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.

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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.

Life Renovations

I posted earlier that I am doing a 21-day fast with my church. People redecorate their homes and resurface roads, so why not spruce up our lives?

As I embarked on this fast, I had a game plan of sorts. I wanted to really step up my prayer and listening for God’s voice.

As the fast progressed, I feel like God spoke to me. So on the last day of the fast, I have decided to share some of my  insights here on Minimalist Believer.

  • Seek first the Kingdom. My life is in dire need of change. I need God to do so many things. I need a complete overhaul. But as I talked to him about it, I was reminded of Matthew 6:33 which instructs us to “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (NLT). I am worried about so many things and I put my energy into so many things. It seems that in all of my worrying and all of my strivings I have neglected the Kingdom, and I’ve been wondering why my life is in disarray.
  • Put God first. I know this sounds like the first point, but in my life it means something entirely different. In the book of Haggai, God delivers  a hard message to Judah. At the time God’s Temple was in ruins. The people of Judah didn’t restore it because they were caught up in beautifying their own houses. They were too busy doing their own thing. Because they neglected to rebuild the Temple, God was against them. They worked hard but had little to show for it (Hag 1:5-6). God declared a drought and destroyed their crops (Hag 1:9-1; Hag 2:17). When the people set out to building the Temple, God promised to bless them.(Hag 2:19). I saw myself in this passage. There are some things that God has instructed me to do. Have I done them? No, because I’ve been too busy doing my own thing. I’ve been fearful. I’ve been procrastinating. It’s very likely that this is the reason that my life is not flourishing.
  • Keep Praying. In 2 Chronicles 7, God’s people find themselves in trouble. God had shut up the heavens and sent locusts to devour their crops. However, if the people would humble themselves, pray, turn from wickedness, and seek God’s face, God promised that he would heal their land and be attentive to their pleas.

To be honest, I went into this fast questioning whether or not anything would happen. I’ve been dealing with a lot of anxiety and cynicism. But surprisingly, I had some insights that I believe will help me moving forward. I hope that they help you, too.

A Fresh Perspective on Stuff

My thought for the day is courtesy of my pastor. He talked a lot about stewardship, and I will be writing more about this later. In the meantime, though, I’ll share my thoughts for today.

In a recent sermon, my pastor said something that really struck me: everything we have is God’s. Everything we have is given to us to steward, not for ourselves. This impacts me in three ways:

  • It makes no sense to constantly accumulate more stuff for myself. What I think I own, is his.
  • I have to think more carefully about money (that’s his, too). Would God really want me to buy those five bottles of shower gel, especially when I have three at home already?
  • When I see everything as belonging to God, it is much harder to be stingy. God would want me to share what I have. So I need to keep this in mind, and be generous with what I have. God would let my cousin eat the ice cream. God would let my relatives use my favorite soap. He would let my friends take all my blue pens. He would have me hold on to things very lightly.

Minimalism is about breaking my attachment to things, and pursuing the things in life that really matter. This fresh perspective on stuff should really help me on this journey.

Leaps of Faith

I am at a point in life where I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know which end is up. I don’t know whether things are getting better or getting worse. I have more questions than answers. My life is in freefall. You can read more about that here.

A few years back, I took a leap of faith. My leap took me from medical school to seminary. I left a defined career trajectory for the great unknown. I took the leap trusting that the answers would come. I stepped off the cliff believing that as I took the first step, the next would appear. I felt a sense of joy and exhilaration as I took this adventurous leap.

Fast forward four years. I still have no answers. No next step(s). No nothing. My joy and exhilaration have deteriorated into terror and despair. I’m in freefall, and I am anticipating a crash landing.

At this point, I am unemployed, with no real job prospects. My home is for sale, and has had only three showings since March. This is certainly not what I was expecting.

More than once, I have wished that I never took the leap. I wished that I had never left med school. I wished that I had done something (anything!) else. I wished that I had kept me feet on solid ground.

But it’s too late. I jumped, and I have no idea where I will land, or what will be bruised, broken, or dislocated when I do.

I know that it all comes down to this one question: do I trust God to catch me? The simple answer is NO. I am falling to far, too fast, to be capable of trust.

My pastor at church is doing a series on Authentic Faith. This Sunday, he talked about Abraham, and the great faith of Abraham. We looked in particular at Genesis 22, where the Lord instructs Abraham to take his only son, Isaac, to the mountaintop and sacrifice him. Abraham packs up, travels three days to get to the mountain, and prepares to sacrifice his son. At the last second, the Lord tells him not to harm Isaac. Abraham had passed the test; he really did fear God after all. It turns out, there was a ram in the bushes. Abraham sacrificed that instead.

What a nice story. But I’m not Abraham. Abraham had seen God deliver (Isaac was a miracle baby — the son of promise!). Abraham had a story behind him. My situation is very different. God has yet to deliver on anything he’s said. God can’t expect Abraham-level faith from me… at least he shouldn’t.

I don’t have Abraham’s faith, or anything close to it. What I do have is a lot of anxiety… and the tiniest shred of hope: hope that I did the right thing. Hope that things will work out. Hope that my moment of bravery won’t prove itself to be a moment of insanity. Hope that what was in my heart when I took the leap will actually come to fruition.

I had such high hopes when I took that leap. I was trusting God, and following after his will. I was acting on what I knew to do. I was being obedient. It was going to be an adventure of faith — the amazing unfolding of God’s plan. It was going to be wonderful. Things look very different now that I’m in the air.

I see now that leaps of faith are not to be feared. It’s the landing that presents the problem. Regardless of how I feel about it, I am in freefall. It really is best to avoid evaluating things while in freefall. It’s hard to think clearly when the ground is rushing up at you. Fear and anxiety drown out the voice of reason, and your one persistent thought is I’m gonna die! Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. It all depends on how I land… wherever that is.

Fear Exposed – The Root Of It All

I’ll admit it: I have a problem with bath products. I can’t even begin to describe the stash of bath products under my bed. To say that I collect various products in various scents is a gross understatement.

But it’s not all about smelling good (though part of it is about that). It’s not even all about the sales (though that’s part of it, too). Part of it is about the fear of not having it when I need it. This is at the root of it all.

It started when I was in college, and I didn’t have a car. So the summer before my first year I stockpiled all kinds of things that I didn’t want to run out of, from soap to ketchup packets. It was so bad that at the end of the year, I had a huge bin of bath products. There was enough to sustain my mother and me for six months.

As ridiculous as it may be, that same fear still lives in me. It’s the reason that I get a new stick of deodorant the minute my current stick reaches the halfway mark. It’s the reason I that I have three extra toothbrushes. It’s the reason that I go crazy when the Body Shop has a sale. Sometimes it’s about not wanting to physically run out of something because I somehow think that it will be catastrophic (like deodorant). Sometimes, it’s about buying it now because I’m not sure I will be able to buy it later. Either way, it’s the fear of running out that causes me to buy and buy and buy.

Committing to live simply has forced me to deal with this fear head on. I can’t just go to The Body Shop and mindlessly buy body butters. No, I have to deal with it for what it is: fear. I’ve been shopping based on fear for years. It’s interesting that no matter how much I bought, it didn’t make the fear go away. Sure, it would temporarily mitigate it, but the fear always came roaring back, and I would dutifully go and shop.

Now, when I start feeling anxious about my reserves, I have to work through the fear of running out. I have to remind myself of my ridiculous stash, and tell myself that I will not run out. I have to remind myself of my commitment to minimalism, and that shopping will not be consistent with my new lifestyle. I have to remind myself that I already have more than what I need. Usually, I have to think back to the root of the fear and address it.

Once again, it comes down to trusting God’s provision (see this blog post). Will I/Can I trust God to make sure that I have deodorant? It sounds silly, but this is what it’s about. For me, this is part of what minimalism is about: trusting God. Yes, clearing clutter is part of it. Yes, being free to live the life of my dreams is part of it. Saving money, unplugging from consumerism, downsizing, are all facets of minimalism. But for me, part of it is learning to trust God and his provision.

In less than a year, minimalism has improved my life. It has saved me money and helped me to clear clutter. I has helped me to unplug from the consumerist culture, and to give more thought to what I really need. It has given me a different focus. And it has forced me to confront one of my deepest fears. It has impacted me more than I thought it would, and I look forward to seeing what the future holds.

Crisis

My life is in crisis. I have more questions than answers, and enough stress to keep me on the verge of tears at all times. I am experiencing the most intense fear that I have: fear of the unknown.

I fear the unknown more than I fear death. I see death as unavoidable. For some reason, I see the unknown as something that I can avoid by proper planning. If planning doesn’t work, surely prayer will keep me away from the unknown, right? Not really.

The fact is that uncertainty is a part of life, and it cannot be avoided. This is the reality of living as a finite being: you don’t know everything. And as long as we have limited knowledge, there is always an element of the unknown in our lives.

Jonathan said to the young man who carried his armor, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the LORD will work for us, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few.”    1 Samuel 14: 6

This is an extreme case of uncertainty. In the verse above, Jonathan comes upon a garrison of Philistines, and decides to approach them, not knowing whether God would help him. Jonathan was not afraid of the uncertainty that he faced. He didn’t let anxiety paralyze him. He didn’t take three months to analyze the situation. Instead, he does something that I think is both crazy and admirable at the same time: he charges forward. He faces the Philistines, not knowing the outcome of the situation, not knowing whether he will prevail or be killed.

While I doubt that I will ever be in a situation where I contemplate attacking a fierce army, I do think that I can learn from Jonathan’s response to the unknown. In times of crisis, when fear and uncertainty threaten to smother the life out me, shutting down is not the answer. I cannot just sit and wait for destruction to overtake me. I have to try. I have to move forward. It is scary, but it is necessary. Who knows? Maybe God will work for me. But I will never know if I never try.

Packing Light

I remember the first time I went to Europe. My grandparents, who had been there before, stressed the fact that we should only bring one small suitcase per person. I was skeptical because I had always been a two suitcase kinda girl. Since they insisted, though, we each took only one suitcase. Once I got there, I was soooo glad that I followed their advice. There was so much walking and sightseeing, that more luggage would have been impossible to manage. And we had all the clothes we needed.

 

Since that trip, I have always found one bag to be sufficient. I really don’t need a ton of stuff. The lighter I pack, the more mobile I am.

 

I think of the directions that Jesus gave his disciples when he sent them out two by two to “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.” And they were to do these things freely, as they had received freely.  Jesus went on to give them packing instructions. The disciples were to travel light:

“Acquire no gold nor silver nor copper for your belts, no bag for your journey, nor two tunics nor sandals nor a staff, for the laborer deserves his food.”

Matthew 10:9-10

This isn’t just minimalism, this is radical minimalism. Jesus sends the disciples out with only the clothes on their backs.

I find it interesting that he instructs the disciples not to accumulate things along the way. As humans, we have the tendency to accumulate things. Jesus explicitly told the disciples not to. Yet, many Christians collect and accumulate and hoard goods in massive amounts. There are probably many reasons for this, but couple of reasons come to mind:

If one is good, two is better. For some reason, we have been trained to believe that more is better. Sometimes this holds true: it’s better to have more love in your heart, more faith, more patience. But we often apply this same reasoning to things, where more is not necessarily better.

It’s something that will be useful later. That may be true, but Jesus did not say to avoid accumulating things unless they were useful. Surely, a second pair of sandals would have been useful considering that they were traveling by foot. Likewise, a second shirt would have been useful (and probably more hygienic) for an itinerant preacher.

We confuse possessions with provision. When I read about Jesus’ instructions to the disciples, I cringe. I think to myself: How could he send them out with no provisions? But that’s not the case, it it? He is not sending out without provision. God provides for us (Matthew 6: 25-34). Jesus had already explained that. Jesus was not sending the disciples to serve without provision. God would provide for them. He did, however, send them without possessions. There’s a big difference.

I think that Jesus’ warning about accumulation of goods is still valid. We may not be itinerant ministers, but God does have a purpose for each of us. Like the disciples, we should travel light.