Disclaimer: I am writing this post at 9:42 pm. My normal bedtime was 15 minutes ago.
I’ve been kind of a wreck lately. Not in an emotional, my life is miserable kind of way, but more like a “what have I been spending these last ten years doing” kind of way. Maybe it’s the quickly approaching genesis of my forth decade, or the even more rapid approach of our tenth wedding anniversary, but I have been a retrospective mess lately and a lot of my pondering has been directed at my relationship with God, first and foremost, and then my relationship with the church.
You see, I love the church. I was raised in the kind of family that darkened the doors of the sanctuary every time they opened. I had that season of young adult life that didn’t resemble anything close to how most people would describe a typical “church goer,” but I mean it when I say that I am fully and completely enamored with the bride of Christ. From the corny songs I learned in elementary school VBS to the Christmas vacation college worship conferences that had me reduced to tears over “How He Loves Us,” I can say with all confidence that my love for the body of Christ is deeply seeded and has been well watered for many years.
I’ve been reading in Matthew for the last few days and have had my eyes and heart opened to some of the hard words, and, specifically, the hard things that Jesus said His followers would have to do to truly follow Him. In Matthew 19, Jesus shares a parable that we often call the “Story of the Rich Young Ruler.” For a long time, I’d read that story and think, “Phew! It’s a good thing i’m not rich, because it sounds like Jesus is going to be pretty tough on people who have a lot of money/possessions and are not willing to give it up to Him.” I mean, I’m not sitting high on the horse in a 6 bedroom house with 4 new cars and an in ground pool, so, obviously, this parable wasn’t directed at me. I have found I’m really good at making myself think that all the rebukes in the Bible are directed at other people. It’s one of my many talents. (If there was a sarcasm font, that last sentence would have been written in that)
Did you know that if you make $35,000k per year, that you are in the top 4% of the wealthiest people in the world. Wanna bump it up a notch? If you make $50,000k per year, you are in the top 1%. There’s no sugar coating it, we are FILTHY RICH. Really, we are. We can try to justify it any way we want, but let’s just call a spade a spade, ok. After Jesus told the rich young ruler that, if He wanted to follow Christ, he’d have to “go, sell all your belongings and give to the poor,” the young ruler went away quite miserable because he “had many possessions.” Jesus then said these words that just rocked me, “I assure you: It will be HARD for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven!”
I like to imagine, sometimes, when I read Scripture that Jesus is talking to me and it was like he said,” Sheena, you are really rich. I know it’s hard for you not to compare yourself to people who have more than you do, but just believe me on this one. I meant it when I said that it was going to be really hard for a rich person to enter my kingdom. You seem pretty attached to your things sometimes. I know you really like that DVD player in your heated leather seat minivan. It’s hard for you to think about giving up that cute (because Jesus would totally use that word) bicycle you like to ride or those bunk beds in your boys rooms that you pined after for so long. Are you going to let those things hold you back from following me?”
(You might be wondering right now what all this has to do with the church…..just hold on with me, i’m getting there.)
As those thoughts from God mulled around in my head for weeks on end, I found myself trying to figure out ways to justify my excessive lifestyle. I didn’t really like the idea of saying goodbye to my carefully decorated 1500 sq. ft. 3 bedroom house. Living on less might mean we live in a 1 or 2 bedroom house. God forbid my poor children be forced to all sleep in the same bedroom. (Insert sarcasm font again) I didn’t want to consider that Jesus might be calling me to give up some of the things and some of the practices that I’ve grown quite attached to. The more I read Jesus’ words, though, the more I felt convicted of the way I was living and the more I found myself praying and asking God what He wanted me to do about it. And, then, out of the fog I heard God’s voice telling me what I was afraid I was going to hear. It sounded like this. “Take my word LITERALLY.” Dang. Sometimes, when I’m crying out to God to “shoooooow me your path, Lord,” I realize that the path has been in front of me all along. His word is kinda wonderful like that.
Before I go further, I want to say that I don’t think that every single believer is commanded to sell every single thing they own and give to the poor. Are some of us called to do that? Absolutely. Are some of us called to live simply so we can serve the marginalized, oppressed, and the “least of these?” No. WE ALL ARE. And, that, my dear friend, is what leads me back to the church thing. I love the church, but I am so scared that we, the American church is doing it all wrong. And, by we, I mean you and I, because WE are what makes up the church. It’d be like walking into an ice skating rink and seeing people use brooms to slide hamsters across the floor and then have them say, “Oh, hi! Come play soccer with us.” It doesn’t even make sense! I really wonder sometimes if a first century Christian or a Chinese Christian worshipping today in an underground room were to walk into one of our stage lighted, air conditioned, multi-million dollar auditoriums would even know what was going on. The lack of willingness in our own lives to sacrifice comfort for the sake of the gospel had led to churches that do the same thing.
Our churches are so full of programs and plans that they look like a Fortune 500 company, yet we are still struggling to understand why our high schoolers are leaving the faith as soon as the start their first semester of college. We try to figure out strategies to reach the homeless and to support the subsidized housing project, yet all our friends look and act just like we do and we’re scared to let our kids attend public school unless we live in a community that has an exemplarily charter school. We have a hard time raising a couple thousand dollars to drill a well for a village in Uganda, yet we have no problem paying a couple thousand dollars so we can have better speakers overhead. It’s no different in our own lives either. And I’ll be the first to admit that i’ve been a part of the problem just as much as anyone else. Something has got to give. Someone has got to give. I’m praying that it would start right here with me. In me. A revived heart that yearns to be poured out and refilled until I breathe my last.
We are a little less than one year out from taking a very big step into the unknown. It would be easy to sit back an let these last 10 months just roll on like the last 10 years have done. I don’t want to wait until it’s “go time,” though, to start living like the scripture says we should live. Even in these months to come, I am praying that God would do a new work in my heart that would have me totally submitted and abandoned to obeying and following His call, His path, and His purpose. He has put the passions on my heart and I am believing that He wants me to share them with you, whether its on this blog or in person. If you’re been reading God’s word lately are are starting to notice a disconnect between how believers are described in the scriptures and how we are looking today, and if that disconnect bothers you, you’re not alone. If you see me out and about and God is stirring something similar in your heart, or if you want to be part of a conversation about this online, I’d love to hear your thoughts. It’s a scary thing sometimes, when God shows us a better way and convicts us of complacency in our lives. I think it’s supposed to be that way, though.
On a practical level, I’d love to invite you (whether you’re a local friend or just reading my blog from afar) to consider joining with our family and another as we try to recalibrate our view of what we “need” to have to subsist. Starting in July (I know it seems far out, but I think you might need some time to think about this) we are going to be following an idea suggested in an awesome book I read by Jen Hatmaker. It’s titled, “7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess,” and the description of the book looks like this…..
“American life can be excessive, to say the least. That’s what Jen Hatmaker had to admit after taking in hurricane victims who commented on the extravagance of her family’s upper middle class home. She once considered herself unmotivated by the lure of prosperity, but upon being called “rich” by an undeniably poor child, evidence to the contrary mounted, and a social experiment turned spiritual was born.
7 is the true story of how Jen (along with her husband and her children to varying degrees) took seven months, identified seven areas of excess, and made seven simple choices to fight back against the modern-day diseases of greed, materialism, and overindulgence.
Food. Clothes. Spending. Media. Possessions. Waste. Stress. They would spend thirty days on each topic, boiling it down to the number seven. Only eat seven foods, wear seven articles of clothing, and spend money in seven places. Eliminate use of seven media types, give away seven things each day for one month, adopt seven green habits, and observe “seven sacred pauses.” So, what’s the payoff from living a deeply reduced life? It’s the discovery of a greatly increased God—a call toward Christ-like simplicity and generosity that transcends social experiment to become a radically better existence.”
We would love to have as many friends and family members as possible to walk this path with us. I think we could all use a little bit of simplifying in our lives, not just for simplicities sake, but to give us more margin in our lives to serve God, give to others, and have time to hear from the Father as we seek to become more and more like the Son.