Our feature for this issue continues on the theme “Knowing God”. How important it is for us to know our God and His beloved Son, Jesus Christ our Saviour. If we would please God and find approval in His sight then we must learn about Him. Those rejected in the day of judgement will be told to depart because they were not known, and this because they tragically did not know God. The Word of God is the source of this transcendant knowledge and daily attention to its pages will help us learn about our wonderful God and Father.

The following articles provide us with much helpful guidance in this endeavour. It is in the practice, in the experiences of daily life of our pilgrimmage that we learn about God’s judgements, His statutes and His ways. So through the avenues of “Simple Living”, “Service”, “Preaching”, and to use the words of the apostle Paul which form the title of our final article, “Christ Liveth in Me”. We commend these articles to readers, and if those in the previous issue were not read, suggest they read them too! Perhaps these issues could be passed on to others who may also benefit from the practical help and encouragement

Simple living begins in the home. It is a way of thinking, an attitude. It is not something that can be demanded or forced. It is the outworking of a Christ-like mind. Simple living comes from a heartfelt love of the things God loves and an appreciation of what He has done for us. The more we come to love God’s ways, the more we hate the things the world loves. As one thinks in his heart, so is he (Prov 23:7). Simple living is a radical rebellion against everything the world is telling us to be. To really know Jesus Christ is to stop and consider the way he thought and the way he lived. It is to understand his compassion, his feelings and his love. And to come to know Christ is to know the Father Who sent him (John 14:9).

Be Like Little Children

Jesus said, “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me” (Matt 18:1–5). The disciples had rebuked the little children because they thought them to be unimportant (Mark 10:13–16). But unless we develop a simple, child-like way of thinking, we are not fit for God’s Kingdom. This is the secret to knowing God and living the simple life.

But this is radical. Jesus’ teaching was revolutionary, and it still is. It is totally opposite to what the world teaches today.

Children are hastily hurried away into child-care centres or given over to hours of electronic childminding while parents get on with their own things, supposedly ‘just so important’, pursuing their own desires and sense of fulfilment. But whether we are parents, grandparents, Sunday School teachers or friends, it is the life of the child that we are being asked to consider, just as God does: “Like as a father pitieth his children, so Yahweh pitieth them that fear him” (Psa 103:13).

And the more time we spend with children, the more we learn how we should be in God’s sight. Caring for children is one way in which we are reduced to the simplicities of life; and that is one of the reasons God provides children in our families and ecclesias. In teaching children the simplicities of the gospel we ourselves are being taught by God.

Sit on your children’s beds at night, say their prayers and talk to them about God—and suddenly you begin to feel how God feels for us. Spend time outdoors. Organise outings to the park or the beach. Go for a walk, talking about God as you go. Knowing that God is one, and loving Him with all our heart, soul and might results in a way of life (Deut 6:4–9). By explaining the love of God to our children we come to know God ourselves. We begin to learn that the simple things in life are the best things.

Knowing God as a Father

One of the most fundamental teachings of Scripture is the need to appreciate God as our Father. In the Lord’s prayer we are told to address God as our Father. The Divine Name, Yahweh, is an expression of His desire to have a family. God is telling us that His very character and nature will be seen in His children. Our relationship with Him as His children will be seen in the way we live (Eph 4:31–32; 5:1). We need time to develop our relationship with God that we might become like Him. This is the purpose of living the simple life.

The character of God is the character He wants to see in us. To have a close relationship with our Father, we need time to listen to Him breathing His ideas through the pages of Scripture, time to pray and time to meditate. But there is the challenge. How do we make time? And if we do not make time, how do we develop a state of mind that is receptive to God and His ways? This world and our own human nature are so opposite to God that to remain close to Him is not easy. The only way we can come to know God is to change our way of thinking to God’s.

Josiah was a spiritual father who “knew God”. He “judged the cause of the poor and needy… Was not this to know me?” God asked (Jer 22:16). To know God is to delight in His character and live this out in our lives (Jer 9:23–24).

I recently heard two young teenage girls talking in the park about why one of them was now taking drugs. She told her friend that when she arrives home there is no one to greet her, no one to show her love, no one to care. Her movie-watching was exhausted, and she was all alone with nothing more to do. Would she have benefited from having a mother at the door with open arms, showing her love and listening to her problems? Would it have helped if she had a father with time to walk along the beach and discuss life’s challenges? Do we seriously think that self-fulfilment in some capitalist enterprise is more important?

It may be necessary for some mothers to work due to personal financial circumstances. But why are others made to feel ‘unfulfilled’ when they have chosen to stay home, even in our own community? Why is the care of children now looked upon unfavourably? Do we seriously think that we will get more ‘fulfilment’ from working for some multinational corporation or government department rather than from caring for God’s children? They have been placed in our care by God. They can grow up to live forever in God’s Kingdom. How can we expect them to learn that “God is love” if we cannot be there when they need us? Being a loving parent is being like God.

So, dear sister, if you are made to feel inferior for staying at home, just remember that Jesus is aware of your love. When he returns, “his reward is with him… He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young” (Isa 40:10–11).

There is also a great responsibility on fathers: “The weakening of the family and the absence of caring fathers are the primary reasons boys are in trouble today.” (Dr James Dobson, Bringing up Boys, p161)

“Fatherlessness is the most harmful demographic  trend of this generation… It is the leading cause  of declining child well-being in this society. It  is also the engine driving our most urgent social  problems.” (social historian David Blankenhorn,  Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most  Urgent Social Problem, p1)

“We are now seeing a generation of sons who  see little of their workaholic fathers. While  corporations may profit from their dedication,  the young boys of absent fathers are footing the  bill.” (The Australian, 8 Dec 2004)

God is the perfect example of a Father Who cared  for His Son. Isaiah describes the Father as holding  the hand of the Son (42:6). Jesus is described as  having an open ear to his Father every morning  (50:4). As a type of the Father and Son, Abraham  and Isaac went up to Moriah “together” (Gen 22:6).  What lessons there are for earthly fathers, who have  just a few years to show their children what our  Heavenly Father is like for us all!

Why is Everything a Rush?

In a recent ecclesial survey, 48% of respondents listed ‘management of time’ as the most difficult thing about our modern lifestyle (Lampstand July– Aug 2007, p 212). Similarly, in a recent article on modern lifestyles, Professor Paula Barrett, Director of the Brisbane Pathways Health and Research Centre says,

“Lives have never seemed so busy. Every single day, every single night, there is some activity, some commitment, some pressure. There is definitely a marked difference between this generation and every other generation. The amount of stimulation in terms of noise, speed of life in general, everything is a rush.” (Weekend Australian Magazine, 14 June 2007)

We therefore need to make conscious, deliberate decisions to slow down. This is only possible when we have changed the way we think; and no change can be real and lasting unless we first allow God to change us. Our motivation comes from what we believe. Look at Hebrews 11. These men and women of faith acted in ways that may not have seemed logical to the observer. They acted in ways contrary to their natural feelings as they swam against the tide of humanity. So too with ourselves. We need to act in ways that may be questioned by others, but which we know to be right. Learn to stop and think. Learn to be like children in God’s sight.

Work Pressures and Mortgage Stress

Our work situation can significantly affect our efforts to live a more simple life. We need to be particularly aware of this. Consider the situation in Australia today:

“Australia has emerged as one of the most intensely work-focused countries, but it is creating a human tragedy. Research has found a strong link between long and unpredictable work hours and the breakdown of family and other relationships… ‘These work patterns are making employees unhealthy, putting relationships under extreme stress, creating angry, inconsistent parents, and reducing the wellbeing of children,’ says the report by Relationships Forum Australia titled An Unexpected Tragedy. ‘The cold statistics hide immense human tragedy,’ the report concludes.” (How Work is Killing the Family, Sydney Morning Herald 29 May 2007) “Dr John Buchanan (of Sydney University) said the trend was driven both by business seeking to maximise profits and workers’ ever-growing consumption desires.” (Sydney Morning Herald, 31 May 2007)

“A significant group of Australians, perhaps as many as one in five, are now working more than 50 hours a week and, if we believe some reports, their children are suffering, their marriages are collapsing and their health is suffering… The proportion of families with children where both parents work in Australia rose from 42% in 1981 to 60% in 2005. There is a correlation between changed work patterns during the past 25 years or more and increased separation, divorce and mental health problems.” (Weekend Australian 10 March 2007)

Home affordability is currently a hotly debated issue and is receiving daily media coverage. This is one of the greatest challenges our young families face. It is one of the main inhibitors to living the simple life today. Financial pressures and community expectations are taking their toll. A recent front page article on ‘mortgage stress’ gave the example of a couple, both thirty, with two children who own a small house in Parramatta, Western Sydney:

“Earning a combined income of more than $110,000 a year, they are struggling to pay their mortgage charges of $800 a fortnight and childcare costs of $650 a week. [The mother said,] ‘I’m worried about not being able to do the things our parents did. They spent a lot of time with us as children when we were growing up, but we can’t afford to do that with our own children.’ [She added] that ‘she had been forced to return to work because of the high mortgage costs, although she was concerned about leaving the children while they were so young.’ She said, ‘All our generation are going through it—a lot of our friends have kids under three, and it’s a big question whether the women can afford to stay at home with their kids’.” (The Australian, 13 July 2007)

This situation is very common. The monthly loan repayments on the average first home are now $3,000 in Sydney and Perth. Do we just have to accept this as normal? Do we really have to accept that both parents need to work for the next 10–20 years just to survive? Do we really have to resign ourselves to a life of stress in this environment, which ultimately affects our children? We need to challenge this big city mentality and make positive, if tough, decisions for the benefit of our marriages and our children.

One of the issues here is our expectations:

“We may earn bigger salaries, live in stylishly renovated homes, drive flashier cars and have the means to splurge on all manner of indulgences, but while cash registers ring our discontent grows exponentially. Surveys confirm that while we’re consuming more, we’re enjoying life a lot less. In fact, we’re working harder than ever to keep improving our financial and professional status, but the chase is leaving us emotionally and spiritually spent.” (Weekend Australian Magazine, 26 March 2005)

Even the world is identifying the problem. But does it have any solution? Unless we make deliberate, conscious, prayerful decisions we are simply resigning ourselves to being slaves of modern capitalist culture. We need to put these things to God in prayer, seeking solutions that will benefit our families. He will help us if we genuinely give our problems over to Him, if we are truly seeking Christ-like solutions. If we are feeling anxious about this, we should in everything make our requests known unto God (Phil 4:6–7). But the greatest difficulty seems to lie with ourselves. We need to identify the problem and be determined to act, with God’s help.

Learn to be Responsible

In many ways, it is all too late for young people to realise there is a problem a few years into marriage. Young brethren need to become responsible and wisely manage their finances before marriage. This doesn’t mean we have to seek high-paying careers, but we do need to be careful in our spending. It is now common for young people in their early 20s to blow thousands of dollars every year on expensive cars, technology, restaurants, holidays and designer clothing. Young brethren, do we ever think that one day we may be responsible for caring for a wife and children? Young sisters, do we realise that one day we may marry a boy who desperately wants us at home to lovingly guide our children?

Parents must teach these basic life skills to their children at an early age. This means learning to save money rather than chasing the materialism that tempts us every day (see Prov 6:6; 23:21; 31:13).

It is not realistic to just say, “Quit your job”, or “Move to the country”. The fact is that husbands need to provide for their families and we all need regular ecclesial contact. Or we may decide to live near a Christadelphian school, and it is not therefore possible to move to the country. To quit our job may lead to more financial pressures. Maybe it means accepting that we don’t need the most recent or expensive car, or a massive house. Godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Tim 6:6). Maybe it means husbands trying to change jobs to work fewer hours. It might mean negotiating with our employer, explaining that we need to leave work by 6pm so that we can see our children at night. This might mean getting up earlier to come to work, or changing jobs within our department. These are often decisions we feel uncomfortable about, but in the long run they are bound to have a positive effect. Maybe we could actually leave the city or move to a cheaper location that is still near an ecclesia. The solution will be different for everyone, but we need to make conscious decisions to change by challenging what our society now calls ‘normal’ and looking at life from God’s perspective.

Technology

One of the greatest causes of this crazy lifestyle is our increased reliance on technology, both at work and at home. It’s here to stay, so we have to think about how to deal with it. It is now common to assume that if someone has sent you an email in the last hour then you have obviously read it. And if you have not replied within twenty-four hours they wonder why you have been so rude in ignoring them! Has anyone ever thought that you might actually be doing something else with your time? Email and the Internet have their benefits, but we need to identify when we have become addicted to being wired twenty-four hours a day.

“Technological advance in the workplace was supposed to free up workers and provide more flexibility to their lives. But according to a survey conducted by job website CareerOne.com. au, computers, mobile phones and email have become a millstone around most employee’s necks, breaking down the traditional barrier between work and home life.” (Sydney Morning Herald, 4 Dec 2006)

The survey found that 72% were working longer hours than five years ago. Technology was seen by respondents as the major culprit. Are we being sucked in? The writer has heard a number of brothers and sisters express frustration that email and interactive websites such as Facebook and MySpace have made their lives a burden. They feel trapped in a vortex out of which they cannot escape. This crazy lifestyle is affecting their children.

Even in ecclesial life, arranging brethren and committee members are feeling the burden of endless information being sent by email with immediate replies expected. It is assumed that because we are continuously online we can deal with endless documents and correspondence. The demand of immediate responses in short time frames has caused ecclesial work to become wearisome, and many feel that there is no escape. Is this really how it should be? Have we lost our focus on the real issues in ecclesial life? Does it really matter if a brother or sister doesn’t have email? Can’t we wait until we see them at the Bible class or Sunday meeting to provide the information?

Because parents are so busy, and often absent, electronic child-minding is now hard-wiring children’s brains at a young age to be unreceptive to the simple life God wants us to live. Hundreds of studies have found strong links between children’s behaviour and the amount of time they spend playing video games. This is causing severe medical and social problems:

“The tell-tale signs are ominous: teens holing up in their rooms, ignoring friends, family, even food and a shower, while grades plummet and belligerence soars. The culprit is not alcohol or drugs. It is video games, which for certain kids can be as powerfully addictive as heroin, some doctors contend.” (Sydney Morning Herald, 22 June 2007)

If we allow our children to be entertained by violent movies and video games, are we not sacrificing them to Molech (Jer 19:5; Ezek 16:20–21)? Not only are we searing their consciences and causing them to be hardened, their minds become unreceptive to the simple things of life, as the article above indicates, and an abundance of studies have found. How do they view the beauty of God’s creation, fun times with the family and friends, the reading of Bible stories and daily readings? How do we expect children to be receptive to God’s Word when their minds are being prepared to reject it? It is a waste of time hoping that their Sunday School teacher can miraculously turn them around in less than an hour a week.

Stand Still and Consider

When Job was told to “stand still and consider the wondrous works of God”, he was given an amazing summary of his position before God (Job 37:15–41:34). When the saints go out into the world after Armageddon they will plead with people to respond to the God who created all things (Rev 14:6–7). The Bible is full of symbols of nature to teach us lessons about life and God’s future Kingdom. It is easy to lose our appreciation for what God created because of the big city lifestyle. Again, we need to make time. What is more fulfilling than taking children to a beautiful location, sitting down with them for a few minutes and taking in the view, and talking to them about how wonderful our Father is? God has given us richly all things to enjoy (1 Tim 6:17). Do we appreciate it?

I used to have lunch regularly in a beautiful rose garden with lawn and trees. Hardly anyone was there. There was a shopping mall within five minutes’ walk, with dozens of eateries, and hardly a spare seat to be found. Why is this? Why such serenity so close to mayhem—yet almost everyone chooses the noisy, busy option? We need to change the way we think.

It is quite normal for parents today to spend hundreds of dollars in a day’s outing at theme parks and artificial fun parlours. As an alternative, try sitting with your children in the sand hills or on a mountain top, and forget your watch for a while. The best things in life are free. Tell them about the sun and clouds, speaking of Christ coming with his saints. Tell them about the dew on the ground being evaporated by the rising sun, as a symbol of the resurrection. Tell them about the rain coming down on the mown grass and the saints preaching the everlasting gospel. Consider the thunder clouds and lightning as the saints overthrowing this evil world. What about the morning without clouds, with clear shining after rain? Think about the parables of the sower and the vineyard. See how our lives will be transformed as we come to know God. No wonder Jesus and the prophets always used agricultural language and symbols of nature. It’s because God wants us to sit down and think about it. The whole natural world is a living symbol of the gospel message and the Kingdom. What does the world offer to compete with that?

Compare today’s world with God’s Kingdom. No wonder the Kingdom will be founded on a simple rural lifestyle, where people will find satisfaction with their work in a quiet, secure family environment. Think about the vision of Isaiah 65:17–25 where God delights in seeing people’s joy in the Kingdom age. People will have time to meditate and appreciate what God has given, when everyone will sit under his vine and fig tree and none will make them afraid (Micah 4:4). Let’s start to do this today, that we might be prepared.