keep it simple

Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity[b] and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace. For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand. And I hope that, as you have understood us in part, you will come to understand fully that you can boast of us just as we will boast of you in the day of the Lord Jesus.

2 Corinthians 1:12-14

One of the endearing things about the Mennonite tradition derived from Menno Simons and his writings is just the simplicity of the message. I like and personally prefer that. A passion I have is to communicate that message as well as I can since I have a penchant for teaching. That emphasis of simplicity along with practicality, in other words not just confessing it as truth, but even more importantly, seeking to live it out is part of what I love about the Mennonite tradition, which after all, I was raised in. The first sixteen plus years of my life in that tradition, and now back.

One of the biggest mistakes any teaching ministry makes in my opinion is to try to pile too much on people. If we can’t really multi-task which amounts to thinking about two things or more at the same time, then I’m not sure how we think that we can readily absorb so much at one time. Believe you me, I would like to, because I know I need so much, I need it all, and I want to get as much as soon as possible. But I am much better off to humbly work on one thing at a time, in prayer. So the best teaching from our churches will try to help us with the Spirit begin to really grapple with one truth, something beginning to get through to us to impact our lives, our individual lives and the life of our church amongst ourselves and in the world.

Yes, times of challenging teachings piled on each other may have their time and place. I remember Paul talked all night to a group of believers, and I’m sure there was plenty he had to say. You can see something of that in his letters. But we do best to patiently take in and share one truth at a time. Work on that. Much said around each truth. You see that in Paul’s letters, as well. With the goal that this will come home to us, and more and more be a part of who we are individually and together. In and through Jesus.

don’t despise what’s simple (the example here for the anxious, like me)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-9

We can often look at the simple as simplistic. And maybe somehow beneath us? That may or may not be what we need to humble us. But whatever may be the case, we dare not discount and put aside what might seem too obvious, for something more sophisticated and complex, even if we think that our problem is complex. It surely is, but we need to remember too that what is simple is often quite profound.

And this is no less the case in the above Scripture passage. What if we like myself, who are so prone to anxiety would start to put this passage into practice? I know there might be some who would roll their eyes thinking that this is like using a precious promise book, strewn with maybe a hundred verses we’re supposed to claim. It would be good to read the entire book of Philippians, for sure, and meditate on it all, and we need to do that, too.

Remember, the exercise itself will be beneficial, even if one is still lost in anxiety. What is true about those who suffer anxiety as I have over the years, is that the real problem is not the problem itself, but the anxiety. If one is not anxious about one thing, they’ll be anxious about something else. When one anxiety is lifted, there will be another anxiety to take its place. And what one finds out is that basically the approach to life is to be anxious, more or less filled with anxiety.

Instead we need to take this simple yet not simplistic approach of mouthing the above Scripture passage, for example, maybe after we’ve memorized it. And seeking to put it into practice in the midst of our day. If we stay at it, we’ll find eventually that the cloud will lift, that God will honor that. Always in the context of a life in which we are committed to following the Lord. Yes, in view of the full letter of Philippians, and all the rest God has given and will give us. In and through Jesus.

God is in the ordinary

What do workers gain from their toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.

Ecclesiastes 3:9-14

Eugene Peterson told how he learned to find God in the ordinary lives of the people he was pastoring. We all tend to think of God existing in the extraordinary, but fail to see that by and large God is in the ordinary.

I had a dear grandmother who was good at writing letters. She mostly would simply recount simple everyday things happening, what she and others were doing. I used to think there wasn’t much there. But God is in all of life. Not just in some great theological treatise, or mountaintop experience.

Yes, God is in the simple mundane boring. Even in our struggles, in places where we would least expect. We often just need to hang in there. We will find God in the midst of it, if we just keep looking. And if we remain in faith through the thick and thin, ups and downs, and ins and outs of life. Something it seems to me is somewhat parallel to what the book of Ecclesiastes is all about.

my thoughts matter, but then again, really they don’t

A song of ascents. Of David.

My heart is not proud, Lord,
    my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
    or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
    I am like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord
    both now and forevermore.

Psalm 131

I have been somewhat wrestling through a most difficult subject which is dividing the church nowadays. And there are other issues. Some of those I’m willing to take a stand on. Others, I’m more in prayerful sorrow, even dismay. It’s not like I don’t hold to some position from Scripture. It’s just that not everything may not be as clear cut as we make it to be.

All that said, I’m just one person, quite limited. The entire church has to be involved in processing issues on at least two levels: the congregation of believers themselves, led by those who are grounded well theologically. The Spirit speaks to and through the entire church, not just the educated one. And leadership which is grounded to some extent theologically and academically as well through the ups and downs and difficulties of ministry, and of life itself.

We’re all in this together. I’m offering whatever actual help God has given me, but it is indeed most limited. On just so many things I either don’t know, or am not certain. And I know that in nothing at all do I know as God does. Yet at the same time God gives us enough to keep moving forward by faith. So that together we can put our faith and hope in the God of our Lord Jesus. In and through Jesus.

slowing down

If a ruler’s anger rises against you,
do not leave your post;
calmness can lay great offenses to rest.

Ecclesiastes 10:4

One of the changes I’m making and actually getting used to is simply the act of slowing down. I’ve been in work on the floor, on my feet for years, where at least at times I have to pull out the stops, and move it to keep the operation going. What I do now is no exception. But I’m purposefully slowing down, and frankly putting other considerations before the bottom line.

Certain things outside of my control along with my own new inclination are contributing toward the idea of simply slowing down. I still try to stay on top of everything, but it’s more like slow motion. Or probably more accurately, I don’t worry about trying to control or keep the operation going. I will scoot fast when need be. But if I don’t get there on time, or I had to be somewhere else, if the line shuts down, that’s okay with me. Of course we are a team, just a small number, but we work together to keep the two lines going.

I’ve found this helpful not only to me, but I think to others. Slowing down means one can take in more of what’s happening, and especially the human side of it. And be more thoughtful, considerate, and even gracious. When one is honed in on just keeping everything going, and passionate about production, then other things slip to the side, or even get in the way. I found for myself being so intense, I was too tense, and too close to the edge, which with all the fast work is not a good place to be. And tends to isolate us from others.

And a new calmness has come. But that seems to depend on both my new action and attitude that goes along with it. Which reminds me of the wisdom found in the book of Proverbs, which seems to combine actions with attitude, so that you might say either one can contribute and help the other. We tend to see good works flowing from the heart. But sometimes changes in what we do can actually help. Like when we’re told in Scripture to stand still, or cease striving.

For a number of reasons I’ve decided to simplify and slow down. I hope I remain on this course. But frankly, it will take some adjusting. I’ve been hurried and harried for years. But it’s actually a glad change and relief. God will take care of everything. I want to do my part, but hopefully in step with God and God’s will. In and through Jesus.

 

simplify

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one.[a] Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

As I get older I am wanting to and actually simplifying my life, not just making that attempt to do so, but gradually doing it, or at least so I think. That doesn’t mean one isn’t aware of and as necessary on top of so many responsibilities part and parcel of this life. That part never ends. How we approach all of that is another matter.

Mary in the story above had come to simply be devoted to hearing the Lord’s word, sitting at his feet and taking it all in. Martha was busy about, not actually having time to listen. Through this episode she ended up learning the lesson well, evident from the passage in John 11 on Lazarus’s death. She became open to the Lord’s word, but I’m sure continued to serve well, even if she pared down some of what she did.

Life itself doesn’t seem to get any simpler, maybe even more complicated as time goes on. We learn more and realize just how complex it all is, and how for so many problems in this world there are no easy pat answers. Except…

As followers of Christ we need to dial down as to how we approach all of this. “What is our calling?” is one good question we can ask. Our attitude and actions must follow. There are few things that matter, in essence only one. We must be immersed into our Lord’s teaching, into the Lord himself. Everything else can fall by the wayside in comparison with that because without that nothing else we do will matter. We won’t receive the blessing and be the blessing needed. What is needed given to us in and through Jesus.

living in the limitations of life

I like simplicity. The older I get, the more I’m settled into that, and actually prefer it. That’s good, because life has a way of confining one into a space or groove which is comfortable enough, confining, but well in keeping with one’s calling and gifts. Hopefully not lived for mere pleasure, but pleasurable.

This is true within mission as well. And for the Christian, the new life given involves being a witness to the world of and for Christ, being a follower of Christ, seeking to glorify God in all we are and do in and through Christ.

That is what I want to be settled into more and more. Ideally with my coffee and classical music. Of course always in the communion of the church. In and through Jesus.

stripped down to the bare essentials

Never take your word of truth from my mouth,
for I have put my hope in your laws.

Psalm 119:43

There is nothing more inspiring to me than to be simply in God’s word, in Scripture. And in that learning to appreciate more and more the gospel of God in Jesus. Give me my coffee and a Bible, and I’m good to go. Of course I know we need more: basics such as food and shelter and really, the company of the redeemed. But I believe that all we need for this new life is given to us through God’s word and by the Spirit through Christ.

The older I get, the more simple I want to become as in embracing simplicity, not in being a simpleton of course. The rest of the pericope of the above passage of this great Psalm points toward more of the same in the life God has for us through Scripture in and through Jesus.

May your unfailing love come to me, Lord,
your salvation, according to your promise;
then I can answer anyone who taunts me,
for I trust in your word.
Never take your word of truth from my mouth,
for I have put my hope in your laws.
I will always obey your law,
for ever and ever.
I will walk about in freedom,
for I have sought out your precepts.
I will speak of your statutes before kings
and will not be put to shame,
for I delight in your commands
because I love them.
I reach out for your commands, which I love,
that I may meditate on your decrees.

Psalm 119:41-48

 

a thought for 2019: simplifying life

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:38-42

There is no question that life is full of responsibilities. And it becomes worse if we buy into all our society insists is necessary. Like things people supposedly need. So that our infrastructure is built on that, big houses, etc. And on top of that the US economy is built on consumer debt. So that people put themselves in a bind from which they cannot easily escape. Thankfully, especially when people are younger they can begin new practices to get out of debt, and then avoid it or at least minimize it. And make better decisions financially, not driven by expectations of others.

What we do and refuse to do can help, but no matter what, we will be faced with difficulties and necessities we will have to deal with. One basic: Paul tells us that if someone does not provide for their own, they have denied the faith and are worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8). There are indeed certain basic responsibilities we all have.

The problem Martha had, and all too many of us along with her is taking the weight of the world, her world on her shoulders. It’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on in the narrative. Martha maybe could have scaled down and prepared something simple enough so that she too could have at least listened to the Lord’s teaching, if not sitting at his feet like her sister Mary was. Interestingly enough, it’s Martha’s complaint which occasioned the Lord’s response. She felt a pressure that she need not have felt. And maybe that helps us toward the point the Lord in his response was making.

It would have been fine for Martha to continue serving as she was inclined and surely gifted to do and do well. That in itself was not wrong. The problem was the expectations she had accepted or placed on herself. Really beyond anything God would have or actually did expect as Jesus’s words make clear.

Our Lord tells Martha that she is worried and upset about many things. Then he says only a few things are needed, or only one. That Mary had chosen what is most essential, and that it wouldn’t be taken away from her.

I think for 2019 this may be telling at least many of us that we need to simplify. Perhaps scale down. Maybe let a good number of things go. And learn to cast all of our cares on God, who cares for us (1 Peter 5:7; Psalm 55:22). To quit being driven, and instead to learn to follow in step with the one whose invitation remains open:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

 

calming and quieting one’s self

A song of ascents. Of David.

My heart is not proud, Lord,
    my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
    or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
    I am like a weaned child with its mother;
    like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord
    both now and forevermore.

In an age of noise and anger, and the shout political programs (I used to see years ago, but have avoided since), it is good to simply get away and calm and quiet one’s self. I might do that with classical music and a book, myself, along with coffee. And always with the Bible; in fact that might well be my book, and I do carry one around wherever I go, because that helps me in this.

To simply be in the calling God has for us, whatever that might be, and I’ll add, in all its simplicity, is good. We might be led to go beyond our capabilities, or outside of our comfort zone. Though for me I think more often than not it’s just me going there, maybe with a fair rationale, but maybe also without the Lord’s leading. Though God will be with us, and if necessary, we can always backtrack and acknowledge what error we’ve made.

I think seeking to live in God’s presence in all that we do can and naturally will help us in this. It helps us remain humble, and listen, and unlike the world, try to have a conversation on a given matter. And then get to what’s basic and best: God’s promises to us and to the world in Christ.

We simply and often don’t know as much as we might think. And we need to acknowledge that, and work on what God is teaching us and humbly own that. Only then might we have a helpful word in the matters which trouble and concern people. As we remain in prayer always, as an attitude and practice. And together with God’s people, put our hope in God now and forever in and through Jesus.