Unbreakable

Unbreakable

The cool kids never got it — the fascination uncool kids have with graphic novels.   We called them comic books back in the day.   Their plot rarely varied.   A terrible accident exposes the ninety-pound weakling to some toxic power.   He escapes death, but is mysteriously mutated.  The power that should have killed him, becomes part of him.  As he learns when and how to use it, he brings justice to the unjust, care for the uncared for, and protection to the unprotected.   What should have killed him made him stronger.  And the zero becomes the superhero.

Every bullied kid wants to believe this can happen.    We all want to be the victor, not the victim.   To find some secret power to be an overcomer.   Especially when the deck seems stacked against us.   Abuse from those who despise us, disappointment with those who love us, and discontentment with ourselves all threaten to crush us beneath a load too heavy to shrug off.  If only we had a superhero power.  Then maybe we could stand against the weight of this fallen world.   But as it is, who can stand?   

Revelation 6 is a disquieting read.   As the Worthy One comes forward to open the book of ‘God’s Wonderful Plan for the World,’ the world and everything in it is coming apart at the seams.   The Lamb’s Book of Comfort is anything but comforting.   Conquest, wanton bloodshed, famine and social injustice, death, intolerance and persecution, and cosmic disintegration are all on the docket.   The worlds groans under the weight of the Fall. 

Kings and great ones, generals and the rich and powerful, for all they possess, offer nothing but despair.   Once victors, they are now victims.  In a dramatic scene, men flee from the wrath of the Lamb.  They would rather be crushed in caves than face God’s justice.   In hopelessness they cry out, “who can stand?”  For all their power they are powerless.  The weight of a fallen world is unbearable.  Who can stand?   

Though uttered in despair, this question is not without an answer.   The narrative of God’s unfolding judgement is paused by a remarkable picture of God’s grace.    Revelation 7 offers an interlude in the unfolding apocalypse.  And gives us a complementary vision of grace.  In wrath the Lord remembers mercy.   “Who can stand?”   Those who have the seal of the Living God, they will stand.   They stand victoriously in this world as the ‘Church Militant’ and in eternity before God’s throne as the ‘Church Triumphant.’  

Like characters in graphic novels, we too are marginalized by our sin.   Victims of Adam’s Fall and our own fallenness, we are dead in sins and transgressions.   “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” (Ephesians 2:4-5) 

By no power of our own, God graciously places in us a power greater than that in the world.    He makes victors out of victims.   He seals us with His Name and the Name of the Lamb, the name that is above every other name, the name that causes every knee to bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth.   Who can stand against those who are sealed with the Name of our God and of the Lamb?   No matter how the world tries to break those who belong to Jesus, they are unbreakable.   “God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: The Lord knows those who are his.” (2 Timothy 2:19)

Are you broken?  Does your world seem to be coming apart at the seams?  Have you thought, “can I stand?”   Those who belong to the Lamb will stand, now and forever.   Simply come to Jesus in faith and repentance.   You are invited.  He said, “come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) and “whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” (John 6:37)   Join us this week as we examine Revelation 7 and see how Jesus transforms the broken into the unbreakable.

We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm, outside on The Pavilion at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP or on YouTube.  For the Order of Service, click here.

Photo by Yogi Ramadhan on Unsplash

Getting Noticed

Getting Noticed

Epidemiologists not longer classify COVID as a pandemic.  Now, apparently, we are in an ‘endemic.’   A disease becomes ‘endemic’ when it “persists in a population or region, generally having settled to a relatively constant rate of occurrence.”  In other words, the virus has become a part of the furniture of life and is no longer ‘going viral.  

The phrase ‘going viral’ used to carry only bad connotations.   But social media has made ‘going viral’ the goal of influences, extroverts, and narcissists of all stripes.   It means you are getting noticed.   And most of us want to get noticed.   Our style, our vibe, our pursuits all tend toward this end.   We want to be seen, loved, valued, cherished.   Yes, even introverts want to get noticed.   They just don’t want to have to talk with anyone about it.  Even Solomon recognized this need in the Proverbs when he wrote.

Let another praise you, and not your own mouth;
    a stranger, and not your own lips. 

Proverbs 27:2

But there are times we don’t want to get noticed.   When we prefer anonymity.  Times we would like to be an Invisible Man.  When we want to say, do, or think things we shouldn’t.  Or when we don’t want others in our business.   We try to fly under the radar.  Or at least deceive ourselves that we can.   The hard reality is that we never live outside scrutiny.  

While the Orwellian suspicion that ‘Big Brother is watching’ is increasingly plausible, there is without a doubt, an Eternal Father who is.  Nothing escapes his gaze.  The things we want to go unnoticed are not.  And the things no one else seems to notice, are.    The Chronicler’s words are both encouragement and warning.

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.

2 Chronicles 16:9

Unbelievers hope God will not see.  Believers pray He will.   The temptation for both is to believe that God either cannot or prefers not to see and act.   But the Heavenly Father comforts his children with reminders that He sees, cares, and acts.    This theme repeatedly shows up in the tears and prayers of Psalmists.  

They pour out their arrogant words;
    all the evildoers boast.
They crush your people, O Lord,
    and afflict your heritage.
They kill the widow and the sojourner,
    and murder the fatherless;
and they say, “The Lord does not see;
    the God of Jacob does not perceive.”

Understand, O dullest of the people!
    Fools, when will you be wise?
He who planted the ear, does he not hear?
He who formed the eye, does he not see? 

Psalm 94:4-9

God does see.  God’s purposes are not thwarted.   He is not apathetic to the condition of the world.  The universe is not spiraling out of control.   Injustice does not have the upper hand.   Oppression is not the inevitable last word.   The English poet William Cowper struggled with God’s Providence.   His collaboration with John Newton on the Olney Hymns was repeatedly halted by bouts of deep depression.   Yet this collection, included some of the great hymns of the faith, including one which gave voice to Cowper’s own struggle.

God moves in a mysterious way,
    His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
    And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
    Of never failing skill;
He treasures up his bright designs,
    And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints fresh courage take,
    The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
    In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
    But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence,
    He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
    Unfolding ev’ry hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
    But sweet will be the flow’r.

Blind unbelief is sure to err,
    And scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
    And he will make it plain.

God Moves in a Mysterious Way, William Cowper

Whether you recognize it or not.  You are getting noticed.   There is one who sees.   Who cares.  Who acts.   Does this give you comfort?   Or does this terrorize you?   Are you afraid God sees you?  That nothing is hidden from him?  You need to know Jesus, the Worthy One, who endured God’s wrath and justice for what we hope God will not see in us.   Believe in him and when God looks at your sin, he will see only Jesus’ righteousness.    

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 

2 Corinthians 5:21

In Revelation 5, this Worthy One comes forward to take a scroll from the hand of God.  This scroll is the book of God’s eternal decrees – the unfolding of redemptive history.   As Jesus opens the sealed book in Revelation 6, a series of visions remind us that any apparent delays in God’s fulfillment of His redemptive plan for this world are just that – appearances.   God is at work.   Everything is unfolding just as He intended.   The unjust are getting justice.   The people of God have not been forsaken.   And God is winding down the old heavens and earth to make way for the new.   God sees.  He cares.  He acts.   And this is comfort when everything we see seems to say otherwise.

Join us this week as we examine Revelation 6 and find comfort in the reminder that, “the Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm, outside on The Pavilion at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP or on YouTube.  For the Order of Service, click here.

Worthy?

Worthy?

I confess, I don’t like to part with my brass.  I’m not a miser.   If a thing is needful and worth what it costs, I am all in.  But I don’t get there quickly or casually.   In this, I am my father’s son.    My childhood Saturdays were consumed by running errands with my dad.   We drove all over town, comparing market prices on Borkum-Riff pipe tobacco.   My father was not about the convenience buy.   Before Google, he used gasoline to fuel his comparison shopping.   He would agonize over simple purchases and use yellow legal pads to analyze his options.   He would not part with his brass unless he could prove it was worth it.  As Wendell Berry noted, for my Dad, “the Depression was not over and done, but merely absent for a while.”

We all want to know that the things that are truly costly in our lives are ‘worth it.’  Our education, vocations, investments – our love, our deepest commitments, are they worth it?  Are the things that cost the most, worth the cost?   While true that “to love any good thing at a cost, is a bargain.”  All too often, this perspective can only be discovered in retrospect.   In the middle of the costliness of loving any good thing, the yellow legal pads are constantly analyzing.  ‘Is it worth it?  Is he or she, worth it?’   

The angst of that question, ‘Is he worth it?’ puts its finger on the pulse.  Deep love is deeply costly.   Self-love, or selfish love, view this question as one of convenience not cost.   But love and costliness are directly proportional.  As one grows, so will the other.   “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13).   Love and costliness track together.   ‘Is it worth it?  Is he or she worthy?’  How many times have you spoken this to the darkness?

In his Messages to Seven Churches in Revelation, Jesus had hard words for his beloved bride, the church.   Her love for him is costly.   And growing even more costly.   She must face external threat and internal turmoil.   She is tempted to love herself more than Him.  Or to love Him less than herself.   She struggles with purity and commitment and the purity of her commitment.   She is often complacent, apathetic, and neglectful.   She questions whether, ‘to love Him at a cost, is a bargain.’   ‘It is worth it?  Is He Worthy?’   

We ask the same thing.   Not out loud of course.  But in the quiet hours and in Valleys of Shadow.  Following Christ is costly.   Bonhoeffer rightly wrote, “when Christ calls a man, He bids him to come and die.”   ‘Is He worth it?  Is He Worthy?’  God is kind and gentle with his children.   He knows our anxious thoughts.   The Revelation paints a dramatic picture of sacrifice and final victory.   Through it, God reveals ‘what is and what is to come.’  But the climax of this picture is not in its last brush-stroke, but in its first.  In Revelation 5, the real question is posed – the question that answers all others.  “Is He Worthy?”  And the answer?  “He is!”

Join us this week as we examine Revelation 5 and answer the question, ‘Is He Worthy?’  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm, outside on The Pavilion at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP or on YouTube.  For the Order of Service, click here.

On Being Lukewarm

On Being Lukewarm

It is always an error in judgement to guess what a congregation is thinking.  Even if they are giving verbal and non-verbal feedback, interpretation is a fool’s errand.   When it comes to an audience, what you see is definitely not what you get.   Swaying, or nodding or “that’s right” from enthusiasts does not mean they are dialed in.   And the inert crowd who spend the sermon staring at their shoes may not be checked out.   Just because someone seems asleep and another is saying “Amen!” does not mean you really know what is going on inside.

The deportment of a listener is often more about culture than comprehension.   Feedback does not mean the hearer is really hearing:  hearing with their ears, their minds, their hearts, or their souls.   Especially if the word lands a punch.    It is easy to zealously agree when a speaker brings hard truth for the guy in the next seat.  But when it is our turn, will we listen?   How loud is our “Amen” then?

How willing are you to say “Amen” when a hard word hits home?   When it penetrates the pretense?  And divides the deepest thoughts and intents of the heart?   The message to the Church in Laodicea in Revelation 3 is familiar.   They are the lukewarm church.  

“‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”

This church was lukewarm.   Not frigid, nor on fire.   They were middling, going through the motions, not getting too excited about Jesus, God, or the Bible.   No fanatics here.   No controversies either.  Nothing but moderation.   And while we say, “moderation in all things,” the lukewarmness of the Laodicean Church made Jesus sick to his stomach.   He is sickened by their complacency and contentment with a “form of godliness” but with no pursuit of its power.

Jesus knows their works – but none are worth mentioning.   Their only noteworthy work is that they are not what they should be.   Not very impressive.   The Church in Laodicea is the only one of the Seven Churches to receive no positive praise – only rebuke.   Not because they are a Synagogue of Satan.  Nor because they have failed to discipline heretics or silence false teachers.   But because in Laodicea, “just enough is good enough” when it comes to following Christ.  

There is no concern to grow in the knowledge and grace of the Lord Jesus.   They are content with what they have, who they have, and how they have always done things.    Then top that off with a stunning lack of spiritual self-awareness.  “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.”

What if we made such a statement?   “We are rich in our faith and need nothing.   We don’t need anything or anyone else.  We are content with our spiritual progress.   We love our little group, just as it is.  We are comfortable with things the way they are.  We don’t see any point in stirring the pot by getting all hot and bothered about Jesus.”   The Laodiceans think they have it all together.  But Jesus offers a stinging rebuke.  In a city famed in the ancient world for its ophthalmology, they could not have been more blind.  

They have laid up treasure, but are not rich toward God.  Spiritually they are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.   But not just them.  This is the assessment of all who are lukewarm toward Christ.   Content that “just enough is good enough.”  Who have no desire to pursue and follow Christ.

Are you content with your relationship to Christ?   Is just enough, good enough for you?   Are you hot?  Or cold?  Or lukewarm?   The Lord speaks a hard word.   He is “The Amen.”   He is the faithful and genuine witness.  He has a hard but faithful word for a soft and unfaithful church.   Will we hear it?  Or will we bow up or turn a deaf ear.

Jesus’ word is sharp, but something tender shines through his rebuke.    Christ does not cut this church loose, take their lampstand, or cast them away.   Instead, he calls them back.   “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline.”   In the ancient language, he used a word for love that declares tender affection for those indifferent toward Him.  

They have everything they need from church but have put Christ outside.   He stands at his own door and knocks.   What about us?  Have we been so satisfied with our church, our programs, our fellowship, our spiritual pursuits, that we have pushed Jesus out of the center?  And even out of the church?   If we are pursuing something other than Christ, we too are growing lukewarm.

An account Scottish pastor, Ebenezer Erskine, illustrates this well.

A lady who was present at the observance of the Lord’s Supper, where Ebenezer Erskine was assisting, was much impressed by his discourse. Having been informed who he was, she went next Sabbath to his own place of worship to hear him. But she felt none of those strong impressions she experienced on the former occasion. Wondering at this, she called on Erskine, and stating the case, asked what might be the reason of such a difference in her feelings; he replied, ‘Madam, the reason is this—last Sabbath you went to hear Jesus Christ; but to-day, you have come to hear Ebenezer Erskine.’

Who do we come to church to see?  What do we come to worship?  Who will we follow?   Whose love constrains and animates us?   If the answer is not ‘Jesus’ you might want to take your temperature.   Are you growing lukewarm?   Join us this week as we consider Revelation 3:14-21 and consider the diagnosis and the remedy for lukewarm Christianity.

We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm at The Arkansas DreamCenter at 1116 Daisy L Gatson Bates Drive in Little Rock for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP or on YouTube.  For the Order of Service, click here.

Photo by Kane Reinholdtsen on Unsplash

The Open Door

The Open Door

I grew up in a culturally diverse community.    Nowhere was this more evident than at the Belvedere Plaza Theater.   In the age before Netflix and Hulu we caught the latest flicks on the big screen.   At the Belvedere, watching a movie was a true communal experience.   The audience was fully engaged.   We did not merely watch the drama unfold.   We advised, chided, and cheered the characters, especially if the movie was suspenseful.    The Dolby surround-sound was drowned out by cries of “Girl! Don’t you go in there!”  And “don’t you do it.  You know he’s gonna get you.”  Every warning louder and more earnest than the one before.

Hapless teens strolling through abandoned campgrounds were always walking through doors better left alone.   They clearly needed our counsel.  And my little theater community was not shy about warning them, loudly and colorfully, to watch out and keep out.  Everyone knew that an open door led to nothing good. 

We all have a fear of open doors.   Yes, they represent opportunity, but they also represent uncertainty.   Uncertainty about what is ahead of us and uncertainty about what is inside of us.  We never know what is behind the next door.    Or how we will handle it.   But the open doors we often fear the most, are those the Lord opens.  

Though opened by the Lord who loves us through all eternity, who gives us life and works all things for our good, we struggle to shake off the fear that we know more about our happiness than He does.   That it is somehow a divine trap.  He opens a door that no man can shut.  But will we follow Him to it and through it?  

The message to the Church in Philadelphia in Revelation 3 is remarkable.   Christ has no word of condemnation, only commendation for this church.   His message to them is filled with the imagery of the open door.  He is the Lord who holds the keys.  He is the one who opens doors which no one can close and closes those which no man can open.   Philadelphia was founded as a gateway city — not to defend the Greek cities to the west, but to evangelize peoples of the east with Greek life and culture.   And now the Lord has a more important gospel for the Philadelphian Christians to carry.    

He calls them to the open door.  Doors in the Bible often represent new opportunities for ministry, but they also represent the path from life to death and from loneliness into community.   All these things are part of Christ’s call come to and through the door he has opened.  For Christ not only opens the door but, John’s gospel tells us, He is the door – the way, the truth, and the life.    He is the only way for us to come to the Father, find real community, and pursue a life of meaning and purpose. 

He has opened a door which no man can shut.  Are you afraid to go through it?    Join us this week as we examine the message to the Church in Philadelphia from Revelation 3:7-12 and consider the call to follow Christ through the open door.   

We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm at The Arkansas DreamCenter at 1116 Daisy L Gatson Bates Drive in Little Rock for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP or on YouTube. For the Order of Service, click here.