#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.

Family Resemblance

Family Resemblance

Long before social media took up the mantle as spokesman for cliché Christianity, the church sign attempted to carry the torch.  Church signs are notorious haunts for heretical theology, inflammatory rhetoric, and worn out puns.   Like the writer’s empty page, church signs are literary tyrants, always demanding concise, profound, and engaging posts.  Rarely does one hit this mark.  Often, they do not even hit the target.   But not too long ago, I saw a church sign that resonated with me.   “If God is our Father, then shouldn’t there be a family resemblance?”

While not a novel thought, it is a powerful word.   The scripture reminds us that it is God’s will for us to be conformed to the image of Christ, the only begotten and beloved Son.  We are also called to be “imitators of God as dearly loved children.”  And in John 8, Jesus calls out the Pharisees when he points out that the testimony of their lives contradicts their claim to be children of Abraham and Sons of God.  Like a skillful prosecutor, Jesus builds the case that they resemble Satan more than God and then makes a stunning summation.

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. John 8:44

How well do we resemble our Heavenly Father?  As others examine our lives, as they certainly will, what conclusion will they draw about our Father’s identity?  While imitating someone does not make us their child, being someone’s child will inevitably lead to imitation.   As Paul concludes the first letter to Timothy, his son in the faith, he warns him — “keep a close watch on yourself and your doctrine.”  Timothy must not imitate self-serving false teachers of Ephesus, but must remember that he is a “man of God” whose life should draw a sharp contrast to men who pursue religion for their own gain.   As he closes his letter, Paul points out some hallmarks of the Christian life – hallmarks that are not just for Timothy, but for you and I as well.

Join us this Lord’s Day, February 3, as we examine 1 Timothy 6:11-16 and consider what it means for us to bear a family resemblance as children of the King.  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.

Greener Grass

Greener Grass

The grass is always greener on the other side.  Isn’t that what they say?  But, by now I’m sure you have learned that this is only an optical illusion, a trick of perspective.  Because when the “other side” becomes “this side,” the maxim still holds true – the grass is greener on the other side – and back we go.

No doubt you have experienced this effect at the grocery store.  Your line is moving at glacial speed.  The manager call light is blinking.  You are tenth in line behind someone recharging a prepaid phone card with the contents of their spare-change jar.   Then you see it – the express lane.  Moving rapidly, only three customers, with fewer than ten items each.  You know better, but you can’t resist the urge to switch lanes.  Immediately you realize your folly as your new queue-mates bog down in a quagmire of spills, missing bar codes, and declined debit cards.

Like a cow, craning her neck through a barbed-wire fence for grass no different from the field in which she stands, the search for contentment can seem futile.   We can’t stop believing the grass is really greener on the other side.   And so, we are always moving on to another thing, another person, another place, trying to find what we can’t describe, but think we would know if we found it.

But discontentment is the inevitable result of stuffing moth and rust into the eternal longings.  Temporal things – relationships, possessions and experiences — can never satisfy eternal needs.  There is nothing wrong with relationships, possessions, and experiences.  These supply our needs and bring great delight.  But they will never be enough.  If we pin our hopes on them to give rest to our restlessness, we will be disappointed and discontent.  English pastor and author, John Stott, wrote.

 “Possessions are the traveling luggage of time; they are not the stuff of eternity.  It would be sensible therefore to travel light.”

And an even older pastor, Augustine of Hippo, famously confessed.

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

Join us this Lord’s Day, January 27, as we examine 1 Timothy 6:3-10 and consider the toxic effects of discontentment and the effective prescription for contentment.  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.

Slaving Away

Slaving Away

My dad was “old school.” A child of the depression, he believed firmly in the value of child labor – especially mine. I had weekly chores for which I was paid, if I did them in a way that passed his rigorous requirements. By the pay was meager, especially when compared to the gratuitous, labor-free allowances received by most of my middle-class peers. During the summer I mowed the grass for $2 per mowing and during the fall I raked 1.3 billion leaves, working pro bono. Now, as an adult with a healthy work ethic and ability to appreciate the value of money in terms of the labor required to earn it, I am thankful that my dad was “old-school.”

But at the time, my thoughts of my dad’s parenting were not so charitable. I remember mowing the grass with our rickety push mower, glancing toward the neighbor’s yard where my friend was playing ball while his mother did the mowing. Now there was liberation I could get on board with, I thought. I recall actually thinking to my self that my dad treated me like a slave, that I had to “slave away” at yard work under a broiling Georgia summer sun, while my friend lived a carefree childhood of leisure and comfort.

Had I paid attention to the numerous passages in the Bible which speak to the work and attitude of slaves — both actual slaves and those who fancy themselves to be slaves like myself — perhaps I would have gained a heart of wisdom as a child. But like many who hear the Bible’s teaching on slavery, slaves and masters, I foolishly relegated it to what I believed were a collection of things in the Bible which have nothing to do with me.

The Bible deals very honestly with the issue of slavery and all the subtle forms it takes. While many today are impatient with the Bible’s apparent lack of forceful denunciation of slavery, they fail to recognize that the Bible is thoroughly opposed to slavery from beginning to end. Yet like many other things that arise from the darkness of men’s hearts, the Bible also prescribes pastoral instruction and care for those caught up in social injustices. Nowhere is this precept seen more clearly than Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:3-9 regarding the issue of divorce. The Bible does not condone or prescribe divorce, but it does regulate it and mercifully offer it to protect those suffering under the hardness of men’s hearts.

Beyond this, the Bible’s pastoral exhortations to slaves and masters or employees and employers instruct us how to do our work, no matter what the conditions, “as unto the Lord.” And it reminds us that there are, in fact, a great many people who are enslaved through human trafficking — 40+ million in 2018 — and that the Church must work tirelessly, evangelically, and socially, to eradicate this great evil.

These are all important applications, but above all, the Bible’s instruction to Christian slaves illustrates how we are to serve our Lord. We delight in calling Jesus our Savior, and rightly so. But if He is our Savior, then He is also our Lord. Christ delivered us from the slavery of sin, but as Christians we are His bond-servants, transferred from one kingdom to another. Paul points this out explicitly in 1 Corinthians 7:23

For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise, he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ.

One ancient pastor drives this point home, commenting on Paul’s instructions to slaves from 1 Timothy 6:1-2.

But if he exhorts servants to render such implicit obedience, consider what ought to be our disposition towards our Master, who brought us into existence out of nothing, and who feeds and clothes us. If in no other way then, let us render Him service at least as our servants render it to us. Do not they order their whole lives to afford rest to their masters, and is it not their work and their life to take care of their concerns? Are they not all day long engaged in their masters’ work, and only a small portion of the evening in their own? But we, on the contrary, are ever engaged in our own affairs, [yet] in our Master’s hardly at all. –John Chrysostom

Join us this Lord’s Day, January 13, as we examine what the Bible has to say about slavery, slaves and masters and consider what this means for us today. 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.

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.