Can You Hear Me Now?

My first mobile phone came in bag.   The size of a lady’s purse, except with an antenna, it made me extremely self-conscious.  Like a cross between a European tourist and a secret service agent, I felt sure everyone was staring.   This phone was for emergencies only.   No casual calling.  No mobile internet.  And coverage was as spotty as spotty could be.   Only outbound calls made sense.  After all, no one could reliably reach me.   What about texts or voicemail, you ask?  They were still in the future.   My beeper is what alerted me to find for that rare place on earth with a signal. 

In those heady days, the expectation of finding coverage was low.   But today, we are indignant if we can’t get 5G at every remote Ozark swimming hole.   We expect coverage and internet everywhere.    And we expect it for free.  Few and far between are those places which have ‘no service.’   And, between manned space launches, Elon Musk is working to drive those areas to near zero with Starlink.   Perhaps one day concepts like ‘no service’ will be as foreign to our grandchildren as mobile phones that came in a bag.

But this is a distinctly human problem.   God has no such limitations in his communication with his creation.   God has always had a reliable network with coverage so vast there is no place where he must ask, “can you hear me now?”   Problems hearing from God are never a network problem.   God’s speaking is “living and active.”   Always on.  He is always speaking.    He “speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting… he does not keep silence.” (Psalm 50:1, 3)   And there is no place where you are out of coverage from his call.   As Psalm 19 so memorably puts it.

The heavens declare the glory of God,
    and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
    and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
    whose voice is not heard.
Their voice goes out through all the earth,
    and their words to the end of the world. 

Psalm 19:1-4

God speaks – and not just to a few select creatures.   His Word, his promises, his mercy are not just for a particular culture, tribe, or spot on the earth.   He is no regional or racial deity.  He is the Lord over all the earth.  People from every “tribe and language and people and nation” are the objects of his steadfast love and care.    This is one of the remarkable things about Christianity.  Other religions import cultural distinctives such as forms of dress, dietary restrictions, and particular sacred languages which become prerequisites for piety.  But Christianity permeates and transforms every tribe, language, people and nation through a unity that produces remarkable diversity. 

The repeated error of the people of Israel was to believe that God was theirs alone — their private higher power.  A God who loved only them and those like them.  A God who blessed them and cursed their enemies.  A God who served their interest.   And ironically, this ‘pagan view’ of the true God caused them to abandon Him for all the false gods of the nations.    God set his love upon them to display the beauty of the Covenant of Grace to the whole world.   Their faith was intended to call nations, far and near, to abandon false gods.  But in their unfaithfulness, they abandoned the true and living God.   They were called to be a missionary people.    But if they would not willingly testify to God’s grace through faithfulness, they would unwittingly testify to it through unfaithfulness and judgement.

The Apostle Paul makes this point in his letter to the Romans.

So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean! 

Romans 11:11-12

Jeremiah, the longest book of in the Old Testament, is filled with dire warnings of judgment.   For four decades, the prophet called the people of Judah to turn back to God.   He outlined their unfaithfulness in every area of life.  He warned of the consequences of living with their backs to God.    And he stayed with them in every descending step into God’s judgment of them as a nation.   

But from the beginning, God called Jeremiah to be a prophet to the nations.   And through his preaching, God’s Word to Judah becomes a word to the nations and to us.   It shines through, time and time again.   In every oracle of judgment, there is an offer of grace.   So, it is fitting that Jeremiah ends with an extensive call to the nations to know the Lord and to walk in His ways.   This book is no mere sordid history of an ancient kingdom’s demise.   But it is a constant refrain of grace, sung out to men who are utterly undeserving.   It is a reminder that God’s promises are not for some particular tribe, language, nation or people, but for “every creature under heaven.”   And most importantly, for you.   

You are not beyond God’s grace.   You are not excluded from His offer.  In John 6:37, Jesus says, “whoever comes to me, I will never cast out.”   Jeremiah is filled with the threatened judgment, but more than that, with promised mercy.   Are you headed toward judgment?   God’s call is to turn back and find mercy.   In Jeremiah 46-51, God calls the nations to turn back.   In some of the Scripture’s most remarkable poetry, the Lord calls those who are far from him to return home.    

Join us as we see that God calls us to return as well.    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.

Warning Label

We live in a world awash in warnings.  Everything has an incomprehensibly deadly disclaimer.  The simplest medical procedure, the latest app on our phone, the tortilla chips we dip in our salsa, all come with legal verbiage warning us of the dire consequences of going forward.   We are so inundated by warnings that we have become desensitized.  We don’t read the fine print, we just click ‘yes’ and plunge ahead, sure that the consequences, if any, will not be nearly so grave as the doomsayers say.

The problem with a world awash in warnings is that it has the effect of the boy crying wolf.  When a serious warning comes, we ignore it, confident it is as irrelevant and unlikely as all the other unheeded disclaimers.  During August 1945, American warplanes dropped leaflets on many Japanese cities, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to warn them of the disaster about to overtake them. The leaflets warned them to evacuate their cities and urge their government to surrender.  The people did not take the leaflets seriously.  Thinking it was propaganda, they ignored the threat and experienced complete devastation.

Are we equally apathetic when we hear of the judgment of God?  Have we heard so often about God’s judgement for sin that it holds no terror for us?  Have we repeatedly listened to the gospel preached, but never accepted it, presuming instead on God’s grace, inexplicably confident that “love wins” and “the God we imagine” would not be so harsh as to punish our sin eternally?

God is, indeed, a God of grace and mercy, but only because He is also a God of justice.  The Bible says that God is “just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:26)   Those who have faith in Jesus’ finished work bearing God’s justice on their behalf are justified – that is, accounted right with God.  But those who have faith only in their own works must endure God’s justice themselves.  But God warns us repeatedly and calls us to return to Him.

The people of the prophet Jeremiah’s day, heard this repeated warning.  Jeremiah was like the faithful watchman, warning of the coming disaster and calling the people to faith and repentance.  But they were callous and apathetic.  Faced with unparalleled judgment for their sin at the hands of their enemies, they ignored the warnings dismissing them as the ramblings of a madman, confident in their power either to resist or negotiate their way out of trouble.  They chose instead to listen to those who preached that God did not care about sin and accepted everyone and everything just as they were.  And the people’s hearts were hardened.  They refused to repent.  Then they suffered the judgement of God.

What about you?  Have you ignored the warnings of the Bible?  Warnings that unless you seek refuge in Jesus, you will experience God’s judgement – in all its fury?  Have you become desensitized to your sin and its consequences?  Have you become comfortably numb to God’s threatening and unconcerned about standing before Him at the end of your earthly lives?  What is your response when you hear about God’s coming judgement?

Join us this Sunday, July 21 as we consider our response when God threatens judgement and calls us to return to Him.  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.

Big Shoes

I admit it, it was afraid of the prospect of changing diapers.  When my first child was born, I told my wife I needed to change that first diaper so I could conquer my fears from the get-go.  But I had not done my homework.  I was not prepared for meconium. It was more than I had bargained for – much more.   But meconium was not the most shocking aspect of becoming a father.  Most unexpected was the realization that my children would look at me, the way I had looked at my own father.  I never for an instant believed that he did not know how to handle any and every situation. He always seemed to have a plan, to have things under control — except that is when he attempted to fix household appliances.

But as a new dad, I was painfully aware that I did not know how to handle any and every situation.  I did not always have a plan, nor did I have things under control.   As a child my confidence in my father made the uncertain certain, and made the impossible possible.  He taught me to plan, to write, to teach.  He taught me the importance of serving others, and in particular, of serving Christ.  He had his faults to be sure, but I am thankful to be my father’s son.  His shoes were very big.  I sat with him as he drew his last breath in this life.  I was surprised by an overwhelming sense of being untethered as he left us.  Though I was almost fifty years old with seven children of my own, the thought of a world without my father seemed unexpectedly daunting.

Our fathers define us.  Either by their place in our lives, or by their absence.  Some infused us with strength and confidence, while others saddled us with weakness and insecurity.   In one way or another we are all shaped by fatherhood.   But no Father-figure has more power to shape us than our Heavenly Father.  Unlike earthly fathers, our unbounded faith and confidence in Him is never misplaced.  Unlike our own fathers, every promise of His gets kept.  No sin or circumstance crashes in to derail his best intentions or unveil some sinister aspect of his character.   He is good and his steadfast love endures forever.  His mercies are new every morning and His faithfulness is great.  There is no shadow of turning with Him.  Not one of His promises ever fails and not one of His words ever falls flat.   Without Him we are truly untethered.

When Jesus’ disciples came to Him and asked Him, “Lord, teach us to pray,” Jesus taught them the pattern of prayer we commonly call, ‘The Lord’s Prayer.’  We have heard it so many times that it is hard to grasp how revolutionary it is.  The religious men of Jesus’ day spoke about God as their Father, but they never addressed Him as ‘Father.’  But Jesus taught us that God, our Father, delights in us.  He loves for us to draw near.  He wants us to call Him, ‘Father.’ He has gone to unimaginable lengths, in sending His only begotten Son, to adopt us as His own.  He promises to love us as we have never been loved, care for us, save us, sustain us, instruct us, and give us life.

Fatherhood defines us.  And God is the one who defines fatherhood.  This Father’s Day, June 16, celebrate the World’s Greatest Father with us as we gather to worship Him as His adopted sons and daughters.  River City Reformed Church meets 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.

Caricatures

As a boy, our summer vacations were highly anticipated and utterly predictable.    A week or two after school let out, we made the beloved pilgrimage to Panama City Beach.  Fulfilling all beach righteousness meant cheap rubber rafts, 2 x 55 (yes, 55mph) air conditioning, ice cream cones, sand burrs, driving up and down the strip looking for a hotel that was $1 cheaper than the place that seemed perfect, dinner at Captain Andersons, spoiled sand-dollars in the trunk and caricature artists.

Beachside caricature artists are an amazing mix of comic illustrator and psychoanalyst.  A few minutes of conversation and careful observation, empowers these seaside Michelangelos to capture both the appearance and essence of their subject with uncanny clarity.  While it is hard to describe what makes an effective illustration, we all know it when we see it.  The Bible prizes powerful illustration.  Apt words are like apples of gold in settings of silver.  Two thousand years of Old Testament types and shadows carefully illustrate the person and work Christ as no artist can (or may). While the complicated lives of the Bible’s protagonists illustrate the power of the grace to redeem and restore.

Judah’s story is a poignant example.  When we meet him, he is more like his uncle Esau than his father Jacob.  He leaves the family, marries into Canaanite culture, fathers wicked sons, treats his daughter-in-law shamefully, follows his own lusts and blames his ancestry and his environment for all his troubles.  He is the antithesis of his brother, Joseph.   But the Lord has not forsaken Judah. When God works in Judah’s life, he is graciously transformed from a man who portrays the worst of humanity to one who resembles the very best human ever, the Lord Jesus Christ, even offering himself as a surety for his brother Benjamin.  His transformation illustrates powerfully the power of God’s grace to do what circumstance and will-power can never effect.

Illustrations get our attention and draw us into story.  An author’s work may be compelling, but unless the cover art catches our eye will may never give it a read.  Only academic books that depend upon professorial compulsion can sport a cheerless cover.  While it is proverbial that you can’t judge the book by its cover, you will probably never judge it at all unless its cover is attractive.  In the same way, our lives are supposed to be salt and light to a tasteless and dark world.  While it is not sufficient to follow St. Francis’ maxim “preach always and, if necessary, use words,” how you live your life determines whether anyone will listen to your sermon.  The minister’s life is the life of his ministry.

Think about this question.  If you were the only Christian a person had ever seen, what would they know about Christianity?  And what is more, what would they think about it?  In his letter to Titus, the Apostle Paul, pens one of the most powerful statements about the effects of God’s grace when it takes root in our lives.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:1-14

The gospel does what Oprah, Dr. Phil and the whole pantheon of self-help gods can never do– liberate us from living as slaves to ourselves.  But if this is true, the lives of Christians should give evidence of this.  Paul instructs his hearers to let their lives illustrate the gospel.  He addresses old and young, men and women, wives and mothers, and especially pastors and church leaders.  But his crowning instruction and illustration is for servants – more specifically slaves – who serve masters who are both literally and figuratively Cretans.  He tells these slaves to work, submit, serve, show respect, and live before the face of God and men in such a way that “in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.”

Does your life adorn the gospel?  Does it illustrate the story of God’s grace?  If you were the only Christian a person had ever seen, what would they know about Christianity?”  And what would they think about it?  How do we adorn the teaching of God our Savior.

Join us this Sunday, June 9, as we examine Titus 2:9-10 and consider how our lives are to illustrate the power of grace to a graceless world.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  Click here for directions. Come with a friend and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

The Gravity of Grace

Some things can be seen with our eyes, while others require a microscope or telescope.   But some things are seen purely by the effect they have on everything around them.  This is the story of the discovery of the planet Neptune.  Too distant to be easily seen with 19th century telescopes, Neptune was first observed with mathematics.

Following the discovery of Uranus in 1781 by British astronomer, William Herschel, several astronomers observing its long orbit noticed anomalies.  There were significant discrepancies between where it was and where it should have been.  The mathematics of its orbital path did not add up.

The perplexity of Uranus’ orbit caused astronomers to consider the possibility of new planet somewhere beyond it.  French astronomer Urbain Le Verrier began using mathematics to locate mystery planet’s position in June 1845.   On September 23, 1846, German astronomer, Johann Gotfried Galle, used Le Verrier’s calculations to find Neptune only 1° off Le Verrier’s predicted position.  By computing the gravitational effects of the previously unknown Neptune on Uranus’ orbit, astronomers were able to locate the new planet. 

In the same way, the effects of our lives on others may make visible, that which would otherwise be unseen.  God’s grace cannot be seen, but its effects are unmistakable.  Grace changes our standing before God, but it also radically transforms our standing with others.  Grace tugs, it attracts.  Like the unseen gravity of Neptune, when our lives are seasoned with grace they produce an observable effect upon those around us.   This is expressed powerfully in the little letter of Paul to Titus.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.  Titus 2:11-14

Titus was a fixer.  He was the man Paul entrusted to work with his most challenging churches.  He delivered two “hot” letters to the church in Corinth and was tasked by Paul to put in order the fledgling churches on Crete.  Ironically both of these places, Corinth and Crete were proverbial in the ancient world for their immorality.  Corinth was infamous for its sexual immorality.  While Cretans had a well attested reputation as liars and as brutal people.

So notorious were the Cretans that the Greeks actually formed a verb kretizein, to cretize, which meant to lie and to cheat; and they had a proverbial phrase, kretizein pros Kreta, to cretize against a Cretan, which meant to match lies with lies, as diamond cuts diamond.  – William Barclay

When instructing Titus in how to handle the people on Crete, Paul quotes the ancient poet Epiminedes

One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.  Titus 1:12-13

Even among our modern insults, to be called Cretan still stings.   If anyone seemed impervious to the gospel,  it was the Cretans, yet the gospel is the power of salvation for all men.  The grace of God had taken root in that godless place.  So much so that  when Titus was instructed to look for faithful men to lead the churches, Paul fully expected him to find them.   The effect of the gospel in Crete was radical, placing the Cretan Christians in stark contrast with the reputation of their kinsmen.  How powerful is the tug of grace in your life?  Is the gravity of grace in your life causing an observable effect in the lives of your family, neighbors and coworkers?

Join us this Sunday, June 2, as we examine Paul’s letter to Titus and consider how God’s grace in us exerts an effect on the lives of others.  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.