Simplifying – Week Three

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Matthew 6:19-21

While society is obsessed with “all new things.” God is the God who makes “all things new” (Rev. 21:5). That might seem like a slight sentence variation, shifting a single word forward, but that tiny shift has cosmic implications (see Painting with Ashes).

The world is fixated on “new and approved,” “upgrades” and “brand spanking newness.” This obsession results in a culture of waste. We throw away the old things to make room for the new things. Thus, bigger landfills and a sicker planet.

God’s way of making “all things new” is not our consumeristic way of brand-spanking newness and waste. It’s the way of potters remixing at wheels, old broken covenants replaced with new covenants, and shattered lives reassembled in new amalgamations. “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; look, new things have come into being! (2 Cor. 5:17)

How exactly does God make one a new creation in the present? It’s certainly not that God throws us into a dumpster and starts over. God works with the existing material, reshaping and recreating. God can turn deserts into jungles. God turns cemeteries into gardens. God makes dead things come alive again. God takes the throw-aways and creates a new human community called the church. What we discard, God redeems. We describe the power God uses to do this with the word resurrection.  

The formational story of the Christian faith is the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Resurrection is the ultimate narrative of disruption. The empty tomb throws a monkey wrench in the death-dealing cycle of business as usual. It changes everything. Resurrection is the power that dismantles all other forms of power.

Without the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, Paul reminds us, we are without hope and pathetic (1 Cor. 15:17–19). Jesus is the “first-fruits” of the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:20–28), his risen enfleshed self is the prototype, so to speak, of what all humanity ultimately is in the process of becoming. The ultimate plan for the entire cosmos is resurrection. In Romans, Paul describes the universe as shuttering in the throes of birth pains, like a woman bared down delivering a child, the broken creation is trembling with the force of new creation by the power of resurrection (Rom. 8:19–23).

God’s plan is not to discard the universe in some cosmic dumpster, but to make it new. The hope of a currently fragmented creation is a healed creation, where sin, death, and brokenness have been stripped out. This already-and-not-yet scenario is a new embodied state, of which Jesus is the sign and foretaste. Heaven is not an escape hatch to some non-corporeal reality, but a fully embodied, eternal, and whole state of being for the entirety of creation (Rev 21-22).

For now, the planet is a place of limited resources. The downside of a capitalist system is that it’s based on three very different rhythms: extraction, commoditization, and violence. In a consumeristic culture, we suck the world dry of its resources to feed our insatiable appetite for more. Extraction creates a culture of waste. We are a people obsessed with the next “brand spanking new” thing. Whether this be technology, fashion, or name brand items. We are stuck in a seemingly endless cycle of extracting and discarding.

In this system, commoditization means that everything and everybody has a price. With enough money, we can supposedly buy happiness, justice, and even the bodies of other people. We reduce everything to a transactional relationship. I pay you in exchange for some goods or services. You in turn provide those goods and services. For the super wealthy it’s often not a question of morality or ethics, it’s a question of what’s the price tag. Sadly, when even other humans are seen as a commodity to be used and exposed, we see expressions of this that include slavery, prostitution, and a booming pornography industry.

Furthermore, we will employ violence to enforce the first two rhythms. If someone tries to take what’s ours, we will respond with physical harm to protect what we see as “our property.” Acts of violence are typically connected to some violation of the first two rhythms. Underneath every war that’s ever been fought, is the key mechanisms of extraction and commoditization. World Wars erupt when one group thinks they should claim entire nations or the earth itself as their own possession. 

This tendency to extract and consume is damaging the planet. We have been ravaging the earth since the dawn of the industrial revolution. We have mercilessly extracted fossil fuels, precious elements, and non-replenishable reservoirs. We have packed landfills and litter the depths of the ocean with our waste. We have hunted important species to extinction.

Now our planet is sick, and we have come to a hinge point. Climatologists warn that what we do in this decade will determine if we leave our children and their children an inhabitable planet or not. Creation care is a Biblical mandate reaching back to God’s call to “till and keep.” We need to think about sustainable and renewable energy. Take small personal steps to cut down on pollution. Be advocates for protecting resources and planting green spaces in our community.

Due to the dwindling number of resources in a capitalistic society, we have created a massive gap between the super wealthy and the desperately poor. Less than 1% of the world’s population now holds over 50% of the world’s wealth. When people have more than they need, when they hoard, it creates lack for those who are excluded from the center of wealth generation. We throw away more food from our tables in one day, than others have to live on for weeks. This inequality is unacceptable for people who follow a savior who said we would find him in the “least of these.”

Jesus warns us, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21). Storing up wealth and defining ourselves by it is a great perversion of the heart.

The third rhythm is about simplifying. We need to learn to break free of consumerism. This means living a simple and unadorned life. Sometimes even to go without. John Wesley practiced a form of missional minimalism. Again, he generated what today would be the equivalent of millions of dollars in his books and publications, and yet he gave it all away to help those in need and died possessing only a few items. He maintained a weight of 128 pounds from his twenties till his death. He did not engage in gluttony, ate healthy, and fasted weekly. He wore the same simple clothing repeatedly, until it couldn’t be worn anymore.  

Again, let’s draw some wisdom from Wesley’s sermon, “The Use of Money.” Wesley himself lived by the simple wisdom “save all you can.” This didn’t mean hoarding wealth but rather investing it wisely to be able to give more generously. This also meant being conservative with one’s choice of purchases. Saving, to Wesley, meant not spending. He did not store his earnings for the types of savings we deem non-negotiables today, such as emergency funds or retirement nest eggs.

Wesley urged his followers to purchase only the absolute necessities of life. He told the Methodists not to purchase expensive food, fancy clothing and elegant furniture. He also realized that when we spend money on things we do not really need, it started a downward spiral, “Who would depend anything in gratifying these desires, if he considered that to gratify them is to increase them? Nothing can be more certain than this: Daily experience shows that the more they are indulged, they increase the more.” said Wesley.

Furthermore, Wesley also warned against buying too much for children. Based on the principle that gratifying a desire needlessly only tends to increase it, he asked parents: “Why should you purchase for them more pride or lust, more vanity or foolish and hurtful desires? . . . Why should you be at further expense to increase their temptations and snares and to pierce them through with more sorrows?”

While simplifying may seem confining, it is ultimately about finding true freedom. Freedom from the feelings of worry, guilt, and the anxiety inducing consumer culture in which we live. Minimalism is a tool to rid yourself of life’s excess in favor of focusing on what’s important—so you can find happiness, fulfillment, and freedom. It’s a way to rid our lives of excess distraction and noise. For example, excessive belongings, too many commitments, spending too much money, not prioritizing our health, living in clutter, these are harmful to our souls.

Excess and gluttony obviously have a physical effect on our bodies. While obesity is a leading health crisis in USAmerica, children die of malnutrition and starvation all over the world. It also damages our relationships. Workaholism is an addiction often fueled by the instinct to generate more money. In the meantime, we damage our closest relationships through being absent or unavailable.   

We could begin to approach growing in simplification through three major areas: space, money, and time. Space: what if we decluttered our life through giving away all our excess goods and clothing to those in need? Money: what if we stopped spending money on things we don’t need, living above our means, and were able to be more generous with the church and others? Time: what if we were intentional with our calendars so we could take sabbath, nurture important relationships, and volunteer more time to helping others?

Would if we could follow these simple Biblical principles?

  • No debt. If we can’t afford it, don’t buy it. Pay off any creditors and avoid using credit cards or taking out loans. “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.” Proverbs 22:7.
  • Budget our money. Understand our income and expenses. Be strategic with what we purchase. “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?” Luke 14:28.
  • Tithe first. The first check that we write every pay period should be to God. Our tithe is not the leftovers that we give to God, it’s our “first fruits.” “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing” Malachi 3:10.
  • Live unadorned. Rather than wasting money on trinkets, name brands, and expensive accessories, go for the basics, and use things until they can’t be used anymore. “Therefore, do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”  Matthew 6:31-33.

Here’s a prayer that might help us along the journey of simplifying. John Wesley was confident that any believer who had a clear conscience after praying this prayer will be using money wisely.

“Lord, thou seest I am going to expend this sum on that food, apparel, furniture. And thou knowest I act therein with a single eye, as a steward of thy goods, expending this portion of them thus, in pursuance of the design thou hadst in entrusting me with them. Thou knowest I do this in obedience to thy word, as thou commandest, and because thou commandest it. Let this, I beseech thee, be a holy sacrifice, acceptable through Jesus Christ! And give me a witness in myself, that for this labor of love I shall have a recompence when thou rewardest every man according to his words.”

Below are three tools to help us in the journey of simplifying…

Week Three Exercise: Simplifying Inventory

Space (decluttering and giving away things we don’t need)

  1. CHOOSE SOMEWHERE TO START:

Perhaps begin with a single closet, a room in your home, or a messy vehicle. Start to discard everything in the space you don’t need. Can the items be donated to the those in need? Do you know someone who needs them more than you?

  • SET INTENTIONS:

Why am I doing this? Why this particular space? If you are cleaning out your wardrobe, are there items you never wear? Do you have several versions of the same thing? Why are you keeping them? Would someone else benefit from them?

  • WHAT ARE YOUR GOALS:

What would you like to see at the end of the simplification process? Could you get down your closet to ten garments? Could you reduce to two pairs of shoes? Are you comfortable wearing the same clothing again each day? If not, why? What’s underneath your desire to hold onto those particular items?

  • CONTINUE FORWARD:

How did it feel to simplify? Even if it was a small space, can you see a greater benefit? Were people blessed by what you gave away? Don’t stop now, try your whole living space, declutter every room! Draw up a plan and start small.

Time (a simple planner that helps us see where we spend time)

Time: Simplify Your Schedule

50/50 Planner

The 50/50 planner is a tool I designed to help busy pastors get a handle on their calendars. But I find it works quite effectively for all people. It’s a way to schedule days by dividing them into three blocks.

  1. Use the image above or draw one out on a calendar or notebook.
  2. Designate one day as Sabbath, a 24-hour period, (example: from 8pm Thursday, to 8pm Friday, or all-day Saturday)
  3. Maybe you are also able to designate another day as a day off work for family.
  4. Make sure you never work all three blocks of a day, that is a recipe for burnout! If you work 9-5pm. Spend the evening with your family.
  5. Take the remainder of the work week and fill in the thirds with work.
  6. Plan into your week time to donate to the church.
  7. Divide those church blocks evenly 50/50 between work in the church, and external work in the community with those outside the church.
  8. Share this schedule with your friends, family, bosses, and coworkers. Once you set the boundaries, stick to them!

Money (return to your simple personal budget)

Look back at the budget you made in week two, where could you simplify? What items could you decrease to increase your tithe and be more generous to those in need?

Stay tuned for our final rhythm… sharing!

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