The Cost of Trust: One Behavior Being Ignored In Our Talk of Schism

Like many other clergy and laity in the United Methodist Church, I’ve been reading the proposals and responses again and again related to the idea of schism, the talk of dividing the church.  For some time now, I have been listening to discussion and the varying points of view.  I’ve tried to remove myself from my own beliefs and convictions to try and hear all sides with fresh ears (it has been difficult).  I’m still not done.  I still have people I want to talk with about it, clergy and laity both, as well as United Methodists and those outside.

This week however I put my finger on something that had just been gnawing at me.  I
think it had a lot to do with my son going before his Eagle Board of Review last night (which he passed and is now an Eagle Scout).  Each week in my High School years, I stood, held the Scout sign and repeated the values Scouting seeks to instill in boys starting with the first words, “A scout is trustworthy…”  For a number of years now, I’ve stood and done the same ritual, believing those are values which are timeless and I wanted to pass on to my son, “A scout is trustworthy…”

Quite honestly, it hit me hard.

Like others I'm sure, I was impressed by Dr. James Howell's appeal for the UMC to stay together.  Among other articles I read, I read Dr. William Abraham’s post from a few years back, “United Methodists at the End of the Mainline.” In his comments he references a sermon from a clergy in the Reconciling Movement who spoke about his position and the Reconciling Movement.  The message of that preacher went…

“Now it is our turn to get honest…We have moved far beyond the idea that the Bible is exclusively normative and literally authoritative for our faith. To my thinking, that is good! What is bad is that we have tried to con ourselves and others by saying ‘we haven’t changed our position.’”

           Then yesterday there appeared an article in The Daily Beast, a very thought provoking article I might add, entitled “Were Christians Right About Gay Marriage Along?”  In it, author Jay Michaelson, speculates that to some, gay marriage isn’t the end nor was it ever the goal.  In truth, their goal is to do away completely with marriage.  Michaelson writes,

“If your agenda is liberation, then the vision of same-sex marriage, in which gays become domesticated and live happily ever after, is a kind of nightmare. It is, at best, the squandering of a revolutionary potential, but at worst the growth of exactly what we were supposed to have shrunk: repression, patriarchy, convention, religion.”

      Is this really the end game for some in this movement?  And if the one is true, how far away is the other?  Can I even take your word if you told me you are against the second statement if you agree with the first.  I pray this is not shared within the UMC as a desired outcome. 

      I can’t help hearing those words, “A scout is trustworthy…”  I guess some could care less what comes to my mind.  You may think Scouting is a waste.  Fine.  But I think it is a critical, and clearly understated or entirely ignored part of the conversation.  Like scouts who stand and proclaim at their meetings regarding what they value (even though they are just starting to learn it), we clergy do the same thing in essence during our ordination processes.  We give our word, confirming our commitment to the polity and discipline of the church.  Our approach, I think, is very much in keeping with Jesus' words on giving our word too (see Matthew 5:36-37).

           In the book, “The Speed of Trust,” Stephen M.R. Covey describes giving our word or keeping commitments as the “Big Kahuna” of all trust behaviors.  He goes on to write, “…when you make a commitment, you build hope; when you keep it, you build trust (214).”  Throughout the book which reflects an extensive study on trust in organizations, Covey also notes the impact of betraying trust and the impact on relationships.  He often notes Warren Buffet’s famous quote, “It takes twenty years develop a reputation and just 5 minutes to destroy it.”  

     To break the bond of our word is what we are talking about when we speak about the breaking of our covenant vows of ordination.  I get we have disagreements of conviction, theology, and psychology regarding the issues related to sexuality.  I am of the conviction still to listen and learn what else we are not seeing clearly in the debate at hand.  But I’m also of the conviction that we have given our word, we have established a bond of trust (and we have a polity which says how we conduct debate and change) and some have chosen to break it.

           I am not ignoring the conviction and belief of those of you who see this as a justice issue.  I can respect you see it as worth the sacrifice to break covenant to bring the argument into the open, to try to change the perception and beliefs others hold regarding sexuality.  I want us all at the table but I find myself with a trust betrayed.  I don’t think this is a “straw-man argument.”  I am also not for the break-up of our denomination, I want us to be in connection but a trust betrayed is far from being quick to heal.  If you feel the sacrifice of betraying trust is worth the price, realize you still have sacrificed.  

I Want What I Want When I Wants It. Striving for Simplicity

Simplicity is more than just scaling back what we buy or going through and cleaning house (be that literally or figuratively). I think, in part, it is taking the time, no, let me change that: making the time to get back down to the most basic levels of life.

I have long been captivated by Jesus image of
the “birds of the air and flowers of the field (that would be found in Matthew 6:26-30),” yet I feel at times I must clearly be the only one. As a 21st century Christians living in the affluency of western civilization, we do not take Jesus seriously that God cares for our needs so intimately. And before we pull out the political and economic cards, this is not a Republican, Democrat or Libertarian argument nor is it a capitalist versus socialist issue. We can each live more simply REGARDLESS of politics. The question is will we choose to do so? If you think government needs to tax more, fine. Write the government a bonus check. If you think churches or non-profit orgs are the ones who can work better at caring for the needy, great! Log in and start giving away online with your credit or debit card (I recommend supporting UMCOR by the way.)

No one is stopping you from giving. No one is keeping you from living more simply than yourself.

I think Maslow’s Theory on the Hierarchy of Needs really hits on Jesus’ point. The most basic level of need in a human being consists of meeting a person’s biological and physiological needs such as; air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, and sleep. Sounds a lot like what Jesus was implying when it comes to what we ought to be worried about. Maslow’s theory has since been examined and the website link above will do a great job of explaining things.

As a present for finishing middle school, we have given our kids smart phones (I should say, upgraded. They had flip-phones that worked just fine). It wasn’t anything fancy but it is the same phone I have. As we set-up my daughter’s phone, I thought about my own phone, “hmmm, mine is a year and a half old. Should I trade it in?” I caught myself and was like, really?!? There is NOTHING wrong with what I have! It does far MORE than I even use it for anyway and the little computer brain probably wishes someone else owned it.

The salient point is this: I didn’t NEED a new phone. Period.

But I started thinking about some of the things I have been using to live simply, some of the guide posts I have put in place.  Ultimately, I think living simply means we have to make some choices:

1. Talk to Yourself. – Do I need it or do I just want it?

2. Live the Bottom Line. – Stop spending and living beyond your means.

3. Trading up or staying put? – Does trading up benefit the Kingdom of God? What part of your life does God get?

4. No Remorse. Ever buy something and then wish you didn’t? Only buy what you need and even then, schedule the trip and make a list.

5. What Matters? This one really takes work. Jesus seemed to keep putting that question to people in different ways. I think He still is doing it but do you listen?

Maybe those might help you or maybe not. Try one or all or maybe they just seem stupid to you. I get it, doesn’t hurt my feelings. I do like what Brother Lawrence said though. He, the simple cook and banger of pots and pans said simply, “That our only business was to love and delight ourselves in God. (The Practice of the Presence of God. 21).” Pretty hard to argue with that but if you want to do so, go back to number 1 above.

Nobody and nothing is keeping you from following Jesus; from beginning the work of casting off what you can’t take with you anyway.

The Hard Way: Choosing a Simple Way

I find myself incredibly frustrated with myself sometimes. It usually occurs when I have to organize my garage, my office, my bed side table, or the basement. “How did I come to have all this stuff,” I wonder as I begin work to clean up. As I clean, more times than not, I have found that I have held onto things of no value, of no use and of no meaning. Why can I not give things up I don’t really need?

The words of Abba Pambo, one of the Desert Fathers in the early centuries of the Christian faith, is credited with s
tating, “The monk’s garment should be such that he could throw it out of his cell for three days and no-one would take it.” Before moving past those words, read them out loud for a moment. Consider the real meaning of it.

The Desert Abbas and Ammas were generally in the desert to fight the trappings of the world’s temptations and wrestle with their own demons and passions. You might say, simplicity was a given. They had very little. So this statement is not about a monk that has no need for his cloak, for it would likely be the only one he had. Nor was it in regards to the integrity of his fellow monks. It is that this one cloak was his only one and is in such a condition no one would consider it a trade up to take it. It would have been all he had and even what he had was worth nothing.

Simplicity is a choice for sure but it is more than that if we truly believe the example set for us by Jesus Christ and the early apostles. Clearly the example of Pope Francis has been refreshing to see but how is this impacting the everyday Roman Catholicism? I keep reading he is inspiring protestants as well, so I am wondering where in the protestant churches and mainline churches, are we seeing a similar standard being set for us? Whose giving up their cloak? Yes, there are those like Shane Claiborne, but who else? And who is following the path of simplicity who are clergy? Yes, I am looking in the mirror. I know this, my sin.

What would be your “cloak?” Your salary? Your house? Your position? Would anyone want it? Could you give it up if Christ Jesus were to ask, “Come and follow me?” Yeah, sometimes I really don’t like looking in the mirror. The idea of living simply is not hard but the actions it will demand? Well, that is a whole other point, one I suspect we’re uncomfortable with for ourselves. Could we say with Paul, “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need (Philippians 4:12 ESV).”  Maybe it does start with one cloak (or coat). Really, how many do you need? 

I think you ought to know, I haven't really got this all figured out in my own life.  I don't for one second claim, I am living simply.  I am being formed right now, wrestling with what God has been doing in my soul and life.  So the idea of spiritual formation as some way to introduce new age or pagan practices into the Church, is tragically flawed. It assumes the worst rather than examining the evidence, evidence that spiritual formation is about forming our lives according to the example of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  That is not some simple, easy, navel-gazing work.  Because where it leads me is to consider that maybe rather than giving away a cloak or coat I don't want anymore (and maybe one no one would want), you and I need to give away one we do want and keep the one a bit more worn and tattered. Wouldn’t that be closer to giving our first fruits? 

Yeah, I know. I gotta clean out my closet now and maybe buy a coat for someone.

Hey Ya'll! A Pastor's Greeting To A New Appointment.

(Please Scroll Down To Find Updates)

My old dorm-mate, author and fellow UM clergy, Bob Kaylor, has
written a recommendation for pastors going to new congregations to write a blog to introduce oneself.  Since I already have a blog, I figure we might as well do that here and get to the heart of the matter and extend my greeting to God’s Church at Bethelview UMC.  If you are like me, I suspect you are a bit curious about who I am and what I am all about (I’ve been wondering about ya’ll too) and that is probably why you’re here. I am really glad you stopped by to find out.

Since our family has been living here in Forsyth County for the last three years, I also suspect we all have some connections in common. I hope that will help make the transition easier for everyone. You’ll find me on Facebook and Twitter (@jedipastorken). I’m also on Linked-in too.

I know Pastor Don Underwood has done wonderful work in his time with you all. I suspect you have some great plans here in the next few for him and his family. My thoughts and prayers will be with them and with you in the weeks ahead.  I will continue to post through the coming weeks so feel free to stop by any time.  Grace and peace!

A Little on Work and School

I have been in ministry full-time for nearly 20 years.  In my first decade of ministry I served as a youth minister at Manchester UMC in St. Louis, MO, and then Gainesville FUMC in Georgia.  I began pastoring in 2004 at New Prospect UMC, then at Due West UMC in Marietta in preparation for starting a new church, Crossroads UMC, in Paulding County.  We came to Cumming three years ago where I served as Associate at Cumming FUMC.

I graduated from East Carolina University and I am a die-hard Pirate fan even though I rarely see them.  For my Master's of Divinity, I attended Asbury Theological Seminary.  Most recently, I have completed requirements for my Professional Certification in Spiritual Formation from Garrett-Evangelical Seminary and will go before our conference board this fall to present my completed work for that Certification.

Just for fun, I've worked as a Lifeguard and as a Pool Manager.  I also worked as Assistant Manager for Carmike Cinemas while in college and watched free movies, and ate lots of popcorn and drank way too much Dr. Pepper.  I have experience in Broadcast media, Information Technologies, graphic design, and theatre production (stage). 

 If you think of any questions, let me know!  I'll be back later this week to share about our family.

A Couple of Significant Events

After talking with the SPR Chair at Bethelview, it became clear there are a couple of very important things that have impacted my life.  For certain, Heather saying "yes" when I proposed and "I Do" when Rev. Stratton asked the other big question are central.  The birth of both my kids and a number of family events also rank up there too.

However, in January of 2000, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer and had to have my right testicle removed.  I followed that up with 3 weeks of radiation treatment.  As the most prevalent form of cancer in men from age 16-25, I have found it vitally important to make myself available and to talk about both my cancer and the impact it has had on my life.  This past year, I was given the privilege of being the Honorary Chairperson for the Forsyth County Relay For Life.  My story was featured in Communicare, the publication for Northeast Georgia Medical Center in 2007.  It was featured again leading up to Relay for Life in the Forsyth News. 

More recently I have been diagnosed with Ischemic Optic Neuropathy in both my eyes.  That is the big fancy way of saying I have swollen optical nerves in both of my eyes.  I have lost nearly 50% of my vision (mainly the bottom half) and a good deal of peripheral vision as well.  As the bottom half of our vision is what we use for reading, I have had to compensate with the use of Closed Caption Camera Devices, reading glasses, cane, and large print.  My eyes have adapted to some reading but long periods on computers or reading, causes a tunnel vision effect.  It does impact my driving and though I am still legal to drive, I try to avoid driving at night and in poor weather condition as my response is slowed.

I have been asked to preach on July 18th at the opening session of Mission U, a joint missions conference hosted by the UMW and Missions Team of the North Georgia Annual Conference. Part of the focus is on how the church might more effectively be in ministry to people with disability.  This will be the focus of my message.

I don't always use a cane, just mainly in large crowds and on public transit.  I still hunt but how I do it is impacted and I have learned different approaches for compensating.  Hiking poles, for instance, give me stability and direction.

While I am a survivor and have a disability, these do not define who I am, nor do I feel they impact my quality of life.  Have they changed me and how live?  Without a doubt but I also know that I am a better husband, father, pastor and person because of it.  Indeed, all things do work for our good!

Please feel free to ask me any questions about my cancer and vision.  I tend to make jokes about both of them and because of my hobbies, the ironies are quite funny at times.  

Just Playing Around!

Trying to keep track of everything my family is into can be kind of daunting.  It seems like every few weeks or months, we change our interests!  Still, we each have things we share in common and some which send us into our own corners.

For Heather, reading is on the top of her todo list.  From classic novels to modern authors, she loves her books.  We both love going into used bookstores to see what treasures we can find.  We love HumpusBumpus and supporting this great local business.  I am so thankful Heather was born in the U.S. but if she’d had a choice, I know she would love to call the U.K. home and that has rubbed off on us all.  We began hiking together when we were dating, and share a love of the outdoors we’ve passed on to our kids.

 I will refrain from embarassing both my kids as much as I can.  Both of them will be enrolled at Forsyth Central H.S. this fall.

Logan is our oldest and was born in St. Louis, MO when I was a youth pastor there.   Logan just passed his Eagle Board of Review after many years of hard work and dedication.  He was recently awarded the Good Samaritan Award for his service at Cumming FUMC.  Logan is regularly working on EDM (Electro-Dance Music).

Jillian is our youngest and is quite active.  She loves to exercise and stay in shape.  She has a variety interests, one of the main ones being her creativity and art work.  One of Jillian’s pieces made it all the way to state this past year.  She enjoys running, biking, and swimming.  Right now, she and I are training and planning to section hike the A.T.

So that leaves me.  I am interested in nearly everything my family does.  It is fairly obvious that I am and have been, a huge Star Wars fan through the years and have been a member of the Hothlanta Rebels, fan club in Atlanta.  Even with my vision loss, I continue to enjoy the outdoors and continue to hike and hunt (yes, I can still shoot).  I hunt mostly things with feathers and turkey hunting is my favorite.  Reading has slowed down but I continue to do it when I can, though rarely just for fun.  

As it is summer, we all enjoy movies together.  It is one thing we usually can all agree on and we LOVE the summer movie season.  One of our rules on book adaptations is to read the book and then compare it to the movie which creates some great family times.

This list is far from complete and part of that comes from the reality that we tend to try just about anything once!  We look forward to getting to know you all and all that you have fun doing as well.

God Be With You.

There is nothing easy about goodbyes. They signal change, present obstacles and likely will force you to grow. We can fight them if we like but it usually to our detriment we do so.

I read recently the root of “goodbye” comes from the old saying, “God be with you.” In other words, it is the ancient version of TTFN or “Ta Ta For Now” (So obviously, the 21st century did not come up with text lingo all by itself). And whether you like them or not, we don’t get to escape the truth that if change is inevitable we best invest in healthy goodbyes.

I recently closed at chapter and said my goodbyes to so many dear friends and pilgrims from our Two Year Academy of Spiritual Formation sponsored by The Upper Room. It was a truly life shaping and faith influencing experience that I will be forever grateful for and especially for the family we made a long the way (calling us friends doesn’t seem to do justice to the experience).

Now, like other pastors and churches, I am saying goodbye to the family of God who I have worshiped with and served for these past three years. Soon, I will no longer be able to be one of your pastors at Cumming FUMC, but will part ways as friends, and certainly as family in God’s Kingdom. I am thankful for how you welcomed our family into your’s and have supported us in so many ways, especially in your concern and prayers as I have adjusted to my low-vision disability. I hope and pray you’ve come to know and love Jesus Christ better during our time and that you’ll continue to do so after we say our goodbyes.

God Be With You.

Six Steps Toward Simplicity

It has taken thousands of years for humankind to come to the

conclusion money is not the most valuable thing. It is time. There are only so many seconds, minutes and hours in a day and no one gets more or less than anyone else. The writer of the ancient wisdom book, Ecclesiastes knew this when he observed, “Whoever obeys [the king’s] commands will avoid trouble. The mind of a wise person will know the right time and the right way to act. There is a right time and a right way to act in every situation.” (8:5-6a GW)

There are plenty more observations the writer makes but this one, I think, gets to the heart of the matter, wisdom and time go hand in hand. Now I will be the first to admit I have done some things at the wrong time...okay, I’ve done a lot of things at the wrong time. However, I have learned from those experiences (For example, don’t try to ride on one wheel on a bicycle going down a steep hill. Face plants on asphalt at high speeds can mess you up) or at least I have tried to do so.

One of the things I have observed is a life of simplicity is solidified by seeing simply. I think this is part of what the writer of Ecclesiastes is trying to say for in his time, the best educated and wisest person in the land was often the king. If Solomon was the writer, then it would have been fabulous counsel as he was known far and wide for his wisdom. I have been blessed to grow up around wise people and to seek them out to learn from them. Again and again, the best approaches to many (if not most) situations, is really the simplest.

I suspect you have heard the old saying, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Break anything down to the simplest parts and then the most complicated tasks can be done. Imagine then, if your task is to live a life of simplicity, it should be so simple. Of course, rarely is this the case as our lives are very complicated (probably another reason Paul encouraged believers not to marry (1 Cor. 7:28)).

Simplicity is not just going to happen. It must be one of the things which matters most for you to be willing to make the changes in your life. I am going to suggest a couple of things which maybe of help. I have been in this process for some months now and working on my own system to help with this. Here is what I have found to be helpful.

1. Get A Calendar Planner. Yep, it is that easy to get started. The hard part is committing to use it and do so correctly. You must have it with you at ALL times (commit to it for 21 days to make it a habit). I recommend paper and so do numerous other time management experts. It is faster to take notes and prioritize with paper.

2. Learn to Use It. I originally did this through Franklin Quest which has now become Franklin Covey ( They have a number of seminars to attend or you can use one of their online webinars. I may come back and expand on this but the key is to have single place to go to for everything you need.

3. Core Values and Goals. Again, Franklin Covey can help you sort this out online at their website. I am not a spokesperson for Covey, I promise. I am actually using a Daytimer Planner ( that I am customizing. The point is, you need to spend some time considering what DOES matter to you personally. If simplicity isn’t in this list somewhere, then that speaks wisdom to your soul.

4. Rule of Life. St. Benedict, Ignatius of Loyola and John Wesley had something in common. Each developed a rule of life, a set of guidelines to help Christians follow Jesus Christ and be shaped in his image. Recently, author Robert Benson outlined how Benedicts rule of life consists of four parts: 1) Prayer, 2) Rest, 3) Community, and 4) Work. Again, I will return to this later but think of the Rule more like the “pirate’s code,” they’re more like guidelines. Be gentle with your soul.

5. Get a Hold of Technology. Lions, tigers, and bears - Oh My! Yes, technology is amazing and no, I’m not suggesting you do away with it. I like Kenneth Zeigler’s description in his book, “Organizing For Success,” when he asks the question, “Who will be the Ringmaster and who will be the Beast?” The dings, the beeps, and the alerts all draw our attention to the urgent, whether it is or not. Get your e-mail organized (I’ve had a terrible time with Gmail until I read this article and this one), don’t look at every Facebook alert or Tweet.

6. Make Moments Matter. The stuff of life is not stuff, it is the moments of life. Time is made up of events not numbers on a clock. Living more simply begins in realizing how simple and how profound Jesus view of the greatest commandment really is: "Teacher, which commandment is the greatest in Moses' Teachings?" Jesus answered him, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as you love yourself.' (Matthew 22:36-39 GW)

A life of simplicity is solidified by seeing simply and you must make space for the Spirit.  I suspect you are having a hard time making that space happen.  A simple system can make all the difference.

Today's blog is brought to you by the letter "S" and the number "6."

May I Ask: What are the excuses you are making to take time to do this work? Make a list on a sheet of paper. Take a look at them. Then list out the most important relationships and activities in your life. How often do you take time for these? Which side matters most to you right now?

May I Suggest: I’ve often suggested making time for personal retreat because we often don’t realize our need to be apart to do reflection. If you can’t take a weekend, schedule a meeting with yourself for a couple of half-days and invest time into this work.

What's New? - Clarifying the Way of Simplicity

I love new. That may sound odd or contradictory considering my early post on simplicity but in truth, it is not. New does not always mean buying something new. For me, what I love about new, is the freshness. My wife is always looking for new recipes and I am usually looking at how I can steal those recipes for backpacking and camping ideas. I love spring because it is new, new flowers and new plants break through the ground reminding me they were never asleep during the winter months.

I love the outdoors, whether that is spent hunting, camping,

backpacking, whatever. On any given day, you can return to the same spot from the day before and if you are silent, attentive and patient, creation may surprise with glimpses of her wild and wonderful creatures or moments. When you expand 'new' beyond consumerism, we begin to realize how narrow we have defined the word. When seen this way, simplicity magnifies, multiplies, and can revitalize,in short, it makes life new.

Author, speaker and nametag guy, Scott Ginsberg, observes that, “As much as I loathe reality television with all of my being, the sheer number of makeover shows on a typical evening of programming does indicate something reassuring: Most people want to get better. Not all, but most.” (from 8 Engagement Strategies to Keep Your People from Walking Out the Door) Scott points to a reality many of us in the Christian tradition hold, that while we are corrupted by sin, what John Calvin termed, “total depravity,” (it is actually the one thing John Wesley agreed with Calvin on) there remains a spark of divinity. I know this a point of contention in theological discussions, but Scott’s point is a valid one, many people DO want to get better.

I have yet to meet anyone who went about living life in order to sabotage their marriage or career. I also have not met anyone who wanted to be a bad parent or for that matter, wanted to be a bad child. It may even be hard to believe that we pastors generally do not think we are perfect, in fact, most of us know too well how we fall short, yet we still want to get BE better.

But this is where it gets complicated. We cannot do it. On our own we cannot just get better, we cannot just be better people. We start working on it, trying to make up how we will visualize a better “me” and it is not long before our laser beam focus begins to burn our way through everything and everybody for a perfection that is unattainable. We fall short and in the wake, we find we have capsized friends, family and values we claimed matter. I have been there and I have done it. I threw away the t-shirt.

It seems to me that simplicity, as a part of our spiritual formation, our spiritual journey, must hold hands with grace. Grace puts God at the center. The new life Jesus speaks about throughout his teaching points to a life without entanglements in stuff and instead is a life in community, of relationship and of inter-relatedness. What do you hear when Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom...(Matt. 6:33)?” We find in the Gospel of John, Jesus’ teaching on how we are to come into relationship with God when he says, "I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you. (John 14:16-17 NASB)”

Jesus works with what we have; he works with who we are. There is no care about what you or I have, in fact, Jesus regularly chose hanging out with the most destitute saying they will have the best seats in the Kingdom (Matthew 22:2-9) not because those who “have it all” are not invited, but because they chose not to come. Their new stuff took precedent over new life.

Taking steps toward simplicity begins with recognizing that it is God who took the first steps toward humanity, to you and me.

May I Ask? What is something in you that your are working on but finding little peace or you’re having a hard time showing grace to yourself?

May I Suggest? Are you ready to “throw away the t-shirt?” Consider pulling out an old t-shirt, getting a sharpie and writing on it what is hanging you up, what you’re doing that is keeping you from simplicity. Take your time with it, you may need a few days or weeks before you give it up. Then, when you’re ready, give it up whether that means throwing it in the trash, burning it or burying it, let go of it. Two things take place: 1) You just got rid of an old t-shirt you didn’t need and 2) you brought into the light what you were DOING rather than BECOMING the image of Christ in the world.

The Five Lenses of Simplicity

What do you want?

It is a question that has long plagued my existence. I find myself presented with the question each year. Whether it is a birthday, Father’s Day or Christmas, the question of what I want is sure to arise. At different ages of my life it has been different things. There was the Christmas I wanted “Steve Austin, The Six Million Dollar Man” action figure. Apparently that was me and every other young boy that year because they were sold out and I acted like a spoiled brat. Of course there have been the many years since where I have kept my wants to a minimum. This is not because I was being more thoughtful or frugal but because the fewer things asked for, the more likely one is to receive them.

There is no doubt I could do without many of the things in my life. I have grown to see more clearly what I want, or more to the point, I have gotten a better taste of what matters in my life. Experiences and memories have come to mean far more than stuff. It is at this point I expect you are like me and realize that what we want is worlds apart from what we actually need.

A life of simplicity is part of what makes the spiritual life so attractive to so many. As we face the beginning of the 21st Century, I am amazed and in awe of many of the adventures I see my younger friends embarking on. As a former youth pastor, I have followed on Facebook former students, traveling the world, through hiking the longest trails in the USA, giving themselves to others again and again. While I would love to think I had something to do with that, I am not that nieve. They are different generation that though dependent on technology, also see the value in having little to hold one back.

"The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head," were the words Jesus used to describe how God incarnate was living life on planet Earth (Matt 8:20, NASB). The tempter would come to Jesus before he even began his ministry (Matthew 4:8-9) and taunted Jesus with all the kingdoms of the world. Jesus did not buy it. From Jesus, to Paul and Peter and through the centuries, the freshest air is that breathed by those who live life most simply.

In recent weeks, I’ve been in the process of what the late Stephen Covey called, “Sharpening the Saw.” Just as tools need to be maintained to be useful, we need to take time to reflect on ourselves, on our own lives. As a cancer survivor and one now living with a low vision disability, I have already begun ruling out ‘things’ as the path to finding solace in simplicity. Instead, I encourage you to consider these questions, what I call The 5
Lenses of Simplicity:

1. When are you happiest?

2. Where have your most fond memories taken place?

3. How do you schedule your time to make memories?

4. Who are the people you find joy being with?

5. What are the activities you look forward to doing?

Consider these the starting point for how you might live more simply. Do not just take the answers at face value but consider what the answer might be telling you. For instance, if your most fond memories were as a kid visiting your grandparents farm, what implications does that reveal? The farm might now be a neighborhood BUT was it working on the farm that made it special? Was it the pastures? The animals? The family time? Consider what you might do to recapture that rather what you must have.

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