Do you ever find yourself doing something that you thought seemed totally coherent and well thought out and then milliseconds later it reveals itself to be completely stupid? Just me? Oh well; yesterday held one of those moments for me. For those of you who follow the Christian calendar, you know that yesterday was Ash Wednesday. And at Odessa First we hold a brief Ash Wednesday litany in the evening. That also means we need ashes prepared from last years palms. The last couple of years I have burned the palms in our backyard a few days prior. One year I even ruined one of our stock pots. So this year, I thought I could try something different and decided to burn the palms on some foil…on a cookie sheet…in the oven. Now everyone reading this, except for myself at 5:20 AM yesterday morning, knows what is about to take place. All of a sudden I am receiving texts from my wife in the back of the house in a panicked state because she thinks the house is on fire. I quickly realize how far south my experiment has turned and even this morning I find myself sitting in a house that has the vague aroma of burnt palm leaves…which, strangely enough, kind of smell like cheap cigars.
But this is kind of what the season of Lent is for; our stupidity. Lent is a season of repentance and preparation. It’s a season where we confess and reflect on the ways throughout the year we may not have fully lived up to all that God has called us to be. Sometimes the ways that we failed God are just dumb. Sometimes the ways we have failed our neighbor are more malicious and evil. But all the same, Lent is a time where we remember these things, we remember our mortality and dependence upon God and we recognize once again our need for Grace. Psalm 51 is a passage that is sometimes read near the beginning of Lent and one of my favorite verses reads like this, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.” – Psalm 51:10-11 This passage was thought to have been written by King David after he was confronted by the prophet Nathan. Now many of us don’t find ourselves in that same boat as David. But when we fail God or hurt our neighbor, the sentiment should be the same.
I can’t help but smile a little bit this morning as a I listen to the drone of an air filter doing its best to clean the smoke laden air in our house. I’m not sure it’s up to the task. But when it comes to us, God has no trouble creating a clean heart within us. He doesn’t long to take His Spirit from us, but rather seeks to abide with us. Lent is a season that reminds us that through repentance and humility that we are able to make space for God to work within us and create something new in our lives. May you find yourself being renewed this Lenten season. May you recapture the joy of your salvation. And may you be reminded that even for the incredibly stupid things we sometimes find ourselves caught up in with life, that there is grace.
There’s an expression I’ve become rather fond of in recent days. If someone is being sassy or giving attitude or extra confrontational it is referred to as being “salty”. And perhaps this isn’t really a new expression…in fact it might be rather old, but I love how quickly a word or phrase becomes en vogue and we begin to use it frequently as part of the common vernacular. Even as recently as a couple of weeks ago I was in the school office and some of the other teachers asked me if I knew what being salty meant and I quickly attempted to show them the best version of sass that this 6’3″ straight-laced white male could muster on the fly. I’m not sure they got what I was going for, but it maybe communicated my understanding of what being salty meant.
Here’s where a little bit of wordplay can be fun. You might say, isn’t being salty a good quality? After all, “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet.” – Matthew 5:13 I’m not sure Jesus was thinking about the disciples being confrontational with each other and throwing shade about every little thing. In fact, a few of the times we see Jesus chastising the disciples is when they’re arguing over who the greatest is…in other words, getting salty over who’s better. Now I know we never struggle with this kind of saltiness in the church. We never get in petty arguments over getting our way or having things done the way we want them or the way they’ve always been. It reminds me of my one Nazarene joke. How many Nazarene’s does it take to change a light bulb? “Hey you can’t change that light bulb, my grandpa put that in”. Even our jokes are a little salty.
Truth be told, I’m just not that salty at all. In fact, I don’t think this is the kind of salt Jesus had in mind at all. I believe he was thinking about salt that brings good flavor to the world. I believe he was thinking about the salt that preserves and brings life to the world around it. When it comes to the current definition of salty, I just don’t feel like I ever need to find myself there. In the closing of his letter to the church at Rome, we read these words from Paul. “Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good. If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people.” – Romans 12:16-18 These words of Paul have always been a way that I’ve attempted to live my life by. I don’t want to operate out of saltiness. My way, my opinion, my preference, my comfort, my…fill in the blank just isn’t that important. In fact the only thing that is important is my effort to live at peace. So maybe it’s time to lose the saltiness and actually become salt. I think we all could use it.
Yesterday morning, in the midst of all of the hullabaloo of trying to get the Arp family out the door, I decided it was high time. It had been piling up for weeks and enough was enough. So for about fifteen minutes I decided to wade into the quagmire of the entrance to our garage and get busy. You see, we as the Arps have tried to do our part for the planet and engaged in a few forms of recycling; namely plastic, aluminum cans and cardboard. The plastic and the cans can pretty easily be put into garbage bags and taken care of in that fashion, but the cardboard boxes are another matter entirely. So, we engaged in a little practice I like to call “out of sight, out of mind” and simply tossed the empty cardboard boxes into the garage haphazardly. Or should I say, I tossed the cardboard boxes into the garage haphazardly. Well, when my gracious wife pointed out yesterday that one could no longer get into the garage and that it seemed I was becoming a trash collector, I decided it was then “high time” to engage in a little box breaking down session. And I’m happy to report that after an intense fifteen minute session of ripping and folding and maintaining my faith, that one can now enter our garage without needing climbing or spelunking equipment.
It kind of reminds me though of how we treat certain areas of our lives. Sometimes we may place our health on the back burner. Or we may save issues with certain relationships for another day. Or perhaps there are those things that the Spirit has been revealing to us as sin that we simply seek to justify because the change would be too difficult. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living”. The apostle Paul said it this way to the Galatian church, “If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions…for each one should carry their own load.” – Galatians 6:3-5 In the introduction to the sixth chapter of this letter Paul begins to speak about sin and holding each other accountable and being supportive in bearing each other’s burdens. But then he adds, that each person shouldn’t think that this in any way, shape, or form makes them superior to each other. In fact, we are responsible for our own actions, our own work, our own selves…for that is what we will be held to account for.
I think about this and breaking down boxes. Did it take me all that long to break down the boxes? No, not at all. But I saw it as something superfluous until I realized that it affected more than just me. There are things in our lives that sometimes we may see as superfluous or “not hurting anyone”, when in actuality even our “hidden sins” or our “passive aggressive” behaviors can be detrimental to the lives of others and even to the kingdom of God. So I encourage you today to break down some boxes. Make some paths in the wilderness (garage). Examine every avenue of your life physically, spiritually, emotionally because you never know where the Spirit may be calling you to action. And know, that it might not take long to break down some boxes, but it could possibly do a world of good.
I have a confession to make. I’m not a writer. Yes, I write a blog each week and I occasionally write for other online venues, but I’m not really a writer. In fact, I get kind of jealous of my friends who have that title in their Twitter or Facebook bios. I really don’t feel like I’m there. You see, I’ve never had any formal training outside of my high school writing classes. In fact, my wife always feels the need to point that out anytime she has to proof one of my papers. Evidently, I either love, commas, way too much, or not enough (see what I did there?). But regardless of my lack of qualifications or my experience or my title, there is one thing I sit down to do every week. I sit down at a blank computer screen and I write. And some days I really enjoy it. Some days it feels like a chore. But I feel like it is important for my soul that I keep doing it…why? Because it reminds me of Who I belong to.
We are told at the beginning of the Bible that at the beginning of all things that the first thing God ever did was create. And although the Genesis account is a pretty incredible piece of poetic interpretation of creation, I find myself more and more being drawn to John’s account. It goes like this, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. The Word was with God in the beginning. Everything came into being through the Word, and without the Word nothing came into being.” – John 1:1-3 The Word. Jesus himself. Through his being all life came to being. This is one of the reasons I believe that communication brought to life through art and creativity is so important. You see, Jesus as the word/logos brought life into the universe. He is a creating/creative God. And we are created in that image. So in bringing forth words/pictures/images/art into the world we are participating in something that reminds us that we are created by Him to become like Him. Paul reminds us of how important our actions are in terms of how we go about life [you could read art here too], “Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him.” – Colossians 3:17 In the name of Jesus. The same name/word that gave life to all that is.
So today I want to encourage you to…write, even if you are not a writer. I want to encourage you to sing, even if you’re not a singer. To paint, even if you aren’t a painter. To capture images, even if you’re not a photographer. To dance, even if you’re not a dancer. I urge you to sculpt, compose, draw, chisel, play, tinker, choreograph, program, edit, or find any other form of incredible creative expression to bring life and communication into the world that wasn’t there before…even if you don’t feel like you are qualified. Because the Voice that spoke everything into existence created you and you are created in the Creative God’s image.
How many of us actually expect to keep them? I think the success rate, at least according to the internet (and everything out here is true), is roughly around 8%. Yet every time a New Year rolls around we find our selves resolving to be better. Whether it is kicking a bad habit, losing weight, becoming more healthy, etc., it is almost a rite of passage into a new year to resolve to augment our behavior in some way that will make us better. Somehow the idea of a fresh start is just the spark we need to radically alter who we were just yesterday…kind of sounds silly in print. And yet I find myself wanting to be a part of the crowd when it comes to self-improvement. But one resolution has always plagued me a bit. It goes like this; “I resolve to draw closer to God.”
Now at face value this is a great resolution. Who wouldn’t want to draw closer to God? I know I do. I think the problem is how we go about it. We think somehow that drawing closer to God is something that is achieved on an individual level. As if he can only be encountered in my resolve to be personally accountable to His presence. And although I realize that we need time alone with God I believe that if we want to draw closer to God it looks a little different. Frank Weston, the one time Bishop of Zanzibar in the Anglican church wrote the following more than a hundred years ago:
You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the tabernacle if you do not pity Jesus in the slum. … It is folly, it is madness, to suppose that you can worship Jesus in the Sacrament and Jesus on the throne of glory, when you are sweating Him in the bodies and souls of His children. . . . You have your Mass, you have your altars, you have begun to get your tabernacles. Now go out into the highways and hedges, and look for Jesus in the ragged and the naked, in the oppressed and the sweated, in those who have lost hope, and in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus in them; and, when you have found Him, gird yourself with His towel of fellowship and wash His feet in the person of His brethren.
Here is what I think I am trying to say. If you really want to resolve to draw closer to God this year then resolve to draw closer to the people He died for. By sharing God’s love and life with others we find a way to encounter God like never before. Jesus himself put it this way in Matthew 25:38-40 “When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’.” So by all means resolve to draw closer to God this year. It could be the greatest resolution you make. But be certain, it can never be done within the walls of your own safety and security. Rather it is only through reaching out in Christ’ love to those who haven’t been encountered yet for the Kingdom. Here you will truly draw closer to God.