Standard of Living

Disclaimer: This post is fairly long, and it rambles a bit, but please stick with it. I would love to hear your feedback, no matter where you have landed on these questions or how confident you are in your answers. Thanks.

The title of this post really says it all. One of the biggest questions I’ve been entertaining for years is “What standard of living should I aspire to?” Worded another way: “What standard of living is appropriate given my commitment to follow Christ, love God, and love my neighbor?”

For as long as I have been considering this question, I’ve never once heard someone make a definitive statement. I understand the nature of this question needing to be answered on an individual basis, but I feel that too often we are simply dodging the real answers.

I’ve mentioned before that I read The Irresistible Revolution a few years back and that this book has radically changed my outlook on what it means to follow Jesus.  In the book, Shane Claiborne tells his story of living among the poor and giving up his middle class lifestyle to serve “the least of these”.  He does it selflessly and calls others to find their own way to follow his example.  It was probably reading this book (combined with my very limited experience of serving the poor) that made me first re-consider my ideal of making enough money to “live comfortably”.

At this point, I was still planning to be a research biologist or possibly even a medical doctor. I knew that I could make a very comfortable living this way. A small part of me that was ever growing wasn’t content with this ultimate destination for my life.

I worked at a summer camp for 3 summers making very small amounts of money. I believed that the amount of money wasn’t important as long as I was serving Jesus. Because of this, I wasn’t saving very much throughout college. I wasn’t building my credit or establishing myself financially as I know some of my peers were.

Then, I decided 3 years ago, to change my major. I had been very unsettled in the field of Biology for quite some time, and eventually everything came together and I felt that I was supposed to get my degree in Social Work. I wasn’t thinking about money when I made this decision. Of course it would be somewhat less, but I was far more motivated to change my major because of where I felt God was leading me.

As the reality of how little money I’d be making settled in, I began reasoning out that I would simply further my education by getting my Masters Degree. Once I had my Masters, I could make enough money to live comfortably.

Well, now I have my Bachelors degree, and I still want to get my Masters, but I have chosen to delay going back to school in order to get some work experience first. When I consider my financial future, there is still a part of me that wants to go back to school just for the chance at more money.

I desire to ultimately make this decision based on factors other than money, but before I can, I feel I need to have a better grip on God’s desire for his followers when it comes to their finances.

More recently, my small group has been reading and discussing the book Crazy Love. Throughout the entire book, Francis Chan has been challenging the reader to fully follow Christ and love others in such a way that we have to trust God to take care of our needs. He is encouraging us to love unconditionally and to give sacrificially as an outpouring of our love for the Creator who has pursued us relentlessly. He poses some of the more difficult questions about what this means for Christians and their financial affairs.

I am going to list off some of the questions he has asked and some that he has inspired me to ask:

How much money should a Christian keep back for their living expenses?

How should a follower of Christ go about planning for their retirement?

When it comes to saving money, what is the difference between being a good steward of our resources and hoarding?

Should a Christian’s giving to the church and to the poor be based on an income cap, or a percentage of income?  For example, Chan suggested that a possible way of setting our standard of living would be to give away all of our income above the median US income.

If Jesus told the rich, young ruler to “sell all that you have and give to the poor”, what does this mean for the rest of His followers?

If Jesus sent out his disciples without any extra supplies to go and bear witness to Him, where should we draw the line in our abundance?

Why do we put up with so much inequality within the church if the early church sold their possessions so that no one was in need?

If we are to be servants of Christ within an American context, there are certain luxuries that are almost commodities in order to serve effectively. How do we live counter-culturally when we are still connected to so many things that set us apart as wealthy? (ie Internet, television, movies, music)

Why is the church so reluctant to believe that Jesus really meant what he said about sacrificing our material comfort to follow Him?

Why do some segments of Christianity balk at the idea of giving to the poor when they have an abundance?

When those who are more socially-minded try to focus our attention on helping the poor, why are they deemed radical?

Shouldn’t those who are trying to follow Jesus more fully be an example we try to follow rather than an exception that we talk about as if they are impossibly out-of-touch with reality?

Why do we most often consider God’s blessing a financial thing?

What was the last thing you (or I) did that actually required that we have faith in God’s provision?

On top of reading Francis Chan’s book, I was also upset by another source:   Glenn Beck.  In a segment of his show where he was attempting to debunk “Black Liberation Theology” to protect his viewers from the socialists, he said a few things that I disagreed with strongly.  He was very clear that he “earned” his wealth and “earned” the job that he had and it was his

right as an American to hang onto it as tightly as he wants.  This angered me because as someone speaking to Christians, he seemed to be more concerned with them being good Americans than with them being good followers of Christ.  Christ was never about hanging on to what we have earned.  Every time the early church is spoken about or instructed in the New Testament regarding money, it seems to always be about giving freely and supporting one another.  Besides the familiar passages in Acts 2 and 4, we have this one in 2 Corinthians.

2 Corinthians 8:13-15

For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”

In all of this, I am still trying to discern what this means for my own life.  I feel guilty at times for how I spend my money on entertainment and fast food when I could be finding much cheaper alternatives to enjoy my free time and feed myself.  Yet, it’s so hard to make changes in these areas of my life when I look around at the church and see Christians living in extravagant houses with new cars, sailboats, jet skis, etc.  (The notion of comparing the way I follow Christ to others is a separate post).  I am not making a ton of money right now, and there are many people who would advise me right now to save as much as I can and look towards providing for my future and the future of my family (which I don’t have yet).  And this message seems to be fine if I want to live comfortable and achieve the American Dream.  However, when I listen to Scripture and other voices that I respect, I hear a different message of sacrificial giving and sacrificial living that seems to be the opposite of comfortable.

I would greatly appreciate your discussion and input on this topic.  I asked a lot of questions in this post, and after having read back through all of it, I believe I have captured many of my thoughts and have represented them as scattered as they are in my own mind.   Whether you tackle one question, two questions, or all of them is up to you.  Maybe you will offer an entirely different perspective than I have entertained.  Either way, I hope you won’t let that stop you from sharing.

The question that sums up all of this post, and the question that I aspire to ask any time I approach the Bible is this:

How then should I live?

Final Disclaimer:  This post is meant to be about how a Christ-follower lives out Kingdom values.  If any of my questions or ramblings seemed to make it into a political / economic discussion, I apologize.  This is meant to be about how we choose to live our lives as an expression of our love for God, not about how we vote or pay taxes.

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God’s Irony

Ironic: Coincidental, unexpected

So, it’s been a week and a half since I last blogged. The morning after I wrote the blog post about being content, I woke up to hear that my great-grandmother who lived with us wasn’t doing very well and she was rushed by ambulance to the hospital. In the midst of the EMT’s getting her situated, I received a phone call calling me back for a second interview. My first interview with this organization had been back in March, and in many ways I had lost hope that I would hear back from them about a job.

Talk about irony. The day after I say that I’m content to let things happen in God’s timing and that I will serve Him right where I am, God moves.

I counseled at the summer camp where I used to work last week. I had to check out of camp for a few hours Monday morning in order to go down to Grand Rapids for my interview.

I realized on the way back home that I was spending a lot of my mental energy on evaluating the interview and speculating as to whether or not I was going to “get the job”.

Knowing that I had to go back to my 10 campers by lunch, I had to consciously choose to live in the contentment that I’d claimed to have found. I chose to live in the moment and to be faithful with where I was, which was camp.

To not worry and stress about whether or not I would get the job for the rest of the camp week was incredibly freeing. I got to live in the moment and be present with my campers. I got to encourage them on the zip line and climbing tower. I got to invest in their relationships with God by encouraging them to follow Him more closely. I got to develop relationships with some of the other staff members and spur them on for the rest of their summer ministry.

If I had been my “old self” and had been worried and anxious, I would have still done those things, but wouldn’t have been fully there. I wouldn’t have been able to stay focused on my mission with the campers and the staff. My mind would have been too much on my job prospects.

I’m grateful that God gave me a chance to put into practice what He’d been teaching me. When the rubber hit the road last week, I stumbled around at first, but then realized that God simply wanted me to trust Him in the ways I’d been claiming to.

As my great-grandma still is gaining back her strength from her time in the hospital and I am still awaiting to hear back from those who interviewed me, I hope that this lesson of contentment will be something I continue to hold on to, in the peaceful times and the turbulent times.

I know that life has far more difficult things to throw at me as I move forward from here. But I know that God will be faithful through everything and that I can choose to rest in that and be content.

I am Here.

In the past week, I’ve come to the realization that I am simply content right now.

For all my life, I’ve been a planner.  I have enjoyed knowing plenty of details of the next month, next week, next hour.  Without enough details, I faltered.

I can’t explain what’s changed, but over the past few months, I’ve gradually become more at peace with the moment.  Instead of having to know all the details, I have found that I am content to let things happen as they will.  To live in the present.  To trust that God’s best for me is better than any amount of planning I can do.

When I realized last week that somewhere along the way I began to accept where I am, a part of me wanted to rebel against it.  To draw a line in the sand and come up with a definitive 5 year plan for my life, career, relationships, ministry.

While I’ve always described contentment as an ideal, finding that I was actually moving in that direction, created some discontent in my life.  In some ways, I was fighting off the thought that being content with my current “transition” phase meant resigning myself to be stagnant and lazy.

In some segments of Christianity, the concept of “God’s will for my life” is idolized.  This is the idea that God has a very specific task for you to do that is huge and important and only you can do.  So, until you’ve finished college, got married, bought the right house, and had kids, you find yourself waiting for the time you can finally get settled into exactly what God has for you.

While I worked at Grace Adventures summer camp, Steve Prudhomme, the president of the camp, used to talk about God’s will.  Except Steve didn’t talk about it in the ways that I described above.  He said we were asking the wrong question if we were seeking out “God’s will for my life”.  The right question to ask is “What is God’s will?”  God’s will is far more broad than where I should go to school, what job I should take, who I should marry, etc.  God’s will is what God desires for all of creation.  It’s big picture.  It is the story of the redemption of the world.  God’s will is to restore the world to its pre-fall condition.  To make everything new.

God is achieving this through His Church.  He invites us all to join in with Him in setting things right in the world by ushering in the love of the Kingdom now.  This is something that God started with Christ and is continuing up until that glorious day when everything has been set right.  From a right view of “What is God’s will?” the only next step is to find ways to join Him in what He’s already doing.

This means that no matter where we are, we can be in God’s will.  Simply by loving others and finding ways to live out that Kingdom love, we are freed up to no longer need a 5-year plan from God.  We don’t have to be anxious about getting to this place where we will finally be doing God’s will for our lives.  We can do that HERE.  Now.

RELEVANT Magazine had a great article about this a few months ago.  The article was simply called “You are Here” and encouraged those of us living in the mundane to be content where we are.  We don’t have to go somewhere far away or start some giant new project in order to be serving God.  We can do that HERE. Now.

As all of these thoughts have rushed in to combat the lie that being content means I am somehow less productive, I have found peace.

Sure, I have plenty of reasons to worry, fret, and be anxious, but I am not.

I’m on the “job hunt”, unsure of what exactly I’ll be doing once the job I’ve been waiting for comes along.  Will I still be in my hometown?  Will I find something a little further away?  A lot further away?  Will it be part time, full time?  Will I go back to school to further my career options?  Will that be in a few months, a year, a few years?

I don’t have the answers to those questions yet.  But it’s OK.  There are plenty of things I can’t answer.  For the first time in my life, I’m fine with that.  I’m fine without having a detailed plan.  That doesn’t disqualify me from serving God.  I can do that HERE. Now.

“Surprised by Hope” by NT Wright

This afternoon, I started reading a book that I’ve been wanting to read since before I even knew of it.

For my entire life, I’ve been in a predominantly Baptist context. For the first 18 years of my life, much of my theology fell in line with mainstream Evangelicalism. As a young teen, I eagerly soaked up what I could only consider the “gospel truth on the End Times”. You guys know it as the Left Behind series. Sure, I knew that Tim Lahaye hadn’t personally seen a vision of all the details of the Rapture, Tribulation, and Second Coming, but I knew he had to be pretty darn close.

As I entered college and started work at our local Christian bookstore, I began to learn about all those other “wrong perspectives” in the Christian world.

One of the books I read during college was “Irresistible Revolution” by Shane Claiborne. This book really gave me a vision for how the Church could go about being the body of Christ within the world and living as the Kingdom NOW.

As I took in all of these new ideas, read still more books from unfamiliar perspectives, and discussed these with friends and mentors it seemed as if the way God designed the church simply wasn’t compatible with the End Times theology that I had always accepted as truth.

Followers of Christ aren’t looking to escape, they are supposed to be living the Kingdom here and now in a way that is counter-cultural. As the Church fulfills the mission of Christ, the world will still be broken, but we should not be withdrawing from it. We should be changing it from the inside out. If Christ has set about to restore all things, why are we so convinced that He won’t start doing it until the end?

It seemed as if my understanding of how the Church was to fulfill Christ’s mission and how it was all going to end were simply incompatible. And over the last few years, I’m looked for a book that addresses this inconsistency.

No one seemed to be speaking about what Christ restoring the world would look like apart from sensationalist fiction and fatalistic prophecy books. All of the authors and voices within the Church that had shaped my theology of LIVING seemed to be silent on the theology of end times.

I started reading NT Wright last year when I wanted to understand the debate between him and John Piper over the doctrine of justification. Then, my small group spent the better part of 8 months studying the book of Romans as led by NT Wright’s study guide.

My first impression of NT Wright was that he was a brilliant thinker and writer who really put the entire Bible (especially those pesky Old Testament parts) in perspective under the umbrella of Jesus. He really gave me a fresh understanding of Scripture and sparked in me a desire to learn more. A coworker loaned me a copy of Simply Christian and I consumed it happily. In a way, it was a modern-day Mere Christianity, but so much more big picture.

After finishing the study of Romans and reading Simply Christian, I was talking with a customer recently who also greatly enjoyed NT Wright. We were talking about theology and he, a pastor, mentioned how much NT Wright had opened his eyes to reading the Bible in a fresh light. He also mentioned how his End Times Theology had deeply been impacted. With this, I was floored. I asked him what it was that helped him come to some clarity, and he said it was NT Wright’s follow-up to Simply Christian, titled Surprised by Hope.

Now, I finally had a tangible starting point to finally coming to my own clarity on how a theology of Christ’s Second Coming and New Creation relates to how I live NOW and how I work within the Church to live out the Kingdom.

The past few weeks since that conversation have been busy, and I’d been trying to find a way to get my hands on a copy of Surprised By Hope.

Today, during my lunch break I finally began reading this book. I’m only a chapter into it, but already I can tell that this is the book I’ve been waiting years to read. I plan to post more of my thoughts in a much more detailed post. I haven’t decided yet if I’ll be doing this every few chapters or after I’ve finished the book, but I am excited to learn and grow from it.

Have you read this book, (or anything by NT Wright)? What were your thoughts on it or his writing?

Why “Tethered Soul”?

I was thinking about the title of my blog today.  Titles are important, you know.  They’re supposed to be unique, creative, yet still sum up what you are intending to create and present.

“Tethered Soul” came to me late last night as I was sleep deprived and had the idea “I should start a blog again!”

When I stopped to decide if I really wanted this to be my blog title and URL, all I could think about was tetherball and Napoleon Dynamite.  My soul was the bright yellow ball and I was forever connected to Christ by a thin rope.  I admitted this image seemed sort of ridiculous, but the title still “felt right”.

As I backspaced out “tetheredsoul” and tried a few other options, I couldn’t seem to shake that first title out of my head.

In my mind, I was thinking of the last verse of “Come Thou Fount”

Oh to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be.

Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to Thee.

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.

Here’s my heart, Oh take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.

This verse has always resonated strongly with me.  I think it portrays a beautiful picture of the grace that God has for us even as we wander, doubt, and question.  In my life, there are definite times that I struggle with God. There are times that I wrestle with His truth and the world in which I find myself.  There are times when I’m frustrated that I’m having to live in uncertainty.  I get anxious and restless.  There are also times of rest and pure joy as I throw myself down at His feet admitting that I don’t have all the answers.

In this blog, I hope to capture these moments, as a wandering soul eternally tethered to my Creator, my Abba, my Savior.  No matter how confused or tired or frustrated I may get with some of life’s circumstances, I can never escape the redemption of His love and the rest that He provides.

Loosening My Grip

As I begin this blog, I would love to open up conversation about an area of my life that is constantly in need of growth.

If you know me, you know that I have opinions, and I tend to hold to them pretty strongly.  When I enter discussions about any of my “hot-button” issues, I am very stubborn and resistant to change.

Certain friends and family members have learned what topics to avoid with me.  If they disagree with me, they know that I’m unlikely to change my mind and hear their point of view.

However, on topics that I’m just beginning to explore and gather information on, I can be open-minded.  If I feel that my opinions are still being formed, I’m likely to listen to just about any reasonable voice in an effort to have the “right” answer.

Having the right answer and being right is something I’ve always valued.  I pursue knowledge in order to be right.  However, it’s been on my mind a lot lately that being right is not what it’s all about.  The Pharisees had strong opinions and used their strong opinions to keep people down.  Jesus condemned them for that.  Their opinions were so strong about the Sabbath for instance, that they couldn’t see the bigger picture of what Jesus was doing when He healed a man on their day of rest.

Once I have decided that I have the “right” answer, I hang onto it so tightly that no one can budge me.  I clench my fists and close myself off to further growth on that topic / issue.

This post is a statement that from here on out, especially as I blog about things that have been on my mind, I would like to loosen my grip.  To allow myself to be more open to truth outside of my rigidly held opinions.

If Peter hadn’t loosened his grip, he wouldn’t have gone to Cornelius with the Gospel to open up the Kingdom to people of every nation and ethnicity.

If Paul hadn’t loosened his grip, he would have dismissed the vision of Christ that was calling him to a better life.

In a way, I believe this goes hand in hand with humility.  Humility is that unattainable buzzword that it seems every Christian struggles to attain.  Thinking of yourself with sober judgment.  Not thinking too highly of yourself.  Putting the needs of others above the needs of self.  Humility will probably be another blog post down the road, but I thought I’d at least mention it here.

My nature is to anticipate reactions of things before I do them.  As I think about this blog post, my most anticipated reaction would be one that talks about when it is appropriate to NOT loosen our grip on our beliefs and opinions.  So, the question I ask to you, the reader, is this:

How do you discern when a belief or opinion needs to be held tightly or loosely?

I have some thoughts on that question, but in an attempt to listen and learn before I speak, I’ll wait for responses and continue the discussion in the Comments section.

May we all loosen our grips when appropriate, and spur one another on towards more growth in Christ.

“Can America Survive?” Better Questions, Please.

To understand some of the underlying frustration in a post like this, you have to know something about the past 5 years of my life.  I work in a Christian bookstore.

To those that know me, I am aware that this is no big revelation, but I believe it plays a huge role in why I feel the way I do about certain aspects of the Church.

As a seller of Christian books good and bad, poignant and cheesy, inspired and inspirational, I have seen my fair share of “trends” within the “Christian market”.

A trend that has been building steadily over the last year and a half concerns lamenting the decline of God’s chosen nation, America, and calling for Christians to DO SOMETHING to yank the United States out of the evil hands of the socialists.  Is this a bit of a caricature?  Of course. But while I’m sure not all of these authors would call America “God’s Chosen Nation”, I do believe most of them would agree with the rest of my description of their stance.

John Hagee’s new book, Can America Survive?: 10 Prophetic Signs That We Are the Terminal Generation encapsulates this trend perfectly.

When I first saw this book featured in our store’s catalog, a coworker and I sort of laughed it off.  I remember asking her, “Does the answer to that question impact the way I follow Christ?”

And that’s really the core of my discontent with the current onslaught of discussion about the dangerous road that America is headed down:  What does this have to do with following Christ?

This morning when I was getting ready for work, I noticed that John Hagee’s show was listed in the Guide.  I flipped to it as it was starting, and, as my luck would have it, he was talking about his brand new book.  Over the next half hour, I stomached as much as I could of his “preaching”.  He was really concerned about the death of the dollar, America no longer backing Israel, and Iran blowing us up with nuclear weapons.

As an American, I can agree with him that getting nuked by Iran would be quite unpleasant, and I hope that this doesn’t happen.  Yet, I couldn’t help but feel that he was missing the point.

He is a pastor.  Pastors are supposed to take care of the church and encourage folks to follow Christ more closely.  I couldn’t help but think the entire time I was watching the program, that every minute spent agonizing over his perception of the state of the union was a minute he was not encouraging his flock to love God more fully, love their neighbors as themselves, and to love one another as unconditionally and sacrificially as Christ loved them.

Instead it appeared that he was more interested in creating fear and panic.  (Fear tactics when it relates to politics cause me to ask if we really trust in God’s sovereignty, but that could be a whole ‘nother post.)

I know that Hagee’s sentiment does not represent all of Christendom in America, and I am grateful for that.  But I couldn’t help but wonder:  When the thousand or so people in attendance (not to mention the thousands more watching on television) carry on with their daily lives, will hearing a message of doom and gloom about our country make an impact in how they represent Christ and His Kingdom?  Maybe the answer is ‘yes’, and I’m extremely short-sighted, but I’m inclined to say the answer is ‘no’.  And that discourages me greatly.

Christ would look so much more beautiful to the world if we were asking questions like, “How Do I Love Selflessly?”  “What Can We Do to Eradicate Abject Poverty?”  “How does a Follower of Christ Relate to the World While Pursuing Social Justice?”  “How Can We Better Build Bridges to Those Whom We Have Wrongly Hurt?”  “What Does it Look Like to Love As Christ Loved in the Mundane?”  “How Do We Best Honor the Image of God that is Imprinted on Everyone We Meet?”  “What Role Should the Church Play in Racial Reconciliation?”

Obviously, these aren’t the only important questions, but I think they’re a start.  They are better questions that refocus us on following Christ regardless of circumstance.  Wrestling through these sorts of questions inspires me to keep growing much more than speculation on politics.  I’m inspired when I hear Christians asking these questions and not settling for easy answers.  Only as we focus more on the Kingdom and less on Country can we begin to go down this road.

What say you?

Cliche Inaugural Post

“Welcome to my blog.

I plan to post on this every day.  I don’t care if I have readers or not.  I’ve tried to blog in the past, and never kept up with it, but this time will be different. “

Just kidding.

Although I have blogged in the past, and I’m not that concerned about readership, I don’t plan to post on this every day.  I also don’t have a rigid purpose for blogging (I know, bad idea, but I’m gonna go with it).

I’m simply attempting to better chronicle the moments of tension I live with as I explore what it means to live life while following Christ.  Or…. what it means to follow Christ as things get messy.  One of the reasons I am doing this on a blog instead of in my Moleskine is to get feedback.  To dialog.  To be open to asking questions and learning about how others have struggled through these same points of tension.

With that said, I invite any one that has stumbled upon this place to join me in this conversation.