When we learn about it as kids it seems the right thing to do. In fact, sometimes we are even encouraged to do so as it often seems the best way to settle disputes. I know many times I have found myself telling my own kids to come and tell me if their siblings are doing something wrong or hurting them in any way. Of course sometimes it results in nicknames or declarations of “tattletale” being thrown around, but for the most part it helps to settle disputes among our kids because they often don’t have the skills to settle disputes without some help. However, I think the danger for us is when we don’t understand that this model of behavior modification and mediation is intended for children to help them learn, not for adults. There is actually a very specific church word for this behavior among adults and it’s really quite deadly…gossip.
You see, in essence that is really all gossip is. It is seeing something or some behavior in someone else we don’t approve of and feeling the need to go and “tattle” to someone else; and the listening party is just as guilty of conspiring as the complainer. In fact, Jesus had something very specific to say about how we speak to one another about things that hurt us in the church in Matthew 18. “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” – Matthew 18:15 The word in the Greek there actually says that if your brother or sister misses the mark/offends/errs against you, then go talk to them first, not someone else. My contention is that if we skip this step we are gossiping, and we may be poisoning the church.
I’m always fascinated how things work. Historically the most common poison we humans used to use to eliminate each other was Arsenic. According to LiveScience.com, “Arsenic disrupts the cellular process that produces ATP, the molecule in charge of transporting energy throughout your body’s cells so they can perform the tasks that keep you alive.” The poison actually blocks life from continuing in the body. It blocks the flow of the natural processes of how things are supposed to work. Gossip does the same thing in the church because it blocks natural ways of settling disputes/hurts and creates more mistrust, more confusion and more harm than actually addressing the situation the right way would ever do. Later on in that same passage from Matthew Jesus says this, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” – Matthew 18:20 Often times we attribute this to prayer or worship, when in actuality Jesus is telling us that he is present with us when we handle our disputes, disagreements, offenses and sins against one another in a healthy fashion. The life and movement of the body continues to be healthy and operate in the presence of God when it is void of the poison of gossip. So may we refuse to participate in poisoning the church. May we call each other to grow up a little by encouraging our brothers and sisters to speak to each other directly when they disagree and realize in doing so we are inviting the Spirit of Christ to move more freely through His body, the Church.
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.
It’s funny sometimes how ideas come to me for my blog. It can happen while teaching students. Sometimes I am playing with my kids and I have one of those aha moments. Or sometimes the ideas come to me while I am deep in thought early in the morning…hey, it happens. But this one happened while I was pouring out my soul to a friend over coffee. We were talking about life and the curve balls that it sometimes throws your way and then I made this posit, “What if the goal of this life is simply to learn to trust God so that it will make sense in the life to come”. Now I know for many of you this may not be that ground breaking of a thought and maybe many of you had even thought this before, but for some reason it really stuck me.
I don’t think trust is something that comes easy. Sure we operate with blind trust all the time. We trust that the chair we are about to sit in will hold our weight. We trust that the other motor-vehicle operators on the road don’t want to play bumper cars. We even trust that when we wake up there will be breath in our lungs and the sun will rise again (granted some of us wait until the sun is up to rise ourselves). But trust in our future? Trust in God’s best regardless of what is going on around us? I don’t think it’s that easy. And I am pretty sure we can’t call it blind trust at that point.
There was a verse from Proverbs 3 that many of us learned when we were little, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” But what does trusting God with our whole heart look like? Does that mean we trust God with our families, finances, health, career, safety, etc. etc.? I think so. And in a world of violence, hatred, oppression, brokenness, slavery, and just all out sin I don’t think this comes easy. Life itself can beat us down, hurt us, hurt those we love and in the midst of this we are called to trust with our whole heart.
Maybe that is why that thought the other day for me was so monumental. Because in this life I don’t think that this trust comes naturally. I think we are constantly called to renew our trust in God and in His goodness. And I always find the need to remind myself that the trust I am placing is in a God so big He was willing to become a crucified criminal for me. And then all of a sudden the worst life can throw at me doesn’t seem as bad. So my challenge to us today? Keep going, keep moving and keep learning to trust in a God in this life who will be more than we can ever comprehend in the life to come.
I almost feel like one of those theologians you read about from days gone by. It’s like I belong to a burgeoning group the likes Lewis, Tolkien, Williams and Barfield, but that may be giving us way too much credit. All the same some of my friends in ministry and the like have begun to meet weekly and although we call it a book study we rarely stay on topic. Instead we end up delving into the depths of Christian thought and philosophy (at least as far as our capacities will take us) and have many conversations that shake us all to the core to help us answer some of the really tough questions of the faith. And that is what it always seems to come around to…faith.
A lot of us sitting around the table have been trained in some realm of postmodern philosophy.* The dominant philosophy of the postmodern era is built around a school known as deconstruction and was developed by Jaques Derrida. In deconstruction you question the presuppositions behind a particular belief statement until you are left with almost nothing…or in some cases nothing. And for the Christian tradition everything ultimately gets boiled down to one thing: faith. You see without faith we have nothing. That’s the beauty and the terror of our tradition. At the end of the day we can prove nothing upon which we stake everything (although experience often tells us differently through the power of the Holy Spirit :)). Hebrews 11:1 puts it this way, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Even the words in Greek hint at how instrumental this pivotal juncture in our belief system is. The word for confidence is hypostasis which is best translated as a foundation built up. And the word for assurance iselegchos which is best translated as conviction. S0 are entire way of living is built upon our conviction of what we cannot see becoming truth.
I think sometimes the best way to figure out what things are really supposed to look like is to watch children. After all, Jesus did say, “ And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3). Have you ever watched a child in true imaginative play? I mean when they really engage their imagination? All of a sudden there is no other reality other than the world of their play. They could be in a mall, a church foyer, a family get together, it really doesn’t matter where, you will not disrupt their new universe. And my favorite part is when you are asked to join in. All of a sudden you get this amazing invitation to lose yourself for a moment in a new world with limitless possibilities. Hmmm…maybe that is what the call to faith truly is. We are invited to lose our lives in a reality that may not make sense to those around us, but really is the only true reality. We can’t see it; we can’t prove it…it’s faith. But we are convinced and assured that this is the only real way to live and we live out this imaginative reality known as the kingdom of God assured that it is here and yet still to come.
May you find a new way to live out true faith in the midst of a world that thinks of you as holding on to nothing but child-like beliefs.
* I assure you that postmodern philosophy in and of itself is not a bad thing. In fact it really is just a new spin on old ways of thinking that even date back to the time of Christ.
It’s time for some honesty. Not that this blog hasn’t been about that since day one, but certain events in my life have brought me to a different place…a more raw place. I have always loved the teachings of Christ in the Sermon on the Mount and I particularly loved the passage on worry. I even finding myself quoting the famous verse from Matthew 6:34 quite often, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” But recent events in my family’s situation have had me doubting whether or not it is quite so easy to live this out.
The preceding text in this passage seems easy enough for me and my family. We have never been too consumed by things and if you know me you know I am probably not too consumed by what I wear (with the exception of the occasional Converse purchase). Our eating needs have never been too particular either…after all, we are a youth ministry family. But recently it seems as if all of the events around us were spinning out of control. It seemed that almost every circumstance that came barreling down on us crippled us in a different fashion. Our family dynamic, shelter, health and even financial security were all threatened within a matter of two weeks and honestly…it was too much.
I’m not saying I lost faith or anything, but I also wasn’t in the best place. Loss of appetite, inability to sleep and troubled thinking were just a few of the symptoms that characterized my demeanor for the last week. And all the while the words of Christ to “not worry” kept coming back to me. How in the midst of physical impairment induced by anxiety am I supposed to “not worry”? To tell you the truth, I was at a loss. In and of myself I felt like I was drowning. But that’s when I came to a certain realization…I wasn’t alone. I had never been alone. Outside of the presence of the Holy Spirit, God has granted us each other as ambassadors of His peace. The words that we speak and the presence we impart to each other are sometimes the way in which God imparts himself to us more fully.
A passage that is often quoted out of context in order to present a household of inequality is Ephesians 5:22, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord.” We often forget the verse that immediately precedes it, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The anxiety and worry that had been crippling me was also hurting those around me…and I knew it. The hard part for me was giving voice to my inadequacy and allowing myself to admit my shortcoming, even to my best friend: my wife. But through humbly admitting and giving voice to how the anxiety was affecting me, my bride was able to speak peace into my life where I saw none.
And maybe this is where healing comes…in confession, in submission. We are made after all in the image of our Maker who in and of Himself is characterized by humble community (a Triune God who chooses to suffer). Maybe as we live out lives of submission and confession to one another we find ourselves surrounded by God’s peace and free to live outside of the worries that characterize life absent of the presence of God. May you find yourself in need of community this week if only to understand the presence of God all the more.
Grace and Peace