This morning I write surrounded by boxes. It really is amazing how much stuff we humans acquire. Here’s a test for you. If you think yourself a minimalist, just try moving once. It really can be mind boggling. So here I sit surrounded by cardboard and chaos. But it really is a picture of something much larger than myself. Over the last almost sixteen years of marriage my wife and I have had the privilege of living in Tennessee, Florida, Michigan and Texas. And you know what we’ve found? People are beautiful and amazing and incredible no matter where we live. We have found more in common with people we never thought we would connect with because of our ability to experience different cultures and communities all over these United States. The scary thing is that it seems like these days we are led to believe there is more that separates us than unites us.
But let’s be honest for a moment. The way in which many of our lives are lived today only helps to contribute to the ease of which we are divided. We listen to the same news sources, we dine and discuss with the same folks, we read the same literature, we go to church with similar minded people and we rarely break out of our routines. We are boxed in more so than my current writing environment. And so, if we are led to believe that there is more that separates us, than unites us, then it becomes easier to embrace as a mindset. In his travel book Innocents Abroad, Mark Twain had this to say about living our lives boxed in, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” And honestly, you don’t have to travel across the world to gain these perspectives…sometimes you just need to go to the other side of town.
We who claim the title of Christ should be very careful how our worldviews cause us to perceive one another. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul writes this, “Since you have taken off your old self with its practicesand have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.” – Colossians 3:9b-11 Because of Christ these labels that society is quick to pick up and employ do not exist anymore. We don’t see each other through the lenses of mass media or liberal or conservative or democrat or republican or citizen or refugee or rich or poor or whatever the dividing line might be. We see all as if we are seeing them as Christ in flesh. But in order to do that we have to get outside of our boxed in worlds and realize Christ has called us to so much more. So I sit this morning surrounded by boxes…but I know they are about to lead me to new people to love through Christ.
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 am not even sure why I feel the need to blog/write today. I don’t really feel like doing much of anything. Truth be told I have been under the weather for a couple of days now and it is hard to get motivated to do much of anything. It is crazy how much a little infection in your body can take down your entire system. It just seems like everything begins to fail. You have trouble focusing and you can’t seem to get anything accomplished. It is almost as if your entire body is rebelling against you. And so, as one of my doctors once put it, we send in the troops…antibiotics. Now I know there are arguments both ways as to the good or the bad of antibiotics, but you can’t help but be amazed at how they work. You are essentially ingesting a micro-poison that is directly targeting the bacteria that are causing the infection in order to rid your body of the sickness. I can almost imagine the miniscule battle raging as the antibiotics race to the defense of the body and start trying to take down the invading bacteria (yes my brain works like that).
It kind of has me wondering if this is what the affects of sin look like personally and corporately. Does sin come in and wreck the entire system? Does it inhibit our ability to accomplish good for the Kingdom and for our fellow man? And if all of this is true how is it taken care of? 1 John 1:8-10 reads like this, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” All of a sudden our individual sins become a corporate/systemic problem and we become broken as a people. But the writer here says that if we confess these sins (there might be need for personal and communal) that God is faithful to cleanse us from unrighteousness. And the Greek word for cleanse may look familiar: katharizō, from which we get the medical term cauterize. The filth, the sin is burned/stripped/cleansed out of us and it frees us to function as we are called.
The problem that still remains is the vastness of which we as the church and the world are infected. Stanley Hauerwas (an esteemed American Theologian from Duke University) once said, “To be witnesses to the world is to be truth-tellers.” And maybe this is where the greatest sickness lies. We can’t be honest with ourselves in the church as to the degree of our infection and therefore we have no witness. Without a witness we can never expect the world around us to get well. May we as the church come to grips with an honest recitation of that which is making us sick. And then as we are healed through God’s cleansing may we be a witness to the health that only God can bring.
As a parent of an elementary school student you sometimes find the dusty corners of your academic history needing to be swept. All of a sudden your child is coming home with work and arithmetic that you haven’t even attempted in ages. Most recently I have found myself brushing up on my multiplication tables and division for my fourth grader and I was probably a bit more dusty than I thought. And for some reason he is really struggling with division. The concept behind multiplication sticks, but for some reason the dividing of the whole just isn’t computing all that well. Which I must admit is a little odd to me…not so much for him, but just because division is so explicitly expressed in our society (I’m pretty sure launching into a philosophical discussion will not advance his math prowess, but it helps us in looking at ourselves).
We are quick to divide ourselves. We have so many different versions of ourselves. There is the professional, the personal, the spiritual, the familial, the sexual, the moral, the religious, or even the political self. And strangely enough we tend to draw dividing lines within ourselves to be able to balance out who we are in each and every scenario which calls for the appropriate self to be called upon. We even draw dividing lines against one another based on each other’s expressions of these personas and this is just as damaging. The writer of the epistle of James has a unique way of expressing this and a solution as well. “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” – James 4:8 The word for double-minded is dipsychos and it is best translated as double souled…or split souled.* We allow the fullness of who we are to be divided into categories which should be captured by the whole. And the writer has a very harsh critique of what this ultimately is…sin. How do we repair this? We draw near to God.
When Jesus was quizzed as to what the greatest commandment was he answered with the full spirit of the law, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Matthew 22:37-39 To love God with all that you are basically means that you refuse to let yourself be divided. Your personal, professional, spiritual, religious, political, sexual selves disappear into yourself as you are simply you and that same you is fully dedicated to God. These categories fade away as you become fully devoted to God and consequently expressions of yourself in these categories are expressions of your belief in God. Throughout the gospel of John the writer continually refers to sin as unbelief. The rationale behind this is that belief, true belief, brings about change in one’s self. Does this change exist in you? Is your heart, soul, mind and strength one within Christ and not divided in double-minded fashion? Maybe you need to look at your life and see if you are being honest with yourself and God today and stop dividing yourself and others in a way that God never intended. Maybe division is something we shouldn’t be good at?
*Much of the thinking behind this concept comes from John Ortberg’s Soul Keeping
Don’t make me repeat myself. I’m sure many of us have heard this phrase before. I imagine that some of us as parents have even used this phrase. And yet, it seems as if repetition is built into the very fabric of our lives. Especially in our own household where there are four kids…I imagine many days my wife and I sound like broken record players. But repetition isn’t bad in and of itself. In fact, it can be quite good. Repetition is the motor behind much of our learning and habitual practices. Just take a moment and google the word repetition and be as amazed as I was in terms of the research and studies dedicated to repetition and its effect on the human brain. If repetition is such a powerful tool then it goes without saying that things that have been repeated before us bear our attention. I would even say things often repeated in the Bible probably should grab our attention. Did you know that the most often repeated sin we are warned about in the Bible is the sin of idolatry? So perhaps it demands a little more of our attention.
But Idolatry is an outdated concept. You don’t see people making sacrifices to idols in today’s world…or do you? The first time we are told explicitly what idolatry is in the Bible is probably in the giving of the Ten Commadments. The second commandment goes like this, “make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.” Exodus 20:4-5a But what is an image or a form? An what does it mean to bow down? The word for form in this passage is tĕmuwnah which translates as representation or idea. The word for bow down is shachah and can be translated as worship or give reverence to. So the second commandment is reminding us not to worship any idea/concept/form that ultimately is not the God revealed through the story of scripture. And you may still feel like you have this covered…at least I do most of the time.
But what is worship? Sure you could talk about what we do in churches on Sunday, but worship is more about giving God the appropriate place in our lives. Worship is also abou making sure we haven’t turned anything into an idol…maybe even our thoughts of God at times. You see the reason idolatry was so dangerous is because idolatry meant you coul control that which you worshipped. If you could make an image of it or picture it just the right way, then you could dictate how that deity worked. So when things like sports, fitness, ambition, money, fame, popularity, body-image, etc. become our idol it makes sense because these are things that in theory we can control or manipulate. Sometimes we even do this with God when we tell Him how he should act or when He hates the same people we do or cheers for the same teams we do. We can take God and make an image. We can manipulate the God whose name was, “I am who I am” – Exodus 3:14 This naming itself say to us that God can’t be made into something we can control or manipulate because He is whatever He will be.
So perhaps there is something to this repetition thing after all. And perhaps there is some idolatry we might need to examine in our own lives. The best thing about idols though…they are made to be broken.
I can’t recall if I ever went through this phase or not. But I know with certainty that this was definitely a phase my now 9-yr-old went through. Some form of disciplinary action would take place in our home and all of a sudden it was too much for him to handle and he would declare to all within earshot that he was running away. Now he never really made it past the backyard. And there was never really any long-term planning involved other than grabbing one or two favorite toys, but the spirit of the action was understood. At some point though either my wife or I one would beckon him back in the house and all would be restored again.
It reminds me of the parable I was able to share this last week a couple of times. A son runs away from home after wishing for the inheritance he would receive upon his father’s death i.e. wishing his father dead (sounds like a dramatic running away story to me). He waste the inheritance on wild living and then ends up in a very desperate situation and finally comes to his senses and heads home. Here’s where the writer picks it up, “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” – Luke 15:20. And we love reading about this reconciliation but I’ve always thought that perhaps there could have been more. I can’t help but think about the older brother watching the father while the son was still in the distant country. Everyday as he would head into the fields he more than likely would see his father on the front porch staring into the distance. He knew his father’s heart was breaking and yet he just kept busy…doing what he thought his father wanted him to do. When in all truthfulness the father just wanted the younger son home. Had the older brother truly understood his role in reflecting his father’s heart he would have gone to the distant country, found his younger brother and told him, “It’s okay to come home.”
I look at the church today and I wonder which older brother we are reflecting. Are we busy about what we think is the father’s business? Or are we actively pursuing the younger brother or sister and telling them “It’s okay to come home”? Are our churches truly a place where the lost know, “It’s okay to come home?” Are we creating environments and programs to suit our own needs or do we truly reflect the heart of the father reaching out to the runaway son/daughter and telling them, “It’s okay to come home?”
My son was probably never in the backyard for more than an hour in his attempts at running away. But I like to think he knows that at the end of the day regardless of how long he stays out, how far he strays away, or how much he thinks he has failed us that it’s okay to come home. May the same be said for us when we think about those who aren’t home yet with our heavenly Father.
For those of you who may not be following my family or I on other forms of social media I need to fill you in a bit. We have been sick. My wife and I for the most part have avoided the above referenced events, but our kids…well, they haven’t. And it’s kind of scary when kids get sick. You’re used to seeing these tiny humans navigate life at a ballistic pace and then all of a sudden they are reduced to couch sloths who want to binge watch Netflix kid programming that in turn might make you sick. But the scariest part to me of my kids getting sick is and always has been the fever. I guess this is partly due to the fact that I never run a fever and so it is quite foreign to be, but fevers are just weird. All of a sudden the body, via the Hypothalamus decides that the best way to treat the foreign invasion is by over-heating. This results in increased muscle tone, vasoconstriction, shivering and your kid becoming a human heating pad. It’s pretty crazy stuff. And eventually, if unchecked, the fevers can even become deadly. The body can, in it’s attempt at self-defense, roast itself to death. So yeah, fevers are a little troubling.
That which is meant for defense can turn deadly. It’s almost reminiscent to me of the struggle of the human will. The apostle Paul puts it this way in his letter to the Roman church, “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” – Romans 7:19 Paul is alluding to the very war within the body that the will is waging with sin. The human will want’s to do the good, but often ends up doing harm.* Paul goes on though in the next chapter to give us hope for that which holds us back, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus“. The allusion being to that which he talks about in Galatians of being crucified with Christ. The Spirit of God within us puts to death the struggle of wills because it is no longer I who struggle against sin, but the Spirit of God within me that sets me free.
The scary part about kids being sick is that you feel like you always have to monitor them. Is the fever getting better? Is it getting worse? Are they acting more strange than usual? Likewise the presence of God’s Spirit in our lives must be given attention to. Am I giving myself over to God’s Spirit today? Am I producing fruit in line with who God is? Is it my will or thy will? Honestly, giving over the fever of ourselves to God isn’t easy. But the health and growth that occur when we sacrifice our will to God is something that not only leaves us changed, but also those around us. One might even say it’s contagious, but very much unlike the stuff my kids have been passing around. So may you find yourselves being made well by the presence of God’s Spirit today and see how it spreads into the lives of those you come in contact with.
*I realize this analogy is a bit of a stretch as fevers rarely do harm, but it is a possibility. And hopefully this post hasn’t incensed you germaphobes to reach for the hand sanitizer.