Author Archives: arpology

all creation

FEnway

Two days ago we had to say goodbye to our 13-yr-old Boston Terrier. I honestly didn’t think it was going to be as bad as it was. After all, I am a minister who walks people through grief and death and dying all the time. But as I held this little guy in my arms, knowing it was the best for his situation, I could feel the emotion welling up within me. And as the doctor came in to administer the final shot…I broke down. And I’m not talking about a few tears escaping my well trained masculine facade…I’m talking heaving sobs as the vet and his assistant awkwardly left the room to allow me some space. It was crazy the effect that this little guy had over me. I didn’t even really see it coming.

I like to sometimes tell people in a colloquial fashion who have lost dogs, “Don’t forget all dogs go to heaven.” (If you’re a cat person, I think you may be out of luck). But all kidding aside, I think (or at least hope) there is something to this statement and the way we experience loss and death and dying in creation around us. I don’t think death was part of the original blessing of creation. I think death was something that entered into creation through our sin and folly and I’ve come to see it doesn’t just effect us…but all creation. The apostle Paul had another take on this futility in his epistle to the Roman church, “The whole creation waits breathless with anticipation for the revelation of God’s sons and daughters.…[so] that the creation itself will be set free from slavery to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of God’s children.” – Romans 8:19,21 The whole creation longs to be a part of the redemption of God’s children. Does this mean that all dogs go to heaven? I’m not sure, but I think there is healing and redemption to come for our relationship with creation; including our pets.

So I sit here today, two days removed and I’m still effected by all of this. And I’m sure there will be more moments and I definitely hurt for my oldest son whose had Fenway around his whole life. But it also becomes a reminder for me to treasure all the people and creatures around me as much as I can for as long as I can. Truly creation was and is a gift from God for when it is at its best, it reflects the Divine love in a way that words never can. For those of you experiencing grief and loss in this Advent season, I pray for you today. I know for many of you these words may seem trite as the loss of a dog pales in comparison to the pain you now suffer, and for that I am sorry, But hear these words again, “creation itself will be set free from slavery to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of God’s children.” – Romans 8:21. The redemption and glorious freedom begins with the sons and daughters of God. We have a hope beyond this life. We have a hope beyond the grave. May you lean into that hope today.

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smaller and less

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Recently there has been talk about making Christmas bigger and better than ever. And something about this just hasn’t set right with me. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas and big family gatherings and all the festivities around the church. But bigger and better than ever? I’m not quite sure those are the values that should qualify Christmas. It almost seems like more and more this is how society is trying to shape what began as something very different. You need to buy this better gift or your friend, spouse, kid, coworker, etc. won’t have a Merry Christmas. You need to make sure your debt ratio is getting bigger and bigger or Christmas won’t be complete. We have to make sure we capitolize on this season in our churches with as many activities to draw people in because this may be the only time of year we get to see them (well at least until Easter). We need to make sure everyone around us knows how big and important this holiday is because otherwise they’ll never understand the true meaning of Christmas.

To me it just all feels a bit off. The idea of shopping and planning and stressing and exhausting schedules seems so far removed from Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. One of my favorite versions of the Christmas story in scripture was actually written by Paul to the church in Philippi. “Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings. When he found himself in the form of a human.” – Philippians 2:6-7 The Christmas story is best categorized by words like emptied, slave, less, weak, humility, frail, fragile, etc. Not words like bigger and better. When God stepped into our world He became less. God became small. In fact, if you weren’t a shepherd or a magi (I’m not sure if I ever got to be one in one of the kid’s Christmas pageants) you probably didn’t even know about the first Christmas.

You may ask yourself though, why am I taking such issue with this? Because Christmas should represent our values as Christ followers and not as economists. Perhaps we should seek to embody the shepherds and seek out those who appear to be weak, vulnerable, less, frail and fragile this season. And when we find them it might be an opportunity for us to practice a Christmas value as we seek to enter into their situation with them. Perhaps Christmas is more about becoming like the broken, outcast, unloved, untouched, smaller and weaker because that is what God did for us at Christmas. So maybe for a moment this holiday season we all might find a way to try something different. It doesn’t have to be a huge gesture or anything massive, but maybe the smallest thing might become the most Christ-like as we seek to emulate the God who emptied Himself and became smaller and less for our sake.


the most wonderful

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I don’t know about you, but I love Christmas music. And I’m definitely not a purist when it comes to when one is allowed to listen. I’ve been known to listen to Christmas music all during the season of Advent. I’ve been known to even begin listening to Christmas music before Thanksgiving (I just told my students recently it was because there were no good turkey songs). I can even tell that I am truly getting into the spirit of the season when I bust out the Carpenter’s Christmas album. For me it truly is the most wonderful time of the year…and yet for some. Well they struggle with this season more than any other. Often times issues of grief or family drama or financial stress become even more prevalent during holiday seasons. For some this season even becomes the least wonderful time of the year. In a season that is meant to be marked by joy, peace, love, and hope, some find themselves struggling to find these very things in the midst of all the other issues that become more transparent as the holidays take hold.

And on some level I think it all hinges on that last aspect of the Advent practice…hope. The season of Advent, for those who aren’t aware, begins this Sunday and marks the beginning of the church year. Advent is the four Sundays leading up to Christmas and it is both a celebration of the initial coming of Christ and an anticipation of His return. And yet, we so often struggle with finding hope in the midst of this season. Many find themselves placing their hopes in things like the economy, politicians, national defense, etc. and as they often discover; this is no place for hope. When it comes to Advent, our hope takes on an incredible shape. Hear these words from the prophet Isaiah, “He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” – Isaiah 2:4 The Advent hope of Christ return almost seems too wonderful when we read it in the context of our current situation, but this is what true hope should look like.

In a world of shopping malls, black Friday sales, twitter feuds, international diplomatic escalation, racial unrest, cancer, and the like we struggle to take comfort in the story that Advent ushers in. Sometimes it is too much to find ourselves marveling at the story of a young Jewish mother giving birth to a son in the midst of a small town in Judea. Sometimes we struggle to find hope in the shepherd’s vision or the Magi’s quest or the angel’s songs. These stories are too wonderful and too far removed from our present situation for us to take hold of hope in the midst of a competing narrative. Perhaps what is needed is for us to look forward to the coming Advent that will take hold of the broken systems of this world and redeem them. The hope of Isaiah the prophet becomes realized in the words of John the apostle in that concluding hope of scripture. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” – Revelation 21:4 May we come to find ourselves caught up in THIS wonderful season and hopeful promise as we anticipate the Advent of Christ once again.


petty

mosquito sucking bloodA couple of years ago my wife and I got to spend a day with one of our professors from college. I say “our” even though I never took him for a class,  because of how instrumental he was in shaping both of our paths. My wife often says that she would have spent her entire student debt on his one class that she took because of what it meant to her faith walk. And in our lives together he’s the person that we have often turned to during difficult times in ministry and he usually has some small nugget of truth that resonates with us for months and even years to come. This day was no exception as we found ourselves talking about ministry and the church again. At some point in the conversation he says to us, “You know what the two great sins of the church are? Being boring or being petty.” At the time I kind of shrugged it off, as I am apt to do…but time reveals so much, doesn’t it?

I’ve come to realize how much truth there was to that statement. The first piece is pretty self-explanatory. The last thing the church should ever be boring with is the life-transforming message of the Gospel. The second piece is something we have all lived with and seen in our own contexts. We love to major on the minors. We will go to war in the church over the color of carpet, style of worship, wall decor, etc. And the grudges we hold if we don’t get our way. Paul says this to the people of Colossians, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” – Colossians 3:12-13 Clothe, dress, adorn, put-on love, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience! In other words, don’t be petty. Don’t major on the minors. Keep the first things first.

And if you don’t think pettiness is a big problem consider this adage from the Dalai Lama, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito”. Granted, he may have meant this in a positive light, but I have trouble seeing anything positive associated with mosquitoes. If we allow pettiness to dictate our actions, it can destroy relationships, families and even churches over stuff that at the end of the day doesn’t even matter. I have seen friendships ruined over stuff that people shouldn’t even be getting up in arms about, but because they have taken a stand, they can’t back down. And at the end of the day, when we allow pettiness to dictate our actions, we have allowed sin to control our lives…because truly is about me and not about we. I always find myself coming back to the quote by Meldenius, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” Perhaps it is time for some of us to learn not to be petty in non-essentials and to clothe ourselves in charity for the sake of our friendships, our churches and the world.


just stop 

I’m tired…and it’s only Thursday (feel free to substitute any day of the week except Friday).

How many times do we find that this becomes part of our vernacular? We have become a people whose god is busyness.
The schedules and the to-do lists and the accomplishments and the appointments and the events and the practices and the rehearsals and the whatever is next never seems to stop. Is this how it is supposed to be? We almost seem to think that it is an accomplishment just to make it to the next day. Something has to give because we cannot keep going like this and have healthy lives, families, relationships, etc.

Fortunately for you my friend, this is not how you were designed nor is this how you are intended to live. The Hebrew scriptures were penned in such a way as to help us see that our lives are intended to be ordered in a more unique fashion. Way back in the very beginning we see that God himself built a rhythm into creation and we are intended to follow said rhythm. It looks a bit like this, “By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” – Genesis 2:2-3. The word for rest in the passage above is shabath from which we get Sabbath and it literally means “STOP”. After six days, God stops…and does nothing. Isn’t that beautiful? There is built into the very fabric of creation a day of nothing…no schedules, no appointments, no errands, nothing.

And yet, we are too busy to honor the very fulfillment of creation itself. If we don’t go here, if we don’t do this, we won’t have this or we won’t get that done or we won’t feel accomplished; STOP! As Jesus is coming to the end of His time with His disciples he reminds them of this is John 15, “Remain in me, as I also remain in you” – John 15:4. Jesus, knowing the rhythm that is built into creation reminds us to stay, pause, remain, stop and dwell with Him. Does that mean that God isn’t present in our busyness and goings and comings throughout the week? By no means. But perhaps we need to take a day to be aware of His presence by stopping and finding ourselves renewed for a moment. After all, we are only human.
So my challenge to you and to me this week? In the midst of renewed schedules and life rhythms that come with this season of year, may you find some time, preferably a day, to stop; to shabath. You need it. I need it. God made you and creation itself for it. And as you do may you find yourself renewed in The Spirit that gave life and breath to creation itself and then stopped.

 


trick or treat

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One of my favorite events in the life of our church here in Odessa took place last night. For one night each year we roll out the red, or should I say orange, carpet in a big way. Our annual Fall Festival is awesome! We have about 50 or so volunteers rally to host over 500 people each year. There’s food trucks, inflatables, face-painting, carnival games, pop-corn, music and costumes…so many cool costumes. I love seeing all of the kids, and “adult kids”, coming to our church in their costumes for a night of fun and festivities. In fact, it seems that more and more each year people are really getting into the Halloween spirit. And yet, sometimes we in the church struggle with what to do with this holiday full of spooks and ghosts and ghouls.

I guess we could start by taking a look at our own history, after all, Halloween began as part of Allhallowtide, a Christian feast holiday. According to HistoryChannel.com, “In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints; All Saints Day…The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve, and later Halloween.” Halloween was originally part of a Religious feast intended to honor those who have gone before us. And yet so often we see all of the hullabaloo of Halloween today feeling like something different from it’s Christian roots and often become something else entirely. Even as I am writing this I am thinking about all of those who feel like Halloween is a dark holiday to be avoided at all costs…and I respect your opinion, but think with me for a moment. Try putting yourself in the place of one of the kids who got be at our Fall Festival last night or who looks forward to Trick-or-Treating this coming week. You’re telling me that for a day I get to dress up like someone else, go around to my neighbor’s houses and they give me candy? It’s almost kind of magical. And who doesn’t love another excuse to eat candy?

I have always looked at scripture a little differently and I hope you will amuse me here. To me, one of the saddest verses in all of scripture is found in I Corinthians 13:11 “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” So often we think of this as the natural maturation process, but what if it is talking about the loss of the natural wonder and love that comes with childhood? I think all to often we are ready to grow up and we miss the joy and simplicity of living that can be seen through the eyes of a child. Maybe if we began to see this holiday again through the eyes of a child and all the joy I saw last night we might be able to see it a little differently. Maybe the treat is found through the trick of seeing Halloween as a child. And maybe holidays like Halloween can be enjoyed in a new light as we seek to reclaim the world yet again through childlike wonder and joy.

 

 


tested

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Yesterday was a pretty stressful day for me. As those of you who have been following my journey know, this year I became a middle school science teacher. And one of the responsibilities of teachers is to occasionally measure to see how well the information we are passing along to our students is being recorded in their brains. In other words, we give a test. And it was so stressful! It was almost like one of those, “this is going to hurt me more than it hurts you” moments. Here I am asking them to give back to me all I’ve poured into them for the last nine weeks and I soooo want everyone to pass with flying colors…but not everyone was ready. Sure, some of them did great. Some of them even performed right in the middle where you would expect them to be. But some of them failed. And my heart broke for them. I immediately began to try to find ways to help them recover their grade (and don’t worry, a fellow teacher helped me come up with a fair and equitable solution). But I felt like the test was for me almost as much as it was for them.

I mean, think about it for a minute. For nine weeks we have worked on projects, had teaching moments, lectures, home assignments and group discussions. To even top it all off, there was a review they have had access too for about 4 days. I gave them all of these resources to succeed and some of them still struggled during the test. The funny thing is, I never really struggled with tests when I was a student; yes, I was one of those kids. But it doesn’t mean I don’t empathize with them now. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to help them any way I can now. I’m reminded of the passage of scripture in the letter to the Hebrews about how God sees us during times of testing. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” – Hebrews 4:15-16 Did you see it there? Jesus has dealt with every test/temptation that will come our way, was faultless, but empathizes with our situation to the point of pouring out grace to help.

You see there are so many ways that God continually pours grace into our lives. We see it in the sunrise each day. We feel in in the breath that we breathe. We read it in the pages of the Bible. We hear it from the saints that go before us. We’re reminded of it as we gather to sing songs about God. The moments of beauty and love in this world are being poured into us moment by moment so that when we face difficult times and hardship and temptation, we know where our strength lies. And even if we do fail or we don’t measure up or we forget about all that has been poured into us, we still have a high priest who empathizes/feels for us and is ready to lavish grace on us yet again to help bring us through. So maybe you’re the student who always feels like the tests come when you aren’t ready. There’s grace for you. Maybe you’re the student who knows the material, but just can’t seem to recall it. There’s grace for you. Maybe you’re the student who gets so worked up by the test in front of you that the truths you know that you know seem too far away to be real. There’s grace for you.

I pray that you would find yourself being poured into moment by moment and day by day, by the God who knows you and wants to see you succeed as you are clothed by grace for the times that test.


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