For those of you who don’t dwell in the state shaped like a mitt allow me to enlighten you for a bit. There are a few certain seasons that Michigander’s mark their calendars by. One is of course deer season, winter (which lasts about 9 months sometimes) and the season we currently find ourselves in…open house season. In Michigan we not only celebrate the achievements of our high school graduates, we flat out party. We’re talking tents, food, outdoor games, themes, gifts, cards, student shrines, etc. And as a youth pastor this season becomes all the more daunting as you are expected to (not that I mind at all…I usually enjoy them) attend every open house. Now some open houses are great. You know the family; and most of the attendees are familiar as well. You walk up to the party and you feel right at home. And then there are the other open houses. Through no fault of the students or even their families there is an environment that is…well it’s not like the other one. Which got me thinking (you’ve never read that phrase before) I wonder how many people walk into church feeling like the latter instead of the former? After all, shouldn’t our churches best be described as open houses?
In an epistle which gets under the skin of most the writer of James says this, “My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” – James 2:1-4. And I am not even sure it is even always about rich vs poor. I think it is all to often who we are comfortable with vs those we aren’t. Now put yourself in the place of the one coming in. I don’t think in any church today we would actually tell guests where they have to sit based on how they look, but do we sometimes turn our attention to those we already know instead? Or maybe when people enter our houses of worship we approach new people who look like us, dress like us, smell like us, etc. and leave others to find their way on their own.
No one likes to feel awkward (even thought I think I may have made a career of being that way). Everyone wants to feel accepted and loved right where they are. And shouldn’t our churches be the very place where this happens? Maybe we can take a cue from this season and the open houses that make us feel like family to rethink the way we do church. Maybe everyone who enters our church doors will start to feel like family from the start….after all, we are all God’s children.
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.
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
After thirty something changes. I am not exactly sure what it is. But every birthday since turning thirty has been a time where I inadvertently contemplate my mortality. I realize that some of you reading this will simply think I am ridiculous and have many years still ahead of me….where-areas some others of you who may read this actually think of me as older;) But contemplating your mortality always leads you to a unique place. And for me thus far in life I think it is safe to say that I have lived a life free of regret. I love my journey and where it has taken me so far. I see each day as potentially my new best day ever and I can’t imagine my life having gone any other direction.
That being said though, I want to do something. I realize that bucket lists were fashionable a few years back and so I am relatively late on the scene, but I thought it might be a good exercise for me today as I contemplate my life and where I am headed. So here is a list. A list of things I would love to do, but don’t necessarily have to do in order to be fulfilled. (And please feel free to comment on this post or on Facebook if you think there is something I need to add)
Purchase and learn to play a Banjo
Hike the entire 2,000 miles of the Appalachian trail…though not necessarily all at one time
Swim with sharks…I don’t even have to have a cage
Live for some amount of time in another country
Write a book…being published would be a bonus
Visit all 50 states in the US (I think I am at least half way there)
Get to see my kids grow up
Watch a game from The Green Monster
Visit and tour the United Kingdom
It’s not altogether to extensive of a list. But these are some experiences I would love for myself and for my family, although I am not sure my wife would concur on the Banjo. At the end of the day though I really just want one thing….to pass on to my kids the wonder of seeing the world for what it can be instead of what it sometimes is. I long for them to live life with the imagination of seeing God’s Kingdom come to Earth. After all…that is why we are here.
Grace and Peace
Today was the day…and it has been awful. But in order to save myself embarrassment and to be able to continue to enjoy the existence that I am used to, it was a necessity. You see, I have begun to wear a hole in the right back pocket of my jeans where I usually wear my wallet. And these aren’t just any jeans…these are my jeans. The all American-made denim that I enjoy on an almost every day basis. The jeans that because of their raw-denim make-up have rarely seen the inside of a washing machine but have been worn into oblivion. And so, in order to go on with life as I know I switched my wallet pocket. And it is awful (first world problems, right). But seriously…it effects everything. It effects the way I walk, the way I sit, the way I drive…almost everything. I am having to re-orient little portions of my entire day. I may even have to visit a chiropractor after this.
But as my morning continued I began to think about the significance of today being the day for this: Ash Wednesday is the day I switched my wallet? Ash Wednesday; a day of repentance and reorganizing our life into the rhythm of God. A day when we begin to look at our life in terms of mortality, eternity and grace. A day when we reorganize our life by a calendar based not on human happenings but rather on the life of Christ. We begin to mark our days in preparation for the Resurrection of our Lord and the celebration of love conquering the powers of death and hell. And I think that maybe this is a great day to switch my wallet.
You see, the liturgical calendar was put into place to remind us that this is not our home. While we are busy living our our lives in meetings, appointments, dates, months, years, etc. all of a sudden the life of the church breaks in and reminds us that this stuff does not define us. It really is meant to be a physical and blatant reminder that we are called to reorient our very existence around Christ. Colossians 3:1-2 puts it this way, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Lent and the practices surrounding the liturgical calendar prod us into setting our minds on Christ and not on the cares of this world. And this focus allows us to move and live and have our being with the singular goal of establishing God’s kingdom here on earth.
Sometimes in this life we need reminders as to why we are here. Sometimes we need seasons like Lent and Advent to break in and remind us of whose we are. And although reorienting our life around these can be difficult at times, I assure you, it’s a lot better than switching your wallet pocket and it has far greater impact.
It started in late summer. Just snip-its of an idea for reviving a youth discipleship retreat at our church that hadn’t happened for a few years. And as it would be the eleventh time this retreat would take place the theme would have to somehow revolve around the number eleven. For me, being a fan of mockumentary’s and rock music I immediately thought of the scene in This is Spinal Tap where Nigel is explaining that their amps are more impressive because they go to eleven…one louder. So it just made sense. The eleventh time that this retreat would take place would have the theme ‘One Louder’ with the theme verse of Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” But what began as a theme and a theme verse became so much more.
One Louder became a code word, a manifesto even for living out the Kingdom of God in everyday life. Sometimes it seems that the church doesn’t always do such a good job in bringing heaven to earth; they stop at ten. And One Louder takes it to eleven and has that extra call to be true to our calling in Christ. One Louder is buzz language for living out of ones own comfort zone and reaching outside to those who don’t yet know the love of Christ. One Louder is the acceptance of the outcast, the defense of the oppressed, the standing up for the bullied, and the love for the unlovable. Ultimately One Louder is a life lived for the other.
But it doesn’t stop there. One Louder is a life lived to eleven. As Paul is nearing the end of his ministry he writes to his young protege Timothy and says, “For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” – 2 Timothy 4:6-7 Paul had lived a life One Louder and he compared it to being poured out like a drink offering. I don’t know about you, but when I pour something out there is usually nothing left. Paul is pleading to Timothy that to live the life we are called to that we constantly pour ourselves out for Christ. A life lived One Louder leaves one empty…a life with space for more of God. This is where the faithfulness of God comes into play. As we pour ourselves into a life lived One Louder, God fills us more and more with His presence.
So we find our calling…so we find our purpose…so we find our fulfillment in living a life One Louder.