Monday, July 29, 2013

The American Church and Me

          Before I dive into 7 on Thursday, I thought it might be good to give a little bit of background on me and my faith journey thus far. 
          Like many who were born into the Bible Belt of America, I began going to church before my momma even knew she was pregnant with me. My daddy was a deacon, both my parents led Sunday School, and going to church Sunday mornings, Sunday evenings, and Wednesday nights was not an option for me. Needless to say, I became a Christian when I was eight years old and haven’t questioned that decision since. However, even as a little girl and brand new Christian, I struggled with what my faith as an American Christian should look like.
            I always felt like there should be more. More than going to church on Sunday mornings. More than doing Girls in Action on Wednesday nights. More than children’s choir and the youth group and college Bible study. And over the years, God’s taught me a thing or two about what that “more” may look like—and it comes in the form of a day to day relationship with Him instead of cheap religiosity.
            I remember when I was about ten years old struggling with the idea that I have brothers and sisters in Christ who are persecuted for being Christians. Brothers and sisters who risk their lives to meet and have Bible study, who die for professing their faith. And all the while, I have the freedom to decide whether or not I feel like going to church this Sunday morning. 1 Timothy 3:12 says, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted…” So I wondered then and have often wondered since, “What am I doing wrong? Why am I not persecuted for my relationship with Jesus when He tells me that if I am living a godly life in Him I will be? Why are my brothers and sisters across the world dying for the same faith that I profess—while I shy away from talking to a stranger about what the Lord has done for me?” There has to be more.
            After talking to my parents about this when I was younger, my dad wisely told me that God had placed me here in America for a reason. I was blessed with a family, a nice home, a wonderful school, and godly friends for a reason—and it was my duty to use those blessings to glorify Him. He told me that living out my faith and the persecution that that brings about may look different than my brothers and sisters on the mission field overseas, but that it was the same faith, nonetheless. For that advice I am thankful. But I am also thankful that the Lord is now teaching me ways that I can actually USE those blessings to bless Him and others, and I pray that He continues to do so all the days of my life. "7" is one of those tools that God is using to teach me how to put my faith into action, loving the "least of these."
            This past year I started my first year of college at Union University, and that’s when my faith became the most real that it’s ever been. I’ve had a relationship with Christ since I was eight years old, and yet it wasn’t until I was eighteen that my relationship with Him started growing exponentially. All these years, God has been molding and preparing my heart for all that He is teaching me now… and it’s so crazy to think that all He is teaching me now will someday be the foundation for what He will continue to teach me in the future!
            I always heard that when teenagers go to college, they become independent. They make their own choices without their parents’ influence; they live their own lives. But you can’t really understand that until you actually do it. And I have to say that that was probably the best thing that has ever happened for my relationship with Christ to date. Don’t get me wrong—my family played an integral role in fostering an environment that helped mold my relationship with Christ. But your faith does not become real until you make it your own—until you have to decide whether or not you will continue to grow this relationship that Christ has initiated, or if you’ll choose your own path.
            Being at Union, I’ve been “surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.” The people I spend the most time with are always pulling me aside and asking me, “Hey, what’s God been teaching you this week?” My roommates and I this past year would sit in our living room and talk about how God was moving, what we were learning, the struggles we were going through. We went to church together, prayed together, did ministry in our youth groups together. When you are surrounded by people like that, people who are constantly pushing you on toward a closer relationship with Christ, there’s no way NOT to grow in your faith. I am beyond thankful for those people that the Lord has placed in my life at school.

Me and my wonderful roommates this past year at Union--
 Rachel, me, Hanna, and Summer!

          And then, it was one of those wonderful friends that told me about a book she was reading (thank you, MiKalla!). 7 by Jen Hatmaker. The book that would begin this “7 Experiment” that I am about to embark on (for 7 WHOLE MONTHS). My world was about to be tipped on its axis. Just a little bit.

P.S. Just in case you didn't listen to my advice in the last post, you should SO pick up a copy of "7" by Jen Hatmaker and read it. It'll open your eyes if you let it. In the meantime, feel free to follow my journey through "The 7 Experiment" here!

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

"The 7 Experiment"

          Starting on August 1st, I will be beginning a journey called “The 7 Experiment” (or 7 for short). 7 is a seven month journey that is focused on staging a mutiny against excess—and as Americans we know about excess all too well (hundreds of articles of clothing in multiple closets, refrigerators cram packed with food that spoils before we can eat it, laptops and cellphones and PlayStations and iPods and Kindles galore. Yeah. I’d say we’ve got it bad.). But the thing is, I’d never really thought much about all those things before I read 7. I would’ve classified myself as a middle-class American working on my college degree so that one day I could pursue my own American Dream with my strong, handsome husband, 3 kids and a lapdog. That’s God’s WILL for my life, okay? Oh and in the little spare time that I probably won’t have, I’d like to play a part in advancing the Kingdom of God as well.
            Okay so maybe I wasn’t THAT bad. But as American Christians, I think that line of thinking is all too common. It’s not that we necessarily MEAN to. We’re just indoctrinated into this machine of consumerism and excess. It’s, well, AMERICAN to look forward to the next big promotion, the next pay raise, the bigger house, the better car. But recently I’ve found this little voice in the back of my head whispering, “Isn’t there something more than this? IS more always better? What if I’m missing something?”
          For New Testament class this past semester, we had to reread the entire New Testament (shocker). But with a grace that only God can give, He allowed me to read it with fresh eyes—like I’d never read it before. And I was struck by the person of Jesus Christ all over again. Who was this man? He completely went against the grain. Want to be first? You must be last. Want to gain your life? Lose it. Want to follow Me? Give up everything. Phrases like, “Seek first the Kingdom of Heaven” and “the Son of Man has no place to lay His head” kept floating around in my brain—and wouldn’t go away. I started wondering anew, “What should my life look like as an American Christian in the 21st century?”
            Insert "7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess" by Jen Hatmaker. This is the book that really got me thinking. Jen felt trapped in the machine of excess and was determined to do something about it. She records her journey doing a seven month fast, downsizing her life in order to reach “the least of these” that Jesus called us to serve. When I first heard about the book, I can’t lie—I thought it sounded pretty radical. I didn’t know if I’d be into that kind of thing or not. But, I picked it up at Books A Million, regardless (I can’t resist a good book. Ever.). Little did I know what I was getting myself into.
            Jen Hatmaker felt convicted about the way that she and her husband, a wealthy pastor of a mega-church at the time, were living as American Christians. Convinced that they were only “serving the saved” and “blessing the blessed,” she set out on a social experiment to reduce the areas in her life that she lived in excess in order to serve the needy. She asks, “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 a social experiment to become a radically better existence.”
            Although I’d like to insert the entire book here for you to read, I can’t because that’d be plagiarism (who came up with that law, anyway?). So, I HIGHLY suggest that you go to LifeWay or Books A Million or Barnes and Noble or Davis Kidd or your local neighborhood bookstore and pick it up. I cannot stress how absolutely awesome it is (and FUNNY, too—Jen Hatmaker was blessed with the spiritual gift of hilariousness. Love, joy, peace, patientce, kindness, hilariousness… whatever. I’m sure it’s in there somewhere.).
            In the meantime, I’ll be staging my own mutiny against excess with a few other ladies that God has so graciously placed in my life, and I’ll be blogging about it here! I’m hoping and praying that God will teach me how to live for and serve Him here in America, right where I’m planted. And that maybe He will speak to others through the lessons that He is teaching me as well!
          “Simplified life. Amplified God.”
          Stay tuned.