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Dear Christians: Wake up

"I think a lot of Christians will wake up and say 'Oh shit, I missed it!' when Jesus comes because they're so focused on their job, marriage and family..."

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In the words of Kendrick, I got a bone to pick…I’m mad.

I’ve had a rising frustration in my chest the past few months, and it can be represented by this pattern: My most popular blog post of all time is entitled Why I’m No Longer Waiting Till Marriage, and it’s about wisdom in dating and singleness, though the title implies sex. Almost every other post of mine which has over a thousand shares is on dating, porn, or sex. I know that if I want clicks, all I have to do is throw in a suggestive title and Christians will gobble it up.

But then I write about systemic racism, poverty, human trafficking, and a Christian response to injustice: 12 shares max.

I’m obviously not mad at people’s readership of my blog. I’m mad at how it functions as a synecdoche of American Christianity overall. We are so focused on things which immediately affect us to the point that we refuse to even read about issues being faced by others in the world; in our own city even.

Of course, that was me before I got ‘woke.’ I remember being in Australia and one of my teammates was researching where different chocolate companies sourced their cocoa, and I thought Who cares? Just eat your candy! 

The more I learn however, the harder it is to turn a blind eye to the monstrous amount of injustice in the world. For instance, there are more human slaves in the world right now than at any time in history, millions of whom are sex trafficking victims who are being raped 15-20 times a day. But this coffee shop’s wifi is too slow so let’s move to a different one, I’ll just have to buy another latte…

Writing as a white male, I’ve also become increasingly aware of the level in the world economy I was accidentally born into. Am I a ‘racist’ because I’ve benefitted from a system that favors me over other demographics, despite the fact that I’ve never cognitively had hatred toward others based on their skin color? I’ve felt pressure to feel guilty the more I learn about history and the creation of the current system in which I live, but I have found that it’s better to turn that feeling into action. I can’t help but wonder if ‘racism’ is becoming aware of these issues and then remaining complacent.

I recently came across an incredibly disturbing work of art while researching for a paper which stirred me so much I set it as my phone background for the past few months. It’s an African piece of art which slams the suffering of Christ into the experience of the black slave. I can’t shake it.

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The thing my blog readership has reflected to me is that people are far more interested in themselves, and how their Christianity affects them, than they are in bigger-picture issues like justice and poverty. Thousands of refugees have been evacuated from their home country in the past year, but hey, at least you finally got the right angle for that Insta-selfie. Where are the kingdom-minded Christians? Where are those whose reading of Scripture prompt them to action rather than just a few colorful highlights and maybe a sophisticated Bible study discussion?

The other day I was in a coffee shop and overheard the conversation between two thirty-something married mothers. The more I listened, the more angry I got. I don’t know them or their lives at all, but what I heard made me angry. They were evidently Christians, but it seemed that church was for them, and God’s grace was merely to enable them to live more comfortable lives. They talked about their families and their kids and a dash of local gossip, and anger stirred in me. I’ve wrestled with that anger for a while, asking myself if it’s justified or not, and here is what I’ve come to: Paul calls us to judge those who are inside the church, not outside. So, would I berate those two women for their seemingly consumeristic Christianity? No, of course not! But, am I regularly having conversations with my close Christian friends about how they live, how they spend their money, how they work and how they use their time? Yes.

I wish I could do more to open the eyes of fellow American Christians to the suffering of so many people in the world. It’s so easy to hear a statistic like how millions of people in the world survive on a few spoonfuls of rice every day, close the article and go on with our days.

Today I sat down with a fellow YWAMer, Moody grad, and Denver Seminary student (yes, we’re basically the same person), and we talked about this. “There will be so many Christians who will wake up and say ‘Oh shit! I completely missed it! I was so focused on my job, my marriage and family, and myself that I missed Christ’s call to the rest of the world!'”

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
    your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
    I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
    I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
    I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
    righteousness like a never-failing stream!”

God, through the hard words of the prophet Amos rebukes His people for fattening themselves with the very things He blessed them with. To re-translate some of what he says,

I hate the fact that you go to church and sing.
I don’t care that you drop a few bucks in the offering plate,
I don’t care that you have your ‘quiet time’ daily.
The rock concert-style songs you sing are hideous to me
because you’ve taken good things I’ve given you
and stored them up for yourself.
Why not open up your wallets,
your homes,
your time,
and let equality and justice flow?
I literally can’t hear your worship songs
because I see how you live your life.

Is your faith primarily about you?

Are you intentionally keeping yourself uninformed because to become educated on certain issues would demand action? I lived that way for years.

In a recent conversation with a passionate friend of mine, she said something which lingered in my brain: If the ‘Christian’ can still worship unperturbed (unoutraged) at the site of violence and injustice, I say, “take your god back.”

I believe it was Francis Chan who lamented seeing so many Christians who were fiery with zeal in their younger years, but got older, married, settled down, and the sole aim of their life shifted from kingdom things to American Dream things like family, mortgage, and Netflix.

What is the goal of your life? Where are your eyes set?

I know that if you’ve read this far, I’ve done a good job of beating you up, but here’s two pieces of hope to balance it out:

  1. Not all believers are called to all fields. It is literally impossible for one person to constantly make big differences in the arenas of race, trafficking, refugees, war, and every other issue faced by the world today. I’ve been meditating on this line from Merton lately: “To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”In other words, find your calling. Learn. Become aware. Find what makes you angry and set out to fix it.
  2. The gospel is not one about doing, but about being. We are not saved because we donate x-amount to charities each year, or pull more people out of slavery than Bob Goff. We are saved through our intimate union with Christ, and that alone. However, the question must be asked: If you have experienced this grace, is it merely enabling you to be more comfortable and eloquent in your coffee shop conversations, or is it a spark which catalyzes social action? If ‘works’ are the smoke which are a sign of the fire beneath, do you have the smoke? Is your faith real, or are you merely imagining a smokeless fire?

My seminary professor yesterday told us not to give up striving for a utopia here on earth. It’s easy to become discouraged by a lack of progress in the world, but that doesn’t mean that we give up and layaway all our hope for the eschaton.

Work to bring the kingdom to earth. Here. Now.

Participate in the economy of heaven in this life.

Pray, Maranatha! Come quickly Lord Jesus and reorient our lives toward justice and mercy.

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14 comments on “Dear Christians: Wake up

  1. Wow. Pulling no punches man. I like it!

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  2. Hey fellow seminarian! Thanks for your honest post and truth. I too feel a restlessness and tension with the state we find ourselves in.. and desire for a depth that is uncovnentional and can’t be put in our Christian box wrapped with a bow on top. Be encouraged and know you are not alone. Praying for an awakening in our city and our hearts to be turned back to our first love. Shalom

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  3. Hi Ethan,

    Thank you for writing this! I read your emails all the time, and it’s nice to see a message like this come from your mind. I was reading Amos 5:24 just a couple days ago, in this same vein, so it feels like confirmation. It can be tough seeing the unified church as a house of peacemaking and wholeness, so I’m grateful for steps like this from you and other white men (with white readers) and what it does to encourage righteousness, justice, and restoration.

    Thanks!

    Shaquille

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  4. Beth Kirkham

    I just want to say “I get it”! I agree with your points and appreciate your article!

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  5. Ethan, I fully support you in this blog statement. Far too many of us as Christians, myself included, have become captive to the things of this world in preference to building our relationship with Jesus. As my former pastor often said, “Christianity in America is about 3,000 miles wide and 1 inch deep.” My heart really desires to grow in His kingdom, both present and future, but it takes effort for that growth to take place. Sometimes I get lazy and just don’t make the effort to do those things that will bring me closer to Him. I become shallow, and my soil becomes poor. My efforts become my own, and not His. Thanks for sharing this, for taking the risk to shake up all of us who call ourselves by the name, Christian. We need to wake up! Now!

    Please keep us on our toes, Ethan! Show us when we are wrong. Expose our sins. Call them by name: idolatry. We have made Idols of ourselves and forgotten our first love.

    My goal: To finish well. I must keep my eyes on Jesus and keep moving closer to Him.

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  6. I was reading this thinking “yeah but…”, “yeah, but…” then you added clauses 1 & 2. Phew!
    It is easy to get caught up in consumer christianity, and I know that many years ago God woke me to the fact that I was getting caught up in nest-feathering after buying a house, and helped me ‘re-focus’ to what he wanted. It wasn’t ever about losing faith, but about losing focus. So, yes we need to be reminded and confronted periodically with the injustices you have mentioned.
    We can’t all do everything, as you point out, but we can invest in our own spheres of influence, loving those who cross our paths. If we lack genuine compassion, (because guilt should not be our motivation) we can pray for God’s heart and God’s eyes, and the courage to act on his Spirit’s leading – it shouldn’t be hard, but a natural outworking of the Spirit’s life & presence in us. God has changed my heart in this way, seeing (in part) the treasure that God sees in others, and imparting courage to talk to strangers.
    We can also make small important changes like choosing fairtrade chocolate and coffee, and buying clothing from more ethical retailers. Choices that don’t hurt us (really) in the “affluent West”.
    Feeling comfortable should make us feel uncomfortable. 🙃
    p.s. love your work.

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  7. Ethan! Thanks for writing this! I too have gone on an amazing and hard journey of becoming aware of so many injustices that exist right in our own country, states, cities, and neighborhoods. I work with homeless young adults for my job (which is freakin amazing), and every day I think, wow. I wish there were more people who actually really cared about this.

    I love the idea of being an Old Radical. I was getting fired up one day about something around my mom and she just kind of brushed me off, essentially saying I cared only because I was young. And that she used to feel the same way. And I was like MOM WHAT HAPPENED THEN! Why don’t you care anymore!! I want to be old and still fighting for others!

    Anyway, thanks for writing this stuff. Have a great Sunday!

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  8. You have “done it” again Ethan!!! Thank You!!

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  9. YEAH ETHAN!!!! YAS SIR!!! Literally how I have been feeling for years but my mentor helped me to move from bitterness into action! So many people need to read this,me included!!
    Thank you so much for sharing 😀

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  10. Yes yes yes. Thank you for he blunt and honest call to wake up. Everyone who claims to follow Christ needs to read this!

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  11. Pingback: A Post Worthy Of Another – Just an Everyday Christian Blog

  12. geoff Velpel

    wow ! you are speaking the truth and i know and understand it. Woke me up again … Slothing here in Indiana ..

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  13. Tom Davis

    I have a bone to pick with you, sir.

    Like blogs in general, each post of your blog contain three things: 1) Something you’ve noticed, 2) Your response to that, and as you point out in this post 3) a title.

    In this “Dear Christians: Wake Up” post, you are confusing all of these together, and claiming that people not sharing particular posts (your systems posts in particular) is evidence that we don’t think the thing you’ve *noticed* is actually important. You forget about the possibilities that we don’t think your response to the issue is particularly on spot, or that we don’t think the title will grab our own readers attentions.

    For my part, in studying the bible and the world which God created, through prayer and meditation, and in conversation with others, I believe that your suggested solutions to the Systems problems are inconsistent with the teachings of the Bible in general, and the teachings of Christ in particular.

    Like the Israelites begging for a king, your focus on a governmental or collective, solution is, I believe, misguided. Jesus did not come to replace the government, nor any economic systems that a government might force on people. In fact, to every extent possible, it seems to me that Jesus *ignored* the governments and social hierarchy of his day, the Roman empire, and the Jewish tetrarchy, though he willing interacted personally with representatives of the governments and with social elites, though only as individuals, never as agents of a collective corporate government (tax collectors, centurions), or members of an established social order (Pharisees and scribes). God is no respecter of nations nor men. God knows us individually, even those of us who do not know God.

    As Confucius suggested, “To put the world in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order; we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right.” Though he would have said it about five hundred years prior to Jesus’s mission, it nevertheless rings harmoniously true to the life of Christ. Those of us who have not spent our forty days in the wilderness are not prepared to put our families in order, let alone the nation.

    I had been bartending at a dance club in Washington, DC for a number of years when one night a customer waiting his turn said to me, “You’re a Christian, aren’t you?”. I was surprised and humbled that in the flashing lights and loud music, the constant opening of beer bottles and pouring liquor I had in any way conveyed my faith. “I can tell by the way you always treat everyone respectfully” he explained. I am not trying to brag, I wasn’t trying to act as light to the world, but I tell you this, our faith is a burning light which changes us and that change is visible to others, and God can use us, his wonders to perform, without us even being aware. The opposite is every bit as true: our lack of faith is a shadow in the world.

    Your desire to see a better world, to establish God’s kingdom on Earth as it is heaven, is certainly reasonable and good, but I would ask, how did you, or how could you have better, acted as a neighbor (a good Samaritan) to those mothers at the coffee shop? All too often, when I read blogs of people desiring social justice, they are surprisingly (to me) looking for an easy fix that lets them walk through their lives without encountering reminders of the injustice in the world, they want a fix that won’t require them to do the work. “If only we had a social-economic convention which prevented famine or personal injury, then I could enjoy my coffee in peace.” Well, Jesus did not come to bring peace, but a sword. Jesus brings chaos to our lives so that we are compelled to change. So that we are compelled to set our hearts right, compelled to cultivate our personal lives.

    It is the Good News which sets us free. We are not called to legislate or regulate, we are called to teach, preach, and heal. It is the Good News that sets us free.

    God be with you.

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  14. Raw, honest and inspiring! I love how you said “find what makes you angry and set out to fix it”. Thank you

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