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.

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.

missing the point

Much of my life has been so taken up with secondary matters, which have their place, and are even important in trying to understand and piece together, so as to better understand the whole. But I have all too often been left empty in the process, essentially missing the point.

I would rather be off track a little, but be majoring in the point of it all, rather than be lost in the details of just how we can be as correct in belief and practice as possible. Believe me, there’s no end to that. It can happen in a good number of ways. For me in the past it was translating scripture, or more precisely in my case, the translations of scripture. Or just what is the church, and what church is closest to the truth in faith and practice. It’s probably okay, and even good to dip into such thoughts and study here and there. But beware. It can have a compelling, alluring draw, which ends up being a pull into destructive waters, which even if not destructive, paradoxically leave one high and dry.

We need to major on the majors: the gospel as revealed to us in Jesus within the four gospel accounts, in the writings of Paul, and in the rest of the New/Final Testament. The church, comprised of all who have put their faith in Christ, who have been baptized, and partake together of the Eucharist/ Holy Communion. Loving God with all our being and doing, and loving our neighbor as ourselves, including even our enemies. Making up for what I consider lost ground in including more within liturgy of the Sermon on the Mount, with the Beatitudes, etc.

None of us will get it all right, and that includes even those within the Great Tradition. And it’s not that we shouldn’t consider just what our foundation and interpretation is, though we should learn from each other, and keep it as simple as possible, within the bounds of scripture as understood by the church at large.

This is a pet peeve of mine in that I’ve been so often sidetracked by it, yesterday being an example of that, which anymore is an exception, thankfully, rather than the rule. We humbly go on in what we do have, trusting in God through the Spirit to lead us on to the end, to his praise and glory, and for the good of all in his will in Jesus.

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.

the beauty of simplicity

Life is complex, and we do well to try to try to grapple with and understand its nuances. And to try to consider each part within the whole. Which means we’ll be ever learning, even as we hold to the Truth.

We also do well to revel in simplicity. Not to be simplistic, but to simply learn to appreciate basic truths not only in one’s head, but in one’s heart and life. Usually, I think, the most profound and deep truths stem from some basic, simple corollary, I’m imagining. Like God and God’s love in Jesus and what that means for creation, for the world. And there’s categories under that, which we can look at and examine in all their details.

Sometimes even what is simple can be so profound that the depths seem unfathomable. I think of the cross of Jesus and all that’s related to that, to his death. Jesus the Messiah dies on the cross. When we consider that simple truth from scripture and for all of life, it has a depth and beauty perhaps unrivaled. Mirroring the very wonder of God.

We shouldn’t leave what is obvious behind. We need to dwell on that, and turn it over, and pray to get our lives in harmony with that. We need to dwell on what is simple if we want to be people of depth, children of God in and through Jesus together for the world.