Leaving A Mark

Leaving A Mark

Hard as we try, it is impossible to ‘leave no trace.’  Our lives will always leave a mark.  But what kind of mark will we leave? Like a child’s name carved into a family heirloom, the marks we leave produce a mix of painful regret and powerful remembrance.   But what will be the final assessment?  Is it possible to live life and come to the end with no regrets?  As a pastor who thinks a lot about what is said and sung at funerals, I was shocked recently to hear that a perennial favorite song for funerals was “My Way” by Frank Sinatra.

In his ultimate tribute to a narcissistic life, Sinatra declared: “I’ve lived a life that’s full, I traveled each and every highway, and more, much more than this, I did it my way.”  But anyone who lives this way leaves tsunamis of brokenness and regret in their wake.  Assuming we do not live only for ourselves, is it possible to come to the end of our life without regrets?   Most of us would probably say no!  But the Apostle Paul says something shocking in a letter to his spiritual son, Timothy, as he talks frankly about his impending death.

“…the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:6-7

Paul has no regrets.  Not because he made no mistakes or  checked off every item on a bucket list.  From the world’s perspective his life was a failure.  He was from an influential family, studied with the luminaries of Jewish thought, and by his own assessment, was “advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.”  Yet, he threw it all away to follow Christ.  He might have looked back over his life with many regrets.  Others certainly did.  He brought death and destruction to Christian families before his conversion.  He caused riots all over Asia.  He had to say painful things to close friends.  He made enemies of his fellow Israelites everywhere he went.  He faced a death sentence simply for preaching the gospel.  Even many of his Christian friends had deserted him in his imprisonment.

Yet, Paul has no regrets, because unlike Frank Sinatra, he did not live life “his way,” but “Christ’s way.”  The indelible marks he left behind were carved out by faithfulness in following Christ, not the fickleness of worldly acclaim.  A more literal translation of Paul’s statement would be, “The good fight, I fought.  The race, I finished.  The faith, I have kept.”  God laid out the course of Paul’s life.  He simply followed.  He is not boasting in what he has done, but in what Christ has done. His past, his present, and his future can only be rightly assessed by what Christ has done, is doing and will do.  In another letter in which he describes his thoughts on death, he goes onto say, “it is God who works in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12)   The only way to come to the end of life with no regrets is to live a life of following Christ.

I once visited with a dying man who had a framed t-shirt hanging on his wall.  On it was printed, “live in such a way that the preacher won’t have to lie about you when you die.”  Will the pastor who conducts your funeral be able to preach from Paul’s words?  “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith?”  Will you be able to die with no regret, knowing that despite all the failures and failings in your life, you did it “Christ’s Way?”   Paul closes this short passage with a remarkable hope.

“… there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:8

Have you loved his appearing?  Have you loved his appearance in his Word, in his worship, and in his body, the Church?  Is the thought of his appearing a source of joy or terror for you?  Does Paul’s statement “my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” resonate with you?

Join us this Sunday, May 19, as we examine 2 Timothy 4:6-8 and consider what it looks like to live life without regret.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  Click here for directions. Come with a friend and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Take, Eat!

Take, Eat!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join us this Sunday, May 12, as we examine 2 Timothy 4:1-5 and consider how we can cultivate a healthy appetite for truth and guard against spiritual malnutrition.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  Click here for directions. Come with a friend and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

#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.