Accepting the Call

Accepting the Call

The sound was unmistakable.  I can still hear it in my memory.  The sound of a wooden spoon stirring pancake batter in a Tupperware bowl.  It was the sound of Saturday morning.  My father did not cook often, but Saturday morning was his time to shine in the culinary arts.  My father loved pancakes — tall stacks of pancakes drowned in maple syrup.  But these pancakes, garnished with sausage, had a deeper significance.  As much as my Dad loved piles of carbs drenched with more carbs, pancakes prepared a man for work.   And work was the order of the day on Saturdays.   The early morning sound of pancake batter was the clarion call to wake for work.

For my childhood friends, Saturday morning was a time to sleep in and focus on the business of play.  But in our house, my father cast another vision.  His vision involved rising early, eating a hearty breakfast, loading the car with gardening tools and making the hour-long drive to our “property” to tend the tomatoes, squash, corn, string-beans and watermelons.   I was not an enthusiastic gardener, but I loved to be with my father.  I am quite sure my father could have gotten more done without me, but he took me because he wanted me with him in his work.

The challenges were great.  The roto-tiller was like a rodeo bronc.  Pulling weeds from the hard-baked Georgia clay bloodied my fingers.  The broiling hours under the summer sun seemed interminable.  And I can still hear the sound of the cicadas that formed the soundtrack of gardening adversity.   But there were great rewards — hearing the stories of my forefathers, seeing “the old places” where my family’s history unfolded, sharing peanut butter and banana sandwiches with my dad and the world’s coldest “Co-cola” (Georgian for Coca-Cola) from Mr. Crow’s General Store.   And the coup-de-grace was my father’s declaration at the end of the day that I had done a solid day of man’s work.  The call that came with the wooden spoon striking Tupperware was reluctantly heeded at the day’s dawning, but at day’s end, I was thankful for I had accepted the call.

That is often what God’s calling is like.  At first it is daunting and dreaded, filled with thoughts of adversity and self-doubt.  And often it is just as hard as we expected.  However, it is never a call merely to do a job, but to spend time at work with the Father.  While God does not need us to accomplish his plan and purpose, he delights to have us with him at work.  He chooses to call us to go with him.

We see this vividly in God’s call to the prophet Jeremiah.   God has work for Jeremiah to do.  He tells him to “gird up his loins” and get dressed for work, but first he tells him that even before he formed Jeremiah in his mother’s womb, he knew him and set him apart to declare the gospel to perishing men, women, boys and girls.   The language is tender, as of a father lovingly planning for a child yet unborn.  And most importantly, God is not just sending Jeremiah, pushing him out of the nest to face the cold, harsh realities of a world hostile to the gospel.  Notice the promise that animates Jeremiah’s call.  Twice the Lord tells the reluctant prophet, “do not be afraid … for I am with you.”

Jeremiah’s calling reveals important truths about our own callings.  God never merely send us out to work for him, but invites us to join him where he is in what he is doing.  Is it intimidating?  Is there self-doubt?  Of course, but we have the promise of his power and his presence.   Have you accepted God’s call?  His call to come to him through faith in Christ and then his call to join him in his work?

Join us this Sunday, June 30, as we examine Jeremiah’s call in Jeremiah 1:4-19 and consider what this teaches us about God’s call to us.  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.

Caricatures

Caricatures

As a boy, our summer vacations were highly anticipated and utterly predictable.    A week or two after school let out, we made the beloved pilgrimage to Panama City Beach.  Fulfilling all beach righteousness meant cheap rubber rafts, 2 x 55 (yes, 55mph) air conditioning, ice cream cones, sand burrs, driving up and down the strip looking for a hotel that was $1 cheaper than the place that seemed perfect, dinner at Captain Andersons, spoiled sand-dollars in the trunk and caricature artists.

Beachside caricature artists are an amazing mix of comic illustrator and psychoanalyst.  A few minutes of conversation and careful observation, empowers these seaside Michelangelos to capture both the appearance and essence of their subject with uncanny clarity.  While it is hard to describe what makes an effective illustration, we all know it when we see it.  The Bible prizes powerful illustration.  Apt words are like apples of gold in settings of silver.  Two thousand years of Old Testament types and shadows carefully illustrate the person and work Christ as no artist can (or may). While the complicated lives of the Bible’s protagonists illustrate the power of the grace to redeem and restore.

Judah’s story is a poignant example.  When we meet him, he is more like his uncle Esau than his father Jacob.  He leaves the family, marries into Canaanite culture, fathers wicked sons, treats his daughter-in-law shamefully, follows his own lusts and blames his ancestry and his environment for all his troubles.  He is the antithesis of his brother, Joseph.   But the Lord has not forsaken Judah. When God works in Judah’s life, he is graciously transformed from a man who portrays the worst of humanity to one who resembles the very best human ever, the Lord Jesus Christ, even offering himself as a surety for his brother Benjamin.  His transformation illustrates powerfully the power of God’s grace to do what circumstance and will-power can never effect.

Illustrations get our attention and draw us into story.  An author’s work may be compelling, but unless the cover art catches our eye will may never give it a read.  Only academic books that depend upon professorial compulsion can sport a cheerless cover.  While it is proverbial that you can’t judge the book by its cover, you will probably never judge it at all unless its cover is attractive.  In the same way, our lives are supposed to be salt and light to a tasteless and dark world.  While it is not sufficient to follow St. Francis’ maxim “preach always and, if necessary, use words,” how you live your life determines whether anyone will listen to your sermon.  The minister’s life is the life of his ministry.

Think about this question.  If you were the only Christian a person had ever seen, what would they know about Christianity?  And what is more, what would they think about it?  In his letter to Titus, the Apostle Paul, pens one of the most powerful statements about the effects of God’s grace when it takes root in our lives.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. Titus 2:1-14

The gospel does what Oprah, Dr. Phil and the whole pantheon of self-help gods can never do– liberate us from living as slaves to ourselves.  But if this is true, the lives of Christians should give evidence of this.  Paul instructs his hearers to let their lives illustrate the gospel.  He addresses old and young, men and women, wives and mothers, and especially pastors and church leaders.  But his crowning instruction and illustration is for servants – more specifically slaves – who serve masters who are both literally and figuratively Cretans.  He tells these slaves to work, submit, serve, show respect, and live before the face of God and men in such a way that “in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.”

Does your life adorn the gospel?  Does it illustrate the story of God’s grace?  If you were the only Christian a person had ever seen, what would they know about Christianity?”  And what would they think about it?  How do we adorn the teaching of God our Savior.

Join us this Sunday, June 9, as we examine Titus 2:9-10 and consider how our lives are to illustrate the power of grace to a graceless world.  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 Gravity of Grace

The Gravity of Grace

Some things can be seen with our eyes, while others require a microscope or telescope.   But some things are seen purely by the effect they have on everything around them.  This is the story of the discovery of the planet Neptune.  Too distant to be easily seen with 19th century telescopes, Neptune was first observed with mathematics.

Following the discovery of Uranus in 1781 by British astronomer, William Herschel, several astronomers observing its long orbit noticed anomalies.  There were significant discrepancies between where it was and where it should have been.  The mathematics of its orbital path did not add up.

The perplexity of Uranus’ orbit caused astronomers to consider the possibility of new planet somewhere beyond it.  French astronomer Urbain Le Verrier began using mathematics to locate mystery planet’s position in June 1845.   On September 23, 1846, German astronomer, Johann Gotfried Galle, used Le Verrier’s calculations to find Neptune only 1° off Le Verrier’s predicted position.  By computing the gravitational effects of the previously unknown Neptune on Uranus’ orbit, astronomers were able to locate the new planet. 

In the same way, the effects of our lives on others may make visible, that which would otherwise be unseen.  God’s grace cannot be seen, but its effects are unmistakable.  Grace changes our standing before God, but it also radically transforms our standing with others.  Grace tugs, it attracts.  Like the unseen gravity of Neptune, when our lives are seasoned with grace they produce an observable effect upon those around us.   This is expressed powerfully in the little letter of Paul to Titus.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.  Titus 2:11-14

Titus was a fixer.  He was the man Paul entrusted to work with his most challenging churches.  He delivered two “hot” letters to the church in Corinth and was tasked by Paul to put in order the fledgling churches on Crete.  Ironically both of these places, Corinth and Crete were proverbial in the ancient world for their immorality.  Corinth was infamous for its sexual immorality.  While Cretans had a well attested reputation as liars and as brutal people.

So notorious were the Cretans that the Greeks actually formed a verb kretizein, to cretize, which meant to lie and to cheat; and they had a proverbial phrase, kretizein pros Kreta, to cretize against a Cretan, which meant to match lies with lies, as diamond cuts diamond.  – William Barclay

When instructing Titus in how to handle the people on Crete, Paul quotes the ancient poet Epiminedes

One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith.  Titus 1:12-13

Even among our modern insults, to be called Cretan still stings.   If anyone seemed impervious to the gospel,  it was the Cretans, yet the gospel is the power of salvation for all men.  The grace of God had taken root in that godless place.  So much so that  when Titus was instructed to look for faithful men to lead the churches, Paul fully expected him to find them.   The effect of the gospel in Crete was radical, placing the Cretan Christians in stark contrast with the reputation of their kinsmen.  How powerful is the tug of grace in your life?  Is the gravity of grace in your life causing an observable effect in the lives of your family, neighbors and coworkers?

Join us this Sunday, June 2, as we examine Paul’s letter to Titus and consider how God’s grace in us exerts an effect on the lives of others.  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.

No Extras

No Extras

My acting career was short-lived and very boring.  Sure, I had those inspired roles in elementary school productions – the Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, Charlie Brown (a la the Coasters) in a Tribute to the 50s – but my shining moment came in 1979 when I was invited by the casting director of the movie Little Darlings to play the role of a random summer camper.

Ok, to be clear I was an “extra,” one of those dispensable figures in the background who more or less takes up space.   For two grueling Georgia summer days, I and my fellow Hollywood hopefuls donned our camp t-shirts, sat around for hours and then walked up and down a hill twice.  To be honest, I never even saw the movie.  I can’t say whether I appeared in any scenes with Tatum O’Neal, Jodie Foster or Matt Dillon.  My obvious talent in thoughtfully walking up and down a hill with a thousand other grade-schoolers never caught the eye of any other casting directors, but I did get paid $25.  That was enough to buy a few packs of baseball cards, a couple of Slurpees, and a trip to Six Flags Over Georgia.

Extras in movies are only significant for the space they occupy.  What they do or don’t do, what talents they have or don’t have, what they say or don’t say is all irrelevant.   They are visual filler, just providing a background for the real actors.  Unlike a movie, however, there are no extras in the body of Christ, the Church.  No person has no role.  And no person has a role which is dispensable, unimportant, or irrelevant.  Every person is absolutely necessary.  Churches sometimes treat members as though they are extras, never helping them to discover their gifts and callings and never asking or expecting them to serve and participate.  And often members act as though they are extras, assuming that they are just the crowd scene for the church’s main actors.  But scripture reminds us that there are no extras in the church.

But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor… 1 Corinthians 12:18ff

Paul’s illustrates this vividly every time he gives instructions in his letters to particular people or extends greetings to and from members of specific churches.   We often gloss over these sections in teaching and preaching, until we are reminded that every word of God is breathed out by Him and useful.  Like the genealogies of the Old Testament, Paul’s personal greetings are God’s word to encourage us, instruct us, and warn us to discern our gifts and callings and to take our part in the life and ministry of the church.  We need to be reminded that we are actors, not extras, in the drama of redemption.

Join us this Sunday, May 26, as we examine 2 Timothy 4:9-22 and consider how Paul’s personal greetings and instructions call us to discern our gifts and callings to take our indispensable place in the body of 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.

Modern Problems

Modern Problems

As we get older it gets harder to remember.  Appointments slip our minds.  Keys, wallets and phones go mysteriously AWOL.  And the names of loved ones?  Where did they all go?  We, jokingly, call this the “new normal.”  But is it?  Memories are not as immutable as we think.  Contemporary scientific studies indicate that our memories are altered each time they are recalled.  Like fragmentation on a computer hard drive, the more experience we accumulate the more vulnerable our memories become to fragmentation.  So, take heart!  This is really a problem of knowing more, not remembering less.  This is why we never remember our parents saying the things to us that we find ourselves saying to our children.  Surely our parents never had to tell us to “stop looking at our sister.”   As parents, we spend half our words saying what we never thought we would have to say to our children.

But consider how true this is of society at large?  Who could have guessed that a time would come when you can be fired for referring to a person, who in every respect appears to be a man, using masculine pronouns?  And when science is crystal clear that life begins at conception, that abortion rights would expanded and infanticide celebrated?   Our founding fathers based our “Declaration of Independence” on certain truths which they declared to be ‘self-evident.’  But in our post-modernity we have declared no truths to be self-evident or even real.  We are daily confronted with modern problems we never imagined and must say things we never thought would need to be said.  But are our modern problems really new problems?

Calling problems, “modern problems” implies that we need modern solutions.  An evolutionary mindset demands an evolution in all thought – both human and divine.  It clamors for a new ethic, more flexible and adapted to the shifting mores of men.   Progressive political candidates habitually call for the Church to hitch its theology to the wandering star of public opinion, rather than remain tied to some outdated idea of transcendent and absolute truth.  But what if our problems are not new?  What if they are just more technologically advanced versions of the same old problem – the problem man has faced from the very beginning?

It is a grave danger to view our problems as modern problems in need of modern solutions.  As one theologian has noted, “what modern problems need are ancient solutions.”  This is no new idea.  The Apostle Paul noted the same thing.  In 2 Timothy 3, Paul spoke of a world coming apart at the seams – a world in which men, animated by self-love are going from bad to worse, having a form of godliness but denying its power.  Yet, he does not instruct Timothy to abandon the old ways and find modern approaches or a way to ‘coexist.’  He charges him sternly to follow the old paths, to apply the ancient truths of God’s word to the ‘modern problems’ of his age – the same problems that confront us today.

Join us this Sunday, May 5, as we examine 2 Timothy 3:1-17 and consider the ancient solution to our modern problems  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 Face of Betrayal

The Face of Betrayal

Milan is a city of contrasts.  Inside the lavish beauty of its cathedral are displayed the macabre corpses of former prelates, dressed in priestly robes.  The fountains of the stately Sforza Castle are thronged with gangs of pickpockets and the most aggressive flower salesmen on the planet.   And it is tricky to enjoy your gelato in the plaza because of the plague of pigeons.   But if you wander away from the castle and the cathedral and wander down a few side streets you will find two of Milan’s great treasures – the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio and the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie.  The first is the famous church established by Ambrose of Milan who was instrumental in the conversion of Augustine (and whose supposed corpse can be viewed in the crypt).  The second is the church which houses Da Vinci’s famous depiction of The Last Supper.   If you plan to see it, you will need to reserve tickets months in advance, but the convent itself is quite beautiful and worth seeing even if you can’t see the painting.

Theories abound about Da Vinci’s model for the face of Judas in The Last Supper.   As the story goes, the last two faces painted were those of Jesus and Judas.  Da Vinci struggled to find someone who conveyed the loveliness of Christ and the treachery of Judas.  By some accounts, Da Vinci haunted the local prisons and seedier parts of Milan and Rome looking for a face worthy of the world’s greatest treachery.  Other accounts say Da Vinci used the “nagging head” of the Prior of the Convent, because of his constant complaints to the Duke of Milan that the painting would never be finished.

Da Vinci’s difficulty is understandable.  The very nature of betrayal is that it is surprising.  The face of betrayal rarely reflects the treachery beneath.   Quite the opposite — the face of the betrayer is the face which declares unyielding loyalty and undying love, concealing a heart that is loyal only so far as self-love demands.

When you consider the definitive picture of the Last Supper, painted by the gospels, with Jesus’ shocking announcement, “one of you will betray me,” the horror in the disciple’s words as one after another they ask, “Is it I, Lord?” and the coldness of Judas’ “Is it I, Rabbi?” where would your face appear?   If Da Vinci asked you to sit as a model, where would he place you?

The irony is that every face is the face of betrayal.  Every disciple at that table would betray Jesus that very night.  The sorrowful self-examination of the table gave way to arguments about greatness, bold claims of loyalty, gripping drowsiness, precipitous violence, complete abandonment, and loud public disavowals bolstered by oaths and cursing.  The portraits painted in the gospels of these followers of Christ are shocking.  Each one is a face of betrayal.  But the gospel is never about good men becoming better, it is always about bad men redeemed by grace.  It is the story of betrayal and forgiveness.  Our own stories begin with sin, brokenness and betrayal.  What matters most is what happens next?

Who is the face of betrayal?  What does betrayal look like and where does it come from?  And where does betrayal take us?  Matthew 26 chronicles the betrayal of the disciples, but it highlights the betrayals of Judas and Peter.  Their similarities are more than you imagine and their differences fewer than you might expect, yet the name ‘Judas’ is synonymous with treachery, while ‘Peter’ is honored?  What made the difference?

Join us this Lord’s Day, March 24, as we examine Matthew 26 and consider the difference between despair and redemption in the wake of our own sin, brokenness and betrayal.  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.

Surely Not I?

Surely Not I?

In a culture where identity politics rule the public square, I think it is fair to say that we are not very good at objective self-reflection.  Like Narcissus, we are captivated with self-image, either loving ourselves without question or hating ourselves without knowing why.  Both these flavors of narcissism are products of the Fall, a legacy of man wanting to be his own god, longing to worship himself.  In this idolatry we lose the ability to see ourselves as we are, recognize the true source of our brokenness and pursue the only path to sharing in the divine nature.

The modern quest for wholeness has centered on self-esteem.  But the folly of this quest is exposed in a decades-long psychological survey which found that American students have more self-confidence and self-esteem than ever, but less ability than students forty years ago.  A recent survey of college freshmen showed they are increasingly likely to label themselves as gifted in writing ability, while objective test scores indicate that actual writing ability has gone down since the 1960s.

Another study observed the same phenomena in math and science.  In the study, an average American student with high confidence scored only 551 on a standardized test in which a score of 500 is the statistical norm.  The study concluded that while Western students believe that they are doing well in mathematics – they are, in fact, lagging behind other nations.  This self-esteem/ability gap was even more pronounced in Europe, where  self-identified high achievers averaged scores of 514, barely above the statistical norm.

In contrast students in non-Western cultures, who viewed their abilities as average, consistently outperformed their Western counterparts by a wide margin, averaging scores above 630 on the same test.  Even non-Western students with low self-confidence averaged 544.  A recent article rightly notes.

This generation was raised to value self-esteem above discipline and achievement. Consequently, students are feeling better than ever about themselves while performing worse. We have become a nation of narcissists.

As tragic as this may be to knowledge and ability, it is absolutely fatal to the soul.  Self-esteem hardens us to the reality of our sin and the need for a deliverance completely outside ourselves.  Only those who have, as one preacher noted, “a wholesome self-distrust which a glimpse into the slumbering possibilities of evil in our hearts out to give us all,” are able to rightly understand the seriousness of their predicament.  This is seen in living color at the Last Supper as painted for us in Matthew’s gospel.

The Passover was one of the most joyous times of the year.  Families were gathered, the traditions were observed, the feast was lavish, the old, old stories were recounted, songs were sung.  Jesus was gathered with his family – his disciples, ‘The Twelve,’ men who had been with him through thick and thin, for three years of 24 x 7 ministry.  As the feast begins, however, Jesus shatters the jubilant mood with a deafening call to self-reflection.   “One of you will betray me!”  One of the Twelve!  Not a Roman, or a Pharisee, or a Sadducee, or a Herodian – one of you will betray me.   Men who routinely argued over who was the greatest are now confronted with their own frailty in the face history’s most notorious treachery.   At that moment eleven men recognize just how powerful sin can be, but one is hardened.  “Surely it is not I, Teacher?” says Judas, refusing to examine himself and come.

How willing are you to see your life through the lens of the gospel?  To recognize the absolute despotism of your sin and yet the liberating power of God’s mercy to you in Christ?   How willing are you to examine yourself and come?  Join us this Lord’s Day, March 17, as we examine Matthew 26:1-35 and consider the gospel’s call to self-examination and redemption.  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.