Leaving A Mark

Leaving A Mark

Hard as we try, it is impossible to ‘leave no trace.’  Our lives will always leave a mark.  But what kind of mark will we leave? Like a child’s name carved into a family heirloom, the marks we leave produce a mix of painful regret and powerful remembrance.   But what will be the final assessment?  Is it possible to live life and come to the end with no regrets?  As a pastor who thinks a lot about what is said and sung at funerals, I was shocked recently to hear that a perennial favorite song for funerals was “My Way” by Frank Sinatra.

In his ultimate tribute to a narcissistic life, Sinatra declared: “I’ve lived a life that’s full, I traveled each and every highway, and more, much more than this, I did it my way.”  But anyone who lives this way leaves tsunamis of brokenness and regret in their wake.  Assuming we do not live only for ourselves, is it possible to come to the end of our life without regrets?   Most of us would probably say no!  But the Apostle Paul says something shocking in a letter to his spiritual son, Timothy, as he talks frankly about his impending death.

“…the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” 2 Timothy 4:6-7

Paul has no regrets.  Not because he made no mistakes or  checked off every item on a bucket list.  From the world’s perspective his life was a failure.  He was from an influential family, studied with the luminaries of Jewish thought, and by his own assessment, was “advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.”  Yet, he threw it all away to follow Christ.  He might have looked back over his life with many regrets.  Others certainly did.  He brought death and destruction to Christian families before his conversion.  He caused riots all over Asia.  He had to say painful things to close friends.  He made enemies of his fellow Israelites everywhere he went.  He faced a death sentence simply for preaching the gospel.  Even many of his Christian friends had deserted him in his imprisonment.

Yet, Paul has no regrets, because unlike Frank Sinatra, he did not live life “his way,” but “Christ’s way.”  The indelible marks he left behind were carved out by faithfulness in following Christ, not the fickleness of worldly acclaim.  A more literal translation of Paul’s statement would be, “The good fight, I fought.  The race, I finished.  The faith, I have kept.”  God laid out the course of Paul’s life.  He simply followed.  He is not boasting in what he has done, but in what Christ has done. His past, his present, and his future can only be rightly assessed by what Christ has done, is doing and will do.  In another letter in which he describes his thoughts on death, he goes onto say, “it is God who works in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12)   The only way to come to the end of life with no regrets is to live a life of following Christ.

I once visited with a dying man who had a framed t-shirt hanging on his wall.  On it was printed, “live in such a way that the preacher won’t have to lie about you when you die.”  Will the pastor who conducts your funeral be able to preach from Paul’s words?  “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith?”  Will you be able to die with no regret, knowing that despite all the failures and failings in your life, you did it “Christ’s Way?”   Paul closes this short passage with a remarkable hope.

“… there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:8

Have you loved his appearing?  Have you loved his appearance in his Word, in his worship, and in his body, the Church?  Is the thought of his appearing a source of joy or terror for you?  Does Paul’s statement “my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” resonate with you?

Join us this Sunday, May 19, as we examine 2 Timothy 4:6-8 and consider what it looks like to live life without regret.  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.

Black Package

Black Package

We all have those friends or family members who pride themselves on “speaking their mind.”  While they think it a great virtue, we find it a grievous vice.  What they really mean by “speaking their mind” is that they feel free to give unsolicited and harsh criticism.  We try to ignore their callous rudeness, but the problem is that they are often right in what they say.   I call it truth in a black package.  I once worked with a senior engineer who was our official team curmudgeon.  His unsolicited invective toward younger coworkers was always pointed but spot on.   Whenever coworkers ignored his opinions because of the black packaging, they met with disaster.  In the same way, many ignore the gospel, because it comes wrapped in the black packaging of sin and repentance, only to meet with disaster that lasts forever.

As Jacob comes to the end of his life, he gathers his sons to speak a word of blessing.  When we look at his words, however, some look more like a curse than a blessing.  They are future blessing wrapped in the black package of their past sins.  He has hard words for his sons as he reminds them of their past failures, but also points them to a gracious future through the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises by a Savior.   At emotional times like these in our own lives, we are often tempted to define ourselves by our past unfaithfulness, but here Jacob reminds his sons that they are defined by God’s future faithfulness.   Like Jacob’s hard blessings, the gospel first speaks words of conviction to us and then comforts us with words of grace.  One ancient preacher said that it is the needle of the law which draws the thread of the gospel.

Join us this Lord’s Day, July 22, as we examine Jacob’s blessing of his sons from Genesis 49 and consider how the gospel speaks hard words of conviction and gentle words of comfort as God calls us to be his sons and daughters.  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 and here for our order of service. Come with a friend you and join us for fellowship and conversation. We look forward to seeing you there.

Gravity

Gravity

Gravity is important.  While we take it for granted, it effects almost every detail of our lives. In Physical Science we learned that the force of gravitational attraction between two celestial bodies is a product of their relative mass and their distance from one another.   Scientific observation has shown that proximity has an exponential effect while mass has only a multiplying effect.   Mathematically, however, the force of gravity is inversely proportional to the square of the distance and directly proportional to relative mass.  In plain English this means that being closer is more significant than being bigger.

While this is true for stars, planets and moons, it is even more painfully true in our relationships.  When conflict, estrangement and sin enter our relationships the gravity of brokenness is more powerful in close relationships than casual ones.   It is much easier to politely excuse or ignore the person at a relational distance when they offend us or are offended by us.  But when it is a parent, sibling, spouse or child, the seriousness of the offense looms large and casts a long shadow.

Solomon put it this way.  “A brother offended is more unyielding than a strong city” (Proverbs 18:19).  The prodigious size of the “Relationships” section in any book store and the number of afternoon TV programs devoted to relational guidance — funded by divorce lawyers — are potent witnesses to our cluelessness when it comes to reconciliation.   We look everywhere except the Bible for guidance, yet the persistent theme of Scripture is reconciliation.  Every relationship is fractured by sin and the only path to reconciliation is the gospel pattern of forgiveness, confession, and repentance.

In Genesis 33, Jacob returns home to dangerous uncertainty.  His brother’s last words were breathed out in murderous threat and they have not spoken for 20 years.   No relationship is more broken than theirs. But before Jacob is confronted by Esau, he is confronted by God.  Only after he is reconciled to God is he able to be reconciled with his brother.  Join us this Lord’s Day, February 11, as we examine Genesis 33 and consider what this story teaches us about reconciliation.  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 conversation. We look forward to seeing you there.

Update on Lessons and Carols

Update on Lessons and Carols

Regrettably, we have had to cancel River City Reformed’s Lessons and Carols service, planned for December 17, 2017 at 5:00 pm, due to illness.  We will miss sharing with you this special service which traces the story of redemption through the reading of scripture and the singing of the theologically rich songs of the season, but hope to see you soon at one of our Lord’s Day gatherings.   Please continue to follow us here for upcoming events.

 

Solving the Unsolvable

Solving the Unsolvable

In 1637, mathematician, Pierre de Fermat, scribbled in the margin of a book what would become, for many centuries, an unsolvable problem. He conjectured that there were no integers a, b, and c for which a^n + b^n = c^n was true where n is greater than 2.  Fermat claimed to have a proof that was too large for the margin of the book, but no proof was ever found and for three and a half centuries his simple conjecture remained unproven, despite generations of mathematicians who worked to solve it. Finally in 1994, Andrew Wiles offered a proof which not only solved the unsolvable problem, but produced significant advancement the study of number theory.

Many of us have problems in our lives that seem unsolvable. Perhaps your problems are intellectual or financial, but most often the greatest unsolvable problems in our lives are relational. We try everything we can think of to solve them, but never seem to get quite to the heart of the problem which is our own sinfulness. Brokenness in our relationship with God brings brokenness to every other relationship in one way or another.

Joseph, the adoptive father of Jesus, had a serious relational problem. Before his wedding night, his fiancée Mary is found to be pregnant. Joseph wrestles to reconcile two irreconcilable ideas: justice and mercy. Joseph’s internal struggle to find a middle way, reflected his best, honorable attempts to exercise self-control in jealousy, rage, vindication, and righteousness and yet balance that with love for Mary and a desire to protect her. How can justice and mercy be reconciled? In human understanding they seem mutually exclusive. But in God’s economy they are not. An angel comes to Joseph in a dream to reveal to him that what looks like his relational problem is actually the solution to humanity’s unsolvable problem, the problem of sin, justice and mercy.

Join us this Lord’s Day, December 3, as we examine Joseph’s quandary from Matthew 1:18-21 and consider the solution it reveals to our seemingly unsolvable problem. 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 conversation. We look forward to seeing you there.