Monday, 1 October 2018

spiritual Disciplines- Simplicity

Before I begin I would like to direct you to a couple resources. One is Richard Foster’s book, “Freedom of Simplicity” which expands on his chapter on simplicity in his book “Celebration of Discipline”. I have also been greatly helped in thinking around the topic of money by Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University and his “Complete Guide to Money”. If you want to pursue this further please look those resources up.

We are continuing to explore the Spiritual Disciplines. This week we are looking at Simplicity. Simplicity has to do with a focused life. You know your priorities and they are not in conflict. As a Christian discipline we focus on God’s kingdom as our primary priority. After naming a number of things that people might be anxious about Jesus tells us to “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt 6:33). Christian simplicity is a life with the kingdom of God as the central focus and the main priority. It doesn’t mean you don’t feed yourself, or plan for the future, but it just means that things are put in their proper perspective.

Simplicity has both an inward reality and an outward reality. And both are necessary to practice simplicity. If you just have the outward look of simplicity you become a legalist. You imitate the simplicity of the past, or of others, but it isn’t authentic to you. Some Christians have decided to dress simply, such as the early Quakers (or the Hutterites). They just wore certain colours. Generally, they dressed in the clothing of the working class. You can’t just start dressing that way without having the inward reality. It will just be a costume. It won’t be an outward expression of an inward reality.

Similarly, you can’t have an inward attitude of simplicity without it having an effect on your outward life. It will become hypocrisy. To have an inward focus of the Kingdom of God will set priorities for how we organize out life. It will help us determine what kind of car we drive, and how we dress.

The inward reality of simplicity is based on trusting God for what you need. You trust God to give you your daily bread. You trust God to care for you now and in the future. That also means to believe that what you have has come to you as a gift from God (Deut 8:17). The Kingdom of God is your priority and everything else finds its proper place in your life under that top priority. … The grace we receive from God in the practice of simplicity is that we become free from the hunger for status and luxury. We become free from anxiety about the future, and we become more generous people because we have a healthy detachment from possessions.

It is impossible to talk about simplicity in our society without talking about money. Money and material possessions are a powerful idol in our world. It can be an idol for those who have money, but also for those who don’t have money. The worship of wealth is pervasive. Jim Carrey has been quoted as saying, 
“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it's not the answer.”
 Our society seems to think it is the answer. We still think that winning the lottery will solve all our problems. … As Richard Foster says, 
“Covetousness we call ambition. Hoarding we call prudence. Greed we call industry.”
 In the movie “Wall Street” the character Gordon Gekko speaks for the modern world when he says, 
“Greed is good”.
 The hero in our society goes from rags to riches. But, it wasn’t so long ago that the hero in the Christian tradition went from riches to rags. …

Simplicity helps us stand between two extremes- 
one is wealth hoarding and material obsession, 
and the other is a rejection of creation as evil in itself.

The Bible is full of warnings about making wealth into a God, especially when the accumulation of wealth comes alongside the oppression of the poor. As we heard in Ecclesiastes, 
“The lover of money will not be satisfied with money” (5:10).
 As Jesus has said, 
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth. … no one can serve two masters; … You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matt 6:19, 24).
 There are many places in Scripture where we are warned about the dangers of making wealth the main focus of our lives.

The biblical tradition is also careful about not rejecting material blessings. The Hebrews are encouraged to enter the Promised Land which is full of material blessings- a land flowing with milk and honey. In Deuteronomy 14 God’s people are given the direction, 
“You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year. And if the way is too long for you, so that you are not able to carry the tithe, when the Lord your God blesses you, because the place is too far from you, which the Lord your God chooses, to set his name there, then you shall turn it into money and bind up the money in your hand and go to the place that the Lord your God chooses and spend the money for whatever you desire—oxen or sheep or wine or strong drink, whatever your appetite craves. And you shall eat there before the Lord your God and rejoice, you and your household” (14:22, 24-26).
 God wants us to enjoy the fruits of creation. … There was a group called the Gnostics who were around during the time of the early church. They rejected the material world as a work of the devil. The early church was quick to reject that group as heretical. The creation is good and to be enjoyed.

Christian simplicity rejects the obsession with and worship of wealth, but it also rejects the Gnostic tendency to demonize wealth. Christian simplicity embraces the proper ordering of wealth under the priority of God’s Kingdom. Wealth is to be used for God’s purposes. … Dallas Willard has said that if we reject wealth in the name of God, then we place it into the hands of those who are not concerned with God. The people we want to have wealth are those who love Jesus and want to spend their wealth under his direction. The world needs disciples of Jesus who spend their wealth under the direction of God.

In “Celebration of Discipline” Richard Foster gives 10 principles to consider in our practice of simplicity.

“First, buy things for their usefulness rather than their status.”
 Don’t buy things to impress people. 

“Second, reject anything that is producing an addiction in you. … Addiction is slavery. Refuse to be a slave to anything but God”. Watch for any desire that is overtaking your will.

“Third, develop a habit of giving things away”. Fight against attachments and the temptation to hoarding by giving things away. Get rid of things you don’t need. Richard Foster says, “ Most of us could get rid of half of our possessions without any serious sacrifice”.

“Fourth, refuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modern gadgetry”. We don’t need a new iPhone just because a new iPhone has been released. There are a lot of people spending a lot of money learning how to sell us the newest gadget or toy. Don’t et them get into your head. Buy what you need and beware of the compulsion to get the newest thing.

“Fifth, learn to enjoy things without owning them.” Share things. Enjoy parks. Go for walks. Go to the library.

“Sixth, develop a deeper appreciation for the creation”. Enjoy being outside. Watch the clouds, look at the stars. Smell the flowers. Watch the birds.

“Seventh, look with a healthy skepticism at all ‘buy now, pay later’ schemes”. Avoid debt whenever possible. Save up to get what you need rather than going into debt. There are plenty of powers looking to take advantage of you by getting you into debt.

“Eighth, obey Jesus’ instructions about plain, honest speech. ‘Let what you say be simply “Yes” or “No”; anything more than this comes from evil’” (Matt 5:37). Do what you say you will do. Avoid flattery. We shouldn’t require our signature on a contract before we take our word seriously.

“Ninth, reject anything that breeds the oppression of others”. Don’t allow your money to go to those who oppress the poor through sweat shops or other unfair labour practices. We should be conscious of where our bananas, coffee, and chocolate come from.

“Tenth, shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the kingdom of God”. Temptations to worship other “gods” are everywhere, don’t be fooled.

If we can learn the Spiritual discipline of Simplicity we will learn what Paul knew. He said, 
“I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:11-13).
 May God grant us the grace of simplicity. AMEN

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