A Sure Thing

A Sure Thing

One of the by-products of copious interstate driving is an ample opportunity to critique of billboards.   Billboards are a powerful way to make a statement.  They are unquestionably effective at catching your eye.  And they are larger than life, which means they will immortalize both the praiseworthy and the cringeworthy message.    I recently saw a local bank billboard which boldly proclaimed – “We want all your money!”   To paraphrase Inigo Montoya, “They keep using that phrase — I don’t think that phrase means what they think it means.”

Trusting others with our money is no small matter.   It is hard to come by, but easy to lose a grip on.   We grow suspicious when someone asks for it.   And we don’t want to invest our money with just anyone.  We need to be assured that it will be invested safely and soundly and will increase in value over the long haul.  We want a personal relationship with our financial adviser.  Horror stories abound and success stories are rare.  When someone gives us an investing tip, we often receive it with polite suspicion.  There is no sure thing – no guarantee.  Or is there?

The Bible has a lot to say about money.   Jesus’ teaching on money was more prolific than his teaching about heaven.  Much of what he had to say was shocking and unexpected.  And in Paul’s letters to Timothy, we also find warning after warning about how church leaders and its members should regard and use their money.   Included in this teaching, in a postscript to his first letter, is one of the best investment strategies a Christian can employ.

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. 1 Timothy 6:17-19

Far from advocating government-sponsored, or even church-sponsored, wealth redistribution, Paul gives those with worldly means – and those without — clear and succinct instruction how to be rich in a way that lasts beyond life in this world.   A good financial adviser should counsel regarding the relationship between risk and return. This is investing 101.  High return requires high risk.  But the Bible points to an investment strategy with a guaranteed high rate of return that continues undiminished forever with no market corrections or downturns.

Join us this Lord’s Day, February 10, as we finish our study of 1 Timothy and consider an investment strategy that produces real riches.  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.

From the Inside Out

From the Inside Out

Few creatures appear more benign than the guinea pig.  Only slightly discernable from a Tribble, the soft purring and endearing squeaks of the cavy make it a favorite pet of gentle souls and small children.  But despite their proverbial predictability, they can still surprise you.  For instance, it is almost impossible to tell when a guinea pig is pregnant.   You peek under their hiding place one day and, behold, there where you expected to find one pig is a litter of fluffy piglets. It is as though they fell from the sky.

More than this, though characterized by a patient and even temperament, guinea pigs can show flashes of intense anger   Like the “harmless little bunny” guarding the Cave of Caerbannog in Monty Python’s Holy Grail, the guinea pig has a dark side — “a vicious streak, a mile wide” — which when awakened may inflict great harm.  My daughter discovered this attempting to separate males who were vying for the attention of a female.  With unexpected ferocity, one of the boars latched on to her thumb and bit down to the bone, inflicting a terrifying wound.

In the ER, the doctor (after regaling us with tales of all the gruesome wounds he had seen during his residency at Cook County Medical in Chicago) informed us that for deep wounds, no stitches would be used.  “Wound like yours,” he said, “must heal from the inside out.”   Keep it clean and give it time.  To close the wound on the surface would only increase the likelihood of infection and would prevent deep healing below the surface.  Sure enough, eventually the deep and nasty wound healed.  There was a scar, but my daughter’s thumb was saved.

As in all our experiences, there is a spiritual parallel.  We are often eager to address the deepest wounds with the most superficial and external treatments.  Throw more resources over it and it is bound to heal.  Yet the deepest wounds must heal from the inside out.   Perhaps this is why the social injustices, addressed so pervasively in the Bible, are met with the same prescription – the gospel.   The deep wounds that have been inflicted by the sinful depravity of men must heal from the inside. What is needed are new hearts, not merely new circumstances.   Yes, there is merciful care like a wound dressing that must be topically applied to the site of social and spiritual wounds to aid healing.  But these mercies are not to be confused with the power and source of healing – this is the error of the social gospel.  Until hearts find healing in Christ, a mere change in circumstances will only prolong the wounds, inhibit healing, and increase the likelihood of infection.

This is why the Bible does not always prescribe the kind of external social change we expect, even when it acknowledges and abhors the social injustices we experience.  This is certainly true of what the Bible says about slavery.  While  unequivocal in its condemnation of slavery, the Bible instructs slaves to live lives that are transformed even when their circumstances are not.  The gospel takes the long view.  When men learn to walk in grace, peace and mercy, social transformation inevitably follows.   And sometimes it follows quickly.   Recall when Paul and his companions came to Thessalonica in Acts 17, their enemies declared, “those who have turned the world upside down, have now come here.”  Paul and his companions were not social revolutionaries, but in a short time their gospel had turned their world upside down – from the inside out.

Join us this Lord’s Day, January 20, as we examine what the Bible has to say to us about how we may live changed lives in the midst of unchanged circumstances.  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.

Slaving Away

Slaving Away

My dad was “old school.” A child of the depression, he believed firmly in the value of child labor – especially mine. I had weekly chores for which I was paid, if I did them in a way that passed his rigorous requirements. By the pay was meager, especially when compared to the gratuitous, labor-free allowances received by most of my middle-class peers. During the summer I mowed the grass for $2 per mowing and during the fall I raked 1.3 billion leaves, working pro bono. Now, as an adult with a healthy work ethic and ability to appreciate the value of money in terms of the labor required to earn it, I am thankful that my dad was “old-school.”

But at the time, my thoughts of my dad’s parenting were not so charitable. I remember mowing the grass with our rickety push mower, glancing toward the neighbor’s yard where my friend was playing ball while his mother did the mowing. Now there was liberation I could get on board with, I thought. I recall actually thinking to my self that my dad treated me like a slave, that I had to “slave away” at yard work under a broiling Georgia summer sun, while my friend lived a carefree childhood of leisure and comfort.

Had I paid attention to the numerous passages in the Bible which speak to the work and attitude of slaves — both actual slaves and those who fancy themselves to be slaves like myself — perhaps I would have gained a heart of wisdom as a child. But like many who hear the Bible’s teaching on slavery, slaves and masters, I foolishly relegated it to what I believed were a collection of things in the Bible which have nothing to do with me.

The Bible deals very honestly with the issue of slavery and all the subtle forms it takes. While many today are impatient with the Bible’s apparent lack of forceful denunciation of slavery, they fail to recognize that the Bible is thoroughly opposed to slavery from beginning to end. Yet like many other things that arise from the darkness of men’s hearts, the Bible also prescribes pastoral instruction and care for those caught up in social injustices. Nowhere is this precept seen more clearly than Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:3-9 regarding the issue of divorce. The Bible does not condone or prescribe divorce, but it does regulate it and mercifully offer it to protect those suffering under the hardness of men’s hearts.

Beyond this, the Bible’s pastoral exhortations to slaves and masters or employees and employers instruct us how to do our work, no matter what the conditions, “as unto the Lord.” And it reminds us that there are, in fact, a great many people who are enslaved through human trafficking — 40+ million in 2018 — and that the Church must work tirelessly, evangelically, and socially, to eradicate this great evil.

These are all important applications, but above all, the Bible’s instruction to Christian slaves illustrates how we are to serve our Lord. We delight in calling Jesus our Savior, and rightly so. But if He is our Savior, then He is also our Lord. Christ delivered us from the slavery of sin, but as Christians we are His bond-servants, transferred from one kingdom to another. Paul points this out explicitly in 1 Corinthians 7:23

For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise, he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ.

One ancient pastor drives this point home, commenting on Paul’s instructions to slaves from 1 Timothy 6:1-2.

But if he exhorts servants to render such implicit obedience, consider what ought to be our disposition towards our Master, who brought us into existence out of nothing, and who feeds and clothes us. If in no other way then, let us render Him service at least as our servants render it to us. Do not they order their whole lives to afford rest to their masters, and is it not their work and their life to take care of their concerns? Are they not all day long engaged in their masters’ work, and only a small portion of the evening in their own? But we, on the contrary, are ever engaged in our own affairs, [yet] in our Master’s hardly at all. –John Chrysostom

Join us this Lord’s Day, January 13, as we examine what the Bible has to say about slavery, slaves and masters and consider what this means for us today. 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.

Constant Growth

Constant Growth

We all know the story of the tortoise and the hare – and its lesson.  Slow and steady wins the race.  Careful, measured, chipping progress often proves more effective than bursts of sound and fury.   The turtle is a symbol of this truth.  But the turtle has another notable quality worth envying.  Turtles will grow continuously, unless limited by environmental factors.  While their growth slows, turtles live long and large.   Unlike humans, they never reach a period of optimal maturity and then settle in for a long physical decline.  Scientists have noted that the organs of centenarian turtles differed little from young mature ones.  Like they way the move, slowly and steadily, they also grow — slowly and steadily.

We long for constant growth.  We spend lots of time, effort, and money searching for ways to reverse or slow the effects of aging, while turtle’s bodies do not decline from age.  Much like rings in a tree, turtles add rings to their shells as they age, but their bodies remain strong and growing.  We would love to see this kind of growth in our intellect, strength, and investments.  But, alas, there are few areas of human life that experience this kind of steady, constant growth.

The good news is that we can experience constant growth in the area that matters most – our spiritual life.  While physically we mature and then decline, the Bible sets no such expectation on our spiritual lives.  The exhortation we see in scripture is one of constant growth in godliness and spiritual maturity.   Though it may look more like a sine-wave than a positively sloping line, our spiritual growth should trend continually upward.   The Holy Spirit has given us many gracious means, such as bible reading, prayer, worship, fellowship, service and stewardship, that never lose effectiveness no matter how old we become.  Spiritual plateaus or declines should never be the norm, but only temporary occurrences.   They are warnings to get back to the means of grace given by the Spirit.

One of the most remarkable, but often overlooked, passages in the Gospel of Luke is the story of the boy Jesus in the Temple, listening and interacting with the great teachers of the Law.   This story is book-ended by two statements about Jesus growing in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.  Indicative of Jesus’ humanity was his progress – physically, mentally and spiritually.  Though morally perfect and without sin throughout his life, in his human mind and soul, he grew and developed in his understanding and in his faith.   Orthodoxy has always taught that Jesus’ mind and soul was a true mind and rational soul.  Though in him we find the inexplicable union of divine and human natures in one person, his human mind and soul were like ours, only not encumbered by sin.  For this reason, this passage teaches us two important truths — to expect continuous growth in our spiritual lives and to diligently use the means Spirit has given us to fuel this growth.

Join us this Lord’s Day, January 6, as we examine the story of the boy Jesus in the temple and consider what it teaches us about growing in grace.  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.

Assembly Required

Assembly Required

When my older children were small, gifts from mom and dad would often come with the disclaimer – “some assembly required,” three words that can be loosely translated, “frustration ahead.”  Christmas Eves became all-nighters, as I contended with the angst of too few screws or the uncertainty of too many, as I grappled with the apparent difficulties of translating Chinese instructions into English, and as I labored tediously through my own mechanical ineptitude.

Now, however, the work of getting parental gifts ready for use has shifted from Christmas Eve to Christmas Day, as the digital world has replaced the mechanical one.   I spend hours setting up accounts, reviewing permissions strategies, implementing parental controls and tightening, loosing and then tightening access again to internet sites and app stores.  Then, once all the prep work is done, the gifts must be integrated into the business of living.  The children and I must launch out into the brave new world of when, how, and how long you can, may and should use these gifts.  This is nothing new of course.  Any gift can radically change your life if you use it.  But this change does not happen overnight.  We have to learn how to wrap our lives around that gift.

If this is true of the consuming power of digital gifts such as a smart phone, tablet or computer, consider how much more it is true of the greatest gift we can receive – the gift of a Savior.  That gift changes everything about how we live, who we are, and where we are going.  When we receive Christ, we must wrap not only our minds, but our lives around Him.

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.  It is a story that engages us every day, and in every way imaginable.  Consequently, when Luke writes the account of Jesus birth in his gospel, he does not simply pan out from the manger and slowly fade the story from the image of Mary pondering and treasuring in her heart.   He gives two more vignettes of Jesus childhood which give deep insight into what it costs to receive Jesus into your life.

Join us this Lord’s Day, December 30, as we examine the first of these stories – the story of Jesus’ dedication in the temple and the words of Simeon and Anna as we consider what it means to wrap our lives around 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 or download the order of service. Come with a friend you and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

 

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.