Under Pressure

Under Pressure

My father’s favorite poem, Rudyard Kipling’s “If-“, begins and ends with the following lines that have always resonated with me.

If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:…
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

I admire those who are cool under pressure – neurosurgeons, fighter pilots, and mothers of small children.   While neurosurgeons and fighter pilots are trained to anticipate fast-moving crises, mothers daily face a host of unforeseeable emergencies.  No one can predict where a small child will climb, what he will find and then eat, or what deep existential questions she will ask.  Men, remember this when you ask your wife, ‘how was your day?  what did you do today?’ — brace yourselves.   Whatever challenges you overcame were child’s play compared to the ones fielded by your children’s mother.

I am always in awe of how my wife handles the moment of crisis.  She may be rattled to the core, but she never lets it show.  She is all business.  Assessing damage, applying relief, anticipating the next step and dialing back everyone else’s drama, even if her own is skyrocketing.   Her faith in God’s goodness, wisdom and providence is daily put to the test and refined into a thing of growing beauty and strength. Struggle is good. But it is still struggle.  It does not merit us anything, but it may mentor us.  Struggle is the agency of refinement. James, the brother of the Jesus, put it this way.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.  James 1:2-4

Crisis is an unavoidable part of life in a fallen world.  We try out best to avoid it.  We have text and app alerts for weather, bank balances, family location or status changes, hoping to get ahead of a situation before it escalates.  We have more news feeds than Reuters, keeping us abreast of developing stories.  We insulate our lives with insurance, security systems, backup power, and our “emergency fund.”  After all, Dave Ramsey assures us that those with an “emergency fund” don’t have emergencies.   But what about those crises that are bigger than our plans or our preparation?  Crises like financial ruin, sickness and death, irreconcilable estrangements, and even national and natural disasters?  Crises which penetrate to the depths of our souls.  How do we manage when the crises are unmanageable?

Jeremiah was called to a ministry of crisis.  From his calling to his conclusion, Jeremiah’s life and ministry was one of sorrow and struggle.  He was a man of great faith in the midst of a faithless generation, called to preach judgment to his beloved people.  But as we read through Jeremiah’s preaching, as well as his emotional confessions and lamentations, we see a man who was,

never a dispassionate observer of his nation’s sufferings, but entered into the anguish of the people and suffered with them….  [He bore] a message of divine judgement while at the same time sharing the sufferings of the people…. [He was a man] torn asunder between God and the people, to both of whom [he] was bound with deep ties.    The Book of Jeremiah, J. A. Thompson

As God’s people suffer His gracious, Fatherly discipline for their unrepentance and idolatry, Jeremiah struggles along with them.  And by observing his struggle, the Lord sets before us warning and direction as we wrestle with God’s chastening.  What will God’s refining work provoke in us?  Bitterness?  Accusation? Presumption?  Growing hardness?  Faith and repentance? Lustrous silver? Or only dross?

Join us this Sunday, January 12, as we examine Jeremiah 14 and consider how the prophet’s lament in a time of crisis warns and instructs us as we respond to God’s refining work.  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.

Roadblocks

Roadblocks

It is a mathematical certainty that convenience and freedom are inversely proportional.  As one increases, the other decreases.  While it is convenient to use your iPhone to pay for your groceries, refill your prescriptions online, and conduct all your social and commercial activity through a device, those devices have a long memory.  Your digital footprints are never washed away by rain or wind.   What you gain in convenience, you lose in privacy.  And a loss of privacy is always, at some point, a loss of freedom.  Some of this you can control, some you cannot.

The explosive deployment of security cameras and “smart” devices which listen to your digital and audible conversation are things you cannot control well.  The potential that exists to surveil and be surveilled is staggering.   I don’t know if Big Brother is watching, but chances are someone is.   But that loss in privacy, whether consciously or unconsciously, also comes with some remarkable gains in terms of convenience and knowledge.   We have virtually instant access to the current state of our finances, our work, our family member’s location, the temperature, humidity, and occupants of our home, and even the comfort or discomfort of our pets.   And, thanks to the Arkansas Department of Transportation, we can see all the roadblocks awaiting us on the highways and byways.

Arkansas roadways are characterized by three variables that make roadblocks a probability, if not a certainty – a high commercial to personal vehicle ratio, utterly non-intuitive and highly fluid construction zones, and the incomprehensible mystery of merge ramps and four-ways stops to the populace at-large.  In the face of these challenges, Idrivearkansas.com has given us the power to navigate and overcome traffic jams, roadway accidents, construction zones, snow and ice, and even flooded highways.  But what about the other road blocks we face in life?  Discouragement, grief, physical and emotional limitations, self-doubt, insecurity, unforeseen circumstances, and most significantly, our own sin and selfishness.

The writer to the Hebrews exhorts us to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”  But what if that race has pitfalls, hurdles, stiff competitors, weakness, and weariness?   It sounds so simple, but how can we navigate the roadblocks that will inevitably appear in 2020?   The rest of the verse gives the answer.

…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2

The good news, the gospel, announced at Christmas is that God has not left us in an estate of sin and misery, but offers deliverance through a Redeemer.  A Redeemer who removed all the roadblocks that alienate us from God and one another, the insurmountable ones – sin and death.  This gospel is the power to push through, over, and around these roadblocks.   It not only navigates eternal life, but life here and now.

What roadblocks await you this year?  Some, you may know or anticipate. Some are known only to God but will catch you by surprise.  How will you navigate them?  Notice what the passage above says.  It is not faith in ourselves or our abilities that allows us to push through, to run with perseverance.   But it is faith in the one who has already pushed through and run with perseverance on our behalf.    Resolutions are good, but mere resolve will not overcome what lies ahead.  May the Lord grant you faith in the One who has already overcome and so, make you an overcomer as well.

Join us this Lord’s Day, January 5, as we begin 2020 by looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  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.

The Seasonal Aisle

The Seasonal Aisle

There was a time in the not so distant past, when helpful associates at the local discount mega-store were truly helpful.   They were plentifully deployed, clearly identified, and well trained to help you navigate the labyrinth of every-day-low-prices.   Rather than simply quote “aisle and shelf” when asked about a product, they would personally guide you to what you sought.  But those are bygone days.  Now, if you are able to find someone who confesses to be an employee, asking a real poser like, “where will I find the ginger” you may be told, “I don’t think we have that, it’s seasonal.”    “It’s seasonal” is code-speak for “I don’t know what your asking, I don’t know where it might be, and I don’t want to help you find it.”   The seasonal aisle is the default destination for wayward retail pilgrims and the default answer to every inquiry by new-world retail associates.

The seasonal aisle also defines the parameters of our celebrations.  With festival calendars indexed to retail sales, it is aisle 13 that heralds the time to start and stop all holiday observance.   Valentines begins at 5:00 pm on December 25 and lasts until 5:00 pm on February 13, when Easter takes over until it gives way to Mother’s Day, the Fourth of July, Halloween and then Christmas again.   We spin — always moving toward the sign, but never resting in the things signified.  The seasonal aisle tells us when to decorate and undecorate, how to celebrate, and how to move on.   This artificial cycle of celebration is calculated to keep us in a state of longing.  Like chasing a rainbow or a mirage on a hot summer day, you never get to that place you strive to reach.   As soon as you think you are there, the next season is set out on the seasonal aisle and the men of Vanity Fair command us, “buy, buy our merchandise!”

This is especially true of the Christmas season.  With all of its hype and décor, it comes and goes and then dumps us out into the cold, dark, grey of January.   We long for its hope, peace, love and joy to last, but the seasonal aisle tells us to move on.   But perhaps we need to look elsewhere for our direction.   While the Bible speaks of feasts and special celebrations, God has established a weekly celebration that invites us to abide, dwell, and rest in all the great mysteries to which these celebrations point.  The invitation is not for us to hurriedly pass through one season and then another, but to abide in the One in whom all those feasts find fulfillment.   Our seasonal celebrations point to the great ideas of love, freedom, relationships, sacrifice and joy.  But the Lord’s Day invites us to love and be loved, find deeper freedom, and experience transcendent joy all through a relationship with the one who reconciled us to an Eternal God through powerful sacrifice.   How do we make Christmas and Easter last throughout the year?  How do we avoid the post-holiday blues that come from sensing that holding on to the feelings of the season is like trying to grasp oil?   Simple, by delighting to know the One signified rather than being content just to observe the sign.  And by learning to index our lives to the Lord’s Day, not to the Seasonal Aisle.

During this Christmas season, perhaps you have mediated on the great texts of scripture that speak of the Incarnation; Luke 1-2, Matthew 1-2, John 1, Philippians 2, Colossians 1, and too many passages to reference from Isaiah and Hebrews.  The angel’s word to the shepherds is also for you, “For unto you is born this day in the City of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”   You have no doubt, heard the promise and received its invitation.   But have your received and rested in the One promised?  The promise of this “great mystery, Christ manifest in the flesh,” is not to receive merely hope, peace, love and joy, but rather to receive Christ, Himself.   The Reformers were fond of saying, “to know Christ, is to know His benefits.”  Only by receiving Him will those benefits follow.  Apart from Him they are just a mist, that appears for a little while and then is gone.

Join us this Lord’s Day, December 29, as we examine Colossians 2:6-7 and consider how to receive and walk in the great offer this season declares.  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.

Real

Real

The great irony of children’s literature is that the simplest stories often convey the most complex ideas.  Without a doubt, the world’s most compelling philosophy is found, not on the professor’s bookshelf, but in the children’s section of the local library.   As every adult quickly recognizes, Dr. Seuss is about more than mind-boggling rhythm and rhyme and Richard Scarry’s Busytown has its finger on the pulse of the human condition.   Children’s books are not afraid to tackle existential angst.   In The Velveteen Rabbit, nursery room toys ponder what it means to be “real.”

“Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

‘Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

‘Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

‘It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

In a world where masks are common and authenticity is rare, the wisdom of the Skin Horse is powerful.  We often view our heroes and role models through idealized caricature.  Yet, as they take on a mythic quality, they become more irrelevant and less real.   The mythic figure may influence, but the one who is real makes us who we are.

This is especially true when it comes to the Bible.  There is a subtle temptation to mythologize its stories, particularly the stories of Jesus.   When we consider the stories of Jesus’ nativity only at the holidays, it is easy to conceive of Jesus as just another character in a seasonal story or as an ideal, allegorical man.  But just as the Bible contends that Jesus was fully God, it contends that he was fully man – a real man, flesh and blood, body and soul.   Real in every sense of the word.   He passed through every experience and temptation of human life, except sin.  That fact that He is real makes us who we are.  The author of Hebrews writes.

Therefore, he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.  Hebrews 2:16-17

The Heidelberg Catechism, a time-tested set of questions and answers drawn from Scripture to teach the basics of the Christian faith,  goes even further, pointing beyond the fact or Jesus’ humanity to the necessity of it.

Q16. Why must [Our Redeemer] be a true and sinless man?
Because the justice of God requires, that the same human nature which has sinned should make satisfaction for sin; but no man, being himself a sinner, could satisfy for others

Join us this Sunday, December 1 as we examine Hebrews 2:10-18 and consider the necessity of Jesus being a real man.   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.

Looking for Something More

Looking for Something More

My father delighted in drama.  He was an avid story-teller who knew how to create suspense.   He masterfully drew listeners to the precipice of a story’s climax.  He was often called upon to speak publicly, especially at celebratory or ceremonial occasions.  With carefully chosen words, he lent gravity and significance to every proceeding, no matter how small or common. The natural drama that surrounds the holiday season especially primed my father’s pump.

Christmas Eve brought convergence to my father’s love of suspense.  Before bed, we set out chocolate pie for Santa.   Then Daddy would pull out his giant reel-to-reel recorder and conduct interviews with my sisters and me. With a news reporter’s demeanor, he would conduct his man-on-the-street interview, probing our expectations for the day ahead.  As we prepared for bed, he scanned across oceans of static on his transistor radio for reports from NORAD about an unidentified inbound object over the Bering Sea.  We were never sure which was imminent – Santa Claus or nuclear holocaust?   Every detail of the evening was calculated to create suspense by asking the same question.  “When we wake in the morning, if we wake, will we encounter wonder or disappointment?”

My father knew this was never a settled question for me.  He knew that sometime in the night, I would wake and slip, as noiselessly as an eight year-old can, into the living room where all things Christmas were contained. He knew I would investigate the pie plate then the wing-back chair which was the designated landing spot for the evidence of my goodness in the preceding year.  The pie plate looked like a crime scene and in the chair were many good things, but not every good thing.  Something was always missing.   The big item on my list – that something more — was never there.   Even as he slept, my father created suspense.

In the morning after Santa’s gifts were examined and family gifts were exchanged, just as my mother was getting up to begin lunch preparations, my father would notice something out of place, stuck in an unused corner or fallen behind some furniture.  With great fanfare and musings of “what is this” and “where did that come from,” he produced ‘something more.’

Christmas is often a season which leaves us looking for something more.  Our expectations are high, but our celebrations rarely deliver everything we seek.  And even when we take to heart Linus’ words to Charlie Brown that Christmas is about the birth of a Savior, we are left wondering what type of Savior He is.  Is He a mere teacher, who increased the demands of the law from mere outward conformity, to the perfect obedience of heart, mind, soul and strength?  Is He a mere example, come to demonstrate to us how to love and sacrifice for one another?  Is He a revolutionary who incites us to throw off convention and tradition?  Or should we look for something more?

The men of Jesus’ day were asking these same questions.  As the popularity of John the Baptist grew, a delegation of religious leaders questioned him about his identity. While they were busy comparing John with their own expectations, John provoked them to look for something more — more than a political and religious radical, but one who was God and Man, the Coming King of Kings, and the Lamb of God who takes away sin.   John pointed them not to one who could teach them about deliverance, but who alone could deliver them.   What kind of Savior are you looking for?

The Heidelberg Catechism, a time-tested set of questions and answers designed to teach the basics of the Christian faith,  prepares us to ask this question.  By pointing out saviors who can’t save, it asks.

Q15. What manner of mediator and redeemer then must we seek? A: One who is a true and sinless man, and yet more powerful than all creatures, that is, one who is at the same time true God. 

Join us this Sunday, November 24 as we examine John 1:19-34 and consider what type of Savior we are seeking and to what we are pointing 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.

Count Down

Count Down

Our vacation to Melbourne Beach, Florida was filled with expected and unexpected high points.  The beach, the weather, the manatees, and our hosts’ phenomenal hospitality were all amazing.  But among the unexpected high points were the nesting sea turtles, viewing the construction site for SpaceX’s Starship and visiting the American Space Museum and Space Walk of Fame.   With its awkwardly long name and very small building, on a quiet side street in Titusville, Florida, the American Space Museum and Space Walk of Fame did not seem very promising at first glance.  Oh, how wrong that assessment proved to be!

The museum’s collection of NASA artifacts and memorabilia is prodigious, but its greatest treasures are its volunteers, many of whom were career NASA employees.   Their depth of knowledge, experience, and perspective about all things NASA was worth any price of admission.   You quickly discover that these unassuming docents are retired rocket scientists and electrical engineers.  Even some of the guests had remarkable stories.  One woman we met designed and fabricated the heat tiles, as well as the heat resistant quilted lining, for the STS (Space Shuttle) vehicles.

An entire room was required to house the carefully restored  computer used to synchronize the countdown for all the Saturn V and Atlas rocket launches.  After all, nothing is more essential to a rocket launch than the countdown.   But countdowns not only sequence the details of a rocket launch.  They also conduct and heighten expectations surrounding the important events of our lives.

As a child, once Halloween had passed, I could give anyone who asked an accurate countdown to Christmas.  Even now in our family, the beloved Advent calendar is an important part of our Christmas décor and observance.  But in all the excitement of counting down the days to Christmas are we preparing ourselves as much for the reality of the Incarnation as we do for the remembrance of it?

It is easy to confuse the remembrance with the realities of the great mystery of Christ manifest in the flesh.   Perhaps this is why so often when December 25 passes, a sense of unfulfillment and drear settles upon us.  We vested confidence in the celebration and not the thing celebrated.  Then predictably it fails to deliver. And our holiday peace, hope, and joy get stored away in the attic with the lights and greenery.

God spent thousands of years preparing mankind for the coming of Christ.   The countdown begins in the book of Genesis.  Even as God was pronouncing the curse of the Fall, He was also promising a redeemer.  He gave the people sacrifices and law and ceremony, designed to teach them how salvation would be provided — ceremonies that painted a vivid picture of sins curse and its cure.  Yet these ceremonies had no power to save through mere religious observance.   So, scripture warns about the insufficiency of mere creatures to save.

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.  Hebrews 10:1-4

And again,

… you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ. 1 Peter 1:18-19

Men predictably confused faith in the promise with faith in the practice.  Just as we often confuse celebration with substance, and remembrances with realities, God’s ancient people put their hope for redemption in mere creatures rather than in the Redeemer, God had promised.   Our Heidelberg Catechism warns us not to follow their ruinous example when it asks.

Can any mere creature make satisfaction for us?  None: for first, God will not punish, in any other creature, that of which man has made himself guilty; and further, no mere creature can sustain the burden of God’s eternal wrath against sin, and redeem others therefrom.  Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 5, Question 14.

The countdown is on.  Christmas is a little more than 5 weeks away.  What are you preparing for?  Are you preparing for the reality of the Incarnation, or trusting merely in annual remembrance to provide peace, joy and hope? Join us this Sunday, November 17 as we examine Hebrews 10:1-18 and consider the danger of seeking redemption from created things, including our holidays, traditions, religious observance, celebrations or family.     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.

Debt Free

Debt Free

Mathematics has placed this Thanksgiving as late in November as possible.  While this is good for those who dread the onslaught of the holiday season, it is disastrous for retailers who depend upon every Saturday between Thanksgiving and Christmas to make or break sales for the year.   Black Friday may put retailers in the black, but it will plunge many holiday gift-givers into the red.  Like it’s namesake, 90 years ago last month, Black Friday spells financial ruin for many American consumers.

Our desire to take advantage of once-in-a-lifetime deals, exhibit remarkable generosity, or just give into the pressure to out gift one another drives us to budget busting binges.   We spend more than we have, because Visa, MasterCard, and Amex have promised to give us 5% cash back on short term loans with an interest rate of 26%.  In a matter of days, we accumulate debt we will spend years struggling to erase.

The modern-day credit card — which entered the scene in the late 1950s — means far greater buying power but also financial disaster for many individuals and families.  Consider the following statistics.

  • More than 189 million Americans have credit cards.
  • The average credit card holder has at least four cards.
  • On average, each household with a credit card carries $8,398 in credit card debt.
  • Total U.S. consumer debt is at $13.86 trillion. That includes mortgages, auto loans, credit cards and student loans

Each statement comes with a helpful “minimum payment.”  While the current balance seems insurmountable, the minimum payment seems manageable.  But here is the bad news.  If you only pay the minimum, you are daily increasing a debt through interest and fees and you will never pay off.   If you are drowning in debt there is help available.  Your lenders may work with you.  Dave Ramsey will educate you.  And by implementing your own austerity measures, with great discipline, you can slowly swim against the tide of consumer debt.

But there is a debt more dreadful than consumer debt.  The Bible tells us that we have all sinned against a God who is our creator and our judge.  His holiness does not allow him to simply write off the debt without someone making sufficient payment.   And even the minimum payment is beyond our reach.  God’s justice demands perfect obedience and death as the penalty for past failure.   Our imperfect and self-centered attempts to pay this debt through religious observance, good works, and expressions of remorse only increase the current balance.  The debt grows every day.   And it must and will be paid — every last penny.  Dave Ramsey has some good advice, but a degree from Financial Peace University will not equip you to pay this debt.

The Heidelberg Catechism, a time-tested set of questions and answers designed to teach the basics of the Christian faith, expresses our conundrum well.

Question 12. Since then, by the righteous judgment of God, we deserve temporal and eternal punishment, what is required that we may escape this punishment and be again received into favor? 
Answer: God wills that His justice be satisfied, therefore we must make full satisfaction to the same, either by ourselves or by another. 

Question 13. Can we ourselves make this satisfaction? 
Answer: By no means: on the contrary, we daily increase our guilt.

Our situation is dire, but there is good news.  God himself has offered a remarkable payment plan — a plan that goes far beyond clearing our debt.   Join us this Sunday, November 10 as we consider how to become debt-free forever in the economy of God’s justice.     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.