We live in a world of words. I wake up in the morning and one of the first things I begin my day with, outside of fumbling with the french press, is read. I read Facebook, Twitter, emails, The Bible, Instagram (pictures say a lot) and sometimes I may even have time to pick up a comic before my morning run. Then there is my morning run and my commute to work where I listen to Podcasts or Audio books. We literally fill our worlds with words. And unless you’ve been living under a rock lately you realize how divisive these words can be. I look at the reactions from my Christian brother’s and sister’s to the confirmation hearings surrounding Judge Kavanaugh and I am astounded at how much vitriol our words have been laced with on both sides of the aisle. It’s almost as if we have allowed our political and religious stances to embolden our language to the point that we don’t care how it makes another feel as long as we are perceived as being right…and our kids are watching our words.
We’ve always been told that our kids observe our actions and hear our words, but I think sometimes we forget about this audience. And how we react to political and cultural situations in the world around us actually effects how our kids will react as well. Now I don’t want to get into a political discussion defending one side or the other, but it is important how we discuss these things with our teens and kids. In his letter to the church in Ephesus Paul has this to say about our words, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” – Ephesians 4:29 Unwholesome talk that tears down or belittles another created image of God (I think it’s safe to say we have been guilty of this on both sides of the aisle, present company included). Instead we are to engage in talk that is helpful for building others up and benefits the ones who are listening. In other words, it is so important to think about the one’s who are listening.
So when we slander or doubt the validity of a person just because we don’t agree with their political affiliation, those who are listening receive permission to do the same. When we doubt the testimony of the powerless against the powerful we give others permission to continue to marginalize the weak. When we belittle others because in doing so we feel all the more right in who we are and what we believe those around us take on those same bully traits in their interactions with those they disagree with. I for one have had quite enough of the church finding itself divided into camps that the world deems necessary. I’ve had quite enough of our words becoming weaponized because that’s what the current cultural climate deems necessary. The way of the cross demands that our words and actions rise above the fray to show a third way and I think it’s high time we take into account the audience that is listening to our words. Maybe then we might be able to truly live into our role as the Bride of Christ, not simply for ourselves, but for the church that is being raised up by our words.
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.
One of the most common phrases heard around our house these days is, “that’s mine”. And it really is a rather recent development with our two youngest. Foster kids can really change your perspective…for a bit. Because for a while it seemed like they were super human because they really didn’t claim ownership to much of anything and so “those disputes” didn’t seem to happen. Boy was I naive. Now that #3 & 4 have been in our house for over a year the claiming of property seems to resemble the gold rush of 1849 more than the charitable sharing that typified their initial behavior. “That’s mine”, “I had it first”, “No” and “Give me” have become the calling card of all their interactions as of late. And I can’t help but wonder how much of this I have taught them.
Most of us learn the art of possession from an early age. We learn that things cost money and we have to work for that money and so through our toil these things take on a value that we assign. The problem occurs when we assign these things a greater value than we assign to other people. We don’t want certain people coming into our house because they might mess it up. We horde up or collect nice things because we we worked for it (Even the word horde brings to mind images of Smaug from the Hobbit). Yet at the end of the day, if we don’t even own the very breath in our lungs, do we “own” any of these things? Or do they own us? Jesus had this to say about the things on earth we lay claim to or possess, “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.” – Mark 10:29-30 The crazy thing about that is the inference to the expansion of family and resources in the present age. A lot of folks might try to tell you that this is about God “blessing” you with bigger and better things, but it really is about something much richer.
I’ve begun to see it happen recently due to impending/ongoing threats to people’s homes and security in the United States. In the wake of Harvey and under the threat of DACA or Irma I have begun to see Christians open up their homes, lives and possessions to those who face the unknown. And this is what Jesus really is referring to in the passage above…a shared kingdom life. It’s a life that literally says, “mi casa es su casa (my house is your house)”, because the things that I have come to “own” are actually things that I am a steward of and so they are best used when they are shared. In fact, this is the “hundred times as much” that Jesus refers to in the passage above. It is not about me amassing wealth and being greedy, but about me belonging to something much bigger than myself by realizing I don’t own any of it. There was a wonderful quote from Mahatma Gandhi that describes our world and the need for this type of behavior, “The world has enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed.” I hope today you find yourself letting go of the “that’s mine” mentality so that you can open yourself up to see how Christ could use you for those who need you in the worst way.
There it was. In all it’s pristine glory. Okay, maybe most people would see a dingy closet door in the lower level of the downtown Flint YMCA. But to me, in a daze from finishing up my morning work out, it represented the entire world. There is nothing more fascinating to me than a locked closet door; okay, that may have been a bit of hyperbole. But don’t you just wander. I always have. My grandmother called me a meddler…I liked to think of it as a term of endearment. But I have always had this huge curiosity about what things lay behind locked doors, closed drawers and chests. In college this may or may not have even gotten me into a bit of trouble as I worked to perfect my skills at picking locks and getting where I obviously was not intended to go. I am just thankful that I am on this side of college without a criminal record. Although I am not sure I ever actually stole anything; I just wanted a look.
And I like to think that this approach to life isn’t altogether bad. I’ve always like J.R.R. Tolkein’s poem from Lord of the Rings in describing Strider, “All that is gold does not glitter, Not all those who wander are lost”. I find myself often wandering about the things about me. I am curious about what lies not only behind closed doors, but what is around the bend. I like to marvel at the make up of planets spinning and the way trees grow and mountains dominate the landscape. And I think this Spirit may be of God. Not a spirit that causes one to get into trouble or mischief, but one that brings someone into a sense of wanting to know more about the world around them. And I think this may have been what the Apostle Paul was alluding to in his letter to the Colossians as well, “My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” – Colossians 2:2-3.
The mystery of God. I love that concept. And this isn’t the only place this is mentioned in scripture. God is the great mystery to be searched. The great locked door to be opened. And the best part about it, God can never be fully known, at least in this life. The best avenue we have for exploring the nature of God is the person of Jesus Christ and we know Him more fully through the presence of the Holy Spirit. And in Christ is all the treasure of wisdom and knowledge. And so we are encouraged to explore, seek, ask, knock and fully relish in the spirit of curiosity put into us to seek out God in everything around us and in the revelation of Jesus Christ. And for a meddler like me, this is great encouragement. So wander…and wonder as the mystery of God is always before us.
This is far from my traditional post, but I thought it might be fun to share something. I recently decided to upload all of the sermons I have preached at Central Church of the Nazarene in “Big Church” (as I call it) to a SoundCloud account. And I know some of my family might enjoy this…not sure about the rest of you. But I thought it might be a fun thing to share. So enjoy…hopefully.
I’m not sure how many of you are like me, but I love doing other things while driving. I realize that this possibly means I am placing the lives of my family, myself and countless other motorists at risk, but I can’t help it. Now I’m not talking about texting or anything that actually deters from the driving process, but rather stuff that I feel adds to the driving experience. Whether it is looking at billboards, checking out cool cars with my son or observing people’s personal habits in their “facade of isolation” known as a car, I can’t help myself. But one of my absolute favorite things to do is to read signs in front of businesses. Usually the best ones belong to churches as they attempt to post something to draw you in or give you encouragement in a quixotic little saying. But my favorite as of late belongs to an insurance agency, of all places and it reads like this, “Life is unpredictable. Plan for it.”
Isn’t that great? Plan for that which you can’t plan for by buying our product that will give you some false sense of security so you can go on living your life that will in some way continue to defy your expectations. Now don’t get me wrong; I think it’s a good thing to have insurance…especially when very few of us have the ability to self-insure our possessions and lives. The issue for me is not necessarily what the insurance does, but what it replaces. 1 Timothy 6:17-18 reads “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” Before you get all antsy, let me place this in the proper context. If we were all being judged, present company included, as to whether or not we are rich based on Paul’s assessment in today’s world, we would all be considered wealthy.
And wealth in and of itself isn’t bad. But sometimes it replaces hope and trust in Him who we should have trust. ‘Life is unpredictable’ is probably some of the best theology I have seen on a sign of that nature. I think you could even go a step further and quote The Princess Bride, “Life is pain. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying or trying to sell you something.” I always add it up this way: Life is hard, this world is broken, but God is good. The latter being the most important. The rub comes in when those insurances, those comforts that we set aside to protect us begin to rob us of the need to walk with God. If we aren’t leaning on Him for our security and hope on a daily basis then how will we know His goodness when hard times fall upon us? If we aren’t living out Kingdom economics and trusting in the full security of the King rather than in what we can “secure” by our own means then do we really know the King? Maybe that’s why it is as difficult as a camel going through a needle’s eye.
Life is unpredictable. May we plan for it not by our own hands by by walking hand in hand with the One who is good even in the midst of the chaos.
Most of us probably never had a “Dead Poets Society” moment. And by “Dead Poets Society” moment I am referring to standing on ones desk and reciting Whitman or ripping out introductions to analytical literature texts or reciting poetry while kicking a soccer ball for all it’s worth. No wonder this movie was so much fun. And although not many of us have had these dramatic landmark moments in our educational experiences, I imagine many of us still have moments we can look back to that continue to shape who we are.
For me it was Mr. Michael Pettit; my high school literature teacher. While coming up through elementary school and Jr High, English was never a strong subject for me. It’s not that I didn’t make A’s (I mean look at how nerdy I am, did you really think anything differently?), it just wasn’t my favorite. I preferred the strict analytical methods of math and science versus the creativity and limitless methods found in literature and the like. And all of a sudden in my junior year of high school I found myself getting a “C” in Mr. Pettit’s British Literature class. But the great thing about Mr. Pettit is that he was not content to see an “A” student get lower marks in his class. One day he took me aside after school and talked to me for over an hour about how I wasn’t living into my gifts by doing so poorly in his class.* It had it’s effect. I started working harder and diving into assignments more. But even greater was the appreciation that I gained from the universal themes in literature he brought before us.
One such assignment was unique in that he had us memorize a Biblical text before our senior class in American Literature began. The text was as follows: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn,and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.” (Isaiah 61:1-4). And not only did we have to memorize it, but we also had to recite it in front of the entire class. Now why in the world would we recite a text Christ himself read in the synagogue before beginning a class on American Literature? Could it be that our mission helps us better see the world and those who have written and spoken to us about it through literature? Could it be that as the Spirit rests upon us we are challenged to move forward and all life must be lived out of this mission? You can see how I am still formed by a text I recited sixteen years ago in a small classroom.
So I ask you today: who are your poor? your brokenhearted? your captives and prisoners? Who are the ones for whom the Spirit of God as rested upon you in order to minister to? Maybe we all need a little “Dead Poets Society” moment after all…
* As you may or may not have inferred by this point, I wen to a private Christian high school. An amazing gift of sacrifice from my parents I will never be able to repay.