thanks…giving

The Arp family has a little tradition around the dinner table that we borrowed from some friends of ours. Every time we gather around the dinner table we find time to say what we are thankful for that day. Now this can be very varied depending on the day and the kids moods, but most of the time it is a reflection on the blessings that we feel we have received. And why not? Most of the time, at least in Western culture I think it is important to be thankful for the insane privilege and blessings that we enjoy. I’m not saying this as a bad thing, it’s just that we enjoy an amazing amount of privilege and wealth compared to many in the rest of the world. Which got me thinking; is being thankful enough?

The word that we use for this time of year and for the upcoming holiday is Thanksgiving. Which finds it’s roots in scripture strangely enough. And I think it’s always a good thing to find scriptural roots of modern concepts; if they exist. Who am I kidding? I find scriptural relevance in almost everything. But in this instance, the Hebrew word we translate as thanksgiving is towdah and can be better translated as thanks offering. Now I am not the greatest Hebrew scholar, but I feel like when the word offering is involved there is a bit more sacrificial giving involved than the passing of wind over the vocal chords in some word of thanks. There is an implication of action. Of doing. Of sacrificing.

Now for me, there is this always this one verse in scripture that I come back to with some sense of conviction when I think about thankfulness and blessings. Luke 12:48 says, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.” And we are a very materially blessed people. Even those of you reading this who are struggling financially are in the top 5% of the world’s wealthiest.* But I think the implication behind the text above is that being thankful isn’t really enough in and of itself. Being thankful and giving of what you have i.e. thanksgiving is more of the proper response. Time and time again we are reminded of our responsibility to give and to care for those around us. And maybe that’s what this season can really be for us. A reminder not to count our material blessings and fill our bellies, but rather a reminder to see how we might be able to bless those around us and fill the bellies of those who can’t fill their own. Maybe then we will fulfill the law of love and give with thankful hearts out of what we have been given.

 

 

*http://www.globalrichlist.com/ Stat based on an annual income of $18,000 annual salary which is below the US Poverty line

 


a letter to my family

Greetings Central Church Family,

A few months ago I remember hearing the song Oceans by Hillsong. If you’ve ever listened to Christian radio for five minutes you know what song I am referring to. And I immediately loved the song, but I was also struck by the words of the bridge,

“Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior”

Was this where I was living? Was I willing to follow where my faith was without borders? You see, Central Church has been an amazing place of service for us over the past almost seven years. And when we first came here it was a huge step of faith. I never dreamed in all my life that I would come to Michigan. It get’s cold there…and they don’t have Chik-Fil-A, yet…But Central Church welcomed my family and I in a way befitting the family of God. As we have served here we have learned what it means to rely upon a church family even when you can’t be close to your real extended family.

Now back to the trust without borders part. Last week the congregation at Odessa First Church of the Nazarene in Odessa, TX voted to call me as their Senior Pastor. This is a huge faith step for Crystal and I. But we take it in full confidence in God and because of what this church has showed us over the last seven years.

A quick note to my students and their families. This decision does not come lightly. In fact, this is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do…and I am still not sure it makes sense. But then again, neither does stepping out of a boat in a raging storm. But we know the God we love and serve sometimes calls us to make decisions that don’t always make sense. So please know, this decision is not meant to hurt you or your families. We love you. And we will forever carry Central with us in our hearts…and there is always Facebook.

We also look forward to spending the next few weeks with you and the time of reminiscing and story telling that I am sure will ensue. But please know this isn’t an easy decision for us. It is however, a reflection of trust in the God we all still serve. And this isn’t really good-bye…it’s just we’ll see you soon. Thank you for allowing us to serve you. Thank you for loving my family and I.

Grace and Peace


prepared

Don’t you just love it when someone tells you there are only 48 days left until Christmas. The countdown to Christmas used to be so exciting as a kid. But as an adult, well…it’s still fun, it just comes with a little baggage. There are even those moments where you almost seize up a bit because you know you aren’t prepared (admit it, when you saw the day tally above this was you). And you would think it might be easier in the church because we have an entire season dedicated to preparation, but this holiday and all it entails still seems to take us by storm.

In the church calendar the time we are entering into is referred to as Advent (It begins November 30th this year). And Advent is the season of welcoming/ushering in God’s Kingdom through the celebration of Jesus’ birth. It is a season literally built around preparation…and yet it is often the season where we feel the least prepared. On Wednesday nights our youth group is going through a series on the three parables found in Matthew 25. These parables are all about Advent and the ushering in of God’s present and coming kingdom. The first of these is the parable of the Ten Virgins; five wise and five foolish. The difference between the two is that the five wise had framed their lives around preparation and had brought with them extra oil in their anticipation of the bridegrooms arrival. The foolish virgins, although ready and excited for the bridegrooms arrival found themselves ill-prepared and shut out of the wedding feast. The parable ends with the verse, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour”. Matthew 25:13

I think this speaks to the idea of being ready versus being prepared. Here’s a little personal illustration to further elucidate. I recently ran the Detroit Half Marathon for Team World Vision. And although I considered myself ready (I had registered, bought nice shoes, got there on time…) I was far from prepared. I had not put in the adequate training time to make the experience all it could have been. I think it’s that way with the five foolish virgins. They were ready for the Bridegrooms return, but they weren’t prepared. It wasn’t a part of their DNA. They didn’t think to buy extra oil because it wasn’t a part of everything they did. Anticipating the Kingdom of God should be a part of who we are and not just something we “get ready” for.

So I’m thinking a bit different about Advent this year. Is the celebration and enacting of the present and coming Kingdom a part of me every day or is it something I just celebrate once a year? And I think that if we are constantly being prepared we will start to see the Kingdom ushered in a lot more often than just during Advent. After all, The Kingdom of God is at hand.


the presence of Christ

This last Wednesday night I had the privelage to bear witness to something amazing. Granted, it came upon the heels of a very difficult experience in the lives of many of our students. And because of that we had planned something a little different for our youth group gathering. We also knew that some of the students most directly effected by the tragic experience would be attending that night. And because of all of that we planned a special prayer time to conclude our service. After said prayer time we made space for this most effected group of students to continue to pray and the remarkable thing was the response of our regular students. Even though they were given the freedom to leave respectfully, they just sat…for half an hour. Not speaking, not fidgeting…just sitting.

Earlier in the evening we had talked about the ancient Jewish practice of sitting Shiva. To sit Shiva, close friends or family members would come and sit with those who were mourning and do little else. What made this last Wednesday night so unique was not that the close friends were those participating in Shiva, but that students who had no direct connection to those mourning were those sitting still. And the only thing that I could think of was the fact that these students, although not directly connected, knew the God who is. “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses…” (‭Hebrews‬ ‭4‬:‭14-15‬)

Sometimes people like to fault this current generation of young people with many things. They are inattentive, too busy, distracted, media-dependent, etc. But what I saw Wednesday night spoke volumes in a different direction. Here was a generation that we label as being attention challenged just sitting; being present. Somehow they knew that in their presence, the presence of God was present. Oh I wish we could get that sometimes. We don’t have to have the right words but rather rest in the fact that we serve a High a Priest who is present in our presence and empathizes with us in our weaknesses.

It’s amazing the sermons I receive from students at times. And this is one I will take with me forever.


ouch

Sometimes as pastors we often ask hard questions. And truth be told many of us ask the same questions and more difficult ones of ourselves at times.

Am I being effective in my ministry?

Are people’s lives being transformed?

Am I making a difference?

Am I living into the calling Jesus has for me?

Not sure if you caught the thread there, but a lot of those questions, in fact a lot of the doubt that circulates in church culture seems to be rather ‘me’ focused. I need to work on my issues. I need to be more effective. I, I, I…When really that is not what we are called to at all.

The crux of a lot of this issue is the society of which you and I find ourselves a part of. This statement is of course made with the assumption that most of the people who read this belong to the Western industrialized world. The world in which we live is increasingly ‘me’ driven. How can I get in better shape? How can I improve my value and worth? How can I get more stuff? When really this has little or nothing to do with our calling and the journey that Christ has called us to. There is this wonderful passage in the Sermon on the Mount that I am pretty sure most of us are familiar with. Jesus feels the need to teach us to pray and it goes a little something like this, “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” Not sure if you caught my subtle editing there or not, but I am pretty sure I am not reading any first person pro-nouns in that text. And unless you or I are British Monarchy I am pretty sure we don’t refer to our needs in the first person.

What I think I am trying to point out is that this prayer is intrinsically communal. And if this prayer, taught to us by God in flesh himself, is formative to who we are called to be, then we are called on this journey together and not individually. Let’s go back to those hard questions for a second. All of them are lined with self-doubt. What if we looked at them a little differently:

Are we being effective in our ministry?

Are people’s lives being transformed because of us?

Are we making a difference?

Are we living into the calling Jesus has for us?

All of a sudden the burden gets a little lighter. It doesn’t excuse us from responsibility for making disciples and bringing God’s Kingdom, but it somehow makes it seem a little more possible. Maybe it is time to throw off our religious self-doubt and embrace our church calling. Maybe as the body of Christ we come to realize it is not just about me, but more about we. And maybe by learning to live life better together we find ourselves no longer asking questions of doubt but celebrating stories of faith as we journey together.


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.


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