January 21st, 2016
For close to seven months we’ve been looking to the book of Acts for guidance in how God’s presence and intention–His Kingdom–make progress into every corner and crevice. That’s a long time to consider one book of the bible. How can we make sure we take something from it that makes some appreciable difference in us?
Last Sunday we considered how the Kingdom comes by the caring for the conscience, which underscored how His will has as much an interest in our interior world as in the world’s institutions and structures.
We’ve seen how the Kingdom is an ever outward-facing enterprise, always looking to those not yet captivated by its beauty, while also nurturing those who have been. But at every instance of the Kingdom expanding there’s a corresponding evidence of how the Kingdom has come to take hold of the person(s) through whom it is expanding. It’s what’s happened on the inside that invites us to explore how the Kingdom can likewise take hold within each one of us, and thereby make progress through us.
We took at look at Acts 16 before Advent. With that chapter (and Paul’s letter to the Philippians) in mind, the folks over at CCEF have simmered on what Paul evidences in some of his darkest hours, and have composed a set of illuminating questions that help us see how the Kingdom can and must take hold in us. It’s part of a larger course in how we experience gospel-centered change, but you can take in this study by clicking here.
We’re always looking for stories and articles that help us flesh out what we mean by being a church of “faithful presence.”
Here’s an article on a farming family in Kansas which demonstrates all three dimensions of being present to God, to one another, and to our surrounding world(s). It is an uncomplicated life they lead, but one not lived without forethought and care.
Meanwhile in Tennessee, here’s some plain speech about enacting unadorned hospitality. It describes a simple but foundational way of being present to those who are most proximate to us (but who, given modern ways, can be as unknown to us as people on the other side of the world). From a sermon given by the author, he says:
Scruffy hospitality means you’re not waiting for everything in your house to be in order before you host and serve friends in your home. Scruffy hospitality means you hunger more for good conversation and serving a simple meal of what you have, not what you don’t have. Scruffy hospitality means you’re more interested in quality conversation than the impression your home or lawn makes. If we only share meals with friends when we’re excellent, we aren’t truly sharing life together.
Don’t allow a to-do list disqualify you from an evening with people you’re called to love in friendship. Scheduling is hard enough in our world. If it’s eating with kind, welcoming people in a less than perfect house versus eating alone, what do you think someone would choose? We tell our guests ‘come as you are,’ perhaps we should tell ourselves ‘host as you are.’
For all we make of our vision for faithful presence, we never mean for it to sound like something heroic–something only “experts” and giants can do. To be present is as straightforward as the word connotes, and as open to creativity in its practice as the mind and heart can imagine.
Last week we considered the turmoil at Wheaton College, but focused on the theological scrum that precipitated it. Since the issue becomes (and became) even thornier when you consider the nexus of theology, academic freedom, and institutional integrity, we thought it best to leave it to someone better suited to manage those multiple concerns in a winsome and accessible way. Alan Jacobs (to whom we are frequently indebted) had a few things to say about how those concerns might translate into how both faculty and administrations respond to moments like these.
On the more far-flung side of life, there may be in fact be a new kid on our galactic block: a rather imposing figure who prefers to remain incognito. The discovery of a ninth planet may be in the offing. Pluto, however, could not be reached for comment.
Finally, the elders will convene this weekend to pray and to plan. We’ll take stock of the year just past and what the future may hold. Entrusted with your care (Heb 13:17), and tasked with shepherding in a careful, eager, and tender manner (1 Pet 5:1f), we need what we do not have, for we are those who, like Paul, recognize how insufficient we are for this responsibility (2 Cor 2:16). So we’d ask you pray for our time together.
Addendum: this song’s been in our head this week–so much so that it’s found its way into the sermon. Her (Iris Dement) unostentatious, lilting style is its own beauty. But if you’ll lean in and listen to the lyrics closely, I wonder if you’d agree that the message of the music is where many people are today with respect to transcendent claims: perhaps not so stridently opposed to talk of divinity and salvation as the New Atheists, but neither so inclined to embrace any particular vision of divine reality. How might the Gospel, which she has both background in and respect for, answer the contentment with mystery that looks no further into what “angels longed to” (1Pet 1:12)? I don’t know either yet. But maybe by Sunday, something will, with a little Help, bubble up.