In the two previous essays we looked at Christian self-discipline in general, and the reasons why we need it, under the heading, “The Cause of Our Lifestyle,” using Albert Day’s Discipline and Discovery as our primary source.  The purpose of the first essay was to understand the reasons why we strive for the highest New Testament lifestyle.  In pursuing that purpose we saw that the main reason is our great need for it.  The pressures of daily life and a lack of self-discipline lead us so strongly into the grip of self, things and people that we drift away from God, causing our relationship to him to suffer.  Obviously, if we are to fulfill God’s dream for our lives, that tyranny of self, things and people must be broken. 
 
            In the second essay, “Overcoming Our Failures,” we took up the task of how we break that tyranny.  We saw, first of all, that we must enter into an experience with God that has many names: spiritual maturity, total commitment, holiness, the Spirit-filled life, Christian perfection, entire sanctification, etc.  Whatever we prefer to call the experience, it has two aspects.  On the one hand, we must depend totally on God to make it happen.  But on the other hand, self-discipline is essential.  That is to say, God does the cleansing and empowering; but he expects us to do our part by being self-disciplined.  And so we moved to a discussion of the first virtue pointed to by Day, obedience.  Day correctly began with obedience, because it strikes most quickly at the selfish self that is at the heart of our sin problems.  And obedience to God is a matter of the will. 
 
            Whether we sin or obey God depends on our choices.  We can chose to obey God, or we can chose to obey our selfish desires.  Unfortunately, if we do not obey God, we obey the devil, because all the devil wants from us is to not obey God.  I closed the last essay by telling a story about secular obedience.  It was the story of Allan Emery, a Navy officer in WW II who, when he was called upon to go out into a freezing gale to try to make an apparently impossible rescue, was reminded by one of his superiors of a motto.  It was the motto of the old United States Lifesaving Service, an early organization absorbed by the Coast Guard: “You have to go out.  You don’t have to come back.”
 
            That is “The Cause of Our Lifestyle.”  Now I want us to think together about a second virtue under the heading, The Calling of Our Lifestyle.”  Under this heading we will look at several practical virtues that call us to specific, outward lifestyle decisions.  They have a tremendous impact on the way we view money, clothing, and other possessions.  Therefore they are very important, though historically they often have been neglected.
 
            The first is simplicity.  According to a dictionary, simplicity is absence of artificial ornamentation, pretentious style, or luxury.”  It is “artlessness, lack of cunning or duplicity.”  This means that where simplicity exists in those of us who are Christians, others can take our words at face value.  It means that we do not force people to read between the lines.  Rather, we say simply what we intend, with no hidden meanings (D&D, p. 41).
 
            Similarly, when we Christians exhibit simplicity in our lives, hypocrisy is driven out.  We make no attempt to be something different from what we actually are.  In other words, the way for me to be more saintly is not to pretend that I am more saintly than I actually am.  Indeed ultimately that will have the opposite effect!  Take for example the recent moral “fall” of evangelical mega church pastor and President of the National Association of Evangelicals, Ted Haggard.  He not only destroyed his personal ministry, he severely damaged a great local church and the entire evangelical movement in this country. 
 
            Now then, the discipline of simplicity applies to all three of the problem areas discussed in the previous essay: self, things and people.  But since the problems that arise over things and people actually arise out of our selfish attitudes, we will deal with simplicity only in relation to the selfish self.  As you know the self wants us in the spotlight and wants to draw attention to itself.  I have seen people go to great lengths to make themselves appear important to others.
 
            Years ago when I was in the military, I knew a young man, who went to pathological lengths to impress others.  When he first came to our duty station, he arrived in a chauffeured limousine, wearing gold dog tags.  His story was that he was rich, but decided to join the Air Force as a lark.  And the deception was no joke to him.  He literally sought to maintain this lie over the entire two or more years that I knew him. 
 
            On one occasion after we shipped overseas, he hosted an elaborate multi-course dinner at the Grand Hotel in Taipei, Formosa, for his friends, among whom he counted me.  On another occasion he purchased with cash an expensive camera while in the presence of several friends.  The truth, when we learned it, was that this young man had rented the limo, painted the dog tags, and stole money from friends in order to finance his ego-feeding scheme.
 
            Now I grant you, this is an extreme case; and that young man did not claim to be a Christian.  But do not we do the same sort of thing in our own subtle ways?  He was trying to build up his self-esteem.  And I find that many Christians, especially younger ones, do not feel worthwhile unless their shirts and sneakers have the right symbols on them.  And it is very important to wear pants, or slacks and skirts that have a prestige designer label, or at least the latest one that is “hot.” 
 
            Others may seek to appear intellectual by being able to comment on the latest best sellers and their authors by reading book reviews and pretending to have read the books.  Still others listen to the observations of wise persons around them, and then pass those observations on to others as their own considered judgments.  Perhaps in the religious side of our life, we go to church and pretend that we are good Christians, when in fact we rarely read the Bible or pray seriously (apart from emergencies); and inside we are more like dead man’s bones than anything else. 
 
            Now all of these illustrations might be used in connection with disciplines other than simplicity.  My point, however, is that the discipline of simplicity can help us in all the other areas.  When we are exercising simplicity, we will not be pretending that we are better than we are.  Therefore the discipline of simplicity is fundamental to God’s plan to free us from the tyranny of the sinful self.
 
            Turning now to some specific suggestions that we can follow to exercise the discipline of simplicity, first, we can exercise simplicity in our language.  Jesus advised his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount; “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil (or the evil one)” (Mt. 5:37) (my emphasis, D&D, p. 50). 
 
            It is so easy to exaggerate the truth in order to make ourselves look just a little better than we are, to make our decisions seem more important, to make our actions seem more heroic, or to make our faith seem more powerful.  And this in turn can lead to out and out deception.  Some years back, I was watching a televised Bible study, when I saw an amazing illustration of how a lack of simplicity can lead people astray.  A lady who was confused by the actions of certain persons in her church had written to the program. 
 
            According to her letter, certain persons in her home church were not exercising simplicity in relation to their doctrine of healing.  They were claiming verbally to have received perfect health by faith, and they interpreted this to mean absolutely perfect health, including 20/20 vision.  So they had taken off their glasses and claimed healing of their eyesight. 
 
            Then they testified publicly that they were healed.  They also claimed that everyone else in the church would have this perfect health, if they would only believe.  Well, the lady who wrote the letter came to find out that these persons had not been healed at all.  They had lied about it, and she was crushed.  To me this is very interesting when we think about it in relation to the discipline of simplicity.  I have no doubt that those people were sincere Christians.  They did not set out in the beginning to be liars. 
 
            But notice what they did.  First, they did not exercise simplicity in their verbal claims.  They made the mistake of claiming more than they had received.  This sometimes has been called “name it and claim it” theology.  I heard a former professor of mine dub it “blab it and grab it.”  After failing to exercise simplicity in their claims of healing (by claiming more than they had received), they were in a dilemma, because the healing never came.  And rather than back off from what they had claimed, they committed a serious sin.  They chose the road of deception.  The lady who wrote the letter discovered that the people involved had purchased contact lenses to disguise the fact that their eyesight was not healed.   
 
            Remember again the words of Jesus: “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.”  Once more I have used an extreme example; but others of us in the Church do the same type of thing if we create false impressions by the way we express ourselves, or when we claim for ourselves anything that goes beyond reality.
 
            So we must watch our words.  Second, we must watch our actions (D&D, p. 51).  For example, far too many Christians fail to exercise the discipline of simplicity in their general lifestyle.  In other words, it has become more common than I like to admit for Christians to live beyond their means. 
 
            Our affluent society powerfully pressures everyone, including Christians, to keep up with our neighbors.  Television, radio, and the print media all cry out that the materially abundant life is the good life, and everyone should be living it.  And the temptation to have all of the things that the affluent material life requires, whether we can afford it or not, is always present.
 
            For many of us, the temptation comes at a different level, because we do live within our means.  We can afford the lifestyle that we maintain.  The problem is, it is not a simple lifestyle.  I believe that most Christians in this culture have not learned how to live on less than we can afford in order to share our abundance with others. 
 
            I used to be on the mailing list of a missions organization that Ralph Winter, former professor of missions at Fuller Seminary founded in Pasadena, CA, in 1976.  It was called the U.S. Center for World Missions.  I do not have current data on the organization, but some years ago more than 60 missions agencies worked together there to penetrate the so-called unreached peoples of the earth.  There probably are many more than 60 involved today.
 
            Because I no longer receive their mailings, I am not up to date on their practices; but they used to have uniform staff salaries.  Ralph Winter, the Director, received the same salary as all of the other managerial staff members.  Moreover it was a low, unimpressive salary.  Many of the staff took positions there at great sacrifice. 
 
            I remember one particular example.  One staff member took a position at the center when the staff salary at the Center was $15,000, and he was making $30,000.  He and his wife made the adjustment by adjusting their lifestyle.  They spent $30,000 before the move; and they limited their spending to $15,000 after the move.  Obviously, this meant radical changes; but with the support of the community, where everyone was living on $15,000, they were able to do it. 
 
            Again, this may seem to be a rather radical example.  But those of us who are not called to such a radical change nevertheless are doing much les than we could.  There are millions of Christians in this country who could afford to give away much more than 10% of their income, because they are prospering materially.  But many of them do not even tithe, because they are committed to a lavish lifestyle.  Obviously these Christians need to apply discipline of simplicity to their lives.
 
            In summary, the discipline of simplicity, though often neglected, is extremely important.  If we live a life of simplicity in word and deed we shall avoid a whole series of problems.  We will find it easier to break the tyranny of self, things and people.  We will be much more free to give to others, and we will have much more to give.  In addition we will be better prepared to exercise the other spiritual disciplines.  And we will find the total structure of our Christian life coming under the control of Christ.

Advertisements