Tag Archives: Chattanooga

almost heaven

backlit-clouds-dawn-162568

“Almost heaven, West Virginia, Blue ridge mountains, Shenandoah river…” And now most of you will have John Denver stuck in your head for the rest of the day. My apologies to my West Virginian friends, but I’ve never really thought of West Virginia as being “almost heaven”. For that matter, I have never thought about Odessa, TX or Flint, MI, or even Chattanooga, TN as being almost heaven either. Well at least not geographically. However, when I stop to think about some of my encounters in each of these places, I begin to see heaven breaking through a little bit. Bob Benson wrote a poem called Looking for the Threads that I think catches what I’m trying to say:

I used to think,
loving life so greatly,
that to die would be like
leaving the party before the end.

But now I know
that the party is really happening
somewhere else.
That the light and the music
escaping in snatches,
to make the pulse beat faster
and the tempo quicken,
comes from another place.

And I know, too,
that when I get there,
the music and the love and the praise
will belong to him
and the music will never end.

Maybe that’s the almost heaven part? The “light and the music escaping in snatches”. I like the way the writer of Revelation put’s it in his final description, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 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 21:1, 3-4. That new heaven and new earth part sounds pretty awesome. Because I think what limits our scope of heaven and seeing the “light and the music escaping in snatches” is because we are encumbered by time, death, distance, sickness, etc.

Maybe we’ve all experienced the “almost heaven” part, but our vision is limited by those things that will soon pass away. Maybe my visions of heaven in Odessa, TX will come to fruition in the new heaven and earth. I can see me spending a large part of eternity sitting around with Kenny Mayes and just talking about the goodness of God (and hopefully it will feel and smell a bit like his shop). Maybe my vision of heaven in Flint, MI won’t be hampered by the cold and the snow and some of the brokenness that has come to falsely label this great city. I can see myself spending a good part of eternity walking in the fresh grass with Sam Owens just laughing about how grace welcomed us both in. Maybe even the visions of heaven I’ve had from the town I grew up in will fully blossom as one day I find myself fishing with my grandfathers  Raymond Arp and Garland Patterson (who I never got to meet) and us just enjoying being fully in the presence of each other and God.

I’ve never really enjoyed moving away from a place…and it has nothing to do with the geography or the restaurants or the sights or the entertainment venues or any of that stuff. That’s not what defines life for me. But the people who have shaped and changed mine and my family’s life are for me the part that is almost heaven. And much like that same song, they are the path that will help to, “take me home to the place I belong.” This life is short, but I’m beginning to see how beautiful heaven will be through all the folks who have been Jesus to me.

Advertisements

plows and swords

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.

 


powerless

Moving across the country is for the birds. Literally. Granted their migration pattern is usually north to south, but moving is just not that much fun. As some of you reading this know my family just recently moved from Flint, MI to Odessa, TX via Chattanooga, TN. For those keeping track that is roughly 1800 miles, 3 overnight hotel visits, countless car DVDs and a lot of Cracker Barrel stops. Needless to say when we finally arrived in Odessa we were both relieved and exhausted. Then came the ice. Now a lot of our Odessa family have been trying to hand out blame regarding the ice’s arrival being so close to ours, but let me assure you…we left the cold in Michigan (or at least tried to). Cut to two days later and we even lost power at the parsonage on the Saturday before our first Sunday. Add in two more hotel stays due to our powerless state and it makes for an extremely memorable move and introductory Sunday at Odessa First Church of the Nazarene.

All the while in the midst of this last week I was having conversations with God that seemed to go a bit like this. “God, are you sure we are making the right move?” “God, this seems like more than my family and I can bare.” “God…I need you…” It started to sound like an exchange we find in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – II Corinthians 12:9-10 I wasn’t pleading with God to necessarily take away a “messenger from Satan”, but it has been a long time in my life since I have felt so powerless, both figuratively and literally. Over our time with the families at Christmas I had gotten the stomach flu, our dog had been sick, my wife had gotten a sinus infection she is still on the mend from and did I mention we were moving halfway across the country.

I don’t tell you this to garner sympathy, but to point to the One whose strength shone through in my difficulties. Our first Sunday here was awesome. We felt so loved and we sensed God’s Spirit in such an amazing way. Even now into my first week in the office I have seen God’s hand in so many ways and sensed His leading and guidance as we start to walk with the people here at Odessa First. We know God is walking with us and we are assured that this move is in His hands. And I now know I can take refuge in my powerless state and ultimately in my weakness…for when I feel weak, I lean into God’s strength and know He is strong.


the cloud

This Christmas season my family and I spent the holidays with our extended families in Northwest GA and Southeast TN. This is always an amazing time filled with laughter and food…lots of food. Even Christmas morning began with a large breakfast that my dad and sister prepared at her house. On the way in though, my mom pointed out to me a print my sister had recently bought that she thought I would like. It was a picture of a pastor preaching in a pulpit. The beautiful thing about the picture were the ghostlike silhouettes of the men surrounding the pastor while he spoke. You could clearly see Jesus, Moses, Peter and David among others who had their hands upon the pastor as he shared God’s word. The funny thing is that my mom had even contacted the artist to see about how much it would be to paint me into the print as a gift; needless to say, it was a bit too much.

But I do love the verse that was an inspiration for this painting. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us , fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith.” – Hebrews 12:1-2 I love the imagery played out in the the text. I don’t know if you quite get what it means to be surrounded by a cloud, but I had a recent experience with this. While we were in Chattanooga for Christmas we also visited one of my wife’s lifelong friends who lives on Signal Mountain on Christmas Eve Eve. I think the clouds must have come down and swallowed the mountain because our visibility was roughly about -20 feet. Because of her propensity towards car sickness my wife had driven up the mountain, but as soon as we got to the top she pulled over because you really could only see about 10 feet in front of you. And so I drove roughly the speed of a sloth the rest of the way to her friend’s house. The fog/cloud/whatever you would like to label it was so overwhelming it effected everything we did from that point forward.

This Sunday I will be delivering my first sermon as a lead pastor for a body of believers. This has been a roller coaster of an adventure and I would be lying if I didn’t say that I wasn’t terrified and excited all at the same time. But I do know one thing. When I step onto the stage on Sunday it is only through the power of God and the presence of the overwhelming cloud of witnesses that go with me that I am able to do so. This cloud has gone with me from Rossville, GA to Nashville, TN, by way of Yulee, FL while building up strength in Flint, MI in order to make the trip to Odessa, TX. This cloud is filled with families and loved ones who have cared for my family, invested in my ministry, prayed for me daily and loved me beyond words. Even as I type this your faces flash before me as my eyes fill with tears and I thank God for him bringing us together. It is only by the grace of God and your presence in my life that I can even call myself pastor. And I am both humbled and challenged by your cloud-like presence in my life. So I will continue to run with perseverance the race marked out for me.  And I will boldly proclaim the love of Christ to a world that so desperately needs it. All the while knowing  that I am surrounded by a cloud that is a testament to the love and faithfulness of the God we all serve.


home

Last week for much of the country was spring break. That hallowed time when college students humiliate themselves and families exhaust themselves trying to cram a vacation into a small break that you need a vacation from after you return. As to the Arp’s plans; we packed the car up and drove south over six hundred miles to our ancestral home just south of Chattanooga, TN. The amazing thing about this part of the country is that it is home to my wife’s parents, my own parents and much of our extended family. The tiresome part about this part of the country is that it is home to my wife’s parents, my own parents and much of our extended family…I jest. The only reason this trip is exhausting is due to the fact that there are so many loved ones we want to see and so little time to do it in. But it’s home. And yet, when I pointed the car north to Michigan I was also excited…because it is home. In ten years of marriage my wife and I have made our home in north Florida, Nashville, TN and Flint, MI. And every time those places have come to represent home. And I grew up in Rossville, GA under the shadow of Lookout Mountain and for me that is also home. It amazes me how the human heart can link home feelings to so many different places.

I think about the passage of scripture midway through Jesus’ sermon on the mount where he says, “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Now I know we often think about heaven being ‘way beyond the blue’, but I can’t help but feel like we are also called to bring heaven to earth. And if we are bringing heaven to earth, what treasures are stored up in that action? I have come to believe it really is about community…family. The reason that home exists for me in Northwest Georgia, North Florida, Middle Tennessee and Flint, Michigan is because my family lives in these places.

In John 14 Jesus paints a beautiful picture of heaven and the Kingdom of God. In verses 2-3 we read, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” Jesus was speaking of an ancient near east dwelling known as an Insula. The insula was a way for families to be grafted together. Whenever a young groom wanted to take a bride he would have to build a room onto his father’s house in order to bring her into the family. When the room was ready he could go and collect his bride.

And I think that is what the church has allowed Christ to do in and for me. He has built room upon room for my family. And this family stretches out across the entire world so that when I am in their presence, I am home…And one day we will all really be home together.


%d bloggers like this: