getting uncluttered in life

The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.

Matthew 13

When you get older you start to think about getting rid of all the things in your house or garage that you haven’t used for years and years. Paring down, before others end up having to do that for you, or after you’re gone. I think something similar applies for all of us as followers of Jesus. We need to be unencumbered, free from what can weigh us down, and essentially knock us out, or at least greatly impair and hinder our walk in Jesus.

For me more than anything else, this involves the spiritual discipline if you want to call it that, of being in the word regularly. I feel it if for a prolonged time I’m not in the word, in scripture. And being in the word is nothing scintillating or entertaining, as a rule. Actually it goes much deeper than that, right to the heart, to the very core of one’s being, and out of that forming one’s character and what one does, over time.

There are any number of things, indeed no shortage of them, which can very much distract and burden us, yes, unnecessarily. It’s not like we don’t have plenty of responsibilities in place and challenges that come our way that we can simply ignore and forget about. It’s more like how we address those issues, what we do when we’re doing so. Are we endeavoring to walk with Jesus, to be in scripture in whatever situation we’re in? Are we active in the fellowship of the church, in a Jesus community? This is all an essential part of us being those who hear the word, understand it, and find God at work in our lives for ourselves and others in and through Jesus.

identifying with the poor

In my culture here in the United States, there seems to be a belief that has taken hold of many, that people are poor for a reason, meaning the poor are essentially at fault for being so. I’ve heard it put quite starkly that way, as if there are no outside factors which have contributed to their plight. Let’s face it, everyone makes less than best decisions at time, surely all of us have even done foolishly sometime when it comes to finances. But those who have a steady job and especially with a good income, have a nice margin of error, whereas the poor, who may not get much over minimum wage, do not. Yes, there’s all kinds of considerations to be added, like how some (some would say many) want to live off the government, while they smoke their cigarrettes and sit in front of the television. Yet there are others who have given up because they felt marginalized and simply didn’t have the qualifications needed to overcome.

Yes, there are poor people in the United States who barely have enough to eat, at times not enough. But most are helped in some way by the government or private agencies such as charities. The world’s poor in comparison suffer a much greater plight, since they often don’t have the resources that the poor here do. I think of places in Africa in which there is starvation even of children, often war ravaged areas in which governments can’t stop evil militia groups, oftentimes the governments themselves being corrupt.

People removed perhaps on the other side of the globe are sadly easy to dismiss or forget. But people suffering where we live is another matter. And yet we so easily live in bubbles among those of our economic, political, religious status, seldom breaking out of them enough to even begin to get to know the “others.”

To identify with the poor is essentially the way of Jesus, whose entire life, in fact coming was about identifying with the poverty of the human condition by becoming completely human except that he never sinned.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

2 Corinthians 8

So we must start with our Lord, and it’s good to see it in the context of the above passage just cited (the link goes to 2 Corinthians 8 and 9). Paul was encouraging the Corinthian church to give monetarily, an offering for their poor brothers and sisters in Jesus in Judea. Some in their poverty gave generously for the help of others in spite of their own lack.

In and through Jesus, our hearts are to go out to the poor, and we’re to help them in practical ways in the love of our Lord, those who do not know him, with the good news of the gospel, itself.

We also need to be careful that Money doesn’t replace God in our lives. This is a life changing series, entitled, “God and Money,” which while saying a good number of things we may already know, is revolutionary in challenging us to see all of our resources as not only gifts from God, but also belonging to God, we being stewards of such. That needs to get into our hearts and bones to change our lives.

May the Lord teach us more in this direction, as we endeavor to walk together with him, longing for others to know the true riches we have found in him.

in Jesus we are invited to intimacy and enthronement with him

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write:

These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire,so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

Revelation 3:14-22

We may live in a Laodicean kind of age, not at all related to any dispensational scheme, but with something of the kind of Christianity we see in the Laodicean church of old. They were well off and satisfied with their lives, even as they named the name of Christ. But Jesus told them that there was something vitally missing. It wasn’t necessarily that they lacked a personal relationship with Jesus altogether, though it does seem weak at best. They are told that they are loved by God, and therefore being disciplined, at least that is intimated.

About a personal relationship with Jesus. I know that is bashed in some quarters of the church, but even if it might be overemphasized by some, while other matters of importance which are also central to the faith are largely ignored, it still, I say, is important. We have to keep reading scripture to really see if that’s the case, but I think a fair reading of the Final, New Testament will amply bring that out.

Yes, Jesus is on the outside knocking, so to speak. He wants a close fellowship, or communion with us. That is among other things which is at the heart of the faith, and in a way, we might say, at the heartbeat of it all.

And the idea that we’re not in a battle, and that it should all go easy if we’re in the Spirit is simply not a matter of fact either in reality, or in the pages of the Bible, including the New Testament. We are, and to realize that, we can say, is half the battle. Of course being “in the Spirit” will help us deal with the hard places, but it is no less a battle, of course spiritual in nature.

And what we’re promised if we’re victorious in and through Jesus is shocking and mind boggling. We are told that we’ll end up sitting with Jesus on his throne, even as Jesus after his victory sat with his Father on his throne. I can just imagine millions upon millions upon millions getting to take their turn seated with Jesus on his throne, and in the Spirit somehow always seated with Jesus on his throne. It’s interesting that even now we are seated with the ascended Christ, who is at the right hand of God, enthroned with the Father; that we are seated with him positionally, and perhaps by the Spirit there (Ephesians 1-2).

And so a close intimacy in knowing Jesus seems tied to being victorious in him in this life, so that in the end we are honored with him in and through him. As long as we’re in this present life, both are of vital importance.

…we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Romans 8

 

a monk at heart

I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.

Philippians 4

I am not sure to what extent I’m an ascetic, although what that precisely means in practice varies in monastic orders, but in some ways I see myself as a monk at heart. All in Jesus are called to be separate from the world system, since in Jesus we’re not of the world anymore than he is (John 17). How Christians live that out can vary as well. It is not a sin to happen to make a lot of money, and have worldly wealth, and surely a kind of built in monkish, or monastic discipline ought to accompany that.

Unfortunately in too many of our Christian traditions, to live simply on purpose for Christ and the gospel is not a focus, and not taught in our churches, I’m afraid. We don’t necessarily buy into the vision of the American dream, in fact, in many ways we may repudiate it. But we all too often live in the default of what we know, not realizing there may be other options, or ways to live, which may avoid much of the unnecessary overhead imposed on our society. Of course the American economic system is built on people buying more and more things they don’t need.

Paul was a model to the people of his day of one who followed Christ, and we should learn what we can from his example found in scripture to do the same. And a big part of that was contentedness, no matter what his lot. I’m sure when the extra money came in, while he may have not been averse to living it up a little, or enjoying this or that which otherwise he couldn’t have, by and large he used what extra he had to meet needs of others, to help the poor, a big priority for Christianity, prominent in the New Testament (and throughout the Bible, for that matter).

I don’t see my life as a good model for all of this, however I have awakened in later years to understand what it takes to live out what I actually originally set out to do. Yet failed to some extent, due to the influence of the world. Now, while it’s too late to change water that’s gone under the bridge, I can say that I’m more content than ever with simplicity, and the routine the Lord has given me with my wife and family, and with the job I have. As long as I can have a scripture in hand with a cup of coffee, and hopefully do good works and pray, and have my nose in a good book along the way, I’m happy. The extra frills, like a glass of wine, or a nice vacation trip are certainly good as well. We in Jesus learn to receive all of life as a gift from God, including the more difficult times. It is something we are to continue to work at and grow in, and as Paul indicates, true of his own experience, it’s an acquired discipline, one might even say an acquired taste. So that more and more this is the rhythm and pattern in how we live with others in the way of Jesus.

the error of chasing or living according to the American dream (part one of two)

“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, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy,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.

Matthew 6:19-24

When I look back on my life, one of the things I wish I could change is how I handled money. This post requires two parts, but in this part, I will focus on the love of money. Note that it’s not money itself, but the love of money that is called a root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10). Handling money well as in not going into debt unncessarily and foolishly, and saving for retirement, as well as for helping children through college, this is all well and good, to be commended. Of course not everyone can afford much more than the basic necessities of life, which for most Americans includes things which seem marginally necessary like the Internet, and some things not necessary at all.

We too often live by default. I wanted early on to live not caring about money at all. I did want to invest some for the future, but we didn’t have 401-K in those days or any plan as simple and straightforward, or as good as that (short of Social Security itself). I was in rebellion against the idol of money. Jesus’ words quoted above refers to money as a master, and church fathers personified it. Paul said that greed amounts to idolatry (Colossians 3:5). And yet to some extent I’m afraid I succumbed to that idol by not thinking beyond the parameters set within the American system. This is tricky, because it’s not like we either can or should remove ourselves from the world. Some people of faith disagree with that and do at least largely live removed from the rest of society, such as the Amish. But the way of Jesus seems to be to live as a witness within society, certainly in a distinct and what will amount to a peculiar way in contrast to the world’s way around us.

And yet it’s easy to fall into the trap of living according to the world’s norms and therefore falling into the world’s trap, instead of really living by Jesus’ kingdom standard, catching that dream and by faith committing oneself and remaining true to that. Even if we do that, it doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t seek to build up credit and do all the same basic things others would do. It does mean that we will think, pray and live according to Jesus’ teaching no less, which includes generous giving of our wealth, particularly to those in need, and a refusal to live well beyond what we really need, not to mention well beyond our means. According to the NIV footnotes from the above passage “healthy” in the passage implies generosity, while “unhealthy” implies stinginess, both referring to one’s handling of money.

What is needed is to catch the vision Jesus casts of God’s kingdom come in him, and what that means for us who live in it. Again, that doesn’t mean we don’t live in the world, but we certainly do so as those not of the world. Our faith and witness is unavoidably and inevitably linked to our use of money. What is of fundamental importance in this post is that money would not become our master, but only God. Jesus said there’s nothing in between, it’s either one or the other for us. Even though I saw God as my one and only Master, I’m afraid that in practical terms I failed to see and catch Jesus’s kingdom vision, as well as the teaching of scripture on this. I did not care at all about getting rich, or so I think anyhow, but I did live not entirely, but largely according to the standards and limitations within the American system. Which made it hard to do what we have done over the years in deference to God’s kingdom in Jesus. But more on that in the last post of this two part series.

 

the true riches

Money is called Mammon, an idol representing wealth, and indeed has a pull and attraction that according to scripture and verified in life easily becomes idolatrous. Some people give everything in the pursuit of wealth with what in the end? (See Ecclesiastes). Others live with an uneasy devotion to it, hoping to get enough so that they can finally devote themselves in service to God. The only problem with that is that Money is a hard taskmaster. They don’t get free of its service so easily as they might imagine, just because they become “financially independent.”

Materialism is the culprit, not the material world, or matter. That is when we live for things, whatever they may be. The dream house, luxurious cars, extravagant vacations, toys and more toys to fill the empty void of our lives. Not that it’s wrong to enjoy something which might incur some significant expense at the time. Not that money itself is evil. It is simply when we live from day to day intent on living it up and have a devoted love to money that we become people who more and more might be characterized by greed which scripture calls idolatry.

It is not that the wealthy can’t be good and do good. One does not necessarily have to get rid of their excessive wealth to be faithful to God. There are some who are gifted when it comes to accruing wealth, and this is a gift that can be well used for good. They are managers and stewards of riches. Such a place requires grace, but ideally they should live as humbly as possible, needs met, but giving as much as they can to God’s work, especially for the service of the gospel.

Those struggling with poverty are likewise prone to temptation along these lines. Their minds can be occupied with the desire for wealth and they need grace to accept their situation while seeking to do well with what gifts God gives them, be it in terms of a job, an education or whatever. Oftentimes their lot in life, perhaps especially so in the beginning is challenging. There tends to be an upward mobility for those who come to faith in Christ, but some for this or that reason may experience dire poverty much of their lives. Jesus did say that it is hard and impossible in human terms for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. He did not say the same for the poor, in fact the poor seem to have more of a readiness for faith since there condition is inherently dependent. With that come unique temptations, one of them often called entitlement. The world is an unequal place, no friend of the poor quite in contrast to scripture where God’s priority for the poor rings out again and again.

In the end Jesus calls his followers to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness with the promise that all of their material needs, the need for food, clothing and shelter will be met. We are called not to store up wealth for ourselves, but to be rich toward God. That may mean for some that they handle large amounts of wealth. All relative, since most of us Americans do so compared to the rest of the world, and indeed it is expensive to live in any established normal way in America. But those wealthy by first world standards can still be rich toward God, not imagining that the money is their own.

The rest of us want to do well with the material wealth we have, avoid excessive debt and get out of debt. Give regularly as an act of devotion and faith to God’s work. And live as those whose lives are caught up in “the true riches” in and through Christ.

single-mindedness

If you work hard enough at it and apply some good wisdom and common sense you just might rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars into the millions. You likely will live something of the American dream. Unless too many misfortunes occur. This is surely a temptation to the follower of Jesus.

What is important for us who are followers of Jesus is to have a single mindedness in following him. That everything in our lives ought to be concerned with and reflect that. Too often we can actually end up centered on secondary matters, goals out of line with the single minded devotion to which we are called as followers of Jesus.

One of the worst, most subtle, and I might think most common traps for us may be when the end we are seeking seems to help us to live out devotion to Christ. But we don’t get to that by doing something else.  One common example: the drive to “financial independence,” which actually is a fiction. One becomes entangled in the affairs of this life in ways one likely could never have anticipated.

We must pay careful attention and put into practice Jesus’ words. After warning his disciples and all who listened about the impossibility of serving two masters, God and Money along with implying the necessity of being generous to the poor, Jesus tells his followers to trust in the Father and his provision for what they actually need. The context is following Jesus. And then perhaps the key line in that passage and for this post:

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

If I could talk to myself some three decades back, this is what I’d say in regard to this: Live as simply as possible. Don’t get caught up into the system. Particularly avoid debt wherever possible, except for a modest house mortgage or student loan. Better to seek to trust the Lord for cash, or as much cash as possible. When you’re in debt you end up living like a slave to that debt. Start a modest savings, especially early on (in your twenties into your thirties) in a safe, modest and conservative investment. What I’m getting at here is seeking to be responsible. Keep reading Proverbs, the wisdom found in it. This has its place in this life. And along with this, above all, seek to walk closer to the Lord and become more like him, in fellowship with others and in mission. What we do matters, but even more important is the character out of which we do it. And give generously both to your church and to worthy causes, particularly helping the poor. Seek to grow in the grace of giving.

Even for us who did not do so well along the way, there’s still the opportunity, no matter where we find ourselves to live with this single mindedness. To do the best we can where we’re at and in dependence on God. To settle for nothing less than that.

To be single-minded is to set our hearts and minds and lives on following Jesus come what may to the very end.