Behold Your King!

Behold Your King!

How many times have you misjudged someone, thinking they were weak, incapable, or a push-over? Then, unexpectedly, they act out of unforeseen strength to save the day and make a mockery of your precipitous assessment.   King George VI of England was such a man.   Encumbered with a speech impediment, a man of great natural reserve and deference, he was considered by English society to be a royal embarrassment.  He had none of the eloquence, confidence or charm of his elder brother and heir to the throne, Edward VIII.  

But for all of the appearance of strength, Edward had none.  His great love was not a love of duty or country, but a love of self.   His sordid affair with Wallace Simpson led him to abdicate the throne on the eve of Great Britain’s entry into World War II.    In his stead, the timid and unpromising, George VI ascended to the throne.   George hardly looked the part of King.  But for all his apparent weakness and inability, he had a strength none guessed.  His love of country and of duty and his strength of conviction guided Britain through its “finest hour.” 

Outward appearances never define a king.  Samuel learned this when he went to the house of Jesse to anoint a successor to King Saul.   Saul had possessed a kingly bearing.  A head taller than every other man in Israel, Saul had looked like a King.  So Samuel looked for such a man among Jesse’s sons.  But the Lord warned Samuel,

“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him.  For the Lord sees not as a man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

1 Samuel 16:7

Samuel’s search led him to David, the smallest and least promising of Jesse’s sons, but the one who was a man after God’s own heart. (Acts 13:22)  Outward appearances never define a King.  

Luke’s account of the crucifixion is remarkable in many ways.  It gives scarcely any details about the crucifixion itself, but focuses attention on the reactions of those Jesus encountered as He traveled the way of suffering.   He was met with pity, mockery and bitter anger, but also remarkable and unexpected faith.   At every turn Luke declares the Kingship of Jesus.   Yet, Jesus hardly looks like a King.  To the eye he appears to be victim, not victor.  Luke uses the word ‘spectacle’ to describe the scene.   Those who looked upon this spectacle without faith saw Jesus as anything but a King.   But through faith others saw the King entering His kingdom.   Outward appearances never define a King. 

The “Daughters of Jerusalem” are warned by Jesus not to weep for Him, but for themselves.   They were looking at the cross and the Christ all wrong.   They did not understand what was unfolding before them.  They saw a victim suffering injustice, rather than a King bearing justice.  How do you look at the events of Good Friday?  What is your response to the cross?  Does it evoke pity, mockery, or despair?  Or does it call you to repentance, faith, and hope?

Join us on Facebook Live at 10:30 am this Lord’s Day, March 29, as we examine Luke 23:26-49 and consider the Kingship of Christ, powerfully declared, brazenly rejected and savingly believed.  For more information about how we are gathering for corporate worship amidst calls for “social distancing” go to our post, How to Survive the Pandemic.

On Trial

On Trial

Southerners are lousy at being quarantined.  Untrained in this discipline by a lack of inclement winter weather, we tear through our stock of quarantine supplies by noon on day one.  We love to prep for disaster, but have little patience to live within the parameters of our preparations.   We cancel everything in order to stay home, then stand all day with our noses pressed to the glass, itching to get out to see “what’s going on.”    Like school children after the first two weeks of summer vacation, we become quickly bored.

As long as our internet does not go out and take with it our Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, we may actually make it.   Surrounded by our hoarded TP, we outwait the lengthy COVID 19 incubation period by binge-watching.   For my wife and I, our nightly habit is British crime drama.  We especially like the adaptations of Ann Cleeves’ crime novels.   Her stories are complex.   The obvious culprits are never the perpetrators.   Only slowly does the truth come into focus as the “DCI” sifts through seemingly endless strands of contradictory evidence.   Cleeves’ stories give an appreciation for the complexity of criminal investigation, warning of the dangers of precipitous judgment.   To get to the truth, we cannot take a cursory look.

Perhaps we love fictional crime drama because it satisfies our need to see justice done, without complicating it with the complexities of our own sin.   In sixty minutes, confusion gives way to clarity and good triumphs over evil no matter what means it uses to get there.   But our lives are not so tidy.  In our real story, we are the fugitives who face a justice none of us can bear.   Yet the scales of God’s justice do not weigh the arguments for and against our guilt, but rather God’s justice and His mercy.

It is remarkable how much legal imagery the Bible uses to picture our condition.  The Old Testament anticipates a redeemer who will set prisoners free.  In the New Testament, both Jesus and the Holy Spirit are pictured as advocates, God the Father is often likened to a judge, redemption depends upon a declaration of judicial righteousness and our condemnation is set aside in Christ.  

History’s greatest courtroom drama is recorded in the Bible in Luke 22 and 23.  Following an irregular grand jury indictment, Jesus is brought before the criminal court on charges trumped up religious rivals.  In Pontius Pilate’s courtroom we see the greatest miscarriage of justice in human history.  Everyone is guilty – the judge, the prosecutors, the jury – everyone that is except the one on trial.  He alone is innocent.  Evidence is ignored and the judge is captive public opinion and his own corrupt history.  Despite his declarations of Jesus’ innocence, Pontius Pilate condemns him to death and compounds injustice by releasing a man who is truly guilty of all the charges leveled against Jesus.

As spectators, we recoil at this apparent travesty of justice.  But we must look more deeply.   No cursory examination of Jesus’ trial reveals the extent of the guilty.   It is easy to spot the guilt of the Sanhedrin, of the crowds, of Judas, of Pilate, and of Barabbas.  But the investigation must go deeper.  For we are not just spectators of this drama.  Jesus is not a hapless victim of human injustice, but a willing sacrifice to divine justice – justice that is rightly ours to bear.   It is not just Barabbas’ cross that Jesus bore, but ours.   God is just – His justice cannot ignore our crimes or allow them to go unpunished – but in His mercy He is the justifier of those who have faith in Christ.  Because of this we can have peace with God and with one another.  This my friend is good news.

Join us on Facebook Live at 10:30 am this Lord’s Day, March 22, as we examine Luke 22 and 23 and consider the greatest courtroom drama in history as it unfolds Christ’s innocence and condemnation for our guilt and pardon.  For more information about how we are gathering for corporate worship amidst calls for “social distancing” go to our post, How to Survive the Pandemic.

How to Survive the Pandemic

This video explains our rationale and our plans for moving forward with corporate worship in the midst of calls for “social distancing.” The video outlines a few important steps to participate in our virtual gathering on the Lord’s Day. These are listed below with links.

Table Talk

Table Talk

Like every other home in 1970s America, we had a set of TV trays.   I am not sure why we had them, because we never used them.   While our neighbors were consuming TV dinners on TV trays huddled around the glowing phosphorescence of modernity, we ate our meals after the manner of our forefathers.  My father’s rules of the table were clear.  We all sat down together as a family for the evening meal.  No one could eat “on the run.” Our meals were not drop in affairs.

Before we served our plates or tasted the first savory morsel of my mother’s cooking, every person seated around the table would pray.   The TV was never allowed on during meal times.  And my father allowed no shirts without collars or bare feet at his table.  While we sometimes thought this protocol extreme, it had a defining effect on the culture of our family.

The dinner table is a microcosm of family life.   When everyone is eating on the run and doing their own thing, dropping in and dropping out for meals, the same patterns are typically true of the larger life of the family.   The family becomes less a family and more a group of cohabitors, living in the same space, but not living life together.  How we eat our meals is a reflection of how we live our lives.  Conversely, how we come to the table often establishes a culture of how we live our lives together.

This is true for our nuclear families and adoptive families as well.   This is particularly true in the Church.   The Lord’s Table has always been a culturally defining activity in the life of the church.  While its elements, the bread and wine, recall the gospel realities that call us into life together, it is our manner of approach, preparation, and participation that reflect the realities of that life together.   When they are healthy, our fellowship is healthy.  When they are unhealthy, our fellowship is unhealthy.   It is for precisely this reason that church discipline is often expressed through suspension from the Lord’s Table.  And restoration is signaled by readmission to the Lord’s Table.

Just as a covenant renewal pattern of our worship is the pattern of our relationship to Christ, so the Lord’s Supper is a pattern for our life in fellowship with one another – not just in the church, but in every sphere of our lives.  As one theologian put it, “how you come to the Lord’s Table defines how you come to every other table.”   So, it is not surprising that the “words of institution” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26) we so often hear as the pastor calls us to the Lord’s Table, come from a passage warning the Corinthian Church about the dangers of unworthy communing.

Remarkably Paul begins this call to the table with “on the night when [Jesus] was betrayed, he took bread and gave thanks.”    On the night in which He was betrayed!   What a somber way to introduce a joyful remembrance!  This phrase ought to get our attention and challenge us to consider our preparation, approach, and participation.   This phase also calls us to examine the biblical accounts of that First Supper, we often call the Last Supper.

Each of the gospels recounts the institution of the Lord’s Supper.  And in each account we see the graciousness of Christ and the frailty of the disciples.  As Paul notes in 1 Corinthians 10, these things are written for our instruction.   From the compelling gospel accounts of the Last Supper, we find both encouragements and warnings regarding our own preparation, approach and participation.   Join us this Sunday, March 8, as we examine Luke 22:1-38 and consider its encouragements and warnings regarding how we come to the Lord’s Table.  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.

Beyond Repair

Beyond Repair

When something grips Noah’s interest, he is all in.  He reads everything he can find, then trolls Amazon for outlets to express his latest passion.   I know he is onto a new thing when he comes and asks, “Dad, what can I do to earn $30?”  I have learned to ask, “Noah what is it that you want?”  Then we will discuss the wisdom of this new pursuit and the merits and demerits of his particular choices.  And Noah never comes to me uninformed.  He has researched his pursuits very carefully.  He knows I will demand four or five compelling reasons to spend his, as yet unearned, money.

Not long ago, the passion du jour was a drone.  He studied the topic, scoured the offerings, and presented his business plan.  He worked tirelessly, performing some labor intensive and unpleasant jobs to earn the requisite $49.   I had a few misgivings, but decided to let him make the purchase.   For days Noah scanned the horizon for UPS trucks and closely monitored Amazon delivery notifications.  The day finally arrived and Noah immediately set about configuring his drone for adventure.  Within a day or two the not-so-robust-drone had endured more rough landings than its Chinese manufacturers had anticipated and it was beyond repair.  Even many hours with his clever older brother and more hard-earned replacement parts were not enough to restore the drone to active duty.   And so, to Noah’s great sadness, the drone sits, unusable and unrepairable – broken beyond restoration.  Nothing can be done, nothing can be salvaged.  It is destined for the trash.

But Noah’s sadness is nothing compared to the sorrow over lives that are broken beyond restoration.  Sin breaks our lives beyond restoration.   Sin breaks everything it touches.  We were made to have fellowship with God and with one another, yet every relational disaster in our lives is the result of sin.   We are tainted by it and so everything we touch is tainted by it.   And we cannot undo what we have done.   Sin breaks us beyond repair.   Unless the Lord remakes us by His grace, there is nothing that can be done, nothing that can be salvaged.  We are destined for the eternal dump, a place the Bible calls Hell.

When Jesus talked about Hell in the gospels, he used a word picture, familiar to His hearers.  He called it “Gehenna.”  Gehenna was the local land-fill, the trash dump, to the south of the city of Jerusalem.  It was the place where unrepaired things were carted and thrown out.   Jesus described hell, Gehenna, as the place “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”   It was the picture of the trash dump, in which the decomposition of things thrown away produced extreme heat and a haven for worms.  Jesus’ vivid illustration of Hell emphasizes that sad truth that Hell is the place where men, broken by sin and unrepaired by grace, will experience the full measure of their brokenness forever.

The gate of the city that opened out toward this dump was the Potsherd Gate, sometimes called the Dung Gate.  It was at this gate that the prophet Jeremiah was instructed to go with the elders and the priests of the people to give them a vivid illustration of the hard truth that no one can weather the justice of God unless they turn back to Him and seek His mercy.    The Lord had become to the people of Judah, just one more god among gods in a mythic pantheon.   They denied his sovereignty and did not fear His judgment.  They were backslidden, living with their backs to the Lord.

They presumptuously trusted in the works of their own hands.   They thought that they could endure God’s anger over their sin.  How bad could it be?  He relented in the end?  Surely, we can wait out his anger.  Surely it will blow over.  They rationalized, presumed, and lived in denial.  They thought that whatever problem God had with them, they could fix it or simply ignore it.   But their generation was beyond repair.   Jeremiah’s sermon from the Potter’s House had reminded them of God’s sovereignty and his ability to reshape them, despite the fact that they were bad clay.  Jeremiah proclaimed God’s offer of grace.

Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it.  Jeremiah 18:5-7

Even at this late hour God offers mercy if His people return to Him.   If they repent, He will relent.  God who may sovereignly do whatever he pleases with his marred clay, extends grace – the hope of being reshaped by the loving, careful hand of the master Potter.   But rather than yielding, prideful Judah must have the last word – and what a dreadful last word it is.

“But they say, ‘That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’  Jeremiah 18:12

They rejected their only hope and continued to live with their backs to God.  What about you?  Have you lived with your back to God?  Are you unconcerned about his sovereign justice?   God offers us sovereign grace, but if we turn away from it, all that is left is sovereign judgement.   We should all be concerned.    Join us this Sunday, March 1, as we examine Jeremiah 19 and consider the dangers of living life with our backs to God.  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 Last Word

The Last Word

Everyone has one – the one person in your life who must always have the last word.  Whatever your great exploits, they have climbed higher, caught more, gone faster.   No story is complete until they have added the exclamation point of their own last word.   Though perhaps otherwise unremarkable, they are grand-masters of one-upsmanship.  Yet their quest for notoriety has gained only infamy.

No one likes a know-it-all.  No one enjoys the one-upsmans’ self-agrandizing sagas.  Far from inviting admiration, the know-it-all only invites scorn.   We all have this person in our lives.  You are not that person are you?  Let this be a lesson.  Don’t seek the last word.  Learn the art of humility.  As Solomon wisely cautioned.

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
a stranger, and not your own lips.  Proverbs 27:2

You never know as much as you think.  You are not the smartest or most accomplished person in every gathering.   Praise others and you will be thought praiseworthy.  Learn to exalt others and you will be exalted.   Let another speak the last word.  Exercise restraint against the temptation to focus the lens back on yourself.   To gain discipline in this area helps us to remember that God always rightly has the last word in our lives.   Simon the Pharisee was a know-it-all and learned this the hard way when he invited Jesus to his party and an unexpected guest arrived.

Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw [a woman of the city touching Jesus], he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”

“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Luke 7:39-37

No one likes a know-it-all.  But what if the know-it-all in your life really did know it all?  What if He knew how everything would turn out.  One who not only knew the future, but determined it.  One who knew you better than you knew yourself.  Who knew how to loved you and knew what you loved better than yourself.   One who knew exactly what trials and triumphs were best for you.   One who, despite knowing all your thoughts and intentions, your failings, your rejections, still loved you better than you loved yourself?  Would you give that know-it-all the last word?  Would you prefer that know-it-all’s last word to your own?

Jeremiah 18 is a well know passage.  Here the Lord sends Jeremiah down to the local Pottery Works to watch and wait for a Word from the Lord.   As Jeremiah saw the potter work and rework the lump of clay on the wheel, shaping and reshaping, the Lord revealed to Jeremiah his sovereignty over all His works.   He has created all things for Himself and He may do with them as He pleases.   No man may complain or command His purposes.  He always has the last word.   And in this passage His last word is ‘grace.’   Even now though God’s people have provoked Him time and time again in the most despicable ways,  God speaks ‘grace.’

Then the word of the Lord came to me: “O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter has done? declares the Lord. Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it.  Jeremiah 18:5-7

The God who previously declared, “I am tired of relenting,” offers mercy if His people return to Him.   If they repent, He will relent.  God who may sovereignly do whatever he pleases with his marred clay, extends grace – the hope of being reshaped by the loving, careful hand of the master Potter.   But rather than yielding the last word to the gracious Know-It-All, prideful Judah must have the last word – and what a dreadful last word it is.

“But they say, ‘That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’  Jeremiah 18:12

What about you?  When the Lord speaks the best, last word, the word of grace, will you let that be the last word?  Or must you speak the last word yourself, “following your own plans” according to the stubbornness of your heart.   Jeremiah 18 is a remarkable passage about God’s steadfast grace toward stubborn, ungrateful rebels.   What is the last word in your life?   What last word defines you?

Join us this Sunday, February 23, as we examine Jeremiah 18 and consider the power and beauty of God’s sovereignty exercised toward us 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 and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Never a Fast Day

Never a Fast Day

The Lord’s Day is a Feast Day, never a Fast Day!  That has always been Christendom’s creed.  Even when long, protracted penitential fasts were the fashion of Medieval Christianity, the Lord’s Day was always excluded from the fast.  The Lord’s Day is to be a day of celebration, joy, and fellowship.  It is not the day for downcast faces or despair.   Any solemnity that marks the day is due to sheer awe for the graciousness of a Holy God of whom “mercy is His proper work.”   Any sorrow sown by conviction of sin is wiped away by the forgiveness and cleansing which are ours in Christ.  The Lord’s Day is a Feast Day, never a Fast Day!

Our forefathers were apt to call the Lord’s Day, “the Market Day of the Soul.”  It was not a day for buying and selling the commodities of temporal life, but a day to traffic in the commerce of higher things, better things – eternal things.   While our lives today blur the distinctions between the Lord’s Day and every other day, we are most blessed and at rest when we “remember the Lord’s Day and set it apart.”  The Lord’s Day is not like every other day.  Quite the contrary it is unlike any other day.  When the Lord was creating the world, He rested from His work, not just on the first day after he finished, but He finished by creating the seventh day – actively making it and setting it aside to celebrate, rejoice, and fellowship with His creation.

Thus, the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So, God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. Genesis 2:1-2

Is the Lord’s Day a feast day for you?  Is it the Market Day of your Soul?  Is it unlike any other day?  Or has it become like any and every other day to you?  Is it distinguished by the pursuit and enjoyment of the things that really matter, that last forever?  Or only the pursuit of more of the same things that won’t last.  Doubtless, for most of us, the week is the unit of time that most defines our lives, yet it is the only unit of time not defined by some celestial or environmental cycle.  It has no exemplar in nature.  It is simply given to us by God and delineated for us by the Lord’s Day.   Whether you observe it or not, your life revolves around the Lord’s Day.

Growing up, Sundays were always unique.  The usual biscuits that adorned every breakfast at our house, were replaced with blueberry muffins.   Lunch was a grand affair, usually grilled steaks, baked potato and salad – a meal we never ate except at lunch on Sundays.   My father always included me in his duties at the church.  Some weeks we drove a church van into downtown Atlanta to pick up a spunky group of elderly ladies.  Other weeks, I delivered the Sunday School boxes to each classroom before anyone else arrived.  My service made me feel important and useful.   After lunch, was “rest time.”  We could play quietly at home, but it was not a time for the usual kinds of play with friends and neighbors.  And then in the evening we would return to church for choir, and Royal Ambassadors (a Christian boys club), and worship.   It was a full day, different from every other day.  Full of feasting, fellowship and rest – all centered around worshipping and celebrating who we were in Christ.

When Christians lose delight in enjoying the “thousand sacred sweets” of the Lord’s Day, life begins to lose its savor in every other area as well.  Just as the Lord’s Table defines how we live at every other table in our lives, the Lord’s Day defines how we will live every other day.  The Lord’s Day with its corporate worship, fellowship, feasting, resting and serving is the heartbeat of the Christian life.  It is one of two positive commands in the Ten Commandments.  It comes with great promise.  Jesus reminds us that “man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for man.”  The Lord’s Day is a Feast Day and never a Fast Day.  It is the Market Day of the Soul.

The prophet Jeremiah took great pains to make clear the deeply ingrained sin in the people of Judah.  By the time we get to the end of Jeremiah 17, we have heard the prophet call the people to repentance for their perpetual idolatry, their self-serving greed, their heartless oppression, and their continual refusal to heed the call of God to return.  So, it seems a little surprising that Jeremiah makes so much of calling them to repent of contempt for the Lord’s Day .  With so many dire issues on the table, is this not a bit of straining a gnat and swallowing a camel?  Yet this thinking shows that we have not rightly understood that the Lord’s Day stands at the center of our Christian life.

Join us this Sunday, February 16, as we examine Jeremiah 17:19-27 and consider the the great blessing of remembering the Lord’s Day.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  Click here for directions. Come with a friend and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.