Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Week Six

The Discipline of Simplicity

Just to be funny I was gonna 'simply' state the title and leave this blog empty like the tomb, but I learned too much during this week to short change you like that. Haha. So let's get on with it shall we?

“The Christian Discipline of simplicity is an inward reality that results in an outward life-style.” Richard Foster

Going into this week I arrogantly believed that I was one of the simplest people I know, ha. But not until I began to study this discipline did I find just how complex and complicated of a person I can be… even in the midst of desiring to “look” so simple. Sure, there are some areas of my life in which simplicity has become second nature. I’ve actually started to find MORE comfort over the years in having little… compared to others. But in that comparison I had unknowingly taken the central focus off of the ONE who desires to bring ultimate freedom and by doing that I had yet again become enslaved. If I learned anything this week it was the fact that freedom in Christ is the ultimate goal of simplicity, not simply learning and mastering the discipline itself. Although becoming “simple” will bring the average person some level of freedom, it only serves as an illusion if our heart is not to honor HIM, know HIM more in this process of purging, and desiring that our life reveal HIS glory as we receive more of HIS beautiful love.

On the subject of comparison… one massive reason why it doesn’t work (especially for the western world) is because we are a small percentage of the world that uses most of the world’s resources. I may look simple to the average American Joe having only two small closets, one vehicle, a bunch of books and journals, a computer, phone, ipod..etc. But when I compare what I have with my brothers and sisters around the globe, I feel quite shameful. I’ve come to the conclusion over the years that this must’ve been what drove people like St. Francis of Assisi, Mother Theresa, Brother Lawrence, George Mueller, and Gandhi to give up EVERYTHING for the sake of the lives of others.

“Live simply so that others can simply live.”-Mother Theresa

“Experiencing the inward reality of simplicity liberates us outwardly. Speech becomes truthful and honest. The lust for status and position is gone because we no longer need status ad position. We cease from showy extravagance not on the grounds of being unable to afford it, but on the grounds of principle. Our goods become available to others..... It is time to awaken to the fact that conformity to a sick society is to be sick. Until we see how unbalanced our culture has become at this point, we will not be able to deal with the mammon spirit within ourselves nor will we desire Christian simplicity.” Foster

If indeed God cares more about our heart than anything else, then what we need in fact is a spiritual transplant... if you will. As I’ve been reading this chapter I just keep asking God for a transformation in my thinking, feeling, and doing. That I abandon all forms of comparison and align myself right up next to the word of God, no exceptions or justifications. What I’m finding is that there are many things permissible to God, but very few of those things are worthy of our time, energy, money and thought... and He knew that but gives us choice. I realize to be simple is to have more space for God to move and breath life and love…. And less room for watered down illusions the world so gladly and freely gives in order for us to be enslaved just like them.

“The Spiritual Discipline of simplicity provides the needed perspective. Simplicity sets us free to receive the provision of God as a gift that is not ours to keep and can be freely shared with others. Once we recognize that the Bible denounces the materialist and the ascetic with equal vigor, we are prepared to turn our attention to the framing of a Christian understanding of simplicity.” Foster

Foster believes that the reason most Christians have never even wrestled with the issue of simplicity is because it directly poses challenge to our interests in an affluent life-style. The point being: as a believer and follower of Christ I can not possibly accept the parts that fit neatly into my particular way of life avoiding those other “uncomfortable” issues that might cause me to make some unwanted sacrifices. We are in a heart crisis and justification seems to be culprit ultimately giving the enemy more authority to expose us to the dangers of sin in this world, rather than the safety we find in the promises of Jesus.

The reality is – the kingdom of God (in your heart) is at stake. The throne of God is and never will be threatened in this world… but in your heart, who are you bowing to? According to Foster the main point of ALL of this is to “seek FIRST the kingdom of God” and then everything necessary will come in its proper order. “Nothing must come before the kingdom of god, including the desire for a simple life-style”.

“When, in fact, the kingdom of God is genuinely placed first, ecological concerns, the poor, the equitable distribution of wealth, and many other things will be given their proper attention.” Foster

We NEED an inward spirit of TRUST. Whether we have A LOT… or we have NOTHING MUCH, we all have the same earthly tendency to put our faith in our belongings rather than the ONE that we belong to. I’ve known people who have pennies to their name or people who have millions and both worry just the same. On the other hand I’ve seen others live with absolutely nothing to their name, but walk in complete trust daily and watch as all their needs are met. I’ve also been encouraged by folks who have seen a crazy amount of money come under their stewardship… and they’ve chosen to live simply so others could have a chance. If we don’t truly understand or seek this trust then we will always be plagued with fear, anxiety and the desire for more.

Richard Foster says that FREEDOM from this type of anxiety can be characterized by three main inner attitudes: 1- Receive everything you have as a gift. 2- What we have is to be cared for by God. 3- What we have is available to others.

Here are a few principles I’ve chosen to live by over the years that I believe have given me this same freedom. 1- I see something I desire then I spend at least a few weeks in prayer before purchasing this thing. Most of the time, if I patiently wait, God finds a cool way to give me something close to what I prayed for...usually better! So over time I’ve learned to ask God first. If He wants me to have it, He’ll give it to me personally. If this doesn’t happen I wait for a peace to come. If the peace never comes I do without and normally forget about it before too long. 2- I avoid buying things that are probably made by people in the slave trade industry, or unfair wages or conditions. This is very hard to do being that most of our clothes and food come from slave laborious conditions. If you do research and know what to look for it will definitely cut down on your spending and you’ll look for ways to INVEST in others freedom… not in their slavery. 3- I just made a little rule once that every time I bought something… I would get rid of two things. Worked well for awhile, but haven’t practiced this lately… it’s time for a little purge I think. 4- I also try to never buy anything that I couldn’t give away. In other countries you tell someone you like their shirt and they’re willing to give it to you right on the spot. I’ve experienced some of the most amazing generous people in the poorest countries in the world. If we have something in our possession too valuable to us to ever let go of, that is sure fire indication that it has some control over you in some way… and I’d get rid of the sucker to experience true freedom from stuff. 5- I try and hold loosely to everything practicing the gift of giving as often as I cannot placing any expectations on them to treat the thing a certain way, but instead giving with no expectancy of anything in return.

“We are dependent upon God for the simplest elements of life: air, water, sun. What we have is not the result of our labor, but of the gracious care of our God”. Foster

Foster then leaves us in this chapter with ten controlling principles for the outward expression of simplicity. Keep in mind these should never be used as laws but only as an attempt to flesh out the meaning of simplicity for today.

Buy things for their usefulness rather than their status.

Reject anything that is producing an addiction in you.

Develop a habit of giving things away.

Refuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modern gadgetry.

Learn to enjoy things without owning them. Be able to share things.

Develop a deeper appreciation for the creation.

Look with a healthy skepticism at all “buy now, pay later” schemes.

Obey Jesus’ instructions about plain, honest speech. Yes be yes, no be no.

Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others.

Shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the kingdom of God.

“May God give you- and me- the courage, the wisdom, the strength always to hold the kingdom of God as the number one priority of our lives. To do so is to live in simplicity.” Foster

Here's an educational look at yet another reason to be simple. Although I don't know the heart of those who created this, I do know that we do desire to honor God with our time, resources, body, soul, spirit and mind. Are we REALLY respecting our God and choosing to be a good steward?? Are we investing in the future? Is what we partake in investing in other people's freedom or enslaving them even more? Good questions to ask and ponder over...

The life of Philip

What I'm learning is that we have the awesome privilege of having the stories of the lives of Jesus' disciples at our fingertips. Unfortunately, I don't have a lengthy book written about each one that goes deep into the thought patterns of these men... but I imagine it would look a lot like ours. Although as they got to know their Father's heart through Jesus, they became more obsessed with a sacrificial lifestyle truly abandoning all for the sake of Christ. As I read about each one of these fellas it seems as though they began with blind faith, figured things out along the way as they began to see the faithfulness of Jesus in their lives and others, and then towards the end lived beautiful reckless lives for the one who died and gave everything so we could have an eternal relationship with the Father that begins now.

Most disciples, including Philip, also died for their faith. It is said that they were actually crucified and Philip upside down even. So now I'm asking myself where I'm at in that journey. Am I even moving? I'm wondering if some of us get stuck at the "blind faith" stage but still have a tendency to blame God or ask Him "why"? When in reality that question may never be answered this side of heaven. Instead, we are to move past our infant stage of "accepting" what He did for us into one of maturity- standing firm in the knowledge that HE IS WHO HE SAYS HE IS, no matter what. And you are the child He says you are. So perhaps... like the disciples we should start at least asking "How" God? Or better yet "when"? Or even "where"? Most likely He'll answer with a "just follow me" response like He did with Philip in John:

"The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, 'Follow me.'" After this encounter with Jesus, Philip immediately urged Nathanael to come and see Jesus: "Philip found Nathanael and told him, 'We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote - Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph'" (John 1:45).

Jesus tests Philip in John 6:5-7: "When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, 'Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?' I think he didn't just want to "test" him, but perhaps involve him in the miracle. Philip answered him, 'Eight months' wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!'" Jesus went on to feed the multitude with five loaves and two small fish. Most people probably think Philip's answer revealed his lack of faith, but he was stating the very obvious. In fact, it's said that Philip was very greek which makes me think He was a little more heady than the others and probably had calculations for Jesus all day long. We all have at least one of these in our lives... it's hard for me to understand them, but there is such a need for that balance as well. The tendency if you are one of these is to trust in your knowledge rather than His heart, which I feel may have been Philip's struggle at times.

The cool thing is that Greek men request to see Jesus and Philip is able to minister to them. I imagine they saw him and identified with him in many ways building a bridge to the beautiful relationship they could have in Jesus. If only they could get their heart to connect. In John 12:20-21 it says, "Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. 'Sir,' they said, 'we would like to see Jesus.'" Following this encounter, Jesus teaches the people about glorification, surrendering one's life, and serving the Lord. How beautiful this is.

In John 14:8, Philip said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us." In the following verses we read Jesus' reply: "Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work."

Even here is seems as though Philip needed some sort of physical evidence once more. I understand some humans desire for this "evidence" of sorts, but we must learn what complete faith in Jesus asks of us. Obviously, like Philip... He always meets us where we are at in our journey. But when He does meet us in that place, that is evidence enough to abandon all for His kingdom. Every moment like that is a stake in the ground that remains a place in your faith you never have to cross back over. If you are having trouble you can go back to that stake and fall on your knees. It's time for some of us to grow up, move on from our infant faith... and stand firm on His promises.

Philip continued on with a servant's heart doing missionary work in parts of Asia until His apparent crucifixion.

Training for the half-marathon

Well, for the past two weeks i've been traveling and have had little time and space to run. The marathon is going to be here in less than a month and I will continue to train. Whether I actually run or not I do not know yet... another thing is I also don't have the money for the race yet. So, we'll see what happens! I'll keep you posted!!!

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