Your Stuff Doesn’t Condemn You

I just preached my second sermon!  (Crazy, right?)

My text was Luke 19:1-10, the story of Zacchaeus. In this passage we have the story of the rich guy that everybody loves to hate. He’s a tax collector who’s making himself rich at his neighbors’ expense. He gouged them on their taxes and had grown very rich doing so.

Well, one day Jesus comes to Jericho, where Zacchaeus lives. Jesus had just healed a blind man, Bartimaeus, and there was a crowd of people surrounding him. Zacchaeus had heard about Jesus and he wanted to go see him. He determined that seeing Jesus was more important than whatever he had been previously occupied with.

So Zacchaeus braves the crowd only to find that he is too short to see anything. I’m 5’1″ so I totally get that. But what Zacchaeus does next is very interesting. He climbed into a tree on the path because he knew Jesus would pass by that way.

When Jesus came to that spot he yelled for Zacchaeus to come down and invited himself to be a guest in Zacchaues’ home. Jesus honors him by eating with him.

Zachaeus had a unique experience. He has a close encounter with the Master himself. People have been radically transformed by just hearing about Jesus. Zacchaeus actually shared space with Jesus. He shared a meal with him. Luke doesn’t give much information about what happened there. I can only imagine what that was like. I can only imagine the things that were said.

One thing Luke does tell us is that Zacchaeus was a changed man after his encounter with Jesus:

“Meanwhile, Zacchaeus stood before the Lord and said, “I will give half my wealth to the poor, Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!”- Luke 19:8

The man that was so consumed with money that he regularly cheated others to make himself wealthy decided to give half of his fortune to the poor. He agreed to make restitution for the money he had stolen. The man that was so obsessed with money and stuff made a radical shift.

Jesus then declares that salvation had come to Zacchaeus’ home. That is a beautiful statement.

If not read carefully, however, it can almost be understood that Zacchaeus’ good works (giving to the poor and making restitution) are what saved him. They most certainly did not. Believing in Jesus is the only thing that saves. This was as true then as it is now. What saved Zacchaeus is his change of belief. He worshipped money and the stuff it can provide. After spending some time with Jesus his beliefs changed. He worshipped the one true God rather than money. This brought salvation to his household.

So, what did Zacchaeus’ good works mean? It meant that Zacchaeus had been freed from his bondage to greed. He was a slave to his desire for money and all that it can buy. After spending time with Jesus he was set free.

Here at Minimalist Believer we aim to have less stuff. Is it because the stuff condemns us? Absolutely not. We need stuff. Often not as much as we think, but we still need it. If we believe in Jesus we have eternal life even if you have a bunch of stuff.

What we do here is celebrate the freedom from obsession with stuff. We celebrate the freedom that comes from living with less stuff and less of a desire for stuff. We celebrate the fact that what we have is enough.

Many of us have been obsessed with stuff. I had a serious addiction to consumerism, and I still have some areas were I can improve. But I am making progress, and that’s my goal: progress, not perfection.

So stuff doesn’t condemn. It doesn’t always cause us to be enslaved. But Jesus comes to being freedom. He comes to destroy the works of the devil. He comes to destroy the chains of bondage — to consumerism or anything else. And that freedom is worth celebrating.

The Gift of Wonder

This Christmas has snuck up on me. I have had a very busy fall: working more than usual, writing (and finishing!) my second novel, and taking on new leadership at church. I feel like I haven’t really had time to reflect on Christmas and the hope that the season brings.

I am currently reading a book, Touching Wonder by John Blase, that includes the story of Christ’s birth from the Message translation along with some dramatized passages written from various perspectives. It’s a short read; only 69 pages. It’s a powerful short read though. The Christmas story is truly extraordinary and sometimes we forget that.

The story that touches me most is the story of Zechariah. It tells the story of a man, diligent in his duties as a priest, that had given up the hope of ever having a son. That hope was so far gone that when Gabriel came to bring him the happy news of John’s birth Zechariah didn’t believe. His heart bad become hard after so many years of disappointment.

Unfortunately, hardness of heart is something that I understand very well. Over the years my own heart has hardened because of difficult circumstances and hopes that have yet to come to fruition. I must admit that for a time I wondered if God had any intentions of delivering on his promises at all. Hardness of heart is something that I understand well.

But once the angel’s words had come to pass, and Elizabeth’s belly began to swell, imagine the hope that must have awakened in Zechariah’s heart. Imagine how the hardness began to melt away and a sense of anticipation began to grow. It was probably all he thought about.

Zechariah’s story, a story of promises fulfilled and hope renewed, gives me great encouragement in this difficult phase of life. God does take notice. He does interrupt human history to being his promises to pass, even if he must do so by very unusual means.

It is good to remember that at Christmas, when we celebrate the great lengths God went to in saving humanity, and how he used a barren woman, a young girl, an aged priest, and an honorable man to change the world.

So as Christmas draws near, I hope that you take a moment to reflect on the wonder of the Christmas story and the God who orchestrated it. I hope that you enjoy time with family, travel, presents, and lots of great food. But I hope that you enjoy the gift of wonder most of all.

Merry Christmas!

 

 

Greed As Idolatry

I am surprised by how much I am learning as I pursue the simple life. I’ve learned about the world and the society in which we live, but I have also learned about myself. I see how I have been conditioned to behave like everyone else.

At the moment, I am reading an article by Timothy Keller: Counterfeit Gods. He argues, based on Colossians 3:5, that greed is idolatry. Generally, when people think of idolatry we think of statues and shrines. However, according to Ezekiel 14:3, we can set up idols in our hearts.

Keller rightly states that the human heart can take good things (career success, love, family, material possessions, etc.) and make them idols in our hearts. Keller says it beautifully: “Our hearts deify them as the center of our lives, because, we think, they can give us significance and security, safety and fulfillment, if we attain them.”

I can see evidence of this in our world. What’s scary is that I can see evidence of this in my own life. I have been conditioned to be addicted to material possessions. Stuff.

If I saw something I liked, I had to have it. Since committing to minimalism, I have made great progress. But it’s still hard to walk by a gorgeous pair of shoes without whipping out the debit card, because in that moment, those shoes are more than footwear. They are fashion, and style, and self-confidence. They’re everything that will make my life better. They are the solution to every problem. They have become my idol.

Even if I do pass on the shoes, I think about them all night long, and try to find a way to make them mine. And all the while, I feel that this is normal. That use to be my reality. However, minimalism has taught me that this is not normal. Idolatry comes in many flavors, and extreme materialism is one of them (one that I have personal experience with). I realized that greed was an indication of a sick society and misplaced priorities, but I didn’t realize that it was idolatrous. As I read through Counterfeit Gods, I am learning that greed is more than a problem. It’s an idol.

I could tell you time after time when the thought of something new overruled good judgment. The promise of that new thing would suck me in every time. Sure, I’d be happy and giddy for a while but the newness wore off and I was back to normal. Lucky for me (retailers?) there was another big sale only a few days away. I’d have another opportunity to try to fill that internal need with more stuff. And that’s how you wind up with enough bath products to last for years.

I have been there. The need for stuff can dominate our thoughts almost to the point of obsession. The need for more can become the driving force in our lives. That is when it becomes idolatrous.

I like the solution that Paul give later in the chapter: seeking to know our Creator and become more like him. This should be the focus of our lives. It is so easy to get caught up in the new and beautiful, but if we focus on knowing and becoming more like God then greed won’t get a chance to take root.

Train your focus. Guard against greed and excess. Let your life God-driven, not greed-driven.

 

 

 

Reflections from Duluth, Minnesota – The Women’s Conference

This past weekend I attended the Vineyard Women’s Conference entitled “Engaging in the Kingdom.” It was a meeting of Vineyard women from the Midwest North Region of the US. It was hosted by the Duluth Vineyard in Duluth, Minnesota.

I had been looking forward to this conference for weeks. I love the Vineyard and I always enjoy the opportunity to experience Vineyard conferences. I’ve also been looking forward to it because Duluth has been on my mind a lot. I had never been to Duluth and I was really excited about a chance to experience it.

The conference was awesome. I feel like I really gained some useful insights and I would like to share them with you:

  • One theme of the conference was that we each have a unique place in God’s narrative. I have a role to play. One of our speakers used the book of Ruth as our text. Ruth went through a difficult time. She lost her husband. She was a foreigner in Israel, yet she had a part to play in God’s narrative. Because of her choice to believe in the God of Israel she became a part of the ancestry of Jesus. (I have been wondering about my place in God’s story. An interesting thing happened. I found a book called Storyline by Donald Miller and it’s all about finding your subplot in God’s story. I’m really excited about going though this book.)
  • I became aware of the tension between what I want and what God wants. My life doesn’t look the way that I want it to but I have a feeling that it looks the way God wants it to look. I am trying to be okay with that. I’ve been angry and I’ve been fighting it but I wonder if I’ve been using that anger to shield me from the truth.
  • Perhaps the most important insight that I took from the conference is that God redeems everything. Even the bad things. Especially the bad things. Both of the speakers had experienced great hardship and trauma but God redeemed their bad experiences and created something beautiful. This really spoke to me because things are really hard right now, but going to the conference gave me hope that God will redeem all the bad things and make something beautiful for me too. This alone was worth attending the conference.

I can honestly say that the Vineyard Women’s Conference was really great for me. I feel like God gave me some insights that will prepare me for what he is doing in my life. What I heard at the conference encouraged me. It challenged me. It changed my way of thinking and that may have been exactly what God intended. There was also a lot of time for rest and reflection, which always fills me up. Now, I’m pumped.

The city of Duluth was beautiful. Aside from the snow, it was a great visit. The people were friendly. The food was great. The hills were scary sometimes but we made it. I have a feeling that this will not be my last trip to Duluth.

Have a great week!

 

2014 – The Year of Discipline

Happy New Year and welcome to 2014! I’m not one for yearly themes. I don’t do catchy slogans for each year. I don’t get caught up in making predictions about the coming year. I typically just see it as the passage of time. Another page to flip on the calendar. Nothing more.

Yet, for some reason, I feel like God is wanting me to take advantage of this season, this fresh start, to make some changes. To be perfectly honest, this is not about the calendar year, 2014. Some things, (regular exercise, cleaning up my diet, more commitment and consistency in writing) were implemented in 2013. This is more about me setting a mental milestone for the changes that God is making in my life.

Similarly, this is not about making New Year’s resolutions. Those things never work. This is about me living as God intends for me to live — in 2014 and beyond. I feel like there are some things that God wants me to work on at this time in my life.

Self Control. This is a big one. It is all-encompassing. I think that God wants me to exercise more self control. That is one fruit of the Spirit that I really need to work on. I feel that God wants me to exercise more self control in the way that I eat and take care of my body. He wants me to eat the right foods. He wants me to exercise regularly. But I also think that God wants me to be more careful about how I spend my money. I think he wants me to be more mindful of how I spend my time. I feel that God wants me to focus on what needs to be done rather than doing whatever I want to do or whatever feels good.

Spiritual Disciplines. I feel that God wants me to be more intentional about pursuing him this year. I think of the Spiritual Disciplines as sort of a spiritual workout or a way to become intentional about getting closer to God. I will be doing more writing about this in the coming year.

Study. I feel that God wants me to set aside more time for study. This generally fits with the instructions that God has given me (to study). It is time to devote myself to that. I also serve as a small group intern at my church, which means that I lead the discussions just about every week. This requires preparation on my part and more time in study will make me much more effective in preparation for discussions.

Because I sense an overall theme of discipline, I am calling 2014 The Year of Discipline.  I sense that God is taking me to a new place this year and I can’t drag my old habits along with me. I have to let go of some things and adopt some new practices. It’s time. This will be a good thing and I am excited to see all that happens in my life.

This is also the start of my church’s annual 30 day fast, which begins today. It’s just a time to step away from the things that occupy our time and energy (my pastor calls them the snacks of life) and focus on God. Feel free to join us. I plan to check in later and let you know how things are going.

I’m also praying that 2014 will be a great year for you. Is there anything you feel will be a major theme in the coming year or for the next season of your life? Feel free to share in the comments.

The In-Between

Sometimes I feel like I’m living a lifetime of waiting. Waiting drives me crazy –  even more so when the wait is unpleasant.

Recently, I had my perspective shifted by a book, The In-Between: Embracing the Tension Between Now and the Next Big Thing By Jeff Goins. While I still have not completely embraced the wait (I think that will take some time), this book did give me a new way to look at waiting, even when unpleasant.

One of the most powerful things I took from this book is the idea that right now is all there is. Yes, there is a future, but I can’t live it right now. Now is all I have.

I also had to confront the possibility that the future I hope for may never be. My hopes may never be realized. What if things never change for me? Then what?

This thought forced me into a decision. If now is all I have, I want to make it the best it can be. If life never changes for me (and I believe that it will), I want to do the best I can with what I have. For me, this means going after my goals as if my very life depended on it. It means writing like the angels themselves were inspiring me. It means living fully right now because this is all I have.

In the first chapter, Jeff talks about a lesson he learned while living abroad. He spent his days rushing from one place to another without really taking things in. During his stay, though, he learned to slow down and be fully present in each moment. He urges the reader to be present right now. He urges us to take time to enjoy our surroundings and spend time with those around us.

Jeff Goins had some unique opportunities and some unique experiences, which made for a very interesting book. He talks about slowing down and enjoying life right where we are. This was the focus of this book. Jeff succeeded in helping me to embrace life as it is.

However, this book impacted me in another way. As Jeff told his story and how his life unfolded, this book gave me a dose of hope. Looking at Jeff’s story, I could see God guiding his life. I could see how God led him along and how Jeff is using all that he has learned through his experiences.

Seeing that in his life gave me hope for my own life. I have no idea what is happening. I can’t see what God is doing. In fact, I accuse him regularly of doing absolutely nothing. But if God guided Jeff, it made me consider the possibility that perhaps he is leading me, too. Maybe I am slowly learning things that I will later use in the life God has planned for me. Maybe this is all a part of the plan.

I was really encouraged by Jeff’s insights and his story. It helped me see things differently and it helped me to see God differently.

I urge you to pick up The In-Between. It’s an entertaining and thoughtful read.If you’re stuck in the waiting phase, this book will help.

People. Not Things.

As of late, this phrase has really been on my mind. Simply put: people are more important than things. People should occupy more space in our lives than things. Yet, how many of our lives reflect this?

Yes, I am about living simply, but that is only half of the story. I am also about social justice and helping people. I can help more people when I’m not out chasing stuff.

“For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.”

Luke 19:10

Jesus’ priority was not the accumulation of stuff. He was more concerned with people than with stuff. In Luke 19, Luke tells the story of Zacchaeus, a tax collector who had become rich by overcharging the people. Zacchaeus hides in a tree to hear Jesus’ teachings. Jesus offers to come to his house. Zacchaeus is so moved that he declares that he will give half of his possessions to the poor, and that he will repay four times all those he defrauded. Interestingly, it is after Zacchaeus shifts his thinking from wealth and stuff to people, that Jesus declares that salvation had come to Zacchaeus’ house.

People were Jesus’ priority. Not things. He came to seek and save the lost — and he was not talking about lost stuff! The Son of Man came after people. That’s where his focus was.

That’s were our focus should be as well. As followers of Christ, we should have the same priorities that he had (and still has). We should be thinking more about people than we are about accumulating more money and more stuff.

Shifting our priorities is never an easy process. It takes time, and usually requires a change in behavior. How can we begin to shift our thinking?

Perhaps one way that we can begin to shift our thinking is to reflect on Jesus and his teachings. Jesus’ teachings indicate his priorities: the will of God, the Kingdom of God, the love of God, and the love of people.

Making the decision to live simply is another way to shift your thinking. Intentionally refusing to pursue more and more and more stuff frees up more time and money to help others.

When I’m out chasing stuff, or lusting after that cute little bag in the Brighton window, I am not thinking about Jesus at all. I am too busy daydreaming about how that bag would really set off my summer look. All this stuff is a distraction. It’s a distraction that we cannot afford if we are to live like Jesus.

Choosing To Trust

The last few weeks have been really rough. I have been working insane hours at a job that is not working out. At all. I am not sure how much longer it will last, and that’s ok.

Yes, I need income. Yes, I have bills to pay. Yes, I feel anxiety rising about what will happen to me. But I am choosing not to give in to it. As I battle this anxiety, I try to remind myself of two things:

Ultimately, this job is not my source. Jesus is. God is my provider, and he can provide my any means.

Worrying will not help me one bit. Worry does not pay bills. It doesn’t help me find a job that’s actually going to work for me. It does nothing to help the situation.  It actually makes the situation worse by hindering my productivity, making my head hurt, and robbing me of sleep at night.

So, in this moment of uncertainty, I am making a deliberate decision that I will not give in to anxiety. God is going to do something. I have no idea what, but he will do something.

I will pray. I will continue to search for work. And I will choose to trust God to get me through this.

Good Does Not Mean Easy

The last two or three weeks of my life have been surreal. My mood has been really good. I feel optimistic and I am motivated. I’ve gotten to go to an amazing conference. I’ve been working at my part time job. Though things are still really rough for me right now, I actually feel good.

During this time, I feel like I am having greater insight about life in general and about my life in particular. I know what God wants me to do. I have chosen to engage God and follow his plan. As I walk out that plan, I see just how hard this path is. Because it is so hard, several times I’ve wondered if this was God’s plan at all.

I was recently thinking about my desire to pursue God’s will and the state of my life. I believe that God wants me to be more involved in my church and to make some changes in my life personally. I was praying, asking God to bless me in this endeavor. I remember saying something like: “I believe that this is your will, but if it is your will, I’d expect you to make it easier.” That’s when it hit me: I expect God’s will to be easy. More specifically, I was under the impression that the easiest path was surely the one that indicated God’s will.

But this is not biblical. Paul did not have it easy. He was beaten, stoned, and shipwrecked three times before he was killed. Jesus did not have it easy. He suffered and died. Mary did not have it easy. She found herself pregnant before her marriage, and no doubt her reputation suffered. Joseph certainly didn’t have it easy (either one!). One found himself with a pregnant fiancee, and the other did time in jail for a crime he didn’t commit. But they all accomplished God’s will for their lives. I think most would agree that God orchestrated the events of their lives. Yet, they walked very difficult paths; paths that included public humiliation, imprisonment, and even death.

So I am now dealing with the fact that just because something is hard, doesn’t mean that it’s not God’s will. Sometimes God’s will is hard. I’d even suggest that most of the time, God’s will is difficult. This doesn’t bring me much comfort. It has redefined the way I think of God’s will.

However, it causes me to evaluate my options differently too. I see now that the easiest choices may not be be God’s will, and that choices cannot be ruled out simply because they are difficult.

While God’s will may not always be easy, I believe that it is always best. God brought Paul, Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and countless other through. He helped them. My prayer is that God will help us to pursue his will for us, even when it’s hard.

The Pride of Possessions

You can read my first article on the Lust of the Eyes here.

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world–the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions–is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever”

1 John 2:15-17

It’s unfortunate, but our stuff means a lot to us. We organize it. We clean it. We care for it — sometimes more than we care for people.

Curiously, our stuff means a lot to other people, too. People are very interested in our shoes, our clothes, our gadgets. They use these things to make an assessment of us. It determines how we are perceived. For so many, we are what we accumulate.

Is this why we accumulate? Not necessarily. We accumulate things for several reasons. Some things we accumulate for ourselves, — they satisfy a need in our lives. Some things we acquire simply because we want them. Some things we accumulate for emotional reasons (fear, desire for security) And some things we accumulate for others. We buy the car, the house, the clothes not only for how they make us feel, but also for how they make others feel about us.

Everyone wants to be liked. We all want to be affirmed and admired. This becomes a problem when we use stuff to gain that affirmation.

Dave Ramsey puts it this way:

“We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t like.”

It’s the pride of possessions described in 1 John 2:15-17. We take pride in what we have. While the lust of the eyes creates a desire within ourselves, the pride of possessions is an attempt to create desire in others. We want others to want what we have.

This stems from insecurity. When someone feels inadequate, they look for things to supply what they feel they are missing.

And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”
Luke 12:15

I think that Jesus was spot on: one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. We are not defined by our stuff. We shouldn’t define ourselves by our possessions or define anyone else by theirs.

It’s really easy to get caught up in what clothes we wear, what handbags we carry, or what car we drive. It is also easy to define others by these things. We are conditioned to. But in order to simplify our lives, we have to change our thoughts about things.

Things are great when they meet a genuine need. We should definitely use what we have wisely and responsibly.

Things should not be used to achieve status – in our eyes or someone else’s. That is the pride of possessions. It is of the world, not from the Father. And it is all passing away.

The purses that I carry will eventually wear out. My car will eventually have to be replaced (a looooong time from now, I hope!). My makeup will eventually be used up. None of it lasts.

But whoever does the will of God abides forever. That’s a whole different perspective. If I could focus on the things that really last, it would change my life. Let’s face it: Jesus is not going to ask me about which purses I carried. At the end of my life, it will not matter what gadgets I had, what shoes I wore, or what car I drove. All that will matter is whether I did the will of God. That’s the status I want, and it can’t be bought.