Last night just before bedtime, a boomer of a West Texas thunderstorm began to roll in. This immediately means a few things…number one, Odessa will get some much needed rain (this is always the case regardless of how much we get). Number two; that I myself will have a potentially wonderful night of sleep as I love sleeping with rain in the background. And lastly, that no one else in my household will sleep well, so number two is immediately negated. And last night was no exception to that rule as I type this through bleary sleep-depraved eyes. But it got me thinking about control…or lack thereof. My kids are prime examples of the fear of lack of control. My ten-yr-old most recently has even begun to express his increasing fear of tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes and any other kind of natural phenomena beyond his control. But control really is an illusion…isn’t it?
I guess it goes all the way back to the garden…I mean waaaay back. We couldn’t handle not being in control of our circumstances; our fate. And so we ate. “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” – Genesis 3:6. And ever since we have operated under the illusion of control that sin allows us to think makes sense. If I just get this piece of my life figured out. If I just work hard enough these things will all fall into place. If I just have enough money, power, popularity, beauty, security, etc. then all will be well…except it won’t. In fact, the invitation made to us in the wake of a world broken by the illusion of control sounds more like this, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” – John 12:24-25
Tomorrow is Good Friday and combined with Easter it represents the two most important days for the life of a Christian…why? Because it reminds us that we are not in control. Christ himself, in order to redeem us, showed us that life is best lived when we yield up control and just live for God. The apostle Paul described it this way, “When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” – Philippians 2:7-8. Christ gave up control of His life even to the point of death at our hands (talk about yielding control) so that we might know there is no power in control. In fact, true victory and power comes from giving up control or even realizing that we never even really had control. Perhaps this is the truth of Good Friday. That as we are called to give up the illusion of control we realize that we have a Savior who has already showed us the way. So may you give up the desire for control and the fear that accompanies it and live in the promise of Good Friday and the Hope of Easter.
For those of you who don’t know, I have in the last four years become a Disney Princess aficionado. This is a position that has been rendered upon me by the birth of our now 4-yr-old daughter. Not only can I recite to you every Disney Princess story in breathtaking detail, but I can also sing every song, dance some of the dances and may have even been moved to emotion while watching one or two of the movies. Let’s be honest; having a daughter changes a man. But sometimes the lyrics in said Disney movies stick with me for all the wrong reasons. For instance, this morning the song Human Again from the second release (oh yes, there was a second release) of Beauty and the Beast began coursing its way through my synapses. I’ve often wondered why the objects in the enchanted castle were so consumed with being human again. I for one think it would be pretty cool to be a talking grandfather clock or candellabra, but they seem to be overly tired of that existence. The song even concludes with the following stanza, “I’ll be all that I was, On that glorious morn, When we’re fin’lly reborn And we’re all of us human again”.
Now I for one don’t quite relate to their elation at being human again. For instance, two days ago I was reminded in the most violent fashion of how human I was again. While attempting to better my human self at our local gym I was briefly distracted while moving a weight from a rack to the bar. And said 45lb weight thought that a nice detour between the two locales would be a five foot drop onto the top of my foot. It didn’t take long for me to remember how non-superhuman I was and how actually run of the mill human I truly am. And for the last two days I have carried/dragged that reminder around with me. Needless to say I don’t really need a reminder of what it is like to be human again.
I find it aptly timed that I received this little reminder of my mortality and fragility during the season of Lent. A season where we reflect on our condition apart from Divine intervention. The apostle Paul reflects on this same condition in his second letter to the church in Corinth saying, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” – 2 Corinthians 4:7. I guess my issue with the talking house decor from the aforementioned Disney movie is that their idea of being reborn is to simply be human again. My idea of being reborn is to be more than human. And this isn’t accomplished by my own strength and power. That usually results in me dropping heavy things on my appendages. No, this is something more. What I long for and seek to live into is the Divine miracle of the Spirit of the Eternal God making It’s dwelling inside of this fragile, flawed, decaying clay jar that I call me. And it becomes for all of us a new way to be human again as we are made into the image of God.
Last night I was able to sub in for one of our regular teachers here at the church and I got to lead our adult Bible study. In the midst of our conversation we were looking at a text that alluded to believers in Jesus being tested/tried. And then the verse was brought up that is often brought up in this discussion from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.” – 1 Corinthians 10:13. And I am not faulting anyone for bringing up this verse. This is one of those verses that often gives us great comfort in the midst of trials, but I can’t help but wonder if the meaning at face value really applies to the temptations/trials that we as humans often want to apply it to.
For those of you who are not readily aware of it, we in the Christian tradition have just entered into the season of Lent (no this is not a reminder to clean out your dryer vent). But rather this is the season that begins on Ash Wednesday and marks the 40 days plus Sundays leading up to Easter. Lent is traditionally characterized by some sort of fast on the part of the believer and is ushered in by the marking of the believer with ashes on Ash Wednesday with the scriptural reminder from Genesis 3, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The beginning and overarching tone therefore of Lent is a remembrance of our mortality. In fact, the reason that Lent is celebrated for 40 days is a call back to Jesus’ mortal temptation in the wilderness.
Can I be real honest here for a minute? I don’t think any of us would have survived what Jesus did in terms of His temptation in the wilderness. Be you Bear Grylls or Survivor Man, I really don’t think it matters. The Bible tells us that Jesus fasted for forty days and after that He was tempted. You put me for four days, let alone forty, in the West Texas wilderness and then tempt me with anything and I would probably cave. Why? Because I am weak. I am human. And often times when I come under stress, trials, temptations, etc. it is so easy for me to buckle. But here is the beauty and the simplicity of my reflection on the verse from 1 Corinthians above, “they are weak but He is strong”. In my humanness I may consider often that the trials and temptations that I undergo are too much for me, but they are never too much for Him. And that really is what Lent is ultimately about. It’s a reminder that were we to be left to our own devices all that would await us is defeat, brokenness and death. But thanks be to God that the end of Lent is the ushering in of Resurrection on Easter Sunday.
So may you take to heart these 40 days. May it be a reflection upon your weakness and mortality, but also a remembrance of His power that is at work within you…Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yesterday on the drive into school my kids and I ended up on the subject of death. Now granted, this isn’t a subject that often enters our realm of family discussion, but for some reason it came up yesterday. And in my fatherly wisdom I found myself saying these encouraging words, “Well, we all die someday”. Fortunately my son quickly interjected, “That’s ok. Because that’s the way we get to heaven.” (Luckily my kids somehow survive despite their dad’s morbid view of reality). But let’s face it. We all know the two things we are guaranteed in life are “death and taxes”. And sometimes we in the church struggle with our mortality and how to relate it to our immortality. We sometimes think that the blessings of the life to come aren’t real if they don’t somehow resonate in our current setting…but this isn’t really the gospel.
In some of the last teachings we see Jesus delivering to His disciples before his trial and death we read these words from the book of John, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33 Oftentimes I think we misread this verse. We see ourselves as the “overcomers” of the world when we are really are only guaranteed to “have trouble”. The word in the verse above we read for trouble or tribulation is the Greek word, thlipsis. It’s most literal translation is “pressure” and it comes from the idea of ruts being worn into a path/road. Tell me that’s not encouraging. In this life you will get potholes. And really it’s the one thing we are guaranteed…this world will eventually end us if Jesus doesn’t return first.
Luckily that’s not where the story ends. Although we may lose, although we may be overcome, beat down, pressured, etc. this is not the End. Jesus tells us to be at peace as he has overcome the world. He has claimed victory over the temporal limitations of this world and made a way through death into life. And so we find peace. Truthfully this isn’t easy. When the ruts worn into us come through things like sickness, brokenness, bills, debts, familial discord, job loss, and grief we long to be the ones who overcome. But at the end of the day we don’t overcome…we take comfort in He who has overcome and speaks these words to us in the final book, “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.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” – Revelation 21:4-5. The faith that we hold onto places it’s confidence in a God who has not only overcome but promises to make all things new. This is how we are not overcome ourselves and find peace even in the midst of the storms of life.
And truthfully, we who are called of Christ are also called to comfort and proclaim good news to those who have been overcome by life and it’s troubles. Our calling is not simply to look to the life to come but also to bring God’s Kingdom to earth. Often times we find peace in serving those who themselves can’t find peace.
So may you take heart today. May you find peace and bring peace to others through Christ our Lord; the one who has overcome.
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.
After thirty something changes. I am not exactly sure what it is. But every birthday since turning thirty has been a time where I inadvertently contemplate my mortality. I realize that some of you reading this will simply think I am ridiculous and have many years still ahead of me….where-areas some others of you who may read this actually think of me as older;) But contemplating your mortality always leads you to a unique place. And for me thus far in life I think it is safe to say that I have lived a life free of regret. I love my journey and where it has taken me so far. I see each day as potentially my new best day ever and I can’t imagine my life having gone any other direction.
That being said though, I want to do something. I realize that bucket lists were fashionable a few years back and so I am relatively late on the scene, but I thought it might be a good exercise for me today as I contemplate my life and where I am headed. So here is a list. A list of things I would love to do, but don’t necessarily have to do in order to be fulfilled. (And please feel free to comment on this post or on Facebook if you think there is something I need to add)
Purchase and learn to play a Banjo
Hike the entire 2,000 miles of the Appalachian trail…though not necessarily all at one time
Swim with sharks…I don’t even have to have a cage
Live for some amount of time in another country
Write a book…being published would be a bonus
Visit all 50 states in the US (I think I am at least half way there)
Get to see my kids grow up
Watch a game from The Green Monster
Visit and tour the United Kingdom
It’s not altogether to extensive of a list. But these are some experiences I would love for myself and for my family, although I am not sure my wife would concur on the Banjo. At the end of the day though I really just want one thing….to pass on to my kids the wonder of seeing the world for what it can be instead of what it sometimes is. I long for them to live life with the imagination of seeing God’s Kingdom come to Earth. After all…that is why we are here.
Grace and Peace
So this morning as we were leaving the drive of our house my six year old asked me a very important spiritual question, “Does mommy water our plants?” Well knowing about my wife’s lack of a chlorophyll colored thumb I gave the discretionary answer of, “probably not”. But I had to measure his concern. You see he was able with his aunt’s help to by my wife some tulips for Valentines day and I know he just wanted them to last a little longer…to be honest I am surprised they have lasted this long. But then it almost heartless fashion I added, “But to tell you the truth son, flowers die. That’s what they do. They are beautiful and fragile.”
Segue into Ash Wednesday. Isn’t that a beautiful picture of where our heads and hearts should be on this day the ushers in the Lenten season? God has made us into His image and placed within us the beautiful image of His Son and the gift of reconciliation. And at the same moment we are made of dust. We are insanely fragile. James 4:14 puts it this way, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” So inside this fragile shell which is here today and gone tomorrow God himself inhabits us for His glory. How much more amazing does that make this season.
You see for centuries Lent has been a time of recognizing our mortality and our dependency upon God for all things. So we empty ourselves for forty days. It may be of something simple like TV time or Soda, or it could be something more difficult like Facebook (tongue in cheek). But whatever the case may be we limit ourselves in some form or fashion in order to allow more space for God. After all, it is He who makes this mortal existence beautiful. It is He who transforms our dust shell with His breath. So maybe this Lenten season you are able to truly reflect on the Church’s cry of remembrance and recognize the beauty in our fragility, “Remember Mortal thou are dust and to dust you shall return.”