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Brilliance and failure.

Both/And rather than Either/Or – my exploration of some of my favourite tensions in the Christian faith. Holding multiple things in tension is a good thing – hence why I am writing this blog series. I’d love to hear your thoughts, please comment below.

Jesus tells a fascinating story about a master and three men. The master gives these three men various amount of “talents” and the three men respond differently.

One man turns the investment of talents into more.

The next turns it into more.

The third buries it, and does nothing with it.

As a result, the master is ticked.

This story is brilliant. And here’s why – at the most basic level of our humanity is this truth: we are made in the image of a Creator God, and in being made in his image we are made to co-create with him. We are made to do something. Why is the master so ticked off? Because, at the most foundational level of our humanity we are made to do something with what we have been given. It’s a human thing – not an I’m-a-better-Christian thing. We have been made to make, and make things we must.

The Christian life is one of getting dirty hands from handling the tools of the Kingdom and doing the work of the Kingdom. It is one of everyone doing the work and making things. The most fully alive Christian community is one that is noisy, dusty and chaotic with the buzz of things being created. Dying Christian community is where one person, is doing the work. There’s not much “community” about that.

And this brings me to how we outwork all of this.

Some of us strive for brilliance – that God deserves our best. Some of us lay back and chill out, and try not to get too precious about things and become OK with failure-induced mediocrity.

Both of these worlds are to be held in tension. Scripture shows us that to do our best is important to God. There are plenty of Biblical examples of this – two I think of immediately are the entire book of Proverbs and the pleas of the prophets that God deserves our best efforts rather than the “she’ll be right” sacrifices. God indeed desires for us to be the best version of ourselves that we can be.

But, there is also a world of failure. Of trying, and not getting it right. Of giving things a go, and we didn’t “kill it” – in fact, we murdered it. There are plenty of Biblical examples of this too – Peter sinking, Judas betraying, Paul and Barnabas separating, churches mucking up what’s important… It seems for all of the brilliance we see, we also see failure.

We mustn’t become content with failure – we must remember that getting things wrong is indeed getting it wrong. But, we must be gracious and keep things where they need to be, after all, little things are little things and big things are big things. I view all of my activity – the things I say and do – through this lens of doing things with brilliance. But along the way things fail – sometimes because of me, and sometimes because of others. It takes loads of grace and lashings of wisdom to negotiate this well, but that is the joy of living in the tension of both of these realities: my plans get messed with, and that’s OK.

God’s story is one of invitation into his family to be part of his family and do as the family does. This requires giving the Kingdom life a go. There will be moments of brilliance as we do this, and there will be moments of failure.

Enjoy the tension of both, because here’s why both is important – and if there’s no tension, you’re probably either in a place of being so brilliant you’re not needing God, or in a place of being so blimmin’ useless he’s frustrated like the master in the story was.

“Without God we cannot – without us God will not.” – Augustine

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The temple and the home.

Both/And rather than Either/Or – my exploration of some of my favourite tensions in the Christian faith. Holding multiple things in tension is a good thing – hence why I am writing this blog series. I’d love to hear your thoughts, please comment below.

Everyone’s a critic. You don’t have to attend church (or any gathering of people for that matter) long to realise a lot of people have lots of ideas about how best to do this thing we have called “church.” I have my critique too, as I believe critique can be good. What isn’t good is cynicism.

You know the kind I mean. The kind of critique that isn’t drenched in humility and grace, but instead pompous arrogance. The kind that says “I know how to fix this…but I won’t be.”

The critique that breaks my heart the most is the one about church gatherings. There seems to be a couple of camps on this one, but let’s put them into two major piles. There’s the crowd that’s all about the big church gathering on Sunday and then there’s the crowd who’s main thing is small gatherings in authentic community in homes or similar.

I’ve experience both of these wonderful worlds and I have experience dead and useless versions of them too. For every great church gathering I’ve seen some that have repulsed me and caused me to think “Is this really what Jesus had in mind?” I have also had wonderful times in great small groups and then tragic experiences sitting in what I can only label as some sort of “holy” grumbling group.

So which is it? The big, vibrant and raucous Sunday gathering – or the small, vulnerable and intimate gathering of just a few friends?

Wonderfully, the Bible paints a great picture of both. Jesus honoured the Temple and the home. The Apostles had time of being at the Temple and in homes. The church today must be a place of both the “temple” and the “home”.*

The temple is the big gathering where everyone comes together from their experiences of the week. A meeting place of life, colour and wonderful noise, where a large group of people can be together to love God and each other. A place where they can learn a bit. A place of experiencing difference existing within unity. You can hide in this gathering, you can be part of the crowd and that’s OK – because this is the place of the crowd after all.

The home is the smaller gathering where a small group of closer friends can gather. It’s more intimate, and perhaps more authentic. You can’t hide here, you’re guaranteed to be noticed. You’ll have to share, you’ll have to contribute and it will cost you. This is the place of less-is-more, a place that seeks out depth.

Here’s what’s amazing about the early church though – they loved both. They spent time at the Temple and they spent time in their homes. In fact, archeology shows us that they knocked out walls in their little homes so that they could squeeze in one, or two, or three more people. The home was important, but it was still a place of mission, and it was a place of growth. It didn’t just stay “them”.

Today I hear people all too often draw lines around either the big gathering, or the small gathering, and that’s that.

“I’m off to church.” Well, it’s ironic because the church has been you all along.

“You must invite your friends to church next week…” Interesting, because your dinner table could be a better start.

“I don’t like going to church, it’s too showy.” True, but that’s because it’s where the crowd and the raucous noise of resurrection people is meant to be. Maybe your cynicism has helped you forget that.

So, I hope you see that going to your Sunday gathering is about you taking your presence to be before God with others, and celebrating the new life a community of people who shouldn’t have anything in common now have – Jesus.

May you see that Sunday will never be enough, that at some point you will have to be exposed a little more and share your life humbly with others in some kind of smaller setting. It will cost you – true community always does.

May you have to knock out walls in your own home to fit in another one, or two, or three as you love God and love others, and then go to the Sunday gathering to celebrate that with all the others who have done the exact same thing.

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*I could list a bunch of Scriptures here – but I won’t. What I think you should really do is grab your Bible and read all of the book of Acts in one go. Go on.