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.

what really matters?

And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what really matters, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Philippians 1:9-11; NRSVue

I wonder if Mary and Joseph would have done what they blessedly did if they would have been caught up in secondary matters. Maybe being caught up in details that would make no difference in fulfilling the task at hand, to get to Bethlehem to be registered in the required census. I’m sure they took care to help Mary be as safe as possible, along with the baby she was carrying near the end of her pregnancy.

And then came the time for birth. No place in the guest room, so a manger would have to do. Nothing fancy, and certainly not ideal, but what people were used to. But that opens up an entirely different conversation which we won’t go into here. I’ve not even investigated well enough myself. What is apparent might turn our understanding of the nativity largely on its head. But that doesn’t matter for this post.

Paul’s prayer for the believers in Philippi was certainly something God was helping Mary and Joseph with at this sensitive, crucial juncture. What really matters is something we need to be sensitive to, day after day. We can get so easily get sidetracked on nonessentials. I’m supposing that Mary and Joseph were not the kind of people who were easily distracted.

For us this will require God’s help. Yes, prayer, as the scripture passage indicates here. So that we don’t get lost in the weeds over secondary matters. The end result being that God is less encumbered by us to do God’s good work in us, and also so that the good works God has for us to do might be done always in love. The main point the focus while we let go of what really doesn’t matter. In and through Jesus.

God’s protection

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
our God is merciful.
The Lord protects the simple;
when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest,
for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

Psalm 116:5-7

This entire psalm is a testament to God’s protection in faithfully taking care of God’s people. The protection goes down to the last details, but when we think about it, it doesn’t mean that God’s people might not experience all that befalls humanity and worse. Somehow in the midst of all of that, God’s protection is present for us.

I like the thought that God protects the simple. The NET says it refers to those who are in formative learning stages. Even though that’s long past for me, I still am quite “simple” in a number of ways. Still learning, something which will go on until the end of life. So this applies to all with an open heart to learn from God directly and indirectly.

God’s ongoing protection makes little sense in a world where random accidents and worse go on (consider Job). People take advantage of others and worse. And Christ followers are not exempt from that. We must never forget that nothing in our experience can ever separate us from God’s love in Christ (Romans 8:35-39). We can rest assured in that. No matter what our experience or what we’re going through, God will see us through. We must hold on to that, not let go of God. God won’t let go of us. We will receive all the help we need to bring glory to God. In and through Jesus.

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.