Tag Archives: sin

burning palms


Burning Palms


Do you ever find yourself doing something that you thought seemed totally coherent and well thought out and then milliseconds later it reveals itself to be completely stupid? Just me? Oh well; yesterday held one of those moments for me. For those of you who follow the Christian calendar, you know that yesterday was Ash Wednesday. And at Odessa First we hold a brief Ash Wednesday litany in the evening. That also means we need ashes prepared from last years palms. The last couple of years I have burned the palms in our backyard a few days prior. One year I even ruined one of our stock pots. So this year, I thought I could try something different and decided to burn the palms on some foil…on a cookie sheet…in the oven. Now everyone reading this, except for myself at 5:20 AM yesterday morning, knows what is about to take place. All of a sudden I am receiving texts from my wife in the back of the house in a panicked state because she thinks the house is on fire. I quickly realize how far south my experiment has turned and even this morning I find myself sitting in a house that has the vague aroma of burnt palm leaves…which, strangely enough, kind of smell like cheap cigars.

But this is kind of what the season of Lent is for; our stupidity. Lent is a season of repentance and preparation. It’s a season where we confess and reflect on the ways throughout the year we may not have fully lived up to all that God has called us to be. Sometimes the ways that we failed God are just dumb. Sometimes the ways we have failed our neighbor are more malicious and evil. But all the same, Lent is a time where we remember these things, we remember our mortality and dependence upon God and we recognize once again our need for Grace. Psalm 51 is a passage that is sometimes read near the beginning of Lent and one of my favorite verses reads like this, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.” – Psalm 51:10-11 This passage was thought to have been written by King David after he was confronted by the prophet Nathan. Now many of us don’t find ourselves in that same boat as David. But when we fail God or hurt our neighbor, the sentiment should be the same.

I can’t help but smile a little bit this morning as a I listen to the drone of an air filter doing its best to clean the smoke laden air in our house. I’m not sure it’s up to the task. But when it comes to us, God has no trouble creating a clean heart within us. He doesn’t long to take His Spirit from us, but rather seeks to abide with us. Lent is a season that reminds us that through repentance and humility that we are able to make space for God to work within us and create something new in our lives. May you find yourself being renewed this Lenten season. May you recapture the joy of your salvation. And may you be reminded that even for the incredibly stupid things we sometimes find ourselves caught up in with life, that there is grace.


breaking down boxes


Yesterday morning, in the midst of all of the hullabaloo of trying to get the Arp family out the door, I decided it was high time. It had been piling up for weeks and enough was enough. So for about fifteen minutes I decided to wade into the quagmire of the entrance to our garage and get busy. You see, we as the Arps have tried to do our part for the planet and engaged in a few forms of recycling; namely plastic, aluminum cans and cardboard. The plastic and the cans can pretty easily be put into garbage bags and taken care of in that fashion, but the cardboard boxes are another matter entirely. So, we engaged in a little practice I like to call “out of sight, out of mind” and simply tossed the empty cardboard boxes into the garage haphazardly. Or should I say, I tossed the cardboard boxes into the garage haphazardly. Well, when my gracious wife pointed out yesterday that one could no longer get into the garage and that it seemed I was becoming a trash collector, I decided it was then “high time” to engage in a little box breaking down session. And I’m happy to report that after an intense fifteen minute session of ripping and folding and maintaining my faith, that one can now enter our garage without needing climbing or spelunking equipment.

It kind of reminds me though of how we treat certain areas of our lives. Sometimes we may place our health on the back burner. Or we may save issues with certain relationships for another day. Or perhaps there are those things that the Spirit has been revealing to us as sin that we simply seek to justify because the change would be too difficult. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living”. The apostle Paul said it this way to the Galatian church, “If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions…for each one should carry their own load.” – Galatians 6:3-5 In the introduction to the sixth chapter of this letter Paul begins to speak about sin and holding each other accountable and being supportive in bearing each other’s burdens. But then he adds, that each person shouldn’t think that this in any way, shape, or form makes them superior to each other. In fact, we are responsible for our own actions, our own work, our own selves…for that is what we will be held to account for.

I think about this and breaking down boxes. Did it take me all that long to break down the boxes? No, not at all. But I saw it as something superfluous until I realized that it affected more than just me. There are things in our lives that sometimes we may see as superfluous or “not hurting anyone”, when in actuality even our “hidden sins” or our “passive aggressive” behaviors can be detrimental to the lives of others and even to the kingdom of God. So I encourage you today to break down some boxes. Make some paths in the wilderness (garage). Examine every avenue of your life physically, spiritually, emotionally because you never know where the Spirit may be calling you to action. And know, that it might not take long to break down some boxes, but it could possibly do a world of good.

all creation


Two days ago we had to say goodbye to our 13-yr-old Boston Terrier. I honestly didn’t think it was going to be as bad as it was. After all, I am a minister who walks people through grief and death and dying all the time. But as I held this little guy in my arms, knowing it was the best for his situation, I could feel the emotion welling up within me. And as the doctor came in to administer the final shot…I broke down. And I’m not talking about a few tears escaping my well trained masculine facade…I’m talking heaving sobs as the vet and his assistant awkwardly left the room to allow me some space. It was crazy the effect that this little guy had over me. I didn’t even really see it coming.

I like to sometimes tell people in a colloquial fashion who have lost dogs, “Don’t forget all dogs go to heaven.” (If you’re a cat person, I think you may be out of luck). But all kidding aside, I think (or at least hope) there is something to this statement and the way we experience loss and death and dying in creation around us. I don’t think death was part of the original blessing of creation. I think death was something that entered into creation through our sin and folly and I’ve come to see it doesn’t just effect us…but all creation. The apostle Paul had another take on this futility in his epistle to the Roman church, “The whole creation waits breathless with anticipation for the revelation of God’s sons and daughters.…[so] that the creation itself will be set free from slavery to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of God’s children.” – Romans 8:19,21 The whole creation longs to be a part of the redemption of God’s children. Does this mean that all dogs go to heaven? I’m not sure, but I think there is healing and redemption to come for our relationship with creation; including our pets.

So I sit here today, two days removed and I’m still effected by all of this. And I’m sure there will be more moments and I definitely hurt for my oldest son whose had Fenway around his whole life. But it also becomes a reminder for me to treasure all the people and creatures around me as much as I can for as long as I can. Truly creation was and is a gift from God for when it is at its best, it reflects the Divine love in a way that words never can. For those of you experiencing grief and loss in this Advent season, I pray for you today. I know for many of you these words may seem trite as the loss of a dog pales in comparison to the pain you now suffer, and for that I am sorry, But hear these words again, “creation itself will be set free from slavery to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of God’s children.” – Romans 8:21. The redemption and glorious freedom begins with the sons and daughters of God. We have a hope beyond this life. We have a hope beyond the grave. May you lean into that hope today.


mosquito sucking bloodA couple of years ago my wife and I got to spend a day with one of our professors from college. I say “our” even though I never took him for a class,  because of how instrumental he was in shaping both of our paths. My wife often says that she would have spent her entire student debt on his one class that she took because of what it meant to her faith walk. And in our lives together he’s the person that we have often turned to during difficult times in ministry and he usually has some small nugget of truth that resonates with us for months and even years to come. This day was no exception as we found ourselves talking about ministry and the church again. At some point in the conversation he says to us, “You know what the two great sins of the church are? Being boring or being petty.” At the time I kind of shrugged it off, as I am apt to do…but time reveals so much, doesn’t it?

I’ve come to realize how much truth there was to that statement. The first piece is pretty self-explanatory. The last thing the church should ever be boring with is the life-transforming message of the Gospel. The second piece is something we have all lived with and seen in our own contexts. We love to major on the minors. We will go to war in the church over the color of carpet, style of worship, wall decor, etc. And the grudges we hold if we don’t get our way. Paul says this to the people of Colossians, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” – Colossians 3:12-13 Clothe, dress, adorn, put-on love, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience! In other words, don’t be petty. Don’t major on the minors. Keep the first things first.

And if you don’t think pettiness is a big problem consider this adage from the Dalai Lama, “If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito”. Granted, he may have meant this in a positive light, but I have trouble seeing anything positive associated with mosquitoes. If we allow pettiness to dictate our actions, it can destroy relationships, families and even churches over stuff that at the end of the day doesn’t even matter. I have seen friendships ruined over stuff that people shouldn’t even be getting up in arms about, but because they have taken a stand, they can’t back down. And at the end of the day, when we allow pettiness to dictate our actions, we have allowed sin to control our lives…because truly is about me and not about we. I always find myself coming back to the quote by Meldenius, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” Perhaps it is time for some of us to learn not to be petty in non-essentials and to clothe ourselves in charity for the sake of our friendships, our churches and the world.

church poison

When we learn about it as kids it seems the right thing to do. In fact, sometimes we are even encouraged to do so as it often seems the best way to settle disputes. I know many times I have found myself telling my own kids to come and tell me if their siblings are doing something wrong or hurting them in any way. Of course sometimes it results in nicknames or declarations of “tattletale” being thrown around, but for the most part it helps to settle disputes among our kids because they often don’t have the skills to settle disputes without some help. However, I think the danger for us is when we don’t understand that this model of behavior modification and mediation is intended for children to help them learn, not for adults. There is actually a very specific church word for this behavior among adults and it’s really quite deadly…gossip.

You see, in essence that is really all gossip is. It is seeing something or some behavior in someone else we don’t approve of and feeling the need to go and “tattle” to someone else; and the listening party is just as guilty of conspiring as the complainer. In fact, Jesus had something very specific to say about how we speak to one another about things that hurt us in the church in Matthew 18. “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.” – ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭18:15‬ The word in the Greek there actually says that if your brother or sister misses the mark/offends/errs against you, then go talk to them first, not someone else. My contention is that if we skip this step we are gossiping, and we may be poisoning the church.

I’m always fascinated how things work. Historically the most common poison we humans used to use to eliminate each other was Arsenic. According to LiveScience.com, “Arsenic disrupts the cellular process that produces ATP, the molecule in charge of transporting energy throughout your body’s cells so they can perform the tasks that keep you alive.” The poison actually blocks life from continuing in the body. It blocks the flow of the natural processes of how things are supposed to work. Gossip does the same thing in the church because it blocks natural ways of settling disputes/hurts and creates more mistrust, more confusion and more harm than actually addressing the situation the right way would ever do. Later on in that same passage from Matthew Jesus says this, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” – ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭18:20‬ Often times we attribute this to prayer or worship, when in actuality Jesus is telling us that he is present with us when we handle our disputes, disagreements, offenses and sins against one another in a healthy fashion. The life and movement of the body continues to be healthy and operate in the presence of God when it is void of the poison of gossip. So may we refuse to participate in poisoning the church. May we call each other to grow up a little by encouraging our brothers and sisters to speak to each other directly when they disagree and realize in doing so we are inviting the Spirit of Christ to move more freely through His body, the Church.


I am not even sure why I feel the need to blog/write today. I don’t really feel like doing much of anything. Truth be told I have been under the weather for a couple of days now and it is hard to get motivated to do much of anything. It is crazy how much a little infection in your body can take down your entire system. It just seems like everything begins to fail. You have trouble focusing and you can’t seem to get anything accomplished. It is almost as if your entire body is rebelling against you. And so, as one of my doctors once put it, we send in the troops…antibiotics. Now I know there are arguments both ways as to the good or the bad of antibiotics, but you can’t help but be amazed at how they work. You are essentially ingesting a micro-poison that is directly targeting the bacteria that are causing the infection in order to rid your body of the sickness. I can almost imagine the miniscule battle raging as the antibiotics race to the defense of the body and start trying to take down the invading bacteria (yes my brain works like that).
It kind of has me wondering if this is what the affects of sin look like personally and corporately. Does sin come in and wreck the entire system? Does it inhibit our ability to accomplish good for the Kingdom and for our fellow man? And if all of this is true how is it taken care of? 1 John 1:8-10 reads like this, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” All of a sudden our individual sins become a corporate/systemic problem and we become broken as a people. But the writer here says that if we confess these sins (there might be need for personal and communal) that God is faithful to cleanse us from unrighteousness. And the Greek word for cleanse may look familiar: katharizō, from which we get the medical term cauterize. The filth, the sin is burned/stripped/cleansed out of us and it frees us to function as we are called.
The problem that still remains is the vastness of which we as the church and the world are infected. Stanley Hauerwas (an esteemed American Theologian from Duke University) once said, “To be witnesses to the world is to be truth-tellers.” And maybe this is where the greatest sickness lies. We can’t be honest with ourselves in the church as to the degree of our infection and therefore we have no witness. Without a witness we can never expect the world around us to get well. May we as the church come to grips with an honest recitation of that which is making us sick. And then as we are healed through God’s cleansing may we be a witness to the health that only God can bring.

american idols

Don’t make me repeat myself. I’m sure many of us have heard this phrase before. I imagine that some of us as parents have even used this phrase. And yet, it seems as if repetition is built into the very fabric of our lives. Especially in our own household where there are four kids…I imagine many days my wife and I sound like broken record players. But repetition isn’t bad in and of itself. In fact, it can be quite good. Repetition is the motor behind much of our learning and habitual practices. Just take a moment and google the word repetition and be as amazed as I was in terms of the research and studies dedicated to repetition and its effect on the human brain. If repetition is such a powerful tool then it goes without saying that things that have been repeated before us bear our attention. I would even say things often repeated in the Bible probably should grab our attention. Did you know that the most often repeated sin we are warned about in the Bible is the sin of idolatry? So perhaps it demands a little more of our attention.

But Idolatry is an outdated concept. You don’t see people making sacrifices to idols in today’s world…or do you? The first time we are told explicitly what idolatry is in the Bible is probably in the giving of the Ten Commadments. The second commandment goes like this, “make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God.” Exodus 20:4-5a But what is an image or a form? An what does it mean to bow down? The word for form in this passage is tĕmuwnah which translates as representation or idea. The word for bow down is shachah and can be translated as worship or give reverence to. So the second commandment is reminding us not to worship any idea/concept/form that ultimately is not the God revealed through the story of scripture. And you may still feel like you have this covered…at least I do most of the time.

But what is worship? Sure you could talk about what we do in churches on Sunday, but worship is more about giving God the appropriate place in our lives. Worship is also abou making sure we haven’t turned anything into an idol…maybe even our thoughts of God at times. You see the reason idolatry was so dangerous is because idolatry meant you coul control that which you worshipped. If you could make an image of it or picture it just the right way, then you could dictate how that deity worked. So when things like sports, fitness, ambition, money, fame, popularity, body-image, etc. become our idol it makes sense because these are things that in theory we can control or manipulate. Sometimes we even do this with God when we tell Him how he should act or when He hates the same people we do or cheers for the same teams we do. We can take God and make an image. We can manipulate the God whose name was, “I am who I am” – Exodus 3:14 This naming itself say to us that God can’t be made into something we can control or manipulate because He is whatever He will be.

So perhaps there is something to this repetition thing after all. And perhaps there is some idolatry we might need to examine in our own lives. The best thing about idols though…they are made to be broken.


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