Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Simple Living

I wanted to follow that up with some continued conversation from my forum board. The comment was made that if someone owned a HDTV then they were fooling their selves if they thought they loved the poor.

Quote: “And anybody who says they love the poor and owns an HDTV is only fooling themselves.”

As you can imagine, this sparked some pretty interesting conversation. It all culminated with a statement that sparked me to ask some questions about this person’s life. His last response to my questions is really what I wanted to share with you this week but I have to give you the background first.

Originally Posted by Fighter4Christ
I think if America Christians started to live simply, not only would the draw closer to God but they could also make an extreme impact on poverty...

Originally Posted by Dragon Cowboy
So... are you and Kris drawing closer to God? How is this simple life working for you? I'm not being sarcastic here but genuinely interested. Are you struggling to live on that minimum or are you both living comfortably? What are you doing about your debt? How is this life-style affecting your ability to give (not tithe but give)? How has this enhanced your life? Jesus promises us an abundant life when we live in him... where is that abundance in your life? To be honest... I think these are the things you should be sharing with us, not so much that an HDTV means I don't love the poor but if I were to do without an HDTV how much more could I love the poor and how that affects my life, the lives of those around me and my relationship with Jesus Christ.

Originally Posted by Fighter4Christ
Before I answer your questions, I need to emphasize that Kris and I are in the middle of what could be called downshifting. So while we are in the process of living simply, we definitely are not yet there.

I have personally drawn closer to God than I have in a very long time. My prayer time has increased to more than it’s ever been in my life. I have begun more than just typical prayer, but also a presence-based meditation time. However, The coolest thing is to watch him perform small miracles for us. In the past 3 weeks alone He has bluntly and divinely interceded. This could be something small like me only getting 3 hours of sleep a night, yet waking up in the morning feeling like I just woke from a 10 hour slumber, and it has been something more tangible like MULTIPLE random checks coming in through our faulty mail system. Kris and I have received 3-4 checks in the past few months totaling several hundred dollars from our insurance agent because of "miscalculations" on their end. So yeah, the coolest thing is defiantly experiencing God perform miracles.

Another really cool aspect is total dependence on Him. If He didn't take care of us, our bills would not get paid, my homework would not get done, and the house would be in shambles if God didn't take care of us. If you look at our situation with a rational outlook, the numbers simply don't add up.

We absolutely love the changes we have made so far. We have made a conscience effort to spend our spare time with each other, friends, and family. I actually have the opportunity to disciple my cousin. While we don't have the most or best food, we appreciate what we DO have. I mean, the food that I eat actually TASTES better! Like I said, we are FAR from simple living, we have 3 computers, an HDTV, Wii, a Pioneer home audio system, and a few expensive bedroom....items. We are still trying to figure out what to do with the stuff we have been given while trying to live simply. Kris and I have been living on around 18,000 a year…and we just very recently decided to reduce our living costs to just over 14,000 a year, so Kris can quit her McDonalds job. However, the biggest thing is that we are getting prepared to live in community. There are two outlets in which this may manifest itself. The first is Kris and I moving in with a few friends to inner-city canton. We would be combining our finances to live simply and use the excess to glorify God. We would also use this as a base of operations for a ministry we run called Love the Children. The second route is Kris and I moving to Atlanta to participate in a ministry program called Mission Year. This would be more of a training year to better do what Kris and I are trying to do on our own.

Actually, the struggle is in developing the mindset of simple living. The actual “sacrifices” we make are nothing, really. This is largely because they lead to a more fulfilling happiness then the things they are replacing. So, for example, the struggle is in realizing that Xbox, and Xbox Live were unnecessary; once we realized this and let go not only were we able to bless the person we gave it to, but we have also been able to use that time we for more fulfilling activities…like cuddling. At the same time, we screw up ALL the time. Just yesterday we went out to longhorn to have some drinks and dessert. Sometimes I cave in for fast-food during all the commuting I do. Were not perfect, we fall to our consumeristic passions sometimes. Good thing God has grace. Financing wise, because we spend less money, there is less money to keep track of. So it makes A LOT easier. However, it puts a very big importance on the actual money management that is done, because a mistake could mean you don’t by groceries for that week.
I worked my butt off to make sure I didn’t have any debt going into our marriage. We own both of our cars, and rent a cheap apartment. The only debts we have are what I put on the credit card (which gets paid off every month), and my school loans. My dad said he will take care of those…we will see how that goes in a couple of months. We still tithe. Unfortunately, I am still rather busy between work, school, and the whole marriage thing. However, Kris has devoted a large portion of the time she doesn’t work to volunteer activities. As mentioned earlier, I have begun discipling my cousin. Once I’m out of school, I plan on also volunteering my time. Both Kris’s and my relationships with other people have gotten much more rich. When you give your time to invest in other people, they notice. Do you know what its like to actually walk into my classes and know everybody’s names? Our lives are less stressed, and other people can see that.

I would say while at first glance it may seem like our life has been downgraded, in reality, it is so much more fulfilling than it ever has been. Its like if you have been eating a loaf of bread every time you get hungry, but then you want more 5 minutes later. Living simply is like instead of eating that loaf of bread, you eat a handful of nuts. It may look like a lot less, but it is so much more filling. Here is an odd note to boot. Simple living is turns out to be a lot more environmentally friendly. You make all of your resources last longer, and you consume less as an individual to start with. This can range anywhere from recycling clothes to growing some food (fruits, vegetables, spices, etc) for yourself so you buy less at the grocery store. Because Kris and I have decided to make this a focus of ours, our relationships have flourished the most. We now see the world in a different life. We see the many things people take for granted everyday. Stuff that we take for granted everyday. These range from something simple like shower curtains to something more complex like cool phones. Most importantly, we see the gaping holes in people’s lives that they try to fill with “stuff”. The best part is, they are rarely even aware of it. My one friend, for example, was telling me how stupid people are for using smoking and drinking as a crutch. He was telling how they are basically paying people huge amounts of money to become addicted to poisons. How it’s not just that Jesus says we aren’t suppose to be addicted to things, but its just plain stupid to be spending the large amounts of money everyday. Now, here is the thing, my friend HAS to have coffee every morning, usually from Starbucks or somewhere fancy like that. He has filled the same hole he is condemning others for filling. Here is another thing. Americans eat so much more than they need to. The amount of food we eat in one meal could easily last us an entire day. I’m not saying that we should starve ourselves, but we defiantly don’t need to eat as much as we do.
On the abundant life we are promised, we automatically assume that the abundance he is referring to is one that is monetary. While God has interceded with us in that fashion, He has filled us with so much more. For every slice of bread that we take out of that hole of ours, Jesus fills with nuts. Just the other day my supervisor asked me to work Saturday. I told him no. He asked why. I told him because I had a meeting in which I had to love some people. It’s kind of like you get another value system. Where the typical person may see nothing of worth, we see something of great value. Conversely, where they may see something of importance, we see as of little value. Rare is the occasion where Kris pops something in the microwave and we eat dinner in front of the TV. Instead we appreciate both the opportunity to spend time together, and the food that God has blessed us so richly with. In the one situation only our physical hunger is being fulfilled (sometimes not even that if your brain doesn’t register that you ate), in the other situation our physical hunger, our emotional hunger for each other, and our appreciation for God’s creation (the food) are all being fulfilled. Writing this has made me turn and take a look back at the way I use to live my life. I ask how in the world was I ever happy in that? Life is so much richer, healthier, and fulfilling now then it ever has been. I pray that we may continue to follow God’s will and live the way He has called His people too.

Matthew 25:34-40 (New International Version)

34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Give it away

I've come to a point in my life where I think it is important to work on my writing skills so I thought maybe I would start to share with my friends and family some of my thoughts. I may decide to do this monthly, weekly or it could become a daily thing, I’m not sure yet. Some of the content may be original and some I may borrow from other places.

Here we go…

I had a conversation this past week with some of my forum buddies that really sparked this idea of sending my thoughts out to my friends and family. It basically began with a simple link to a video, please take a moment and watch:


What follows are some of the thoughts that I had after watching this video:

What are we, self-proclaimed followers of Christ, to do about this? Should we view things like this just so that we can be more appreciative of all that we have or to remind ourselves about how lucky we are to be who we are and live where we do? Are we meant to go and sell everything we have and move to Cambodia? Maybe we can find an internet site where we can donate one dollar a month and maybe they'll let us set it up to be automatically drafted so that "We never really miss it." I've had some of these same questions and more since reading Shane Claiborne's book: The Irresistible Revolution. It's really made me examine the way I'm living against how I believe Christ intended for us to live. Unfortunately, I still don't have all the answers. I don't believe we are all called to sell all that we have, but I do believe that there may be some of us who have been called to do that. I know that God wants good things (including material items) for us but at what cost and at what point does it become excessive. Where and when are the limits? Are there any limits, after all aren't all thing possible with God? My wife and I want a new home so that we can invite others in and fellowship (small groups, new believers, family & LAN parties) and also provide a nice home for children (either natural or adopted). At the same time I see a video of a 12 year old child who works 12+ hours a day to provide for his families daily needs. I've lived pay check to pay check before but these families are on the doorstep of starvation, disease and death. I just don't feel good in my spirit watching a video like this and saying "Thank you God that you've blessed me more than these!"

So, what are we to do? Maybe we all should be like the disciples and strip down to the bare essentials. Quit our jobs and hit the evangelism road and live off of the people and churches we preach to.

Just for a minute, entertain this thought.... What if this is the case? What if we are living our lives in a way that God maybe never intended? I think about this a lot, especially here at work. I tell myself that I can be a servant of God in the workplace and that I can have a job in the secular community while still working in full time ministry but... can I really? It's tough! I hate working! Not working here but working in general. I don't want to do this anymore. I want to be serving the Lord by talking to people, getting to know them, letting them hear my story, telling them how faithful God is when it comes to answering his promises (like Psalms 34:9 or 37:4). I tell myself that I can still work for the Lord while doing this (engineering) from 8-5 but why am I really here. To be truly honest... BECAUSE I HAVE BILLS TO PAY! Why do I have bills to pay? because I'm constantly buying stuff. Why am I buying stuff? because it makes me feel better about myself. Why do I need to feel better about myself? because I hate my job and it makes me depressed! (some exaggeration here but you get the point). It can all become a vicious cycle and before you know it, you're mindlessly walking through the day just to get to the end so you can do it all over again tomorrow! I would love to live like the disciples except for the fact that I might have to leave my wife at home alone, or my kids (if I had any), then there are the my horses and cats, (I miss my dog btw) my church, my house, my friends, my softball, my wiffleball and my basketball. Don’t forget my xbox 360 and my HDTV plus satellite topped off with my Dolby stereo surround sound!

Matthew 28:19 says "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,"

Sometimes… just sometimes…. It’s hard for me to swallow. There’s an awful lot of “my” in those last couple sentences. Is this really what God intended for life to be like?

All that said... am I going to sell all my stuff and move to Cambodia to care for the poor.... not right now but I have to continue to ask myself these questions and think these thoughts so that IF God calls me to do that, then I will be ready.

I think a friend of mine said it best:
Quote: "Loving the poor has nothing to do with the amount of money or stuff you have. It has to deal with the heart. IF you were asked to give it all away...would you?? Even if you aren’t asked to get rid of it you have your purse strings open ready to give without hesitation?? Are you more connected to your stuff than you are to the Will of God?? That is what God wants to know! "

If you were called to give it all away... would you?