Tag Archives: faith

Dunbar’s Number

150 membersHave you ever heard of “Dunbar’s Number”? Discovered by British evolutionary anthropologist Robin Dunbar, it is the human norm that the number of genuinely personal relationships a person can actively maintain is 150, give or take. Dunbar and his colleagues note that “150 people is both the approximate size of a typical small-scale human village and about the number of people who can live or work together without needing power structures to enforce cooperation. The group is small enough that social pressures can keep people in line” (“Does Your Pastor Need a Friend?” Christianity Today, October 2017, p. 62).

I find this interesting because at a recent conference I attended, the keynote speaker said that currently a majority of congregations in America have an average weekly attendance of guess what? 150 members.

It occurs to me that this is not simply a coincidence. 150 appears to be the sweet spot for most churches for the very reasons that research for Dumbar’s Number indicates:

It keeps the group manageable. People do not become just a number. People know them by name. Functions can happen without an overflow of people and not in an oversize room.

It keeps the group personal. Everybody knows each other and can keep relationships functioning. People care about one another because they know them well and see them often.

It keeps the group accountable. People notice when others are missing and can follow up with them. People can see when fellow members are straying and can bring them back into the fold. There is a sense that people are expected to be present at certain times and be there for one another in times of need.

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Repurposing

coffee table crateThere is a lot of interest and energy lately around the concept of repurposing. I confess that I watch a lot of home improvement shows and they are always repurposing old crates into rustic coffee tables or making bookshelves out of old school lockers, and things like that. In the art world, there are many artists who create interesting art pieces from old-fashioned kitchen utensils, tins, banks and toys found at flea markets or antique stores.

The concept of repurposing came to my mind recently when read again the story in Scripture of the conversion of St. Paul. Here was a man  was zealous in his persecution of Christians. But God repurposed this man’s zealousness to promote the Christian message instead. The story of the repurposing of Saul to Paul makes us realize that God can do dramatic things with what is put before him. Like a craftsperson at a workbench with various pieces laid out, God can create something beautiful and unexpected from the most random of things.

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Spiritual Prepping

emergency kitBefore Hurricane Harvey and Irma hit, we witnessed all the preparations people were making to protect their homes and keep themselves safe. This is just one example of a burgeoning business called “prepping.” providing people with supplies to prepare for disasters of many kinds, both natural and man-made.

Janie B. Cheaney in “Ready for the Worst?” in the June 10, 2017 issue of World magazine, ponders this question: “What spiritual resources should you add to your emergency supply list?” (World Magazine, June 10, 2017, p. 14).

Surprisingly, the answer involves similar elements to our earthly emergency kits. Take a look:

Food: Read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the Word of God in times of trouble and every day.

Water: Drown the old Adam in the waters of your baptism in hard times and be refreshed by the living water that only Christ can give.

Protective clothing: I think here about the armor of God from Ephesians 6: the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the readiness of the gospel of peace fitted around your feet.

Back-up power: Be regenerated through prayer and gain new strength through your conversations with your Lord and Savior. i think of this prayer from St. Paul: I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being (Ephesians 3:16).

Back-up heat: When you are feeling left out in the cold, draw on the warmth of God’s love from family, friends and your faith community. Listen to the warmth of Paul’s love for his fellow believers in these words: “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!” (Philippians 4:1). That same warmth of love is available to you through your brothers and sisters in faith.

Be sure to pull out this prep kit the next time a spiritual emergency of any kind hits. You will be glad you did.

The Art of Accompaniment

accompaniment in prayerOur sister company Twenty-Third Publications has published a booklet called The Art of Accompaniment, which talks about how parishes are called to journey with their parishioners through their lives of faith.

Creative Communications offers products that help with this endeavor. Shepherd Guides cards are for use by the parish to send at milestones and church year holidays to those who were married in the church, who had a child baptized and who buried a loved one within the last year. (See links below.)

http://www.creativecommunications.com/Products/GU1/shepherd-guides-resources-for-baptisms.aspx

http://www.creativecommunications.com/Products/GU2/shepherd-guides-resource-for-weddings.aspx

http://www.creativecommunications.com/Products/GH6/complete-set-of-five-cards.aspx

Creative also offers a journal for godparents to give to their godchildren to encourage them in their faith at their confirmation:

http://www.creativecommunications.com/Products/CA4/called-and-confirmed-confirmation-journal.aspx

There are many ways beyond these publications, of course, to accompany fellow members of God’s family on their faith journey. I know that I personally have been on the receiving end of some uplifting faith-filled texts or emails from church friends who knew I was having a hard week. Those little gestures go a long way to help people stay strong and keep growing in their faith.

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Even If

fiery furnaceA new song by MercyMe is getting a lot of air play on Christian radio lately. The song is “Even If” and it is based on this passage from Scripture from the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace:

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” —Daniel 3:16-18

The faith of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego was so strong that they knew that even if God did not save them from the fiery furnace, God was still their God and loved them.

So often we think of God as some sort of genie who dispenses wishes. It is like we are saying to God sometimes, “Our wish is your command.” But that, of course, is not how prayer works and how God works. God knows what is best for us and he knows what we need more than we do and he knows what will impact the world in the most profound way. Sometimes the answer to our prayers is yes. Sometimes it is no. Sometimes it is not now, but later. And sometimes it is yes, but in a way you will not expect.

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Attractors

butterfliesThis summer I attended a garden tour in my community and got to see many interesting plants and flowers. One of the interesting concepts that caught my attention was that there are particular plants that are called attractors because they attract butterflies. Not just any plant attracts any butterfly, but only certain plants attract very particular butterflies. For instance, black-eyed Susans are known attractors of Monarch butterflies, asters attract Painted Lady butterflies, and zinnias draw Swallowtail butterflies.

It strikes me that this idea could be applied to our Christian witness. First of all, are we living as Christian “attractors,” that is to say, are we people who draw others closer to know more about our faith by the way we live? Or are we living in such a way that we “repel” others from the faith and send them flying to other pastures of religion? I am reminded of Jesus’ words, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). Our role is to attract others to the glory of God revealed in us. How can we go about that? I so often am personally attracted to the faith present in those who respond to a difficulty in their lives with hope and grace and confidence that God is in charge of the outcome. Our faith-filled reactions to the inevitable troubles that life throws at us serve as attractors to others who are intrigued and curious about such responses that are counter to what secular society expects.

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Family Gatherings

game nightHave you heard of the popular online trend of monthly box subscription services? Amanda Monroe, a director of children’s and family ministry at Grace Lutheran Church in Loves Park, IL, applied the concept to develop faith formation at home. Her online store is faithfixbox.com. Faith Fix Boxes can be purchased by families or congregations to use.

The idea is to provide devotional materials and faith-based activities for families to use and work on together to strengthen their individual commitment to Christ and build relationships of faith with one another.

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Consumerism and the Church

consumerismIdeologies of the world often clash with the theology of Christianity, and the ideology of consumerism is one of them.

Consumerism says, “I will pick and choose what I want.” In the mentality of consumerism, which is one of the most pervasive approaches in our society today, life is all about making choices. We choose what to buy, where to shop, where to live, what career to follow, what job to take, etc.

The problem comes when that approach leaks into spiritual life and the same principle is applied to what people believe and where they go to church. In this model, “the church becomes just another retail outlet, faith just another commodity. People change congregations and preachers and even denominations as readily and they change banks and grocery stores” (Colson, Chuck, The Body).

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Making the Secular Sacred

mowingIn the Church in the time of Martin Luther, there was a stark division between the sacred and the secular. Only the priest could do the “holy” things. The laity went about their tasks disconnected from any tie to their faith.

But Martin Luther brought the sacred and the secular back together. He pointed out that the tasks of the laity were just a holy as the tasks of the priests and reintroduced the concept of the priesthood of all believers.

Luther wrote:

…the works of monks and priests, however holy and arduous they may be, do not differ on whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks…all works are measured before God by faith alone. (The Babylonian Captivity of the Church).

Dr. Erik Hermann in his “Reformation Reverberations: The Lasting Impact of Martin Luther’s Reforms” presentation at Concordia Seminary-St. Louis, referred to this the sacralization of the secular.

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Adiaphora

carpetingI have lately been contemplating the concept of adiaphora. Not only because it is fun to say, but because many of the things we spend a lot of our time thinking about in the Church oftentimes fall into the category of adiaphora.

In general for Christians, adiaphora means “matters not regarded as essential to faith, but nevertheless permissible or allowed in the church.”

Things like discussions of the floor covering in the sanctuary or the color of the paint on the walls of the fellowship hall, for example, are not essential to faith, but do constitute a large part of our time sometimes. Adiaphora.

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