Simplicity — 6

This is the final week of our focus on Christian simplicity. I hope we can get a glimpse of the power of simplicity and humility. If you read the opening words—the Beatitudes—in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, you’ll discover that the simple, the meek, the humble and the peacemakers are the ones who turn the world upside down. They are the ones who live simply so that others can simply live.

 

Monday, September 2

Read: Ephesians 1:3-10

Consider: For many years I’ve had the privilege of teaching church leadership to undergrads who are preparing for ministry and to graduate students who are on assignment, leading churches and various other ministries. Of course, we always begin with the big picture—the meta-narrative of the church. What is the nature of the church? What is its role in our world? When is the church at its best and when is the church at its worst? What did Jesus teach about the church and how did the early Christians find their way? What does it mean to be the Body of Christ?

But at some point in every course, we take the study of the church—what we call “ecclesiology”—to very practical levels. What does the church look like in the flesh? This is not a departure from beautiful theology. It is our theology, for we worship and follow the One who “became flesh” and pitched his tent with us (John 1:14).

As we study, strategize, pray and live the daily calling of the church, we are often dealing with the management of resources. So, I always begin this section by asking the students, which resources are finite and what resources are infinite. What do we have that we will never find in short supply, and what resources must be rationed and used with great care?

This is an important question. And it’s easy to get turned around on this, to get it backwards. “Resources” like love, grace and forgiveness are always available. We never have to ration them. God lavished his love on us, so we get to spread it indiscriminately. In fact, that’s the essence of living like Jesus. But sometimes Christians start to ration what is infinite. They try to reserve grace for those who they think deserve it. But, of course, that is absurd. If we think someone deserves it, then what we’re giving is certainly not grace.

But we also deal with limited resources. For example, time, money and energy are not infinite. Even the natural resources given by God are not without their limits. But, at times, we live as though they are.

In our final week of focus on Christian simplicity, it’s important for us to look beyond ourselves and to see our task of living responsibility with finite resources, while we freely and extravagantly pass on the infinite gifts God has given.

Pray: “Lord, I cannot begin to thank you enough for your love, grace, forgiveness and patience. I want to see those gifts more clearly as I praise you and as I pass them on to my fellow travelers. Freely I have received, freely I will give (Matthew 10:8).”

 

Tuesday, September 3

Read: 2 Corinthians 8:13-15

Consider: Yesterday we considered the responsibility of managing limited resources while extravagantly passing on the limitless gifts that God has “lavished on us” (Ephesians 1:7-8). As our gratitude overflows, we develop a generosity of spirit that reflects God’s abundance. But it’s important to see abundance through the eyes of God.

Simply put, God’s abundance is not for me. It’s for us.

I grew up in a church that taught that the core of Christianity was a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I’m so grateful for that teaching. I cannot imagine my existence apart from the reality of knowing God and being known by him—to know that I am in Christ and Christ is in me. And, yet, there was something lacking in the manner that I understood the gospel.

I was taught a very personalized—even privatized—faith. The goal was to make it to heaven, so personal piety was the highest calling. I spent my early years searching for inner peace, spiritual abundance and personal contentment. Sure, I was supposed to tell others about Jesus. But that was so they too could have a personal faith.

But abundance is not personal. It’s communal. God did not want a person to abound. He wanted a people to abound. It’s not about me. It’s about us. And “us” includes all who are created in the image of God.

Back to limited resources. We usually discover that many resources are not as scarce as we think they are. They seem to be in short supply when I am trying to find abundance for me. But when our passion is for God’s people—and all of his creation—to prosper, we usually discover that when resources are shared, they go much further.

It’s almost as if a few loaves of bread and a couple fish could feed thousands.

Pray: “Lord, misunderstanding abundance complicates my life and steals my joy. But when I—when we—work and pray and give so that your image-bearers may thrive, you give a depth of gratitude that puts life into perspective. Thank you for your amazing gifts.”

 

Wednesday, September 4

Read: Proverbs 31:8-9

Consider: An axiom on Christian simplicity has guided our thoughts this week. It’s simple and self-evident. Yet I must often remind myself to “Live simply so others can simply live.”

It is possible for me to live a life insulated from the oppressions that are crushing God’s image-bearers in our world. I am a straight, white male living as a citizen in the most affluent nation on earth. I have a job and I own a home. I am never discriminated against because of my religion or my race. I’m never bullied for my sexual orientation or gender identity. Even when I think my finances are tight, I’ve never gone hungry and never slept on the street.

It is easy for people like me to keep our faith private. We can piously proclaim that we don’t get involved in politics or social issues, we just believe in Jesus.

It’s easy to accept the status quo when the status quo serves you well. But what about all of those in our nation and around the world who are being crushed by the beasts of the nations and systems of our world?

Let me clarify my use of the word “politics.” I’m not using it in the manner that we do in America. I’m not talking about tribal partisanship that fights to gain and keep power. I’m talking about the politics of Jesus.

“Politics” comes from the Greek word, polis, which means “the city.” We could also think of the polis as “the people.” We live in societies and cultures where people are interdependent. Jesus and the early Christians addressed the inequities of the society and culture, and even the oppressions of the governments, because Jesus always cared about those who were being crushed. And so must we.

So, those of us who are greatly privileged must learn how to set those privileges aside. We shouldn’t speak for the powerful, but for the powerless. The privileged must not guard our way of life, but we must seek to offer life to others. We’re not supposed to make excuses for ourselves, but to learn how to use our privileges for those deemed by the world as “the least of these” (Matthew 25).

When we divest ourselves of pride, excuses, fear, self-protection and the idol of security, we find a beautiful simplicity that makes us like the poor in spirit, the meek, the peacemakers, and yes, the persecuted. And that’s not a bad place to be, because Jesus said they are the ones who are blessed.

Divesting of spiritual and material baggage frees us up to be Christ’s agents of resurrection. Tomorrow we’ll be more specific about how we can live simply so others can simply live.

Pray: “Lord, remind me that the beautiful life you want for me is the life you want for all of your children. When I’m tempted to stand up for myself, help me to heed the advice of the wisdom writer to ‘speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.’

 

Thursday, September 5

Read: Proverbs 19:17

Consider: Our Christian scriptures—the Old and New Testaments—are amazing in the range of wisdom and insight they bring. That’s why we can read the Bible for decades and continually find new insights and those beautiful, life-changing “aha!” moments.

People often call the Bible the word of God. But the scriptures proclaim that Jesus is the Word of God—the Word made flesh (John 1:14). The word (small w) about the Word (capital W) has power because the Spirit of Christ—the Holy Spirit—translates God’s truth to our spirits as, again, the Word takes on flesh.

All that to say that many times you will find layers of meaning—layers of revelation—in one passage of scripture. They unfold for you as your heart opens and becomes fertile ground.

So, let’s look at the simple, profound statement we read today from the Old Testament wisdom writer…

“Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord…”

Centuries later Jesus of Nazareth would teach us the same thing. When you serve the vulnerable, you are serving Jesus. When you look in the eyes of the poor, you’re looking in the eyes of Jesus.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta is known for her ministry to the poorest of the poor. But if you read her words, she often spoke about poverty in a very expansive manner. To her poverty was not only about food and shelter. It was about embrace and dignity. She worried about those whose poverty was that they were unloved. She believed sincere love was more powerful that food.

So, let’s allow the flower of Proverbs 19:17 to bloom, to show us new beauty. Let’s expand our definition of “poor” and see how we might lend to the Lord. Today you may have the opportunity to show kindness by giving money to someone who desperately needs it. But it is more likely that today you will have the opportunity to give kindness that goes beyond the poverty that is evident. We can show kindness by…

  • Giving dignity to a homeless person. Even if you don’t have money, you can look them in the eyes and see them for the image-bearers they are. Most people try to make the homeless invisible. You can make them seen and affirmed.

  • Embracing an elderly man or woman who has lost their spouse and has no family nearby. They may have gone months without someone holding their hand or giving them a heart-felt hug.

  • Getting down at eye level and listening to a child. This is especially important for children who do not stand out as particularly cute or cuddly.

  • Having a slow cup of coffee with a lonely person. Giving your time is an act of sharing your greatest treasure.

Every day we will encounter a wide range of people who are poor in a variety of ways. Our scripture says, be kind. In so doing you are giving your time, your energy, your love, your affection and yourself to the Lord.

Pray: “Oh, Lord, open my eyes to see you today.”

 

Friday, September 6

Read: Psalm 8:1-9

Consider: If you regularly read from the Book of Psalms, you’ll find various themes and moods. At times the psalmist stands on top of an emotional mountain, praising God with shouts of joy. Other times, he’s humbled at entering the sanctuary of the Lord. Some of the poetry is filled with lament and expressions of deep sorrow and loss. Sometimes the psalmist expresses fear. And we even find palms of complaint where the writer fumes his outrage at the unfairness of it all, and questions why God is letting him down.

But, if you’re like me, I’m guessing that your favorite psalms are the ones that speak about the earth, the heavens, the stars, the mountains. The language is lofty, but still inadequate to describe the cosmos or the love that is poured into all of God’s creation. In trying to express his awe, the psalmist likes to describe creation itself at the psalter and singer—it is creation that is praising God.

This deep appreciation, respect, awe, and even reverence is unlike the many religions that have worshipped nature. Our scriptures even warn us against placing the creation in the position of the Creator. But I fear that as our living conditions, our occupations and our technology have removed us from intimacy with nature, we’ve learned to see creation without seeing God in his creation.

I was taught that Jesus Christ inhabits his people, that our bodies are the temple that house his presence. I still believe that. But as I learned to honor those created in his image, I forgot to look for God in the rest of his creation.

Our culture has certainly forgotten this reality. We call the world “natural resources” because that’s how we’ve used creation—as our resources for our purposes. We’ve used the earth, but not cherished the earth.

This all changed for me one day as I was reading from Ephesians. Have you ever had one of those moments when the words on the page jump into your life and the Holy Spirit changes the way you see the world? The Ephesian letter describes “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (4:6).

I was taught that God “stands apart” from his creation. That was a way of telling us that the Creator and the creation were not one and the same. But what I didn’t understand is that God inhabits his creation — he is “over all and through all and in all.”

I don’t want to see the earth as our landfill, our fuel, our building materials or even simply as our home. I want to see it as the dwelling place of God.

The Hebrew word, beth-él, means “house of God.” The temple was often referred to as the house of God. But you’ll also find passages where beth-él is referring to a larger house—creation itself. When we see the earth as God’s dwelling place and a place that is permeated with his presence, we’ll care for it like we never have before.

Pray: 

“O Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
    in the heavens.
When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is humankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

O Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

 — Psalm 8:1, 3-4, 9 

 

Saturday, September 7

Read: Psalm 19:1-8

Consider: The Book of Genesis (the Book of Beginnings) teaches that God saw his creation, drank in its beauty, and called it good. And as we saw yesterday, our Old Testament teaches that the earth is the dwelling place—the house (beth-él)—of God. David proclaimed that creation sang its praise to God, that it could not be silenced. The creation praised the Creator. And our New Testament teaches that as you and I look out the window or walk in the grass or climb a mountain or swim in the Great Lakes, we can be assured that God is “over all and through all and in all” of creation (Ephesians 4:6).

So, let’s honor the Creator by caring for his creation.

We’ve been using a simple axiom as the backdrop of this week’s meditations — “Live simply so others can simply live.” This is so important to remember when it comes to creation care. As powerful nations continue to neglect stewardship of the environment, the poorest nations suffer the most. Much of our trash ends up in their countries. And, for a variety of reasons, the negative effects of climate change disproportionately impact poor nations.

So, what can we do? Isn’t this the domain of nations and governments? Well, yes, it’s going to take some bold initiatives from many nations. But God works in large and small ways. What if each one of us helped care for God’s creation by how we consumed products, by how we conserved energy, by what we did with our waste, by what we ate, by how we prayed, and by how we taught the generations to come to honor God and his creation? What if we simplified our lives to care for creation out of sheer love and appreciation for the Creator?

None of us seem to have many answers. But God’s love for and his inhabitation of his creation should be enough for us to love and cherish it as well.

Pray: If it’s warm where you are, take off your shoes and go outside. Feel God’s presence in the wind, the warmth of the sun, the rain, the clouds. Breathe, smell, feel and know God’s presence. If you’re not able to spend time in nature today, spend some time thanking God for what he has done and that his house of creation is also your dwelling place.