Caricatures

Caricatures

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Join us this Sunday, June 9, as we examine Titus 2:9-10 and consider how our lives are to illustrate the power of grace to a graceless world.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  Click here for directions. Come with a friend and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

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.

Take, Eat!

Take, Eat!

Nothing is more unsatisfying than to request our food through a box, receive it through a slightly larger box and then eat it in an even larger box, as fast as possible without anyone else.  Food is communal.  Anyone who has been a part of a group knows that the table is a primary medium to move a group from a crowd to a community.   Food is not utilitarian.  Though, of course, food has nutritive utility – to nourish and heal — its purpose runs much deeper.  It brings us together.  This has always been true.  In the ancient Book of Proverbs, it is “Loud Lady Folly” who declares that bread eaten in secret is pleasant, while “Wisdom” sets a table.   Feasting calls us together and keeps us together.

The Bible connects most of life to eating.   In the beginning, God places man in a garden and invites him to eat from every tree except one.  Time and time again meals figure prominently in the unfolding of God’s redemptive purposes.  The catalyst for the Fall was food, the patriarchs deceive and are deceived through food, and God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery is illustrated in the Passover meal.  All of the major expressions of God’s grace toward man are pictured through feasts.  The sign and seal of God’s grace in Christ toward us, of our community in Him, and of our ongoing spiritual nourishment in Him is a meal, The Lord’s Supper.   The consummation of all things is described as The Wedding Supper of the Lamb.  Those whom God calls to care for His people are called ‘pastors,’ a derivative of the word for shepherd, and they are told to feed their flocks.

Food is important to God and a consuming part of our daily lives.  It pictures God’s grace and our dependence upon Him.  But it also points us to something more. In response to Satan’s suggestion that Jesus end his forty day fast in the wilderness by turning the stones into bread, Jesus quotes from an Old Testament passage about the real point of food.

And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Deuteronomy 8:3

Food is indispensable to physical life.  Without it we starve and die.  But notice what this passage says, even food is not as fundamental to life as God’s Word.  How much time each day do you spend thinking about, acquiring, preparing, eating, and recovering from meals?  Now compare that to time spent preparing, hearing, and applying God’s Word in your life?  Are we as concerned about being nourished by Scripture as we are food?  The prophet Amos noted that God’s ancient people were in the midst of a famine – “not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord.” Amos 8:11

Two things lead to spiritual malnutrition, refusing to ingest God’s Word and filling up on spiritual junk food.  These were the problems Timothy faced in Ephesus.  His congregation had cultivated an appetite for sugary snacks, not nourishing truth.  They would “not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears … accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and … turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”  Sound teaching was no longer palatable.  They had ruined their appetite for truth by filling up on empty calories.  They wanted a word that would conform God to their image, not conform them to His.  What about you?  Are you cultivating your palate for “sound teaching” or binging on teaching that suits your passions?  What guides our conscionable hearing of God’s Word?  Desire for affirmation or transformation?

Join us this Sunday, May 12, as we examine 2 Timothy 4:1-5 and consider how we can cultivate a healthy appetite for truth and guard against spiritual malnutrition.  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.

Defining Moment

Defining Moment

By March, 1836, the situation had become desperate for the Texans holed up the Alamo.  The defenders answered Santa Anna’s surrender demand with a round from the fort’s cannon.  In response, Santa Anna, ran up a red flag and ordered his buglers to play Deguello – a cadence instructing his troops to show no quarter.  The die was cast.  The time for negotiation was past.  William Barrett Travis had committed his men to either victory or death.

Shortly before Santa Anna’s final assault, Travis assembled the garrison and with his sword drew a line in the sand in front of his men.  Any man who desired to leave and live could simply walk away.  But those who would stay and die must step across the line in the sand.   According to legend, every man, except one, crossed that line and vowed to die for the cause of freedom.

This was a defining moment in the history of our country.  The death of the Alamo defenders galvanized support for the Texas Republic and fueled American Westward expansion.   The doomed men inside the Alamo would never know the impact of their fateful decision.  Crossing Travis’ line was a defining moment and gave rise to an expression we all use.  To draw a line in the sand means to make a decision from which there is no retreat.  It is a moment which defines us.

Each of us will face defining moments – points at which our choices will establish what characterizes our lives, choices from which there is no going back.  But there is no more significant line in the sand than the one we are invited to cross when we are confronted with the resurrection of Jesus.  Not one of the gospels describes the moment of Jesus’ resurrection, but every gospel examines the responses of all those confronted with the evidence.  There were many reactions – fear, obstinacy, joy, and skepticism – and most importantly faith.   The resurrection of Jesus is the defining moment of all human history.  Belief or unbelief in the resurrection is the central issue of the Christian faith.  The Apostle Paul put it bluntly.

if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.… if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied. 1 Corinthians 15:14-19

What is your response to the resurrection of Jesus?  How does this moment in history define you?  Is belief in the resurrection a line in the sand you won’t cross?  Join us this Sunday, April 21, as we examine Matthew 28 and consider how our response to the resurrection defines us.  We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock.  Click here for directions. Come with a friend and join us for fellowship and worship. We look forward to seeing you there.

Making Arrangements

Making Arrangements

Few things in my childhood inspired procrastination like completing a project for the Science fair.  I always had good ideas and a clear plan of attack, but I could never seem to get started.  If I had started working when I started worrying, I would have finished with months to spare.  But I just kept putting it off.  The tyranny of the blank page and the inertia of beginnings is a very strong emotional force.  A procrastinator at rest tends to remain at rest.  As the weeks ticked by, anxiety would grow until a mid-February meltdown called my father into action.  When it came to our projects, my father was a master logistician.  He would map out a plan and a schedule and put the wheels into motion.  With his own projects, however, it was a different story.  He would often quote Scarlett O’Hara – “Tomorrow — I’ll think about that tomorrow.”

That is what he said to me, when I suggested it might be important to make funeral plans.  He had absolutely no interest in thinking about those things.  The inertia of beginnings is at its strongest when it comes to making funeral plans.  But as a pastor I have noticed how helpful advanced funeral planning is for a grieving family.  From decisions about burial places and furnishings, to the logistics of services, down to the music and readings you want used – all these things give you the opportunity to make sure what matters most is shared with those who matter most as they grieve.   The thoughts shared at the funeral set the trajectory of grief and establish hope beyond the grave – hope that this is not the end, but only the end of the beginning — hope that there is more to come.

At first glance, it seems that Jesus’ burial arrangements were anything but planned.  The only preparation the gospels speak of is the anointing of Jesus at Bethany by Mary, the sister of Lazarus.  Victims of crucifixion could be claimed for burial only by their family. If not, they were thrown unceremoniously into unmarked graves.   The circumstances of Jesus death made it virtually impossible for his family to claim his body.  But as Good Friday ebbs away toward the Sabbath, events unfold which reveal that Jesus’ Heavenly Father had providentially made remarkable plans for his funeral, plans foretold hundreds of years before by the prophet Isaiah, who wrote, “And they made his grave … with a rich man in his death.” (Isaiah 53:9).

Jesus burial established a remarkable trajectory of hope for all who believe in him.  Had he been tossed into a Roman burial pit, many compelling proofs of the resurrection would have been lost.  But by God’s advanced funeral planning for His Only Begotten Son, he is buried in a prominent place, in a grave secure from unseen access, in a new, unused tomb, wrapped in grave-clothes that would be abandoned, in a tomb sealed and guarded tenaciously by his enemies.   God works through the courage of Joseph of Arimathea and the cowardice of the religious leaders to assure us that Christ is risen indeed.  Every detail of Jesus’ burial furnishes forensic proof of the resurrection and assures us of  our own redemption.

Join us this Lord’s Day, April 14, as we examine Matthew 27:57-66 and consider the significance of the death and burial of Jesus.  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.

Triggered

Triggered

The technology of cap-guns has advanced exponentially since I was a boy.  My sons’ cap pistols fire ring-caps.  Every cap fires!  And when all eight shots are discharged and all aggressors vanquished, the next ring can be loaded in seconds.  My friends and I had rolls of paper caps.  Loaded with surgical care and threaded into the trigger mechanism with the skill of a reel-to-reel projectionist, in theory the caps would roll so that the charge was positioned under the hammer.  This was only theory, however.  Most rolls had more mis-fires than good caps.  Ultimately, our father’s hammer proved to be the only reliable weapon.  With clumsy triggers and constant misfeeds, our guns were not responsive.  Today’s cap pistols, like today’s people, are much more sensitively triggered.

It doesn’t require much to set either off.  Post-modernism and social media have produced a perfect recipe for triggered people.  Ready to get fired up at any suggestion which conflicts with our cherished mantras, we have lost the ability for reasoned dialogue.  A recent writer noted that while accepting others and agreeing with others have traditionally not been the same thing, now there is no degree of acceptance without total agreement.  The odd thing about post-modernity which declares that a thing can be “true for you, but not for me,” is that post-moderns ruthlessly demand their “truth,” which needs no universal basis, receive universal acceptance.

Everything seems to provoke a strong reaction.   But few things provoke a stronger reaction than the claims of Christ.   C. S. Lewis famously noted that Jesus was either “the Son of God or a madman or something worse.”  You must either accept his claims or reject him as delusional.  Jesus asks his disciples “who do men say that I am?”  When they reported the various theories of the men of their age, he pointedly asked them – “But you, who do you say that I am?”

This question is nowhere more poignantly posed than from the cross.  Soldiers mocked him, religious leaders taunted him, women mourned him, many who passed by could not have cared less, the disciples abandoned him and the Father forsook him – but then declared him to be all that he claimed to be.   There are many paintings of that famous scene, but one of the most compelling is James Tissot’s “What Our Lord Saw From the Cross.”  In this painting we see all those who are gathered around.  Pictured in their faces and their demeanor are their reactions to the most significant event in history.  They were all triggered in one way or another.  How does the cross trigger you?  What is your reaction to this moment in time which is so eminently significant for your own life and your own death?

Join us this Lord’s Day, April 7, as we examine Matthew 27 and consider the different responses of those who witnessed the crucifixion and as we reflect on our own response.  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.

 

Cross Examined

Cross Examined

We all love a good trial.  Our forefathers were spot-on in describing man as having a “legal frame.”  Consider the evidence.   Think about your viewing habits.  Most trending shows on Netflix revolve around crime or courtroom drama.  And lest you think this love of trial drama is simply the undue influence of media, recall the last time you cut the cake at a children’s birthday party.  “His piece is bigger!” “She got more icing!”  “I wanted the corner piece!”  “It’s not fair!”  There is no more effective prosecutor than a small child, lodging accusations of unfairness.  Children are powerful lawyers, because man has a legal frame.  We are born with it.  We do not need to learn it.

Made in the image of a just God, we are wired to demand justice.   But like everything else about us, the fall corrupted our understanding of justice.  We still cry out for it.  But instead of understanding it as conformity to God’s character and will, we tether justice to our own will.  Few of us decry the privation of others as unfair, but when we are deprived of what we expect we demand justice.   But what if we got it?  What if we got justice, not according to our own want or will, but according God’s standard – a standard which penetrates beyond our words and actions to our thoughts and attitudes?

Perhaps we love fictional crime drama because it satisfies our need to see justice done, without complicating it with the complexities of our own sin.   In sixty minutes, confusion gives way to clarity and good triumphs over evil no matter what means it uses to get there.   But our lives are not so tidy.  In our real story, we are the fugitives who face a justice none of us can bear.   Yet the scales of God’s justice do not weigh the arguments for and against our guilt, but rather God’s justice and His mercy.

It is remarkable how much legal imagery the Bible uses to picture our condition.  The Old Testament anticipates a redeemer who will set prisoners free.  In the New Testament, both Jesus and the Holy Spirit are pictured as advocates, God the Father is often likened to a judge, redemption depends upon a declaration of judicial righteousness and our condemnation is set aside in Christ.   And in a well-known passage in Romans.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, … so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.  Romans 3:23-26

History’s greatest courtroom drama is recorded in Matthew 27.  Following an irregular grand jury indictment, Jesus is brought before the criminal court on charges trumped up by religious rivals.  In Pontius Pilate’s courtroom we see the greatest miscarriage of human justice in history.  Everyone is guilty – the judge, the prosecutors, the jury – everyone, that is, except the one on trial.  He alone is innocent.  Evidence is ignored and the judge is captive public opinion and his own corrupt history.  Despite his declarations of Jesus’ innocence, Pilate condemns him to death and compounds injustice by releasing Barabbas, a condemned man, truly guilty of all the charges leveled against Jesus.

As spectators, we recoil at this apparent travesty of justice until we realize we are not just spectators.  Jesus is not a hapless victim of human injustice, but a willing sacrifice to divine justice – justice that is rightly ours to bear.   It is not just Barabbas’ cross that Jesus bore, but ours.   God is just.  His justice cannot ignore our crimes or allow them to go unpunished.  But in His mercy God is the justifier of those who have faith in Christ.

Join us this Lord’s Day, March 31, as we examine Matthew 27 and consider the greatest courtroom drama in history as it unfolds Christ’s innocence and condemnation for our guilt and pardon.  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.