, but to us.  The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is filled with the most lavish expressions of the gift of grace, but the theme of the letter is being “in Christ.”  Repeatedly, he reminds the church that the gift is Christ.  To know Him is to know his benefits.

After decades of preaching judgment against Judah, when it finally came Jeremiah consoles his people.  God will restore them.  His covenant of grace has not been shattered.  He will keep all his promises.    But God’s covenant promises are no mere reversal of fortunes or restoration of good old days.  No, God has more powerful consolation in mind.  He is sending them his Son, a kinsman Redeemer, the Greater Son of David.  Jeremiah 33 is a remarkable picture of the real consolation God has for us – the gift not just of judicial acquittal, circumstantial comfort, or emotional stability – the gift of a person, the Lord Jesus Christ himself.  

Jesus is the great consolation gift.   Grace is found in a person, not a condition or a quality.    Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No man comes to the Father, but through me.” (John 14:6)    What have you desired from your Christian life?   Forgiveness? Eternal Life?  Joy?  A fresh start?   All these are the fruits of grace, but they are not the root of grace.    No, the great gift God gives us is to know Christ.  He is the consolation gift God offers, the only consolation that will console.

Jeremiah points this out vividly in chapter 33.  To a people who see no hope, whose greatest desire is to be free from captivity and return to the way things were before, the prophet gives better consolation.  He shows them the greater gift God has for those who come to Christ and know Him.  What do you desire most?  Where will you find the consolation you need?   Is it Jesus?   Join us this Lord’s Day as we examine Jeremiah 33 and see what real consolation looks like. 

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.

Signs and Seals

Signs and Seals

Selecting a wedding band was once a straightforward affair.   The only real decisions regarded size and engraving.   A gold band was a gold band.   Larger or smaller, bought at a pawn shop or jeweler, it was adiaphora – a matter of indifference.    And as a pastor, the language used in the wedding service at the giving of the rings was also straightforward.

The ring is a visible symbol of the spiritual covenant that you are making today before God.  The ring will serve for you, and for your children, and for all who see it as a reminder of the purity and the permanence of your marriage covenant.   

Like the gold in the ring which symbolizes purity and beauty, your love for one another is to be pure — unmixed and uncompromised by any other priorities, second only to your love for Christ.   And like ring whose shape, the circle, has neither beginning nor end, you are covenanting today, before God, to enter into a marriage that is permanent and unbreakable.

[Groom], one day when your children see your ring and ask you what it means, you can tell them that it is a symbol of your promise to love and cherish their mother for all time and that it is to be a reminder to them that you will never leave them or forsake them.

And [Bride], when your children see your ring and ask you why you wear it you can tell them that it is a symbol of your promise to love and respect their father and that it is to be a constant reminder to them of your loving, unbreakable commitment to your family.

The gold in your ring may get scratched from time to time, but its beauty and luster will endure.  In the same way there will be trials in your relationship as you learn what it means to live as one-flesh, but your ring will be a constant testimony to you that God has brought you together for keeps. 

But now, during pre-marital counseling, I know to ask,  “what type of ring will you have?”  While the design of the ring does not define its value, the liturgy must acknowledge that gold is no longer a given.  Millennials opt for titanium, silicone, and even tattoos.    And nothing says ‘permanence’ like a tattooed wedding band.

While I don’t jibe with everything the in her blog, I appreciate what Laura Ulveling writes in a post promoting GrooveLife alternative rings.

Your ring is simply a universally recognized symbol to show the world and each other that you have committed your life to someone. Whether the wedding ring you chose is cheap or extravagant, gold or platinum, diamond or silicone, its design has no impact on its value.

Even if you decide to exchange traditional wedding rings at the altar, you can still order a set of Groove rings for your adventurous days so you don’t lose your diamonds while you’re climbing waterfalls or deep-sea diving on your honeymoon!

A ring’s design has no impact on its value.  Signs illustrate.  Seals authenticate.  A wedding ring is a sign and seal of the covenant of marriage.   The ring does not make you married and the absence of one does not remove that covenant.   But the ring does point to the undeniable fact that you belong to someone.  The ring can’t make you a spouse, but it can make you a liar.  You have made and received promises.  And those promises define everything about your life.  

In the Bible, one of the pervasive analogies of faith is that of husband and wife.  In the Old Testament, the Lord says to his people, “I will be your God and you will be my people.”   This is the wedding vow of the ancient world.   God is the husband to his people.  The New Testament picks up this analogy.  The church is the bride of Christ.   God makes a covenant of grace with his people.  A promise is made and sealed with his own blood in the person of Jesus.   And this promise changes everything.  

But there are days when life crashes in.  Our experience seems to contradict or nullify God’s promises.   Can we trust his promises?  Can we trust him?  Is God a faithful spouse?   And when I am not faithful, will he still love me and keep his vows?   Psalm 103 declares that the Lord knows our “frame, that we are but dust.”  Yet, even in our spiritual fragility, he has compassion on us and shows steadfast, unwavering, unbreakable love.    To shore up our flagging faith and soothe our doubts, he gives us signs and seals – reminders of what he has promised and assurances that he is as good as his word.

In the Old Testament God gave repeated sacrifices and sacred spaces to teach the people to expect a once-for-all savior who would secure all God’s gracious promises.   Now, he has given us clearer signs and seals – baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  But their purpose is the same, to point us to his promises and assure us of his faithfulness.

In Jeremiah 32, the prophet is in a hopeless place.   It’s the eleventh hour.  Jeremiah’s prophecies of doom and judgment are unfolding.   The Babylonian army has laid siege to Jerusalem.   Jeremiah has been imprisoned for treason.   But God gives a personal, yet puzzling, word to Jeremiah.   His cousin will offer a piece of land for sale.  Jeremiah has the right of redemption, but this was no time for land speculation.  The market hates uncertainty.  And nothing is more uncertain than a Babylonian invasion.   But Jeremiah is instructed to purchase the plot, seal up the deed, and store it away for safe keeping.   Nothing about this deal makes any sense.  

Jeremiah obeys, but struggles with the ‘why.’  Yet in this simple act, God offers a sign and seal that grace, not judgment, is the last word.   Join us this week as we examine Jeremiah 32 and consider the importance of signs and seals as a means of grace 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.