Tag Archives: power

with great power

Yesterday the world lost an icon. Stan Lee was the founder of Marvel comics and the creator or co-creator of some of the best loved Superheroes of all time. These characters and their worlds of imagination have become household names: Daredevil‬, The Incredible Hulk, The Fantastic Four‬, Iron Man‬, Doctor Strange‬, The X-Men‬, The Avengers‬ and many more. Of course, his most well known and most recognizable creation is that of Spider-Man‬. Spider-Man instantaneously spoke to every kid who ever wished they were more. Here was a teenager who went from super nerd to superhero overnight because of a bite from a radioactive spider. I know it always has me on the lookout for radiated arachnids. But Stan was quick to remind us of the cost that comes with great power. As spoken by Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben, who Peter Parker loses early in the saga, “With great power comes great responsibility”.

A couple of weeks ago I got to lead a retreat for some of the young men from our church and strangely enough this was my theme. Responsibility is something we struggle with in our society today. We want to blame or vilify others for mistakes or missteps that we are often just as culpable for. We want to label other generations as irresponsible or lazy or divisive or fill in whatever moniker here. But the truth is, we all have the power to change the world around us. Some of it is on a small scale, and yet some of us may have an even larger platform. Stan Lee would have reminded us that with Great Power comes Great Responsibility. Almost sounds a bit familiar to those of us who follow Jesus. “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” – Luke 12:48 A huge piece of our walk in this world is taking responsibility for the world, for each other and for our mistakes. We’ve been entrusted with so much and how we move about in this world matters.

For a while Stan Lee struggled with being a comic writer. There was a quote from one of his countless tributes yesterday that I think illustrates this well, “I used to be embarrassed because I was just a comic book writer while other people were building bridges or going on to medical careers. And then I began to realize: entertainment is one of the most important things in people’s lives. Without it, they might go off the deep end. I feel that if you’re able to entertain, you’re doing a good thing.” And not only did he entertain, but he confronted racism, hatred, abuse of power and many other societal ills through his stories and through his occasional soapbox (you really should look up Stan’s Soapbox sometime). From one of those many engagements we read these words, “The power of love — and the power of hate. Which is most truly enduring? When you tend to despair . . . let the answer sustain you.” Stan Lee understood the power and responsibility that was afforded him through the pages of Marvel comics. He may be missed, but his influence is evident. Today may we understand the same power and responsibility is gifted to each one of us through whatever walk of life we are on. And may we find a way to let our light shine.

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extracurricular 

Growing up in a relatively small town meant that life always seemed to have a rhythm. Your school year would flow in it’s given way. And then school would let out and that meant it was time for little league baseball. Of course, the only thing outstanding about my short-lived baseball career was my incredible ability to get from the dugout to the snack-stand before my teammates for my free snow-cone after each game. I remember the first time my family mixed up this rhythm because I decided I wanted to play basketball (I wasn’t too great at this either…most improved player three years in a row). Basketball was a winter sport though, and so it took place in the middle of the school year. And when I first hear the word extracurricular I actually thought it meant something in addition to church and school. You see, the center of my communal life wasn’t school, although that helped to provide the rhythm, but rather church…and I think that was and still is a good thing.

According to Merriam-Webster’s, the secondary definition for extracurricular is, “[something] lying outside one’s regular duties or routine.” And so I suppose my way of understanding recreational basketball in its regard to school and church wasn’t that off base. However, over the years I’ve begun to notice a cultural shift where extracurricular has begun to solely reference things outside of one’s academic career to the point to where church itself has come to be viewed as extracurricular. Before you get defensive, hear this; I don’t believe that church attendance is necessary for one to believe in God…but (there’s always a but). At the most vital moment in the life of the church, that is the beginning, we read this from the book of Acts, “All the believers were together and had everything in common…and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” – Acts‬ ‭2:44,47‬ ‭The power found in the life of the early church revolved around their shared life. And yet for many, church life has simply become an occasional appointment that they can check off their calendar so they feel as if they’ve accomplished something.

Within the manual of the church of the Nazarene, we have what we refer to as a church constitution (I know it sounds exciting). And within this constitution we affirm what we aspire the church of the Nazarene to be. It goes a little something like this, “[The church is] those persons who have voluntarily associated themselves together according to the doctrines and polity of said church, and who seek holy Christian fellowship…and the simplicity and spiritual power manifest in the primitive New Testament Church.” – 2013 Manual Church of the Nazarene. Did you see that? The church is those people who want to be together and see the early church’s power manifest in their lives. I hear people often complain about the disorder in their lives, the chaos in their schedules, the brokenness in their familial unity and their in ability to feel at peace and I will often look at their involvement in a local community of faith for a sign. The “simplicity and the power” of the early church was present because of their presence in each other’s lives. When the life of the church becomes extracurricular it often means that you’ve chosen to sacrifice something else. You have chosen to sacrifice people praying for you or senior adults hugging your kids. You’ve given up singing together words that remind you of your identity or eating with people who remind you the story goes on. And you’re missing out on knowing that you are a part of something bigger than your schedules, appointments, practices, performances, etc. that have taken over your life. Maybe we all need to find a healthy rhythm again. And maybe we need to find it with our fellow believers.

 

 


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.


power and politics

I’ve never really been too into politics. I can remember my first introduction as an elementary student and all of us 4th graders trying to figure out if Dukakis or Bush was the better candidate (The eyebrows made it obvious). And throughout the years I was always curious and would usually form an opinion, but it was rarely something that kept me up at night. It seems like more and more these days, especially with the advent of social media and 24/7 news coverage, that the political landscape has come to dominate culture. Everyone has to have a side and depending on where you land your opinion and your worth is validated by those around you or you are completely written off. Our nation has become a nation divided and the same spirit of the age of politics has even begun to infiltrate the church and it’s becoming bit worrisome.

I guess the reason it disturbs me so much is that this is not supposed to be the way in which the church transforms the world. We were never meant to grab hold of the reigns of kingdom and political power and yet for many it seems that this is our only recourse. How do I know this is not our way? As his ministry began Jesus was carried off into the wilderness by the Spirit and for forty days was tempted. Matthew’s gospel records the temptations in a certain order and the last temptation Jesus faces should give us some insight into this dilemma. “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” – Matthew 4:8-10. Jesus was offered all the political power in the world. He was offered all the kingdoms and glory and prestige that comes from earthly rule and all he had to do was compromise his mission. All he had to do was for a moment set aside his true mission of worshiping and serving God and all that power would be His. But that wasn’t God’s way.

Jesus came to show us what it meant to live a life that fully honors God. And even at the beginning of His ministry he was offered the opportunity to seize earthly power and political sway in order to accomplish that mission. But he knew bowing down to the Ruler of this world would destroy His Divine purpose of showing us what the Kingdom of God is supposed to look like. I wonder if we as a church have sometimes lost our way in an attempt to grab onto this earthly power. Sure, we want to influence culture and see God’s way become the one true way…but at what cost? Have we compromised the mission of God because we thought we could accomplish His mission through other methods. Sometimes we have allowed allegiances to political systems to tarnish the mission of God and our witness to others and this should never be so. The apostle Paul said this, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” – Ephesians 6:12.

Before you write this off completely hear one last thing. I am not saying to not be political. But just be careful that when you are working within the systems of this world that you don’t forget your citizenship is in Heaven and your allegiance is to a God whose Kingdom goes beyond what we see. And in this way you can still be political and remember we are solely called to worship and serve.


safe

In his now classic allegory The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis begins the process of introducing the Christ-figure character of Aslan to the children in the following fashion. “Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”  Lewis chose to portray his Christ figure as a lion and so it should go without saying that he isn’t ‘safe’, but what holds up his Kingship in the eyes of all Narnians is that he is good. Lewis allegory that ran throughout the seven books of The Chronicles of Narnia always had a robust way of seeing God. Through the image of Aslan we never however see him as safe, but as wild and free and good. I makes me think that sometimes we may have reduced our image of God in the way in which we live our lives today.

Before Christ ascended into heaven he made a promise to his disciples in the book of Acts. The writer Luke puts it this way, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” –  Acts 1:8 This verse of course refers to the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, but there are two terms I think we need to pay closer attention to. The first is the Greek word dynamis which means “the power to carry out a task”. As you can see it is where we get the word dynamite. The second is the word martys which refers to a witness in legal matters or one who tells their story. Strangely enough, this is where we get the modern word martyr. Stop me if I am off a bit, but putting those two terms together doesn’t seem very safe.

To me the wonder of Pentecost and the birth of the church was the movement from safety (at least relative perceived safety) to the disciples being willing to lay down their lives for that which they had experienced. They had been in hiding from the authorities until receiving this power and then all of a sudden they were willing to risk everything to tell their story. And now 2,000 years later we have at times reduced the gospel of Jesus to something that promises safety and comfort and very little risk to your current way of living. I’m not sure this is what was intended when we were promised power to share our experience with the world around us. In fact, I think we need to be reminded that we are not called to safety and comfort but to share that which we have been given in a real and true way. Ours is the story that has called apostles to confess before the coliseum of death, martyrs to share Jesus to the bitter end, missionaries to travel at risk to family and friends and saints to pursue bringing others to Jesus above any worldly comfort.

This same power is available to you and I today…we just have to be willing to give up feeling safe. May you embrace the risk and adventure of walking in The Spirit today.

 


off kilter

I am admittedly a creature of habit. I know that for many of you who have known me over the years this may come as a bit of a surprise. But, ask my wife and she will definitely confirm this fact. I love my routines. That doesn’t mean that I can’t break away from the norm from time to time, but just that I’d rather do things a certain way day in and day out. I guess it’s more of a framework than a schedule. I like for things to fit my general framework. So in any given week my Mondays will be reflexive of other Mondays and the list goes on. Now this week, we took a couple of days to commute to Austin for a District Education event and I find myself now on Thursday and completely out of it (this perhaps could maybe have something to do with 17+ combined hours of sitting in class or driving over the last two days, but I digress). How did I get to be so dependent on this framework? Why is it that I find myself so rattled after this change?

There is this passage towards the end of Jesus life in the gospels where the disciples find everything changing. Now I don’t want to compare my off kilter schedule to the disciples predicament in this passage, but I think there is truth to be found here. Jesus has had a final meal with the disciples, they are groggy and he asks them to pray with him. Let’s put this into perspective even further. They had come to the city to celebrate Passover. This was something they knew very well and more than likely had even done with Jesus twice before. But this time something is different. He consecrates and celebrates the meal differently. He washes their feet. And then he drags them out into the garden to pray with him. Multiple times they find themselves out of their element and even falling asleep and Jesus says this to them, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” – Matthew 26:41 The Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.

Today I have been reminded of my mortality. A two day road trip combined with a compromised immune systems (you should see the stuff we are sharing in our house) along with a schedule that is off the norm and you have an Arp who is feeling very mortal. I love Jesus’ reminder to us though. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation”. When we are off kilter or when we are out of balance it is easy to fall short of God’s best for us. But He doesn’t say try harder. He doesn’t say to power through. What does He say? Watch and pray. Step back out of your situation, see what is going on around you and lean into me. May these be words of comfort for you today. Whether you are full on in your routine and schedule or you find yourself a bit off kilter today, there is always room for us to watch and pray.


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