Tag Archives: Paul

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.

 

 

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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.


breaking down boxes

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Yesterday morning, in the midst of all of the hullabaloo of trying to get the Arp family out the door, I decided it was high time. It had been piling up for weeks and enough was enough. So for about fifteen minutes I decided to wade into the quagmire of the entrance to our garage and get busy. You see, we as the Arps have tried to do our part for the planet and engaged in a few forms of recycling; namely plastic, aluminum cans and cardboard. The plastic and the cans can pretty easily be put into garbage bags and taken care of in that fashion, but the cardboard boxes are another matter entirely. So, we engaged in a little practice I like to call “out of sight, out of mind” and simply tossed the empty cardboard boxes into the garage haphazardly. Or should I say, I tossed the cardboard boxes into the garage haphazardly. Well, when my gracious wife pointed out yesterday that one could no longer get into the garage and that it seemed I was becoming a trash collector, I decided it was then “high time” to engage in a little box breaking down session. And I’m happy to report that after an intense fifteen minute session of ripping and folding and maintaining my faith, that one can now enter our garage without needing climbing or spelunking equipment.

It kind of reminds me though of how we treat certain areas of our lives. Sometimes we may place our health on the back burner. Or we may save issues with certain relationships for another day. Or perhaps there are those things that the Spirit has been revealing to us as sin that we simply seek to justify because the change would be too difficult. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living”. The apostle Paul said it this way to the Galatian church, “If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions…for each one should carry their own load.” – Galatians 6:3-5 In the introduction to the sixth chapter of this letter Paul begins to speak about sin and holding each other accountable and being supportive in bearing each other’s burdens. But then he adds, that each person shouldn’t think that this in any way, shape, or form makes them superior to each other. In fact, we are responsible for our own actions, our own work, our own selves…for that is what we will be held to account for.

I think about this and breaking down boxes. Did it take me all that long to break down the boxes? No, not at all. But I saw it as something superfluous until I realized that it affected more than just me. There are things in our lives that sometimes we may see as superfluous or “not hurting anyone”, when in actuality even our “hidden sins” or our “passive aggressive” behaviors can be detrimental to the lives of others and even to the kingdom of God. So I encourage you today to break down some boxes. Make some paths in the wilderness (garage). Examine every avenue of your life physically, spiritually, emotionally because you never know where the Spirit may be calling you to action. And know, that it might not take long to break down some boxes, but it could possibly do a world of good.


all creation

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Two days ago we had to say goodbye to our 13-yr-old Boston Terrier. I honestly didn’t think it was going to be as bad as it was. After all, I am a minister who walks people through grief and death and dying all the time. But as I held this little guy in my arms, knowing it was the best for his situation, I could feel the emotion welling up within me. And as the doctor came in to administer the final shot…I broke down. And I’m not talking about a few tears escaping my well trained masculine facade…I’m talking heaving sobs as the vet and his assistant awkwardly left the room to allow me some space. It was crazy the effect that this little guy had over me. I didn’t even really see it coming.

I like to sometimes tell people in a colloquial fashion who have lost dogs, “Don’t forget all dogs go to heaven.” (If you’re a cat person, I think you may be out of luck). But all kidding aside, I think (or at least hope) there is something to this statement and the way we experience loss and death and dying in creation around us. I don’t think death was part of the original blessing of creation. I think death was something that entered into creation through our sin and folly and I’ve come to see it doesn’t just effect us…but all creation. The apostle Paul had another take on this futility in his epistle to the Roman church, “The whole creation waits breathless with anticipation for the revelation of God’s sons and daughters.…[so] that the creation itself will be set free from slavery to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of God’s children.” – Romans 8:19,21 The whole creation longs to be a part of the redemption of God’s children. Does this mean that all dogs go to heaven? I’m not sure, but I think there is healing and redemption to come for our relationship with creation; including our pets.

So I sit here today, two days removed and I’m still effected by all of this. And I’m sure there will be more moments and I definitely hurt for my oldest son whose had Fenway around his whole life. But it also becomes a reminder for me to treasure all the people and creatures around me as much as I can for as long as I can. Truly creation was and is a gift from God for when it is at its best, it reflects the Divine love in a way that words never can. For those of you experiencing grief and loss in this Advent season, I pray for you today. I know for many of you these words may seem trite as the loss of a dog pales in comparison to the pain you now suffer, and for that I am sorry, But hear these words again, “creation itself will be set free from slavery to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of God’s children.” – Romans 8:21. The redemption and glorious freedom begins with the sons and daughters of God. We have a hope beyond this life. We have a hope beyond the grave. May you lean into that hope today.


smaller and less

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Recently there has been talk about making Christmas bigger and better than ever. And something about this just hasn’t set right with me. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas and big family gatherings and all the festivities around the church. But bigger and better than ever? I’m not quite sure those are the values that should qualify Christmas. It almost seems like more and more this is how society is trying to shape what began as something very different. You need to buy this better gift or your friend, spouse, kid, coworker, etc. won’t have a Merry Christmas. You need to make sure your debt ratio is getting bigger and bigger or Christmas won’t be complete. We have to make sure we capitolize on this season in our churches with as many activities to draw people in because this may be the only time of year we get to see them (well at least until Easter). We need to make sure everyone around us knows how big and important this holiday is because otherwise they’ll never understand the true meaning of Christmas.

To me it just all feels a bit off. The idea of shopping and planning and stressing and exhausting schedules seems so far removed from Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. One of my favorite versions of the Christmas story in scripture was actually written by Paul to the church in Philippi. “Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings. When he found himself in the form of a human.” – Philippians 2:6-7 The Christmas story is best categorized by words like emptied, slave, less, weak, humility, frail, fragile, etc. Not words like bigger and better. When God stepped into our world He became less. God became small. In fact, if you weren’t a shepherd or a magi (I’m not sure if I ever got to be one in one of the kid’s Christmas pageants) you probably didn’t even know about the first Christmas.

You may ask yourself though, why am I taking such issue with this? Because Christmas should represent our values as Christ followers and not as economists. Perhaps we should seek to embody the shepherds and seek out those who appear to be weak, vulnerable, less, frail and fragile this season. And when we find them it might be an opportunity for us to practice a Christmas value as we seek to enter into their situation with them. Perhaps Christmas is more about becoming like the broken, outcast, unloved, untouched, smaller and weaker because that is what God did for us at Christmas. So maybe for a moment this holiday season we all might find a way to try something different. It doesn’t have to be a huge gesture or anything massive, but maybe the smallest thing might become the most Christ-like as we seek to emulate the God who emptied Himself and became smaller and less for our sake.


petty

mosquito sucking bloodA couple of years ago my wife and I got to spend a day with one of our professors from college. I say “our” even though I never took him for a class,  because of how instrumental he was in shaping both of our paths. My wife often says that she would have spent her entire student debt on his one class that she took because of what it meant to her faith walk. And in our lives together he’s the person that we have often turned to during difficult times in ministry and he usually has some small nugget of truth that resonates with us for months and even years to come. This day was no exception as we found ourselves talking about ministry and the church again. At some point in the conversation he says to us, “You know what the two great sins of the church are? Being boring or being petty.” At the time I kind of shrugged it off, as I am apt to do…but time reveals so much, doesn’t it?

I’ve come to realize how much truth there was to that statement. The first piece is pretty self-explanatory. The last thing the church should ever be boring with is the life-transforming message of the Gospel. The second piece is something we have all lived with and seen in our own contexts. We love to major on the minors. We will go to war in the church over the color of carpet, style of worship, wall decor, etc. And the grudges we hold if we don’t get our way. Paul says this to the people of Colossians, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” – Colossians 3:12-13 Clothe, dress, adorn, put-on love, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience! In other words, don’t be petty. Don’t major on the minors. Keep the first things first.

And if you don’t think pettiness is a big problem consider this adage from the Dalai Lama, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito”. Granted, he may have meant this in a positive light, but I have trouble seeing anything positive associated with mosquitoes. If we allow pettiness to dictate our actions, it can destroy relationships, families and even churches over stuff that at the end of the day doesn’t even matter. I have seen friendships ruined over stuff that people shouldn’t even be getting up in arms about, but because they have taken a stand, they can’t back down. And at the end of the day, when we allow pettiness to dictate our actions, we have allowed sin to control our lives…because truly is about me and not about we. I always find myself coming back to the quote by Meldenius, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” Perhaps it is time for some of us to learn not to be petty in non-essentials and to clothe ourselves in charity for the sake of our friendships, our churches and the world.


trick or treat

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One of my favorite events in the life of our church here in Odessa took place last night. For one night each year we roll out the red, or should I say orange, carpet in a big way. Our annual Fall Festival is awesome! We have about 50 or so volunteers rally to host over 500 people each year. There’s food trucks, inflatables, face-painting, carnival games, pop-corn, music and costumes…so many cool costumes. I love seeing all of the kids, and “adult kids”, coming to our church in their costumes for a night of fun and festivities. In fact, it seems that more and more each year people are really getting into the Halloween spirit. And yet, sometimes we in the church struggle with what to do with this holiday full of spooks and ghosts and ghouls.

I guess we could start by taking a look at our own history, after all, Halloween began as part of Allhallowtide, a Christian feast holiday. According to HistoryChannel.com, “In the eighth century, Pope Gregory III designated November 1 as a time to honor all saints; All Saints Day…The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve, and later Halloween.” Halloween was originally part of a Religious feast intended to honor those who have gone before us. And yet so often we see all of the hullabaloo of Halloween today feeling like something different from it’s Christian roots and often become something else entirely. Even as I am writing this I am thinking about all of those who feel like Halloween is a dark holiday to be avoided at all costs…and I respect your opinion, but think with me for a moment. Try putting yourself in the place of one of the kids who got be at our Fall Festival last night or who looks forward to Trick-or-Treating this coming week. You’re telling me that for a day I get to dress up like someone else, go around to my neighbor’s houses and they give me candy? It’s almost kind of magical. And who doesn’t love another excuse to eat candy?

I have always looked at scripture a little differently and I hope you will amuse me here. To me, one of the saddest verses in all of scripture is found in I Corinthians 13:11 “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” So often we think of this as the natural maturation process, but what if it is talking about the loss of the natural wonder and love that comes with childhood? I think all to often we are ready to grow up and we miss the joy and simplicity of living that can be seen through the eyes of a child. Maybe if we began to see this holiday again through the eyes of a child and all the joy I saw last night we might be able to see it a little differently. Maybe the treat is found through the trick of seeing Halloween as a child. And maybe holidays like Halloween can be enjoyed in a new light as we seek to reclaim the world yet again through childlike wonder and joy.

 

 


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