Tag Archives: people

almost heaven

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“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.

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ground rules

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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.


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.


in the flesh

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I once heard a story about a little girl who was having trouble going to sleep one night. Her father came into the room to remind her that there was no reason to be afraid because God was right there with her. However, even after this reassurance, a few minutes later the girl was calling for her dad again. Her dad came back into the room again and tried to remind her once again that God was right there with her. “But dad, I need someone with skin on.” We might hear this story and think of it as just being a cute anecdote, but it might be a story that calls us to the greatest Christian action that we could practice…being present.

The very beginning of the Jesus story goes a bit like this, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” – John 1:14 The thing that makes the Jesus story so powerful, so compelling is that God was willing to put on human skin and join us. He was willing to suffer, laugh, play, dance, sing, work, cry, think, move, and share in every other human experience. Not only that, but He set the example for us as to what it meant to be truly human because He was always fully present. As you read the story of Jesus throughout the gospels, you begin to see a trend in his approach towards others. Regardless of the person’s station in life or their spiritual state or status, Jesus was always fully present with them. I even think of the most extreme example where we may even think of Jesus not being present in Matthew 15. A Canaanite woman approaches Jesus and he really doesn’t seem to want to take the time to interact with her as He feels compelled to continue taking His message of healing and redemption to Israel. Yet at the end of the encounter we read this, “Then Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was healed at that moment.” – Matthew 15:28

Now think about this with me for a moment. If Jesus proved His love for those around Him by being present in each and every situation, how much more should we work at being present to those around us? Perhaps if we began to value each conversation, each interaction, each moment as God would have us to, then people might begin to respond to us differently. I can’t help but think of the marvel Jesus had each time He encountered someone new. Even though He knew them, all of a sudden it was real…because they both had skin on. Perhaps if we could come to realize that people are more than agendas, schedules, products, customers, numbers, etc. we might begin to see them with the same awe and wonder that God has for each and every human that ever walked the face of the earth. So may you today seek to be present in a new and real way to those around you. Because you never know when they may need somebody with skin on.


we really do

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. 


golden

How many of us love traffic? How many of us love standing in line at the grocery store? How many of us just absolutely love being inconvenienced by other people? I am sure, as is the case with me, that the responses on most of these probably found themselves in the negative column. After all, we are a busy people. There is so much to do, so much to accomplish that it would be so much easier if there weren’t other people getting in our way.

There is a rule that pretty much all of us in the church are very familiar with and a lot of the people outside the church are even familiar with. We refer to it as the Golden Rule and Jesus spoke it in The Sermon on the Mount. It simply states, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12 I love the sweeping arc of that command…”in everything you do”. So whether we are in line, in traffic, inconvenienced, etc. our behavior towards others should be a reflection of how we wish to be treated. And this sums up all the law and the prophets!?! How could it be so easy?

I was reminded of this concept in a discussion recently. I found myself saying, “You know, God loves all of us the same. Regardless of our actions and so I think it is on us to try our hardest to see everyone we come into contact with as God sees them.” Ouch. But I think that’s the rub of it. Those of us who know the truth of God’s love and grace are bound by it as well. In his essay The Weight of Glory, C.S. Lewis put it this way, “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which,if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

In other words, every interaction we have with someone walking and breathing could bear eternal rewards or consequences in their lives. So when we find ourselves in traffic, in line, inconvenienced, whatever, our actions, or better yet our reactions, could be priceless in view of eternity. And honestly, we never know what the people around us are going through until we know what they are going through. So may we live out the golden rule and know that as we fulfill the law and the prophets we just might be helping to shape the eternal destiny of our fellow sojourners.


who’s counting

I love people. I really do. And it’s not just something I tell myself or other people to convince me that it’s true. But sometimes I think we underestimate the cost of a word like love. For instance, I in any given day will utter the phrase “I love Dr. Pepper” and a few breaths later tell my wife, “I love you”. But obviously these two things don’t, or at least shouldn’t carry the same weight. So what does it mean for us to say we love each other? Just last night we were hashing out a portion of our church’s mission statement (Worshiping God, Loving People, Serving the World) and we got a bit hung up on what it means to truly love people. We even read the famous passage from 1 Corinthians 13 about love and realized the gravity of the call to love. The one phrase that always seems to trip me up is, “Love keeps no record of wrongs”.

Let’s be honest for a minute. There are some people we keep at a distance because of their behavior. We may not physically push them away or go out of our way to avoid them, but we do create space between us. Whether it is through things we say to to other people, posts and articles we share on Facebook or other varieties of social media, or views we have espoused in the past, we have inadvertently kept a record of wrongs and it has been killing our witness. I think another way to look at this is from Paul’s other letter to the Corinthian church. “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” – 2 Corinthians 5:18-20. I want you to catch this…God was reconciling all people to Himself not counting their sins against them. And then the craziest part? We are now ambassadors of that same reconciliation…as if God himself is working through us.

So let’s backtrack a bit. When I say that I love people, it takes on a whole new dynamic. I need to see people as God sees them. So desperate to reconcile that he doesn’t even count their sins against them but instead reaches out with arms of love and draws them into Himself. So when I see people I no longer see their sins, their depravity, their brokenness…I simply see someone that God is desperate to reconcile and in that fashion I love them. If we say we love people then we are called to throw away our agendas, our preconceived notions, our biases, our fear, our misunderstanding, our political alignments, our view of their sins and simply love. And what does love do? “…love covers over a multitude of sins.” – 1 Peter 4:8. May we learn to stop counting and stop distancing ourselves through any kind of medium and simply, truly, deeply, love.


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