I like all things practical. My now-husband obviously realised this quite early on in our dating life, giving me a battery charger and a packet of batteries for one of those just-because-I-think-you’re special occasions; somewhere along the way I must have made it clear that flowers would elicit a thankful but calm response, but a present that would keep my remote controls operating for at least seven years into the future would definitely count towards me eventually saying yes to his proposal of marriage. If you’re going to give me stuff, make it do something. It was the minister at my old church who first tried the ‘pragmatist’ label on me, and I found it fit comfortably.
When I first became a Christian, I read the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation, underlining in yellow pencil anything that jumped out at me as something I needed to change, things I needed to do, in order to live out my spanking-new faith. The New Testament ended up far more golden-coloured than the Old, and the book of James in my Bible almost glowed in the dark it was so bright from highlighting. But then I found a church family and started looking at other Christians rather than to my Bible to figure out the directions, and thus life chugged on for the next 6 or so years. Over that time I’ve caught myself wondering, “Is this all Christian living is? Is it just church and Bible study and telling others about Jesus whenever the moments arise while we wait for heaven? What’s the point of right now?” Looking back, I can pinpoint times where these questions have nudged me closer to where I now stand.
Prompted by an unsatisfying Bible study (in which the application for Isaiah 1:17 - “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow” – was something along the lines of, “We’re justified by faith alone!”), I decided to the New Testament and mark down every time Christians were told to do something. After the book of Matthew I powered on through Galatians and most of Mark, but it had really only taken that first book for me to realise that Jesus was pretty down with the idea of doing. Holidays came, my reading routine slipped, life moved on, months passed.
I read this article and then wrote this blog post. We made the changes to our menu (we’re now on around one meat meal a week, sometimes less), but I never followed the conviction about our wealth through to its conclusion by working out how it applied to life beyond our carnivorous diet.
As you know, I recently read a couple of books which made me realise that all was not okay in my faith and started me urgently searching for answers to questions like, “Why was my soul sleeping in the first place?!” and “What is day-to-day Christian living actually supposed to involve?!” The Scot McKnight book argued that the gospel many evangelicals preach is a limited one which tends to create Christians who never move from salvation to a life of discipleship (I realised that this described the Christian culture I’d been raised in, and that I had no idea what a life of discipleship even looked like in order to work towards it). The Rob Bell book said this (on page 148):
When people use the word hell, what do they mean? They mean a place, an event, a situation absent of how God desires things to be. Famine, debt, oppression, loneliness, death, slaughter – they are all hell on earth. Jesus’ desire for his followers is that they live in such a way that they bring heaven to earth...For Jesus, this new kind of life in him is not about escaping this world but about making it a better place, here and now. The goal for Jesus isn’t to get into heaven. The goal is to get heaven here.
Slightly later in August
I was reading through Isaiah for college, and this verse (29:13) cut me to my heart:
The Lord says: These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.
And then our church started studying James (1:22 - “Do not merely listen to the word...do what it says”). By now, I’m fully alert; it’s clear God wants me to listen up, so I’m waiting with a pen and paper ready for note-taking and a heart open to be challenged and changed. While looking at chapter 2, a guy in our group read verse 24 from the ESV, which says: “You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone,” which immediately blew my strongly-Lutheran-influenced little mind, but also started to make far more sense of the tension in Ephesians 2:8-10:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
The proverbial straw came (I’m stubborn and slow, okay?!) in the form of a book called Crazy Love, in which Francis Chan points out that too many Christians are lukewarm these days when we’re called to be really, really hot. This book is a long and firm sermon that repeatedly drove me to my knees in repentance at lines like this one: “Lukewarm people don’t really want to be saved from their sin; they want to be saved from the penalty of their sin.” Or this one: “Lukewarm people do not live by faith; their lives are structured so they never have to. They don’t have to trust God if something unexpected happens – they have their savings account...They don’t depend on God on a daily basis – their refrigerators are full and, for the most part, they are in good health. The truth is, their lives wouldn’t look much different if they suddenly stopped believing in God.” Lukewarm people assume that when Jesus talks about Pharisees, bad soil and rich people, he’s not talking about us. You must read this book.
So by the end of August, I’m finally ready to convert all of my conviction into action. My husband listens patiently to my impassioned spiel and then starts asking questions (“So what about the trip overseas to see family?” Me: “Not happening! How could we justify spending such an obscene amount of money on holidaying when there are people dying of starvation in the world?!” Him: “Riiiiiight... Now tell me again what you want to do with our life savings?!”), so I throw a pile of books at him and quiz him daily about what he thinks (“I’m reading as fast as I can!” cries he, exasperated).
And then we started doing, and praying and looking out for opportunities to do. More on that tomorrow.