Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Discipline of Simplicity

Luke 12:32-34

6 January 2013

32 "Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:32-34)



I mentioned before Kyle Idleman's book "Not a Fan". In the book he is trying to help us see the difference between a "fan" of Jesus and a "follower" of Jesus. Many people would come to hear Jesus, or see his miracles but most would go back to their normal lives after a few days. Those that stayed with him had to give up things they were busy with before Jesus, in order to keep following him. Jesus even preached sermons designed to bring people to that moment of truth, where they had to decide what was most important to them. Village church pastor Matt Chandler calls these sermons space-makers, because that's what they do; separate the fans from the followers. All of us reach these decision points, or moments of truth, when we each must choose the way we will go. The other word for follower we see often in the Bible is "disciple". Of course we know disciple is the root word for discipline; the systematic training of a student for needed improvement.


This Sunday we begin a series of lessons on what some have called the "Outward Disciplines." (based upon Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline). The first of these 4 disciplines is "Simplicity"; the process of unburdening yourself from unnecessary clutter, so you can effectively focus on the essential points of Christian faith. A great hindrance to evangelism is nominal Christians who won't give up anything to follow Jesus. These people are indistinguishable from the unredeemed world, based upon their daily lives. Many preachers will never preach the space-maker sermon so their churches can be filled with people who give up nothing to follow Jesus.


What we need to focus on is a simpler life. A life centered on the things of God and not the things of this world. We need a little more simplicity in our lives. This morning we will discuss the discipline of simplicity, but please underline Luke 12:34: "34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Some of you see that verse and think "oh no, he's going to talk about money". But if you really study this "space-maker" sermon you will realize Jesus wants our hearts, and money is just an indicator of where your heart is.


Simplicity is a Biblical Principle


Simplicity, is an important biblical principle. God is greatly concerned with how we approach the world he gave to us and how we manage it economically. Leviticus 25:23 states, "The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me." We do not own this world, it is given to us by God. In fact, the Israelites were supposed to have a Year of Jubilee wherein all property and wealth would be returned to the tribe and family of first-possession when Israel entered the promised land. Jubilee was to be a limit both on greed and on poor financial choices. Even slavery could be erased by Jubilee. God knows the greed that exists in our hearts and has commanded us to repent of such sin. The world in which we live is God's and we must remember we are His servants here.


The wisdom literature of the Bible, also speaks of not setting our hearts desire on wealth.


    "if riches increase, set not your heart on them" (Psalm 62:10)


    "See the man who would not make

        God his refuge,

    but trusted in the abundance of his riches

        and sought refuge in his own destruction!" (Psalm 52:7)


    "Riches do not profit in the day of wrath,

        but righteousness delivers from death." (Proverbs 11:4)


    "Whoever trusts in his riches will fall,

        but the righteous will flourish like a green leaf." (Proverbs 11:28)


The Bible does not say that one should not have wealth, rather that when we set our hearts on wealth that is when destruction comes. The book "7 habits of highly effective people" warns that some people spend their whole life climbing the ladder of success only to find their ladder was leaning on the wrong wall; meaning their reward is not what they thought it would be, and what they gave up was more valuable than what they gained. The discipline of simplicity can be practiced by the wealthy, it is matter of how you come to and utilize wealth that counts. If your heart is on God and not wealth, you are living simply.


In the New Testament we also see this warning against seeking wealth. Jesus states that you, "cannot serve God and Mammon" (Luke 16:13). In our own text for this morning it tells us that where our heart is there too will be our treasure. No matter what we say is important, time is the great arbiter of good intentions. Over time what we really value will be revealed in what we do.


The question is where are we placing our heart? The biblical discipline of simplicity is to practice setting our hearts not on things or money, but on God. Sometimes there is a fine line between owning stuff, and letting your stuff own you.


Simplicity is not an End in Itself


Before we continue to construct what the discipline of simplicity is, let's take a few moments to mention what it is not. It is not an end in itself. This means that merely by practicing the discipline of simplicity we may find satisfaction in our spiritual life or find the favor of God. This is a deception. Many people in the history of Christianity have fallen prey to this deception. What happens is that they are getting the cart before the horse. Simplicity comes from a life filled by God and it aids in increasing the blessings therein. It is not a means to find the blessings of God, but rather clearing the way for us to see and experience the blessings that are already there.


Practically speaking, what this can become is a form of works salvation. If we deny ourselves things, food, water, pleasures, then God will smile upon us. I hear prosperity preachers talk about gaining God's favor to get more of what you want. There, the goal is still earthly things, not a greater presence of God in our lives.


What we must realize is that God is the only one who can bless us, provide us satisfaction. In the Old Testament this is proven by passages like Isaiah 1:11 where God shows no delight in sacrifices. In the New Testament we are told that salvation is not by works, Galatians 2:16. All we must do is follow Him and do what He commands. one of the things He looks for is a life of simplicity.


Simplicity Focuses Us


One benefit of simplicity is that it focuses us. This means that it helps put into perspective the important things in life. We have said it before, but the focus of the heart should be on God and His purpose, not things, our lives, people, etc. These are important, but often stand in place of that which is most important.


What we need to do, to help us understand the importance of simplicity, is to ponder these parables of Jesus:


    "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

    "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:44-46)


When we are willing to forsake all for Christ we know that we have practiced the discipline of simplicity. In short, it means that we have only one focus: God. Sure there are many things God wants us to do, but He only wants us to focus on Him so we know how to do them. This is simplicity, it is a focus upon God and Him alone.


Simplicity Frees Us


Finally, we see that simplicity also frees us. The reality is, is that we are in bondage to many things, events, and persons in our lives (even in bondage to church). The discipline of simplicity finds ways for us to release ourselves from that bondage and go back to putting on only the yoke of Jesus in our lives.


This is why Jesus gives these commands:


    "Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back." (Luke 6:30)


    "Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys." (Luke 12:33)


Though we may have pains when attempting to live out these texts, when we do accomplish them we find a great liberty in God. The bondage of those things has left us and we find freedom. The goal is to free our hearts from things that steal our affections from God.


In some sense we are all hoarders of something in our lives, and we must learn to let go of those things. Perhaps we need a garage sale of the spiritual kind. Perhaps we need an actual garage sale. Whatever the case the discipline of simplicity helps us understand those things in our lives that bind us. Let us choose to be liberated from them in 2013.


In closing discuss Foster's 10 suggestions for a simple life (90-95):


First: Buy things for their usefulness rather than their status.

Second: Reject anything that is producing an addiction in you.

Third: Develop a habit of giving things away.

Fourth: Refuse to be propagandized by the custodians of modern gadgetry.

Fifth: Learn to enjoy things without owning them.

Sixth: Develop a deeper appreciation for the creation.

Seventh: Look with a healthy skepticism at all "buy now, pay later" schemes.

Eighth: Obey Jesus' instructions about plain, honest speech.

Ninth: Reject anything that breeds the oppression of others.

Tenth: Shun anything that distracts you from seeking first the kingdom of God.

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