Idiopathy

Anyone who has experienced chronic illness, or the lingering effects of illness such as ‘long Covid’, knows that the path of diagnosis is a long and winding and uncertain road.  Those who travel this road feel the weight of the phrase, ‘practicing medicine.’ 

Indeed, we are blessed to live in an age of unprecedented medical understanding.   We routinely treat conditions that would have killed our great grandparents.   Our medical technology is like science fiction to our elders.  We decoded our genome.   We ‘edit’ our DNA with Crisper.   We perform delicate surgical procedures with robotic assistance.   We have medicinal therapies that have eradicated diseases which plagued mankind for millennia.   Yet there is still so much we do not know.  

The human body remains a vast mystery.   Many common terminal conditions are uncurable and untreatable.   Years ago, my wife and I faced a series of devastating losses in childbearing.   One of the more experienced OBs that cared for us noted that our losses appeared ‘idiopathic.’   “What does that mean?” I asked.   He responded, “it is a clinical way of saying, we just don’t know.”   And the Lord reminded us that only He opens and closes the womb.  

Much of our illness is idiopathic.   We don’t know what it is, where it came from, or what to do about it.  Sometimes doctors can help.  But often we feel like the woman in Luke 8:43 who had “spent all her living on physicians, [yet] she could not be healed by anyone.”   The best doctors are still only ‘practicing medicine.’   Only the Creator is sovereign over the human body and the human condition. As one pastor said, “medicine is a great tool but a terrible deity.”  

We may have good doctors, but there is only one Great Physician.   Our lives are in His hands alone.   In sickness we should find good doctors.  But to find complete healing, we must go to the Great Physician.   While many illnesses are not “a sickness unto death,” there is one malady which is.   A malady which kills body and soul.  An affliction we call sin.  The ultimate pandemic for which everyone tests positive.  It brings sorrow, malady, and death.   And for this sickness unto death there is no balm of Gilead, save one – faith in the finished and sufficient work of Christ on our behalf.

In Exodus 9 we read about the first plague which arises from human sickness.   The sixth plague comes unannounced.   No warning is given.   Moses and Aaron appear before Pharaoh and his magicians and with soot from the brick kilns initiate a devastating pandemic with symptoms of both cutaneous anthrax and small pox except with ‘gain of function.’   The magician-priests, from the cult of Egypt’s healing gods cannot even heal themselves.  They flee to their sick beds.   No Egyptian escapes, yet all who shelter under God’s grace are untouched.

This plague is an intensification of God’s judgement against Pharaoh, his gods, and his people.   Previous plagues were outside the body.   External afflictions that could be swatted, avoided, blamed.   But this plague is within its victims.   And so, it is an apt picture of sin.  It comes with a circumstance, but it is not outside of us.   We cannot blame Adam, or our parents, or our wicked culture.    It is ours.   We must bear it.   We must own it.  Oh! That someone else could bear it.   Take it away.   Give us relief, healing.

If you feel the weight of this here is good news.   Jesus Christ came into the world to,

“to proclaim good news to the poor.
    … to proclaim liberty to the captives
    and recovering of sight to the blind,
    to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19

“to save sinners of whom [you and I] are the foremost.” 1 Timothy 1:16

And elsewhere we read.

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.

Isaiah 53:4-6

Sin is a plague, a pandemic of biblical proportions.  There is no prophylaxis, no vaccine, no PPE, no social distancing for it.  But there is a cure! Join us as we examine Exodus 9:8-12 and consider the sixth plague and the much worse plague that it pictures and hear of a cure that is 100% effective.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

Discrimination

Discrimination is an ugly word.  It reeks of bigotry, racism, prejudice, unfairness.   It harkens to a time when people were judged not by the “content of their character, but the color of their skin.”  A time when human worth was assessed by standards other than those revealed by the Creator.  Discrimination despises the diversity God has imprinted on his created order. It defines truth, beauty, and value according to the eye of the beholder and not God’s revealed will.  In my youth, many wore discrimination as a badge of distinction, but now it is a Scarlet Letter. 

But the word, discrimination, does not always have a negative connotation.   For example, a food critic discriminates.   Her discriminating palate sifts subtle flavors and textures according to dozens of categories.   A good food critic can tell you where the ingredients were grown, simply from a discriminating palate.   Even if you do not possess ‘super-tasters’ you also discriminate.  Hot, cold, sweet, savory, you have your own categories of preference. 

Every time we make a choice, we discriminate.   Not every act of discrimination is wrong.   So long as we are exercising our freedom to choose in a way consistent with God’s revealed character and will, all is well.  But when we make discriminations that disregard his design, his will, his nature the Bible calls this sin.   Discrimination becomes sin when we place our will, our opinions, our preferences above those of God.   In our own autonomy, discrimination becomes bigotry, racism, prejudice, and unfairness.

And we all want fairness, right!   At least for ourselves.  We want more good than we deserve.  And nothing bad we don’t deserve.  That, we think, is the calculus of fairness.  And when life assigns more bad than good, we think it unfair.  But is fairness all it is cracked up to be?  

The God of the Bible is described as one who elects, predestines, and ordains all things whatsoever come to pass.   Skeptics hail this as unfair, imperious, and tyrannical.   But would they prefer a world of fairness, perfect justice?   The Bible warns us what that would look like.  Perfect justice requires a perfect judge.  And the only viable candidate is a Holy God.  One like the God described in the Bible.  In a world of his perfect justice, all could be condemned.   In a world of uniform fairness, our just desserts would be dreadful.  

A self-inflated opinion of our goodness and willing ignorance of our evil deceives us into believing fairness and justice would treat us well.   But one glance into our hearts and minds reveals quite another story.   To be honest, I am thankful for discrimination.  Thankful that there is a God who discriminates.  A God who does not give me what I do deserve.  But gives me what I do not.  The biblical words for these unfair gifts are mercy and grace.   And I will take them over fairness or justice any day.

The first three plagues of Egypt affected Egyptian and Hebrew alike.   A reminder that all have sinned.   All have fallen short of the glory of God.   And that sin brings the fair judgment of God.  The Hebrews needed to understand this as well as the Egyptians.   In these plagues, God reveals that He alone is God.  In Him alone is freedom found.   Anyone who looks elsewhere will be disappointed.  

But starting with the fourth plague, we see a difference.   God sets a ‘distinction’ between Pharaoh’s people and His people.   The Hebrews are not touched by this plague, or the plagues that follow.    The ancient word translated ‘distinction’ is translated elsewhere ‘a redemption.’  God discriminates!   He has put ‘a redemption’ among his people.   Those that trust in it are sheltered.   They receive mercy and grace instead of justice and fairness.  They get what they do not deserve and not what they do.   And this discrimination brings freedom.  

God has set ‘a redemption’ in our midst as well.   God’s eternal and divine Son, took on himself our human nature and in that nature bore our sin and satisfied the God’s justice.   In Jesus, God is both just and justifier.    By this redemption, a Holy God makes a distinction between those who fall under crushing justice and those who receive live-giving mercy.  

What about you?  Have you trusted in this God who discriminates?  Who gives you what Jesus deserved and gave Jesus what you deserved?   Are you still hoping for fairness and justice, thinking a reward for your actions would be a blessing, not a curse?  No, my friend, seek mercy and grace instead through faith in Jesus Christ.   Join us this week as we examine the fifth plague, the death of the Egyptian livestock, in Exodus 9:1-7 and consider the God who mercifully discriminates.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

God For Us

Cheerleading is now just ‘Cheer!’   What once existed to engage crowds at sporting events has now become a sport in its own right.  It has its own venues and events.  A cross between gymnastics and dance, it exists for itself, independent of crowds or sporting events.  Any actual cheerleading is an incidental by-product.  What had been essentially concerned for others, is now merely coexistent. 

Unfortunately, many people view God’s work of redemption the same way.   As though God acts in the lives of his creatures with cold detachment.  He rights the wrongs, redeems some, judges others, but is not personally invested.  Of course, Christian doctrine declares the impassibility and immutability of God.  He never suffers nor changes.  He is not contingent on anything in creation.  He does not need anything he has made.  He is self-existent, eternal, and utterly other-than all his creatures.   The Bible declares all these things to be true. 

Yet, like many apparent conundrums in Scripture where two seemingly contradictory ideas are presented side by side as true.  The impassibility of God is declared side by side with expression after expression of God’s love, hate, grief, and delight.   In our emotional lives these experiences imply vulnerability, growth, change.  How can this be true of God? But just as God ordains all things that come to pass, yet He gives men and angels real, true free moral will, the same God who never suffers or changes is described in the language of intense emotion.   He is never cold, detached, or sociopathic.  And, if fact, emotion animates his redemptive work.   “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.”

Does God care about you?   Is he really concerned with whether you live or die?  Does it matter to him whether you are saved or damned?   Or are regeneration and faith just an incidental by-product of his purpose to reveal his glory?   The glorious truth is that God does care about you.  He is concerned with whether you live or die.  It does matter to Him whether you are saved or damned.   Grace, security, and assurance depend upon God’s unchangeableness, but they are all fueled by attributes we express in emotional terms.   Like many things in scripture these are truths to be believed, not discovered.  While hard to understand, there is no conflict.

As the plagues unfold, the first three emphasized God judgement against Pharaoh, his people, and his gods.   But with the fourth plague something remarkable is noted.   As God threatens a horrible plague of flies, he promises something new.

“But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where my people dwell, so that no swarms of flies shall be there, that you may know that I am the Lord in the midst of the earth.

Exodus 8:22

Not only does God distinguish those he has appointed for deliverance, but he does so to reveal that He is present with them, to fight against their enemies and to combat their own sin and unbelief.   We consider many times that in Christ, God is with us.  But in the fourth plague, we see that God is for us.   His care, his deliverance, his mercy, his sovereign providence is not dispassionate, not incidental, no mere by-product of his glory.   He cares for you.   The scripture tells us.

Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel? — Ezekiel 33:11

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:1-4

… [cast] all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. — 1 Peter 5:7

God has concern for the life of his creatures.   He is no mere clinical observer of cosmic rats in a cosmic maze.   He loves you more than you can imagine.  His is not indifferent to you or your condition.   He sees, hears and knows.   And he desires you to turn to Him to find life.   Reconciling the free offer of the gospel with the doctrines of election and predestination is one of the secret things.  But what is revealed is that God truly loves us.

Have you learned this? Do you know God cares about you?  That he is concerned whether you live or die? And whether you are saved or perish?   Join us this Lord’s Day as we examine Exodus 8:20-32 and consider that not only is God with us, but that God is for us.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

The Finger of God

A polite person is testament to diligent mothering.   Mothers are guardians of polite behavior.  When someone is rude we think, “didn’t his mother teach him not to do that?” All the basic dictums of polite society still resonate in our mother’s voice:  “don’t slam the door, don’t chew with your mouth open, don’t interrupt, don’t stare, and don’t point at people.”

Children, especially, love to point at those who appear strange or comical.  They are given to the perspective of Lizzy Bennett’s father in Pride and Prejudice, “what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?”  But pointing the finger means more than calling attention.  It implies condemnation, accusation, and judgement.   The phrase, “to point the finger” indicates guilt.  Witnesses in court are often called to “point out the accused.”  

No one wants the “finger of blame” pointed at them.  Especially if the finger is God’s.  In his classic painting, Belshazzar’s Feast, the Dutch painter, Rembrandt, captured the terror of this.  The painting graphically portrays the moment, chronicled in Daniel 5, when Belshazzar literally sees the ‘handwriting on the wall.’   At a moment of great national peril with Cyrus besieging the gates of Babylon, Belshazzar throws a great feast.  To add to the revelry, he brings out the bowls and goblets looted from the Temple in Jerusalem to use as serving pieces.   Belshazzar thought himself untouchable behind the walls of Babylon, but God had a word for him.

“Then from [the Lord’s] presence the hand was sent, and this writing was inscribed. And this is the writing that was inscribed: Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin. This is the interpretation of the matter: Mene, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; Tekel, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; Peres, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”

Daniel 5:24-28

None of us wants to hear that we have been weighed in the balances and found wanting. Especially from God.   Belshazzar lifted himself up against the Lord of Heaven.  He despised God’s judgement, his holiness, his sovereignty, and his grace.  And the finger of God’s judgement was pointed at him.

The phrase, ‘the finger of god,’ was common in the ancient world for divine revelation or judgement.   We find it in the Old Testament in reference to God’s creative work in Psalm 8 and His revealing work in Exodus 31 and Deuteronomy 5.   And in the New Testament Jesus used the phrase in Luke 11.

Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 

Luke 11:14-21

But the first occurrence of the phrase ‘the finger of God’ is on the lips of Egyptian magicians.   Without warning, the third plague of Egypt brought swarms of gnats upon man and beast.  Until  this, the magicians mimicked the plagues in microcosm.  Enough to convince the Egyptians that the plagues were not divine judgement.   But even by their secret arts they could not conjure gnats from dust.   And they declare to Pharaoh “this is the finger of God.”

But Pharaoh refused to repent.  The finger of God’s judgement was pointed squarely at him, yet he bowed up.   For once the magicians spoke truth.  But it was a hard truth to accept. And Pharaoh’s heart was hardened.   He refused to relent or repent.   His only hope was the mercy of God.  Yet his heart became even harder.   What about you?  Is the finger of God pointed in your direction? 

The hard truth is that the finger of God is pointed at us all.   Acknowledge it or not, we have been weighed and found wanting.   Or as Paul put it in Romans 3:23-24, “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.”  

The hard truth is that we all face God’s judgement.  But the happy truth is that judgement need not be the last word.  Jesus endured the judgement of God for sin on behalf of those who believe in Him.   Join us as we examine Exodus 8:16-19 and consider hard truths about God’s judgement and the happy truth that in even in wrath God has remembered mercy in the gospel.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worshipGet directions here or contact us for more info. Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

Limelight

Shakespeare was a theatrical genius.   His plays and poetry shaped modern English.  But it was his was showmanship that made his plays a staple of Sixteenth Century British pop culture.   Long before we talked about performance art, Shakespeare placed his audiences in the action.  And he concocted lavish, though sometimes dangerous, special effects for his Globe productions.

If you go to London today, you can tour the reconstructed Globe.  Whether you like Shakespeare or not, do not miss it.   It was there I learned that the phrase “in the limelight” referred to a volatile lime mixture ignited in lamps to spotlight prominent actors.  It was “in the limelight” that Shakespearean actors brought kings and yeomen, saints and blackguards, witches and wood nymphs to life.   The limelight is the place of drama.   Yet the limelight is also the place of testing.  A prominence where our qualities are observed, examined, and critiqued.   The place where we should be most authentic, but are most tempted to play a role.

Canadian rockers, Rush, drew from Shakespeare when they mused.

Living on a lighted stage
Approaches the unreal
For those who think and feel
In touch with some reality
Beyond the gilded cage

Cast in this unlikely role
Ill-equipped to act
With insufficient tact
One must put up barriers
To keep oneself intact

All the world’s indeed a stage
And we are merely players
Performers and portrayers
Each another’s audience
Outside the gilded cage.

Neil Peart, “Limelight” on Moving Pictures

When we are thrust into the limelight, when that moment of fame, notoriety, exposure, prominence comes – not matter how expansive, will we be merely a player?  Performers or portrayers?  Or will we act out what is real?   How we answer this question says a lot about how we live out our Christian faith.   Others are watching, assessing, critiquing, deciding based on whether our walk is consistent with our talk.    While we sigh and roll our eyes when someone declares they are “spiritual but not religious,” perhaps the trap for many professing Christians is to be “religious but not spiritual.”  

Are we each other’s audience, playing a role, that any critical eye will unmask? Or are we living coram deo, before the face of God.  Is He the only audience we are concerned about?   The men in the Scriptures who received the most dramatic judgment of God were “religious but not spiritual.”  They professed great piety, but possessed no love for Christ.   The men of Jeremiah’s day were more religious than any of their forefathers, but also more apostate.   The prophets noted that the faithless worship was a stench in God’s nose and a trampling of God’s courts.   And the Pharisees were merely whitewashed tombs.  Jesus warns.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”

Matthew 7:21-23

Are you religious but not spiritual?  Are you all profession, but no possession?   Is your Christianity

Cast in [an] unlikely role
Ill-equipped to act
With insufficient tact
Full of pious barriers
To keep [yourself] intact?

Pharaoh’s heart was hard.   Moses confronted him time and time again.  But as the plagues unfolded, Pharaoh moved from raw defiance to feigned deception.   After the plague of frogs, we meet a Pharaoh who acknowledges the Lord, the power of prayer, the sovereignty of God, and shows respect for God’s servant, Moses.   Yet nothing changed in his heart.   And in the end, he showed his true colours and rebelled against God’s command.   He appeared to be softening, but nothing had changed.   The hardest hearts belong to those who exhibit theological acumen and piety yet have no living faith.  

What about you?   Are you “religious, but not spiritual?”   Do you have theological knowledge and pious practice, but no living faith in Christ?   Join us as we examine Exodus 8:1-15 and consider Pharaoh “religious, but not spiritual” response to the plague of frogs.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

Cardiopathy

Most of us are concerned about the condition of our heart.   Every trip to the doctor involves a check of our ‘vital signs.’  Vital signs which assess either a direct metric of our heart’s performance or some downstream effect, such as our blood oxygen level.  No matter what medical concerns brought us in, our health care providers want to know our heart is working well.   Nothing in the machinery of our anatomy reflects the frailty of life like our heart.  Only one heartbeat separates life and death, the here-and-now from eternity.

Despite our modern debates, the presence of a heartbeat is still the core criteria for distinguishing life from death.   A sound heart is so fundamental to being alive, that our language enshrines the ‘heart’ as the center of our being.  It represents our will, our desires, our affections, our deepest thoughts.  We use the heart to describe our physical, emotional, and spiritual condition.  And so, the thought of having heart problems brings existential crisis.   The clinical term is cardiopathy which refers to any disease or disorder of the heart.  

The thought of cardiopathy creates anxiety and imminent concern for our mortality.   Especially, cardiopathies with few effective treatments.  I recently read about “stiff heart syndrome.” Stiff heart syndrome is a condition in which the heart muscle thickens due to chronic high blood pressure. It is a warning sign of developing congestive heart failure. When the heart muscle can no longer efficiently pump blood, it can lead to fluid build-up in the lungs and limbs and cause shortness of breath.   The heart quite literally becomes hard.  

Degeneration and death come from a slow, progressive process of heart hardening.   The good news is that it can often be prevented through diet and lifestyle choices.  But once you have it, it is not easily treated.  Any time a life-giving organ turns to stone we should be concerned.  But are we as concerned for the hardness of our hearts, spiritually – a condition far more deadly, with eternal consequences?   

The Bible shows us the devastation of a spiritually stiff heart through the example of the Pharaoh in the book of Exodus.  The plagues, or mighty acts, God used to deliver his people from the oppression of Pharaoh were a judgement against both the people and the gods of Egypt.   And they were connected to Pharaoh’s hard and hardening heart.   From the start, the Lord declared that only the death of the firstborn would bring deliverance, but He graciously brings the progressive destruction of the plagues to reveal His glory, that the Hebrews and the Egyptians might “know the Lord.”  

But Pharaoh persisted in unbelief. And it brought disaster to his nation and his family.   He is a prime example of the destruction produced by a spiritually stiff heart.  And a warning to us.   The author of Hebrews warns.

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” For who were those who heard and yet rebelled?

Hebrews 3:12-15

How many times have you heard the free offer of God’s grace and yet rebelled?   Is your heart hard or hardening?   Take heart! There is good news.   Hard-heartedness need not be the last word.   The Bible promises, “Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” And “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” There is a cure for spiritual stiff heart syndrome.   Join us this Lord’s Day to hear more as we examine Exodus 7:14-25 and consider the consequences and cure of a hard heart.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

Lesson Learned

First it was a Nigerian widow who wanted to contribute $43,000,000.00 to our church.   Then a friend who was stranded in France without money or passport.   Next, the IRS called in from Puerto Rico to tell me that criminal proceedings were beginning in response to back taxes.   Rachel and Veronica kept my phone hot inquiring about my lapsed car warranty and unpaid student loans – neither of which I ever had.   And now representatives of Norton Security with atrocious spelling and even more unbelievable names are emailing me from clearly fraudulent domains to thank me for my $827 renewal of virus protection software I haven’t used since Win95.  

Does anyone really fall for this?  After all my spam filters have gotten so good that I never see most of this until my monthly spam purge.  Even my smart phone is smart enough to change Rachel and Veronica’s names to “Spam Risk” or “Telemarketer.” And yet, they are unmoved.  Confidence men or ‘conmen’ in the vernacular, continue with courage undaunted.  Someone will always fall for their spiel.   If not you, then the next mark.   It is a numbers game fueled by the certainty that some people never learn.   Or as P. T. Barnum was reputed to have said, “there’s a sucker born every minute.”

Pop psychologist Maria Konnikova examined this remarkable idea in her 2016 book, The Confidence Game: Why We Fall for It…Every Time.   She asks and attempts to answer age-old questions.

While cheats and swindlers may be a dime a dozen, true conmen—the Bernie Madoffs, the Jim Bakkers, the Lance Armstrongs—are elegant, outsized personalities, artists of persuasion and exploiters of trust. How do they do it? Why are they successful? And what keeps us falling for it, over and over again?

In her attempt to answer these questions, Konnikova brings readers into the world of the con, examining the relationship between artist and victim. The Confidence Game asks not only why we believe con artists, but also examines the very act of believing and how our sense of truth can be manipulated by those around us.  No matter what you think of her conclusions, she puts her finger on difficulty of learning our lessons from a bad experience.  We like to say, “fool me once shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” But how careful are we really to learn our lesson?  

We know Santayana’s maxim that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  We see this play out every day.   But do we learn our lessons?   And while this is important in regard to our relational, vocational, financial, and parental choices, it is of eternal importance in regard to our faith.   Faith grows as we exercise it.  And that exercise, not unlike physical exercise often comes in painful and trying circumstances.  The agency of sanctification is always refinement in the crucible of tribulation, suffering, need, or uncertainty. 

Faith grows when we lean into it, putting our weight upon the object of our faith.  The biblical word ‘faith’ carries with it the idea of standing on something to see that it will hold up and not give way.  The temporal things of this world and indeed your own skill, personality, talents, or circumstances cannot bear the weight of adversity in this life – but God can.  The Bible describes him as one who holds all things together, who carries us, who carries our sorrows and afflictions, and upon whom we can cast our cares.   He alone is the trustworthy object of our faith.   But how well have we learned this lesson?

Moses struggled to learn this.   His expectations of how God would work contradicted what God had revealed to him.   He did what he was asked.  He went to Pharaoh but his actions only made life more bitter for the Hebrew people.   Pharaoh’s heart grew harder with every exchange.  And his resolve grew greater with every refusal.   What kind of deliverance was this?  Moses was disappointed with his circumstance, himself, and most of all with God.  

But Moses was still placing his faith in himself and not in God’s promises and God’s power.   At the end of Exodus 6, God tells Moses to return to Pharaoh.  Moses complains, “what’s the use, I am a man of faltering speech.” But he goes anyway.   This time, however, he is careful to do exactly what God told him – no going off script, making apologies for God, or trying to smooth out what God said to make it more acceptable the unbelieving king.  

Moses learned a lesson.   Our faith in not in our faith, but in the object of our faith – God’s promises and power.   Join us this Lord’s Day as we examine Exodus 6:28-7:13 and consider some of the lessons learned by Moses about God’s promises and power and character – lessons we need to learn.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

Faith of Our Fathers

I admit it.  I was afraid of the prospect of changing diapers.  When my first child was born, I rushed to change that first diaper. I had to conquer my fear from the get-go.  But I had not done my homework.  I was not prepared for meconium. It was more than I had bargained for – much more.   

But meconium was not the most shocking aspect of becoming a father.  Most unexpected was the realization that my children would look at me, the way I had looked at my own father.  I never for an instant believed he did not know how to handle any and every situation. He always had a plan, seemed to have things under control – except, that is, when he attempted to fix household appliances.

But as a new dad, I was painfully aware that I did not know how to handle any and every situation.  I did not always have a plan, nor did I have things under control.   As a child my confidence in my father made the uncertain certain and made the impossible possible.  He taught me to plan, to write, to teach.  He taught me the importance of serving others, and in particular, of serving Christ. 

He had his faults to be sure, but I am thankful to be my father’s son.  His shoes were very big.  I sat with him as he drew his last breath in this life.  I was surprised by an overwhelming sense of being untethered as he left us.  Though I was almost fifty years old with seven children of my own, the thought of a world without my father seemed unexpectedly daunting.

Our fathers define us.  Either by their place in our lives, or by their absence.  Some infused us with strength and confidence, while others saddled us with weakness and insecurity.   In one way or another we are all shaped by fatherhood.  Dads, how are you shaping your family? What legacy will you leave? And what mark will your family make upon the world as it unfolds into history?   Genealogy, the study of our generations, is often more about where our family is going than where it started.  Where is your family going? What will be its legacy?

Genealogies in the Bible often seem quite out of place, interrupting great stories just as they reach a high point.   They can be tedious.  And often they are the bane of our daily Bible reading plan.   But they are no less “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16) 

Tucked in among unpronounceable Hebrew names and begats are some very important theological and practical truths.   God is a God of real people and real history.   God works through families and generations.   God sees, knows, hears, and directs parents, spouses, children, and outsiders toward his grace through their relationships.   No one falls through the cracks.  No one is unknown or unnoticed.   And no one is found among ancestors or descendants who ‘has it all together.’  Every generation needs a savior and looks to Christ.

As Moses prepares to confront Pharaoh and initiate the most awesome display of spiritual power the ancient world had seen in the plagues, the Holy Spirit presses the pause button. He gives us a genealogy and reminds us of the importance of being faithful men and women, boys and girls, following Christ and leaving a legacy of following Christ.   Join us this week as we examine Exodus 6:14-30 and consider the formative power of the ‘Faith of Our Fathers.’

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

Fear Not!

He was a young man on the edge.   He knew in his heart, his mind, his will he needed to take the next step.  A step either glorious or tragic.  Yet he was unable to move, paralyzed with fear.  Absolutely frozen in place.  His whole body shaking.   Tears streaming down his face.  Turmoil raging within him.   It was a rite of passage.  Others had done it.  He must do it.   But no rationale, no counting to 3, no sibling rivalry or encouragement loosed the grip of fear.   The gravity of fear was an irresistible force.  The heights were dizzying and the depths unfathomable.    

And nothing below would hold him up once he had jumped.  Nothing would keep him from sinking into the abyss.  Nothing that is except the grasp of his father.   His father’s presence, strength, and assurance was the only thing that made sense.  And ultimately the thing to which he leapt. “‘You can do it.  I am here.  I will catch you.  I will not let you sink.  Look at me.  Jump to me.”  

Everyone swimmer knows this fear.  It is a childish but powerful fear.  Few actually learn to swim by being thrown in.   Most of us can swim because there was someone there to catch us.   Someone we trusted more than we feared the depths.  Who loosed the grip of fear that paralyzed us?  What fear paralyzes you?  Keeps you stuck in place, unable to step out, to move forward?  

The Apostle Paul wrote, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.”  When we were young it was the fear of jumping into the pool, or perhaps what waited noiselessly under our beds at night.   Then we grew up.  We put away childish fears.  But new ones took their place.  

Fear of change, and of not changing.  Fear of not being accepted, or not measuring up.   Of not being recognized or valued.  Fear of financial uncertainty.   Fear of losing our edge, our abilities, our independence.    The fear of fading away unremembered.  Fear of not being known, loved, cared for?  Fear of prolonged sickness, suffering, and yes, death.  And the fear that everything in the world that we believe secure will become insecure – our world turned upside down. 

What fear paralyzes you?  Keeps you stuck in place, unable to step out, to move forward in following Christ?   The imperative “Fear Not!” is common in scripture.   But how can we obey it?  After all fear is a response to circumstances we cannot control.   Our finitude creates anxiety.   We are not in control.  We never were.   But what God commands, He provides.   The remedy for fear is faith in the one who is in control.    

Jesus’ disciples were fearful men.   They feared Pharisees.  They feared insignificance.  They feared service.  Peter feared servant girls and “men from James.”  Thomas feared false hope.  They all feared the raging sea.  And sometimes they feared Jesus.  Yet God gave them a faith that turned the world upside down.  Their persecutors observed that “being with Jesus” made them bold. 

As Jesus prepared to return to the Father, He prepared his followers to face fears and carry the gospel to the ends of the earth.   Leaving the Temple on the Tuesday before his crucifixion, Jesus declares “their house desolate.”     The temple was the most secure thing in their world.   Its destruction would be like the end of the world.   Like men of Jeremiah’s day, the men of Jesus’ day believed the Temple inviolable.  It was a wonder of the ancient world.  Tacitus wrote that it was “immensely opulent.”   Its stones weighted up to a hundred tons.  It was a marvel of engineering.  Yet Jesus declares, “not one stone will be left on another.” 

The Jewish leaders, the crowd, and the disciples were astonished.  Such was inconceivable.  And in turn asked him to explain.  “When will these things be?  What signs will we see?”   And so, in Luke 21:5-19, Jesus responds.  But he does not answer what they asked, but what they should have asked.  Questions we should ask?  Not when? Or what? But how?  How can the gospel advance in the face of such opposition?  How can we live by faith and not fear? 

This passage, so filled with catastrophe, is actually one of assurance and victory.   Join us as we examine Luke 21:5-19 and consider how God equips us to advance the gospel through tremendous assurance.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

Raising a Stink

You can’t take them anywhere.   Friends, family, coworkers, acquaintances whose presence always creates drama.  Then trauma.   Nothing is satisfactory.  And everyone must know it.  The food is too hot, cold, slow, soggy, poorly plated.  The seats are too crowded, in the sun, in the shade, far away, too close.   The route is too twisty, trafficked, poorly designed.   Whatever is, is not acceptable.   They raise a stink about anything and everything.   And invite contempt to our merry parties, family gatherings, and joyful assembles.

‘Raising a stink’ is an apt phrase. To ‘raise a stink’ means to be vocal in one’s displeasure or to make a scene about something; to complain or object very angrily. Nit-pickiness, implacability, malcontentedness is like a bad smell.  It offends and repels. It sickens and induces strong reactions.   It is the smell of death – the death of friendships, relationships, fellowships.  

‘Raising a stink’ is an ancient idiom.  Before refrigeration smells were a matter of life or death.  By its smell, food was tested before it was tasted.   And people were identified by their savour, whether sweet or malodorous, as much as their appearance. We see this in the stories of the Bible.  

After the flood, Noah offered a burned sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Lord and we read, “and when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man.’”  Isaac commented that the Esau smelled like “a field which the Lord has blessed.” And in Revelation 8, saints prayers are compared to sweet incense rising to the Lord.   The scent of some is sweet.  But the scent of others raises a stink.  

Genesis 22:1 records that God ‘tested’ Abraham.  The word translated ‘tested’ comes from an ancient word which means to examine the integrity of meat by smelling it.  In Genesis 34, after Jacob’s sons murder the men of Shechem, Jacob says, “you have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land.”  And in Exodus 5:21, the people complain against Moses after his failed interview with Pharaoh. 

“The Lord look on you and judge, because you have made us stink in the sight of Pharaoh and his servants, and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.”

Exodus 5:21

In Exodus 4, Moses and Aaron met with the elders.   Quickly and completely, God’s Word produced faith in an unbelievable promise.  Moses had worried no one would believe him.  But without controversy all the elders and all the people believed God’s Word and responded.   Now it was Pharaoh’s turn.  But Pharaoh’s heart was hardened.  He not only refused Moses’ demands, but made the peoples’ lives more bitter.   And they complained to Moses. He had raised a stink.  

It is true that God’s Word always raises a stink with unbelievers.  The Bible is not a matter of indifference.  It makes demands.  It reveals what we are.  And what we are not.   The hubris of unbelief cannot tolerate God’s Word.  It always raises a stink.   Paul describes this well in the New Testament.

For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.

2 Corinthians 2:15-16

The gospel is always pungent.   For some a pleasing aroma.  To others it raises a stink.  The gospel raised a stink with Pharaoh.  And it raises a stink with unbelievers in your life.  Moses and the people complained against God because of Pharaoh’s reaction.   What is your response when the gospel raises a stink?   Will you complain that God’s promises have failed?  Will you blame him for exposing you to persecution?   Will you value peace with lost men more than their peace with God? 

The gospel raises a stink.  But Moses raised a stink as well.   Pharaoh’s is not the only unbelief in this passage.   When the gospel did not act how and when Moses thought it should, he raised a stink.   How do you handle disappointment when the Lord does not act as you expect?  When His promises seem out of reach?   When following Christ appears to makes life worse, not better.   Exodus has much to say about disappointment.   Join us this Lord’s Day as we examine Exodus 5:1-23 and consider how we respond to disappointment.

We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn at 10:30 am for worship.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube