Review of A Mile Wide by Brandon Hatmaker

I love to read.  I’ve set my goal high this year, one a book a week, and I’m on track to meet that goal.  I almost always enjoy the book I’ve read (I did pick it, why wouldn’t I.)  But rarely do I not only love the book, but also feel jealous that I didn’t get to write the book I’m reading.  That is how I felt about Brandon Hatmaker’s new book that released this past Tuesday, A Mile Wide:  Trading A Shallow Religion For a Deeper Faith.  I wish I had wrote it.  It is just so good.  God forgive me of my covetousness.

The book is divided into two parts: The Gospel In Us and The Gospel Through Us.  Brandon encourages us to take our small view of the gospel and make it bigger.  As we grow our view of Christian life we can take that gospel and pour it out with a truer mission, seeking justice for our communities, full of grace and truth.

There is an idea in Brandon’s new book that I’ve been discussing with anyone who will verbally process with me, and that is the idea that discipleship happens during outreach.  (I even wrote a whole blog series on it called #servetogrow over the summer.)  Brandon illustrates this idea beautifully.

My favorite part of the whole book is in the chapter discussing discipleship called A Deeper Discipleship.  Brandon tells about an experience he had volunteering one Tuesday night with an organization called Mobile Loaves & Fishes (MLF) with his friend Alan Graham.  After spending the evening handing out groceries, blankets, and clothing to homeless and working poor families, Alan fills Brandon in on his mission at MLF.

‘I’m making disciples,” he [Alan] said. ‘You see, we’re doing a lot of good here. But my job, and yours as a church leader, is to make disciples. My job is to get as many people out of the pews and onto the streets of our city as I can, because I know it’ll change them.’

This was paradigm-shifting for me. I’d served people before. I’d been on multiple mission trips and served in different environments. But this was different. This was in my hometown on a Tuesday night. It was something profound wrapped in something seemingly simple. Somehow what we had just done shifted my thinking from handing out a sandwich to learning a name, hearing a story, and connecting at the soul level.

And I heard the Spirit whisper, Remember what you’re experiencing. Capture how this feels, and help others feel the same. This is going to change you. It’ll change them too.

I’ve thought about that night a thousand times since then. It’s the moment when I realized for the first time that something was happening all around me that wasn’t about me but was changing my heart. After years of checking boxes and hoping for transformation, I could physically feel my heart being reshaped.

Everyday experiences become discipleship experience when we have the right attitude and perspective.
— Brandon Hatmaker, A Mile Wide

I’ve only given you a piece of the story.  You absolutely have to get this book and hear more.

There are other stories that are very touching.  When I first picked up the book to read, I found myself quickly in chapter two blinded by tears.  Brandon tells a poignant story of his encounter with an Ethiopian woman on his very first flight to Ethiopia.  I won’t retell it here, but I will tell you that you will be shocked at the reason for that this woman on Brandon’s flight spontaneously praises the Lord on that airplane.

All of these stories are so stirring to me and you as a reader because it is so evident on the page that these stories are not just cute antidotes to Brandon.  You can feel how life-changing these moments were in the writer’s sensitive-to-the-Spirit heart.

This book isn’t just about moving stories.  One of the things I love about A Mile Wide is how well thought out it is.  Every point has been considered and tested.  Every chapter has lists of helpful ways to proceed or recommendations for moving forward.  This isn’t a book that ends in head scratching and warm feelings.  This is a book that ends with action.  Each subject covered has so many layers for every Christian.

I hope I have convinced you how well your time would be spent on reading A Mile Wide.  I don’t over exaggerate when I say that you will be affected by this book.  Grab a copy and let Brandon lead you deeper into a faith that not only changes you, but leads you to change others.

Community & Anxiety

I’ve blogged about this before, but in case you missed it:  I have social anxiety.  I have a hard time being around people.

One of the biggest parts of social anxiety is feeling like everyone else is in a group that I’m not in.  In my head, when I let it go to that place, I decide that everyone likes everyone else, and that everyone else doesn’t like me.

I know it is silly.  Social anxiety doesn’t follow logic or allow logic.

Here’s the problem.  Christians need community.

I’m beginning to realize something.  My social anxiety exists because deep down I am longing for community.  I want to belong.  If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t have the anxiety.

Here’s the reason we need community.  Most evangelism and social justice work happens in groups.

As a Christian we are called to do a couple of things.  The first and most important is the great commission.  We are called to make disciples.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
— Matthew 28:19-20 ESV

Gathering people to bring them into knowledge of Christ can look a lot of different ways.  Almost all of the opportunities I have to be evangelistic or to disciple young Christians have been in groups: Bible club, Sunday school, mission trips, summer bike lunch delivery, and church outreaches.

The other thing we are called to do as Christians is to job of social justice.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
— Micah 6:8 ESV

This season of my life, God has called me into orphan care ministries, and much of our work at my church, Citychurch, involves fatherless children.

All of this work has been done in community with my church and orphan care groups.  Even our adoption that is still in the waiting stages has involved many other Christians.  So many friends and family have prayed for us and participated in our fundraisers.

When I realize the importance community plays in the work of the Kingdom, no wonder Satan would love for me to be engulfed in anxiety.

The anxiety that I suffer when I interact with other people is a huge attack on The Church, His community.

I am convinced (because I get so much response when I talk about anxiety and because Brene Brown is a best selling author) that so many people suffer the same attacks that I do, causing them to draw away from community.

If you are one of those people, let me encourage you to see those thoughts for what they are, spiritual attacks, and inspire you to realize that doing the hard work of overcoming the anxiety is important to the Church.

It has been hard for me to recognize when thoughts during social anxiety are true or untrue, but learning how to separate those thoughts from truth and thoughts that are from the roaring lion who seeks to devour me is important to overcoming anxiety.

It is not easy, but find some wise council that can help you begin to disprove your anxiety driven thoughts.  Becoming a part of community will encourage your growth as a Christian, increase your dependence on God, and your effectiveness as an active part of the Church.

Remember these words in 1 John because it reminds us of the love God has for us each individually.

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgement, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.
— 1 John 4:16-18a ESV
I love music, so I like to include a song with every blog post.  Here's a beautiful song about a guy that doesn't quite fit in with others.  The thing I love about Andrew Bird is that he likes to make up his own words. Why not?

Lamentations: The “I can’t even” of the Bible

I have to confess something.  Sometimes I get angry.  The pit of my stomach boils and turns hard.  Ministry has brought me face first into cases abuse and neglect of children, and I can’t even.  

This year at children’s camp I was in the 4th grade cabin, and I had a few girls who were recovering from long-term abuse.  The fear in their eyes was fierce.  We talked about resting in the fortress of the Most High God, and I knew they wanted to, but it is hard for them to trust a solution so simple.  God, I pray they can hand their fragile trust to you.

I think about the children I saw in Ethiopia, not the ones wrapped up and riding on their loving momma’s backs, but the ones in an institution because their momma knew she couldn’t care for them.  The ones so hungry for love and attention, but have to wait their turn to be held, wait their turn to be fed.  Some of them have given up on even wanting to be touched.

I get angry.  I wonder if God is really watching.  I wonder why children have to suffer.

I wonder if there is even anything that can be done to fight back the evils of this world from harming precious children.  I wonder if God has to pick and choose which ones get rescued away from abusers and which ones continue to suffer.  I wonder if God is wondering if his church cares about these children.  I wonder if more people were mad, would there be less suffering?

I get angry at the American church.  Can they open their eyes to the suffering going on around them, around the world?  Can they spend less time selfishly and more time fighting for justice and loving the lowly children?

I get angry at myself.  Why can’t I just trust God and be optimistic?  Why can’t I make more time to pray for the children I know need prayer, need miracles, need intervention, need the protection of the Most High?

But angry people don’t want to talk to God, they want vengeance.  I want vengeance.  I want abusers to suffer, the greedy to do without.  But even more than vengeance, I want the children in human arms, with love, food, necessities, and security.

Should I be ok with God being their only over-seer when they physically need so much?  When their little brains are being damaged from lack of touch and lack of food?  How can I be ok with this?

I really want to not be angry.

The Holy Spirit reminds me of what a horrible god I would make.  I really have no business wanting answers.

Then I meet adult who were those suffering children, and guess what, they are not angry.

I meet those who have suffered serious abuse, kidnappings, beatings, real persecution, and they say everything was God’s plan.

That defies logic.  The love and forgiveness of Christ defies understanding.

They are not mad and I am.  I might have a problem.

I opened my Bible up to the prophets, they will usually be mad with me.  They are expressing God’s wrath and preaching Justice.  It didn’t make me feel any better.

I keep flipping, and I end up in Laminations.  I have to tell you that I’ve never understood Lamentations.  I did get why God included it.

I get it now.

Reading those word, I felt as if I wrote them.  Seeing these ugly things in the world, it is nothing new.  Evil existed the moment hearts turned from God.  I felt the Holy Spirit reminding me, God knows, God has always known, God understands the hurt and anger and the lamenting you have in your heart for these babies.

My eyes are spent with weeping;

    my stomach churns;

my bile is poured out to the ground

    because of the destruction of the daughter of my people,

because infants and babies faint

    in the streets of the city.
They cry to their mothers,
“Where is bread and wine?”

as they faint like a wounded man

    in the streets of the city,

as their life is poured out

    on their mothers’ bosom.
— Lamentations 2:11-12 ESV

How does it the Lamenting end?  With this cry for restoration.

Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored!
— Lamentations 5:21a ESV

That is my prayer.  Restore yourself to me, O Lord.  I don’t want anger.  I want peace that passes understanding.  I don’t need answers.  I want faith that makes me well.  I want righteousness that you graciously share.

God, help me to trust you.

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.’
— Psalm 91:1-2 ESV
Lamentations: The Blues music of the Bible
God, we need a change.  I pray Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.