Last time, we more or less covered the approach to itemizing our lives to line up with the Church of Acts. This time we shall look at flesh and blood examples. Any philosophy or ideology, no matter how well-spoken or ingenious, has to have feet put to it or it will ultimately come to naught. This is pretty much my statement with all theology and religion in general. If it can’t work for men, women, and children in many different places and in many different eras across national, racial, and social barriers…there comes a breakdown in the legitimacy of said ideology’s impact. Ravi Zacharias once said something to the effect of, “If my little daughter can’t begin to grasp the concepts of this philosophy, then this philosophy doesn’t really take very well in a broadened scope outside of mere thought.” Our Way must be accessible to comprehend when we are eight and yet still revealing fathoms of truth when we are 80. I believe that our dynamic Christian faith, coupled with humble works, lives up to this expectation.
I say all this to make the point that I am not an armchair philosopher and I am not writing this to come up with good ideas that may or may not sell books or get me speaking engagements. On the contrary, I look at Scripture; I heed what it says; I seek to put it into practice. End of story. And I will admit that the “practice what you preach” stuff is indeed the most difficult part of all this.
The nagging and long-prepared question for us is then, HOW SHOULD WE THEN LIVE? Well, I can only speak for the Tribe of Judah and our church here…so that is what I will do:
In a word, we SHARE. The local economy in Upper Michigan doesn’t allow for us to work as much, or make as much, or be able to do ministry and work as easily as in many other places. We have realized that a ton of money and effort can be saved by having half as many working vehicles as we have people. We have poor gas prices U.P. here, and Michigan car insurance is rough to say the least…so sharing vehicles, especially when one or two are broken down, has been a serious area of communal blessing. However, when the number of running vehicles goes down, personal comfort goes down as well. You have to learn to make small sacrifices for this to work: carpool, preparation and planning, and sometimes just going without. I am a cyclist, so biking 3-4 seasons out of the year can keep my blood pumping and suffice when all the other cars and vans are being used. We have found it possible for 15-20 people to manage just fine with five vehicles or less.
With food prices rising, conjoined with already high food prices in the sparsely-populated area in which we reside, sharing meals or having communal dinners can save a lot in this area. Not to mention that the church of Acts broke their bread together and enjoyed Eastern hospitality that is many times sorely lacking in the individualism of the West. Another way this saves money is where we buy the food. By making our dinners every evening open to the public, we have found a way to be eligible for Food Bank food purchasing. This allows us to buy food in bulk at mere cents per pound and we can feed around 30 people comfortably for about $300 per month. Sharing meals with the downtrodden and the abused, the borderline homeless, and the neglected kids in our community also helps meet a very basic need that Christ helped meet too. We are unabashed about our faith and sharing it, so everyone having dinner with us is gonna figure out what we are all about.
One more way we are combatting rising food prices and the poor quality of affordable food is by starting our own tribal garden last year. This is one more avenue to serve and be involved, while simultaneously lowering the cost for our ministry and raising the quality of the things we eat. This is not to mention that gardening is quite rewarding and heathy by itself. The benefits of a well-maintained and well-stocked garden are manifold, to say the least.
Since our climate and weather patterns are similar to that of Canada, Scandinavia, and Maine, one of the serious drainers on our measly budget can be heating costs and other special needs of cold-climate living. The answer to this predicament for full-time ministry people not bringing in much money: communal housing. You just learn that, when God has blessed the Tribe of Judah with four larger homes, that He is trying to tell us something. We have a brothers house and a sisters house for single folks, with a host family living at both residences. And the other houses are usually inhabited by at least two families at a time. One word: cost effective…ok, one term. Common sense seems to get the best of us UP here, and you accept it–cuz it’s cold! But it is also very good for living in Christ together, becoming close and supportive spiritually, and for overall discipleship. We actually enjoy this way of life; it’s not all terrible sacrifice. Many times, simpler is better.
With vehicles, food and housing costs kept to a minimum, other smaller shifts in our standards of living help us go even further into Acts-style Church. My wife and I have lived with one cell phone for half of our time UP here (7 years) and without a cell phone at all for 10 months. Turns out, humanity somehow made it without them at one point in ancient history, so we did too. We have only had cable TV once or twice since being UP here, and those were the most unproductive stints for the ministry. Ergo, we are glad to not pay for that crap. We have just started a community work crew too, mainly focused on assisting the elderly and handicapped. This allows us to get everyone working that is in the Tribe. The Bible does say that he who doesn’t work, doesn’t eat. But it doesn’t say that you will always be paid in greenbacks. We have worked for building materials, $6.00, smoked pheasants, hamburger, organic groceries, a free broken down car, playground equipment…and the list goes on and on. Money is not the end all, be all and God provides ALWAYS, one way or another.
It must also be stated that behind all the scenes of this multi-faceted, very active, yet low-staffed ministry…that there is a serious commitment to prayer. We haven’t just worked real hard to find hip and economic solutions; no, we feel called to this and led to this. It has worked in the past. It’s in the Bible. It can be done. But not without prayer and an understanding of New Testament sacrifice. This is all about the Kingdom and the King, so we spend an hour every morning in group prayer and, for certain members of the leadership, hours a week in afternoon prayer to see this things through spiritually. More of a life of faith involves much more time spent with God–or this thing collapses fast. And that just about sums it up.
As for a short, concluding checklist: Share cars. Eat together. Pray. Get less sleep. Waste less time. You don’t always need cell phones and cable TV and a host of other things. Pray. Trust God. Live radical faith. Pray some more. Live together. Share, whatever you got. And pray some more.
Pretty simple, eh…and I even threw in a few extra nuggets for free.