Friday 18 November 2016

Ideas that guide how we live

Over the years we've come up with a bunch of key concepts that we refer to whenever we make decisions.  We've found it really helpful to have worked these through, as that means we can often easily see what the right thing to do is in a given situation.  I'd like to share them here :-)

In the Biblical book of Matthew, we read of this exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees (religious teachers):
one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”  He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’  This is the greatest and first commandment.  And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

We often refer to these two commandments and our 'key ideas' flow from them.

We also refer frequently to another idea: the Kingdom of God.  This is something Jesus refers to frequently: the world in which he is King and where things are run on God's lines.  We believe that God calls us to join him in redeeming the world and creating 'islands' of that Kingdom in the here and now.  So, running through many of the ideas we reference day to day, is the idea of doing our bit in building that different world.  We believe you get the world that we all, collectively, build; and we want to make that a Kingdom of God world!

So, here are our 'key ideas', as they currently stand!  It's kind of long, so I start with just the ideas themselves, then flesh them out in detail below.

The big idea of loving God has led to the subsidiary ideas of:

And the big of idea of loving our neighbours has led to the subsidiary ideas of:

And now, in more detail...

Loving God

To be honest, we focus more on loving our neighbours than loving God, and we know we have a lot of work to do in this area!  However, here are the things that we try to allow to guide us in this area.

Resting and trusting in God

This is the 'loving God' concept we refer to most often!

In the Old Testament of the Bible, the Jewish people were commanded to take regular rests: once per week they took the Sabbath day off, three times per year they took time off to travel to Jerusalem for festivals, every seven years they took the whole year off (!) etc.  We see these things as expressions of trusting in God: they were asked to believe that, even though they didn't work as hard as might seem necessary, their needs would still be met.

So, as we've thought about how to structure our lives, we've been careful to build in regular times of rest and play.  Additionally, as I go through my day, I try to take time to stop and enjoy the beauty God has provided around me, rather than always being task-focussed. And, if an opportunity comes up that I think Martin would really enjoy, I try to encourage him to take it, citing 'that's rest, so that's important', even if it will mean that something that feels important will have to be delayed.

In the Old Testament of the Bible we also see the prophets repeatedly chastising the Jewish people for not trusting exclusively in God, but worshipping the gods of their neighbours, too, "just in case".  They didn't trust that God was good enough/powerful enough to provide for them.

We often find ourselves wanting to do the same: in our case, that generally means clutching our own resources close so we can provide for our own future, rather than trusting God to look after us.  We regularly re-examine how much we are saving for our retirement or spending on our insurance, asking ourselves whether or not our actions reflect trust in God.

Care for the environment and its non-human inhabitants but put people first

Here, I'm guided by these words in the creation story at the beginning of the Bible:
Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

    So God created humankind in his image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.
From this, we've taken two ideas:
  1. We're to look after the environment, including the animals that live in it;
  2. People are more important than animals.
So, when we're making decisions about what cleaning products to use or what kind of toilet paper to buy, we try to think about what will cause the least damage/most good to the natural world.  Similarly, when we're buying animal products, we try to take into account how those animals have been treated as we make our choices.

However, as we see humans as superior to animals (because we have God's image in us and they don't), we don't see the need to treat them the same as humans.  We will ask if they've lived a good life, but we're happy to eat them at the end of it.  And, in the rare cases where human and animal interests directly compete (e.g. in testing of new medicines - an animal suffering in the interests of being able to end human suffering), we favour the human's interests every time.

Relating to God

As we structure our lives, we check whether we're making space to enable us to relate to God.  We try to protect time given over to various spiritual disciplines, such as intercessory prayer, Bible reading, singing the psalms (Martin), praying through a worshipful prayer book (Heather) etc.  We try to notice when we're feeling distant from God and change things around to improve that situation if necessary.

Being part of Christ's Body

We are committed to being part of our local church and other things need to fit in around this.

Loving our Neighbours

We've been really challenged over the years by the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10).  You can hear some of my responses to it from 2010 in this video.  Basically, we think loving our neighbours means doing what we can to serve anyone in need that we have some kind of access to - a big ask!

Living lives that allow our global neighbours to flourish

As New Zealand citizens (and uncommonly rich ones at that), we have 'won the nationality lottery': we get to live in peace amidst material abundance; we are the 1%.

It would be easy for us to live lavish lives (in global terms) and, in fact we do.  But, within that, we try to live in a way that all people on the planet could adopt, and could continue living for the long term.

When we're considering a course of action, we like to ask whether, if everyone on the planet made a choice we're considering making (e.g. going on an overseas holiday), would the planet still be fit for human habitation?  We've come to see climate change as the biggest thing currently threatening the lives of our global neighbours, and strive to avoid making this worse!

Also,when we're making consumption decisions, we try to ask which choice would be best for the people in the Majority World, a question that has often led to us purchasing fair trade options.

This idea of allowing others to flourish was a big factor in Martin applying for his current job at Hapara.  They produce software that helps improve the education of middle- (and high-) income students and so will hopefully improve the opportunities available for some of the many who kids who, unlike us, did not win the 'nationality lottery'.


When considering accepting an invitation or attending an event, we often refer to the idea of community.  Part of loving our neighbours is living closely with them, so we have tried to choose activities that enable us to get to know the people who live around us.  We try to set aside time for people (e.g. in my calendar I have reminders set up to contact various people every month or six weeks), we live with someone else and we have worked hard to get to know our neighbours.

One aspect of working towards community that I've been aware of a lot recently is that of working with people I don't find easy.  Loving our neighbours is about trying to understand them, accept them, see the best in them, find ways to work with them - not just enjoying hanging out with them!


Within the limits of my energy, we try to be hospitable; and, in our budgeting, we try to keep what we spend on ourselves fairly tight in order to free ourselves up to be generous.

Over the years, though, I've also found myself referring to hospitality and generosity in some less obvious ways.  For example, we've accepted invitations to other peoples' houses in the spirit of hospitality (allowing them the joy of hosting) and we've come to see gracefully receiving gifts of things we wouldn't have bought on ethical grounds as an expression of generosity, too.

Helping others get to know God better 

We would like our neighbours to be part of this Kingdom of God world, too, so we try to prioritise things that will assist that.

As well as trying to make use of opportunities to speak about God that come our way, I try to spot people who are exploring questions of faith (both believers and investigators) and set aside time to help them work through those questions.  I've greatly benefited in my 'faith journey' over the years from sustained input by a small number of people and am trying to pass this gift on!

We also seek to develop any signs of interest in missionary work amongst people we know as well as working to encourage various people we know who are already involved in such work.

Building systems that work for everyone, rather than opting out

We've come to see part of loving our neighbours is not opting out of troublesome systems our neighbours have to deal with.  This isn't something that comes up often, but it does lead me to sometimes question whether we should keep our health insurance.  Is it better to use our money to reduce the burden on the significantly-stretched public health system by partially opting out of it, or better for us to use that money elsewhere and throw in our lot with all of those who can't afford any alternative?  For now, we have the health insurance (mostly because something like a quarter of all Kiwis also have such insurance, so it's not only the province of the super-rich), but it's a question that reopens from time to time.

Taking reasonable care of ourselves

Finally, one of the ideas we use to encourage each other to do the less-pleasant aspects of self-care (exercising, or me sticking to my strict routines) is loving our neighbours.  We take the best care of ourselves we can (within the limits of both what is practical and what is loving towards others) in order to not put unnecessary burdens on those around us.

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