Live Simply, Pack lightly, Hold Loosely
“So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.”
If I knew you had some kind of dread disease, and I did not tell you about it so you could get treatment or at least know what was coming, you would think me an awful person. You would say, “You are not my friend. You obviously do not care one iota about me.” Yet what if this is a disease people embrace and culture promotes; furthermore, this disease is dear to people who suffer from it. They are dying from it, but they love it.
There is such a disease, many of us have it, and it does pose a great threat to our spiritual well-being. It distracts us from what matters, bloats us, fills us with angst, and, in its more severe forms, it is always fatal. Unlike heart disease, it is not invisible. Its symptoms are obvious, easily observable by friends, sometimes even by casual acquaintances. Oddly enough, although there is a prescription that is 100% effective in treating this disease, most people are uninterested in treatment.
The disease is called “Affluenza.” It is described as “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from a dogged pursuit of more.” John De Graaf, the producer of a PBS series called “Affluenza,” lists some of the symptoms: shopping fever (mall mania), credit card debt, bankruptcies, greed and envy, homes congested with stuff, a shortage of time, declining savings, and overload of possessions, consumeritis among kids (especially teenagers) an ache for meaning, families where money is used to express love, marriages where arguments focus on money, the feeling that there is never enough. People who suffer from this disease are not working to make a living; they are working to make a dying--because no matter how much they work and earn, they are never satisfied; they always need more; and their soul dies a slow painful death.
Affluenza has been around for centuries. Epidemiologists searching for the first known case of this disease might turn to the first century, in particular, to the biblical book of Timothy.
(7) What did we bring into the world? Nothing! What can we take out of the world? Nothing!
(8) So then, if we have food and clothes, that should be enough for us.
(9) But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and are caught in the trap of many foolish and harmful desires, which pull them down to ruin and destruction.
(10) For the love of money is a source of all kinds of evil. Some have been so eager to have it that they have wandered away from the faith and have broken their hearts with many sorrows.(1 Timothy 6:7-10 GNB)
That is classic affluenza. They “are caught in the trap of many foolish and harmful desires, which pull them down to ruin and destruction,” yet, they are “so eager to have it” that they do not care if it destroys them. Affluenza creates a spiritual vacuum, and then tries to fill that vacuum through material means, so it is disturbing that Christians are contracting the disease in large numbers. Affluenza is a danger to society, but it poses an insidious threat to followers of Jesus. A seventeenth century Puritan minister from Boston named Richard Mather warned, “Experience shows that it is an easy thing in the midst of worldly business to lose the life and power of religion, that nothing thereof should be left but only the external form, as it were the carcass or shell, worldliness having eaten out the kernel, and having consumed the very soul of life and godliness.” Mather is describing the symptoms and results of affluenza—the soul is left a “carcass or shell, worldliness having eaten out the kernel.”
That is sad. Christ calls us to another way. As followers of Jesus, we desire only to please the Lord, and therefore we are eager to learn from the teaching and example of Jesus. Jesus had some words to say to us about material things.
First, he said serve God not money. Jesus taught that we cannot serve God and money. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “You cannot be a slave of two masters; you will hate one and love the other; you will be loyal to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money” (Matthew 6:24 GNB). Therefore, he advised, “Seek God's kingdom first.” When Jesus reminded us that “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” he was reminding us that our motives drive our priorities, and our use of money is evidence of our motives. Thus, what we do reveals what we are.
Secondly, Jesus said, again in the Sermon on the Mount, “lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20 ESV). Jesus taught that true wealth is spiritual, not material, and he urged his followers to amass their treasure in the kingdom of God. That is why Jesus says, “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). If we have too much stuff here, it prevents us from laying us treasure there.
Thirdly, Jesus recognized a special challenge for wealthy people.
(23) Jesus said to his disciples, "Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.
(24) Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." (Matthew 19:23-24 ESV).
He said this after a rich young ruler decided to keep his wealth rather than give it away to follow Jesus. Jesus illustrated his demand that disciples choose God over money by telling the story of a merchant who searched for fine pearls and after finding one of great value, sold all he had and bought it. The kingdom of God is that pearl of great price. We should liquidate all investments to purchase this pearl. Jesus practiced what he preached. He acquired no wealth and no possessions. When the soldiers crucified him and divided his stuff, he had practically nothing.
In light of these teaching of Jesus, we must ask, how then shall we live? What should my ambition be?
We must realize the incompatibility between what is called the American Dream and the Kingdom of God. Jesus desires that you live a joyful life pursuing spiritual prosperity, but the American Dream tells you to strive for a higher-paying job, a bigger home, and a better car. The American Dream says you must have the latest fashions, exotic vacations, impressive home entertainment centers, and more money and more stuff. The American dream defines us by what we have.
Jesus says, wrong, wrong, wrong. Jesus asks a different question: Who are we without our stuff?
Luke 14 lists a series of renunciations that are necessary for a disciple of Jesus. In v26 Jesus says, "If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” The disciple renounces his family and even his own life to follow Jesus. Then in V33, Jesus calls on his followers to renounce possessions.
Wow. That makes us squirm. What is all this about? It is about commitment. It is about total commitment.
Let me illustrate. As a kid, I was fascinated with parachutes, and I was determined to have my own parachute. I did not have one of course, but I improvised. My parents had a large umbrella, and I thought that would do the trick just fine. So I took the umbrella and got up on the roof of the house. Now, as I sat on the edge of the roof, I was asking myself, “Will this work? If I jump, will I float gently down to the ground?” Well, I thought and I thought, but I could not decide if my project would be successful, so finally I said, “I am going to do it anyway,” and I jumped. That is commitment. I could have sat there, thought about it all day, and never learned a thing about my umbrella parachute. I had to jump to find out if it would work. It did not work by the way. The umbrella turned inside out, and I fell like a stone. I was lucky; I did not get hurt, however the landing shook me up so badly, I gave up on parachutes after that. But the point is I stopped thinking about it, stopped talking about it, and committed to do it. Jesus is looking for disciples who will stop talking about it and thinking about it, and do something about it.
That is the point of this chapter. It is not easy to be a disciple. It is not convenient. It might cost us everything. Again, Luke 14:27, “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.”
Jesus is saying that you are not a people with stuff. You are disciples of Christ. You are more than your possessions. You are called of God to live in God's love now and forever.
The Rev. Dr. Leslie Holmes is a Presbyterian minister and professor of preaching at Erskine Theological Seminary in Columbia, SC. He said,
“I recall as a youngster growing up in Ireland once attending a horse auction with my Dad and his brother, my Uncle Jack. My father said, 'Now listen, whatever you do, don't scratch your nose at the wrong time, son!' Later he told me, 'Never forget to remember this: Any time you go to an auction sale, whether it is for a horse or whatever else it is for, always make sure that you know your upper limit price.' Those words have never left me. I've attended a number of auctions of different types in my lifetime, and I must confess that I try to keep my hands in my pockets as much as possible. I find myself thinking, 'One suspect move can get you in a lot of trouble!'” [http://day1.org/1059-discipleship_is_demanding]
Our problem is we set our upper limit too low. Jesus says, you cannot set low limits with me. Your calling as my disciple is to a life of unconditional obedience, and the price is high.
Jesus says, If you are looking for a cheap ticket to glory, I do not have any. If you want a free trip on easy street, you will not find it with me. Jesus says, I am offering you a kingdom, but it is not this kingdom, not here. Here you need to live simply and hold possessions lightly.
The Shakers were a Christian group back in the 1800's. One of their elders, Joseph Brackett, wrote a song called "Simple Gifts." These are the opening lyrics:
'Tis the gift to be simple, 'tis the gift to be free
'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
'Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
Laozi (Lao Tzu) was a philosopher of ancient China, best known as the author of the Tao Te Ching and the founder of Taoism. According to Chinese tradition, Laozi lived in the 6th century BCE. We do not know much about him, but he is reputed to have said, “I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These are your greatest treasures.”
Thomas Celano, an early follower of Saint Frances, describes the simplicity and poverty of the Franciscan order: “Because they had nothing, they feared in no way to lose anything.”
Jesus requires of us is to invest in the values of God's kingdom. These are values like justice for everyone and compassion for the poor, and the right use of resources.
Let us ask the question: Are you rich? Eventually each of us must answer that question, and when measured against most people in the world, Americans are rich. So we find ourselves the target of Jesus warnings about the wealthy, about people who say they believe in Jesus, say that they are “saved,” but actually they love money more.
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, feared that love of money and material things would find its way into his heart, so he made it his aim to live on less and give away more. He said that if he had more than ten pounds in his possession when he died, they could call him a robber. Near the end of his life, his journal reports, “I left no money to anyone in my will, because I had none.”
Now we have to qualify this somewhat. We are not to love money, but we are not required to live in poverty, for Paul did admonish us to provide for our needs and the needs of our household, saying, “If you do not work, you do not eat.” It may be that hard-working, honest folk will prosper in a system giving them opportunity. There is nothing wrong with that. There is nothing wrong with money. The Bible does not condemn money; it condemns love of money.
Therefore, we who are wealthy must examine our actions and affections. We need to ask tough questions to assure that we are organizing our life around God and his kingdom. How does my heavenly treasure compare with my earthly treasure? How am I using my resources to advance God's purposes on earth? What percentage of my time and income is spent for the kingdom of heaven?
God calls us to live a rich spiritual life even with few possessions. Novelist and theologian George Macdonald put this way: “To have what we want is riches, but to be able to do without is power.”
That reminds me of an old story. A pilgrim settled down to sleep one night at the edge of a village. Soon an excited villager appeared saying, “Give me the diamond, give me the diamond.” “What diamond?” asked the pilgrim. The villager replied, “I have had a dream that you have a diamond of great value, and if I asked you for it you would give it to me and I should be rich beyond my wildest dreams.” The pilgrim reached into his bag and pulled out a huge diamond. “You may certainly have it,” he said. The villager looked at the stone in amazement for it was the largest diamond he had ever seen. He walked back to his village, put the diamond under his pillow and tried to sleep, but he tossed and turned all night. The next day he return to the pilgrim and said, “Give me the wealth that makes it possible for you to give away this diamond.”
Believers are called to live powerful lives, fueled by the pursuit of God, always living simply, packing lightly and holding loosely to wealth and possessions.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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