Caring for the Caregivers

Caring for the Caregivers

There is no dismay quite like it.  That crushed look in the eyes of a child when they proudly present their latest masterpiece for mounting on the refrigerator and Dad asks, “what is it?”  “Can’t you tell?” responds a quivering little voice.  And immediately parental stammering and backpedaling begins.

I learned long ago, after many parental fails, to ask “tell me about this one?”  This little bit of painfully acquired wisdom has served me well.  As I visit with those who are suffering long-term illness and look at the pictures displayed around their homes – pictures that tell their story and that of their family — I ask “tell me about this one?”  Just as our children’s masterpieces are often unrecognizable to us, so the appearance of friends may become nearly unrecognizable as long-term sickness takes its toll.  I have noticed that even the best Hollywood makeup artists cannot quite capture the withering effects of prolonged illness.

But the one who is sick is not the only one who suffers.  Caregivers keenly feel the effects of their “labor of love.”   Often, I have asked a primary caregiver, “your loved one has you to care for her, but who is taking care of you?”  Sadly, more times than not the reply is “no one” — the caregiver had no caregiver.  And it shows.  Weariness of face and weariness of soul is hard to disguise.   And the effects are devastating.

But this is not only true for those caring for the physical needs of others.  The burdens of spiritual care are wearying to those who bear them.   Paul lamented that he wrote to the Corinthians “out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears.”  And in Romans, Paul wrote that he had “great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” because of the unbelief of his fellow Israelites.  And in Colossians, we read of Epaphras who was frequently “wrestling in prayer” for his congregation.  Spiritual caregiving is strenuous and takes its toll on pastors and elders.  But who cares for the caregivers?  The answer Scripture gives is surprising.

In the Pastoral Epistles, Paul instructs Timothy in how the church is to behave as the household of God.  Following up on his commands regarding the support and care for widows, Paul gives important guidance about how the church is to care for its caregivers – its elders, especially those that labor in the word and in doctrine.

In the United States, on average, over 1700 pastors leave the ministry every year.  70% report suffering chronic depression and 80% believe that pastoral ministry has adversely affected their families.  Burnout is epidemic and extreme loneliness is characteristic.   Who is caring for these caregivers?  Paul’s admonition is that this is the collective work of the congregation.   Just as the congregation bears the burden of care for widows, who in turn have cared for the congregation, so the sheep are to provide care for the shepherds who have tended and fed the flock.

Join us this Lord’s Day, November 18, as we examine 1 Timothy 5:17-25 and consider the practical ways in which congregations care for their caregivers.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  Click here for directions. Come with a friend you and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Knock Offs

Knock Offs

To say I was unpopular as a boy would be an understatement.   I wanted to fit in and find acceptance, but there were three significant strikes against me – I struggled with my weight, I loved to read the World Book Encyclopedia for fun, and I wore Trax shoes.   For those unfamiliar with vintage 80’s knock-off footwear, Trax were the K-mart Adidas want-to-bes.   But no one was fooled.   In a time when being a part of the “in-crowd” at school demanded the full complement of status symbols – Jordache, Izod and Adidas – wearing a K-Mart knock off was the worst of all possible worlds.

Discount stores finally figured this out and started producing their own distinctive, no-name brands.  At least a no-name brand says, “I don’t really care what you think; I’m more practical and not pandering to your good opinion.”  But the knock-off attracted all the wrong kinds of attention.   My father was trying to help, but as a child of the depression, he was oblivious to the narcissism of the age and the power of the status symbol.  He was far too practical (and wise) to spend beyond our means to purchase a logo.  But, alas, there was no anonymity for the wearer of Trax shoes.   Everyone knew you were trying to fit in but came up short.   No one was fooled by the knock-off.  It was important to be the real deal.

Authenticity is important.  We want this in our food, we this in our relationships, but what about our faith?  No outcry is more universally raised in reaction to Christians than the cry of “hypocrite.”   Once when the missionary E. Stanley Jones met with Mahatma Ghandi he asked him, “Mr. Ghandi, though you quote the words of Christ often, why is that you appear to so adamantly reject becoming his follower?” Ghandi replied, “Oh, I don’t reject your Christ. I love your Christ. It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ.”   No one is fooled by a knock-off.

The Apostle Paul in writing to Timothy pointed out the importance of authenticity for pastoral ministry.  He instructed him to preach the word, in season and out of season, but he also stressed the importance of living authentically as a follower of Christ before the believers in Ephesus.

… set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity… Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. 1 Timothy 4:12, 15-16

Walking the walk, makes our talk talk.   Just like Timothy, we are called to live authentically — our lives and doctrine corroborating one another.  Scottish pastor, Robert Murray M’Cheyne famously wrote.

“A minister’s life is the life of his ministry….  In great measure, according to the purity and perfections of the instrument will be the success. It is not great talents that God blesses so much as likeness to Jesus.  A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.”

Join us this Lord’s Day, October 28, as we examine 1 Timothy 4:11-16 and consider the importance of spiritual authenticity.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  Click here for directions. Come with a friend you and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Eating Well

Eating Well

My mother was the consummate Southern cook.  And my father was not an adventurous eater.  We had fried chicken twice every week, roast beef once, and never anything that might remotely be construed as ethnic food.   Every meal had white bread and some variety of gravy.  The metric of culinary success in our home was how well the meal satisfied the tastes of my father, not whether it was a significant source of nutrition.   As a consequence, I was a portly boy and my father labored to find husky, tough-skin jeans.

Americans spend considerable time and effort crafting food to please the palate, but little energy training the palate for food that will nourish.   We are familiar with the Hippocratic Oath which begins “first, do no harm.”  But Hippocrates is also reputed to have said, “let your food be your medicine and your medicine be your food.”

God has given us food ideally suited to nourish our bodies, protect us from sickness and promote healing.  He put our first parents in a garden with only one dietary restriction.  Adam and Eve were encouraged to eat everything except the one fruit which appealed to their sensual desire, but had no power to nourish.    Listening to flattering words and eating only to satisfy sensual desire brought unparalleled grief to our first parents – as it does to us.

Like food, the words we consume should nourish us.   Truth matters.   We were created to be nourished on a diet of God’s truth.  Only this brings spiritual health.  If we only consume spiritual junk food, then our souls are malnourished, and the diseases of unbelief and fear ravage our lives.   The Apostle Paul instructs his young friend, Timothy, that a good minister is not one who crafts palate-pleasing platitudes, but one who nourishes his people with biblical truth and warns them earnestly about the addictive allure myth, masquerading as spirituality.

Feeding and being fed on a diet of truth requires intentionality and discipline.     Paul wrote “train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”

Join us this Lord’s Day, October 21, as we examine 1 Timothy 4:6-10 and consider how best to feed our faith.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  Click here for directions. Come with a friend you and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Staying Focused

Staying Focused

As a boy, when I arrived home from school each day, two priorities dominated my agenda.  The first was to secure a snack — often something, not so healthy — and the second was to spend an hour watching television before diving into my homework – also not very healthy.   Ted Turner’s fledgling super-station curiously juxtaposed two cartoons starting at 3:35 – “The Flintstones” and “The Jetsons.”  One superimposed modern concerns, attitudes and lifestyles upon stone-aged men and women while the other superimposed futuristic technology and innovation upon contemporary concerns, attitudes and lifestyles.  The curious message of both cartoons was the same.  While the context of life changes radically, people are the same in every age.   The hopes, their problems, their needs are the same whether they are riding dinosaurs in the rock quarry or zipping around in spaceships.

Certainly, those of us who have lived very long have seen this.  People are people, even though the world today is radically different from the one in which we grew up.  We did not have computers, cell phones, video players of any type, remote controls, or even color television.  I was almost grown before I leaned that Gilligan’s shirt was not light grey.   The pace of technological change is staggering, as amazing discoveries are being made every day which fundamentally change our lives.   Scientific discovery is accelerating exponentially.   But the most important discovery sits outside the realm of science.

Curiously, every great discovery has been there all along, hiding in the cosmos and waiting to be uncovered through some unfolding chain of inquiry.  But the greatest truth, the one which affects the hearts and souls of men and women, is not discoverable.   It must be revealed.   This truth alone, expressed in the Christian gospel, has the power to change people from the inside out.  This truth has been entrusted to the Church, whose mission is to proclaim it.  While many great discoveries have improved the quality and quantity of human life, none of these have eternal impact.

But often the Church gets distracted and fails to keep the main thing the main thing.  Programs must be staffed and funded, buildings must be maintained, schedules must be managed, traditions must be observed, controversies must be addressed.  The church may pursue many good secondary things, but if not careful, it may lose sight of the first thing, the gospel.  No doubt Paul recognized this danger as he instructs Timothy how the church is to be organized, who is to do what, how worship is to be conducted, and how the needs of the congregation are to be met.   For this reason, he constantly reasserts the big picture in every discussion of details.   The structure of worship, the establishment of leadership and its qualifications, the concern to contend for truth, and to care for the marginalized all serve the same end – to declare the great mystery of godliness, revealed in the gospel.

Join us this Lord’s Day, October 7, as we examine 1 Timothy 3:14-16 to consider the importance of focusing our ministry as the Church through the lens of the gospel.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  Click here for directions. Come with a friend you and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

String Theory

String Theory

Without music, the world could not exist!  This is not merely a declaration of aesthetic sensibility or support for the importance of the arts.   But quite literally, theoretical physicists have hypothesized that multi-dimensional vibration accounts for all the particular arrangements of protons, neutrons and electrons into the atomic structures that constitute matter.  This view, known as “string theory,” resonates remarkably with how the Bible claims the world came into being.

 “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” Hebrews 11:3

Consider, however, that God did not think the world into existence, but spoke it.  The original language of God’s speaking in Genesis does not exclude the idea of singing – an idea common in the creation accounts of many cultures and in popular literature.  Both Tolkien in the Silmarillion and C. S. Lewis in the Chronicles of Narnia describe the creation of their fictional worlds through the singing of a supreme being.

But there is another singer in each of these stories – a glorious, but prideful, envious creature who sings a different song, slightly off pitch in order to lead creation to resonate with discordant vibrations.  He weaves doubt and dissonance, asking “did God really say?” and introducing a “better truth” than God’s truth – a truth that man himself should be the captain of his soul and the master of his fate.  He does not deny God’s existence or that he has spoken.  He only suggests that God’s word is not enough, not sufficient, not completely trustworthy – suitable only for moral and practical suggestion.  He does not sing a new song, just God’s song off pitch and out of tune.   He sings of man’s essential goodness and God’s overbearing and unreasonable demands.  He sings of God’s justice and implacable wrath or perhaps of his basic apathy toward us and our concerns.

This accuser, this destroyer, this father of lies sings a soul destroying and life depriving dissonance.  For this reason, the scripture commands us to close our ears to his choir of false singers, teaching a different doctrine and another gospel, contrary to God’s Word, the Bible.  When the Apostle Paul writes to his young protégé, Timothy, to instruct him in giving guidance to the fledgling church in Ephesus, he charges him strictly to refute those who are teaching off-key.   In his exhortation he gives one of the simplest, most concise, articulations of the gospel in all of scripture.

“The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” 1 Timothy 1:15

Paul sings out the song of redemption with clarity of voice and perfectness of pitch in order that men might reject Satan’s song.  Join us this Lord’s Day, August 26, as we examine 1 Timothy 1:12-17 and consider why it is imperative to resist those who sing the gospel off-key.  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.

Behaving in Church

Behaving in Church

As a child, I remember thinking that no hour passed so slowly as the one that passed between the call to worship and the benediction.  When I got my first watch, it seemed to sputter and stall and stand stock still during the last 10 minutes of the sermon as the preacher would “continue to close.”   The fidgeties kicked in and my legs seemed to swing on their own and kick the pew in front of me involuntarily attracting the unwanted and sharp gaze of my father.  Learning to be still and attentive in church was a challenge.

One of our core values at River City Reformed Church is multi-generational ministry in which all ages study, worship, fellowship and enjoy life together.   We are a family of families worshiping together.   We are teaching our children to worship as they worship with us.  Yet, we realize what a challenge this can be, especially for parents with several young children or children that are not used to being in worship.  But learning to behave and be attentive is a process that does not begin with the call to worship and end with the benediction.  It is learned by living life together as families and as the church.  And, not surprisingly, learning to behave in church is not a problem just for children.  Often grownups need more instruction and training in this than little ones.

The New Testament includes several letters from the apostles addressing the scandals, heresies, and divisions that rocked various fledgling congregations.   These troubleshooting epistles are critical for us, because our scandals, heresies and divisions are not novel.  As Solomon well noted, there is nothing new under the sun.  Be we also need careful, proactive instruction in how we are supposed to behave as God’s household, the church.  A principle of parenting that has served our family well is that the most effective instruction is given in periods of non-conflict.

To this end, the Holy Spirit has given us three little letters from the apostle Paul – 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus – often styled, the Pastoral Epistles.   In these letters, the Lord instructs us in how we are to behave in church as we live in the household of God.  Join us this Lord’s Day, August 12, as we examine 1 Timothy 1 and begin to consider what the Bible teaches us about living life together in God’s household.    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.