The Simple Life – Pastor Greg

     Green acres is the place to be
     Farm livin’ is the life for me
     Land spreadin’ out so far and wide
     Keep Manhattan, just give me that countryside

Anybody remember that opening song? It was from a TV sitcom that ran from 1965 to 1971. It starred Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor, a New York City couple who have moved to a country farm to live a simpler life. Though it was meant as a comedy of city folk attempting to run a farm, it also tapped into the desire to experience a less complicated life. We can read daily of those who are tired of the rat race and decide to quit their careers to head off to the country for a slower pace. Many of us, I’m sure, have often longed for something less hectic, less noisy, something quiet. 

The apostle Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 states the following: “and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands just as we commanded you, so that you will behave properly toward outsiders and not be in any need.” The word ambition means, “to seek after earnestly, to aspire to”. Paul is saying that leading a quiet life should be our aspiration and be sought after. Not only should we desire quiet and peace, we are told to make it a goal! 

In Paul’s day in the Roman culture, there was a practice of a client/patron relationship. That is, a rich patron would support financially a “free client”, a person who was a free Roman citizen, who in turn would be required to speak well of the patron and do favors that were requested of him (think of the godfather). This was such a widespread practice that clients were often considered parasites that lived off the good will of others (which they did.) As they often had much free time and were expected to give good press concerning their patron, clients would often spend their time in political discussions in various forums of the city. Clients lived in dependence on the system and were busybodies. Paul taught that it was not to be this way for believers. Paul makes it clear that he had already spoken regarding this, and that the motivation is for believers to provide for their own needs. The NLT states verse 12 this way: “Then people who are not Christians will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.” While Paul is not teaching that Christians should not be involved in politics, he is saying that our lives should be marked by focusing on our walk with God and to take care of our own business. That way we will not be in need because of our idleness.

Many times, our own decisions are the source of our stress and anxiety.  Paul makes it clear that our lives are to be lived quietly or “in stillness”. This makes me think of still waters and green pastures. To put my hands down and know that God is God alone. It is often the case that the less I mind my own business, the more anxious, tense and disquieted I get. Oftentimes we can get sucked into a world that seems to go faster and faster. We are so concerned about many things, and the tension rises as the demands grow.  We all need a reset from time to time, to hit pause and reevaluate. To stop fussing about the things I cannot not change and focus on my own business. To live in the green pastures (acres?) by the quiet waters. Maybe that time is now?

Salt of the Earth, Light of the World – Pastor Greg

Please pass the salt. How many times have you heard that said or made that request yourself? Salt is an essential part of our life. We use it to season our food, soften our water, treat slippery sidewalks, and help heal sore throats. Our bodies need salt to survive. In ancient times, salt was used as a currency and wars have been fought over its control. Salt is made up of a one-to-one ratio of Sodium and Chloride. Both are essential to the proper function of our bodies. It is basic as it is essential, and the simplicity of salt seems to belie its value. It’s significant that the Lord used salt as a description of who we are to be in this world we live in.

In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus is teaching what we know as the “sermon on the mount”. Jesus states nine times blessings – nine outcomes of ultimate wellbeing and joy that belong to the believer as they walk with God. Jesus concludes the section stating that there will be times of trouble for the believer. That we will be persecuted and reviled for Christ. This is an expectation that the Lord Himself said would be true of us. Yet in the midst of these hard times we will be blessed. It is in this context that Jesus makes the following statement, “you are the salt of the earth,” “you are the light of the world…” (Matthew 5:13a & 15a.) Why make that statement here?  In the midst of persecution or trial Jesus said we ‘are’ something, salt and light.  He goes on to say something else, “but if the salt has become tasteless how can it be made salty again?” So, what is our responsibility? From what Jesus has shared its not to be concerned with the distribution of the salt – that is His concern. It is not to make sure our voice is heard or our opinions are clearly stated or to ‘push back’. We are simply to be salty. It is our responsibility to make sure that the salt does not lose its flavor, that it does not lose its power. Our testimony as a community of believers depends on our distinctiveness from the rest of the world around us. If we blend in or lose our savor, then we become useless in impacting others. As Jesus said, “it is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” We have seen many in the past who have lost their testimony regarding Christ. They have become those who have been “trampled” on by the world and they are derided for their failure. 

The distinctiveness that Jesus has just shared in the beatitudes is to be our normal. Are we gentle, humble, hungry for righteousness, peacemakers? That is a salty Christian. That is someone whose life shines before men. Paul tells us in Romans 12 not to be conformed to this world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. We are to live out what we are in Christ. We are to be salty. This is so basic, so essential. It is what the world needs and what we are to be. Not flashy, not a world changer in and of ourselves, but rather reflecting the One who has changed the world.

Jesus goes on to say that “we are the light of the world, a city set on a hill cannot be hidden nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket but on the lampstand and it gives light to all who are in the house.” Again, our responsibility is not to worry about whether the light will be extinguished but rather to not hide it. The light should be seen, and attention drawn to it. I must admit I often do not like to be conspicuous but that it exactly what I should be as a believer. My light is to be seen and noticed. I am not to be ashamed or timid of the light I hold. Do not hide it, whether the motive is due to fear or not to create waves. Let it shine and allow the Lord to determine how it is to be received. I must keep in mind that the light is Christ Himself, He is the source. The light should not be my opinion or my view of the world, but is to reflect His character as we see in the beatitudes Jesus stated in Matthew 5. 

So as we start a new year, let’s make it our goal to make an impact on the world around us. It does not need to be the whole world, but simply the world we live in, work in, and move in. Let us be salty and bright.

Bug-Out Bag — Pastor Greg

Ever made an emergency plan? One where you had to have a “bug out bag” or an emergency kit ready to go in the event you had to leave quickly? What was in it? I looked up what others recommended to go into such a bag and there was some variation of opinions, but the basics remained the same. Food, water, clothing, first aid kit, important papers, and the like. These are things that in an emergency you would need to grab and go. No thinking about it at that moment, no making of lists or rummaging through the pantry. Nope, you just grab it and leave. The things that are in that bag are essentials. They are the basic items you “must” have, not what you would “like” to have. There may have been some items that you took out of the bag, like that Michigan State snow globe you got years ago from your Aunt Rita. Or that U of M back scratcher you won at the church raffle… had to leave that behind. It’s not that you didn’t like them, they just weren’t essential. 

Emergencies or crises often make us evaluate what is really important and what can be left behind. These moments in our lives can come on us suddenly or they can unfold over months or years. We live in such a time. Our present situation has forced us to confront what we consider important. This is a good thing. 

From 1938 to 1945, Martin Niemöller, a Lutheran pastor, was held prisoner by the Nazis during WWII. His crime was speaking out against the evil that was enveloping his nation. The last four years of his captivity were spent in the Dachau concentration camp along with a few other political prisoners. It was at this time, from Christmas of 1944 to Easter of 1945, that he wrote 6 sermons that he shared with his fellow inmates. In each of these messages, the central theme that came through was the all sufficiency of Christ.  When all else had been taken away and each day gave way to an uncertain future, Jesus remained. The apostle Paul, who also had been imprisoned, wrote in Philippians 3:7-8 “But whatever things were gain to me those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” Paul had his spiritual “bug out bag”. The essential thing – the one thing – that mattered to him was Christ. 

Just like with an emergency grab bag, preparation is key. We do not just throw things into it randomly, but much time and thought have preceded each decision. Notice how many times Paul uses the word “count” in these verses. Three times he counted something or considered something or regarded something and compared it to something else. Suddenly the things that were at one time valuable to Paul changed to the status of garbage. When Paul understood who Christ was and is, suddenly those things that at one time were dear to him lost their value and were cast aside. Paul was a redeemed man but his past reliance on the legalistic system of Judaism was a hindrance and had to be discharged. Then and only then was he free to pursue Christ and grow in his relationship with Him. 

Today we are forced to make those same comparisons. What in life really matters? What are those things that I once thought were so important that can be left behind? What are those things that we hold onto that give us a sense of importance, security, or value? For each of us that question may be answered differently. We only need one thing, and that is Jesus. He is our wisdom, our righteousness, and our peace. We also need each other. Relationships are not disposable and our mandate includes preferring one another. So, let us do the work of counting or considering those things that do not belong in the bag. Allow God to do the evaluating by His word and His Spirit in our lives, and let us focus on what is really the most important.