What happens when God messes up your comfortable Christian life? Author Jen Hatmaker takes you on a personal journey of how God did just that for her and her family. She begins by recognizing the facts about poverty around the world in contrast to a comfortable Christianity that so many of us practice. Through the influences of Shane Claiborne writings, and the promptings of the Holy Spirit, Jen was challenged to step out of her comfort zone and let her faith get messy. She states that “I am still stunned by my capacity to spin Scripture, see what I wanted, ignore what I didn’t and use the Word to defend my life rather than define it.” (p. 5). The sad fact is that I believe that many American Christians do approach their faith like this. Jesus came to radically change our lives. Too often we want Jesus in our lives but on our terms, not His. We don’t want Him to ruin the life we have created for ourselves. Jen points out that “Americans living in excess beyond imagination while the world cries out for intervention is an unbearable tension and utterly misrepresents God’s Kingdom.” (p. 31). Jen balances this out though, not trying to lay a big guilt trip on her readers, but instead she is trying to wake us up to many of our realities. Jen comments “Please don’t hear me say that America stinks and all her citizens are narcissists. It’s just that most of us have no concept of our own prosperity. Nor do we have an accurate understanding of the plight of the rest of the world. Our perspective is limited, and our church culture is so consumer oriented that we’re blinded to our responsibility to see God’s kingdom come to ‘all nations’. . . . We stand at the intersection of extreme privilege and extreme poverty, and we have a question to answer: Do I care?” (p. 34-35).
Throughout the book Jen takes you on her family’s journey out of a comfortable faith and into a much more dependent faith on the leading of the Holy Spirit. Jen and her husband Brandon went to go hear Shane Claiborne at a local event. Having never met him, they noticed a homeless looking guy when they entered the building not realizing that that was Shane! Shane challenged them at the end of his talk to give up the shoes on their feet for the poor in the community. It just so happened that Jen and Brandon had some quite expensive boots on but they felt convicted to give them up anyhow and go back to their car barefooted. This propelled them to open their eyes more to serving the poor. Jen says that “We don’t get to opt out of living on mission because we might not be appreciated. We’re not allowed to neglect the oppressed because we have reservations about their discernment. We cannot deny love because it might be despised of misunderstood. We can’t withhold social relief because we’re not convinced it will be perfectly managed. We can’t project our advantaged perspective onto struggling people and expect results available only to the privileged. Must we be wise? Absolutely. But doing nothing is a blatant sin of omission.” (p. 62). The church needs to be about reaching out and serving others in a profound way. We need to get back to getting our hands and feet dirty for the cause of Christ. Jen goes on to remind the reader that “We have the privilege of serving Jesus Himself every time we feed a hungry belly, each moment we give dignity to someone who has none left, when we acknowledge the value of a convict because he is a human being, when we share our extreme excess with those who have nothing, when we love the forsaken and remember the forgotten. Jesus is there.” (p. 109).
At this point of her story, Jen and her husband decide to leave their church and start a new one that is more focused on getting out and serving the poor. Jen stresses that “I worry the Christian community has accepted an insidious shift from laboring for others to prioritizing our own rights. We’ve perpetuated a group identity as misunderstood and persecuted, defending our positions and preferring to be right over being good news. . . If we were not too beneath Christ, who died for us while we were still sinners, then how dare we take a superior position over any other human being? How lovely is a faith community that goes forth as loving sisters and brothers rather than angry defenders and separatists.” (p. 202). This is such a profound statement in light of current state of politics and religion. So many of us in America are more concerned about my rights, my experience, and feign as if we are being persecuted. With this approach we are losing the next generation who aren’t interested in this type of American Christianity. Instead, we need to be on the forefront of social issues related to those who are in need and actually serve them as Jesus served others.
Jen concludes her book by emphasizing that “If an endless array of Bible studies, programs, church events, and sermons have left you dry, please hear this: living on mission where you’ve been sent will transform your faith journey. At the risk of oversimplifying it, I’ve seen missional living cure apathy better than any sermon, promote healing quicker than counseling, deepen discipleship more than Bible studies, and create converts more effectively than events.” (p. 233). I couldn’t agree more with this quote. We must get outside of our buildings and get busy applying our faith through serving and helping those in need. We need to stop with arrogant Christianity that is tied to politics and be about being Christ to others. If the church focused more on this then we would be attracting people to Christ instead of repelling people from our “unchristian” Christianity.
Yet, I see so many churches and youth ministries trying to help people KNOW Christianity without helping them to DO what Jesus did by example. I am afraid that if Jesus were to reappear in America right now, the American church wouldn’t even recognize Him and quite possibly crucify Him again. I see this right now in how some are reacting to the mass of humanity that is walking to the USA through Mexico. Jesus would be with these people. Jesus would expect the church to be leading the way in serving them. Yet I see well-meaning people on social media falling in line with our political leaders and demonizing these people without even considering their plight and how we can help them. I will say this though, I love being in a mainline denomination that can have the ability and resources from the support of thousands of churches to help with situations involving natural disasters, humanitarian crises, and poverty within our country and around the world. One church can only do so much, but collectively we can achieve a lot for the Kingdom of Christ. The danger though is that we in our individual churches can just write a check and feel that we are done with our contribution. My hope is that everyone would find opportunities to actually serve others face-to-face so that you have the opportunity to practice the ways of Christ up close and personal.
I highly recommend this book if you want God to mess with your faith. But keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need to leave your church and start a new one to make change happen (but sometimes you do). Reform needs to happen within the churches that already exist too. Change happens within the individual through the power of the Holy Spirit. The question is are we trying to manage the Holy Spirit to conform to our way of life, or are we allowing to Holy Spirit to have his way with us completely and entirely. A church like this will do tremendous things for their community and will attract people to Christ. I want to be a part of that kind of church.