Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Live Simply Project

Christmas is the season for: indulging? serving? giving? shopping? debt? family? Which would you say reflects your life?

For the past 10 years my family has been installing braces around our hearts, inner braces that are able to resist the onslaught of our culture that screams: "buy, buy, buy." We're not the only ones. The Live Simply Project is about this choice: "live more simply so others might simply live." For us it's been a call back to the basics, back to the heart of Christmas and the heart of God, whose heart is near to the poor.

Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt
for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the
needy honors God. (Proverbs 14:31)

I'm not about to proclaim that we do it right or even very well. We have a very long way to go. We're on a journey. We started as young parents who were cash flow poor as the average are. We limited our Christmas gifts to 3 per child: "Jesus got 3, we get 3." It was a simple way to keep costs down. More importantly it helped keep Jesus in the open rather than buried beneath a tree full of presents.

We realized we couldn't stuff our tree with presents and say we honor God with our lives.

10 years ago we launched The Live Simply Project in the church we served. The premise was and remains simple: spend less on Christmas, less on ourselves, and give that portion away to the poorest of the poor. It was life-changing for us and those we served. The goal was for lifestyle change not just an isolated seasonal act of generosity.

Choosing to live more simply so others might simply live goes way beyond scattered acts of sacrifice, seasonal decisions of serving and helpful acts of kindness. Those are all good things to do, values to teach our children. But too often our acts of generosity are self-centered. We give what we no longer want. When a food pantry needs donations, I go through my own pantry and find those things that have been there a while and I'm probably not going to eat. When I give that which has no value to me it's not generosity.

Self-centered generosity is looking for the feeling that comes from doing a good deed, but with no lifestyle change in our behavior. Self-centered generosity is scattered individual acts. 

Two good friends run Sherpa Executive Coaching. Their formula is simple: business skills + business behavior = impact on business. They deal with the behavior part of the formula, recognizing that when our behaviors change, our impact changes. If a leader only works on their skills, which is a good thing, but there is no change in behavior, the behaviors will put a lid on their impact. Long term change means a change in behavior, in what a leader does.

Choosing to live more simply is more than working out our "serve others" muscles for a few hours during the Season. The lifestyle decision is more than giving away something additional to what we already buy rather than dialing back the purchases (in both amount and quantity). Lifestyle change is year round change. It's a change in our basic behaviors.

Live Simply is a journey we are on, not a destination to which we will probably ever arrive. The evidence is all around us with our move of 5 months ago. We gave away and sold so much while packing. Then we sold and gave away so much more as we unpacked. We have way too much stuff!

We gathered a lot of it because we were trying to fill a void in our lives but found the accumulation of things left us empty. The void is filled only through changing our behavior, our lifestyle. Live Simply. When our hearts are motivated in June to live in such a way that we can respond generously in December, we've taken some steps down the pathway to living more simply.

This year @ The Park Church, we are moving down the pathway of the Live Simply Project. It starts with giving away the offerings on Christmas Eve Eve (contemporary @ 7 p.m.) and Christmas Eve (traditional @ 7 p.m.). It doesn't matter what our church financial state might be, we will not keep any of it for ourselves. 50% will go to build a house in Haiti for a family still in a refugee camp from the 2010 earthquake. The Park is sending a team of 17 in June. The other 50% will go to a local ministry yet to be determined as of today. We want to partner with a ministry year round not just during the season. Another option also exists - to sponsor a child in Haiti through Starfish Kids.

Stores are opening on Thanksgiving morning this year. The push to accumulate is encrouching, pushing against us to shape us. What behaviors in your life will brace you against the onslaught?

I enjoy the Phillips translation (notice the British spelling) of the New Testament, especially these verses from Romans 12:1-2...

With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.

Something must provide in us braces against the encrouching culture. Live Simply helps us do that and more. Through the decision to live more simply we press back and change our world. I can't change the whole world, but I can change one life and through that life the world will change.

If you'd like to give toward Live Simply this year through The Park, our address is: 5788 Zoar Rd, Morrow, Ohio 45152. Clearly mark your envelope and check "live simply." Together we're going to change our world and our own lives along with it.