Healthy is messy

Sam Rainer on healthy churches necessarily being messy churches:

If you’re a church leader and you’re constantly dealing with how to disciple messy, new believers, then it probably means you’re doing something right. Conversely, if everyone in your church is spiritually mature, then something is terribly wrong. In fact, a church full of “mature” believers is quite immature because it means no one is reaching outward.

Healthy churches are messy. It’s easy to look in from the outside and claim, “Half that church is immature!” But such disdain could be misguided. While a state of perpetual immaturity is a recipe for disaster, a constant movement of many immature people being discipled is exactly what Jesus commanded us to do.

“The Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47) – “continuous outreach into the community seeking to bring people into Christ and his community.”

Healthy churches grow – but growing churches can look ‘unhealthy’ if spiritual maturity is the only metric used.

Respectful attentiveness

Adam Siegel on his eight month old daughter and the temptation to pull out the iPhone:

The other day, I planted Margot on the floor with some toys and she happily began playing. In an almost unconscious habit whenever I have a short moment of free time in between tasks, I took the brief respite to pull out my phone and check my mail. 60 seconds later after reading a couple messages and deleting a few more, I looked up from the screen to see that Margot had stopped playing and was staring at me. “This is how it begins,” I thought. I’m showing her my screen deserves my attention at the moment more than she does.

How we direct our time and attention says something powerful about what we value in our heart of hearts.

Participation in worship

Great article by Vicky Beeching on writing, being misunderstood, liturgy and Church 2.0:

So ‘participation’ in worship for me is simply being. And kneeling. And praying. And silence. These are gifted to us through church history. But I’ve talked to countless folks outside and inside church for whom those elements don’t seem participatory at all. They may need something added into the mix that is a little more accessible and culture-current to break the ice. Like countless theologians in church history have advocated, we can take elements of our culture and use them creatively in church.

Learning from Joseph’s Righteousness

I’ve really been enjoying working my way through the 52 reflections included in Devotions on the Greek New Testament. The first of these, by Roy E. Ciampa, has been really instructive as a reflection on what righteousness looks like in practice From Matthew 1:19:

Ἰωσὴφ  δὲ  ὁ  ἀνὴρ  αὐτῆς  δίκαιος  ὢν  καὶ  μὴ  θέλων  αὐτὴν  δειγματίσαι  ἐβουλήθη  λάθρᾳ  ἀπολῦσαι  αὐτήν.

And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.

You can interpret the main participles in this sentence “being righteous – δίκαιος  ὢν – and not wanting – μὴ  θέλων – to make an example of her” as either causal or concessive. Joseph either plans to divorce her because he is righteous and doesn’t want to disgrace her, or despite his righteousness in recognising the demand to publicly denounce unfaithfulness he decided to divorce her quietly. Our choice of translation cannot be separated from our understanding of righteousness: either Joseph’s actions are unexpected in the light of his righteousness (concessive), or they are a direct result of his righteousness (causal).

This is a theme that Jesus (and Matthew) flesh out as the gospel continues. For Jesus, and in key passages of the Old Testament (e.g. Hosea 6:6), mercy and compassion are not at odds with righteousness but a key mark of righteousness. Mercy is extended to us on the cross, we are not left to our own destruction.

Perhaps it was this Jesus-style righteousness, and not the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees, that led Joseph to think and act in the way that he did.

This short passage is a good example of one of the many thousands of translation choices made in each English rendering of the Bible – and why we shouldn’t rely on any one version as our only source.

A relentlessly personal Christian life

Eugene Peterson on the Christian life as relentlessly personal:

My experience of theology was contaminated by adolescent polemics and hairsplitting apologetics. When I arrived at my university, my first impression was that the students most interested in religion were mostly interested in arguing. Theological discussions always seemed to set off a combative instinct among my peers. They left me with a sour taste. The grand and soaring realities of God and the Holy Spirit, Scripture and Jesus, salvation and creation and a holy life always seemed to get ground down into contentious, mean-spirited arguments: predestination and freewill, grace and works, Calvinism and Arminianism, liberal and conservative, supra- and infralapsarianism…

So—spiritual theology, lived theology—not just studied, or discussed, or written about; not “God” as an abstraction but God in a participating relationship; not God as a truth to be argued; not God as a weapon to be wielded in the culture wars. Rather, the conviction that everything of God that is revealed to us is to be lived relationally in the dailiness of our human lives on this local ground on which we have been placed. Nothing disembodied, nothing impersonal, nothing in general.

The moment we divorce debates about how to think about God rightly from our real lives and hide it away in ivory-towered-academia, we have missed the wood for the trees.

Paul, in writing to a young church leader, Timothy, urges him to “continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it.” A sincere faith, that is grounded in the dailiness of our human lives, and finds accountability and support amongst community, means that we can learn and apply the scriptures from those closest to us. This enables us to observe not only what is taught but how it is practised, and live out what we learn. ‘Debate’ and ‘argument’ in this context is about a joint quest for truth to be grasped and lived, not one-upmanship or prideful point scoring.

God made our bodies, so we should care for them

Leslie Leyland Fields on the fitness-driven church:

A 2006 Purdue University study first broke the news that religious people tended to be heavier than nonreligious, with “fundamental Christians” weighing in as the heaviest of all religious groups…

On any given Sunday in all of the churches I have attended, I could reward myself for coming to Sunday school with a sprinkled donut. Between services, I can pick up a latte and a muffin. On many potluck Sundays, the dessert table stretches way past the main-dish tables. My teenagers will nosh on pizza, potato chips, and brownies at youth group. What are we doing? We’re having fun and fellowship, for sure, but shouldn’t the gospel we hear preached every Sunday deliver good news for our bodies as well as our souls?

Churches need to develop – and practice – a robust theology of health:

All this may hardly sound revolutionary, but outside the church, it challenges the prevailing notion that our bodies belong to us alone—either as machines to be hacked and fueled, or as “plastic” to be reshaped, starved, pierced, and used for pleasure or vanity. And inside the church, it challenges the dualistic worldview that God cares only about “spiritual” matters…

Health comes as the overflow of loving God and submitting every realm of our lives to him, including loving and tending the God-made bodies he has given us as gifts—our neighbors’ bodies and our own.

I really should go running more.

Church leaders bond over prayer and lunch

The Times reports today of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s first visit to Pope Francis:

The Archbishop said: “It was a personal visit and the private conversation with Pope Francis was very personal indeed — a private discussion about the nature of our faith and about our spirituality, of the experience of the mercy and grace and love of God.

“The conversation was about how you feel when you get up in the morning and you have got these extraordinary days, and where do you go in prayer? We weren’t saying, ‘How do appear on television?’

I’m really blessed, encouraged and excited to think of all that God is doing right now with these two leaders who not only speak of the mercy and grace and love of God, but are experiencing it for themselves. Thank you Lord.

What happened to the girl in the red coat in Schindler’s List?

Shot almost entirely in monochrome black-and-white, one little 3-year old girl dressed in a striking red coat stands out to the viewer. We later see the same girl being piled onto a cart of corpses to be incinerated. Warned by Spielberg not to watch the film until she was 18, Oliwia Dabrowska saw the 1993 Holocaust film as an 11 year old:

“It was too horrible. I could not understand much, but I was sure that I didn’t want to watch ever again in my life.” She also said she “really regretted” not paying attention to the director’s suggestion that she “grow up into the film”, and not watch it until she was older.

“I was ashamed of being in the movie and really angry with my mother and father when they told anyone about my part,” she said. But, having revisited the film as an 18-year-old, she said she realised “I had been part of something I could be proud of”.