word

So at this point in the dialogue with my blog I think it is safe to confess that I am a child of the late 80’s/early 90’s. At least this is the small window of time that I seem to remember before my adolescence. Growing up during this time, it didn’t matter what your skin pigmentation was, you all of a sudden felt the need to express yourself in certain hip-hop anachronisms. For instance, every person who in any way, shape or form remembers 1991 will immediately recall the song associated with the phrase “word to your mother”. (For those of you who just got lost, this is a reference to Vanilla Ice’s mega hit Ice, Ice Baby of which I still know every word). Now I have not always considered myself streetwise and so on the rare occasion the meanings of such enigmatic phrases sometimes escape me. For instance, I just thought the phrase above meant to give respect to another person’s maternal figure when in fact it was in reference to the Motherland of Africa. But all the same, it didn’t prevent me from going around in my Reebok Pumps and Nike wind suit and declaring “Word” as a warm greeting to everyone I saw.

This past weekend I gathered with over one hundred and twenty-five students for a weekend of worship, service, fun and more with Disciple Now 14 and we saw God move in amazing ways. The theme of the weekend was reflective of this child of the 80’s and 90’s as we called the weekend WORD. In fact, we pulled the theme from the first chapter of the book of John. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14. The whole idea being that we are called to reflect the incarnational act of Christ to the world and community around us. But even after the weekend I have been thinking, what does that truly look like?

Now a certain number of our students from the weekend went and served at a nursing home Saturday afternoon. There many of them, for the first time, encountered a lot of older people who physically were incapable of living full and independent lives. But what they truly saw were the lives that these people were capable of living when others fully awarded them their humanity. They were amazed at the response of the patients and how even in their disabled states that they had joy, wisdom and life to share with those around them. And maybe that is what the incarnational WORD act is.

Earlier I joked about “respect to the maternal figure” but maybe that is not too far off base. Jesus, who was fully Divine and enjoyed full fellowship with God and all the power that went with it, left all of that behind to encounter us on our level. Not only that, but he never looked at our condition as less than. In fact, he entered into the lives of the poor, the oppressed, the outcast, the aged, the unloved and the disabled and let them know that they were not only loved, but that they were fully human. If we are called to be Christ to the world around us, then maybe this is the calling placed upon us. And maybe this is what it means to be the WORD that a world desperately needs. A WORD that says you are loved, you matter and God has an amazing life in store for you. WORD.


everything to lose

For those of you who don’t necessarily know me all that well I am accustomed to losing. I have belonged to many losing teams throughout my storied athletic career. I even received the following compliment from the most recent email from our fantasy football league, “Coach Arp is the worst game-day coach in the league so far this season.” Truth be told, most of the things I lose at I don’t care that much about and so my ego isn’t bruised too much. But losing is never fun. Most of us understand that we engage in competition in order to win and so it is rarely the desired output. But what if I told you life is so much simpler if we realize that we are called to hold onto everything with the understanding that it can be lost in an instant.

There is this story in the gospels where a blind man calls out to Jesus to be healed. Jesus doesn’t heal him and so he cries out all the more. Eventually someone tells the blind man that Jesus was calling for him, he goes to Jesus and he is healed. It’s a great story at face value, but if we look even deeper it becomes more complex. In Mark’s retelling of the events we see this simple verse in chapter ten, “Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.” Granted, still not that much, unless you think about what it stood for. You see, the blind man was a beggar. And all he had was his cloak. It would provide shade from the sun and rain or warmth from the cold. It was all he had. And it was good. Yet, when Jesus called, he threw it aside because he knew there was something better in store for him.

I wonder how many of us are like this…not blind beggars on the side of the highway, but ‘cloak-holders’? We have our things. We have our health insurance, car insurance, house insurance, 401k, IRA, savings accounts, pay checks, dividends, etc. etc. etc. And these things aren’t bad. In fact in some cases they can be good. But are we willing to lose them? Are we willing to cast them aside for the greater things God has in store for us? In his letter to the Philippians the apostle Paul put it this way, “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.”

Are we willing to consider these things garbage? Are we willing to lose everything for the sake of Christ? Or are we still afraid to let go of our cloaks…because they’re keeping us safe.


not so blind

It’s funny sometimes how ideas come to me for my blog. It can happen while teaching students. Sometimes I am playing with my kids and I have one of those aha moments. Or sometimes the ideas come to me while I am deep in thought early in the morning…hey, it happens. But this one happened while I was pouring out my soul to a friend over coffee. We were talking about life and the curve balls that it sometimes throws your way and then I made this posit, “What if the goal of this life is simply to learn to trust God so that it will make sense in the life to come”. Now I know for many of you this may not be that ground breaking of a thought and maybe many of you had even thought this before, but for some reason it really stuck me.

I don’t think trust is something that comes easy. Sure we operate with blind trust all the time. We trust that the chair we are about to sit in will hold our weight. We trust that the other motor-vehicle operators on the road don’t want to play bumper cars. We even trust that when we wake up there will be breath in our lungs and the sun will rise again (granted some of us wait until the sun is up to rise ourselves). But trust in our future? Trust in God’s best regardless of what is going on around us? I don’t think it’s that easy. And I am pretty sure we can’t call it blind trust at that point.

There was a verse from Proverbs 3 that many of us learned when we were little, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” But what does trusting God with our whole heart look like? Does that mean we trust God with our families, finances, health, career, safety, etc. etc.? I think so. And in a world of violence, hatred, oppression, brokenness, slavery, and just all out sin I don’t think this comes easy. Life itself can beat us down, hurt us, hurt those we love and in the midst of this we are called to trust with our whole heart.

Maybe that is why that thought the other day for me was so monumental. Because in this life I don’t think that this trust comes naturally. I think we are constantly called to renew our trust in God and in His goodness. And I always find the need to remind myself that the trust I am placing is in a God so big He was willing to become a crucified criminal for me. And then all of a sudden the worst life can throw at me doesn’t seem as bad. So my challenge to us today? Keep going, keep moving and keep learning to trust in a God in this life who will be more than we can ever comprehend in the life to come.


evil eye

Okay, let’s get something out of the way. Sometimes the Bible is just weird. There I said it. And I am still typing so I didn’t get struck by lightning. But really. Sometimes when we try to take concepts or illustrations from the Bible and put them in today’s context…it’s just, well weird. I ran across one of those instances just this last week as I was preparing for youth group with our students. The passage is a familiar text to most of us. It is commonly referred to as The Parable of the Workers in The Vineyard and it is found in Matthew 20. But in verse 15 it get’s a little weird. The owner of the vineyard is speaking to the workers hired first and he says, “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”. At first glance this isn’t that weird (and I just realized I have used the word weird a lot…I need a thesaurus). But there is a phrase in the Greek that stands out a bit if we go back to the original text and it is ophthalmos ponēros. Which the translators in the NIV labeled envious, but a more literal translation would be ‘evil eye’.

I don’t know what this sparks in your mind, but I almost picture a pirate or something with his evil eye staring down at me, ‘arrrr’. But that doesn’t really help us here. We have to look a bit more about what Jesus was saying in regards to the owner of the vineyard and the early workers. He is actually asking them if they are looking to do harm to the later workers because of his paying them the same wage. Now I don’t know about you, but this strikes me as strange at first. Why in the world would Jesus accuse these workers as wishing harm upon the other workers? But then I think about human nature.

We all have those people who we are a bit envious of, frustrated by, hate to be around, etc. etc. Maybe it’s someone who seemingly has been blessed more than you. Maybe it’s that person who has made a life of taking advantage of the system. Maybe it’s the person who just rubs you the wrong way because of the life they lead. But here’s the true rub of it…Jesus died for all of those people. And he extends Grace (unmerited favor) to not only us but to EVERYONE. I think sometimes we forget that. Sometimes in our desire for retribution or equality (really this version of fair is only about us coming out on top) we really want some people to get their just due. I think if some of us were honest we might even wish Hell upon some of these people…talk about an evil eye. But if God doesn’t want Hell for any of these people, shouldn’t we be the same way? Shouldn’t we be so consumed by Grace that we become instruments of God’s imbalanced economy? I know for me this is insanely convicting and I hope you and I can start to see people a little bit differently…regardless of when they start working in the vineyard.


root deep

I submit for the jury that tooth/mouth pain has to be one of the worst pains a human can experience. Maybe I am just being a baby about it, but owwww! What did people do before modern dentistry and endodontics?

This past week I found out that I had a horrible infection just below one of my molars. That infection was pressing upon my tooth and basically reducing me to a babbling three-year old. At first I thought the tooth ache could be sinus related as it started prior to the weekend and my wife and daughter had just been sick. But as it grew more severe over the weekend (and my whining increased) my wife insisted that I go and see our favorite local dentist. After seeing me and my x-ray for all of five minutes I was sent to a local endodontist, who proceeded to drill into said tooth in order to correct the previous root canal and treat the infection. All that to say…Ouch! Who knew such debilitating pain could be derived from one tooth infection? I can’t imagine going through this prior to the modern era of Novocaine and Tylenol-3. That root, or rather that root infection was enough to take me out of commission completely (not that it necessarily takes much, but you get the point).

In his letter to young Timothy (I think Timothy is one of those people we think about in the Bible as being perpetually young), Paul makes mention of “root theory”, as I will call it. In 1 Timothy 6:9-10 he writes, “But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” And most of us have heard that adage before, “the love of money is the root of all evil”, but Paul says it slightly different. The desire for wealth is the root of all kinds of evil. Still seems pretty expansive though.

After experiencing that all encompassing effects of root damage I think I have started to understand what Paul is speaking about here. Granted, Paul probably had very little dental knowledge, but he had to understand a little bit of botany to make the reference. My tooth was completely rendered ineffective and useless because of it’s root issue (to this moment it is still pretty useless). Most plants, if the root is shot, whither and die pretty quickly. Likewise if our lives become consumed with the growth and acquisition of wealth we become virtually ineffective. I have seen some amazing Christians become consumed by their desire for more and fall away from an amazing calling on their life, Jesus even said in Matthew 16:26, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”

So I guess we need to examine our root desires. Are they infected? Are our root desires reflective of Christ or are they driven at something else? I can tell you from recent experience that infected roots don’t stay hidden forever and eventually they may even ruin us.


gates of hell

I imagine the title of this one probably caught your eye. Most of the time when someone throws out the word “Hell” in the church it creates some sort of a stir, although not always for the right reasons. But, title aside, I was running around Flint this morning and I couldn’t help but think about Hell, violence, poverty and the church. Let me try to bring you along on my thought journey (my mind goes everywhere when I run, so this may not work).

Last night during youth group our text that we covered came out of Matthew 16, “Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it”- Matthew 16:16-20. This text is unique because of Jesus’ geographical location when he spoke these words. He was in Caesarea Phillipi which was one of the Roman centers of culture and actually a locus for the worship of Pan. Attached to this worship was a cave, referred to as the Gates of Hell/Hades, where much of the Imperial based Pagan worship took place. So essentially Jesus was saying that Peter’s confession of his Lordship (the son of the Living God) was such an affront to the surrounding culture that even the gates of Hell couldn’t stand against it.

That’s the thing about gates…they aren’t an offensive strategy. Very rarely do you hear of someone being injured or beaten with a gate. They are actually a defensive strategy. So our confession of Christ/our alternative way of living is actually an offensive against the gates of Hell. Against the dominant culture. When is the last time you thought of Christianity as being rightly offensive instead of weirdly defensive?

Which gets me back to my morning run. My run this morning followed the blue line that is the Crim course through and around downtown Flint. Flint is a city known primarily for it’s violence and poverty (at least by much of the country). You might say these are the things that define the dominant Flint culture (i.e.i. the Flint logo with a handgun for the letter L). But you can see the effects of this culture and my question to us is, “How is the church attacking the gates of Hell in Flint?” Where is the church being effective in combating the violence and poverty in Flint? These aren’t issues where we rely on political rhetoric or voting polls to do the work of the Kingdom for us, but these are the trenches we need to get in and espouse the values of the kingdom (Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, Faithfulness and Self Control). One of my favorite quotes in understanding what an offensive church looks like goes like this, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

Are we driving out darkness? Are we driving out hate? Or are the gates of Hell standing strong against us?


connectivity

So this week I had the privilege of getting to perform a tune-up on our 2004 Dodge Grand Caravan. I say privilege due to the fact that I am amazed that my wife ever lets me tinker with anything under the hood of either of our cars. But hers had been idling roughly and even almost died on her, so I think she was desperate. Early into this operation I could tell that it was going to be a doozy. But I followed all the instructions I received off of YouTube and seemed to get through it okay. Even though I was so nervous about the wire connections to the spark plugs. What if I didn’t get them in the right order? What if the connections are too loose? Will the car blow up? Will my wife consequently kill me? But I am happy to say that all is well in Dodge Caravan land…she’s purring like a kitten (the car that is).

But that got me thinking about connections. Just last week with our students we were talking about how we, as a church, could transform Flint and the culture around us. And we brainstormed program and service ideas and then one of my leaders pointed out a very simple and yet profound truth. In the midst of all of our scheming and planning it is essential that we stay connected to God. We have to be in the Bible, we have to be praying…otherwise all of our efforts are either a) useless or b) ineffective and we will eventually run out of steam. One of my favorite passages of scripture puts it this way, “Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” – John 15:4-5 There is something key to our efforts and our connectivity to God.

Back to the car for a bit. The spark plugs I put in are brand spanking new and so are the wires. They are the perfect implements for powering that lovely 3.3L 6 cylinder engine (albeit an old engine). But if they aren’t connected or even just partially connected, they will fail miserably and all of a sudden I may have to rely on Flintstones power to get said Dodge Caravan from point A to point B. And I think it’s the same way with our Kingdom efforts. If we aren’t connected to the vine, if we aren’t intimately connected to God we will just be spinning our wheels. So may you renew your connection; even strengthen your connectivity in order to effectively bring the Kingdom of God to those around you.

 

 


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