simple living

Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it, but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches but rather on God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19; NRSVue

A staple of Anabaptist, Mennonite teaching is simplicity, to live what’s called “the simple life.” Within this tradition, the Amish are at least among the ones that have this practice down the best. When you consider the American context, it’s expensive to live because there’s so much money and space in the mix. And much of the economy depends on people buying what they can’t afford and actually don’t need.

Those who don’t have to worry the rest of their lives about having enough money still can only eat so much food. Yes, they can take in all kinds of expensive entertainment or whatever and eat whatever cuisine they want. But they really can use and enjoy only so much. Oftentimes these folks have way more than they either need or will use. While so much of the rest of the world does not have sufficient food or water.

Simple living involves an enjoyment of the ordinary things, seeing everything as a gift from God. And instead of wanting more and more and never being happy with what one has, learning to gratefully receive anything and everything that is good as a gift from God. And seeing that as enough. As Paul actually put it here, if we have what we need, food and clothes, we should be content with that.

While most of us many not be wealthy according to the American dream, we indeed are compared to the rest of the world. But that doesn’t exactly include everyone in the United States. There are too many who have to work more than one job and even then, can hardly make ends meet. And whose health care coverage is dismal in a nation with the best medical know how and one of if not the worst accessibility to it of all first world nations. Of course, the rich will get all they need and more.

When we have extra, we’re to be generous and help others who don’t have enough or are struggling or could use some help.

Our lives are supposed to be lived in simplicity because the essence of life for us is relationship with God through Christ and relationships with each other. As well as receiving every good thing as a gift from God and enjoying as well as seeking to be good stewards of all such gifts.

We’re to seek to do this together. In and through Jesus.

proceeding according to one’s gift

Saul clothed David with his armor; he put a bronze helmet on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail. David strapped Saul’s sword over the armor, and he tried in vain to walk, for he was not used to them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these, for I am not used to them.” So David removed them. Then he took his staff in his hand and chose five smooth stones from the wadi and put them in his shepherd’s bag, in the pouch; his sling was in his hand, and he drew near to the Philistine.

1 Samuel 17:38-40; NRSVue

The first big event after David was anointed by Samuel to replace Saul as king of Israel is the account of David slaying Goliath. Maybe it’s still a mainstay with many children Bible story books, but not sure how parents should approach that passage today. It seemed innocent enough when I was growing up, but I wonder if it shouldn’t be included in the passages for more mature audiences. Of course, how such stories are told can make a big difference, too.

The point I want to take from this account is the simple fact that David couldn’t proceed the way Saul wanted him to in taking on the giant. David was a shepherd who knew how to wield a slingshot with stones to protect the sheep from predators, having become quite adept at such. To fight the way the Israelite army did was outside of his parameter; he had never been trained for such. Later he would be very much accustomed to normal warfare, and in fact because of the bloodshed in doing so, would not be allowed to build the temple. Though he was allowed to make important preparations, the actual building of it would be left to his son.

The point here is that David did what he was accustomed to. And we need to take that home for ourselves. What might work for others, may not work well for us. That’s not to say that we can’t learn new and better ways of doing things. But our gift is as different in operation as we ourselves are. We should never think that we have to do it exactly like someone else does, whose gift we admire. No. We should be happy to proceed in our own gift, how we do it, and let that develop. Maybe in David’s case, and probably quite likely, what he learned in protecting the sheep was somehow utilized in his later practice of warfare which may have helped set him apart, and perhaps could have influenced the mighty men as they were called in David’s fighting entourage. We don’t know since Scripture doesn’t say.

The point though is that we should be happy to use whatever simple gift we have in the simple way we do it. God gives such gifts and God is in them. We don’t want to do it differently, since when we do, we’re no longer operating in that God-given gift, so that God is no longer in what we’re doing, at least not in the same way. Something to prayerfully think about and try to apply. In and through Jesus.

be preoccupied with “the gold”

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

Philippians 4:8

In the internet, smartphone information age, we’re hard pressed to keep our minds on what really matters, what is special, what is true good. Our minds are often distracted in a thousand different ways, to what is seemingly necessary, or to a lot of things which are entertaining diversions at best. And in so doing, our mind is rarely if ever on “the gold.”

Only God can help us get our minds off what they need not be on, and on to what matters, what lasts, and what ennobles us. Everything else we need to learn to see for what it really is. We need discernment. We begin to see with God’s appraisal of things, appreciating all the gifts of God found in God’s image bearers: humankind. Along with understanding what really is bad, often a distortion of the good.

As we set our minds on this, God will help us. We need to accept the struggle rather than settle into the same old same old: the lies, deceptions, empty things which make a strong appeal to us in our broken, fallen state. We must persist to break beyond that, not expecting to do so at a snap of the finger, yet at the same time knowing that a turn in a different direction can make all the difference in the world, what is needed to really begin to see “the gold” and appreciate it more and more. In and through Jesus.

the need for self-understanding

…we are dust.

Psalm 103:14b

It is important for us to understand ourselves. Weaknesses. What helps us, what doesn’t. Strengths, too. To find where we excel as well as what helps us be resilient in the inevitable drama and trauma of life. To find our gifts, what we enjoy doing, what comes more or less natural to us, as well as what doesn’t.

Scripture tells us we’re dust. And that to dust we’ll return. But in and through God become human in Christ we receive the hope in the form of a promise of resurrection from a mortal into an immortal existence. And we’re taken up into a great family, God our Parent, Christ our Brother, the Spirit our love breath.

I really get tired of certain aspects of myself which are not what I believe God intends in the long run. Especially challenging to me is my propensity to worry about this and that and something else, everything else. I manage this much better than in the past. I realize that it’s important how I carry myself, not to be fake, but in faith looking to God to help me do better, trust in God, cast the burden on God, and experience some release from this. And that is happening more for which I’m thankful, but I’m still beset with a tendency to worry. Scripture addresses that. Though that helps I simply realize that this is a weakness that is part of who I am.

Thankfully we find that God accepts us completely just as we are. That should be the reason we can do the same. God helps us in the midst of our weaknesses, indeed the Lord’s strength somehow becomes evident in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12).   If God loves this dust made in God’s image, then we need to, too. Love each other, even ourselves. Know ourselves, and that the God who knows us completely through and through, completely accepts and loves us.

In and through Jesus.

blessedly slowing down to gather one’s thoughts (and more)

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God, and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

Ecclesiastes is one of those books of Scripture which has always fascinated me, but also on which I struggle to get a handle on. The writer, mostly “the Teacher”- Qoheleth, takes us through a whirlwind of life experiences “under the sun,” with the conclusion that in the end none of it really satisfies. The book makes it clear that we should give ourselves fully to whatever our lot is, and enjoy the simple gifts of God. With the conclusion in the end that when all has been considered we’re to fear God and keep God’s commandments, with the realization that we will be held accountable for the choices we make.

All of us live in experience, even when we’re trying to understand Scripture texts. If we approach that correctly, it seems to me that it all has to do with life, yes life “under the sun” as we read in Ecclesiastes, as well as life in the context of God’s kingdom come in Jesus, present now, and to be consummated into its fullness on the renewed heaven and earth in the life to come. To want to escape from experience is not a good place to be. Instead we need by God’s grace to begin to get a grip on reality, on the true basics, we might even say basic basics. And set ourselves to live in that.

Fearing God is perhaps the most basic starting point of all. It’s simply the realization that God is the “Source of All Being,” the “Eternal Word,” and “Holy Spirit.”* We owe our existence and everything else that is good to God. And with that privilege to us humans indeed comes responsibility.

Jesus fulfills what none of us can accomplish ourselves, so that we can slow down, and blessedly let God catch up with our feverish, often misdirected steps. So that we might gather our thoughts so that we can begin to settle down on what is most important and what will bring us life. Out of the whirlwinds of the world and of our own making. Into the grace and peace of God. In and through Jesus.

*From morning and evening offices in Voices Together hymnal. 

the gospel and salvation is personal in more ways than one

He has told you, O mortal, 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

Most often in the Christian tradition I’ve been a part of for decades, the gospel and salvation is personal with reference to our individual relationship to God, and to each other. And that’s good insofar as it goes. But we need to take personally the entire vision God casts. Yes, we have only our small part in that, but it’s our God-given part, and therefore a gift fitting into the whole.

We have to take this personally where we live: among our loved ones, in our neighborhood, in the church, at work, and in the world beyond where we live. In the words of Micah: we’re to do justice, to love kindness and mercy, as we walk humbly with our God. Simple, yet profound.

This means we really do want to understand what is going on around us. If we’re part of a church and denomination involved in such with good works, we can be thankful, and we can learn a lot from them.

This is to become a part of who we are, as well as what we’re about. What we’re aspiring and learning to do day after day, week after week, and year after year. In and through Jesus.

what John “the elder” and beloved apostle of our Lord might say to us now from 1 John 2:15-17

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

1 John 2:15-17

Don’t love the world’s ways. Don’t love the world’s goods. Love of the world squeezes out love for the Father. Practically everything that goes on in the world—wanting your own way, wanting everything for yourself, wanting to appear important—has nothing to do with the Father. It just isolates you from him. The world and all its wanting, wanting, wanting is on the way out—but whoever does what God wants is set for eternity.

1 John 2:15-17; MSG

John would likely warn us in no uncertain terms that to play by the world’s ways is opposite and in fact in opposition to following Jesus. And that it shouldn’t be about our wanting, but about doing God’s will. This can be especially poignant when considering the political sphere. What are Christians advocating for and why? All of that needs to be examined in the light of Christ, who he is and his coming. Of course also what he has done and what that means for us both in terms of believing and doing.

When John is speaking of the world here, he is referring to the world system, the ways of the world. John describes what he means: “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes,…the pride of life.” It’s centered around us, what we/I want, self-centered. It’s not about loving God, or loving our neighbor as ourselves.

John might tell us that Christians ought to advocate for others, be present for others, and not be concerned about ourselves. To seek to live in God’s will which would involve seeking the good of all, and the good of God’s good world. And that both God’s special revelation given to us in Scripture and the gospel, and God’s general revelation in creation worked out in some fashion in science and in other ways should be front and center in this.

We accept the good gifts and abilities God has given us and humankind, while we reject all that which is opposed to God’s will. But that rejection only in the way of Jesus, mostly in terms of what we actually accept and are all about: God’s grace and kingdom come and present in and through Jesus.

the uncertainty of life

Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.

James 4:13-17

During this pandemic, this truth ends up being underscored to all. Life is uncertain, and certainly brief. Death is inevitable, but unpredictable as to its time. And this uncertainty includes all our plans. It’s not like we shouldn’t prayerfully, deliberatively, with good counsel, and over time make plans. But we have to be ready for God to disrupt them.

This doesn’t mean we have to live on edge. Indeed as children of God we shouldn’t. We should be thankful for each new day, for each new week and weekend of course, for each new month, season and year. They’re all gifts from God. We shouldn’t take them for granted. They’re all a part of the gift of this life.

All depends on the Lord’s will. We can actually rest assured in that. God somehow fits his will into where we’re at, into all the interwoven circumstances, surroundings and people. We have our part and place for a time. Then it will be gone, no more.

All in God’s good will and time.

God’s provision, or our worry?

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy,[a] your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy,[b] your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[c]?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:19-34

In this passage in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus ties our devotion to our trust. Whatever our god truly is ends up being what we trust in or depend on. And Jesus makes it either God or money. To be his follower we must let go of our dependence on anything less than God. As we devote ourselves to God, we learn to depend on him. Then we can learn to let go of our worry that we won’t have what we need, that one way or another we’ll lose out, trusting instead that God will take care of us.

This doesn’t mean we forget what Scripture teaches about how to handle God’s gifts to us. No, we do have responsibilities that we must look after. But it does mean that in all of that, our dependence is on God. That we want to trust the Father to take care of us, come what may. Because we want our hearts to be truly devoted to God, and therefore intent on God’s will in all of life, wanting that more than anything else.  In and through Jesus.

 

what can God redeem?

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—
the great locust and the young locust,
the other locusts and the locust swarm—
my great army that I sent among you.
You will have plenty to eat, until you are full,
and you will praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
Then you will know that I am in Israel,
that I am the Lord your God,
and that there is no other;
never again will my people be shamed.

Joel 2:25-27

In this passage is the curious idea that God repays something, as if it is owed. In the context, judgment had come on God’s people through locusts devouring the land. But after the people repented of their sin, God’s promise was to restore what the locusts had eaten, the devastation they had caused. And repay is the word used in a number of translations.

Redemption has the idea of paying a price to claim something or someone. And then in this biblical analogy and indeed, reality, the one bought is set free to fulfill their purpose for existence. To be themselves, yes, but redemption in Scripture involves not only being set free from one master, but belonging to the one who paid that price. Ultimately everything is made for God, and is fulfilled within that purpose. We not only have the propensity, but it’s like an addiction to us to seek fulfillment apart from God. When we do that, we become slaves to our addictions, which includes self-fulfillment. But when we find our fulfillment in God, then we can enjoy and appreciate the goodness of God’s gifts without becoming enslaved to any of them.

The human condition is a difficult one, and all of us know and experience that. We all need redemption which comes from God’s mercy and grace in Christ. When that happens, somehow God graciously restores to us something of what was lost. To all humankind in and through Christ, someday a new heaven and a new earth in the new creation already breaking in. In and through Jesus.