The dynamic of the Arp family is usually best described as unpredictable. And for the most part we are cool with that…until we realized we really aren’t. Not so much me, or even my wife or daughter, but rather our son. It kind of took us as surprise as our lives have always been marked by spontaneity. But our son Jonas has always had issues with fits and meltdowns and for a season he seemed to be getting over them. But then we had a family tragedy take place and the wheels came off again. And try as we may we really couldn’t understand how to help him until a family friend (who happens to also be a therapist) suggested that perhaps Jonas has Sensory Processing Disorder. Just to give you the shorthand version, whenever Jonas encounters something that might make you or I anxious it sparks in him the Flight or Fight response. And so the unknown, the unpredictable, etc. all of a sudden became an issue for the Arp family.
I tell you this because it has become a unique thing for us (especially in the midst of a pastoral transition at our church). How do we as parents create an environment for our son that relieves him of anxiety and the unknown? This truly has become a daunting question. In the midst of all that is going on anxiety even weighs heavy on me. But in the book of Philippians the writer Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) in every situation? With thanksgiving? How are we supposed to offer up thanks in the midst of the unknown? But I think there might be something to that. The unknown provides the opportunity for faith, for trust. And as we offer thanks and prayer on the midst of that faith moment we are told that peace which transcends human comprehension guards us. This is a reason to offer thanks.
So I come back to my son. I am trying to teach him what it means to trust us in the midst of the unknown. And as I do so I catch a glimpse of what our Heavenly Father longs for for us in the midst of of walking in faith into the unknown.
Although I have posted one of these before, it serves as a steady reminder to the words I so willingly let loose of. Enjoy.
For those of you statistically inclined, this is composed of the words from 135 blog posts over a two and a half year period.
While eating lunch with some colleagues the other day I noticed that one of them was trying on the other’s glasses. His prescription was running out and so he was looking at a more “hip” frame for his new eyeglass prescription. Eyesight is one of those weird things that way. Not having ever needed glasses I find it hard to empathize, but from my understanding, once you receive eye glasses your prescription may always be changing (unless of course you take the laser surgery route). And so from time to time one must visit an optometrist in order to see if they need to update their prescription.
This got me reflecting on a conversation I had with a student recently who was troubled by the fact that there are so many different denominations and so many differing ideas about God in the church today. So I asked the student, “Do you think you read the Bible the same way as an African-American woman in Detroit?” (The assumption here is that my original audience was more WASP-y). “What about a middle-aged man in Key West?” The response of course was no. Then I asked the question, “Do you even think you read the Bible the same way you did five years ago?” The answer again, no.
An often quoted verse regarding scripture is Hebrew 4:12, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” God’s word is ‘living’. God’s word is ‘active’. And yet, sometimes we find people who are content to read the Bible the same way they did 10, 20, or even 50 years ago. Now I know the argument; God never changes and so His word never changes. And I am not saying that the words of the Bible magically shift and reconstruct themselves. But as time goes by, we learn more about the world of the Bible and the culture behind the voices we read. In his book An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land, William Stringfellow writes, ”They devalue the humanity of the reader or listener by assigning the person a narrow and passive role depleted of the dignity of participation in encounter with the biblical Word which the vitality of that Word itself at once invites and teaches.” The assumption is that taking the words of the Bible at face value without allowing interplay and interaction between our present culture and the ancient culture robs both the reader and the Biblical writer.
Let’s take a more practical approach. Over the years I have collected a few notes and cards from my wife…love letters of sorts. I read them very differently today than I did when I received them. And mainly because our relationship has grown over the twelve years we have been a couple. Don’t you think that as time goes by we would read the Word a bit differently as well? And maybe if we don’t, do you think it might be time to change our lenses?
May we continue to grow in grace as we encounter the living God in his living Word.
Last week for much of the country was spring break. That hallowed time when college students humiliate themselves and families exhaust themselves trying to cram a vacation into a small break that you need a vacation from after you return. As to the Arp’s plans; we packed the car up and drove south over six hundred miles to our ancestral home just south of Chattanooga, TN. The amazing thing about this part of the country is that it is home to my wife’s parents, my own parents and much of our extended family. The tiresome part about this part of the country is that it is home to my wife’s parents, my own parents and much of our extended family…I jest. The only reason this trip is exhausting is due to the fact that there are so many loved ones we want to see and so little time to do it in. But it’s home. And yet, when I pointed the car north to Michigan I was also excited…because it is home. In ten years of marriage my wife and I have made our home in north Florida, Nashville, TN and Flint, MI. And every time those places have come to represent home. And I grew up in Rossville, GA under the shadow of Lookout Mountain and for me that is also home. It amazes me how the human heart can link home feelings to so many different places.
I think about the passage of scripture midway through Jesus’ sermon on the mount where he says, “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Now I know we often think about heaven being ‘way beyond the blue’, but I can’t help but feel like we are also called to bring heaven to earth. And if we are bringing heaven to earth, what treasures are stored up in that action? I have come to believe it really is about community…family. The reason that home exists for me in Northwest Georgia, North Florida, Middle Tennessee and Flint, Michigan is because my family lives in these places.
In John 14 Jesus paints a beautiful picture of heaven and the Kingdom of God. In verses 2-3 we read, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” Jesus was speaking of an ancient near east dwelling known as an Insula. The insula was a way for families to be grafted together. Whenever a young groom wanted to take a bride he would have to build a room onto his father’s house in order to bring her into the family. When the room was ready he could go and collect his bride.
And I think that is what the church has allowed Christ to do in and for me. He has built room upon room for my family. And this family stretches out across the entire world so that when I am in their presence, I am home…And one day we will all really be home together.
I am reluctant to write this post. But sometimes when you experience something your eyes are opened to greater truth. And I feel that this truth I recently encountered is something that we in the church need to hear. I think our behavior, as in those of us who call ourselves the church, as of late can best be classified as ‘unchristian’. Don’t worry. I am not jumping on some political rant or some evangelical bashing bandwagon in order to prove a point. Let me give you some context.
Recently my wife and I attended a party. I was both nervous and excited about the party because it was thrown by some friends of ours. However these friends of ours, although they are dearly loved, live a different lifestyle than us. And a majority of the party attendees would also fit into that category. I love meeting people, but this was going to be a unique scenario as I was afraid as to what many of the people might think when they learned what I did for a living (As a side note, this often takes people by surprise…I guess I need more sweater vests). But the party actually went swimmingly. And there was never any judgment levied against me for who I was and everyone was super friendly. In fact, I made some new friends.
A couple of days later I begin to think a bit about Jesus and the people he was often seen with. Luke 7:34 has Jesus depicting himself in the following fashion per the religious gossip, “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” Jesus was accused of hanging out with people with whom he had very little in common. In fact, he was sometimes viewed as less because of it.
Now back to my original thought. Christian, at it’s core, was originally a slanderous term calling followers of the way “little Jesus’”. Their actions and lifestyles were completely modeled after Jesus. And although this was originally meant to carry negative connotations, for many of us who follow Christ it is now filled with honor and pride. But sometimes in the culture and media around us it once again has become a slanderous term. But I don’t think it is necessarily because our lifestyles always reflect that of Jesus. Let me explain way by terms of Confession…I don’t have too many friends who aren’t part of the church. In fact, my life is characterized by the fact that I surround myself for the most with other Christians. I don’t think if anyone looked at my life from the outside that they would accuse Andrew of being, ‘a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners’. And this troubles me. Am I, by my very associations with Christians and not so much with others, being unchristian?
Just a thought….
Yesterday was a momentous event. After the first retirement of a Roman Catholic Pope in almost 600 years there was a new Pope elected by the college of cardinals. And Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio after election took the Papal name Francis I. Having been ordained as a Jesuit priest I do not think that this was at all a flippant decision. In Buenos Aires Bergoglio chose to live a simple life rather than the life afforded one of his position. He lived in an apartment rather than the archbishop’s palace, he gave up his chauffeured limousine in favor of taking the bus to work, and he even cooked his own meals. The name Francis for me instantly brings up the quote the Saint of Assisi was most famous for, “Preach the gospel always, if necessary use words.” I am not sure how Pope Francis will operate as the spiritual leader of the Roman Catholic Church, but if his former lifestyle is any indication, then I think it will be a great time for the church.
It makes me even think a bit about how we operate in our daily lives as the church. We are fond of rhetoric in the church. In fact, one of my favorite things to do is to talk about Jesus and the church to anyone willing to listen. But I am not sure that is always what Jesus has intended for us. My chief example of this is the encounters that take place in Matthew 8. In Matthew chapters 5-7 we have recorded what is commonly referred to as ‘The Sermon on the Mount”. And without fail most people will tell you that this is the single greatest philosophical teaching in human history. So to simply refer to it as a sermon is a bit of an understatement, but it will serve our purposes for now. The part that amazes me is that immediately following this sermon is Christ’ action. Matthew 8:1-2 say this, “When Jesus came down from the mountainside, large crowds followed him.A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
Jesus finishes this amazing sermon and immediately gets to it. It is not enough for him to have said amazing things…he has to do amazing things. I am not even sure the miracle is even the focal point. Verse three in the text says, “Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.” He touched a man with leprosy. He defied religious and cultural laws for the sake of impacting the lives of those around him. He had just spoken about what life lived out should look like (Sermon on the Mount) and then he did it.
Like I said earlier, I am a fan of words. I love talking, debating and thinking about the church and Kingdom life. But maybe this is such a time as to quite my tongue and put the rest of me to action. Maybe a Pope choosing the name Francis could be a reminder to us all. I leave you with the opening lines of Edgar A Guest’s poem:
I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day;
I’d rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way…
May we find a way to be a living sermon today.
I want to be a person of prayer. But not the typical definition of what you may be thinking of. Often times I think about a person of prayer as someone you want to bring your requests to. Someone who will get ahold of heaven until heaven answers back. But I am not sure this is the person of prayer I want to be.
I want to be a person of prayer. But not a person who prays selfish things or for the world to get easier or for life to get better. I want to be a person who prays for God’s Kingdom come in earnest. I think that if I pray for this then it changes the words I say and the way I look at the world. If my prayer for God’s Kingdom becomes my heart’s desire then I start to see it in action all around me.
I want to be a person of prayer. I want to learn to pray like Jesus did. He got away and prayed in solitude and I’m not sure what he prayed for but I imagine it was for people to understand that living life to the fullest is not the easiest life. Jesus came to give us life to the fullest but his life ended in death…and not just a death where you pass peacefully into the next life but a violent horrific death because his life lived to the fullest was misunderstood. And yet Jesus was a person of prayer.
I want to be a person of prayer. And I believe this requires action. But I also think it means inaction. Being a person of prayer may require me just to be quiet and think and listen because prayer is about hearing from God as much as talking to Him. I don’t think this will be easy, but I think it’s necessary.
I want to be a person of prayer. I want my life to be characterized by prayer and for it to be evident in how I live. I want prayer to be a defining characteristic of how I see the world and how I help others to see the world.
And as I become a person of prayer I want to pray like Jesus taught us to pray…
“ ‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one. ’ – Matthew 6:9-13
I was recently granted the opportunity of writing some curriculum for preteen students. I mention this only because my subject material was quite a challenge. I was commissioned to write about what it takes to trust God in difficult situations. The topics ranged from suffering and persecution to loneliness and doubts. Not exactly the easiest stuff to try to communicate to preadolescence students with burgeoning faith. The topic of loneliness is particularly difficult because more than anything it speaks to our human condition. Anyone reading this post has at one time or another experienced the feeling of being alone and it is particularly poignant during this season of the Christian calendar. This time of year we find ourselves embroiled in the Lenten fast and all that comes with it. Lent is a time to reflect on repentance, mortality, and ultimately our human experience. Lent is intended to bring us closer to the human experience of Christ as we practice life ‘without’ in order to understand what it fully means to experience life with Christ. It is no wonder that the culmination of the Lenten fast is the experience of Good Friday and the anguish Jesus must have experienced as the Triune God took death into itself in order to redeem our condition. Christ became the discarded on our behalf. He was rejected by the empire, by his own, by his followers and left to die…
I know this in no way compares, but without fail I always seem to get sick during Lent.* It is almost as if my body decides to remind me of my mortality in its’ own way. But being sick also leads to feelings of separateness and loneliness. Not to completely reflect selfishly, but sickness always makes one turn inwardly and be consumed with one’s own self. One of the most difficult things to do while being sick is to be a parent. In all honesty I wish I was wealthy enough to just hire my kids out to a nanny until I am back to my normal health. And that’s what amazes me about Christ. In the midst of the most miserable state one could possibly be in (beaten to the point of death, stripped naked, abandoned, and crucified as a common state terrorist outside the city gates) he proclaims, ““Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” – Luke 23:34. When he was at his most alone moment in his earthly life he was concerned for those of us who were perpetrating those acts.
So I return to Lent. A season where we practice some form of apartness (I realize this is a made up word, but if you have a degree in Theology you are allowed to do this) or separation for the sake of coming a little bit closer to understanding the sacrifice God made for us. So maybe it’s not too bad to feel sick…maybe being low is really the only way to come a little bit closer to knowing what it feels like for Christ to love us when we discarded Him.
* A quick disclaimer: If these random thoughts lack cohesion it is due to the fact that I am not at my best…