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.
Yesterday I was in a funk. I’m not sure if you are familiar with this terminology or not, but it basically amounts to a feeling of being overwhelmed, anxiousand even feeling physically ill. And what does one do when they are in a funk? Well dive deeper of course. I withdrew, isolated myself even further and simply tried to disconnect from everything. The only problem with this is that anyone who knows me knows that I am an extrovert. And the last thing an extrovert needs to do is withdraw from others. So by the end of the day, with my wife’s help, I had doagnosed said funkiness and started to reconnect and finally went to bed feeling a little less funky. It’s almost as if we really do need each other.
At face value this seems like a really simple statement. Yeah sure, we really do need each other…but at what costs? In his letter to the church at Rome the apostle Paul writes these words, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” – Romans 12:18. Live at peace with everyone? That seems like a pretty tall order. Especially in a world where we are rewarded for our individualism. Especially in a world where we are defined by our differences and by our distinctions and by the lines that are drawn in the sand every day to make sure we fall on one side or the other. But surely this is not the case in the church… Contemporary culture often serves as a wonderful assessment tool for the health of the church. Is the church reflecting the culture, or is the church transforming the culture? Right now we are surrounded by a culture that is at best divisive and at worst hostile to the ideaof healthy community…so how is the church doing?
The word most often used in the New Testament for the church is the word ekklesia. It means, “the called out ones” and it was a explication of the church’s distinctiveness. The church is always meant to be a different embodiment characterized by love and unity and community. In fact, the term heresy is translated from the Greek hairesis, which means, “a taking or choosing for oneself”. In other words being divisive by finding difference over commonality. The very first way heresy was understood was as the division of community. And now we as the church are meant to be a model of healthy community for the world and are we doing this or are we just reflecting contemporary culture?
One thing we need to understand in all of this is that unity doesn’t always mean uniformity, but it does mean that we live at peace with one another. We really do need each other but when we reflect the cultural wars and attack and belittle and show disrespect to the members of the body of Christ, we divide His body all over again and this should not be so. It was once said of the characteristics of the church that we come to our ideologies and doctrines in the following fashion: In Essentials Unity, In Non-essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity. Maybe this is the way forward; remembering that the things that bind us together and the things we have in common are stronger than the differences we allow to divide us. We really do need each other. I don’t think I can say that enough. And the world needs to see that we understand and live this out; living together at peace reflecting the Christ who called us out to be a community in a world that really needs us.
I used to be able to sleep through any storm. I’m not kidding. I have slept through thunderstorms, tornado warnings (I have yet to confirm if I have slept through a touch down) and even a hurricane in north Florida. But all of that changed on December 6th 2007. Why you may ask? That is the day we brought Jonas Ezekiel Anthony Arp home. All of a sudden I couldn’t sleep through a gentle mist (that may be a bit of hyperbole). But truly I have never enjoyed sleeping through storms the way I used to for almost nine years now. And last night in West Texas we had a boomer of a thunderstorm. Around 2 in the morning the lightning was flashing, the house was shaking from the thunder and I just knew our kids were about to come running for our bed at any moment. So attempting to beat them to the punch I quickly jumped out of bed and quietly went to their room where I found them both still sound asleep. Sound asleep? I’m the one who can’t sleep through storms now and here they are like little sleeping angels while the world is coming down around them.
Now this hasn’t always been the case. There have been many sleepless nights in the Arp household where we have tried any number of cheesy analogies in order to comfort little ones scared by thunder. The angels are bowling, God is moving furniture around in heaven, there are changes in electrical currents between storm fronts and the ground…maybe one of those is true. But now it seems our kids have come to have some sort of weird confidence in that they are going to be okay. Maybe because they know their parents know about the storm it might give them some sort of ease. The Psalmist had a number of ways to describe his confidence in God in this fashion. “He who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” (Psalm 121) “The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord is enthroned as King forever. The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.” (Psalm 29) I wonder if that is the same confidence with which my little angels slept so soundly.
In the gospel of Mark though we have a different picture of God in the storm. Jesus, after a long day of teaching (on Faith of all things) crawls up to the front of the boat while the disciples are crossing over the sea of Galilee and falls asleep. Suddenly a storm comes upon the disciples and they lose their minds. They wake him up saying, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” – Mark 4:38. Jesus wakes up, calms the storm, and then asks them, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” – Mark 4:40. All along they have been walking, talking, eating, sleeping, traveling, and spending every waking hour with Jesus. He has shown them his power, compassion, love, grace, provision, etc. and yet all of a sudden when they fear their lives and/or livelihood are in danger they think he doesn’t care?!? I think for a moment they may have forgotten that the same God who never slumbers, the same God who is enthroned above the flood was the same God who slept for a moment in the midst of the storm. Jesus is with you in the storm. God sits enthroned above the flood and the storm. We can have peace in the midst of the good as well as the bad because of our faith. And maybe we might find ourselves like those little smiling Arps last night; resting peacefully while the world shakes so violently around them.
Yesterday on the drive into school my kids and I ended up on the subject of death. Now granted, this isn’t a subject that often enters our realm of family discussion, but for some reason it came up yesterday. And in my fatherly wisdom I found myself saying these encouraging words, “Well, we all die someday”. Fortunately my son quickly interjected, “That’s ok. Because that’s the way we get to heaven.” (Luckily my kids somehow survive despite their dad’s morbid view of reality). But let’s face it. We all know the two things we are guaranteed in life are “death and taxes”. And sometimes we in the church struggle with our mortality and how to relate it to our immortality. We sometimes think that the blessings of the life to come aren’t real if they don’t somehow resonate in our current setting…but this isn’t really the gospel.
In some of the last teachings we see Jesus delivering to His disciples before his trial and death we read these words from the book of John, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” – John 16:33 Oftentimes I think we misread this verse. We see ourselves as the “overcomers” of the world when we are really are only guaranteed to “have trouble”. The word in the verse above we read for trouble or tribulation is the Greek word, thlipsis. It’s most literal translation is “pressure” and it comes from the idea of ruts being worn into a path/road. Tell me that’s not encouraging. In this life you will get potholes. And really it’s the one thing we are guaranteed…this world will eventually end us if Jesus doesn’t return first.
Luckily that’s not where the story ends. Although we may lose, although we may be overcome, beat down, pressured, etc. this is not the End. Jesus tells us to be at peace as he has overcome the world. He has claimed victory over the temporal limitations of this world and made a way through death into life. And so we find peace. Truthfully this isn’t easy. When the ruts worn into us come through things like sickness, brokenness, bills, debts, familial discord, job loss, and grief we long to be the ones who overcome. But at the end of the day we don’t overcome…we take comfort in He who has overcome and speaks these words to us in the final book, “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.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” – Revelation 21:4-5. The faith that we hold onto places it’s confidence in a God who has not only overcome but promises to make all things new. This is how we are not overcome ourselves and find peace even in the midst of the storms of life.
And truthfully, we who are called of Christ are also called to comfort and proclaim good news to those who have been overcome by life and it’s troubles. Our calling is not simply to look to the life to come but also to bring God’s Kingdom to earth. Often times we find peace in serving those who themselves can’t find peace.
So may you take heart today. May you find peace and bring peace to others through Christ our Lord; the one who has overcome.
You ever find yourself clinging to one of those Bible verses and then realize it doesn’t really mean what you thought it meant? Okay, so maybe that doesn’t happen all the time, but it happened to me today. My life as of late has been rather disquieted for a variety of reasons and so I looked to one of those verses for comfort and I reached for Psalm 46:10, “Be Still and know that I am God.” (SPOILER ALERT…I MIGHT RUIN THIS VERSE FOR SOME OF YOU READING AS WELL). I have always thought of this verse as a peaceful reflection of meditation and quiet, but if you ever read the rest of the Psalm you would be left puzzling too. The Psalm is all about conquering and thundering and exaltation and big, loud images of God. And so in my mind I wasn’t sure “be still” fit. And truth be told it didn’t. The word in Hebrew is actually raphah which is best translated “fall down”….which actually fits with the rest of the Psalm. Not that this in anyway means that I don’t think we need to be still in the knowledge of God and in who He is, but the context is a bit different.
So then I found myself seeking for another word of peace that could speak into my life in a better fashion and I stumbled upon a very fitting and familiar passage, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24. I love that title, “God, the God of all Peace”. And the word for sanctify is beautiful as well, hagiazō, “set apart”. The God of peace is seeking to set us apart completely from all of the other stuff that is trying to define us. From the hectic hustle and bustle, chaos, anxiety, etc., God is seeking to set us apart, define us differently, give us peace. And the best part about all of this is that it is God’s action and not our own. All to often we speak about sanctification and holiness as if it’s something we accomplish, but that’s Biblical incoherence. God sanctifies, God sets apart, God gives true peace.
It’s easy to find ourselves in the doing and going, and longing to “be still” (Still a little peeved at a Bible translator somewhere). But I take great comfort in the fact that the action being accomplished in my life is being wrought by the God of peace. And maybe sometimes I do need to be still and take joy and comfort in that. So today, may the God of all peace, God himself, continue to set you apart in the midst of all of your non-peaceful hectic existence.