Tag Archives: Philippians

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.

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but that’s not what I meant

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One of the most important things I’ve come to learn over the last couple of years from being a senior pastor is the ability to be vulnerable. And it really began with a realization of how little control I have over what people hear me say. You see, I say…well and I even write a lot. Even if you just take into account this blog, I’ve written over 65,000 words over the last two and a half years. But I’ve come to realize that I really have no power when it comes to people interpreting my words. I’ve been taken out of context, misquoted, and even lied about. And if it was done to the right audience, then no amount of pleading, arguing or even explaining will sway my words from being misunderstood. I wonder if any of the Biblical writers would feel this way today?

You see, one of the things we as Christians love to do is to latch on to a singular verse and use it for our causes or motivations without considering what we might be doing to the original meaning and context. One of my favorite verses that this is done to is Philippians 4:13; you know, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” You see it on t-shirts, work-out equipment, necklaces or even football player’s face tape. But when Paul was addressing the Philippian church, he had something drastically different in mind. Listen to the context here, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” – Philippians 4:11-12 Paul’s declaration of being able to “do all things” had more to do with powerlessness than power. It had more to do with vulnerability, than strength. It had more to do with contentment in adversity, than accomplishment.

Today my mind goes out to the thousands who have been displaced by Hurricane Harvey in Houston. Philippians 4:13 truly would be a life verse for them. For they have had to leave their homes and and all they know. They have had to accept the help of friends or even strangers. They still may encounter hardships and hurt that they aren’t even aware of yet. There will be trials, temptations, frustration, pain, anger, denial, etc. over the next few days, weeks, months and maybe more. You know, it sounds a bit like this, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” – Philippians 2:6-7 The reason that Paul could declare that he could face hardship and troubles through Christ’ strength is because he knew Christ endured it for his sake. The reason we can endure that which is about to come next is because we know Christ has endured it before.

So may you find encouragement today in reading and understanding the bigger context. And may you find strength in vulnerability, power in weakness, contentment in hardships and the ability to continue moving forward because of Christ and His example.


celebrate

Today my little girl graduates from Kindergarten. Now I realize that for some of you this may not be that big of an accomplishment. Perhaps you may think that learning to write one’s name, reading a few sentences and mastering the art of coloring and cutting is not something that deems a ceremonious occasion. As a father of a beautiful six-year-old princess, I would have to respectfully disagree. Perhaps you are one of those who thinks that our society has become soft…that we celebrate kindergarten graduations and everyone gets a participation trophy and we don’t celebrate true achievement anymore. And I would have to simply reply, “Okay, let’s celebrate”. As a Christ follower I see no greater justification for a celebration than that which you deem unworthy of said celebration. Why you may ask? Grace.

Grace is defined within the Christian tradition as unmerited favor. It is that which God bestows upon us in a lavish manor even though we are undeserving. Someone once said it is getting what you don’t deserve and not getting what you do deserve. The apostle Paul put it this way in his letter to the church in Rome, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:8 Christ died for us while we were powerless and unworthy. The highest and loftiest ideal in all of Christian tradition is the notion of grace. We sing songs, write poetry and stories and even create movements and name our churches based on the idea of grace. And what is it, but a celebration of something we didn’t earn; of something that we cannot achieve.

At the close of his letter to the church in Philippi we read these words from Paul, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8. Might I suggest to you that kindergarten graduations and participation trophies and celebrating people in all facets of life is a practice of Paul’s challenge to the church and to us. The church has bought into the idea that we need celebrate only merit and things that can be achieved (an idea born out of our western consumerist culture)…but this is the exact opposite of grace. And if we are called to think about the noble, the good, the pure, the lovely, then shouldn’t our thoughts, our celebrations, our trophies, our graduations, our reasons to party be based in grace. There is no higher aspiration and the best part about it…we did/can do nothing to earn it. So bring on the Kindergarten graduations. Bring on the participation ribbons and celebration of what you may call mediocrity. Because in this “lack of merit” I see the truth about the only thing that truly matters. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound. That saved a wretch like me.”

 

 

 


in control

Last night just before bedtime, a boomer of a West Texas thunderstorm began to roll in. This immediately means a few things…number one, Odessa will get some much needed rain (this is always the case regardless of how much we get). Number two; that I myself will have a potentially wonderful night of sleep as I love sleeping with rain in the background. And lastly, that no one else in my household will sleep well, so number two is immediately negated. And last night was no exception to that rule as I type this through bleary sleep-depraved eyes. But it got me thinking about control…or lack thereof. My kids are prime examples of the fear of lack of control. My ten-yr-old most recently has even begun to express his increasing fear of tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes and any other kind of natural phenomena beyond his control. But control really is an illusion…isn’t it?

I guess it goes all the way back to the garden…I mean waaaay back. We couldn’t handle not being in control of our circumstances; our fate. And so we ate. “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” – Genesis 3:6. And ever since we have operated under the illusion of control that sin allows us to think makes sense. If I just get this piece of my life figured out. If I just work hard enough these things will all fall into place. If I just have enough money, power, popularity, beauty, security, etc. then all will be well…except it won’t. In fact, the invitation made to us in the wake of a world broken by the illusion of control sounds more like this, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” – John 12:24-25

Tomorrow is Good Friday and combined with Easter it represents the two most important days for the life of a Christian…why? Because it reminds us that we are not in control. Christ himself, in order to redeem us, showed us that life is best lived when we yield up control and just live for God. The apostle Paul described it this way, “When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” – Philippians 2:7-8. Christ gave up control of His life even to the point of death at our hands (talk about yielding control) so that we might know there is no power in control. In fact, true victory and power comes from giving up control or even realizing that we never even really had control. Perhaps this is the truth of Good Friday. That as we are called to give up the illusion of control we realize that we have a Savior who has already showed us the way. So may you give up the desire for control and the fear that accompanies it and live in the promise of Good Friday and the Hope of Easter.


trunity 

There seems to me to be a lot of concern these days for unity. Whether it is unity in our families, in our communities, in our churches or even in our nation, there is apparently a lot of room for improvement. However, it also seems that when most of us are speaking about unity we ultimately are referring to the other person coming around to seeing things the way we see them. It reminds me of the old Beatles song, We Can Work it Out, “Try to see it my way, Do I have to keep on talking till I can’t go on?” But therein lies the issue. We always want others to see it our way before we put forth the effort to see it their way. In Harper Lee’s classic ‘everyone must read this book in high school’ masterpiece, To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus Finch is talking to young Scout when he says this, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” I guess the best way to define this action is empathy. And empathy is the only way we can ever find our way forward into true unity (or trunity). 

The example of course for empathy is an incarnational example. The apostle Paul is speaking to the church in Philippi when he has this to say, “…not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.” – Philippians 2:4-7 The example for us in empathy is set by a God who set aside all the power of the universe and unlimited ability to become like you and I. And so Paul asks us to behave in our relationships with the same mindset. Unity is only accomplished when we learn to look at life, conflict, relationships, stances, principles, etc. from the other’s point of view before feeling the need to defend our own. And in order to do this…well, we kind of have to get to know the other person. 

This is where it gets kind of tricky. Online exchanges do not count as getting to know another person…even the makers of eHarmony know this. Text messages do not enable you to see the world through another person’s eyes…no matter how many emojis you use. The only way we truly can begin to empathize with another person and their way of seeing the world is through life lived together. Perhaps it begins with coffee. Then maybe it’s a meal.Then perhaps you actually begin to be friends and you start to see that maybe their way of looking at things isn’t so backward after all. The ancient church fathers used to say ,”To know all is to forgive all”. And maybe that is what this life is about after all. We are learning to live together here so that eternity is just a continuation of the unity that we have begun while together on earth. May God grant us the ability to see one another as He sees us and move us forward in becoming one. 


the important things

A few days ago a friend of mine posted a video of the end of her son’s soccer match. Evidently it had been raining and all of the players decided to slide in the mud at the end of the game. In the background of the video you can hear parents starting to warn or yell at their kids not to join in the bedlam of mud sliding. I can just imagine what is running through their minds…”I don’t need that in my car”, “How am I going to get that mud out of the uniform?”, “What if they get sick from sliding in that stuff?”. And yet I also understood exactly what was going on in the minds of the players on the field, “THIS IS AWESOME”. And I wonder, what happened? What happened between us realizing how awesome it is to slide in a mud puddle to being more concerned about clothes, cars or anything else that really at the end of the day has no value. I’d like to think that if I was in that situation I would be tempted to join my kid in the melee. I would hope that I wouldn’t be so concerned about my khakis (who am I kidding, jeans) and my car’s interior that I wouldn’t jump right in. I would hope that I wouldn’t miss out on an eternal memory for temporal unimportant stuff.

It really is a matter of realizing what is important and what is not. In the closing of his letter to the church of Philippi, the writer says this, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” – Philippians 4:8. And I’ve seen this verse used to justify all sorts of stances, faith statements, creeds, etc. But I really find it more apt to relate to experience. Those experiences that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praise worthy…these are the experiences we should recall, dwell on and seek to recreate. No one could look at a kid playing in the mud and not realize that for the moment for that child that is one of the best experiences in the world. I don’t think a child will recall later in life how much they loved riding around in fresh pressed clothes and a clean car. But I do think they will probably remember the time you danced in the rain with them, or went down the big slide with them or had a shaving cream fight with them.

My point of all this is simple. Let the important things become the important things. Don’t let the expectations and schedules of life that really are temporal rob you of life’s really important things. The experiences that are true, noble, excellent and lovely. And for goodness sake, go slide in the mud with your kids!

 


anxiety

The dynamic of the Arp family is usually best described as unpredictable. And for the most part we are cool with that…until we realized we really aren’t. Not so much me, or even my wife or daughter, but rather our son. It kind of took us as surprise as our lives have always been marked by spontaneity. But our son Jonas has always had issues with fits and meltdowns and for a season he seemed to be getting over them. But then we had a family tragedy take place and the wheels came off again. And try as we may we really couldn’t understand how to help him until a family friend (who happens to also be a therapist) suggested that perhaps Jonas has Sensory Processing Disorder. Just to give you the shorthand version, whenever Jonas encounters something that might make you or I anxious it sparks in him the Flight or Fight response. And so the unknown, the unpredictable, etc. all of a sudden became an issue for the Arp family.

I tell you this because it has become a unique thing for us (especially in the midst of a pastoral transition at our church). How do we as parents create an environment for our son that relieves him of anxiety and the unknown? This truly has become a daunting question. In the midst of all that is going on anxiety even weighs heavy on me. But in the book of Philippians the writer Paul says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7) in every situation? With thanksgiving? How are we supposed to offer up thanks in the midst of the unknown? But I think there might be something to that. The unknown provides the opportunity for faith, for trust. And as we offer thanks and prayer on the midst of that faith moment we are told that peace which transcends human comprehension guards us. This is a reason to offer thanks.

So I come back to my son. I am trying to teach him what it means to trust us in the midst of the unknown. And as I do so I catch a glimpse of what our Heavenly Father longs for for us in the midst of of walking in faith into the unknown.


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