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.

Will You Hold the Ropes?

Will You Hold the Ropes?

You may have heard of William Carey, the “father of modern missions”; but perhaps you have never heard of his good friend Andrew Fuller.  Before leaving for India, Carey famously told Fuller, “I will go down into the pit, if you will hold the ropes.”

Fuller held the ropes by traveling all over the British Isles, raising funds and preaching missions-related sermons. The missionaries in India and other early fields could concentrate on their ministry in the field because they knew Fuller was holding the ropes for them.

William Carey was courageous and faithful to his call, but he would not have been able to go to India and establish his mission work if not for all those “holding the ropes.” Church planting pastors and the seedling churches they plant, like those early missionaries, depend on you to “hold the ropes.”

Are you willing to hold the ropes for your ARP Church plants?

  • Will you give of your substance?
  • Will you pray for your church planting pastors and their congregations?
  • Will you write, visit, and call them to encourage them?
  • Will you move to their city and be a part of what they are doing?

Will you hold the ropes?  We would ask you to partner with us at River City Reformed Church in Little Rock and join us as a “rope holder.”  You can find out more at https://rivercityarp.org/partner-with-us-financially/.  We would also encourage you to consider holding the ropes for our other ARP church plants.  You can find more info and links to give at https://outreachnorthamerica.org/directory/.

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.

From the Inside Out

From the Inside Out

Few creatures appear more benign than the guinea pig.  Only slightly discernable from a Tribble, the soft purring and endearing squeaks of the cavy make it a favorite pet of gentle souls and small children.  But despite their proverbial predictability, they can still surprise you.  For instance, it is almost impossible to tell when a guinea pig is pregnant.   You peek under their hiding place one day and, behold, there where you expected to find one pig is a litter of fluffy piglets. It is as though they fell from the sky.

More than this, though characterized by a patient and even temperament, guinea pigs can show flashes of intense anger   Like the “harmless little bunny” guarding the Cave of Caerbannog in Monty Python’s Holy Grail, the guinea pig has a dark side — “a vicious streak, a mile wide” — which when awakened may inflict great harm.  My daughter discovered this attempting to separate males who were vying for the attention of a female.  With unexpected ferocity, one of the boars latched on to her thumb and bit down to the bone, inflicting a terrifying wound.

In the ER, the doctor (after regaling us with tales of all the gruesome wounds he had seen during his residency at Cook County Medical in Chicago) informed us that for deep wounds, no stitches would be used.  “Wound like yours,” he said, “must heal from the inside out.”   Keep it clean and give it time.  To close the wound on the surface would only increase the likelihood of infection and would prevent deep healing below the surface.  Sure enough, eventually the deep and nasty wound healed.  There was a scar, but my daughter’s thumb was saved.

As in all our experiences, there is a spiritual parallel.  We are often eager to address the deepest wounds with the most superficial and external treatments.  Throw more resources over it and it is bound to heal.  Yet the deepest wounds must heal from the inside out.   Perhaps this is why the social injustices, addressed so pervasively in the Bible, are met with the same prescription – the gospel.   The deep wounds that have been inflicted by the sinful depravity of men must heal from the inside. What is needed are new hearts, not merely new circumstances.   Yes, there is merciful care like a wound dressing that must be topically applied to the site of social and spiritual wounds to aid healing.  But these mercies are not to be confused with the power and source of healing – this is the error of the social gospel.  Until hearts find healing in Christ, a mere change in circumstances will only prolong the wounds, inhibit healing, and increase the likelihood of infection.

This is why the Bible does not always prescribe the kind of external social change we expect, even when it acknowledges and abhors the social injustices we experience.  This is certainly true of what the Bible says about slavery.  While  unequivocal in its condemnation of slavery, the Bible instructs slaves to live lives that are transformed even when their circumstances are not.  The gospel takes the long view.  When men learn to walk in grace, peace and mercy, social transformation inevitably follows.   And sometimes it follows quickly.   Recall when Paul and his companions came to Thessalonica in Acts 17, their enemies declared, “those who have turned the world upside down, have now come here.”  Paul and his companions were not social revolutionaries, but in a short time their gospel had turned their world upside down – from the inside out.

Join us this Lord’s Day, January 20, as we examine what the Bible has to say to us about how we may live changed lives in the midst of unchanged circumstances.  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.