“Listen to Jesus, and every day the word of Jesus enters our heart and makes us stronger in the faith. I suggest taking a little copy of the Gospels, a little one, to carry in your pocket, in your bag, and when you have a bit of time, when you are sitting here or there, and you can read, pick up the Gospel and read a few words. The Gospel is always with us!” ~ Pope Francis
Years ago there was a little email parable going around that compared Bibles to cell phones (before smartphones). In short, it challenged the reader to treat their Bible more like their cell phone. In the sense that most people carry their cell phone with them at all times and will return to retrieve it upon realizing they left it behind. Without a doubt, this was a very creative and well-meaning illustration to make us think about how much we value the Bible in our lives. Although it neglected the obvious differences between Bibles and cell phones. Cell phones unlike books, are designed to be portable and easily fit into our pockets and purses. As compared to Bibles which tend to be a bit too large to carry around like a cell phone.
A more helpful question for today would not be if you treat your Bible like your cell phone but are there any Bible (and possibly prayer) apps on your phone. Smartphone Bible apps are best suited for quick reference and short readings. As phones are too small to be well suited for longer devotional readings. So for practical purposes, Bible apps are the little pocket Bibles of our modern age. I am referring to the pocket Bibles the size of a man’s wallet. They generally contain the New Testament and maybe Psalms and Proverbs in tiny print. The pocket Bible of the previous generations did not replace full-sized Bibles at home. So while a Bible app on a phone is not the best primary Bible, it allows one to read the Bible in the little bits of time during the day. Chances are that all of us that have Bible apps on their phone, also have games and social media apps on our phones, myself included. Let me be clear there is nothing wrong with games and social media in moderation. What matters is that we should seek to become more aware of the activities that we tend to default to during pockets of unexpected free time throughout the day. This is because the things that we naturally drift toward reveal what we focus upon most which reflect and influences our values. It is just like how companies know that the more they expose you to images of their products in advertisements, the more likely you are to buy it. This is why the Bible tells us to take care and be aware of our thoughts and the ideas that we are taking in. It is not any different from a person that wants to get in shape and lose weight. If they are serious about their goal they will immerse themselves to fitness and nutrition articles and videos. This helps increase their chances of success by reshaping their values and lifestyle to be in line with their goal. In the same way, the Bible instructs us to expose ourselves to God’s thoughts and ideas, in order to be transformed into the people that God is calling us to become. Thus the more we focus on the things that God values, the more God’s values will become our own and shape how we live out our daily lives.
“Whenever material things, money, worldliness, become the center of our lives, they take hold of us, they possess us; we lose our very identity as human beings.” ~ Pope Francis
“Over against this whole array of materialistic infidelity, now, we owe it to ourselves to make sure at least of our own personal hold on the realness of things unseen and eternal; so that the spiritual world shall not be for us a shadowy utopia simply, but a positive substantiality, coming close home to our daily interest and thought. Such habit of mind cannot be in us with the facility of mere natural growth. It requires heavenly planting, and much inward attention and culture. It would carry us too far to go here into the details of this culture. Meditation, prayer, the right use of God’s disciplinary providence, intimate converse with the Word of God, where the powers of the spiritual world are always at hand as indwelling ‘spirit and life’.” ~ John Williamson Nevin, The Spiritual World, 1876
When it comes to a blog with a primary focus on deeper spiritual living, the topic of minimalism may catch some by surprise. Minimalism is normally thought of in terms of material possessions and responsibilities. Minimalism is not about being lazy and only putting in the minimal effort needed to get by. The purpose of minimalism is to seek to reduce the amount of things that ultimately do not matter in order to be able to better focus one’s time and resources upon what matters most. Therefore minimalism is to some extent an essential part of mysticism. Sure I realize that many people turn to minimalism as a way to get rid of the mountain of unneeded stuff that is weighing them down. The truth of the matter is that simply getting rid of stuff for the sake of being free is not a long-term solution. Likewise, a hoarder that simply gets more stuff for the sake of feeling secure is also not a long-term solution. Minimalism is a tool, and like any tool, it is important to understand not only what it can do but also what it can not do. As let’s face it regardless of how high quality of a hammer that one has, a hammer is useless when it comes to fixing a clogged toilet. As a tool minimalism can be useful to help one regain and maintain control over runaway amounts of material possessions. Although minimalism alone cannot change anything deeper than the surface. The materialist can focus on how much stuff that they have just like the minimalist can focus on how little stuff they have. The frugal minimalist can focus on how little money they spend on stuff. And the only the best minimalism can focus upon the quality of the few things that they own. Although in the end all of the above are still slaves to their stuff. Given that obsession over their stuff demonstrates that their material possessions possess them. The real problem is not with minimalism. The real problem is that the deeper problems are ultimately spiritual in nature. Many of us have even been duped into thinking that we can treat the spiritual with material things and activities. Meaningful living requires having a spiritual purpose and meaningful life goals. Thus a radical minimalist living out of a single bag can be equally spiritually malnourished as a hoarder that has most of the rooms in their house filled wall to wall, floor to ceiling with stuff. Given that a healthy level of detachment from physical objects, it can be impossible to make progress on one’s spiritual journey. You do not have to go to the extreme of getting rid of everything and forsake personal ownership of any material object through a vow of poverty. Just realize that spiritual and even life development can be hindered until one is able to put physical objects in their proper place. Material possessions are tools that help you accomplish things and not a source of meaning and purpose in your life.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” ~ Jesus (Matthew 6:19-21 NRSV)
In our culture the celebration of Christmas includes the giving of gifts to others. Christmas is ultimately the celebration of the greatest gift ever given. God’s gift of Jesus as the Incarnate Christ in the world to bridge the gap between God and humanity. Which is why as a society we traditionally give gifts in remembrance of God’s gift to us. I realize that some people question if our emphasis upon gifts is healthy. Their concerns are reasonable given our culture of consumerism obsessed with material possessions. Although I do not believe we should feel threatened by the materialist nature of gift giving. This is because material possessions can not meet our deeper spiritual needs. Thus at their worse
Regardless of your age, more likely than not somebody has already asked you what you got for Christmas by now. So let me ask you a slightly different question: What did you get for Christmas that will still be around in 5 or even 10 years from now? And by be around, I mean things that you would still regularly use and enjoy. Not something like a book that you may read once (if at all) and then put on a bookshelf only to be touched when dusting. Nor an article of clothing that you wear for a time before it gets neglected in the back of your closet for the next decade. No, I mean gifts that will last in the long haul both physical durability and usefulness. Objects that continue to serve a meaningful purpose in your life on a regular basis. This immediately excludes all electronic items and the latest music albums and movies. While it will be safe to assume we will still be using technology in 10 years. Any new computer, smartphone or tablet even if they are still functional in 10 years will almost certainly no longer be in regular use. The same goes for all sorts of household goods such as blenders, and the latest high-tech coffee maker. I know this may be shocking to think of what our new items will look like and mean to us 10 years from now. That is what makes it helpful as it helps us gain a long-term perspective on what is really important in our lives. Keep in mind I am not saying that it is wrong to give and receive gifts that will not last. Just that it is important to realize that their meaningfulness and usefulness is temporary. They are no different from clothing. Regardless of how well they are made, they will wear out with regular use. This is fine as objects that wear our have served their purpose and were not wasted. This point is the easiest to see in “consumable gifts” such as candy, flowers, gourmet coffee & teas, homemade jam or wine. All gifts that we can give and receive a humans are temporary in nature. Only the gifts given to us by God are eternal and the greatest gift by far is the gift of Jesus as the Incarnate Christ. This is the best way of viewing the giving of gifts regardless of the time of year, as well-meaning shadows of the true eternal gift given by God.
“An Anxious Bench may be crowded where no divine influence whatever is felt. A whole congregation may be moved with excitement, and yet be losing at the very time more than is gained in a religious point of view. Hundreds may be carried through the process of anxious bench conversion, and yet their last state may be worse than the first. It will not do to point us to immediate visible efforts, to appearances on the spot, or to glowing reports struck off from some heated imagination immediately after. Piles of copper, fresh from the mint, are after all something very difference from piles of gold.” ~ John Williamson Nevin, The Anxious Bench
“Vows and pledges that spring from excitement rather than reflection are considered fanatical, and as such neither rational nor free; and thought in certain cases men may seem to be strengthened and supported by them in the prosecution of good ends belong to a lower sphere, they are ever to be deprecated in the sphere of religion tending only to delusion and sin.” ~ John Williamson Nevin, The Anxious Bench
The Mercersburg Theology movement began as a reaction against the rise of the anxious bench in the 1840’s. At the time, John Williamson Nevin was the professor at the seminary of the German Reformed Church in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. In 1943, Nevin published the first edition of “The Anxious Bench”. In it he attacked the growing use of the anxious bench within the American church. The anxious bench, was part of a new style of revivalism ministry. The anxious bench is an emotionally manipulative method of evangelism. The anxious bench seeks to overwhelm one with a sense of guilt and hopelessness as a sinner in the hands of an angry God. The goal is to get the person worked up in the desired emotional state before presenting them with the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The anxious bench emotionally attacks and tears down upon the person as being a worthless sinner before God. The anxious bench pretty much tells the person that they are no good and will never amount to anything apart from Jesus Christ. So figuratively the anxious bench confronts one with the choice of accepting the Gospel or suicide. At the time the anxious bench proved to be effective when it came to getting people saved at revivals. Which is why the anxious bench style ministry continues to live on to this day. The anxious bench lives on today especially in altar calls and street preachers. Nevin opposed the anxious bench because it lacked any deeper substance. The problem with the anxious bench is that it relies too heavily upon a sense of urgency under the pressure of emotional manipulation and fear. Thus anxious bench conversions tend to be too shallow to be sustainable long-term. Which makes sense as a conversion build upon the foundation of emotion hype will start to crumble upon the person calming down. Much like the typical New Years Resolution which rarely lasts long enough for the person to be able to give it up for Lent. The most tragic part of the anxious bench is that it often leaves the person in a worse spiritual state than they were before they “got saved”. The frequent failure of the anxious bench is not surprising as it goes against Jesus’ model of ministry. We need to keep in mind that while Jesus calls us to follow Him, that God never asks us to follow in blind faith. This is because Christianity is an invitation to follow God based upon what God has already done for us, is doing for us now and will do for us in the future. In the Gospels Jesus does not rush us but encourages us to pause and consider the cost: both the pros and cons of choosing to follow Him. Decisions that are carefully thought out when being rightly informed lead to much stronger long term commitments. With that in mind I invite you to reflect upon the nature of your relationship with God. If you find yourself relating to God primarily in terms of fear and obligations, I encourage you to reflect upon the nature of God’s love in your life. Ask yourself what is it about the love of God that is causing fear and if that is a rational approach or merely an aftertaste of the anxious bench in your life.