Big Shoes

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

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

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.

Take, Eat!

Take, Eat!

Nothing is more unsatisfying than to request our food through a box, receive it through a slightly larger box and then eat it in an even larger box, as fast as possible without anyone else.  Food is communal.  Anyone who has been a part of a group knows that the table is a primary medium to move a group from a crowd to a community.   Food is not utilitarian.  Though, of course, food has nutritive utility – to nourish and heal — its purpose runs much deeper.  It brings us together.  This has always been true.  In the ancient Book of Proverbs, it is “Loud Lady Folly” who declares that bread eaten in secret is pleasant, while “Wisdom” sets a table.   Feasting calls us together and keeps us together.

The Bible connects most of life to eating.   In the beginning, God places man in a garden and invites him to eat from every tree except one.  Time and time again meals figure prominently in the unfolding of God’s redemptive purposes.  The catalyst for the Fall was food, the patriarchs deceive and are deceived through food, and God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery is illustrated in the Passover meal.  All of the major expressions of God’s grace toward man are pictured through feasts.  The sign and seal of God’s grace in Christ toward us, of our community in Him, and of our ongoing spiritual nourishment in Him is a meal, The Lord’s Supper.   The consummation of all things is described as The Wedding Supper of the Lamb.  Those whom God calls to care for His people are called ‘pastors,’ a derivative of the word for shepherd, and they are told to feed their flocks.

Food is important to God and a consuming part of our daily lives.  It pictures God’s grace and our dependence upon Him.  But it also points us to something more. In response to Satan’s suggestion that Jesus end his forty day fast in the wilderness by turning the stones into bread, Jesus quotes from an Old Testament passage about the real point of food.

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Deuteronomy 8:3

Food is indispensable to physical life.  Without it we starve and die.  But notice what this passage says, even food is not as fundamental to life as God’s Word.  How much time each day do you spend thinking about, acquiring, preparing, eating, and recovering from meals?  Now compare that to time spent preparing, hearing, and applying God’s Word in your life?  Are we as concerned about being nourished by Scripture as we are food?  The prophet Amos noted that God’s ancient people were in the midst of a famine – “not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.” Amos 8:11

Two things lead to spiritual malnutrition, refusing to ingest God’s Word and filling up on spiritual junk food.  These were the problems Timothy faced in Ephesus.  His congregation had cultivated an appetite for sugary snacks, not nourishing truth.  They would “not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears … accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and … turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”  Sound teaching was no longer palatable.  They had ruined their appetite for truth by filling up on empty calories.  They wanted a word that would conform God to their image, not conform them to His.  What about you?  Are you cultivating your palate for “sound teaching” or binging on teaching that suits your passions?  What guides our conscionable hearing of God’s Word?  Desire for affirmation or transformation?

Join us this Sunday, May 12, as we examine 2 Timothy 4:1-5 and consider how we can cultivate a healthy appetite for truth and guard against spiritual malnutrition.  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.

Graduation Gifts

Graduation Gifts

It is that time of year.   The time when graduation invitations compete with gardening catalogues for space in our mailbox.  With each invitation comes the challenge of selecting the perfect gift – a gift that reflects the interests and achievements of the graduate, yet communicates a larger vision for their future.  What will you get for the graduate in your life?  Graduates, what gifts do you hope to receive?  When I graduated, the most popular gifts were Cross Pen and Pencil sets, inspirational books, written especially for the graduation gift market by positivity-power gurus, and the perennial favorite of graduates, cash.  I appreciated the kindness of the givers – especially those who gave money – but none of the gifts challenged me with a vision for the next step.

Many graduation gifts are congratulatory, but not visionary.  Graduation is often celebrated as the last step and not the next step. But the word graduation inherently anticipates the next step, which is why it is sometimes called ‘commencement.’  Like a mark on a graduated cylinder, graduation is the line that marks the beginning of the next stage of life.  What is now behind was preparation for what is ahead.   The entire focus is on what is next.  What will our gifts communicate about the next step?  What vision will our gifts paint for our graduates, for their future, their identity and their way of life?

At the end of the Gospel of Matthew we encounter a remarkable graduation of sorts.  Jesus’ time with his disciples has come to an end.  Their three years watching him, learning from him, loving him, and following him in his earthly ministry are giving way to what is next – making disciples of the nations by going, baptizing and teaching in the power of the Holy Spirit which he sends.  The disciples have graduated from the rabbinic school of the Lord Jesus Christ.  They no longer call him Teacher.   Now he is Lord.  Their language has radically changed and their lives are about to radically change as well.

Jesus has summoned them to a mountain in Galilee to receive their commission, to graduate to the next step in their calling to follow Him.  They were moving out and into uncharted territory, leaving the comforts of the homes and towns they knew so well without the visible presence of the teacher who had guided them every day for three years.  Jesus calls them to a mountain top to give them a vision, not of what they can potentially do if they work hard enough, but a vision of what He will do by working in and through them.  Jesus gives them gifts – a vision, an identity, and a way of life – that will turn the world upside down.

Join us this Sunday, April 28, as we examine Matthew 28:16-20 and consider the vision, identity and way of life that Christ gives us as He turns the world upside down through the work of His Church in the 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 Face of Betrayal

The Face of Betrayal

Milan is a city of contrasts.  Inside the lavish beauty of its cathedral are displayed the macabre corpses of former prelates, dressed in priestly robes.  The fountains of the stately Sforza Castle are thronged with gangs of pickpockets and the most aggressive flower salesmen on the planet.   And it is tricky to enjoy your gelato in the plaza because of the plague of pigeons.   But if you wander away from the castle and the cathedral and wander down a few side streets you will find two of Milan’s great treasures – the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio and the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie.  The first is the famous church established by Ambrose of Milan who was instrumental in the conversion of Augustine (and whose supposed corpse can be viewed in the crypt).  The second is the church which houses Da Vinci’s famous depiction of The Last Supper.   If you plan to see it, you will need to reserve tickets months in advance, but the convent itself is quite beautiful and worth seeing even if you can’t see the painting.

Theories abound about Da Vinci’s model for the face of Judas in The Last Supper.   As the story goes, the last two faces painted were those of Jesus and Judas.  Da Vinci struggled to find someone who conveyed the loveliness of Christ and the treachery of Judas.  By some accounts, Da Vinci haunted the local prisons and seedier parts of Milan and Rome looking for a face worthy of the world’s greatest treachery.  Other accounts say Da Vinci used the “nagging head” of the Prior of the Convent, because of his constant complaints to the Duke of Milan that the painting would never be finished.

Da Vinci’s difficulty is understandable.  The very nature of betrayal is that it is surprising.  The face of betrayal rarely reflects the treachery beneath.   Quite the opposite — the face of the betrayer is the face which declares unyielding loyalty and undying love, concealing a heart that is loyal only so far as self-love demands.

When you consider the definitive picture of the Last Supper, painted by the gospels, with Jesus’ shocking announcement, “one of you will betray me,” the horror in the disciple’s words as one after another they ask, “Is it I, Lord?” and the coldness of Judas’ “Is it I, Rabbi?” where would your face appear?   If Da Vinci asked you to sit as a model, where would he place you?

The irony is that every face is the face of betrayal.  Every disciple at that table would betray Jesus that very night.  The sorrowful self-examination of the table gave way to arguments about greatness, bold claims of loyalty, gripping drowsiness, precipitous violence, complete abandonment, and loud public disavowals bolstered by oaths and cursing.  The portraits painted in the gospels of these followers of Christ are shocking.  Each one is a face of betrayal.  But the gospel is never about good men becoming better, it is always about bad men redeemed by grace.  It is the story of betrayal and forgiveness.  Our own stories begin with sin, brokenness and betrayal.  What matters most is what happens next?

Who is the face of betrayal?  What does betrayal look like and where does it come from?  And where does betrayal take us?  Matthew 26 chronicles the betrayal of the disciples, but it highlights the betrayals of Judas and Peter.  Their similarities are more than you imagine and their differences fewer than you might expect, yet the name ‘Judas’ is synonymous with treachery, while ‘Peter’ is honored?  What made the difference?

Join us this Lord’s Day, March 24, as we examine Matthew 26 and consider the difference between despair and redemption in the wake of our own sin, brokenness and betrayal.  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.

Tippecanoe and Tyler Too

Tippecanoe and Tyler Too

While old campaign slogans may be catchy and the memorabilia that immortalized them collectable, the issues they expressed are hardly relevant or even discernible in our day.   As we approach the 500th anniversary of the Reformation on October 31, 2017, our social media feeds will be burgeoning with memes and sermon series announcements related to the Five Solas, or Reformation era slogans, expressing the central concerns of the Protestant Reformers.  These slogans are:

  • Sola Scriptura, By Scripture alone,
  • Sola Gratia, By Grace alone,
  • Sola Fide, By Faith alone,
  • Solus Christus, By Christ alone,
  • Soli Deo Gloria, For God’s Glory alone.

As a Reformed Church our identity and our name is connected explicitly to a Sixteenth Century historical movement in Western European History, while our faith and practice is staunchly defined and directed by a book that has not been updated in almost two thousand years.

Are we not a living, breathing anachronism?   Are we not irrelevant to culture and a world that has advanced and moved on from the historical context into which we were born?  Does the Reformation still matter?  Do the Five Solas have any more relevance for our lives today than “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too?”  Or are we just worshiping and practicing our own outdated style in a world that is moving on without us?  These are weighty questions which we need to ask and answer as we consider “who” and “what” we are as a Reformed Church in the Twenty-First Century.

Join us this Lord’s Day, October 8, as we consider the question, “Why Does Sola Scriptura Still Matter?”  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.