A Let Down

A Let Down

My twelve year-old son is the most optimistic person I know.  He loves technology and has boundless confidence that it will always work as advertised.  One particular app on his tablet just will not work.  We have researched, reconfigured, and run every diagnostic known to man – all to no avail.  Yet with every software update, he asks, with brimming expectancy, “Dad, I got an update.  Can we give it another try?”  As a recovering software engineer, I am steeped in pessimism, especially when it comes to software.  But nothing – not even repeated disappointments — can dampen Noah’s confidence that “today is the day” that the latest update will make everything right.  And time after time, we are let down by open systems that aren’t so open after all.

But life is full of let-downs — meals that bear little resemblance to the advertising and online products with five star ratings, 378 “awesome” reviews, and that one bad review that turns out to be the only faithful narrative.   And then there are social media friends who are really not friends.   Just in case you don’t realize, your social media friends are not really friends.  If they were not your friends before social media, they are not committed to anything more than spectating your life.

I recently crossed paths outside of cyberspace with an online “friend.”  She couldn’t quite place me.  I offered congratulations on her recent marriage and commented on the exciting places she traveled on her honeymoon.  Looking at me as though I was a stalker, she asked me how I knew.  Somewhat dejected, I said, “I’m your friend on Facebook.”   If you are depending on social media friends to be your friends, then I am sorry to say, you will be let down.

But live relationships let us down as well.   If you want to know if someone is really your friend, ask them to help you move.  Moving is a severe trial for the closest of friendships.   Years ago, Melanie and I were moving out of a second story apartment.  We moved almost everything ourselves, negotiating two flights of stairs with a narrow landing.  All that remained was a washer and dryer.   The dryer was not a problem, but our faithful old Maytag washer was crafted from heavy American steel and offered no easy hand-holds.   I called a close friend who lived nearby to help me get this last item into the truck.  After a few hems, lots of haws, and a flimsy excuse, I realized that we were operating on two different understandings of friendship.  I admit that our relationship never quite recovered from that let-down.

Every person you know is a sinner.  This guarantees that sooner or later you will be let down by someone close to you.   You don’t have to live very long to experience this.  But the pain is especially great when the let-down seems easily avoidable, or worse, intentional.   And the closer, more intimate the relationship, the greater the pain of this disappointment.   How do you recover?  How do you move forward?  How can your relationships survive a let-down?

The story of the prophet Jeremiah is a story of disappointments.   Four decades of preaching fell on deaf ears.  No one listened.  No one responded.  He was hunted by authorities and hated by his own friends and family.   He was not allowed to marry and lived a life of solitude and sorrow.   He had no one to support him in is own grief over the judgment coming upon his beloved people.   His only refuge was the Lord, but even the Lord seemed to him to be deaf to his prayers, unconcerned about his persecution, and unappreciative of his ministry.   All this comes to a crisis in Jeremiah 15 as the prophet confronts God.

Have you ever felt let-down by God?  Have you been disappointed when He seemed deaf to your prayer, unconcerned about your trials, and unappreciative of your obedience?   How will you respond? How will you move forward in following Him when he seems to have become an adversary?   Join us this Sunday, January 26, as we examine Jeremiah 15 and observe Jeremiah’s struggle to come to grips with a God who seems to have let him down.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  Click here for directions. Come with a friend and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

The Grace of Receiving

The Grace of Receiving

A long time ago, the Christian author, Gary Chapman, penned an important book, entitled “The Five Love Languages.”  He noted that every person communicates and perceives love in one or more ‘languages.’  These languages include physical touch and closeness, acts of service, gift giving, encouraging words, and quality time.   Think about that for a moment.  How do you communicate and perceive love?  What love language is your native tongue?  Perhaps you are multi-lingual when it comes to these love languages.  My mother-in-law was like this.  She spoke every one of these languages fluently, but her lingua franca was without a doubt, gift giving.

Her love of gift giving was prodigious.  It would be an understatement to say that she sometimes went over the top.  Especially when grandchildren were involved.  She was always thinking of just the apt gift.   Throughout the year, whenever someone expressed a need or desire, she would purchase and wrap their heart’s desire and tuck it away in somewhere in her house.  There are probably still hidden gifts wrapped and tucked away at MaMa’s.  While Santa has to be told what children want, MaMa always knew.  Her radar always detected exactly what would satisfy the longing hearts of her beloved.

But gift giving for her was not merely apt selection and presentation.  She created a whole dramatic narrative surrounding the giving of gifts.   Her true aim was to create joy.  She delighted to delight.  She needed to be present when the gifts were opened so that she might rejoice with the joy of the receiver.  She needed to hear the squeals, see the surprise, and sense the gratitude.  That was, for her, the gift received in the giving of gifts.  Her greatest desire was to bring joy to others.   Gifts graciously received were her greatest delight.

Christmas after Christmas, I saw, shining through the life of my mother-in-law, the heart of a Heavenly Father, who gives the gift of His Son that we might find true and abiding joy.  Like my mother-in-law, our Heavenly Father delights to hear and see and receive our gratitude in response to His grace.  In Luke 15, in the midst of three parables about being lost and found, Jesus twice notes that, “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Many stories in the Bible illustrate this, but no story pictures this as powerfully as that of the announcement of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds in Luke 2:8-20.  Here as the Lord of glory is born into quiet obscurity the only announcement is given to shepherds, the most despised and outcast class of society.  These enigmatic shepherds were the most unlikely of converts — men who were notoriously under suspicion, who were rejected from temple worship due to their habitual and ritual uncleanness, and whose word was not acceptable in the courts.  If anyone had hope to receive God’s goodwill and favor because of their works it was not these men.  Yet these were the men to whom God announced, “for unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”  Unto “you!”  No one gave these men anything, but unto them God had given a savior!

Their response is a powerful testimony to the joy that comes when the hopeless find hope.    They urgently flee Christ.   Finding him, they tell everyone they meet then return to their sheep glorifying and praising God.  These unlikely converts exhibit the joy of a changed life.  Their priorities, their conversation, and their way of life are radically transformed.  Their circumstances did not change, but they were changed in the middle of their circumstances.  Men who were outcasts with God and man, were now Sons of the Most High and the first human evangelists.  Their joy was uncontained and unrestrained.

Do you have that kind of joy?   If not, perhaps it is because you have not experienced the grace of receiving.   God has offered you a great gift.  He delights for you to receive it and find joy.  Join us this Lord’s Day, December 22, as we examine the story of the shepherds in Luke 2 and consider how finding Jesus changes our lives and brings joy.  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.

Getting Christmas

Getting Christmas

Our family has many Christmas traditions – the annual tree pilgrimage, dinner at The Grapevine, the Christmas Cake, the advent storyboard calendar, and iconic holiday movies, which for us include Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer and the ever-poignant, A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Despite its ancient vintage, Charles Shultz’ classic cartoon commentary on Christmas confusion is spot on.   What is the point of this ever-expanding season each year?  Lucy touts community involvement, Sally just wants her fair share and Snoopy capitalizes on Christmas commercialism.  But Charlie Brown just doesn’t get Christmas.   His epic fail in choosing a Christmas tree brings his contemplation to a head in the following exchange with Linus.

Charlie: I guess you were right Linus; I shouldn’t have picked this little tree. Everything I do turns into a disaster. I guess I don’t really know what Christmas is about. Isn’t there anyone who understands what Christmas is all about?

Linus: Sure, I can tell you what Christmas is all about. Linus goes to center stage, spotlight. Linus: “And there were in the same country Shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘fear not, for behold, I bring you tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you. Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in the manger.’ And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men.’”

Linus: That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Linus points Charlie in the right direction, but there is much, much more to this story – a story that has its origins in eternity past and its implications in eternity future, a story of epic failure and dramatic rescue, a story that reveals a God who is quite different from the one our fears imagine. As singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson puts it.

Gather round, ye children come
Listen to the old, old story
Of the pow’r of Death undone
By an infant born of glory
Son of God, Son of Man.

Come and experience the rest of this story in God’s own words and in song as we share in An Evening of Lessons and Carols together at 5:00 pm on Sunday, December 15, in the Commons at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, 8300 Kanis Rd, Little Rock.  For directions click here or contact us for more details.   We look forward to seeing you there.

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.