Tag Archives: Jesus

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

ground rules

adorable-childhood-children-754769.jpg

So I know this may not come as much of a surprise, but I love having fun. I love playing games and being crazy. But one of the most important things you have to take into account when having fun is you have to make sure everyone understands the rules. As recently as this week, I was part of one such occurrence. This Monday was our annual Memorial Day picnic for our church. Since it was going to be roughly about 1,000 degrees outside, my wife and I decided to fill up water balloons to bring to the park for the kids. But before the battle could ensue, I had to make sure everyone understood the ground rules. No hitting anyone in the face. Little kids this is your bucket and big kids this is your bucket. Make sure you step five steps away before you begin to throw. And thanks to these simple ground rules, everyone had fun, no one got hurt and we all were able to cool off for a little bit.

I feel like lately though, we as adults have forgotten how to have fun and get along. Even in the church we have allowed ourselves to succumb to worldly division and talk that just doesn’t belong. Remember Paul said to the Philippians once upon a time regarding the world and the church that, “Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven.” – Philippians 3:19-20 So to help us on a little refresher course and make sure everyone gets along, I decided to help us out with a few ground rules today.

  • In the Kingdom of God, it is never okay to refer to other children of God as animals. Regardless of what someone has done, Jesus died to save us all. Sure in Scientific classification we are all animals, but this is the church and not science class. Therefore let’s all refer to each other as humans or even brother or sister.
  • In the Kingdom of God it is never okay to compare a person of color, particularly an African American, to a monkey or an ape. This is not only dehumanizing but historically very racist.
  • In the Kingdom of God we don’t fly or promote symbols that are linked to racism. And although you may claim the flag of the Confederate States of America is historical in nature, it was a history that fought to keep my son in chains and for the right to own people. Let’s keep it in the text books and out of our yards or off our clothing.
  • In the Kingdom of God it is never okay to refer to women as gals or chicks or anything that would make them feel less than the equally gifted and called children of God that they are. And let’s also stop blaming them for the violence, abuse and even rape that for centuries has gone unreported, even in the church.
  • In the Kingdom of God we don’t think less of anyone because of their country of origin or their international and/or undocumented status. We seek to be Christ to all because at some point someone was Christ to us.
  • In the Kingdom of God we seek to know a person’s name and award them their humanity regardless of their perceived status. A whole lot of misunderstanding and hurt will be avoided if we simply get to know each other.

I know sometimes that people think the world has become insane or difficult to manage, but these ground rules really aren’t that hard to follow. At the end of the day if we simply start treating other people as if we are all one, instead of us versus them, we would get a lot further. After all, Paul said in his letter to Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” – Galatians 3:28 And if you are still struggling as to how to implement these simple ground rules, maybe we can take it back to the words of Christ himself, “Therefore, you should treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you; this is the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12 I hope this all helps. Now go out there and have fun and love people for the children of God they are.


anticipation

architecture-auditorium-chairs-109669

PSA: This may be the nerdiest blog post I’ve ever written.

I’ve been waiting for today for what seems like forever. For those of you who have read my blog at all or listened to a sermon, you know I am a fan of comic books. And not just any comic books, but Marvel comics; you know, Spider-man, The Hulk, Thor, Captain America, etc. Well one of my favorite cultural gifts of living in the twenty-first century is that we are living in the golden era of comic book movies. It’s almost as if Hollywood said, “You know who we need to cater to? All those weird 30 and 40 something year old nerds.” And today marks the completion of a ten-year saga for Marvel movies as they release Avengers: Infinity War. Since the villain of the movie (Thanos, the ultimate Marvel bad guy) was teased in 2012, fans have been awaiting this day. If they are like me, they have even reread all the comics they owned that cycle around this movie’s story-line just to be extra prepared. And so I woke up knowing today was the day…I don’t think I’ve been this excited in a long time. And I know that regardless of what I experience tonight, I will still be excited. I don’t think the movie could even let down my anticipation. And this is all over a two hour and twenty-nine minute movie…

Anticipation is a powerful thing. My kids get excited about upcoming birthdays. My wife will start packing for trips sometimes weeks ahead, but maybe that’s because a healthy dose of anticipation is necessary for traveling with a family of six. But anticipation, I believe, can often make the thing anticipated even greater. If you come to an event or happening with all this built up excitement and energy, and then you invest all that big excitement and energy into said event, then there really isn’t any way that you should be disappointed…of course maybe that’s just the eternal optimist in me speaking. However, sometimes I think our anticipation looks more like anxiety. I remember growing up and hearing about Christ’ second coming and always being nervous. Sometimes I would even go over to my grandmother’s house (she lived across the driveway) and if I didn’t find her quickly I would be scared that I missed the rapture. I’m not sure, though, that the coming of Christ is something that is ever meant to be seen through the lenses of fear. In fact, I think it’s something the church is called to rehearse over and over again.

The New Testament scriptures end with the writer of Revelation saying, “The one who bears witness to these things says, “Yes, I’m coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” – Revelation 22:20 And some translations even add the phrase “come quickly”. Now if you’re like me, you often look at the world around you and wish Jesus would come quickly and fix all the brokenness and hurt. You anticipate His return because it will be the cure-all for all the messed up things in the world. But what if we, as the church are called to rehearse, live out His coming again in anticipation in the now? I mean, after all the church is called the body of Christ. And we gather together through the power of the Holy Spirit. What if our presence here is Christ in flesh, Christ having come into the world? Here me out. Christ will come again; I’m not denying this. But what if in the now we are called to live in such rich anticipation that each time we gather we become agents of transformation in a world that could really only be fixed by the coming of Christ? What if each time we met the world would know that His Kingdom is coming and His will is being done through us because this is why we gather? What if each time we prepared to assemble as a church we anticipated the movement so richly that we couldn’t help but be excited and amazed at what God did through us? I think perhaps this is the type of anticipation we are all called to live with. After all, if one of us could get this excited for a nerd movie, think about what we could do if all of us were truly excited about what God can do through us.


why bother

audience-band-christians-213207.jpg

Does the church have anything to offer the world in the 21st century? This seems to be a question that plagues pastors, writers, theologians and thinkers alike in the church today. You see articles and books about church growth or reaching millennials or connecting families on an almost daily rate. The church seems to find itself at a crossroads of crisis and our offerings to me, and I imagine to a lot of the world, just seem lack luster at best. “Oh, you’ve got another program for me to attend?” “This book study will make me a skinnier, wealthier and happier Christian?” “This program is guaranteed to make church stick for me and my family this time?” I don’t mean to sound too cynical, but why bother? If all the church is trying to do is to compete with other social activities in the world, then why bother?

A couple of nights ago I sat across from a couple from our church in my living room. We were meeting to talk about a new (I’m reluctant to use the word because it just sounds like another program) ministry they’ve launched. Well, I guess it’s more of an inter-generational small group (even that sounded programmatic). But I asked them to sum up the rationale behind it and the gentlemen responded with, “Well, it’s more or less our attempt to build a family in the church.” YES! In a simple statement made on my sofa while my kids were all sleeping (I hope) in the background I heard the why bother answer resonate loud and clear. And it all goes back to the birth of the church. What does the church have to offer to the world? It goes like this in the second chapter in the book of Acts. “All the believers were united and shared everything. They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved.” – Acts 2:42-47 Did you see that? The church, at it’s core, is a family that wants to be together, takes care of one another and shares life together.

So church, please hear me in regards to your existence in the 21st century. We have the greatest hope to share with the world. But if we just make it another program, social event, to-do list, check mark or any other means of clever marketing we will continue to fail. The world will look at our existence as simply another ploy to get them to commit to something that at the end of the day adds very little value to their lives. But if we, and I know it might be a stretch, actually began to mirror the lives of the early church and became that Family of God we used to sing about all the time, then perhaps those outside our walls might see the life we share and come to realize it might be the very thing they’re missing. In a world of broken families, fractured homes, disenfranchised lives, social media virtual communities, depression, anxiety and fear we as the church have something to offer that nothing else can compare with. The Kingdom of God goes beyond all other kingdoms and programs when our family’s head calls us to remember, “This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you. No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends.” – John 15:12-13 It’s high time we started being that kind of family again and I can’t wait to see what happens when we do.

 


treasure

analogue-art-box-366791.jpg

Yesterday was one of the longest days of my life; at least in recent memory. You see it all began when our five-year-old had a stomach bug over the weekend…Holy Saturday night…you know, the night before Easter Sunday. So here I am the night before one of the biggest days of the church calendar changing bed linens and caring for a very sick child and thinking all the while, “I’m staring down the barrel of a gun.” For most of Monday and Tuesday I thought maybe, just maybe I had escaped the clutches of this foul intestinal bacteria beast. But alas, that was not the case. Tuesday night, although not in the same fashion or severity, I slept maybe about two to three hours total due to stomach cramps and anxiety over what might come next. The most worrisome part about all of this was my lack of sick day accruing as a teacher and so I knew the next day would be rough.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so tired in my life…and I was a youth pastor for eleven years with annual lock-ins. After a day of stomach cramping, heavy lids and middle school students I was barely able to drag myself in the door. Luckily I have a wife who was looking out for me and allowed me to sleep for 12 hours…12 hours. She handled bed-time and even kept the kids or pets from waking me. But the next morning she had one important direction for me. I had to wake our three-year-old and spend time with him before going to school. Evidently him not being able to see daddy for a day was a little much and he was suffering from major daddy withdraws. So after recovering from my early spring hibernation I roused my little monster a little early and he spent about thirty minutes on the couch with me watching Thor or Hulk or some other super hero that inspires our special relationship. And I began to think about how important these moments are.

Sometimes in the midst of our hustle and bustle we forget about the most important things we have here. Was it important for me to be at work? Sure. But perhaps it was even more important for me to recover so I could be the best for those around me. In The Sermon on the Mount Jesus speaks a bit as to our most important investment. “Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Matthew 6:19-21 I came to an epiphany earlier this year as to the treasure that Jesus is pointing us to. What does God value more than anything else in the entire world? His children. So the treasure we are called to invest in is…(wait for it)…each other. So yes, there will be times when we are busy or sick or spent or worn out, but we are called to take those moments that we do have to invest in those who are a piece of God’s heart as we seek to reveal God’s heart to the world. This is the treasure that we seek to store up for heaven’s sake.


the illusion

eye.jpeg

I was very hesitant to write today. Not that there aren’t a lot of thoughts running through my head. Honestly if people heard my inner monologue I think they would think I was even more strange than I appear to be. No, I think my hesitancy to write today’s blog post stems from the type of dialogue that I see going on in our world…particularly from those of us who claim the name of Christ. You see, for a couple of weeks now I’ve been listening to and watching the rhetoric going on between my friends about issues surrounding things like guns and rights and everything in between. And I honestly think as Christians we’ve evidently been operating under a very false pretense that has absolutely nothing to do with the gospel of Christ. I hear people say things like, “It’s obvious it’s a gun problem.” Or, “It’s obvious it’s not a gun problem, but a people problem.” Or even, “If they take away one right, what’s to stop them from coming for all my rights.” And I don’t want to invalidate any of your arguments or stances. Hear me again, I don’t want to invalidate any of your arguments or stances…but…

I think as Christians we need to have the veil pulled back from our eyes. I think we find ourselves in this world operating with an illusion created by sin and it mask itself in the most clever of ways. It looks like rights, defense, independence and even love…and yet, it’s an illusion. The illusion is the belief that my life, or the life of any one I love matters more than the life of anyone else on earth (I know I just lost some friends with that one). But honestly, if the gospel doesn’t teach us that we all come to the foot of the cross as equals, then we have misread the gospel. The writer of Matthew puts it this way in the words of Christ, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will find them’.” – Matthew 16:24-25 If you wish to follow Christ, then you must realize your life is forfeit. If you choose to follow the crucified Messiah, then you must realize your life is worth no more than the person you despise the most.

Now you may say to me, what in the world does this have to do with all the debate about guns and rights and sin…honestly, everything. Until I can come to the table with any one of the human race realizing that Christ gave his life for them as much as for me, then I might as well not enter into the fray. So by all means, continue to have your debates and discussions and solutions ad nausea, but if you don’t pull back the illusion and think of each and every life as just as valuable as your own and those you love, then you need to reevaluate the Christ you have chosen to follow. Because he may have ended up looking more like you than you think. I’ll leave you with one more thought that I think continues to pull back the illusion for us all and it comes from Dorothy Day. “I really only love God as much as the person I love the least.” You are loved, Grace and Peace.


virtual insanity

pexels-photo-123318.jpeg

Sometimes I find myself really caught up in a book I am reading. And what I refer to as caught up, my wife would refer to as obsessed. I have trouble putting it down and I often find myself looking for excuses to get back to it. The book I am referring to currently is called, “Ready Player One” and it is set in the not too distant future and the entire premise is built around virtual reality. I don’t want to give anything away for those who might be interested in reading it, but the reason it is so much fun for me is due to the fact that much of the virtual world is built around 1980’s nostalgia. From Saturday morning cartoons, to TV commercials, to music and movies…it’s got everything. But the hang up in the book for many of the characters is that they often can’t seem to parse out reality from the virtual reality that they often find themselves plugged into. For many of them reality is terrible, as the planet has been depleted of resources through an energy crisis, overpopulation and wars. So their actual day to day existence is pretty terrible. Thus the reason they take comfort in escaping to a place where their problems aren’t always before them.

Don’t get me wrong, but some days I feel like that could be a pretty sweet deal. Lately it feels like my family and many like ours jump from one miniature crisis to the next. Strep throat, flu, house repairs, car troubles, etc…it seems like no one can catch a break. And so we lament our current realities on social media hoping to find solace, or at least compatriots, in the virtual world. It seems like Facebook and the like have become places for that very thing. We log in to these virtual communities and we celebrate our best and lament our worst and for a moment take comfort in the arms of a virtual community. Yet when we are approached in the real world and asked about how we are doing our reply is simply, “pretty good”. Pretty good? It’s almost as if we are forgetting what reality is, or at least what it could be.

Whenever we pray the Lord’s Prayer there is a line that should be incredibly trans-formative when it comes to our realities, “Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” – Matthew 6:10. We are literally praying that God’s kingdom become a part of our actions in the world around us today. And yet, when we actually engage with culture around us, all we can manage is a mundane “pretty good” or “fine”. I like that word “mundane”, by the way. The dictionary defines mundane as, “common; ordinary; banal; unimaginative.” And the second definition is even more profound,  “of or relating to this world or earth as contrasted with heaven; worldly; earthly.” If anything, we as believers are called to bring God’s kingdom to this worldly/earthly hemisphere. Our lives should be the opposite of unimaginative. And so maybe perhaps we need to reengage. Maybe we need to realize that although the virtual world can be comforting, it does not bring the Kingdom. And maybe with the apostle Paul we can refocus our energy in the actual world around us, “From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise.” – Philippians‬ ‭4:8.‬ Maybe then we would find comfort in affecting actual reality instead of escaping into the virtual landscape. After all, we have a mission to bring the Kingdom. Maybe it’s time to get plugged in.

 

 


%d bloggers like this: