Arguing with a Madman

Arguing with a Madman

Long ago I learned an important principle regarding communication.   Mathematically stated, the effectiveness of our communication is inversely proportional to the number of communication devices we employ.   Put more simply, the more we talk, the less we communicate.  The problem is not new.  Scripture addresses the danger of idle words and of speaking more than we listen.   Scripture also warns us against the trap of Job who “multiplied words without wisdom.” (Job 38:2)   Yet we fail to heed this warning in our zeal for a good rant.  Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, messaging, email, Skype and all the tributary feeds that flow into the ocean of expression, more often than not, lead to a drought of actual conversation.  Social critic and communication theorist, Neil Postman prophetically warned of this long ago.

“When a population becomes distracted by trivia, when cultural life is redefined as a perpetual round of entertainments, when serious public conversation becomes a form of baby-talk, when, in short, a people become an audience, and their public business a vaudeville act, then a nation finds itself at risk; culture-death is a clear possibility.”
― Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business

While syndicated news outlets have always led with a bias, most news is now presented, not by an anchorman, but by an angry forum of verbal combatants – an art form that culture at large emulates through social media.   Entertainment, not expression, is now the aim, as public discourse is replaced with the arguments of madmen.   Social critic, G. K. Chesterton, noted the futility of arguing with a madman.

“If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by things that go with good judgment. He is not hampered by a sense of humour or by clarity, or by the dumb certainties of experience. He is the more logical for losing certain sane affections. Indeed, the common phrase for insanity is in this respect a misleading one. The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.” —G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (New York: John Lane Co., 1909), p. 32

And so, we live in a world awash with outrageous claims and inflammatory statements.   Faced with the daunting challenge of distilling fact from fiction out of the mash, we may be tempted to believe everything or nothing.   But among all the outrageous claims, what if there is life giving truth?  What if there is truth we cannot live without?

No man made more outrageous claims that Jesus Christ.   He shocked the men of his hometown, by claiming to be the Messiah.  He challenged the religious leaders to point out a single one of his sins.  He pushed the limits with his disciples, commanding them to love enemies and offer unlimited forgiveness to offensive brothers.   But no claim of Jesus was more outrageous than his claim that “I and the Father are one.  He who has seen me has seen the Father.”   Jesus did not claim merely to be God’s servant, or God’s prophet.  He did not claim to be “a son of God,” but “The Son of God.”  Despite the best efforts of Arian heretics to erase Jesus’ claims to divinity, the Scriptures claim pervasively and decisively that Jesus is fully God and fully man.   Men who seek some value in Jesus as a mere man and moral example, but disbelieve his outrageous claim to deity must face C. S. Lewis’ scathing critique.

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else He would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.  — C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.

Jesus did not come to point out the way, the truth, or the life, but to be the way, the truth and the life.  This demands that he be both fully human and fully divine.  The Heidelberg Catechism, a time-tested set of questions and answers drawn from Scripture, explains why this is necessary.

Q16. Why must [Our Redeemer] be a true and sinless man?  Because the justice of God requires, that the same human nature which has sinned should make satisfaction for sin; but no man, being himself a sinner, could satisfy for others

Q17. Why must He be at the same time true God? That by the power of His Godhead He might bear in His manhood the burden of God’s wrath and so obtain for and restore to us righteousness and life. 

Join us this Sunday, December 8 as we examine John 1:1-18 and consider the indications, implications and invitations to us that arise from the truth Jesus full divinity.   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.

Saying “I Do”

Saying “I Do”

Do you remember your wedding vows?  Perhaps you remember saying, “I do,” but do you remember what you agreed to when you said it?  As a pastor, I get to stand with couples as they make vows to live as husband and wife “for as long as [they] both shall live.”   For newlyweds this is a day of joy, celebration, and anticipation.  The weightiness of their vows waits for the happy couple in their future.  But I also walk with couples to the end of this vow through the valley the shadow of death.  As joyful as it is to hear couples recite vows at their wedding, it is a pastor’s sacred privilege to observe vows faithfully discharged on a couple’s last day as husband and wife.

Not long ago, I sat with “June” at the bedside of her husband of sixty-nine years.   As his earthly life was fading, she told me the story of their life together.  It was a hard story.  A life of challenges, setbacks, disappointments, sickness and some good times too.   “How did you make it through?” I asked.  Never looking up, she quoted without hesitation.

“For whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.”  Ruth 1:16-17

As she spoke, I was struck by the remarkable picture of faithfulness.   That vow, so easily spoken seven decades earlier, had been faithfully kept through poverty and plenty, sickness and health, better and a great deal of worse.   It was not merely promised.  It was lived.

It is powerful to see vows made and kept, “so long as [they] both shall live.” Far too often it is a pastor’s grief to see vows made and broken.  This kind of grief was what caused the weeping prophet, Jeremiah, to weep.  Yes, he was sorry for the consequences of God’s judgement against his own people, family, and land, but much deeper than that, he grieved a marriage broken – a marriage between Christ and His Church.

Years before Jeremiah’s time, Moses stood before the people on the edge of the Promised Land and administered the wedding vows.   The covenant was confirmed by the words of God, “I will be your God and you will be my people” – the language of a wedding in ancient Israel.   But the covenant came with both promised blessings for faithfulness as well as threatened  curses for unfaithfulness.   Both to the blessings to the curses, Israel consented, declaring, “Amen, so let it be.”

But now in Jeremiah’s day, the marriage of the people to their God is faltering.  The people have strayed.  They have treated every other lover as a husband (Baal in Hebrew) and have despised their true husband.   They have been unfaithful to their vows.  In fact, they have forgotten their vows.  The consequences, the curses, for their unfaithfulness are coming home to roost.  The prophet reminds them, warns them, and points them back to the vows they had made so many years ago.  And so he reminds us.

The life of a Christian is one of making and keeping vows to our beloved.  Not in order to earn His love, but because He loves us.  Christ’s love is what captivates us to live lives of grace and gratitude.   This is what Jeremiah reminds the people as he pleads with them to turn away from being “turned away” and to turn back and follow Christ.

Join us this Sunday, October 6, as we consider the warning from Jeremiah to remember our first love and the vows we have made to belong wholly and only to Him.  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.

Sarcasm

Sarcasm

A software engineer is a living contradiction – vacillating between optimism toward what might be and pessimism about what is.   Software development is the nearest thing to creation ex nihlo man can achieve.  Created in the realm of abstract ideas and breathed into life on digital devices, an app reflects unlimited possibilities, limited by only one thing — users.  Software is designed for totally depraved users.  Optimism regarding what an app can do is counterbalanced by pessimism of what users will do.   Though over 90% of any given app’s code is error checking, it is never enough.

This paradigm makes software engineers some of the most pessimistic people you will ever meet.  They are definitely in the category of “glass nearly empty” people.   They effortlessly convert every management attempt at team-building and motivation into sarcasm and non-compliance.  This is what makes them frustratingly anti-social, but this also good at their craft.   Being connoisseurs of human folly and masters of sarcasm enables them to drill down to what is actually deliverable in a world in which anything is theoretically possible.

The dictionary defines sarcasm as “the use of irony to mock or convey contempt.”  By its very nature sarcasm uses absurdity disguised as seriousness to bring clarity to what is true and contempt to what is false.   A colleague of mine once remarked that sarcasm had no place in preaching, that it was a form of speech beneath the dignity of a sermon.   Yet as a form of distilling truth, sarcasm is employed often in the Bible.  Sarcasm in scripture and in preaching often functions as the perfect colander to strain out the pulp of superficiality from the nectar of clarity.

Jesus used many figures of speech.   Surely Jesus instructions in Matthew 5:29-30 to pluck out the sinful eye or to amputate a sin-stained right hand are hyperbole and not surgical asceticism.  But it is in the prophets where we routinely encounter the literary device of sarcasm.  A short survey of the prophets all the way back to Elijah, shows that whenever they addressed the issue of idolatry, sarcasm was used to mock the impotence of false gods.   Elijah’s comments on Mt. Carmel are the gold standard.

And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” 1 Kings 18:27

And Isaiah’s scathing rebuke of the folly of idolatry drips with sarcasm when he observes that idols are usually fashioned from scrap wood.

Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!” Isaiah 44:16-17

The prophet Jeremiah continues this tradition as he confronts the people of Judah with the folly of their idolatry.  Comparing and contrasting their false gods with the true God he calls his people to see the error of their ways, to help them understand how to recognize their own idolatry, and to use the gifts God has given to keep them sliding down that slippery slope.   The sarcasm of the prophet makes it ridiculously clear how foolish their idolatry is, but how clearly do we see our own idols?

Can we recognize the things in our lives which take but never deliver, make fools of us, and keep us in fear of losing them?   It’s so easy to see the speck in the eyes of others, but planks are hard to detect.  What idol has your heart?  What is it, that if you lost it would make life not worth living?  That is your idol.

Join us this Sunday, September 15, as we learn from the warning of the prophet Jeremiah how to recognize the idols in our lives.  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.

Spin

Spin

Long before my lofty aspirations to software design and pastoral ministry, I harbored thoughts of another noble, yet more humble vocation – that of the garbage man.  Every Tuesday was trash day on Inca Court.   I would help my dad carry the cans to the curb before he left for work and then I would eagerly await the arrival of the trash truck, sitting by the curb to get a front row seat for the action.  I dreamed of donning an orange jump-suit and swinging from the back of the truck as it moved from house to house.  I was not discouraged by the distinctive aroma.  Nothing seemed more sensible and adventurous than being a garbage-man.   Though we cannot call them that now.  The simplicity of their craft is now obscured by titles such as “sanitation engineer.”  Ironically, by elevating the language of their craft we show contempt for their vocation.

A “euphemism” is the use of language to make the unpalatable, palatable.  But we call it “spin” or “political correctness.”  It is the art of using pleasant speech to transform what is morally repugnant to something we can more conscientiously ignore.  For example, the rhetoric of abortion-rights advocates is rife with euphemism – and indeed depends upon it.   Labels such as “pro-choice,” “Planned Parenthood,” “women’s rights,” and “reproductive health” are utterly disingenuous.   Nothing is further from the minds of abortion providers than parenthood.  And in what way can killing your offspring be considered “reproductive health?” And what about the choice and rights of unborn women?

Christian apologist, Ravi Zacharias, commenting on the Tower of Babel, conjectured that God confused the languages of the people because they used their words to create a rival reality to the one He revealed through His Word.   Spin, political correctness, and euphemism are sedatives we take from the hard realities of sin and responsibility.   No one expresses euphemism’s deceitfulness, quite like G. K. Chesterton.   The quote is long, but worth the read.

Most Eugenists are Euphemists. I mean merely that short words startle them, while long words soothe them. And they are utterly incapable of translating the one into the other, however obviously they mean the same thing. Say to them “The persuasive and even coercive powers of the citizen should enable him to make sure that the burden of longevity in the previous generation does not become disproportionate and intolerable, especially to the females”; say this to them and they will sway slightly to and fro like babies sent to sleep in cradles. Say to them “Murder your mother,” and they sit up quite suddenly. Yet the two sentences, in cold logic, are exactly the same. Say to them “It is not improbable that a period may arrive when the narrow if once useful distinction between the anthropoid homo and the other animals, which has been modified on so many moral points, may be modified also even in regard to the important question of the extension of human diet”; say this to them, and beauty born of murmuring sound will pass into their face. But say to them, in a simple, manly, hearty way “Let’s eat a man!” and their surprise is quite surprising. Yet the sentences say just the same thing.  — G. K. Chesterton, Eugenics and Other Evils

But spin and euphemism thrive in the church as much as in culture.   Phrases such as “open minds” and “affirming” and “ecumenical” are code-words for elevating the opinions of man and the norms of culture over the authority of God’s Word.   Like the men of Jeremiah’s day we love our idols. We don’t call them idols, of course, but we install them in our churches and use double-speak to legitimize them.  What we fail to grasp is that our idols – traditionalism, works-righteousness, money, entertainment, affirmation, felt-needs, cultural relevance, church growth, etc. – will consume us.   Like invasive weeds, they crowd out vibrant, gracious Christian living and drain us dry.

There is no spin in Jeremiah’s words.  He speaks plainly and directly without any attempt to sugar-coat his message.  God’s people had abandoned the Lord for every conceivable idol.   Now God will abandon them to judgment.  They are beyond repentance.  In one of the Bible’s most terrifying passages — Jeremiah 7-8 — the prophet pulls back the curtain and shows the deadly effect of turning your back on God.  For the men of Judah, it is too late to turn back.  They have gone too far.  Even the prophet is forbidden to pray for them.   But it is not too late for you.  God gives this warning so you will turn back to Him.  Time and time again, the Scripture declares, “Today is the day of salvation.”

Join us this Sunday, August 25 as we consider from Jeremiah 7:16-8:3 what is ahead for those who are walking away from God and will not turn back.  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.

Donor Match

Donor Match

Some days seem to take forever to arrive.   As a boy, Christmas day and the last day of school seemed as though they would never come.  Like a mirage on a hot summer highway, as you move toward them, they only seemed to be further away.  But what if that long-awaited day was a matter of life and death?  What if you were waiting for a heart or liver transplant in order to live?

Those who need an organ transplant are placed on a waiting list for a donated organ. Transplant organs are matched to patients based on a large list of criteria including: blood type, tissue type, medical urgency, body size, and distance from donor hospital to recipient hospital.  The process is never based simply on your position on the list.  Unfortunately, there are a lot more people on the waiting list than there are organs available each year.

Depending on how well you are, you may wait for your organ transplant at home or in a hospital. It is impossible to anticipate exactly when one will become available.  Some people wait only a few days while for others the wait much longer, possibly many months, if at all.  The waiting, the wondering, and the worrying become all consuming.  What if it never comes?  What if no match can be found for me?  As the time passes, desperation increases and the difficulty of holding on to hope grows exponentially. And if an organ is found, the danger of the transplant and high likelihood of rejection weigh heavily.

Then the call comes – a donor match has been found — and all the emotions converge.  Hope shines in and the life-giving gift is given by another whose gift cost them everything.   While heart and liver transplants have become almost routine today, it is never routine if it is you waiting and praying for a donor match.  But what if your fatal diagnosis is more than physical?  What if you have a failing soul and spirit?  What if your heart of hearts is failing for a lack of righteousness and faithfulness?  You seek diligently some other person – a counselor, a teacher, a lover, a friend — who can give you what you need to fill that growing emptiness in your heart, to stop the metastatic corruption of sin and guilt that threatens your life for all eternity.

But no matching donor can be found.  Every teacher, every counselor, every lover, every friend, every good man or woman, every role model — they are all on the waiting list as well.   Life is ebbing away, time is ticking, a donor must be found.   But where can we find a donor match for our sin-sick soul?   This was the question posed to the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 5.  Jerusalem has been given a terminal diagnosis.  The sin-sickness of the people had metastasized into every area of their lives from worship to family life to social injustice.  God commands Jeremiah.

Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem,
    look and take note!
Search her squares to see
    if you can find a man,
one who does justice
    and seeks truth,
that I may pardon her.    Jeremiah 5:1

Jeremiah looks everywhere.  He looks among the ordinary people.  He looks at the leaders, the wealthy, the scholars, and the movers-and-shakers.  Surely, he can find such a man among the priest and prophets.  But there is no match.  As the Psalmist said.

They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
    there is none who does good,
    not even one.  Psalm 14:3.

No even one!  No donor can be found.  The situation is desperate.   God had promised to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if only ten righteous could be found, but Jerusalem’s judgment depended on just one.  Despite Jeremiah’s diligent search no righteous man could be found.   This is the desperation of our own spiritual situation.  Dying from a depraved soul, we need a righteousness transplant.  But can a donor be found?  The good news is that a perfect donor match exists.

Jesus Christ is a perfect donor match for your diseased soul.  Made like us in every way, fully man yet fully God, His perfect obedience and atoning death on the cross make his perfect righteousness available to those who will receive it.   He alone is the way, the truth and the life.  But as with someone on the transplant list, it is not enough for the donor to be found.  The donated organ must be received by transplant.  This happens for us when we place our faith in Jesus and repent of our diseased life.  Have you received a transplanted life from Jesus?

Join us this Sunday, July 28 as we consider the good news that a donor match has been found to transplant in us the new heart we need to live.  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.

Celebrate with Us

Celebrate with Us

This month River City Reformed Church in Little Rock, Arkansas celebrates its first anniversary as a mission congregation of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church. Come celebrate with us and find your place in something new growing in Midtown Little Rock.  For directions or more information about us go to https://rivercityarp.org/where-when/   #LoveLittleRock #ReformedChurch #FamilyIntegratedChurch

Breaking Faith

Breaking Faith

Mrs. Dixon’s fourth grade class was a burgeoning nest of young love.  That was the year when girls leapfrogged past spiders on the list of interesting creatures in the life of a boy.   After lunch each day we would have a half-hour or so of time dedicated for quiet study.  But the subject most pursued during this “quiet time” was the study of relational engagement.  Notes were carefully constructed, though with little imagination or variance.  “Will you ‘go with me’? Yes __ or __ ”   Who knew that romance was so straightforward?  It is ironic that young love could be reduced to a form letter.

But if, perchance, the note was returned with the ‘Yes’ box marked, things immediately got complicated.  First, the idea of “going with” someone was amorphous.  Where were we going?  Were we actually going somewhere?  Was the relationship supposed to “go somewhere?”  Sure, there was some public identification as a couple, with all the requisite teasing that accompanied each ‘go-wither’s’ gender clique, but no one knew what happened next.  Then, quickly and without warning, the euphoria of a “Yes” on that original note was followed by the crushing news from everyone that you had broken up and that your beloved was now ‘going with’ someone else.   Relationships often were born and died without anything passing between boy and girl except a note.  While pride was briefly humbled in the dust, there was little relational pain, because after all, two days and a checked box on a passed note is not a recipe for intimacy.

All this relational callousness can never prepare you, however, for the real, deep, intense pain that comes from broken love.   When that person in whom your hopes, dreams, tears, and vulnerability have been lovingly vested breaks faith and moves on, it releases intense emotional energy.  Like the splitting of the powerful bonds that hold the atom together, relational fission creates massive devastation, sweeping away those in its shock-waves.  I pray that you have not experienced this personally, but I imagine that you have.   So much invested, so much given up and now what?   With every pain, a little callousness develops, a little trust is lost, a little hope is gone.   But have you ever considered how God reacts toward us when we break faith with him and move on and away from Him — the most intimate of lovers?

The ancient prophet, Jeremiah preached during a time of both apathy and antipathy toward the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  The Twentieth Century prophet, Francis Schaeffer, called Jeremiah the prophet for post-modern times, because our contemporary culture, like that of Jeremiah’s day, has turned away from love for God and has moved on in its headlong pursuit of self-love in a relational fission which has ignited stunning devastation.   In his very first recorded sermon, Jeremiah makes an impassioned plea on behalf of Israel’s divine husband to leave her sordid affairs and return to her true love, lest she destroy herself in the process.

How would we react if our beloved treated us as God’s people treated Him?  And before we cast too many stones on ancient Israel, let us be honest if things are really any different with us?   How patient, how tender, how willing to reconcile would we be with such a spouse?  Yet, in this word we hear the great grace God extended to the rebellious and unfaithful who have refused the fountain of living waters to drink from stagnant and broken troughs.

Join us this Sunday, July 7 as we examine a terrible picture of spiritual unfaithfulness in Jeremiah 2:1-13 and consider the deadly consequences of abandoning God but the life giving grace He extends to us 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.