Empowerment

Empowerment

The things we create to serve us often become the most unrelenting tyrants.  Designed to empower us with the promise of greater choice and productivity, technology often leaves us feeling powerless.  Our smartphones daily outsmart us.  Automated customer service can chat with us about every question we don’t need answered, while ruthlessly blocking us from speaking with any real human.  The great promise of personal empowerment often comes with a profound sense of powerlessness.  Perhaps this is why we love superhero stories.

The best superheroes appeal to us, because most days they are ordinary people just like us.  They have their struggles, their weaknesses, and their tragic backstories.  But they have something else.  Something that, when put on, eaten, or spoken, turns them from victim to victor and empowers them to save the world.  As a boy, I was not a big fan of Marvel comics, but I did like Popeye.  Popeye endured a lot of abuse at the hands of Bluto, but when the chips were down and Olive Oyl was in grave danger, Popeye rose to the moment through the transformative power of canned spinach.

But why spinach?  Apparently, in 1870, Erich von Wolf, a German chemist, examined the amount of iron within spinach.  In recording his findings, he accidentally misplaced a decimal point, changing the iron content in spinach by an order of magnitude. While there are actually only 3.5 milligrams of iron in a 100-gram serving of spinach, the accepted fact became 35 milligrams. Once this incorrect number was printed, spinach’s nutritional value became legendary as a proto-superfood.  So, when Popeye was created, studio executives recommended he eat spinach for his strength, due to its vaunted health properties. Apparently, Popeye helped increase American consumption of spinach by a third!

Spinach is indeed a superfood, but it cannot empower us face failure, discouragement, and even death with courage and conviction.  For that, something far more powerful is needed –encouragement.  Every Christian believer has the unbreakable promises of reconciliation with God, eternal life and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but the enemy of our soul is a crafty worm who masterfully speaks into our deepest self-doubt and fear with the only lie he knows – “Did God really say?”  But God uses the work and words of encouragers in our lives to break the hold Satan’s lie has over us.  This is why we are commanded to “encourage one another and build each other up.”

As the Apostle Paul nears the end of his life, he writes a final letter to his son in the faith, Timothy.  His first letter was filled with instructions about how to order life in the Christian community, the Church. But this second letter is one of personal encouragement for a young man facing setbacks in his ministry.  The word encouragement means literally to “infuse with courage.”  And this is exactly what Paul does.  He speaks tenderly, yet boldly into the life of his young friend, reminding him that he is not alone, that there is a bigger picture than his circumstances, and that God has given him all the gifts he needs to serve faithfully and effectively.  Spinach is a superfood, but encouragement is empowerment.  Who is your encourager?  And who are you encouraging?

Join us this Lord’s Day, February 17, as we begin our study of 2 Timothy and consider our calling to be encouragers.  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.

Family Resemblance

Family Resemblance

Long before social media took up the mantle as spokesman for cliché Christianity, the church sign attempted to carry the torch.  Church signs are notorious haunts for heretical theology, inflammatory rhetoric, and worn out puns.   Like the writer’s empty page, church signs are literary tyrants, always demanding concise, profound, and engaging posts.  Rarely does one hit this mark.  Often, they do not even hit the target.   But not too long ago, I saw a church sign that resonated with me.   “If God is our Father, then shouldn’t there be a family resemblance?”

While not a novel thought, it is a powerful word.   The scripture reminds us that it is God’s will for us to be conformed to the image of Christ, the only begotten and beloved Son.  We are also called to be “imitators of God as dearly loved children.”  And in John 8, Jesus calls out the Pharisees when he points out that the testimony of their lives contradicts their claim to be children of Abraham and Sons of God.  Like a skillful prosecutor, Jesus builds the case that they resemble Satan more than God and then makes a stunning summation.

You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. John 8:44

How well do we resemble our Heavenly Father?  As others examine our lives, as they certainly will, what conclusion will they draw about our Father’s identity?  While imitating someone does not make us their child, being someone’s child will inevitably lead to imitation.   As Paul concludes the first letter to Timothy, his son in the faith, he warns him — “keep a close watch on yourself and your doctrine.”  Timothy must not imitate self-serving false teachers of Ephesus, but must remember that he is a “man of God” whose life should draw a sharp contrast to men who pursue religion for their own gain.   As he closes his letter, Paul points out some hallmarks of the Christian life – hallmarks that are not just for Timothy, but for you and I as well.

Join us this Lord’s Day, February 3, as we examine 1 Timothy 6:11-16 and consider what it means for us to bear a family resemblance as children of the King.  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.

Greener Grass

Greener Grass

The grass is always greener on the other side.  Isn’t that what they say?  But, by now I’m sure you have learned that this is only an optical illusion, a trick of perspective.  Because when the “other side” becomes “this side,” the maxim still holds true – the grass is greener on the other side – and back we go.

No doubt you have experienced this effect at the grocery store.  Your line is moving at glacial speed.  The manager call light is blinking.  You are tenth in line behind someone recharging a prepaid phone card with the contents of their spare-change jar.   Then you see it – the express lane.  Moving rapidly, only three customers, with fewer than ten items each.  You know better, but you can’t resist the urge to switch lanes.  Immediately you realize your folly as your new queue-mates bog down in a quagmire of spills, missing bar codes, and declined debit cards.

Like a cow, craning her neck through a barbed-wire fence for grass no different from the field in which she stands, the search for contentment can seem futile.   We can’t stop believing the grass is really greener on the other side.   And so, we are always moving on to another thing, another person, another place, trying to find what we can’t describe, but think we would know if we found it.

But discontentment is the inevitable result of stuffing moth and rust into the eternal longings.  Temporal things – relationships, possessions and experiences — can never satisfy eternal needs.  There is nothing wrong with relationships, possessions, and experiences.  These supply our needs and bring great delight.  But they will never be enough.  If we pin our hopes on them to give rest to our restlessness, we will be disappointed and discontent.  English pastor and author, John Stott, wrote.

 “Possessions are the traveling luggage of time; they are not the stuff of eternity.  It would be sensible therefore to travel light.”

And an even older pastor, Augustine of Hippo, famously confessed.

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”

Join us this Lord’s Day, January 27, as we examine 1 Timothy 6:3-10 and consider the toxic effects of discontentment and the effective prescription for contentment.  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.

Slaving Away

Slaving Away

My dad was “old school.” A child of the depression, he believed firmly in the value of child labor – especially mine. I had weekly chores for which I was paid, if I did them in a way that passed his rigorous requirements. By the pay was meager, especially when compared to the gratuitous, labor-free allowances received by most of my middle-class peers. During the summer I mowed the grass for $2 per mowing and during the fall I raked 1.3 billion leaves, working pro bono. Now, as an adult with a healthy work ethic and ability to appreciate the value of money in terms of the labor required to earn it, I am thankful that my dad was “old-school.”

But at the time, my thoughts of my dad’s parenting were not so charitable. I remember mowing the grass with our rickety push mower, glancing toward the neighbor’s yard where my friend was playing ball while his mother did the mowing. Now there was liberation I could get on board with, I thought. I recall actually thinking to my self that my dad treated me like a slave, that I had to “slave away” at yard work under a broiling Georgia summer sun, while my friend lived a carefree childhood of leisure and comfort.

Had I paid attention to the numerous passages in the Bible which speak to the work and attitude of slaves — both actual slaves and those who fancy themselves to be slaves like myself — perhaps I would have gained a heart of wisdom as a child. But like many who hear the Bible’s teaching on slavery, slaves and masters, I foolishly relegated it to what I believed were a collection of things in the Bible which have nothing to do with me.

The Bible deals very honestly with the issue of slavery and all the subtle forms it takes. While many today are impatient with the Bible’s apparent lack of forceful denunciation of slavery, they fail to recognize that the Bible is thoroughly opposed to slavery from beginning to end. Yet like many other things that arise from the darkness of men’s hearts, the Bible also prescribes pastoral instruction and care for those caught up in social injustices. Nowhere is this precept seen more clearly than Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:3-9 regarding the issue of divorce. The Bible does not condone or prescribe divorce, but it does regulate it and mercifully offer it to protect those suffering under the hardness of men’s hearts.

Beyond this, the Bible’s pastoral exhortations to slaves and masters or employees and employers instruct us how to do our work, no matter what the conditions, “as unto the Lord.” And it reminds us that there are, in fact, a great many people who are enslaved through human trafficking — 40+ million in 2018 — and that the Church must work tirelessly, evangelically, and socially, to eradicate this great evil.

These are all important applications, but above all, the Bible’s instruction to Christian slaves illustrates how we are to serve our Lord. We delight in calling Jesus our Savior, and rightly so. But if He is our Savior, then He is also our Lord. Christ delivered us from the slavery of sin, but as Christians we are His bond-servants, transferred from one kingdom to another. Paul points this out explicitly in 1 Corinthians 7:23

For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise, he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ.

One ancient pastor drives this point home, commenting on Paul’s instructions to slaves from 1 Timothy 6:1-2.

But if he exhorts servants to render such implicit obedience, consider what ought to be our disposition towards our Master, who brought us into existence out of nothing, and who feeds and clothes us. If in no other way then, let us render Him service at least as our servants render it to us. Do not they order their whole lives to afford rest to their masters, and is it not their work and their life to take care of their concerns? Are they not all day long engaged in their masters’ work, and only a small portion of the evening in their own? But we, on the contrary, are ever engaged in our own affairs, [yet] in our Master’s hardly at all. –John Chrysostom

Join us this Lord’s Day, January 13, as we examine what the Bible has to say about slavery, slaves and masters and consider what this means for us today. 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.

Assembly Required

Assembly Required

When my older children were small, gifts from mom and dad would often come with the disclaimer – “some assembly required,” three words that can be loosely translated, “frustration ahead.”  Christmas Eves became all-nighters, as I contended with the angst of too few screws or the uncertainty of too many, as I grappled with the apparent difficulties of translating Chinese instructions into English, and as I labored tediously through my own mechanical ineptitude.

Now, however, the work of getting parental gifts ready for use has shifted from Christmas Eve to Christmas Day, as the digital world has replaced the mechanical one.   I spend hours setting up accounts, reviewing permissions strategies, implementing parental controls and tightening, loosing and then tightening access again to internet sites and app stores.  Then, once all the prep work is done, the gifts must be integrated into the business of living.  The children and I must launch out into the brave new world of when, how, and how long you can, may and should use these gifts.  This is nothing new of course.  Any gift can radically change your life if you use it.  But this change does not happen overnight.  We have to learn how to wrap our lives around that gift.

If this is true of the consuming power of digital gifts such as a smart phone, tablet or computer, consider how much more it is true of the greatest gift we can receive – the gift of a Savior.  That gift changes everything about how we live, who we are, and where we are going.  When we receive Christ, we must wrap not only our minds, but our lives around Him.

The story of the coming of Christ in the Incarnation is the most dramatic story ever told.  While it reaches a beautiful high point with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, 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.  It is a story that engages us every day, and in every way imaginable.  Consequently, when Luke writes the account of Jesus birth in his gospel, he does not simply pan out from the manger and slowly fade the story from the image of Mary pondering and treasuring in her heart.   He gives two more vignettes of Jesus childhood which give deep insight into what it costs to receive Jesus into your life.

Join us this Lord’s Day, December 30, as we examine the first of these stories – the story of Jesus’ dedication in the temple and the words of Simeon and Anna as we consider what it means to wrap our lives around the gospel.  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 or download the order of service. Come with a friend you and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

 

Unlikely Converts

Unlikely Converts

Nothing keeps Christ in Christmas like our annual viewing of The Lord of the Rings.  Now before you accuse me of sarcasm or heresy, consider that Tolkien’s Christian worldview shines brightly through every line of his books as well as through all twelve hours of the extended versions of Peter Jackson’s adaptation.  Against all odds, as the irresistible darkness, oppression and malice of a Dark Lord covers the world in shadow and sorrow, salvation comes to the ruined race of men from the most unlikely of heroes.   Like all great epic tales, great odds are overcome and great courage is exercised as common men perform uncommon deeds.

Tolkien’s magnum opus is filled with many nuggets of wisdom, spoken at salient points.  In one exchange, the main character, Frodo laments, “I wish the ring had never come to me,” as bearing it had become unbearable.  His friend, Gandalf responds, “So do all who live to see such times.  But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’”  But not all the quotable quotes have such gravitas.  Gimli, a dwarf, who provides no end of comic relief, quips when facing the prospect of a futile frontal assault on the Dark Lord’s stronghold, “certainty of death, small chance of success – what are we waiting for?”

The Lord of the Rings is a powerful story of courage, friendship, and redemption, eclipsed only by what its author once called “the only true myth” – the gospel.  The gospel is a story that is so unlikely, in which common men, empowered by faith, perform uncommon deeds and in which the ruined race of men is gloriously redeemed by a mighty hero, who took on the form of a servant and humbled himself, even to death on a cross.   The gospel is a story of unlikely converts, not of men whose moral excellence made them acceptable to God or earned his favor, nor men of power whose mighty deeds destroyed the power of their great enemies, death and the devil.  No, the gospel is a story of the weak and powerless, snatched as burning brands from the fire.

Nowhere is this seen more powerfully than in Luke 2 – a passage sometimes called, “the Christmas story.”   Here the Lord of glory is born into quiet obscurity while 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!   Luther once wrote that “the gospel is in the personal pronouns.”  Like them, if we hope to receive God’s goodwill and favor because of our works, then we are sorely mistaken.  But the good news is that a savior has been born to us, Christ the Lord.  For you see, we are all the most unlikely of converts!

Join us this Lord’s Day, December 16, as we examine the story of the shepherds in Luke 2 and consider God’s powerful plan to save the most unlikely of converts.  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.