Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Little Things that Matter

Ordinary by Michael Horton Part 3

So, how have you found Michael Horton’s ‘Ordinary’? Was it ordinary – it’s funny how that word has become a term of disparagement, hasn’t it? I think I’m going to try and redeem it. Reading this book has helped me to have a taste of the contentedness that Horton is talking about. It’s not that I haven’t experienced it before – but it always seems to get eroded again by that sense that I’m not doing enough, that my times are falling through my hands and I haven’t done anything ‘worthwhile’. I now feel more able to call that what it is – worldliness, idolatry, a fixation on my own works, an impatience with what God is doing.

I have loved how Horton contrasts a covenantal way of thinking with a contractual way. In our market-driven, economic rationalist culture, I think many of us have begun to think of ourselves and our relationships in a contractual sense – am I getting ‘value for money’? But the covenantal model of relationships is based on the bedrock of God’s gracious promises and His faithfulness to us. Resting in this, we are able to take our place in the ‘local expression of that concrete economy of grace instituted by God in Christ and sustained by His Word and Spirit’. We become part of the ‘gift exchange’ – we can see ourselves rightly, not narcissistically inflating our own importance, but being grateful to God for the joy of being able to do genuine good to our neighbours.

Our neighbours – those people who are often hard to love. As Horton points out, it is much less burdensome to care for ‘the needy’ than to really love the difficult person God has put right in front of us, sometimes our own family members!! Being a parent in our time is really tough (obviously not in the same way as it is for parents who are struggling to put food in their children’s mouths) because in our culture, as Christian parents, we are swimming against the tide. We feel the pressure to maintain a frenetic schedule of activities to make sure our children have the opportunity to ‘fulfil their potential’. Many women feel the pressure to work outside the home, to maintain a professional identity and further support the standard of living that we and our children have come to expect. So the normal things that allow family life to run smoothly get pushed to the margins. We are stressed and cranky when we are at home, since that is the only time we can let the façade down that we are ‘coping’. And then church comes along on Sunday….

I really liked Horton’s analogy that the Sunday gathering should be like a greenbelt in our collective week. Sometimes it does feel like that to me. But a lot of the time, that isn’t the case. A lot of the time, my husband and I are feeling the pressure to get our children ready and out the door early because we are rostered on to serve. Often, my children have not wanted to go to their group, so there have been arguments in the car on the way, tears at the door. I have the feeling that we are not the only family struggling with this, but I’m not sure exactly what the answer is. From Michael Horton’s discussion, it could be that we need to simplify what we do at our Sunday gathering. He seems to be advocating a ‘less is more’ approach to youth ministry, which would see the whole church engaging together far more, with children participating in the service alongside their church family, rather than being sent off to age-segregated groups. This is something that has been lurking in my mind a lot recently – is what we do at church strengthening families in their Christian walk, or fragmenting families? Have we allowed ‘popular youth culture’ to dictate what our church culture looks like?

One of the things I have really appreciated about this book has been the depth and breadth of the biblical treatment. Horton’s argument is so thoroughly immersed in God’s Word, from the details of pointing out that we are ‘receiving’ a kingdom (not building it), to the larger view of the agricultural analogies that are mainly used to describe God’s work. In Reformed circles, this biblical scholarship is probably not rare, but we sometimes still have blind spots and, in seeking to reach the lost, we begin to allow ourselves to be formed too much by the worldly culture around us. Our society puts so much emphasis on individual freedoms and personal choice, and as I read ‘Ordinary’ I really felt how, as a church, we have pandered to that somewhat, and been swept up in it. How jarring it is - everyone imagining they’re on their own unique personal journey - against the actual narrative of the Bible. Without question, God is at work in each of us. But it has been wonderful to remember the big vision of what God is doing, and to remember that my part is simply to live daily as a disciple of Christ in the circumstances in which he has placed me, striving to imitate Him in ‘the little things that matter’.   

About this month's contributor, Kristen Butchatsky
 I am a wife to Pete, a mum of three girls, and a music teacher. I am a long-time member of the wonderful church family St Aidan’s Anglican in Hurstville Grove, having come to Christ through a youth group ministry at age 14. I love singing, reading (obviously!!), walking my dog, Ned and going to see plays, movies and musical theatre.

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