Under Pressure

One of creation’s great wonders is water.   The earth and its inhabitants are made of it.   Unlike most matter, water rebels against convention as it moves from liquid to solid.   While most substances become denser when they freeze, water expands.    And in a world teeming with aquatic life, that difference is crucial.  Ice floats.   If it sank, aquatic life would be forced to the surface as lakes, ponds, and rivers froze, depriving plants and creatures of warmth and oxygen.  But in God’s remarkable design, ice floats, insulating and preserving aquatic life.

This past week, however, many discovered that what is a blessing to fish, is not so great for plumbing.   Added to the sounds of children sledding and car wheels spinning, was the groaning of pipes and the rushing of water.   The pipes under our house burst.   Or rather should I say, one pipe burst.   The rupture to a single span of copper pipe was only half an inch long.   Yet the force and volume of the leak was prodigious.  The sound was like the sound of many rushing waters.   The pressure required to get water from lake to tap is immense.  And in a frozen instant, that pressure can bring unbelievable destruction.

And, so it is with the circumstances of our lives.   We live under the pressure of uncertainty.  We try to prepare, to plan, to insulate and anticipate.   Yet we can never get it quite right.  We all think want to know the future.  That is, until we do.   The older you get, the more you realize that prescience is not a panacea.   Foresight, when we get it, frustrates because we rarely have the power to alter or avert what is foreseen.   Foreknowledge without omnipotence easily leads to paralysis.    A pastor once commented that “anxiety comes from an awareness of our finitude.”   Hence, we say “ignorance is bliss.”  Or as Wendell Berry expressed it through Port William resident, Mat Feltner, “The mercy of the world is that you don’t know what’s going to happen.”   But ignorance is only mercy if you know and trust the one who is neither ignorant nor impotent regarding the future.

Jesus’ message to the Church in Smyrna in the Revelation is remarkable.   It contains neither commendation, nor condemnation.   Jesus never says, ‘nevertheless, this I have against you.’   This brief message has but one message, “hold fast!”   No matter what comes, “hold fast!”  The pressures building against Christians in Smyrna were dire and intense.   And worse, they were betrayed by those who ought to have been brothers.    Jesus words are concise and succinct.   “Be faithful unto death.”   How would you like to receive this message?   No matter what happens do not break with your faith.  Do not turn away.   Do not compromise.   Rest in the Faithful One, the first and the last, who died and came to life.

Persecution comes in all different shapes, sizes, and intensities.  We do not get to pick our cross.  We are only instructed to pick it up and carry it.   Paul wrote to Timothy, “all who live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  (2 Timothy 3:12)   Perhaps that is not what you signed up for when you gave your life to Christ.  But there it is.   We may seek compromise to avoid it.  Or seek mere relief rather than peace.   But consider the words of Ralph Erskine.  ”Some may bless themselves they were never assaulted by the devil and yet they are but sleeping, as it were, in the devil’s cradle and he is rocking them.”

What is your response to persecution?  To the intense pressure that comes with taking up a cross and following Christ?   Where will you seek rest?  In the promises of the Faithful one or the devil’s cradle?  Join us this week as we continue our survey Revelation as we examine the message to the Church in Smyrna in Revelation 2:8-11 and its encouragement to persevere in the face of extreme pressure.

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

Falling Out of Love

How did you celebrate Valentine’s Day?  We spent it huddled inside as Snowpocalypse 2021 descended.  Our family celebration with its hand-made cards and home-made fondue is postponed until the Winter Storm Warning expires.   But we do not need a day on the calendar, and more importantly, we must not wait for a day on the calendar to express love for loved ones.   

Roses, chocolates, and Hallmark cards are not to be despised.  That is unless that is all there is.    Our love must never be a casual thing.  We speak of “falling in love” and “falling out of love” as though it is a sickness or spontaneous whim.    But whirlwind romances lead to precipitous marriages then often to heartbreaking divorces as men and women follow only their heart’s desire.  

But love is not a thing to be fallen into or out of.  It grows out of commitment and grows into even greater commitment.   We don’t make vows to love one another so long as we both shall “feel like it.” Do you remember your wedding vows?  Perhaps you remember saying, “I do,” but do you remember what you agreed to when you said it?  As a pastor, I get to stand with couples as they make vows to live as husband and wife “for as long as [they] both shall live.”  

For newlyweds this day is a day of joy, celebration, and anticipation.  The weightiness of their vows waits for the happy couple in their future.  But as a pastor, I also walk with couples to the end of this vow through the valley the shadow of death.  As joyful as it is to hear couples recite vows at their wedding, it is a pastor’s sacred privilege to observe vows faithfully discharged on a couple’s last day as husband and wife.

Not long ago, I sat with “June” at the bedside of her husband of sixty-nine years.   As his earthly life was fading, she told me the story of their life together.  It was a hard story.  A life of challenges, setbacks, disappointments, sickness and some good times too.   “How did you make it through?” I asked.  Never looking up, she quoted without hesitation.

“For whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.”

Ruth 1:16-17

As she spoke, I was struck by the remarkable picture of faithfulness.   That vow, so easily spoken seven decades earlier, had been faithfully kept through poverty and plenty, sickness and health, better and a great deal of worse.   It was not merely promised.  It was lived.    She had not lost her first love.   The intensity of her love for her beloved had not waned with adversity or prosperity or familiarity.  Quite the contrary, it had grown.    Romance may wane and take new forms, but love must grow.   When it does not grow, when it declines, when love for our beloved is diminished because of a growing love for ourselves, then something is dreadfully wrong.  Even if all seems well on the surface.

The Ephesian Church was a church on the move.   They were hard workers.  They were straight as an arrow, doctrinally.   They had solid elders who knew how to spot a fake, a mile away.   They strenuously resisted the compromising theology of the progressive Nicolaitans.   Though they lived in a city and culture, unpromising for the Christian faith, by all appearances, they were prospering as a church.  But for all their theological acumen, solid eldership, and commitment to hard work, they were missing the most important ingredient to the Christian life – a growing love for Christ and for one another.  

The Risen Christ makes a shocking accusation – “I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.”  For all their praiseworthy attributes, Jesus’ verdict is so serious that if not remedied, they would cease to be a church – “I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.”

How do we measure our health as a church?  By growth in numbers?  By increased giving?  By broader ministry reach into our community?  By powerful, theologically rich teaching?   Or by proven, solid leadership?   All these things are important.   But without love – growing love for Christ and for one another, all these excellent attributes are, in the words of Paul, “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”  Has the church abandoned its first love to pursue self-love?   Have you abandoned love for Christ and for one another in order to love and serve yourself?  

Jesus remarked, “love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)   Do people recognize that we are followers of Jesus Christ by the way we love Him and one another?  If not, He is coming — coming to take our lampstand.

Join us this week as we continue our survey Revelation as we examine the first of the “Letters to the Seven Churches” and consider how this opening message to the Church at Ephesus is a warning to us of the danger of abandoning the love we had at first.

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

Overwhelmed

Are you overwhelmed yet?  Every sphere of life seems turned upside down right now.  Surely we have learned not to ask, “how much worse can it get?”   But with every news-cycle, the catalog of catastrophes expands.   While not to the level of the Biblical plagues, we can well imagine how the people of Ramses’ Egypt felt.   Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does.    But as bad as the circumstances of last year have been, even worse are the downstream consequences.    Life has always been uncertain, but we feel it more keenly now.  And with that, mental, emotional, and spiritual crises have produced a far greater impact than the events that triggered them. 

A recent article in JAMA, makes some pretty startling observations.

Since February 2020, the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has led to at least 200 000 deaths in the US and 1 million deaths worldwide. These numbers probably underestimate COVID-19 deaths by 50%, with excess cardiovascular, metabolic, and dementia-related deaths likely misclassified COVID-19 deaths.

This devastating pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of daily life. While nations struggle to manage the initial waves of the death and disruption associated with the pandemic, accumulating evidence indicates another “second wave” is building: rising rates of mental health and substance use disorders.

This magnitude of death over a short period of time is an international tragedy on a historic scale. Focusing on the US, the number of deaths currently attributable to COVID-19 is nearly 4 times the number killed during the Vietnam War. This interpersonal loss at a massive scale is compounded by societal disruption. The necessary social distancing and quarantine measures implemented as mitigation strategies have significantly amplified emotional turmoil by substantially changing the social fabric by which individuals, families, communities, and nations cope with tragedy. The effect is multidimensional disruption of employment, finances, education, health care, food security, transportation, recreation, cultural and religious practices, and the ability of personal support networks and communities to come together and grieve.

A June 2020 survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of 5412 US adults found that 40.9% of respondents reported “at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition,” including depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress, and substance abuse, with rates that were 3 to 4 times the rates 1 year earlier.2 Remarkably, 10.7% of respondents reported seriously considering suicide in the last 30 days.2 The sudden interpersonal loss associated with COVID-19, along with severe social disruption, can easily overwhelm the ways individuals and families cope with bereavement.

The events of 2020 were bad.   And, unfortunately, for many, 2021 may get worse.   As Christians, how do we respond when life is absolutely overwhelming?   We profess that our faith gives us strength “many trials of various kinds.”  We are instructed to “count it all joy.”   We declare that we can endure “all things through Christ who strengthens us.”   We have an expectation that things will work out because, “if God is for us, who can be against us.”  Yet, when things go from bad to worse, how do those scripture truths hold up as threads in the fabric of our lives.  How do we keep from being overwhelmed? Or do we?

Or perhaps the question is not ‘how do we keep from being overwhelmed,’ but are we ‘overwhelmed by the wrong things?’   The Apostle Paul points to this paradox, writing to the ancient Church at Corinth. 

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies….  So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 

2 Corinthians 4:8-10, 16-18

Through a remarkable series of comparisons, Paul admonishes us to be overwhelmed by the grace of God, not the gravity of the present crisis.   Perhaps our problem is that we are overwhelmed by the wrong things?   A friend once noted that ‘fear is simply faith pointed in the wrong direction.’  Are you overwhelmed?  Overwhelmed by fear of what will happen next?  Or overwhelmed with faith in the One who is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Join us this week as we examine 2 Corinthians 4:7-18 and consider the calling as Christians to be overwhelmed by the things that will last forever. 

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

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Moving Pictures

Occupational therapy!  That’s what my CrossFit workouts resemble.  Occupational therapy teaches you how to do familiar things in a new and easier way in order to accommodate physical weaknesses or limitations.  I have come to accept that I am, almost without exception, the oldest guy in our CrossFit box.  I am the king of what they call “modifications” and “scaled” workouts.  Rare is the WOD in which I can click Rx on my results.   One modification, I have yet to be able to make, however, is to get the rest of my Wod-mates to accept and acknowledge that 80’s rock is the best music to set the pace for the workout.  My hips don’t hop, and the only pop I am concerned about is the pop in my knee.   

One of my favorites from those BC days was Rush.  Their innovative musicality coupled with evocative lyricism resonated with me as a teenager.   A favorite album was Moving Pictures.  The album’s concept was the great power of poetry and music to tell moving stories – moving pictures. 

Probably all of us have been moved to sorrow, joy, reflection or action by an iconic song, picture or story.  But no story has more moving pictures than the story of redemption, unfolded in the Bible, with its themes of mercy and grace and good triumphing over evil.  The Bible is no mere moralistic litany, it is a living and active story of a mighty hero who through self-sacrifice and great power defeated the arch-enemy of all men, sin and death.  In every vignette, every chapter, this story is unveiled.

Everywhere you look in scripture you see moving pictures of Jesus.  With Abraham on Mt. Moriah, Jesus is there.   With Mephibosheth at David’s table, Jesus is there.   With fearful disciples on the stormy Sea of Galilee, Jesus is there.   And in the midst of seven Asian churches facing persecution and turmoil, Jesus is there.   Painted in the words of Scripture, these moving pictures reveal the presence and power of a Savior who is “God with Us.” While Scripture never describes what Jesus looks like, it thoroughly describes what Jesus is like.  

Nowhere is this idea more vividly portrayed than in John’s inaugural vision in the Revelation.   This vision of Christ among the golden lampstands, is, as pastor Richard Phillips noted.

… representative of God’s intention for the entire book.  John is suffering oppression because of his faith in Jesus.  This first vision sets before him the sovereign glory of Christ, complete with emblems of his triumphant, saving work, so that John will be encourage to endure in worship of and service to his Lord.” 

Reformed Expository Commentary on Revelation, Richard Phillips.

We must fix our eyes on the mighty and victorious Jesus revealed only in Scripture.   Not just the Jesus who was, but the Jesus who is and who is to come.  The one who is the same yesterday, today and forever, the Living One, who died, but is now alive forevermore.  The One who holds the keys to death and hell.   As the author of Hebrews encourages us.

Run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:2-3

Adversity is ingrained in the Christian life.   Victory is gained not through avoiding, but overcoming it.   John Calvin observed, “the church of Christ has been so divinely constituted from the beginning that the Cross has been the way to victory, death the way to life.”  Strength to endure adversity, tribulation, and turmoil, comes not from some place deep within us, but from the depths of knowing Christ.  

Join us this week as we continue our survey Revelation as we examine Revelation 1:9-20 and consider how this opening vision reveals, not what Jesus looks like, but what Jesus is like so we might fix our eyes on Him, know Him, and run with endurance.

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

Lifting the Veil

One of my mottoes when counseling a prospective bride and groom is “prepare more for the marriage than you do for the wedding.”   Yet, it is hard for star-crossed lovers to get their heads around “till death do us part.”   The logistics of a wedding are so much easier than the logistics of marriage.   That is until the wedding day arrives.  Standing with the groom, I see in him that same growing bewilderment, I felt on my own wedding day.   With each processing bridesmaid a sense of foreboding self-doubt grows.

Then the door to the church opens. The bride, veiled in glory, her father at her arm, appears in radiant splendor.  And it hits you.   I am making the most momentous decision of my life.  I am about to be responsible for another person.   I am about to live for someone other than myself.  In that moment, self-doubt and introspection grip you in a way you have never been gripped.  

Then she is there.   Right in front of you.  You lift the veil.   And the light in her eyes, the love radiating from her face assures you – all is well.   You settle in.  You breathe.  You settle down. And you make vows that change your life forever.  All will be well.   Because once unveiled, ‘the bride’ is revealed as ‘the beloved.’   And that makes all the difference.

When the veil is removed, we see what really matters.   Fear, uncertainty, and insecurity may still be there, but they are eclipsed by faith, hope, and love.   However, what is true in our human relationships only dimly reflects what is true of our relationship with Christ.    To know Him for who He is, to see Him for who He is, allows us to run with perseverance the race marked out before us.  No matter where the course might lead.   Yes, there is fear, uncertainty and insecurity.  But faith, hope and love rule the day.

Yet, fixing our eyes on Him is hard.   We squint to see Him through sight, rather than faith.   He has revealed Who He is through His Word, the Bible.   But the Bible can be challenging to understand.   Yet God has given each part of it to lift the veil on who He is.   As John Calvin noted, “in the Scriptures God is veiled, that he might be unveiled.”   The one who defies description, describes himself in the limitations of language so that we might be able to see him with unveiled faces and unveiled faith.

No part of Scripture is more challenging to grasp than Revelation – the last book in our Bible.  Its enigmatic creatures, symbols, and numbers are fertile fields for fanciful interpretation.  Despite early historical claims of authorship by Jesus’ beloved disciple, John, Revelation was one of the last books to be accepted into the Canon of the New Testament.  Martin Luther questioned its canonicity, and Calvin never commented on it.   Yet, this word that seems so mystifying, and is so often ignored, has been breathed out by God, useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training that you and I may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.   

More than that, the book itself claims to be a “lifting of the veil.”   This testimony of Jesus Christ begins with the ancient word which means to “take away a veil” – a word we translate ‘revelation.’  For that is what Revelation and revelation are — God’s self-disclosure to us, that we might see by faith not by sight.  In Revelation, Christ Jesus draws aside the veil and shows us his glorious purpose and sovereignty over history, encouraging us to view our circumstances rightly and live boldly.   When the veil is lifted, our existential self-doubt and gripping fear are also lifted.  At last, we can see that all will be well — even if it will not be easy.  

Join us this week as we begin a survey of the book of Revelation, examining Revelation 1:1-3 to consider how this part of God’s Word offers blessing, encouragement, and hope for dark times. 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

New Math

Math – you either love it, or you hate it.  It inspires no ambivalence.   It’s rigidity, its precision, its unforgiving exactitude is what haters hate and lovers love.   The unyielding constancy of mathematical relationships in the cosmos are a testimony to a predicable universe.   In an ever-changing world, math is changeless.   Even cosmological change, itself, is governed and measured by unchanging mathematical relationships.

But while mathematical truths do not change, the techniques and the technology of mathematicians do.   This is observed whenever you attempt to help a small child with homework.   “It’s only long division,” you think.  Certainly, you are qualified to help your young padawan mathematician with that.   But then you encounter it – ‘new math.’   All the methods you learned and the tools you used, back in the day, to navigate the rigors of math are now different.    You begin to say things like, “let me show you an easier way.”  Or “I don’t know why this ‘new math’ overcomplicates everything.”  

Everyone is frustrated.  You in your attempt to help.  And your third-grader, who is now more confused than ever.    Even my undergraduate degree in applied mathematics, does not empower me to teach ‘new math’ to teach my children.   We think we see the problem and its solution clearly, only to realize our assumptions and our approaches are all wrong.   But this is not only a problem in math.  

What is true of math, is often even more pronounced in our spiritual lives.   On the surface, our problems seem to be merely a matter of logistics, resources, or relationships.   We believe we have a clear grasp of the problem and the solution, only to realize our assumptions and approaches are all wrong.  Wrong because they lacked any consideration of faith.  In the Christian life there is nothing in which faith does not play the leading role.   Paul pointed this out when he wrote, “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (Romans 14:23)   Nothing is aspiritual.

Jesus’ disciples discovered this in a remarkable way in the ‘feeding of the five thousand.’  The setting for this story is complex.  The disciples had just completed a highly acclaimed ministry tour of Galilee.  The gospel was preached, demons cast out, and lives changed.  And the local powers took notice.   Herod took notice.   Herod, who had just executed John the Baptist, feared this new groundswell of preachers and teachers.  The Twelve were exhausted.  They had not even had time for a meal together.  Jesus, too, was exhausted emotionally by the news of John’s death.   They crossed the Sea of Galilee to get away for a few days.   But as often happens in the lives of those in ministry, the vacation turned into work. 

Throngs from the surrounding towns and cities found Jesus.  They  came out to his ‘desolate’ retreat to find healing and truth – over five thousand families.   Jesus did not turn them away, but cared for them.   As the day wore on, however, exhaustion and hunger take their toll.   The disciples instruct Jesus to send the people away to find food and lodging.   But Jesus tests them.  “You give them something to eat!”   Jesus puts a brewing humanitarian crisis back in their laps.   How will they ever meet such a need?  What did they learn on their ministry tour?  What did they learn from his teaching that day?   What have they learned of his power and faithfulness? 

The disciples believe this is a crisis of logistics.   But it is really a crisis of faith.   Will they operate by faith or sight?  Can they trust Jesus to provide for those he calls?   Will they grasp that spiritual life and practical life are not mutually exclusive?   The mathematics of feeding this crowd are staggering.   And, the mathematics of their resources are ludicrous.   What can Jesus do with one boy’s lunch?  The disciples thought they understood the problem and its solution, but their assumption and approach was all wrong.  

More than rest and food, they needed to trust Jesus with the math!   Eight months wages might have provided a small bit of bread for most of the crowd.  But in Jesus’ hands a boy’s lunch fed thousands until they were full.   And there were leftovers!  Not scraps, but uneaten servings.  Twelve baskets full to feed the empty stomachs and faith of The Twelve. 

What will Jesus do with your life, if you place it his hands?  What will he do with your modest or lavish resources?  With your plans and desires?  With your time?   Perhaps you are concerned that if you give these to the Lord, he will take, but not give?  That you will not have enough?  Or that you can’t trust how he will use what you think actually belongs to you.  

Only John’s account of the feeding of the five thousand mentions the boy whose lunch became food for thousands.   We don’t know anything about him, his reasons for being there or if he struggled to yield what was his to his master.  What we do know is that when he put what little he had in the Jesus’ hands, he had more than he needed and so did thousands more.  Jesus taught.

Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. 

Luke 6:38

Can you trust God with your resources, your desires, your plans, your time, your family, your heart, mind, soul, and strength?   Maybe it’s time to find out.   Join us this week as we examine John 6:1-14 and consider the call to exercise faith in giving.

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 Great Exchange

Big Tech is under the microscope.   For years social media has been accused of allowing supposed foreign actors to shape public opinion.  But, of late, it seems that Big Tech has cut out the middlemen – editing, crafting, and censoring public discourse and behavior directly.   How many of your posts have been “reviewed by independent fact checkers” and found wanting.  But this is nothing new.   Traditional media and commerce have done this forever.   Print media has always reported through political bias to offer you a predigested conclusion.  And large retailers intend you to buy what they offer, rather than what you want.

While Big Tech’s motives are always in question, its effects are unquestionable.   Technology changes behavior.   It always seeks to automate and streamline, manual time-consuming tasks.   This is what technology does.    Years ago, as the internet moved from the world of academia to commerce, retailers tried to leverage this new access to consumers.   But there were obstacles.   Shipping costs and difficulty exchanging or returning items created trepidation for buyers.   Enter Amazon Prime.   However you feel about Amazon, their introduction of free-shipping and no-hassle returns, more than any other innovation, opened the floodgates of ecommerce.

We all want gift exchanges to be easy.   No one wants to wait in line at Customer Service only to get store credit.  No one wants to search endlessly to find the return right address for a mail-order purchase and then have to pay shipping equal to the item’s original price.   Until Amazon, the cost of gift exchanges was high.   But now online retailers have made this process virtually painless.   Click, print, and take the return to the UPS Store and you are done.   Ease of exchange has been revolutionary.  None of us wants to endure the costs of a difficult gift exchange.   Anymore we are shocked at a seller that expects us to pay return shipping.   Forgotten are the days of difficult exchanges.

So perhaps it is extremely difficult grasp of the fullness of what it cost Jesus to make the greatest exchange.    When we think of the Incarnation, we consider the poverty and obscurity of his coming or of the constant rejection he experienced – “He came to His own, but His own received Him not.”   But our thinking about his humiliation never goes far enough.   We think of his humility in terms of what would humble us.  But the very act of the eternal God taking upon himself our nature is a humiliation of inconceivable magnitude.   While grace is free to us, it is not cheap.   All the brokenness and curse and wrath of God that our sin brings and deserves was placed upon him.   And all the righteousness that he attained was accounted to us, when we give ourselves to him.   The Apostle Paul pens this great mystery concisely when he wrote.

We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21

The incarnation was the costliest exchange in the history of gift giving.   God’s grace and mercy toward us came at an unfathomable cost.   Our forefathers expressed described this cost as Christ’s humiliation and described it this way in the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

Q. 27. What did Christ’s humiliation consist of?

A. Christ’s humiliation consisted of his being born in a low condition, living under the Law, undergoing the miseries of this life, undergoing the wrath of God and the cursed death of the Cross, and in being buried and continuing under the power of death for a time.

Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 27

Yet this costliest of exchanges brings about the most extraordinary exchanged lives in the recipients of God’s gracious gift.   Paul describes this exchanged life in 2 Corinthians 5.

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

2 Corinthians 5:14-17

Literature is filled with compelling stories of exchanged lives — The Prince and the Pauper, or A Tale of Two Cities.  But there is no more compelling story than the “Son of God becoming man, so that men could become sons of God.”   This week as we conclude our study of the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s teaching on the Incarnation by considering the costliest exchange in history — the humiliation of Christ.   Join us as we examine 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 as we consider what this exchange meant for Jesus and what it means 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

A Great Mystery

We live in a world filled with mystery.  We believe we live in an age of hard facts and scientific data.  We pretend that with enough computing power and scientific inquiry, everything question can be answered, every mystery resolved.   Indeed, we have accumulated much in the way of knowledge.   But, ironically, as knowledge and mystery increase in direct proportion.   The more we understand of the world in which we live, the less we understand about of how it works.   The more we know, the more we know about what we do not know.

From our digital age, we look down with smug superiority upon our forebears, quibbling about with pens and paper.   While we struggle to use our smart phones without consulting a small child.   Our technology is a mystery to us.    We think we have explored the earth — no new lands to discover and conquer, but we know less about the surface of the ocean, which covers two thirds of our planet, than we do about the surface of the moon.

We cannot explain even the simplest things we observe every day.  The sun, moon, and constellations are large on the horizon, yet seem to diminish in size as they rise overhead.    Yet if you hold out your thumb to the rising moon, then again when it is at its zenith, you will discover absolutely no difference.  What accounts for this remarkable trick of perspective?   Neither scientists nor psychologists can explain it.    And when you go to your favorite drive-in and order a milk shake, why does it give you a brain freeze?   Despite well-funded research, scientists have not determined the cause.   Our world is awash in mystery.

Some of these mysteries involve great contradictions — irreconcilable, yet indispensable truths.   In the early part of the Twentieth Century, as scientists observed sub-atomic matter, they realized that the physics of their day no longer explained the behavior of the nano-world.   A new physic, quantum physics, was born to account for what Sir Isaac Newton never even knew existed.  At the center of this new understanding was a radical new idea – that light acted but as a wave and as a particle.   No one could explain it, but accepting this mystery was foundational in constructing a model of physics that explained the sub-atomic world.   Seemingly irreconcilable, yet indispensable truths, that make the world go round.

This type of tension is no surprise to the Christian.   For the Christian faith is filled with such paradox.   Indispensable truths which seem to be in tension with one another.  “Truths,” as one theologian quipped, “to be believed, not discovered.”   Truths such as the absolute sovereignty of God and the undeniable reality of true human freedom.   And an even more incomprehensible mystery.   The truth of a Savior who is fully God and, at the same time, fully man – two natures, in one person, forever.   Yet, the scripture does not discourage “faith seeking understanding.”   God has given us minds that desire to know His truth, to seek and find what He has revealed.   This is what we see in a remarkable way in Mary, the mother of Jesus.

In Luke 1:26-38, we have one of the most remarkable stories in scripture.   The angel, Gabriel comes to Mary with a startling announcement — she will be the mother of her Savior.   Unlike the fearful skepticism of Zechariah, Mary asks “how will these things be?”   A question we all wrestle with as we consider a Savior who is fully God and fully man.   But in the answer, scripture points us to one of the most precious truths of our faith.   Because Mary asked this question, we, along with our forefathers, can turn to scripture ask.   

Q22: How did Christ, being the Son of God, become man? 
A22: Christ, the Son of God, became man, by taking to himself a true body, and a reasonable soul, being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and born of her yet without sin. 

Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 22

Join us as we examine Luke 1:26-38 and consider this question and why it is important. 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

Lessons and Carols, 2020

The story of the coming of Christ in the Incarnation is the most dramatic story ever told.  While it reaches a beautiful high point with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem,  there is much, much more to this story – a story that has its origins in eternity past and its implications in eternity future, a story of epic failure and dramatic rescue, a story that reveals a God who is quite different from the one our fears imagine.  As singer/songwriter Andrew Peterson puts it.

Gather round, ye children come
Listen to the old, old story
Of the pow’r of Death undone
By an infant born of glory
Son of God, Son of Man. (Andrew Peterson)

Come and experience the rest of this story in God’s own words and in song as we share in An Evening of Lessons and Carols together at 7:00 pm on Thursday, December 24. We meet on the square in Pottsville, right next to historic Potts’ Inn.  Get directions here or contact us for more info.  Or join us on Facebook Live @PottsvilleARP or YouTube

Who Is This?

We live in a world awash with outrageous claims and inflammatory statements.   Faced with the daunting challenge of distilling fact from fiction, we may be tempted to believe everything or nothing.   But among all the outrageous claims, what if there is life giving truth?  What if there is truth we cannot live without?

No man made more outrageous claims that Jesus Christ.   He shocked the men of his hometown, by claiming to be the Messiah.  He challenged the religious leaders to point out a single one of his sins.  He pushed the limits with his disciples, commanding them to love enemies and offer unlimited forgiveness to offensive brothers.  

Jesus’ own disciples struggled to understand who he was and what he came to do.  From time to time, glimpses shone through their own preconceived notions of Him.  In a poignant moment, as they were crossing the Sea of Galilee, a furious squall sprang up and threatened to sink their small fishing boat.  Half of Jesus’ disciples grew up on these tempestuous waters, fishing with their families from their childhood, yet even they were convinced that they would not survive the trip.  They woke Jesus, who was asleep in the back of the boat. 

They did not ask him to save them – for what miracle working teacher was a match for a force-ten gale?  They only asked, “don’t you care that we are about to die?”   Jesus stood up in the boat and with a word, brought the waters from tempest to mirror.   These seasoned seamen were almost speechless.  The only thing they could say of Jesus was, “who is this?”   They perceived that there was much more to Jesus than even their imaginations could anticipate.

What about you?  When someone mentions Jesus, what comes to mind?  Religious revolutionary? Social justice warrior?  Ethical teacher?  Failed Zionist leader?  Founder of a yet another world religion? Who is this Jesus?  For many it is a caricature, influenced by pictures you have seen or by clichés which permeate our cultural ideas of “the historical Jesus.”  Or perhaps you remember him from a collection of anecdotes or parables you heard as a child in some Sunday School.   Just who is Jesus?

No claim of Jesus was more outrageous than his claim that “I and the Father are one.  He who has seen me has seen the Father.”   Jesus did not claim merely to be God’s servant, or God’s prophet.  He did not claim to be “a son of God,” but “The Son of God.”  Despite the best efforts of Arian heretics to erase Jesus’ claims to divinity, the Scriptures claim pervasively and decisively that Jesus is fully God and fully man.   Men who seek some value in Jesus as a mere man and moral example, but disbelieve his outrageous claim to deity must face C. S. Lewis’ scathing critique.

A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else He would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. 

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.

Jesus did not come to point out the way, the truth, or the life, but to be the way, the truth and the life.  This demands that he be fully human and fully divine. 

Who is Jesus?  Our seasonal displays of a baby Jesus in a lowly cattle stall have led us astray, thinking only of his humanity.   But in the opening chapter of his gospel, John, the beloved disciple, pulls back the curtain to reveal “the rest of the story.”     You think you know who Jesus is?  Come and find out as we examine John 1:1-5, 9-14 and grapple with what our forefathers expressed in the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

Q21: Who is the Redeemer of God’s elect? 
A21: The only Redeemer of God’s elect is the Lord Jesus Christ, who, being the eternal Son of God, became man, and so was, and continueth to be, God and man in two distinct natures, and one person, forever. 

Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 21

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