Tag Archives: sermon on the mount

treasure

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Yesterday was one of the longest days of my life; at least in recent memory. You see it all began when our five-year-old had a stomach bug over the weekend…Holy Saturday night…you know, the night before Easter Sunday. So here I am the night before one of the biggest days of the church calendar changing bed linens and caring for a very sick child and thinking all the while, “I’m staring down the barrel of a gun.” For most of Monday and Tuesday I thought maybe, just maybe I had escaped the clutches of this foul intestinal bacteria beast. But alas, that was not the case. Tuesday night, although not in the same fashion or severity, I slept maybe about two to three hours total due to stomach cramps and anxiety over what might come next. The most worrisome part about all of this was my lack of sick day accruing as a teacher and so I knew the next day would be rough.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so tired in my life…and I was a youth pastor for eleven years with annual lock-ins. After a day of stomach cramping, heavy lids and middle school students I was barely able to drag myself in the door. Luckily I have a wife who was looking out for me and allowed me to sleep for 12 hours…12 hours. She handled bed-time and even kept the kids or pets from waking me. But the next morning she had one important direction for me. I had to wake our three-year-old and spend time with him before going to school. Evidently him not being able to see daddy for a day was a little much and he was suffering from major daddy withdraws. So after recovering from my early spring hibernation I roused my little monster a little early and he spent about thirty minutes on the couch with me watching Thor or Hulk or some other super hero that inspires our special relationship. And I began to think about how important these moments are.

Sometimes in the midst of our hustle and bustle we forget about the most important things we have here. Was it important for me to be at work? Sure. But perhaps it was even more important for me to recover so I could be the best for those around me. In The Sermon on the Mount Jesus speaks a bit as to our most important investment. “Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Matthew 6:19-21 I came to an epiphany earlier this year as to the treasure that Jesus is pointing us to. What does God value more than anything else in the entire world? His children. So the treasure we are called to invest in is…(wait for it)…each other. So yes, there will be times when we are busy or sick or spent or worn out, but we are called to take those moments that we do have to invest in those who are a piece of God’s heart as we seek to reveal God’s heart to the world. This is the treasure that we seek to store up for heaven’s sake.

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enough

Sometimes I look around at the evil in our world and wonder when will it all end. When is enough, enough? Yesterday we all were witnesses to another mass shooting in the United States. Our world is being plagued by violent acts on a daily basis. Roughly 780 million people do not have access to clean drinking water and 3.1 million children die of starvation related illnesses each year. Each of us know of someone effected by cancer or some other horrible disease that is crippling them or their family. We are surrounded by political rhetoric promising a solution to national and international problems and I find myself wondering again, when is enough, enough?

I don’t mean to sound fatalistic, but there is something severely broken in our world. There is something wrong with where things are headed. And yet…in the midst of this brokenness and ugliness I hear the words of an ancient prophet in Israel, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:2) The Hebrew for “deep darkness” is probably best translated as “death’s shadow”. There is no denying that in our world and the age of technology we can almost always feel we are living in death’s shadow. We hear of war, death, destruction, hatred, racism, and violence in a never ending stream of news. And yet…a light has dawned.

The season of Advent is always one in the Christian calendar that I think we struggle with. We are in a rush to get to Christmas and we tend to skip right over the waiting when we are not careful to pay attention to it. But Advent is the celebration of the “light that broke into the darkness”. That same light has proclaimed to us, “You are the light of the world”. (Matthew 5:14) In the midst of ‘enough’, we have been called to be ‘more than enough’. We have been charged with being the light in the darkness, the hope to the nations, the love of God for a world so broken and marred by tragedy it’s hard to imagine a better way. But Advent reminds us of that. Advent reminds us that the Kingdom of God is both now and coming and we are ambassadors of that Kingdom.

So maybe enough is enough. But we are called to go beyond all of this and wait with patient anticipation for Heaven to break into this ugly mess and proclaim with the angels, “We Bring You Good News of Great Joy, Which is for Everyone…The Light has Shone into the Darkness, and the Darkness will not win”!


treasure

There are certain words in the English language that make me giggle from time to time. You all know what I am talking about. Words like savings, or investments, stock portfolios, etc. These words crack me up. I mean, maybe they aren’t supposed to, but they always get me right there. It’s not because I am necessarily financially irresponsible, I just find that these are concepts that seem very foreign to me and maybe they might get some of my attention on down the road a ways. Let’s be honest, I don’t think I chose my career because of the lucrative dividends…fringe benefits perhaps, but I don’t think people get into the ministry to make money (or at least I don’t think they should). More so, to make a life. And I’m not knocking practical savings/investing/etc., but I sometimes wonder if we are always investing in the right places.

In the Sermon on the Mount there are all sorts of nuggets of practical wisdom and one of my favorites is found in the following, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” – Matthew 6:19-21. I have heard all sorts of interpretations about the ideas of treasure and heaven. I have heard people talk about crowns, jewels, mansions, etc. and I for one consider all of that talk hogwash (if you need to know what that is, consult a pig farmer). Do you think Jesus has ever for one moment defined treasure in terms of earthly monetary value?!? The very definition he gives above contradicts that completely. Anything that can be consumed by age or appetite (i.e. anything on earth you can possess) is worthless treasure. In fact, it’s not treasure at all.

So then I have to ask myself, what is the treasure in heaven? What is so priceless that God himself in the flesh would call it “treasure”? What is worth so much to God that he would give his very life to attain it? (You’re tracking with me now). Us…people…human beings…we are his treasure. And likewise we are/should be treasure to each other. And so when Jesus tells us to store up (the Greek word actually means invest in) treasure in heaven He is talking about our investment in other people, not some sort of weird heavenly possession. And so my question to us today, who are you investing in? Who are you pouring your life into? And not just your life necessarily, but the life of Christ.

You see there are all sorts of things we invest our time and resources in. It might be literal investments, maybe sports, or fashion, or entertainment; anything, but the only real investment that transcends this temporal life…others. So may you invest yourself fully in that which matters most as we store up our treasures in the hope of Heaven.


want to need

You hear it a lot in church. I need God. Or maybe you have sung “I need Thee every hour”. Or maybe even “I need Thee oh I need Thee, every hour I need Thee”. Of course this leads me to ask, do we know what it means to need God? Or do we truly need Him?

That word ‘need’ is a funny word. The etymology of the word shows that it was born out of the idea that something would “be necessary, be required (for some purpose).” The definition in today’s language shows that need means, “to have need of; to require.” (wasn’t it a rule that you couldn’t use the word in a definition?). One of the underlying ideas behind this word study and definition is the idea that “need of something” serves “some purpose”. And so I think about this with our language toward God. Why do we say we need God? What purpose do we think He might serve? I mean most of us seem so bent on providing for ourselves or our loved ones. We work so diligently to insure that our “physical needs”, our desires and our wants are satisfied. We carry on as if all of this depends on us and so I wonder, where is our need for God?

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus talks about our worry about material things and provisions. He ends up this portion of the teaching with this very familiar phrase, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” – Matthew 6:33 I think sometimes we get the cart before the horse in this scenario. In our pursuit of all of these things prior to God’s Kingdom we somehow supplant our need for God with our need for things and we loose out on what it really means to need God.

I want to need God. I don’t want to need things. And yet I find myself in a world where my need for God is choked out by all of this other stuff that seems to take over my needs. I think that’s why Paul said this in his letter to the Philippians, “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ…I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:8,10-11. Paul, who wrote 2/3s of our modern New Covenant canon wrote that all accomplishments, achievements, pursuits, etc. outside of Christ were garbage. And he wanted, longed, desired, dare I say needed to know Christ.

I want to need Christ like that. I want to find myself desperate for God in every avenue of my life. That is my prayer today and I hope it is yours as well.


ouch

Sometimes as pastors we often ask hard questions. And truth be told many of us ask the same questions and more difficult ones of ourselves at times.

Am I being effective in my ministry?

Are people’s lives being transformed?

Am I making a difference?

Am I living into the calling Jesus has for me?

Not sure if you caught the thread there, but a lot of those questions, in fact a lot of the doubt that circulates in church culture seems to be rather ‘me’ focused. I need to work on my issues. I need to be more effective. I, I, I…When really that is not what we are called to at all.

The crux of a lot of this issue is the society of which you and I find ourselves a part of. This statement is of course made with the assumption that most of the people who read this belong to the Western industrialized world. The world in which we live is increasingly ‘me’ driven. How can I get in better shape? How can I improve my value and worth? How can I get more stuff? When really this has little or nothing to do with our calling and the journey that Christ has called us to. There is this wonderful passage in the Sermon on the Mount that I am pretty sure most of us are familiar with. Jesus feels the need to teach us to pray and it goes a little something like this, “OUR Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give US today OUR daily bread. And forgive US OUR debts, as WE also have forgiven OUR debtors. And lead US not into temptation, but deliver US from the evil one” Not sure if you caught my subtle editing there or not, but I am pretty sure I am not reading any first person pro-nouns in that text. And unless you or I are British Monarchy I am pretty sure we don’t refer to our needs in the first person.

What I think I am trying to point out is that this prayer is intrinsically communal. And if this prayer, taught to us by God in flesh himself, is formative to who we are called to be, then we are called on this journey together and not individually. Let’s go back to those hard questions for a second. All of them are lined with self-doubt. What if we looked at them a little differently:

Are we being effective in our ministry?

Are people’s lives being transformed because of us?

Are we making a difference?

Are we living into the calling Jesus has for us?

All of a sudden the burden gets a little lighter. It doesn’t excuse us from responsibility for making disciples and bringing God’s Kingdom, but it somehow makes it seem a little more possible. Maybe it is time to throw off our religious self-doubt and embrace our church calling. Maybe as the body of Christ we come to realize it is not just about me, but more about we. And maybe by learning to live life better together we find ourselves no longer asking questions of doubt but celebrating stories of faith as we journey together.


today and tomorrow

To say that life for a youth pastor in the summer time is busy is a given. The in-continuity in the schedule, in family meal times, lack of sleep, and the other resultant issues can sometimes become overwhelming (If you don’t believe me look back at the inconsistency in my blog posting). Thinking back on the last few weeks is almost dizzying. And yet I now find myself getting stressed over the ensuing months and all they hold as well.

The problem for me, as I am sure it is for a lot of you, is that I allow routine and expectations to rule the day instead of being concerned with the important things. Instead of working so that I can live I find myself falling into the trap so that I am living to work. And it’s a difficult reality for me with my particular vocation/career because it usually escapes the normal definitions of work. A lot of people have trouble defining their life by their work but my life has to be defined by my work as my work is of a different calling (I am not saying this to invalidate other careers, but rather to articulate the feelings that many pastors probably have). I was recently reminded about the detriment to the souls of our families this prioritization can have with a recent conversation and from reading this recent little blog post: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rachel-macy-stafford/the-day-i-stopped-saying-hurry-up_b_3624798.html (The Day I Stopped Saying “Hurry Up”)

I have been spending a lot of time in the Sermon on the Mount lately and the one passage that always seems to stand out is Jesus’ treatment of our hurrying about. He says that it boils down to worry and chasing after the wrong things. He then concludes with the following, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” – Matthew 6:33-34 Jesus reminds us that in pursuing the Kingdom of God first that the cares and concerns of tomorrow can be overcome. And so it’s important that the Kingdom is not found in schedules, events, chaos and running about. Rather the Kingdom of God is like small moments (mustard seeds or yeast if you will) that take place and give birth to something beautiful and massive. It is fixed moments in time where we fully enjoy each others’ and God’s presence. It is shared laughter, provisions, possessions, community…it is life lived out for the other instead of pursuing for our own consumption.

And so I think about tomorrow; and whether or not I like it, tomorrow will consume some of today. But I strive for it not to rob me of today and those around me. I hope that at the end of each day I can look back and feel it well spent, for that is all I have been promised. It may require more compromise and change than what I am used to, but I think that could be okay. And maybe then I will understand a bit more of what it means to live out the kingdom of God.


home

Last week for much of the country was spring break. That hallowed time when college students humiliate themselves and families exhaust themselves trying to cram a vacation into a small break that you need a vacation from after you return. As to the Arp’s plans; we packed the car up and drove south over six hundred miles to our ancestral home just south of Chattanooga, TN. The amazing thing about this part of the country is that it is home to my wife’s parents, my own parents and much of our extended family. The tiresome part about this part of the country is that it is home to my wife’s parents, my own parents and much of our extended family…I jest. The only reason this trip is exhausting is due to the fact that there are so many loved ones we want to see and so little time to do it in. But it’s home. And yet, when I pointed the car north to Michigan I was also excited…because it is home. In ten years of marriage my wife and I have made our home in north Florida, Nashville, TN and Flint, MI. And every time those places have come to represent home. And I grew up in Rossville, GA under the shadow of Lookout Mountain and for me that is also home. It amazes me how the human heart can link home feelings to so many different places.

I think about the passage of scripture midway through Jesus’ sermon on the mount where he says, “But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Now I know we often think about heaven being ‘way beyond the blue’, but I can’t help but feel like we are also called to bring heaven to earth. And if we are bringing heaven to earth, what treasures are stored up in that action? I have come to believe it really is about community…family. The reason that home exists for me in Northwest Georgia, North Florida, Middle Tennessee and Flint, Michigan is because my family lives in these places.

In John 14 Jesus paints a beautiful picture of heaven and the Kingdom of God. In verses 2-3 we read, “My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” Jesus was speaking of an ancient near east dwelling known as an Insula. The insula was a way for families to be grafted together. Whenever a young groom wanted to take a bride he would have to build a room onto his father’s house in order to bring her into the family. When the room was ready he could go and collect his bride.

And I think that is what the church has allowed Christ to do in and for me. He has built room upon room for my family. And this family stretches out across the entire world so that when I am in their presence, I am home…And one day we will all really be home together.


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