Lay Reader = Philippians 4:10-20
10I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. 11Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 14In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress. 15You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone. 16For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs more than once. 17Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account. 18I have been paid in full and have more than enough; I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.
This is our last week in our series looking at how our spirituality can be life-giving. Next week Dave Blackburn will be preaching.
Last week we looked at life-giving study, and we saw that we aren’t set free by our emotions or our experiences, because it is the truth that sets us free. This week we are looking at simplicity.
Simplicity is one of my favorite concepts. The background image on my laptop is a quote from Leonardo da Vinci: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” One of my favorite books on economics is “Small Is Beautiful.” One of my favorite books about the church is called “Simple Church.” When I was a computer programmer, I was always asking how we could streamline and simplify, not add another feature. When I do a wedding, I always ask what style they want, but I tell them my default style is “simple yet meaningful.”
One of my favorite engineering stories comes from an MIT class where the professor asked the class to design a better hot glue gun. And some people added advanced electronics to guarantee a constant flow rate, or added customizable nozzles, or a better temperature regulator. But my favorite one was the student who figured out how to reduce it down to three parts while keeping it just as effective. That’s REAL engineering!
I love simple yet effective. It requires true insight into the nature of the problem to devise its simplest solution. Anyone can solve a problem with an infinite budget and infinite time, but if you only have a paperclip and some duct tape, you better call MacGyver. So how can we be MacGyvers in life? How can we see the simplest effective solution? How can we live fully…yet simply?
1Then Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, 2and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. 3He said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic. 4Whatever house you enter, stay there, and leave from there. 5Wherever they do not welcome you, as you are leaving that town shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” 6They departed and went through the villages, bringing the good news and curing diseases everywhere.
2 Kings 2:9-15
9When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.” 10He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” 11As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven. 12Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.
13He picked up the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14He took the mantle of Elijah that had fallen from him, and struck the water, saying, “Where is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” When he had struck the water, the water was parted to the one side and to the other, and Elisha went over. 15When the company of prophets who were at Jericho saw him at a distance, they declared, “The spirit of Elijah rests on Elisha.” They came to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.
The Means are NOT the End
As you know, I am a data geek. I love to look at studies and I read research articles. I love data-driven decision-making. But there is always the danger of misunderstanding cause and effect. For example, there have been multiple studies that show that kids that grow up in households where there are a lot of books do better in school. So there have been several instances where politicians saw that and decided to make an investment in their communities by getting the state to pay to send two books to every child’s household. But here’s the problem – the books aren’t the cause. If the parents aren’t READING the books with their kids, they’re just a state-subsidized dust collector. But you can also use them as paper weights or even door stops. Very useful. Books don’t make kids do better in school. Parents engaging with their kids by reading to them makes kids do better in school. Big difference.
You know, I have the privilege of meeting with families before baptisms, and I always ask what hopes they have for their child as they grow up. And I hear things like, “I hope they grow up healthy, and that they meet someone, and that they get a job.” Easily the number one hope from these baptism families is, “I hope they grow up to be happy.” That’s the undisputed champion of the parental hope world.
So how do we help our kids grow up to be happy?
Well let me tell you, when I was little I knew what would make me happy. Our friends had the latest, greatest toy. Klip Klop the Wonder Horse. You could ride Klip Klop, which was mounted on springs, and it would even give a realistic (for 80’s technology) “neigh.” And my brother and I LOVED Klip Klop when we were at our friends’ house. So we asked, we begged, we demanded, we pouted, and FINALLY my parents wised up and got us our very own Klip Klop the Wonder Horse! Which we promptly never played with.
Klip Klop didn’t make us happy. My brother and I just KNEW we would be happy if we had this toy, and we didn’t care about it once we had it. It’s kind of like when you have a movie you love, so you buy it, but then you never watch it unless you happen to find it playing on TV some night. Ever done that?
Retail therapy doesn’t work. The boost of happiness you get from buying something new has a very short half-life. Klip Klop the Wonder Horse won’t make you happy. Having books in the house won’t make your kids smarter. I can’t tell you how many times my boys have received a gift in the mail, and they play with the cardboard box it came in longer than the toy. More stuff doesn’t make you happy.
Jesus tells his disciples, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money—not even an extra tunic.” He’s telling them that they should worry more about their message than their wardrobe. They should worry more about their mission than their bank account. They should worry more about helping others than getting their due.
Richard Byrd, a polar explorer who spent a lot of time alone exploring Antarctica, wrote in his diary, “I am learning…that a man can live profoundly without masses of things.”
Think about that. He didn’t say a man could barely survive without masses of things. He didn’t say a man could just scratch out an existence without masses of things. No, he said, “a man can live profoundly without masses of things.”
That’s EXACTLY what Jesus was telling his disciples. And that’s EXACTLY what Paul wrote to the church in Philippi that we heard in our first text today, “I have learned to be content with whatever I have. 12I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. 13I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
You can live profoundly with or without Klip Klop the Wonder Horse. Just as sending books to a house won’t make kids smarter, the latest Klip Klop won’t make kids happier. Richard Foster writes that “simplicity is an inward reality, a unity with yourself and God, that results in a visible life-style.”
So the goal isn’t to provide more Klip Klop the Wonder Horses. The goal isn’t to get your kid on more sports teams or clubs. Those things don’t move the happiness dial very much. The goal is to help your kid or your grandkid or yourself live profoundly no matter how many things you have amassed.
But what does that look like? What does it mean to live profoundly? It’s pretty easy to say, “I’ve done my job as a parent if I’ve purchased the latest toy, I’ve filled my shelves with books, and I’ve provided access to every team and club. I’m good.” Those are all very tangible and visible. But they have very little to do with living profoundly. That’s so much harder to see.
To be honest, I have had to wrestle with this one a lot. When Becca was pregnant with our first son, Charlie, I was picturing teaching him how to program computers or tinker with electronics or do carpentry. I didn’t know what he would be interested in, and I wouldn’t force any of my passions on him, but I looked forward to the chance to expose him to these things and see what sticks.
But with three years and counting with seizures messing up his brain AND the side effects of the medications, he may never be able to understand any of these things. He may never be able to drive a car. He may never have a job. He may never meet someone he spends the rest of his life with. No Klip Klop the Wonder Horse, no sports team, no special club, no book is going to make that OK. As a parent, that’s painful to consider.
And so, I have to believe that there is such a thing as living profoundly without those things. And even though our younger son Caleb is smart as a whip and he’ll probably be able to program computers or tinker with electronics and someday get a job and drive a car and meet someone and all those other things – I still think living profoundly for him won’t have anything to do with those things.
In Jesus’ most important sermon, he said, “seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” In other words, when our faith is first, everything else will fall into perspective. A profound life starts with knowing what’s most important. When you have your eyes on the ultimate destination, everything else becomes far more simple. I think we often live our lives as a series of intersections. Should I go straight? Should I turn left? Should I turn right? Is this a five-way intersection? Can I do a U-turn here? But it’s really hard to know which way to turn if you don’t know where you’re going. When you get turn-by-turn GPS directions, how do you start that process? By entering the destination. “seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” How can you focus on God’s kingdom and righteousness as the destination? How can you help your kid or grandkid do that?
Paul in our first text today showed a byproduct of knowing your destination. He said he “rejoiced in the Lord greatly.” He had inward joy. He found reason to delight in life regardless of his circumstances. In another text he sang while in prison. When he was under house arrest in Rome, he celebrated the fact that a guard was chained to his arm at all times – here’s someone who can’t run away when I start telling them about Jesus! It’s great! He had an attitude of gratitude. He had an orientation of joy. How can you cultivate inward joy? How can you help your kid or grandkid do that?
Paul also said he learned how to be content. And it’s interesting that he didn’t just find contentment in poverty. He also had contentment in wealth. You don’t have to be poor to be content, and you don’t have to be rich to be content. It’s a secret Paul learned. It’s a skill. Psychologists call this resiliency. They say resiliency involves things like having a positive self-view, that change is a part of living, keeping things in perspective, helping others, celebrating even tiny progress toward your goal. That’s contentment in plenty or in want or in anything in between. That can be learned. How can you cultivate that resiliency? How can you help your kid or your grandkid do that?
Finally, Jesus shows his disciples that seeking God’s kingdom isn’t just about going with the flow, living on Island Time, and staying chill. It also means having grit – continuing despite opposition. He tells his disciples that there are times they will have to shake the dust from their feet at move on – not quit, not say everything’s OK, just keep at their mission and move on. It’s like finding that a road is closed and you need to go around a detour. Having the commitment and grit to continue is important for reaching your destination. They’ve done studies of kids doing math, and the number one predictor of success in math is the amount of time a child is willing to commit to solving the problem before giving up. That’s commitment and grit. How can you cultivate that commitment to your final destination? How can you help your kid or your grandkid do that?
Sisters and brothers, the discipline of simplicity requires deep insight into the nature of life. It requires knowing your ultimate destination. It requires seeking God’s kingdom and righteousness first so that everything else can fall into perspective. Once you are committed to that as your destination, you can find inward joy, a resilient character, and the grit to keep at it.
That simplicity of purpose is what results in happiness. Klip Klop the Wonder Horse won’t make you happy. Having lots of books in your house won’t make you smarter. Being on all the teams and clubs won’t make you fulfilled. Having the simplicity of purpose, that focus on faith first, is what makes you a MacGyver in life – able to find contentment whether you have a full workshop or just a paperclip and some duct tape.
And that’s my special challenge to the fathers and grandfathers here today. If you become a MacGyver in life – pointed toward the simple purpose of God’s kingdom and righteousness – that’s when you can also help your kids or grandkids become MacGyvers in life as well. Your goal isn’t to provide the latest Klip Klop the Wonder Horse. Your goal is to promote profound living with or without masses of things.