Tag Archives: Matthew

treasure

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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.

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the illusion

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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

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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.

 

 


feeling salty

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There’s an expression I’ve become rather fond of in recent days. If someone is being sassy or giving attitude or extra confrontational it is referred to as being “salty”. And perhaps this isn’t really a new expression…in fact it might be rather old, but I love how quickly a word or phrase becomes en vogue and we begin to use it frequently as part of the common vernacular. Even as recently as a couple of weeks ago I was in the school office and some of the other teachers asked me if I knew what being salty meant and I quickly attempted to show them the best version of sass that this 6’3″ straight-laced white male could muster on the fly. I’m not sure they got what I was going for, but it maybe communicated my understanding of what being salty meant.

Here’s where a little bit of wordplay can be fun. You might say, isn’t being salty a good quality? After all, “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its saltiness, how will it become salty again? It’s good for nothing except to be thrown away and trampled under people’s feet.” – Matthew 5:13 I’m not sure Jesus was thinking about the disciples being confrontational with each other and throwing shade about every little thing. In fact, a few of the times we see Jesus chastising the disciples is when they’re arguing over who the greatest is…in other words, getting salty over who’s better. Now I know we never struggle with this kind of saltiness in the church. We never get in petty arguments over getting our way or having things done the way we want them or the way they’ve always been. It reminds me of my one Nazarene joke. How many Nazarene’s does it take to change a light bulb? “Hey you can’t change that light bulb, my grandpa put that in”. Even our jokes are a little salty.

Truth be told, I’m just not that salty at all. In fact, I don’t think this is the kind of salt Jesus had in mind at all. I believe he was thinking about salt that brings good flavor to the world. I believe he was thinking about the salt that preserves and brings life to the world around it. When it comes to the current definition of salty, I just don’t feel like I ever need to find myself there. In the closing of his letter to the church at Rome, we read these words from Paul. “Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good. If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people.” – Romans 12:16-18 These words of Paul have always been a way that I’ve attempted to live my life by. I don’t want to operate out of saltiness. My way, my opinion, my preference, my comfort, my…fill in the blank just isn’t that important. In fact the only thing that is important is my effort to live at peace. So maybe it’s time to lose the saltiness and actually become salt. I think we all could use it.


a stranger

Since roughly about the 4th century Christians have celebrated the four Sunday season before Christmas known as Advent. Advent, which means welcoming, is a season of preparation for both the commemoration of the original coming of Christ to earth and a celebration of Christ coming again. For many Christians it is sometimes hard to connect these two events. When Christ came to earth as a baby in Bethlehem much of the world went on without noticing. When Christ comes again every knee will bow. How could these two events be more different? The writer of Matthew helped me to find a rather poignant connection this Advent season and it speaks to our world now more than ever. At the conclusion of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew he shares a parable about what His return will be like. In that parable Jesus speaks of the final judgment and those who are judged worthy and he has this to say to them, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For…I was a stranger and you invited me in” Matthew 25:34-35

The story goes on to say that those who performed this kindness were not even aware that it was to Christ himself that they bestowed this kindness and Jesus’ response to them, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” – Matthew 25:40. The Greek word for stranger in the passage above is the word xenos, which best translates as foreigner or alien and it’s where we get terms like xenophobia. But Jesus’ not only speaks of His love for the least of these in His response; He also speaks out of history and experience. If we simply turn back the pages of Matthew’s gospel we read this in the conclusion of the visit of the Magi, When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt” – Matthew 2:13-14 Part of Christ’ original coming to earth resulted in His earthly family becoming refugees, aliens, strangers in Egypt who were fleeing political persecution from an evil political force.

I don’t know about you, but it sounds like our world today very much resembles the world the Savior was born into. Just yesterday a report came out about the fall of Aleppo and how 20 Syrian women chose suicide over the impending rape of the Syrian army. Europe has been overwhelmed in attempts to respond to one of the greatest refugee crisis in human history. And we are concerned as to whether or not we will be able to find a Hatchimal for our kids.

I’m not sure I know what the answer is this Advent season. Right now…pray. Pray for Christ to return. Pray for every hurt, every tear, every pain to be wiped away. There are also ways you can give.

1. Nazarene avenues for donating to anything happening inside seem to not exist at this time. But, Nazarenes are working with Syrian children and families who flee the war and are in Lebanon and Jordan. This is a powerful option for helping: http://www.ncm.org/phone/christmas.html

2. There is also and organization that some of our Nazarenes have looked into called Preemptive Love that seems to be responding well: preemptivelove.org They help people who are still trapped in Syria.

3. You can also consider donating to Central Europe Refugee Response: https://give.nazarene.org/donate/f/125967 which is the Nazarene Courage for the Journey response across the Balkans and Greece to refugees in transit or resettling.

I guess my prayer for all of us in the midst of our world and this season of Advent is that we don’t forget what this season is really about. It reminds us that our God took on flesh and came into the world to show us that life is most Holy when we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, invite a stranger in, clothe the naked, care for the sick and those in prison. May we all embrace that calling this Advent season.



the velvet rope

I have never been one to frequent night clubs. Aside from being a Nazarene, it’s just not really my scene (and it’s not because of some weird phobia of dancing…I have moves like Napoleon Dynamite…John Travolta…Fred Astaire….ok maybe not). However, I have been to a few concerts in my day and so I suppose that might give me insight. You see, I have always been intrigued by the velvet rope. You know what I am talking about. The impassible shiny plush rope hung between gleaming chrome poles that is guarded by some roided (I think this is a word in the English vernacular) out individual simply known as the bouncer. And this bouncer’s responsibility is quite simple. He (or she I suppose) is to keep the normal run of the mill individuals away from the not so ordinary individuals on the other side of the velvet rope. Occasionally they will let someone pass, but only if they meet a certain criteria, have the right VIP passes or are of the same super human substance that allows one to exist on one side of the rope and not the other.

I’ve often wondered what it feels like to be the guardian of the sacred rope. Granted, I am not an intimidating individual and so I doubt anyone will ever ask me to assume vigil of such an important task. But I feel like I might understand the concept behind it a little. In the book of Matthew there is actually a velvet rope incident and I am afraid most of us might be able to relate. You see, people like(d) Jesus. He was evidently a very likable fellow unless you were very religious. And so one day people were bringing their kids to come and meet him. I don’t know why, but I have the image of a department store Santa in my head. And here’s what happened, “Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” – Matthew 19:13-14 The disciples had a velvet rope moment. They thought that Jesus needed protecting, or he didn’t want to be bothered, or that the kids weren’t good enough to take up his time. But Jesus quickly flips it on his head and reminds them of what the Kingdom of Heaven looks like.

I wonder if any of us have ever found ourselves being a bouncer for Jesus. “I don’t think Jesus has time for you right now.” “I think there are some things you need to work out before you can take up any of his time”. “Your lifestyle really isn’t fit for you to be in his presence.” Believe it or not, Jesus didn’t call us to be his bouncers. He called us to be his followers. And to follow him in such a way that other people want to follow Him as well. And more than likely this means we drop the velvet rope, lose the security badge and get rid of every obstacle that we have put up between others and Jesus and just let His children see Him for who He is. And if you ask me, it really becomes a lot less complicated this way. And who knows, we might become better followers in the process.


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