Switched at Birth

Switched at Birth

Our ancestry and our environment have a lot to do with who we are.  They are both strong formative factors, but neither is decisive nor determinative.   I recently read a news story about two women in Wisconsin who discovered at the age of 72 that they had been switched at birth and had grown up in one another’s families.

The women were born 31 minutes apart in the wee hours of Dec. 19, 1945, at a St. Paul Hospital.  Both women say they stood out as oddballs in their families. One was the only member of her family who wasn’t an avid athlete, while the other was the only athletic member of her own family, having played competitive softball well into her 50s.  One woman grew up the sole blonde in a family of redheads and brunettes, the other a redhead in a sea of blondes with blue eyes.

While pursuing her genealogy, one of the women submitted DNA to the genetic testing site, 23AndMe.com.  The results?  She was not related to anyone in her family.  The mystery deepened when a close relative also submitted DNA and found a name on her profile that appeared completely unrelated.   After making contact, it quickly became clear that the two women had grown up in each other’s family.   One more DNA test confirmed the fact.   Neither their ancestry nor their environment solely determined who they were, but rather their identity was a result of both.   But there is something far more important in determining who we are and that is who we follow.

In the closing chapters of the Book of Genesis, we have parallel stories of two brothers, Joseph and Judah.  Joseph’s story is well known.  The favorite son, doted on by his father, hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, who rises to become second only to Pharaoh in ruling over ancient Egypt.  Joseph’s story is distinguished by his remarkable care to be sensitive and faithful to God’s direction in his life.  Joseph acknowledges that it is God’s hand and plan, not ancestry or circumstances that are responsible for who, what and where he is in life.

Judah’s story, however, is radically different.  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.  The story of Joseph is intertwined with the story of Judah as God works in Judah’s life to graciously transform him from a worldly man to a godly man, from a man who portrays the worst of humanity to one who resembles the very best human ever, the Lord Jesus Christ.

In Genesis 44, we see the culmination of God’s transformative work in Judah’s life.  Ultimately who he has become is not determined by his ancestry or his environment, but by the surprising and gracious work of God in his life.  Do you know anyone whom you assume God has written off?  Is that person you?  Don’t be so quick to credit your ancestry or your environment for a ruined life.  The end of the story has not yet been written and God’s grace is the final word, if you will but find it.

Join us this Lord’s Day, June 17, as we examine the climax of the story of Judah as we see how the grace of God changed him from a dishonorable son, brother, husband, and father to a man transformed by God’s grace to become a man of honor who prefigures the Lord Jesus who would descend from his line.  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.

Beloved Enemy

Beloved Enemy

While I was often a mischievous boy, I was rarely rebellious or overtly disobedient.  On a few, memorable occasions, however, my mother uttered the phrase much feared by children of my generation — “go sit on your bed and wait until your Father gets home.”   Now my father was not overly harsh in his discipline, but he was certainly firm.  A season of “biblical chastisement” from him was nothing to be considered lightly.   The hours of silent reflection awaiting his ever-punctual arrival at 5:15 pm ranged the gamut of guilty emotions; fear of punishment, rationalization of wrongdoing, grief over future lost privileges and then true sorrow for sin and disappointment with myself.

The must crushing part of my dad’s discipline was not the sting of the swat or the stern discussion about the seriousness of sin, but it was the lines of unspoken, but not unexpressed, disappointment etched in his face.   Only now, as a father myself, do I realize that some of that disappointment was no doubt with himself and not in my actions alone, but no child can grasp that.   The comfort that I had in the midst of the approaching storm was that my father loved me.  Even as a boy, I grasped that though in discipline he seemed to be an enemy for a moment, he was a beloved enemy – bringing me by sorrow of body to sorrow of soul and thus to repentance and forgiveness.

The scripture paints of this picture of our Heavenly Father, who because of our sin is for a time our “beloved enemy.”   Romans 2:4 reminds us that it is the “kindness of God that leads to repentance” and Hebrews 12:5-6 which exhorts us,

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”

As the story of Jacob unfolds into the story of Joseph in the closing chapters of the book of Genesis, we see a pretty sorry portrayal of the lives and character of Joseph’s brothers.  They are violent, deceptive, contentious, spiteful, unbelievably disrespectful to their father, despisers of the covenant like their uncle, Esau, sexually immoral, just to name a few of their characteristics.   Their attempted murder of Joseph is only thwarted by some lingering vestigial conscience in Reuben and Judah and by the providential arrival of a caravan of slave traders.   For over twenty years, while Joseph languishes in slavery and prison in Egypt, they remain at home, never speaking of or dealing with their guilt toward their brother, their father and most of all toward God.

But God has not forgotten.  Just as he was a beloved enemy of their Father at Peniel, so God is slowly working to bring them to repentance through a remarkable reunion with Joseph who has now risen to great power and position in Egypt.   Does the Lord seem to be a threat or an enemy in your life?  Perhaps in His kindness, He is leading you to repentance and cleansing from some sin that has held power for far too long in your life. Maybe, just maybe, He is a beloved enemy whose woundings are to be trusted.

Join us this Lord’s Day, May 13, as we examine the continuing story of Joseph as his brothers appear before him to find food in the famine and find something much more powerful and needful.  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.

I Spy

I Spy

Long road trips in 1973 were very different from their contemporary counterparts.   We had no DVDs, no mini-vans, no cup-holders, no electronic devices and no headphones.  My sisters an I would sit together in the back seat of our Galaxy 500, with its 2-60 AC (two open windows at 60 mph) and rough textured upholstery.   My father was impervious to the childhood lament, “we’re bored.”  It was up to us to come up with games to pass the time.  My dad drove very slowly and we absolutely never stopped unless it was a bona-fide health emergency.   We worked our way through the alphabet on road signs, searching diligently for that elusive word that began with ‘X.’  We counted Volkswagen Beetles.  And, our course, we played “I Spy.”

Today, “I Spy” has evolved into a series of elaborate picture books in which the items to be found are displayed in plain sight in a photograph littered with thematic clutter to distract and disguise the visual scavenger hunt.  One item always proved most elusive.  Once found, it seemed remarkable that it was so difficult to spot.  There it was, right on the page, not hidden or obscured, just surrounded by a thousand curious and compelling distractions.

The Bible can often feel that way for some.  Filled with names and dates and historical context, foreign to our education and experience, and with cultural practices so different from our own, we are often derailed by a thousand curious and compelling distractions, so that we don’t see what is there in plain sight.  Even the religious leaders of Jesus’ day viewed the Bible as a mere system of morals, of individual do’s and don’ts, such that they missed the picture because all they saw was brushstrokes.   Jesus rebuked them saying, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.” (John 5:39)

The Bible reveals God’s nature and His promises.  It shows us our brokenness because of sin and the means of healing and wholeness through faith in Christ.  From beginning to end, the Bible bears witness about Jesus – his nature, our need of him, his finished work, his sufficiency.   Yet sometimes we can’t see the picture for the brushstrokes.   This is especially true sometimes in the narratives of the Old Testament.  An ancient pastor, Augustine of Hippo, once wrote “the new [testament] is in the old concealed; the old [testament] is in the new revealed.”   This is so poignantly pictured in the story of Joseph as he comes to power and provides food for the people during the years of famine.  Joseph, the Jew, rejected by his own and condemned by the state, by God’s miraculous providence, becomes a temporal savior of the world.  When the hungry come to Pharaoh for provision he sends them to Joseph as the only way to find life-giving provision.   The picture of Joseph feeding the victims of famine is a picture of the greater Joseph, Jesus, who as the bread of heaven feeds men’s hungry souls and gives life.

Join us this Lord’s Day, May 6, as we examine the continuing story of Joseph feeding the people during a severe famine and consider how this story points to a greater Joseph, the Lord Jesus, who gives life to hungry souls.  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.

Failure to Communicate

Failure to Communicate

The 1967 movie, Cool Hand Luke, immortalized the line, “what we have here is failure to communicate.”   We have all experienced the devastating effects of “failure to communicate.”  Communication is the life-blood of all relationships.  Without effective communication, two remain two, rather than becoming one.  One person may have love, admiration, respect, gratitude and compassion toward another, but when these remain unexpressed it is as if they don’t exist, or worse – the opposites are implied.   Silence imputes motives and imputed motives are rarely positive.  More often than not the motives we impute are animated by suspicion, insecurity and criticism.  And the more intimate the relationship, the more profound and intense are the effects.

This is seen most vividly when there is a failure to communicate with God.   While it is fashionable these days to claim atheism, most who adopt this label are really agnostics.  The agnostic does not reject the possibility of God’s existence, but holds that such a God, if He exists, cannot be known.  He is mute.   And a mute God is a dangerous God.   For if we have no way to know whether He is friend or foe or to what extent He holds sway over our lives, we can never rest.   The “what ifs” that grow out of our imputed motives for this God make us suspicious and fearful.  Like pagans, whose gods of wood and stone had mouths but could not speak and ears but could not hear, we construct fearful rituals to placate the expected anger of a unknown God.

If only we could hear from Him and know what kind of God He is.  As the ancient sufferer, Job, once said, “If only there were someone to mediate between us, someone to bring us together.” (Job 9:33)  Yet the consistent refrain of the Bible is that God has spoken.  He is not silent.  He is a God who reveals himself and does not hide away in obscurity or concealment.   The Psalmist declares

God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting…. Our God comes; he does not keep silence.  Psalm 50:1, 3

Later it is written

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.  Hebrews 1:1-2

The God of the Bible is not mute.  He has revealed Himself in many ways in the past and now, most clearly, through His Word.  From the beginning of history until this very day, God has not failed to communicate.  We see this in the life of Joseph during his enslavement in Egypt.  Though separated from homeland and family, God was with Him and spoke to him and through him to rescue the men of his times from famine and death and to point to a Greater Joseph who would come to save men from spiritual famine and eternal death.

Join us this Lord’s Day, April 22, as we examine the story of Joseph from Genesis 40 and consider how and why God reveals Himself to men.  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.

Disappointment

Disappointment

Few experiences in life are more humiliating than being stood up.   As we sit alone at a café table or wait anxiously at a restaurant entrance, our emotions run the whole gamut of worry, then embarrassment, then anger, then bitterness, then disappointment, then perhaps jadedness.

The word disappointment literally means having an anticipated appointment unmade unexpectedly – an appointment with success, with accolades, with love, with companionship, or with the object of our desire.  When we are stood up our minds immediately rush to cast blame and identify a culprit for our disappointment.   Who is responsible? Who cancelled the anticipated appointment?  Sometimes our disappointment is with ourselves, sometimes it is with others, often it is with God.

The life of Joseph in Old Testament was marked with many bitter disappointments.  His father unwisely showed him great favoritism and Joseph unwisely lorded it over his brothers.  Not surprisingly, his brothers hated him with murderous rage and, at the first opportunity, seized him and sold him into slavery in Egypt.  Once there, he was unjustly accused by his master’s wife and thrown into prison and forgotten.

Later in Joseph’s life, he was able to look in his life’s rear-view mirror and declare to his brothers, “what you meant for evil, God meant for good.”  But as these events unfolded he no doubt experienced disappointment with his family, his situation and, perhaps, even his God.  In Joseph’s story we have a foreshadowing of Jesus’ humiliation and suffering as our savior.  But here we may also find wisdom to follow Christ in the midst of our own bitter disappointments.

Join us this Lord’s Day, April 15, as we examine the story of Joseph from Genesis 39 and consider what it looks like to follow Jesus in the midst of disappointment.  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.

The Rest of the Story

The Rest of the Story

The term ‘community’ has become fashionable.  Everyone talks about its importance and how to create it.  We speak of shared vision and mission, of breaking down barriers and distinctions, and of inclusion and tolerance.  Yet community is created neither by the obliteration nor exaltation of individualism.  Real community depends upon something objectively transcendent to the individual and the group to which he belongs.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer in Life Together expresses this pointedly.

Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. Let him who is not in community beware of being alone… We recognize, then, that only as we are within the fellowship can we be· alone, and only he that is alone can live in the fellowship. Only in the fellowship do we learn to be rightly alone and only in aloneness do we learn to live rightly in the fellowship. It is not as though the one preceded the other; both begin at the same time, namely, with the call of Jesus Christ. Each by itself has profound pitfalls and perils. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair. Let him who cannot be alone beware of community. Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.

Christianity declares that the only transcendent reality powerful enough to create lasting community is the resurrection of Jesus and the life that comes through believing in Him.  Often the gospel is viewed simply as a path for personal, individual redemption.   But it is much more than just that.  God has reconciled us to himself through the cross and, consequently reconciles us to one another.  Sin is a breaker and divider.  The gospel restores community.

John’s gospel holds a surprising ending.  The story of Jesus appears to end in John 20 with an invitation to the skeptical to examine the strong evidence for the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and a final summary of Jesus’ life and work,

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  John 20:30-31

Then, unexpectedly, we find a postscript in John 21.  One more vignette of the risen Jesus with his disciples, not to further prove the reality of the resurrection, but to answer the question “What’s Next?”  How does the resurrection powerfully change the lives of those who believe in it?  What does following Christ mean in light of the resurrection?  What does it look like to experience life together?

Join us this Lord’s Day, April 8, as we examine the John’s postscript and consider what it looks like to live in light of the resurrection.  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.

Skeptics Welcome

Skeptics Welcome

We live in an age of flourishing skepticism, particularly when it comes to religion.  Science is seen as the new arbiter of absolute truth and the “scientific-method” the only test of the believe-worthiness of any idea.  The incredible popularity of thinkers such as Stephen Hawking underscores this flowering of the enlightenment enthronement of human reason.  Hawking, who once quipped that “heaven [and the afterlife] were fairy-stories for people afraid of the dark,” nevertheless frequently left his own pay-grade in the narrow confines of mathematics and observable physics to declare metaphysical absolutes.  It was this dimension of his writing and thinking that made him a pop icon.

Many skeptics today view religion, in general, and Christianity, in particular, as afraid of rational inquiry and apologetic challenge.  From the view of the secularist, Christianity has circled the wagons, arrogantly assuming the “fairy tales” of the Bible are true while closing its eyes to all reason and evidence.   Yet nothing is further from the truth.  Real and vibrant Christianity hangs out a shingle that says, “Skeptics Welcome.”

Nowhere is this seen more dramatically than in the Biblical accounts of the resurrection.   No point of Christian doctrine has been more thoroughly assaulted by skeptics than the resurrection.  Yet every assault strengthens credibility.   When the accounts are critically examined, it seems God took great care to surround the crucifixion, death and burial of Jesus along with the subsequent discovery of the empty tomb with a vast body of evidence which can only be satisfactorily explained by Jesus’ resurrection.  In many respects, the empty tomb is a sign that reads “Skeptics Welcome.”  The stone was not rolled back to let Jesus out but to let skeptics in.

Join us this Lord’s Day, April 1, as we examine the account of the empty tomb from John 20 and consider an invitation to skeptics to examine and believe in the resurrection 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 you and join us for fellowship and conversation. We look forward to seeing you there.