Archive for Enough
In Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline, the author offers 10 Principles for Fleshing out Simplicity for today. They are listed as follows:
1. Buy things for their usefulness, not their status.
2. Reject anything that produces control (obsessions, addictions) over your life.
3. Develop the habit of giving things away.
4. Be skeptical of the promise of gadgets.
5. Learn to enjoy things without having to own them.
6. Develop a deeper appreciation for your creation.
7. Refuse debt, no matter how tempting the payment plan or interest rate may be.
8. Obey Jesus instruction about plain, honest speech.
9. Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others.
10. Shun anything that distracts you from Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 6:33.
Remember, internal realities are not real unless they have an external expression, and to exercise external expressions without an internal center produces legalism.
Matthew 6:19-33. In this lengthy text, Jesus advocated favoring heavenly treasures over earthly treasures. He gives three supporting reasons for his argument.
1. The world is an uncertain place (Matthew 6:19-20). Stuff will deteriorate, if it is not stolen by thieves first.
2. Whatever we fix as our treasure will obsess our entire life (Matthew 6:21). Your life will orbit your treasure.
3. Provision for our needs has already been made (Matthew 6:25-32). While we work and are encouraged to work, our work is performed in trust, not in anxious concern.
So how did we end up in so much trouble?
First, I believe we have become consumed by consumerism. Overconsumption results when we desire something beyond our reach. We reach because we feel incomplete. In order to complete the void in our lives we reach for “plastic saviors” that will help us create the image and identity that we want but is not real.
Second, we have failed to understand the biblical teaching of stewardship. The first step in understanding stewardship is to acknowledge God’s ownership of all things. We are not owners, we are managers of the gifts and blessings that God has entrusted to us to serve the world.
Third, we have failed to seek first the kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33). It has been said that purity of heart is to will one thing. But because we lack a divine center our need for security has led us to an insane attachment to things. If we do not seek the kingdom of God first we will not seek it at all. Seeking the kingdom first produces three core attitudes about wealth and riches: (1) What I have is a gift from God; (2) What I have is cared for by God; and (3) What I have is available to others.
Jesus sought to lift the burdens of people. He spoke repeatedly and pointedly about one of the greatest burdens they bore, the burden of money. In Jesus’ day, people were facing four challenges related to money and wealth.
First, people were broken by the effort to obtain wealth. They were vulnerable to the belief that it was their own responsibility to provide for their own needs. (cf. 1 Timothy 6:9-10) Second, people were crushed by their failure to obtain wealth. In the first century, wealth was believed to be the clearest indicator of God’s favor. Poverty, on the other hand, was believed to be the clearest indicator of God’s disapproval of their lives. Next, people were burdened by maintaining and keeping the wealth they had already obtained. In Matthew 13:22, Jesus refers to the “deceitfulness of riches.” The reason riches are deceitful is because riches tempt us to trust them. Finally, people were weighted down trying to make sure their futures were secure.
In many ways we are no different today. One of the resources I used for the Enough series was a book by Thom and Art Rainer titled Simple Life. According to their research, team Rainer published these frank, albeit not surprising statistics.
50% of Americans do not have enough income to pay their monthly bills.
46% of Americans believe they have too much credit card debt.
72% of Americans do not have at least 6 months living expenses saved in case of emergency.
51% of Americans believe they are underinsured.
73% of Americans do not believe they can retire comfortably.
60% of Americans say that finances are the major stress point in their families.
Tomorrow I’ll share what Jesus had to say about money from the Sermon on the Mount.
When the center and the circumference is in place, God promises to care for four essentials: our needs, our attitudes, our futures, and our families. What do the blessed do with their blessings? What are they for? That’s the subject of the concluding verses of this Psalm.
“May the Lord bless you from Zion (the spiritual dwelling place of God), so that you will see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life, and will see your children’s children! Peace be with Israel” (Psalm 128:5-6, HCSB).
Notice the flow of David’s thought process. He began with “you,” and expanded the thought to “Jerusalem,” ending with “Israel.” Do you see it? God blesses your life so that you will have an impact on those around you. It begins in your life and your home, and spills over into the community and ultimately your nation and world. God blesses us so that we will in turn become a blessing to others.
Israel struggled immensely with what to do with their blessings. From time to time, the people of Israel would confuse the favor of God with being the favorite of God. When we comprehend the blessing of God as his favor, we understand that his favor is not just for us. His blessings are given to us and through us. But when we take the blessings of God and make them about us we become indulgent and deserving. God’s blessings are available to us, and he promises to give them to us. He gives “grace upon grace” as we take those blessings and bless those around us.
1. God will take care of our needs. Psalm 128:2 says, “You shall surely eat what your hands have worked for.” God will take care of our needs in between the center and the circumference.
2. God will take care of our attitudes. Verse 2 continues to say, “You will be happy!” The most elusive commodity in life today is happiness. People spend their entire lives pursuing that one goal. Whatever you center your life upon is what you look to for your source of happiness and joy.
3. God will take care of our futures. Psalm 128:2 concludes by saying, “and it will go well for you.” We are not able to make that promise with any serious degree of certainty. However, the Bible reveals that we can live our lives with the security that God is in control and that he cares for us.
4. Finally, God will take care of our families. In the next verse, the Psalmist writes, “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house, and you sons, like young olive trees around your table.” David could think of no greater compliment than to make these two comparisons. Viticulture was the lifeblood of the nation. Olive trees were significant to the stability of the nation’s economy as well. Olive trees are slow to grow and require patience. They don’t produce fruit until the seventh year, and they don’t produce edible fruit until at least the tenth year. But when the olive tree is cared for, it will produce steadily for up to 20 generations.
“In this very way the man who fears the Lord will be blessed.” (Psalm 128:4, HCSB)
One of the things I discovered is that the word “happy” is in the plural. Biblical Hebrew doesn’t have a system of superlative language (e.g. good, better, best), so when a Old Testament writer wanted to emphasize or strengthen a word he would simply put it in the plural, as if to say “happy, happy, happy is everyone who fears the Lord…” Some translations use the word “blessed” in verse one, which reminded me of the parallel nature of true happiness and and the blessing of the Lord.
David, who wrote this Psalm, laid down two conditions for being happy and blessed. The first condition is that the fear of the Lord must be the center of one’s life. Scientists tell us that our solar system is composed of one star, nine planets (or eight if you buy into the new supposition regarding Pluto), 32 moons, about 100,000 asteroids and comets beyond calculation. The thing that holds our solar system together is the sun. Everything revolves and orbits around that epicenter. What is the center of your life? Who is the center of your life? When the fear of the Lord is absent from our lives we become enslaved to lesser fears. If the fear of the Lord is central to our lives, everything takes its appropriate place and we experience happiness and blessing.
The second condition is that our lives must have an established circumference. Verse 128:1 continues, “How happy is everyone…who walks in his ways.” At the center of life is the fear of the Lord. At the circumference of life is the Word of God. The Scripture sets forth the boundaries of our lives. We must draw the line where God draws the line. Anytime we go out of bounds, we experience fear, guilt, sorrow and pain.
At the center is the fear of the Lord. At the circumference is the Word of God. When we get the center and the circumference right, we can experience true happiness and the four fold blessing of God described in 128:2-4. More on that tomorrow.
In Sabbath observance the Christian is encouraged to rest, reflect and rejoice. Those three steps lead us to a fourth principle: renewing our trust in God. In Genesis 1:29-30, Adam was reminded that God had made provision for his physical needs. Sabbath provides us an opportunity to remember that God cares for his children, the pinnacle of his creation. Sabbath is an act of trust in God’s provision. We are enabled to rest from our labor because at the end of the day we realize that it is God and not ourselves who meets our daily concerns. Our refusal to stop is a potential indicator of our distrust in God’s care for us and a confession of our dissatisfaction with his provision for our lives.
Finally, Sabbath allows us to realign our priorities with the priorities of God. Backing up even further, Genesis 1:27-28 expresses God’s purpose for Adam, summarized in two seminal statements: be fruitful and multiply and provide care for the creation. Sabbath allows us to re-establish the important priorities of life…those ultimate things of greatest importance.
Through last weekend’s message I strongly emphasized the importance of Sabbath observance. While we may not observe it in the strictest sense of the OT where we set aside an entire day of the week for these processes, I do believe we need to understand these principles and learn how to apply them to our contemporary lives in our current setting. We need to learn something about the pacing of life and the rhythm of life verses looking for means of escape. Sabbath is not escape. That’s why a day off or a vacation will not fix you or your life. It’s not about sleep or recovery. It’s about radically reorienting your life to the life God intended.
The first principle of Sabbath is rest. Genesis 2:1-3 states, “So the creation of the heavens and the earth and everything in them was completed. On the seventh day God had finished his work of creation, so he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation” (NLT).
If you research any fitness routine or exercise regiment, you will quickly observe that they call for varying degrees of intensity. There are “heavy” days and “recovery” days. So when we read the word rest in the passage above, we naturally think of rest as recovery or recuperation after strenuous activity. The problem with that logic is that God didn’t rest on the seventh day because he was exhausted. The word for rest is menuah, which is a kind of rest that results from satisfaction, contentment, or completion. God rested because he was finished. Sabbath rest is the goal we are to move toward. But our cultural challenge to this principle is that we never finish anything. Let’s say as an example that you work hard at your job to finish a project. You are feeling satisfied and are pleased with your near success. The boss walks in and says, “Great job! You’re almost done! Here are two more projects for you to begin!” Think about the extra-curricular sports in our school systems. Before one season ends, another begins. We never finish anything. We just overlap new beginnings on top of things nearing the end. Some of this may be within our control. But ultimately, it is our insatiable appetite and unbridled desire for more that prevents us from achieving the menuah (rest from completion) of God that produces shalom (wholeness, completeness) in life.
The second principle of Sabbath observance is reflection. Genesis 1:31 reveals that “God looked over all that he had made.” When we pause to look around and reflect, we see the sanctity of God in everything. Purposeful reflection becomes the difference between the person who sees a beautiful sunset which blasts the sky with color and then reaches for a camera and the person who sees the same sunset only to report, “It’s getting dark outside.” When we reflect we are able to see God for who he is. It is not until we begin to see God for who his is that we can take steps toward discovering who we are, what we’re about, and why we’re here. When we reflect we see that what we have is not deserved or earned. Our lives and blessings alike are good and perfect gifts that come down from above (James 1:17).
Principle three of remembering the Sabbath is rejoicing. Genesis 1:31 informs that after God looked around, he “saw that it was very good!” Reflection should result in rejoicing. When we experience Sabbath, we should celebrate the provision of God with thankfulness. The Rabbis of Jesus’ day taught that on the day of judgment we will give an account for all the times we did not stop and celebrate the gifts of God.
Rest, reflection and rejoicing are the first three principles of Sabbath observance. Tomorrow I’ll finish this series by posting the final two companion principles.
Martha was task oriented, like most of us are I suppose, but she couldn’t stand the fact that Mary had stopped all activity in favor of talking with Jesus. She was so upset she went to Jesus and demanded that he encourage Mary to get up and help. Jesus must have smiled as he lovingly rebuked Martha for being so concerned about her temporal provisions and feeble attempt to impress.
Thinking about this caused me to realize that Martha’s question is not about Mary. Neither is her concern about Jesus. It’s all about Martha.
I think it’s our self absorption that hinders us from achieving simplicity. Much of our time is spent creating an image that says we are successful, we have it together, and above all, we are not slackers. We look down on others who we don’t perceive as working hard. We hold them in contempt and label them as unmotivated and unproductive. Sabbath is designed to help us break the cycle of self importance and image projection. Choosing to apply the principles of Sabbath into the pacing of our lives allows us, like Mary, to choose the greater things.
One of the benefits of my education has been the wonderful people I have met along the way who have been superb resources to me in ministry. One such person is my friend of nearly 30 years, Dr. Ken Gore, chair of the Department of Religion at Williams Baptist College in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas. When I outlined my present sermon series, one of the things I wanted to do was preach a sermon on creating margin in our schedules, and the basis of that thought was the Old Testament teaching on Sabbath. So when I needed a good resource on the subject, I called Ken and shared my thoughts.
Ken recommended a very fine monograph titled Living the Sabbath by Norman Wirzba. Wirzba serves as the chair of the Department of Philosophy at Georgetown College in Georgetown, Kentucky. Thanks to my friends at Amazon, I held it in my hand in four days, and must confess it was money well spent.
I had supposed that Sabbath would be an excellent foundation for teaching about God’s perspective on time, but I quickly discovered that Wirzba had much more in mind than how Sabbath influenced Hebrew thought about calendars and schedules. Wirzba takes the Sabbath principle to a fuller, more rounded expression about simplicity, inclusive of perspectives on time, family life, education, the environment, possessions, and of course, worship.
Having stated the obvious concerns at hand in our modern culture in the preface, the author deals systematically with the meaning of Sabbath from both a biblical basis as well as from Rabbinical tradition. Not only does Wirzba handle the Old Testament texts, he moves across the aisle to the New Testament and provides some helpful understanding of how to apply the principles of the Sabbath to our Christian worldview.
I have much I could say about this book, but will limit my thoughts to two excellent contributions offered by the author. First, I was impressed by Wirzba’s insistence that we understand and apply the Sabbath in principle to our present setting. Sabbath is an important aspect to achieve and maintain a sense of pacing and rhytmn to every day life. Application of the Sabbath, in the writer’s words are, “a matter of life and death.”
A second contribution of value is his explanation of rest. Sabbath rest (shabbat menuah) is not the rest of recovery from some strenuous or exhausting physical exertion. Rather, menuah is the delight and celebration that is achieved after the completion of a purposeful activity (cf. Genesis 2:1-3). That thought alone was worth the price of purchase.
I would highly recommend Living the Sabbath. It’s scholarly, yet readable. It’s theological, yet practical. Most of all, it’s simply helpful.