Triggered

Triggered

The technology of cap-guns has advanced exponentially since I was a boy.  My sons’ cap pistols fire ring-caps.  Every cap fires!  And when all eight shots are discharged and all aggressors vanquished, the next ring can be loaded in seconds.  My friends and I had rolls of paper caps.  Loaded with surgical care and threaded into the trigger mechanism with the skill of a reel-to-reel projectionist, in theory the caps would roll so that the charge was positioned under the hammer.  This was only theory, however.  Most rolls had more mis-fires than good caps.  Ultimately, our father’s hammer proved to be the only reliable weapon.  With clumsy triggers and constant misfeeds, our guns were not responsive.  Today’s cap pistols, like today’s people, are much more sensitively triggered.

It doesn’t require much to set either off.  Post-modernism and social media have produced a perfect recipe for triggered people.  Ready to get fired up at any suggestion which conflicts with our cherished mantras, we have lost the ability for reasoned dialogue.  A recent writer noted that while accepting others and agreeing with others have traditionally not been the same thing, now there is no degree of acceptance without total agreement.  The odd thing about post-modernity which declares that a thing can be “true for you, but not for me,” is that post-moderns ruthlessly demand their “truth,” which needs no universal basis, receive universal acceptance.

Everything seems to provoke a strong reaction.   But few things provoke a stronger reaction than the claims of Christ.   C. S. Lewis famously noted that Jesus was either “the Son of God or a madman or something worse.”  You must either accept his claims or reject him as delusional.  Jesus asks his disciples “who do men say that I am?”  When they reported the various theories of the men of their age, he pointedly asked them – “But you, who do you say that I am?”

This question is nowhere more poignantly posed than from the cross.  Soldiers mocked him, religious leaders taunted him, women mourned him, many who passed by could not have cared less, the disciples abandoned him and the Father forsook him – but then declared him to be all that he claimed to be.   There are many paintings of that famous scene, but one of the most compelling is James Tissot’s “What Our Lord Saw From the Cross.”  In this painting we see all those who are gathered around.  Pictured in their faces and their demeanor are their reactions to the most significant event in history.  They were all triggered in one way or another.  How does the cross trigger you?  What is your reaction to this moment in time which is so eminently significant for your own life and your own death?

Join us this Lord’s Day, April 7, as we examine Matthew 27 and consider the different responses of those who witnessed the crucifixion and as we reflect on our own response.  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.

 

Cross Examined

Cross Examined

We all love a good trial.  Our forefathers were spot-on in describing man as having a “legal frame.”  Consider the evidence.   Think about your viewing habits.  Most trending shows on Netflix revolve around crime or courtroom drama.  And lest you think this love of trial drama is simply the undue influence of media, recall the last time you cut the cake at a children’s birthday party.  “His piece is bigger!” “She got more icing!”  “I wanted the corner piece!”  “It’s not fair!”  There is no more effective prosecutor than a small child, lodging accusations of unfairness.  Children are powerful lawyers, because man has a legal frame.  We are born with it.  We do not need to learn it.

Made in the image of a just God, we are wired to demand justice.   But like everything else about us, the fall corrupted our understanding of justice.  We still cry out for it.  But instead of understanding it as conformity to God’s character and will, we tether justice to our own will.  Few of us decry the privation of others as unfair, but when we are deprived of what we expect we demand justice.   But what if we got it?  What if we got justice, not according to our own want or will, but according God’s standard – a standard which penetrates beyond our words and actions to our thoughts and attitudes?

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.   And in a well-known passage in Romans.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, … so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.  Romans 3:23-26

History’s greatest courtroom drama is recorded in Matthew 27.  Following an irregular grand jury indictment, Jesus is brought before the criminal court on charges trumped up by religious rivals.  In Pontius Pilate’s courtroom we see the greatest miscarriage of human justice in 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, Pilate condemns him to death and compounds injustice by releasing Barabbas, a condemned man, truly guilty of all the charges leveled against Jesus.

As spectators, we recoil at this apparent travesty of justice until we realize we are not just spectators.  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 God is the justifier of those who have faith in Christ.

Join us this Lord’s Day, March 31, as we examine Matthew 27 and consider the greatest courtroom drama in history as it unfolds Christ’s innocence and condemnation for our guilt and pardon.  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.

Surely Not I?

Surely Not I?

In a culture where identity politics rule the public square, I think it is fair to say that we are not very good at objective self-reflection.  Like Narcissus, we are captivated with self-image, either loving ourselves without question or hating ourselves without knowing why.  Both these flavors of narcissism are products of the Fall, a legacy of man wanting to be his own god, longing to worship himself.  In this idolatry we lose the ability to see ourselves as we are, recognize the true source of our brokenness and pursue the only path to sharing in the divine nature.

The modern quest for wholeness has centered on self-esteem.  But the folly of this quest is exposed in a decades-long psychological survey which found that American students have more self-confidence and self-esteem than ever, but less ability than students forty years ago.  A recent survey of college freshmen showed they are increasingly likely to label themselves as gifted in writing ability, while objective test scores indicate that actual writing ability has gone down since the 1960s.

Another study observed the same phenomena in math and science.  In the study, an average American student with high confidence scored only 551 on a standardized test in which a score of 500 is the statistical norm.  The study concluded that while Western students believe that they are doing well in mathematics – they are, in fact, lagging behind other nations.  This self-esteem/ability gap was even more pronounced in Europe, where  self-identified high achievers averaged scores of 514, barely above the statistical norm.

In contrast students in non-Western cultures, who viewed their abilities as average, consistently outperformed their Western counterparts by a wide margin, averaging scores above 630 on the same test.  Even non-Western students with low self-confidence averaged 544.  A recent article rightly notes.

This generation was raised to value self-esteem above discipline and achievement. Consequently, students are feeling better than ever about themselves while performing worse. We have become a nation of narcissists.

As tragic as this may be to knowledge and ability, it is absolutely fatal to the soul.  Self-esteem hardens us to the reality of our sin and the need for a deliverance completely outside ourselves.  Only those who have, as one preacher noted, “a wholesome self-distrust which a glimpse into the slumbering possibilities of evil in our hearts out to give us all,” are able to rightly understand the seriousness of their predicament.  This is seen in living color at the Last Supper as painted for us in Matthew’s gospel.

The Passover was one of the most joyous times of the year.  Families were gathered, the traditions were observed, the feast was lavish, the old, old stories were recounted, songs were sung.  Jesus was gathered with his family – his disciples, ‘The Twelve,’ men who had been with him through thick and thin, for three years of 24 x 7 ministry.  As the feast begins, however, Jesus shatters the jubilant mood with a deafening call to self-reflection.   “One of you will betray me!”  One of the Twelve!  Not a Roman, or a Pharisee, or a Sadducee, or a Herodian – one of you will betray me.   Men who routinely argued over who was the greatest are now confronted with their own frailty in the face history’s most notorious treachery.   At that moment eleven men recognize just how powerful sin can be, but one is hardened.  “Surely it is not I, Teacher?” says Judas, refusing to examine himself and come.

How willing are you to see your life through the lens of the gospel?  To recognize the absolute despotism of your sin and yet the liberating power of God’s mercy to you in Christ?   How willing are you to examine yourself and come?  Join us this Lord’s Day, March 17, as we examine Matthew 26:1-35 and consider the gospel’s call to self-examination and redemption.  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.

Learning to Rest

Learning to Rest

When I was a boy, Ted Turner’s fledgling Superstation served up a daily heapin’ helping of 50’s and 60’s pop culture.  Afternoons were fed by a diet of Gilligan’s Island, The Munsters, Leave it to Beaver, The Beverly Hillbillies and  I Love Lucy.  We all nurtured a crush on Mary Ann, because Ginger was out of our league. We shared Marilyn Munster’s pain as the ugly duckling.  We had a neighbor-kid like Eddie Haskell who snowed the adults and terrorized the kids, and we wondered why Lucy and Ricky slept in twin beds when none of our parents did.

As an adult, however, I uncovered the answer to that final enigma.   Like many married couples, my wife and I have very different preferences for a good night’s sleep.  I throw off all the covers and  roll over and over like a rotisserie chicken.  Meanwhile my wife has four layers of progressively heavier covers, values stillness, and maintains a vast collection of strategically placed pillows.  And then there are the rice socks, microwaved every night, to provide her with the warmth my feet cannot generate.  Years ago, a massive reordering of bedrooms out our house, led to a marital revolution.  My wife and I found ourselves left with two single beds pushed together.   Dual climate control and independent suspension in the bedroom have done wonders for sleep and marriage. 

It is curious that we require so many props and preferences to sleep.  The thing we were created to spend the most time doing, is the most elusive and complicated dimension of our lives.  We accumulate more and more sleep strategies – “my-pillow,” memory foam beds, sleep therapy, teas and supplements, but we still struggle to ever feel rested.  We pour our heart, soul, and strength into the pursuit of leisure, be we have no idea how to actually rest.

Perhaps, rest — so fundamental to human life — eludes our grasp because we refuse to consult our instruction manual.  The Bible has a lot to say about rest and speaks of it as one of God’s great gifts.  It is woven into the fabric of time.  God created the seventh day specifically for the purpose of rest that man’s life would not be one of unending toil.

Jesus noted that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.   Both the promised land and life in heaven is pictured as rest – not the cessation of productive life or endless sleep, but life lived without strife and adversity.   Perhaps rest is so elusive for us because sin and its effects make it hard to envision life without the strife and adversity.

The apostle Paul, in his final words in Timothy commands him to “stay strong” in the face of weariness and failure in ministry.  But Paul gives Timothy more than a hashtag or a silicon bracelet.  He gives him a word of substance.  The key to staying strong is not trying harder, but learning to rest in Christ.  This sounds great, but how do we do that?  If we can’t figure what it looks like to get eight hours of sleep, how are we going to be able to rest in Christ?   Paul gives Timothy a powerful picture when he tells him,

Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15

Paul’s prescription is simple.  “Timothy spend your time with God’s Word and not with the words of men.”  Be diligent to learn and meditate on God’s promises, grasp the height, depths and breadth of His steadfast love for you, and seek wisdom from His Word to cut away all the unrestful words that infect our hearts with despair.  To rest in Jesus, we must rest in the promises and truth found in His Word.   What does it take for you to rest?  Have you learned to rest in Christ?

Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission spent many years struggling to connect with the people in the Chinese interior.  He worked harder and harder without any results.  He was exhausted.  In a letter to a friend he expressed his frustrations.  His friend’s wise response became his “spiritual secret.”

How then to have our faith increased? Only by thinking of all that Jesus is and all He is for us: His life, His death, His work, He Himself as revealed to us in the Word, to be the subject of our constant thoughts. Not a striving to have faith…but a looking off to the Faithful One seems all we need; a resting in the Loved One entirely, for time and for eternity. – Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret

How to have faith increased?  Not by striving after faith, but by resting in the faithful one.  Join us this Lord’s Day, March 10, as we examine 2 Timothy 2:14-19 and learn how to rest in Christ.  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.

#StayStrong

#StayStrong

When I was in school, we were required to take a foreign language.  I chose German mostly because of my interest in WWII.  But there are two things I grew to appreciate about the German language: its love of following the rules, and its tendency to make new words by simply piling up existing words.   With the possible exception of Scandinavian languages, German vocabulary contains some of the world’s longest words — words with a history and context built-in.

It is often difficult to communicate context, especially emotional context, with our words, especially when our words are reduced to tweets.  Faced with this shortcoming, social media had extended verbal expression through emojis and #hashtags.   Now everything must have a hashtag.  Like mushrooms after rain, they spring up everywhere words abound – attempting to give clarity, context and community to our thoughts.  Paradoxically, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook posts typically have more #hashtags than content.  #Hashtags allow us to attach our words to a cause and to a conversation larger than our expression.  This is the power of slogans – slogans printed on hats, slogans inscribed on wristbands, and slogans embedded in #hashtags.

But, while slogans have power to stir the imagination, much more than a catchy #hashtag is needed to actually change the world.   The Apostle Paul understood this.  As he nears the end of his life, imprisoned and facing Roman execution, he writes a second letter to his protegee, Timothy, to encourage him to hold fast to his calling in the face of mounting opposition, both inside and outside of the church.  Just as the Lord commanded Moses’s successor, Joshua, to “be strong and courageous,” Paul charges his successor, Timothy, to #StayStrong.

But he gives him more than a slogan.  He leaves him with powerful illustrations of just what it takes to #StayStrong.  Paul had turned the world upside down with his gospel and he knew that it took much more than a viral #hashtag.   Likewise, we are commanded to #StayStrong in our calling as followers of Christ and world-changers.  But we need someone to show us the way.   Through Paul’s instructions to Timothy, we have several vivid pictures that mark out a pattern for us to follow in order to #StayStrong in Christ.

Join us this Lord’s Day, March 1, as we look at this pattern in 2 Timothy 2:1-13 and learn what it takes to #StayStrong.  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.

Apt Words

Apt Words

It’s probably no surprise that I was never a cool kid.  As a child I struggled with my weight, I was shy and awkward, I always knew the answer to the teacher’s question, and I sported Trax shoes.  Needless to say, I was a favorite target for the old sign-on-the-back gag.  It wasn’t “kick-me,” but words a little more soul destroying like “ask me why I’m so uncool?”  Or worse.  My only solace was the merciful, fellow-uncool kid who would take the burden from my back with full knowledge he would be next.  Yes, kids can be cruel.  But that is only because they are miniature sinners.

Whoever said, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” was living in total denial.  You can probably recall harmful words hurled at you by some peevish child on a playground, decades ago — words which shaped your view of yourself and opened wounds which never healed.  A word can break much more than skin and bone.  Words have the amazing capacity to bless or to curse.

The English playwright who penned the phrase, “the pen is mightier than the sword,” was merely echoing the ancient words of Scripture when it says that God’s word is “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  The power of words goes deep.  Words are the very fibers wound into the threads which weave the fabric of the cosmos.  God spoke and it came to be.  Jesus is the Word, through whom, by whom and for whom all things exits.  All things are upheld by the Word of God’s power.

As people created in the image of God, we know well the power of words to stir life in others or to rob them of their very selves.   No wonder God tells us that we will be judged for every idle word.  Like guns shot into the air, careless words make deadly wounds.  The Biblical opposite of the careless word is the apt word.  Solomon wrote, “an apt word is like apples of gold in settings of silver.”  Our word “apt” means fitting, or appropriate.  It derives from a Latin word which means something that is fastened to another thing.  Our words fasten on to others, like signs stuck secretly on the back.  Are they words of blessing or cursing?  What words are you fastening onto others?

As Paul faces death, awaiting execution in Roman dungeon, his mind turns toward his young friend Timothy.  He is reminded of Timothy’s sincere faith, but also the hard row he must hoe as a pastor in Ephesus.  He pens a second letter, not principally to instruct, but to encourage.  To fasten onto Timothy, words which embolden and strengthen – words of life and not death, words which are for us as well as we wrestle with fear, discouragement and spiritual exhaustion.

Join us this Lord’s Day, February 24, as we continue our study of 2 Timothy 1 and think about the power of the apt word.  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.