Last night I arrived to our Wednesday night Discipleship class and we were taking prayer requests before we began. Someone then mentioned UCLA and I was completely clueless for a moment. Then someone mentioned a murder/suicide shooting that had taken place and I was frustrated once again by violence happening in a place that is supposed to be safe…a place of higher learning. And this isn’t the first time something like this has happened in the national spotlight in the past year. Umpqua, San Bernardino, and Chattanooga have become familiar names in the news headlines because of similar incidents.
Truthfully it’s no surprise that I didn’t know about the shooting last night as most of the time I try to refrain from being too involved in the news. I usually will read one news email a day and then tune out a lot of the other stuff that is going on. But when I do tune in, I am always shocked and saddened by the amount of violence going on in the world. Bombs, shootings, drones, murders, etc. flood the headlines of any news outlet. I like to think and hope that we can do better. As stewards of God’s creation (which includes each other) I know we are called to do better. I find myself resonating with the prophetic hope that is so strong it is found in Isaiah 2 and Micah 4, “They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” I love the imagination behind this hope. The weapons that are used for attacking/defending what is mine or what I want to be mine are turned into tools of provision for my neighbor.
I recently saw a post online that referenced a conversation that took place on the show Louis between Louis C.K.’s character and his daughter. I’m not sure this is a show one would usually reference for wisdom, but this quote on fairness was powerful. “The only time you should look into your neighbor’s bowl is to make sure that they have enough. You don’t look into your neighbor’s bowl to see if you have…as much as them.” Mahatma Gandhi said something similar many years before. “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” I believe the problem with much of the violence in our world today goes back to the original violence done right outside the Garden of Eden. We have forgotten that we are our brother’s (sister’s) keeper. We are called to ensure the well-being of all of creation as we are stewards of creation. I’m not sure that this is the answer to all of the violence in the world, but maybe if we start to beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks we just might start to see some of this violence redeemed.
In his now classic allegory The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis begins the process of introducing the Christ-figure character of Aslan to the children in the following fashion. “Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” Lewis chose to portray his Christ figure as a lion and so it should go without saying that he isn’t ‘safe’, but what holds up his Kingship in the eyes of all Narnians is that he is good. Lewis allegory that ran throughout the seven books of The Chronicles of Narnia always had a robust way of seeing God. Through the image of Aslan we never however see him as safe, but as wild and free and good. I makes me think that sometimes we may have reduced our image of God in the way in which we live our lives today.
Before Christ ascended into heaven he made a promise to his disciples in the book of Acts. The writer Luke puts it this way, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:8 This verse of course refers to the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, but there are two terms I think we need to pay closer attention to. The first is the Greek word dynamis which means “the power to carry out a task”. As you can see it is where we get the word dynamite. The second is the word martys which refers to a witness in legal matters or one who tells their story. Strangely enough, this is where we get the modern word martyr. Stop me if I am off a bit, but putting those two terms together doesn’t seem very safe.
To me the wonder of Pentecost and the birth of the church was the movement from safety (at least relative perceived safety) to the disciples being willing to lay down their lives for that which they had experienced. They had been in hiding from the authorities until receiving this power and then all of a sudden they were willing to risk everything to tell their story. And now 2,000 years later we have at times reduced the gospel of Jesus to something that promises safety and comfort and very little risk to your current way of living. I’m not sure this is what was intended when we were promised power to share our experience with the world around us. In fact, I think we need to be reminded that we are not called to safety and comfort but to share that which we have been given in a real and true way. Ours is the story that has called apostles to confess before the coliseum of death, martyrs to share Jesus to the bitter end, missionaries to travel at risk to family and friends and saints to pursue bringing others to Jesus above any worldly comfort.
This same power is available to you and I today…we just have to be willing to give up feeling safe. May you embrace the risk and adventure of walking in The Spirit today.
In our household we have a tradition that at some point began with our firstborn. I guess you could call it the Birthday countdown. Somewhere in the calendar between birthdays it becomes necessary for my wife and I to do the math prior to the next child’s birthday and then the countdown is on. It has started with as many as 200 days, but usually doesn’t get serious until around the 30 day mark. In the meantime plans are made, presents are wished for, the day is marked out with incredible expectation and then all that there is left to do is wait somewhat patiently as the countdown marches on. Although patience is usually not the key expression of this countdown. But on the upside my wife and I have gotten really good at knowing how many days are in every month.
During this season in the church calendar I can’t help but think about the Birthday countdown. We are currently in the 50 days between Passover and Pentecost or more appropriately between Easter and Pentecost. In fact, the name Pentecost literally means fiftieth. This is the time in the church we commemorate the coming of the Holy Spirit and we remember the waiting of the disciples. This to me is the most incredible part. The disciples, although living in fear of what might happen to them were hanging onto Jesus’ last promise before his Ascension. “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” – Acts 1:8 And then when the day of Pentecost came, the world was turned upside down. This power that became present in the lives of the believers transformed everything.
Sometimes I think we as the church still find ourselves in the waiting period; the countdown. We are waiting on God to do something in our midst. We use words like revival, renewal, refreshing, etc., but the problem is, we aren’t called to wait anymore. You see, the original waiting/countdown was Jesus’ promise to those disciples who gathered in that upper room. And when the day of Pentecost came, the waiting game ended. We believe that since the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit is present, living and active in the lives of believers everywhere and yet sometimes we find ourselves waiting. But for what? This is the same Spirit that transformed terrified fishermen into bold and defiant preachers. This is the same Spirit that transformed a Pharisaical terrorist into the church’s first missionary. This is the same Spirit that led believers out of hiding and into a willingness to die in a Roman arena. And we think something special has to happen for The Spirit to be at work. Wake up church! The Spirit is at work and moving and bringing new life and we need to stop waiting and start moving in step with God.
This Sunday we will commemorate and celebrate Pentecost. But it’s time we live out of the power of The Spirit and stop waiting/counting days for whatever we think might ignite the Spirit’s presence within us. The Spirit is already ablaze, let’s not be the one’s to quench it with our waiting.
So this recent phenomenon has occurred in our household. I was talking to my wife the other day about a movie she had just watched and she said, “Hang on a second, let me get my notes.” Notes? She explained that she has been having trouble remembering things lately and so if she is impacted by something or wants to retain it, she chooses to take notes. I think she has been worried about it being some sort of indicator of that which is to come, but I’m pretty sure it is a symptom of going from two to four kids and not really getting any sort of adjustment period. Or what the laypeople would refer to as ‘mommy brain’. She has even begun taking notes during my sermons, so now I know it’s serious. But I don’t think she is the only one lately who has been having a memory problem…I think it’s become an epidemic, at least in the church.
You see, everyday I am hearing about how the world is going to hell in a hand basket and that there is no hope and we need to boycott this and avoid that and not associate with them or vote for whoever and I think it all stems from a memory problem. We have forgotten to whom our true allegiance is due. We may be a part of this world physically, but this geographical location should not determine our values or dictate our mode of operation. At one point Jesus was asked about when the Kingdom of God would usher in and “fix everything” and he had a rather creative answer. “Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.” – Luke 17:20-21 Another way of saying it was that the kingdom of God is within you…in other words, it is already here.
When Jesus came, he didn’t just bring with Him the promise for the Kingdom to come. He brought with him the assurance and the example that the Kingdom is now. If we truly claim to be disciples of Christ we understand that reality as we see it, or as we allow others to dictate it for us, is not reality as it truly is. We are not forced to make decisions based on what the empire tells us. We are not forced to operate within the power structures that exist in society. Why? Because our Savior ushered in a new way of living. An example that embraces the leper, identifies with the unclean, lifts up the disenfranchised, turns the other cheek, loves our enemies, prays for our oppressors, and says in the face of evil, “Father forgive them”. And I think that we forget sometimes that we are called to live this out. Sometimes it’s easier to operate within the mode/structures of the systems and policies and parties around us. But I chalk it up as a memory problem. Let’s not forget who we are. People called to transcend the means and ways of this world and live out the Kingdom of God now. May you see that the Kingdom is within you and live out your true allegiance today.
The other night I was meeting with a family and they were speaking with one another about a medical issue that was occurring and one of them misspoke for a moment in reference to scar tissue and said, “…well the whole issue revolves around star tissue.” Well everyone kind of chuckled a bit, but all of a sudden it got my nerdy science mind whirling. Because in fact there is star tissue in all of us. The basic building blocks of all life, elements, are composed by atomic exchange with the cosmos. So you and I literally are walking around with some percentage of star dust composing our underlying makeup. Not only that, but who you are this year is not who you will be next year. In a given year, you will exchange every atom that makes up your body. In fact, just to put it on an even more drastic level, the human body is composed of roughly 72% water and these water atoms are exchanged completely every sixteen days. So I can literally look at myself each year that I age in the full realization that at least on the atomic level I am a completely different person.
This is amazing to me on a variety of levels, but the one thing that stands out to me is how similar/connected this means that all of humanity is. The first law of thermodynamics states that matter and energy cannot be created or destroyed…just converted. So this means that the atoms that make up you or I today could be part of making up someone else completely different next year. The air I am breathing today could have been breathed out by someone in a completely different part of the world 1000’s of year ago. To me, this helps me to see that we really are all connected. In his second letter to the Corinthian church Paul writes, “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” – II Corinthians 5:16-18 I love that thought, “now we regard no one from a worldly point of view”, but instead through the eyes of reconciliation.
There seems to be more and more talk in our world lately about how different we all are. We like to place each other into categories or label one another so that we can separate ourselves or really just have nothing to do with the other because they are different. One simply has to look at the American political landscape to see how easy it is to divide and polarize people by labeling them or pointing out how different the other person is. But this is a worldly point of view. This is not how we as the body of Christ should be operating. We are given the ministry of reconciliation. This means we are called to restore humanity..not divide, label, cast stones or make them to feel unwelcome, unloved, misunderstood, etc. We have to understand that we are Christ’ ambassadors and therefore our actions, speech, life, even Facebook posts should always reflect the Spirit of reconciliation that does not see difference and labels, but sees God’s crown of creation.
At the end of the day we are all stardust and shared atoms. So let’s regard one another from Christ’ point of view and start to see the world transformed through the ministry of restoring humanity.
The scene opens on every child’s dream; a chocolate waterfall, cream-filled cake mushrooms, candy-cane shrubs, gummy bear trees and edible candied grass. And then the strange man in tails and a top-hat begins to sing, “Come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination.” This scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is one of my favorite scenes in all of movie history. In this brilliant little song/scene all of the magic of childhood seems to be encapsulated. Listen to some more of the lyrics, “If you want to view paradise simply look around and view it anything you want to, do it. Wanta change the world? There’s nothing to it.” Or “There is no life I know to compare with pure imagination. Living there you’ll be free if you truly wish to be.” And on top of all of these lyrics you have kids running around enjoying all there is to offer in the chocolate factory with pure abandon.
Recently I have been walking through The Sermon on the Mount on Sunday mornings with our congregation and I’ve begin to have a new outlook on it all. A lot of times Christians, disappointingly so, look at the Sermon on the Mount and see it as a bit of a pipe dream. ‘Sure these things were achievable for Jesus, but he doesn’t live in the world I live in’. Or, ‘Some of these things will work for radical Christians, but that’s just not me’. And I think it all stems from our lack of imagination in the church and in the world. Think about much of our Christian salvation theology for a minute. We are saved so that we can escape this world and hell. Is that really what it is all about? This to me doesn’t seem to be what Jesus is espousing in much of his teachings. In fact, in the same Sermon on the Mount he teaches us to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” – Matthew 6:9-10. This seams to imply that Jesus very much cares not only about the world to come, but the world in which we live in now.
We refer to this trans-formative way of seeing the world as the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is both a present and soon-coming reality. The problem is that often we look around us and we don’t see the Kingdom of God. We see political upheaval, petty grievances, violence unchecked and a world that is basically broken. So why wouldn’t we want to escape? But we are not saved to escape. Rather we are saved to show the world that another reality is possible. We have the imagination to see that life can be lived without hate, retaliation, lustful coveting, grudges, pettiness, anxious worrying, and everything else that Christ preached against in the Sermon on the Mount. Instead, much like the song aforementioned, we can look around us and see life and the world for what it can be and not for what it is. We can imagine the Kingdom of God into reality as we live into the trust placed in us when we are called The Salt of the Earth and the Light of the World. Will you ‘come with me’ today find yourself living in a world of imagination that brings forth the reality of the Kingdom of God.
Yesterday #3 in the ever changing Arp gaggle of children had oral surgery to correct some of the issues he came into our home with. This amounted to four extractions and ten crowns. And for any and all of us who have ever had dental work done, we all just grimaced a bit. But that was the crazy thing about #3…he bounced back so fast. Sure he was groggy and a bit whiny for the first couple of hours, but by the time he got to church last night he was running with the other kids. My wife commented on this to our childcare worker and her response was incredible. “I don’t think kids focus on the pain as much. As we get older we tend to focus on the pain more. Kids just want to play.”
What an incredible thought. I wonder if this was a bit of what Jesus was thinking during his encounter with the disciples and children. We all know the story at least on some level. But Matthew records it this way, “He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 18:3-4 You see, that’s the thing about little kids. They are singularly focused. They have a job to do and that is to enjoy every possible moment of play that is afforded them. Even if they did just have four teeth pulled and ten teeth drilled down and capped. I for one would probably be laid up for a week if I had to go through that.
Now as Christians we have an amazing hope that we cling to. In Revelation 21 we read this, “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.” – Revelation 21:4 What an incredible promise; what a hope! But that hope is not for the here and now. In fact, there is no promise of the cessation of pain or discomfort in this life. We will struggle, we will get hurt, we will have pain, we will cry…but I wonder if we handle this like adults or if we handle it like children. Have you ever found yourself saying to a child that they need to “grow-up and deal with it?” Maybe we have this all backwards. Maybe we need to hurt or feel pain in the moment like a child, but not let that hurt or pain dictate the rest of our day/week/month/year. There is living (playing in child terms) to be done. There is life to be enjoyed, God’s gifts to be shared and a gospel to be lived out. There may be pain for a season, but it can’t be our focus. For we have a hope that one day it will end and so for the time being, we embrace life like a child and focus on better things. May your focus grow more childlike today as you pursue the Kingdom of God come to earth.