Originally published Monday, 20 June 2016.
Welcome to our current Book Journey of Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker. I publish one post each Friday that summarizes one of the five phases of the book, following the initial book review. You can find a schedule with more details at the end. Thank you for reading along - whether it's the actual book, these summary posts, the daily quotes on the facebook page, or at any level! I pray the Spirit can use the teachings in this book to deeply transform each of us to love and live more like Jesus.
Summary of Phase One
Black and white, no?
Jen opens with a story of her fourth-grade son who was learning about Martin Luther King Jr and segregation. Despite the education he received on this subject, he innocently assumed it meant he'd be separated from his black-haired (albeit white-skinned) father or have to go to a different school than his very white friend ("They just split everybody up! It was a crazy time, Mom.")
In summary, Jen says, "The facts have nothing to stick to because he misunderstands the main point." And then:
Likewise, I still can't believe it, but I managed to attend church three times a week as a fetus, fulfil the pastor's kid role, observe every form and function of church, get swallowed whole by Christian subculture, graduate from a Baptist college, wed a pastor, serve in full-time ministry for twelve years, become a Christian author and speaker - and misunderstand the main point.
We were the opposite of counterculture. We were a mirror image of culture, just the churched-up version.
Jen goes on to explain how her Christian life looked and felt. In her words, she said it "resembled the basic pursuit of the American dream; it just occurred in a church setting." She was following the typical steps of getting her education, getting married, having kids, making good money, moving up in the world, becoming more and more wealthy in material things, raising kids, keeping life safe and protected, serving at church, and eventually retiring in comfort.
Further, Jen explains her view of church was that it was "the location and means to transform the average seeker into a believer." She says, in reference to her role in the church:
In other words, if you need something spiritual, some help, guidance, understanding, then come to us. We'll built it, and you come. Once you do, we will pour out our lives attempting to disciple you and build spiritual health into your life. My husband, Brandon, and I spent every waking moment with Christians. We were servants of the weekend attendees.
And all this left Jen with questions such as, "Why couldn't I recall the last person I led to Christ?" and "Why did I spend all my time blessing blessed people who should be on the giving side of the equation by now?"
Reader, beware: Life-altering prayer ahead
This question kept coming up in Jen's mind: "Why do I feel so dry?" It was an honest question regarding her spiritual life and it led to deep change. Despite the fact that she'd just had a sabbatical that was meant to restore her, Jen was still tired and confused.
In response, Jen says: "As my kids were squawking in the back (of the van), I prayed a one-line prayer simply because my Christian labor had failed me and I had no idea what else to do (and I strongly advise against this prayer unless you are quite ready for God to take you seriously and wreck your life): 'God raise up in me a holy passion'"
The answer to that prayer began to take shape as Jen spent time in God's Word where God "turned by undiagnosed tension into a full-blown spiritual crisis."
Holy passion meets remedial shepherd
This section shares how God opened Jen's eyes as she meditated on the scripture of John 21, where Peter declares his love for Jesus three times following His resurrection. Despite having already read it and taught on it numerous times, that day it was new for Jen and covered with the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
For the first time, she read the words as personal - "Jen, do you truly love Me more than anything else?" Of course, her response was indignation and surprise, as her life was devoted to Him and serving His people. But, "Jen, feed my lambs," was the answer to her claims of affection for Jesus.
I do feed your lambs! I feed them spiritually. I herd them into Bible studies and unleash a campaign of harassment when they wander. I counsel and pray and cry and struggle with them. Everyone I know has my number and evidently isn't afraid to use it. I don't know if You've noticed, Jesus, but I write Christian books. You told me to write! I travel and feed sheep all over the nation!
Yet, it seemed the question persisted: "Jen, do you love Me in a true way?"
Jen thought maybe God was telling her to do more. Maybe she should offer more, give more to the sheep, better communication, etc.
Nothing could've prepared her for these words which were divinely spoken to her heart:
You do feed souls but 24,000 of My sheep will die today because no one fed their bellies; 18,000 of them are My youngest lambs, starving today in a world with plenty of food to go around. If you truly love Me, you will feed my sheep. My people are crumbling and dying and starving, and you're blessing blessed people and serving the saved.
After doing some research, Jen discovered that those numbers, previously unknown to her, were precisely true. She said, "It dawned on me that Jesus was not asking me to do more of the same but to engage in a different chargealtogether. He was enlisting me in the cause of my generation, the mission of God's true church."
In that moment she understood and related to Peter, as "devoted by selfish, committed but misguided."
James, Jesus, Amos, and them
In Jen's Bible study following that time in John 21, she was humbled to discover that there are "more than 2,000 verses including poverty, physical oppression and justice, and the redistribution of resources." And, they aren't used as metaphors.
James 2:5-6, 8, 14-16 // "Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man...If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well...What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?"
Similar themes were found in Jesus' words, and spoken by the prophets, and the patriarchs, and the disciples, and in Hebrews. But, Jen admits, she had missed it: "For all my self-proclaimed love of Gods Word, what I really loved were the parts that worked for me. For, my good. For my blessings. The sections that made for a great outline or fit a funny story I had in the queue. The themes I knew listeners wanted to hear. Who wants their conference speaker to worry them with poverty when she could bring a message titled, 'Managing the Home'?"
Warning: The problems are bad
But what are the problems of the poor that Jesus and Amos and others referenced in Scripture?
Jen says, "I submit the following not to shame the rich West but to offer perspective. If you've lived abroad or have global exposure, this will be familiar. But if you've never thought critically about swallowing the American pill, please come with me and step outside the construct of Western thought. These are pretty agreed upon statistics, and if I encountered a discrepancy in the research, I went with the conservative number."
- Out of 6 billion people on planet Earth, about 1.2 billion live on $.23/day.
- Half the world lives on less than $2.50/day.
- The wealthiest 1 billion average $70/day.
- Someone dies of hunger every 3.6 seconds.
- Last year, 22 million people died of preventable diseases; 10 million were children.
- 27 million children and adults are trapped in slavery because of economic crisis. More slaves exist today than ever before in human history.
- More than 143 million children in the developing world have been orphaned (equivalent to more than 1/2 the population of the USA).
- In the last hour
- Over 1,625 children were forced into the streets by death or abuse of an adult.
- Over 115 children became prostitutes.
- Over 66 children under the age of 15 were infected with HIV.
- Roughly 1 billion people in the world do not have suitable housing and 100 million are entirely homeless.
Jen closes this section with a bird's eye view on the global economy and specifically how the USA fits into it. She includes statistics such as:
- We spend more annually on trash bags than nearly 1/2 the world spends on all goods combined.
- 780 million people lack basic water sanitation, which results in disease, death, wastewater for drinking, and loss of immunity where as Americans consume 26 billion liters of bottled water a year.
In summary, Jen remarks simply that "Brand America is in trouble. I ask you humbly: can you see why when Americans say democracy, the rest of the world hears greed? What seems like basic freedom to us sounds like vast consumption to everyone else."
"Name it and claim it" (And I'll shame it)
In this section, Jen shines light on some of the perspectives of preachers who teach that God's will is for His people to be prosperous, happy, and affluent. The following two paragraphs offer a summary of the implications of a nation known as Christian yet not known for its generosity.
The world knows about our Jesus. They know about His poverty and love of the underdog. They know He told His followers to care for the poor and to share... They might not understand the nuances of His divinity or the various shades of His theology, but they know He was a friend of the oppressed.
So Americans living in excess beyond imagination while the world cries out for intervention is an unbearable tension and utterly misrepresents God's kingdom. While the richest people in the world pray to get richer, the rest of the world endures unimaginable suffering with their faces pressed to the window of our prosperity ... and we carry on, oblivious
Giving the good stats some play
Jen closes this phase by emphasizing her intention is not to shame America but to raise awareness. She says, "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,' as He was so fond of saying in His Word."
And so, Jen leaves us with some questions: Do we care? Do I care? Do you care?
Questions to Consider
- Do you relate to Jen's confession of "missing the point?" If so, how?
- How do the 2,000 some verses on God's heart for the poor and oppressed fit into your personal view of God? Have these verses molded on your live your life?
- What is the "American dream" and how does it/does it not relate to a Christian's life?
- What do you think it means to "feed my sheep?"
- Would you rather hear a conference talk on "Managing the Home," as Jen put it, or on poverty and a Christian's role in alleviating it? Why? Which of the two themes would most likely be featured at your church? Why?
- What is your response to the many statistics regarding the plight of those living in poverty around the world?
- Jen writes, "When God shook Isreal awake from her violent slumber, He said, 'Now this is the sin of your sister, Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.'" Ezekiel 16:49. Can this be applied to the West? to you? to me? How?
- Gandhi said, "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." What aspects of Christ do you think Gandhi was referring to? What is the discrepancy that he saw between Christ and those of us who claim to be His followers?
- "So Americans living in excess beyond imagination while the world cries out for intervention is an unbearable tension and utterly misrepresents God's kingdom." How does the typical American lifestyle represent or misrepresent God's kingdom, in your opinion? How about your personal lifestyle?
- Jen closes with the following questions, well-fit for our discussion. She says, "We stand at the intersection of extreme privilege and extreme poverty, and we have a question to answer: Do I care? Am I moved by the suffering of the nations? Am I even concerned with the homeless guy on the corner? Am I willing to take the Bible at face value and concur that God is obsessed with social justice?"
Book Journey of Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker
June 10 - post on Phase One
Quotes will be posted from Phase One on facebook for discussion this week.
June 17 - post on Phase Two
Quotes will be posted from Phase Two on facebook for discussion this week.
June 24 - post on Phase Three
Quotes will be posted from Phase Three on facebook for discussion this week.
July 1 - post on Phase Four
Quotes will be posted from Phase Four on facebook for discussion this week.
July 8 - post on Phase Five
Quotes will be posted from Phase Five on facebook for discussion this week.
BlOG POST // The post for each of the phases of this book will include a summary, discussion questions, and any relevant links.