church poison

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.

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the laughter of angels

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I am a morning person…there, confession is good for the soul I hear. I am one of those few folks who actually likes the early morning hours around 5 AM or so and I honestly haven’t used an alarm clock to wake up in probably 5 years. That being said, I am not a night person. Around about 9 or 10 in the evening I start to putter out and I rarely see 11 PM. But last night I saw a number on the clock I hadn’t seen in quite some time…1 AM. You see, yesterday evening we received a call from our foster boy’s biological brother’s step-mom (I promise you can keep up). She and her family (including our foster boy’s older brother) needed a place to crash as her husband had to be in town for some job training and their place to stay for the night had fallen through. So my wife and I got home from church, put our kids to bed and began to inflate air mattresses and make up the couch. Then came the waiting as they were having to travel a bit rather late. My wife puttered out around midnight, but I guess you could say I was burning the midnight oil, literally. So our guests rolled in around 1 AM and yours truly actually stayed up to greet them and play host…although this morning I wasn’t up at my usual time.

But in the midst of all the preparations, my wife and I were just smiling and laughing together. Evidently we love practicing hospitality. Even if it is to the step-family of your foster boy’s half brother who lives in a different state. And this morning I was reminded of why. A few hours ago, as our foster boys began to wake and discover the surprise waiting on them, our home began to ring with laughter. And I’m not talking about little stifled giggling, but full raucous belly laughing as they began to play and reconnect and celebrate with their family. I remember my 10-yr-old even asking last night, “So how are we related to them? Are we their brothers or cousins or something?” Nope…not even a little bit. But they are family to our boys, so yeah…it’s something.

As I listened to the house fill with laughter and the playing ensue I was reminded of a verse from the last chapter of the book of Hebrews, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” – Hebrews 13:2 To our boys, the guests we gave shelter to last night were angels. They became messengers of light reminding them that their story is being redeemed. That their lives are not defined by the brokenness of what was, but by the promise of what could be. A little back story might be necessary here. You see, as a fifteen-year-old teen he was having to care for his infant and toddler brother and he knew something wasn’t right. His love for them has led to their story being made whole. And now to see him being able to celebrate their healing and restoration, and to see them get to play and laugh together truly is to see the laughter and presence of angels in our lives.

So maybe it is worth staying up till 1 AM sometimes…if it means you get to be in the presence of something angelic.


the greatest


“You did a good job.” “Way to go.” “You’re great.” These are all accolades that we love to hear…well at least I do. There is something wired into me that loves to hear that I’ve done a good job from those who I surround myself with. And I’m sure it’s the same for you. In fact, it is this same desire that drives us to push ourselves to meet the expectations that are often not even put on us by the “others” we long to hear praise from. Sometimes these same expectations even drive us to alienate ourselves from those same people. Sometimes because of our need for success and our need to become the best we may even actually end up doing harm to those we sought to achieve for. Because at the end of the day, when we seek to garner praise from others for our achievements maybe we’ve truly missed the mark of what greatness should look like. 

True greatness and achievement in this life should be measured by our ability to give rather than to achieve (you thought I was going to say receive). Towards the conclusion of his first letter to the Church in Corinth, Paul has this to say, “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.”‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭13:13‬ ‭There are three things that supersede all of history in terms of human aspirations, and the greatest is love. And it’s not touchy-feely or romantic or even brotherly love that will prevail. It’s agape love…love that is, well it’s defined like this, “Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”‭‭ – 1 Corinthians‬ ‭13:4-7‬ 

What sets this love apart as the greatest is it’s focus. Love is not focused on achievement or reputation or success but it is unabashedly, wholeheartedly, consumed with others. Love is willing to bow out, step aside, make a way, lay down its pride, take the hits, catch the stones, absorb the lashes, bear the cross for another simply because that’s what love does. And yes, we may have a lifetime to figure all of this out but it begins by realizing why we are here. In the words of Kid President, “You were made from love, to be love, to spread love.” And at the end of the day, maybe the accolades and accomplishments in this life don’t matter. Maybe all that matters is that one day Love himself will look at us and how we gave ourselves away, much like He did, and He will say, “Good job…come and join Me and what We have prepared for you out of love.” 


family

Friendship Together Bonding Unity Youth Culture Concept

Last month my family got to experience something pretty special…family. I know that sounds a bit redundant, but that is what happened. For three weeks my kids were able to spend time with cousins and grandparents and aunts and uncles. I know that may not seem like a big deal to most of you, but when you live 2,000 miles away from the closest relative, it’s kind of a big deal. We all arrived back in Texas just in time for July and you know what I’ve begun to experience that’s pretty special…family. For for my first Sunday back I was welcomed with a loaf of bread and squash in my office (I’ll let you guess which one of these I appreciate more. Even last night we had visitors drop off watermelon to aid my wife in the passing of a kidney stone (evidently it helps, although the jury is still out). I’m coming to realize that maybe family knows no genetic linkage when it comes to the family of God.

In his epistle to the church in Galatia, Paul writes these words. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”  -‭‭Galatians‬ ‭6:2‬ The word for burdens in this passage is baros and it is best translated as weight or load. When we help each other with the weights, loads, burdens, even life itself, we fulfill the law of Christ. Jesus himself had this to say in the gospels, “Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’.” – Matthew 12:49-50 The family of the church is made up of those who do the will of God, who fulfill the law of Christ, who carry each other’s burdens.

Sometimes in today’s world I wonder what the church has to offer. I mean, between social media and the internet and limitless entertainment, what does the church really have to offer? But I think the answer is quite simple…family. You see, when we carry each others burdens, encourage each other, deliver bread, squash or even watermelon, and love each other we embody God’s kingdom on earth and shine God’s light to the world that so desperately needs something genuine. Salvation still comes from God through the church for the world. The community that we live out through the local church is trans-formative if we truly live out the law of Christ. I’m reminded of of the lyrics of one of my favorite Avett Brother’s songs in regards to this.

“We came for salvation, We came for family, We came for all that’s good that’s how we’ll walk away.                                                                                                                                          We came to break the bad, We came to cheer the sad, We came to leave behind the world a better way”

May we embody the family of God in the world around us today.And may we leave behind this world a better way.


after the storm

Last night we had a bit of a storm in Odessa…I guess that is a bit of an understatement. Last night the heavens furiously hurled huge chunks of ice at the property and possessions of the residents of Odessa, TX. Okay, maybe that was a bit too dramatic. There was hail. And lots of it. Everything from marble sized to softball sized hail made it’s impact on our community last night . On our church property alone there were windows busted out and many of the cars parked in our parking lot lost windows and windshields in like fashion. Needless to say our mid-week service was cancelled and most all of us anticipate a long day today. However, the best thing to come out of this (stay with me for a second) was what could be observed immediately following.

My first observation actually occurred during the storm. Our church all of a sudden became a haven for those who were out walking or whose cars were no longer operable. Some of our lay people even gave folks rides home afterwards. After the rain and hail subsided a few of our people even began to assist one another with glass and debris clean up. Our church Media and Arts director even helped tape up multiple windows (with trash bags and gaffer tape) and then proceeded to jerry-rig a bumper back onto a vehicle so the owner could get back home. A little later I got to see neighbors across the street from the church coming out of their homes and talking and seeing how they could help one another with what lay ahead. I was reminded of a passage from Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” – II Corinthians 1:3-4

I love the idea that the compassion we extend to others is a reflection of the compassion we have received from God. In fact, the word for comfort in the Greek in this passage is parakaleō, which is best translated as come along side of. And isn’t that what compassion is all about. It’s not so much about throwing money at a cause or sending words of encouragement from a distance, but it is actually about coming alongside one another, acknowledging one another, and embracing the humanity in each other. True compassion sees the need, but it doesn’t denigrate the humanity in the process. Last night I was able to observe compassion truly lived out in the life of my church and it made me proud to be their pastor. Actually, it left me humbled. The fact that people this awesome would allow me to come alongside them and talk about Jesus is pretty spectacular. But then again, it’s also a reminder that we are all in this together. So today may be a long day for a lot of us, but we truly are all in this together.


celebrate

Today my little girl graduates from Kindergarten. Now I realize that for some of you this may not be that big of an accomplishment. Perhaps you may think that learning to write one’s name, reading a few sentences and mastering the art of coloring and cutting is not something that deems a ceremonious occasion. As a father of a beautiful six-year-old princess, I would have to respectfully disagree. Perhaps you are one of those who thinks that our society has become soft…that we celebrate kindergarten graduations and everyone gets a participation trophy and we don’t celebrate true achievement anymore. And I would have to simply reply, “Okay, let’s celebrate”. As a Christ follower I see no greater justification for a celebration than that which you deem unworthy of said celebration. Why you may ask? Grace.

Grace is defined within the Christian tradition as unmerited favor. It is that which God bestows upon us in a lavish manor even though we are undeserving. Someone once said it is getting what you don’t deserve and not getting what you do deserve. The apostle Paul put it this way in his letter to the church in Rome, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8 Christ died for us while we were powerless and unworthy. The highest and loftiest ideal in all of Christian tradition is the notion of grace. We sing songs, write poetry and stories and even create movements and name our churches based on the idea of grace. And what is it, but a celebration of something we didn’t earn; of something that we cannot achieve.

At the close of his letter to the church in Philippi we read these words from Paul, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8. Might I suggest to you that kindergarten graduations and participation trophies and celebrating people in all facets of life is a practice of Paul’s challenge to the church and to us. The church has bought into the idea that we need celebrate only merit and things that can be achieved (an idea born out of our western consumerist culture)…but this is the exact opposite of grace. And if we are called to think about the noble, the good, the pure, the lovely, then shouldn’t our thoughts, our celebrations, our trophies, our graduations, our reasons to party be based in grace. There is no higher aspiration and the best part about it…we did/can do nothing to earn it. So bring on the Kindergarten graduations. Bring on the participation ribbons and celebration of what you may call mediocrity. Because in this “lack of merit” I see the truth about the only thing that truly matters. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound. That saved a wretch like me.”

 

 

 


sanctuary

My daughter has a big heart; particularly when it comes to animals. Even now, at 6 years of age, she has declared herself a vegetarian because she doesn’t want to eat animals. And this doesn’t just apply to her dietary habits either. I’m afraid our house may eventually be declared a state refuge or sanctuary as any animal she comes into contact with gets “adopted” into the Arp household. Her most recent acquisition is a lizard, named Lizzy of course, that she and a friend rescued from the sink at their home while we were having lunch earlier this week. Of course, although it is my daughter who “rescues” these animals, it is most often yours truly who gets to care for them. But I think I may have the same love for all God’s creatures great and small. One of my favorite stories I like to tell people is from the time my wife and I got to visit an animal sanctuary in Florida called White Oak Conservation.* One of the members of our church worked there and so we got to get a VIP tour…which was amazing.

I love the idea of animal sanctuaries. Who knows…maybe our house may be declared one someday (With four kids it already feels like a zoo most of the time). But the use of the term sanctuary as being a safe place developed almost as quickly the use for it being a place of worship in the English language. The term was derived from the Latin term sanctus which meant holy, but the usage for sanctuary as being a refuge or a safe place derived from the church early providing a safe place for those who sought shelter from oppressive authorities or city-states from as early as the time of Constantine. So now today you find the term being used for wildlife sanctuaries and even sometimes in correlation with political places of refuge. But I wonder how often our own church sanctuaries are actually safe places for people. How often do people come into our churches discouraged, beat-up, labeled, slandered, disenfranchised, alienated, etc. and feel more of the same?

When God was in flesh on earth his main hangup with the way things were going was with the religious folk. If you struggle with this idea, just read through the Gospels again. In Matthew 23 you can kind of tell that Jesus has reached his boiling point and before he launches into what we call the Seven Woes against the religious experts we read this, “They (the religious teachers) tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” – Matthew 23:4 I wonder how often our churches do much of the same. When broken and hurting and abused and different people come into your church do they feel much of the same? Are we quick to continue to pile upon them burdens and labels and restrictions and separations and more ways of making them feel unloved? Or, when people come into our sanctuaries do they feel safe?

Maybe my daughter has a point as a 6-yr-old vegetarian. She lives this way because she loves animals. Maybe our churches could/should create more space where people don’t keep getting devoured but where they feel safe and can truly come to experience what life in Christ is all about.

 

*You can check out this amazing place here: https://www.whiteoakwildlife.org/


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