Friday, July 08, 2005

Today They're Cowboys. Tomorrow They'll Be Walking Funny.

Maybe Curly got it right? “The secret to life is one thing”…Curly Washburn, City Slickers 1991. The seasoned and leather skinned cowboy’s counsel to Mitch Robbins, played by Billy Crystal, sounds as if it were drawn from the same well as Kierkegaard’s, Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing. And for Richard Foster, the one thing is a subject that merits obedience – Simplicity.

God made man upright, and they -- they have sought out many devices. (Ecclesiastes 7:29, Young’s Literal Translation)

The Christian Discipline of simplicity is an inward reality that results in an outward life-style.” Richard Foster, Ch 6 Celebration of Discipline. In fact, I’m convinced that each of the disciplines graciously nurtures an inward reality that must work its way out in the visible fabric of how we live. Or, as Foster puts it, “ We deceive ourselves if we believe we can possess the inward reality without it having a profound effect on how we live”.

Early in the chapter, Foster employs some pithy statements to underscore the incongruence of modern culture with the measure of simplicity.

Pithy 1: “We really must understand that the lust for affluence in contemporary society is psychotic.” Strong words, maybe, but accurate if the context is materialism. Psychosis can be defined as …”a defective or lost contact with reality often with hallucinations or delusions”. Are we deluded? Do we, as Foster says, “Crave things we neither need nor enjoy” and “buy things we do not need to impress people we do not like”? Hmmm…

Pithy 2: “It is time we awaken to the fact that conformity to a sick society is to be sick.” Amen. Our culture is unbalanced and we can easily be entangled with an ambition that places “mammon” above a desire for God and his kingdom.

Is there a “unity of focus around which our lives are oriented”? As a culture “en masse”, the answer is no way. For the Christ-follower, we can hope for better. “Courageously, we need to articulate new, more human ways to live. We should take exception to the modern psychosis that defines people by how much they can produce or what they earn.” We should take exception but do we?

I’m a bit jaded in this area. Too many times, I’ve met partakers in the body of Christ that have left a smaller fellowship at a time that happens to coincide with the starting of a new business that can benefit from larger market in which to fish. Ugh! Not exactly what Christ meant when He said, “ and I will make you fishers of men.” Or the family that leaves a fellowship because the husband found a “church” (culturally and not biblically defined) that has a basketball ball team and is big enough to tend to his kids without his involvement in teaching a bible class on a rotation with other parents. You name it. There is always a “bigger & better” element that can augment the church buffet that many choose to graze. Too, bad, the gospel has to suffer. Maybe, Foster should have added a lust for “milk over meat” and “ease over growth or service” to the recipe for a haphazard inward reality?

Suffer, forego, work to grow, and be inconvenienced to serve – no way. Why should I when I can put a bit of coin in the hat, sit in a pew, and have a professional tend to business for me? Why should I labor or seek first God’s kingdom…I’ve got a kingdom of my own to build. So, show me a church where I can “look the part” and that is big enough to assuage my spiritual hunger with empty calories that free me to play church and build a bigger home in a neighborhood of people just like me. Ugh-again! (OK time to get off the soapbox regarding the cultural American Christianity-Lite that, I'm afraid, is too widely practiced.This is not OK)

So, how do we find our center? (Center in biblical terms, that is.)

First, we cut the legs out from under the notion that money and accumulation do not matter. They do. “No serious reading of Scripture can substantiate…a view…that Jesus did not address himself to practical economic questions”. “Jesus declared war on the materialism of His day.”

"No servant can serve two masters at the same time. He will hate one of them and love the other. Or he will be faithful to one and dislike the other. You can't serve God and Money at the same time." (Luke 16:13, NIrV)

“Do not put away riches for yourselves on earth. Moths and rust can destroy them. Thieves can break in and steal them. Instead, put away riches for yourselves in heaven. There, moths and rust do not destroy them. There, thieves do not break in and steal them. Your heart will be where your riches are.” (Matt 6: 19-21, NIrV)

Secondly, we nurture a balanced view of God’s provision. We avoid asceticism that “finds contentment only when it is abased” and embrace simplicity that “knows contentment in both abasement and abounding”.

Thirdly, we avoid making simplicity – or any discipline- an idol that we enthrone above God’s call that we “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness”. Likewise, we refrain from the temptation toward legalism lest we stray from “the path of disciplined grace that runs along a narrow ridge between the two treacherous chasms of moralism and antinomianism”. (Refer to the Introduction to Celebration of Discipline)

Fourthly, we celebrate Simplicity for the needed perspective that it brings. It “sufficiently reorients our lives so that possessions can be genuinely enjoyed without destroying us”. It sets a blade to the root of greed, “mammon”-based idolatry, and “un-Christian legalistic asceticism” and “sets us free to receive the provision of God as a gift that is not ours to keep and can be freely shared with others”.

Finally, we trust God for the grace and strength to nurture the inward reality and work it out into our outward life-style. We remember that “ where our treasure is, there shall our heart be also” and, whilst yielding our heart to God, we beseech Him to fully capture our heart. For, if He has our heart, He has our treasure, too.

As the chapter closes, Foster makes 10 practical controlling principles toward the outward expression of simplicity. They’re really quite good and he reminds us that these suggestions should “never be viewed as laws but only as one attempt to flesh out the meaning of simplicity”. Paul, of Baggas’ Blog, provides a terrific summary of all ten in his post for Chapter 6.
So let me leave you to read on.

“May God give You – and me- the courage, the wisdom, the strength always to hold the kingdom of God as the number-one priority of our lives.” “To do so is to live in simplicity” and , if this was the “one thing” of “on the range” fame, then Curly was right.


Blogger Bob said...

Loved the reminder that conformity to a sick society is to be sick, and how we in the church live that out. Isn't amazing how most of us, me included, understand God's will in the context of how we will benefit the most?


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