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.
For those of us in the Christian faith this next week holds special significance. We call it Holy Week and it is ushered in by Palm Sunday, celebrated with Maundy (or Holy) Thursday, memorialized through Good Friday and finds its finale on Easter (Resurrection Sunday). For those whose lives revolve around the church or for those employed by the church this is also one of the busiest seasons of the year. There are multiple services to plan or attend, there is less time for preparation and yet this is also meant to be the holiest of times in the life of the church. It can all become a bit overwhelming. And sometimes it is hard for practitioners to find the sacred space in Holy Week.
I think getting back to the definition of the word holy might help us a bit in trying to find that space. Holy, at least in the original Biblical context, referred to something set apart for God i.e. something that belonged to God. Over time because of the way we thought about God and the dualistic nature of the world (thank you Greeks), we came to see clear divisions of that which was holy and that which was profane. And this wasn’t just a discussion of good vs. evil, holiness vs. sin, but life itself took on divisions based on the type of tasks that was taking place. However, doesn’t the world/cosmos belong to God? In her book And the Trees Clap Their Hands, Virginia Stem Owens writes, “All the world is a sacramental loaf. We are not-nor will we ever be, God save us-solitary intelligences spinning in the dark void of space.” In other words, all our life is (should be) holy as all of it is infused/connected to God himself. The apostle Paul put it this way when he was attempting to speak to the Greeks about this very thin in Athens. “For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.” – Acts 17:28
Holy Week is a special time in the life of the church. But so is the week after Holy Week. And the week after that. I love the significance of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter, but I also love that the same Spirit that speaks to and through us during these special times also wants to do the same on a Tuesday in July. So what am I saying? We need to be careful in categorizing our lives. With seasons like this it is easy to mark certain times as holy and others as not. Which in turn allows us to mark certain avenues/tasks in our lives as holy or not. When in fact all life is meant to point towards our Creator and His redemption story. Owens goes on to say, “Whenever we eat, drink, breathe, see, take anything in by any means, we are commanded to remember the sacrifice.” Our lives should be lived in a constant state of declaration that God is holy, we are his creations and we are seeking to reflect Him. So that not just one week is set apart for God, but life itself takes place in Him. May you find your life caught up in the Divine Romance not only this week, but for all eternity.
By now the inevitable has happened. It’s late February, Valentines Day has come and gone and with it many of our New Year’s resolutions as well. It hasn’t been as easy to get up and go work out. We haven’t had the will power to say no to the Valentines Day candy that was 300% marked down on February 15th. Some of us have even been forsaking that gym that we joined on January 1st even though it’s just a few blocks from our home. And this isn’t meant to be a criticism, but rather a confession. I’m in the same boat as you. In fact, I’ve even been contemplating cancelling my gym membership. But, mainly I am doing this because I plan on joining a gym that’s closer to my house;).
I love the idea of a gym membership. I am going to pay you in order to hold myself accountable for coming to your facility in order to inflict pain upon myself that will hopefully pay off in me being more fit and healthy. But if I don’t show up, I’m still paying for you to exist. And I think this is the plan for a lot of gyms. We will keep the rate just low enough so that if you don’t show up, you don’t feel guilty for not showing up. I think I have found myself in this category a lot. But what does a gym membership ultimately ask of us? It really asks are you concerned enough about your health that you are not only willing to invest your time, but also your resources to make a difference.
I’m about to make a leap here that I hope a few of you can follow me on. I believe that many people who attend church from time to time don’t believe that the church can actually change who they are. Sure they attend and sometimes feel better about themselves, but there is no real investment. They don’t volunteer with any programming and they can’t remember the last time they tithed. They don’t have skin in the game…and really it’s a statement as to whether or not they actually believe in the mission of the church and its ability to transform their lives. There’s this one passage in Malachi where the prophet actually invites us to test what our tithing/investment might result in from God, “ Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it” (Malachi 3:10).
So I guess the question before us today has very little to do with a gym membership or New Year’s resolution. But rather, do we believe in the mission of the church and whether or not the church can transform our lives enough to get skin in the game? I plan on getting back in the gym sometime this year, but I plan on giving a lot more of my time, money and resources to the living embodiment of Christ that I know can make a difference in not only me, but the whole world.
This morning as I was pouring over my Twitter feed I noticed something aside from all of the tweeted pleas of school cancellations. I have a lot of cynical voices pouring into my life. Granted, most days I will read a lot of these updates, resonate with them and go on with my day, but today was different. Often times I can get behind the cynicism of the people I follow because I find myself to be cynical as well. After all, I am part of the generation raised on X-Files…”Trust no one”. And I like to think of myself as part of the “mosaic” or “millennial” generation of the church that is seeking change for the good of the Kingdom. But it seems to me that often this “change” that is being spoken of is being ushered in all wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t always like some of the main stream methods of doing church or interpreting the Bible or even how Christianity is depicted to the masses, but is cynicism the only way?
In his letter to the church in Ephesus the apostle Paul writes, “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. I have always loved this verse. And for the longest time I thought it referred to “coarse joking” or “harsh language”, but I think I have found that it really applies more to the disease of cynicism running rampant in some of the young leading voices in the world today. The word the writer uses for unwholesome is sapros. And it most commonly is defined as being rotten or putrid, but it can also mean corrupted by age or worn out. My problem with cynical talk is it is corrupted…worn out. Anyone can be cynical. Really! There is even a school of philosophy (and I know I am going to oversymplify this so forgive me all of my philosophical and theological brethren) called deconstructionism. And the gist of it is to tear down existing paradigms to get down to the root of what is being espoused. But the problem is they rarely have a better alternative.
And I think that is my problem with cynicism in general. It is very easy to tear down existing systems and paradigms. It takes a lot more creativity and work to provide a better alternative. But isn’t that what we are called to do. What comes out of our mouths is meant to be helpful and to build others up around us. Not alienate and destroy them. And that really is what the Kingdom of God is all about. Maybe if we learn to take on speech that is reflective of a hopeful eternal kingdom we would begin to see fruits in a new way. Jesus put it this way, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32) This is the fruit of Kingdom speech and life.
So I say Death to Cynicism. May our speech, posts, tweets, texts, etc. reflect the hope to which we have been called. And may we speak life into those around us for the sake of Christ who gave his life for us!
I hate being late. I’m not entirely sure where that sense of punctuality came from (my dad), but I have always hated to be late. But then I got married…and then we had kids…and now I sometimes find myself not necessarily being on time for a lot of things in my life. Some days I handle that well and some days my wife threatens to stab me with a horse tranquilizer. But my life for some strange reason has always been about time management and focusing on that therein. (This may be as a result of my constant procrastination) I always wear a wrist watch and have even toyed with the idea of a pocket-watch in the past. And I usually know about how long it’s going to take me to get to my next destination regardless of where I am in the day. Ask any of the parents of my senior high students as to whether or not we arrive on time from any trip and their response will always be yes (with the exception of one bathroom pit-stop just this last weekend). All this to say that you might even call me time obsessed…I don’t even have to use an alarm clock to wake-up in the morning. For those of you unfamiliar with this ability I offer up Kramer: (Only I never hit the snooze button)
But it’s strange isn’t it. We have devised seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years based on the Earth’s tilt, rotation and revolution around the sun and this dictates every avenue of our life. It dictates our coming and our going. Our being and our doing. And it seemingly becomes soooo important. In fact, we get down-right obsessed with the tasks that effect our existence in this realm of space and time when if you stop to thing about it is….well, meaningless. The teacher in Ecclesiastes puts it this way, “For there is no enduring remembrance of the wise or of fools, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How can the wise die just like fools? So I hated life, because what is done under the sun was grievous to me; for all is vanity and a chasing after wind.” (Ecclesiastes 2:16-17) Vanity…chasing after the wind. This life is literally a vapor. And in the case of the teacher it is an extremely pessimistic view, but I am not sure that is what we need to have.
You see this life is really life lived into eternity. The problem is that if we simply focus on this life and the things in this temporal space then it does amount to vanity. But the apostle Paul has another take on the vanity of life and where it is corrected, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” (Colossians 3:1-2) By focusing on the eternal in the temporal we not only validate the things we do, but they take on eternal significance. Or rather, those things that truly have no bearing on the eternal take on less significance. Setting our minds on Christ allows us to place the temporary trials, frustrations and even tasks of this life in their proper place…and sometimes it becomes vanity. But sometimes we find ourselves in those moments where we truly encounter each other and it is as if heaven itself is breaking in. So I seek out these moments instead. And I try not to focus so much on the watch on my wrist. And maybe if I am late, it is for the right reason. May we find significance in the time we’re given as we walk into eternity together.
To say that life for a youth pastor in the summer time is busy is a given. The in-continuity in the schedule, in family meal times, lack of sleep, and the other resultant issues can sometimes become overwhelming (If you don’t believe me look back at the inconsistency in my blog posting). Thinking back on the last few weeks is almost dizzying. And yet I now find myself getting stressed over the ensuing months and all they hold as well.
The problem for me, as I am sure it is for a lot of you, is that I allow routine and expectations to rule the day instead of being concerned with the important things. Instead of working so that I can live I find myself falling into the trap so that I am living to work. And it’s a difficult reality for me with my particular vocation/career because it usually escapes the normal definitions of work. A lot of people have trouble defining their life by their work but my life has to be defined by my work as my work is of a different calling (I am not saying this to invalidate other careers, but rather to articulate the feelings that many pastors probably have). I was recently reminded about the detriment to the souls of our families this prioritization can have with a recent conversation and from reading this recent little blog post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rachel-macy-stafford/the-day-i-stopped-saying-hurry-up_b_3624798.html (The Day I Stopped Saying “Hurry Up”)
I have been spending a lot of time in the Sermon on the Mount lately and the one passage that always seems to stand out is Jesus’ treatment of our hurrying about. He says that it boils down to worry and chasing after the wrong things. He then concludes with the following, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” – Matthew 6:33-34 Jesus reminds us that in pursuing the Kingdom of God first that the cares and concerns of tomorrow can be overcome. And so it’s important that the Kingdom is not found in schedules, events, chaos and running about. Rather the Kingdom of God is like small moments (mustard seeds or yeast if you will) that take place and give birth to something beautiful and massive. It is fixed moments in time where we fully enjoy each others’ and God’s presence. It is shared laughter, provisions, possessions, community…it is life lived out for the other instead of pursuing for our own consumption.
And so I think about tomorrow; and whether or not I like it, tomorrow will consume some of today. But I strive for it not to rob me of today and those around me. I hope that at the end of each day I can look back and feel it well spent, for that is all I have been promised. It may require more compromise and change than what I am used to, but I think that could be okay. And maybe then I will understand a bit more of what it means to live out the kingdom of God.