Enjoying the Simple Things in Life
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Joe RigneyJoe Rigney is Assistant Professor of Theology and Christian Worldview at Bethlehem College and Seminary. He oversees the Theology and Letters program, an undergraduate major that focuses on the Great Books and the Greatest Book. He is the author of three books: Live Like a Narnian: Christian Discipleship in Lewis’s Chronicles (Eyes & Pen, 2013), The Things of Earth: Treasuring God by Enjoying His Gifts (Crossway, 2015), and Strangely Bright (Crossway, 2020). Joe...more
Can we enjoy the simple things in life and still honor God? Author Joe Rigney discusses how the the good things God gives us are invitations to know and enjoy him more deeply.
Enjoying the Simple Things in Life
Joe: When I read the Bible—it says that “Your Word is sweeter than honey,”/“Your Word is sweeter than pumpkin crunch cake,”—if I’ve never tasted the sweetness of the pumpkin crunch cake, that verse doesn’t mean anything.
Similarly, when my kids grow up—and they read: “Your Father loves you,”—will that have any weight to it? Will they go, “Well, I know what that’s like; because my dad did tickle fights with me, growing up”? [Laughter] In other words: “Will there be a kind of resonance and experiential-like sensitivity that they have because they grew up my home?”—or this is the scary thing—“Will they grow up, and I will have taught them falsely?”
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
So do you remember the opening of—little drum roll—Raiders of the Lost Ark?
Dave: Yes, I do. I think we stood in line—
Ann: Super excited.
Dave: We were married one year.
Dave: I had hair. [Laughter] There you go; that's what I remember.
Ann: Yes; I remember thinking, “This is such a fun movie. You've got the ark of the covenant in it; and at the end you're like, “This is how great God is!” I was really excited about it.
Dave: Epic adventure.
Ann: Yes; we were on staff with Cru® at the time. Somebody told me, a few days later, “Did you know that Bill Bright”—the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ®—“went to that movie?” I'm like, “Yes! Of course, he did; because it was so amazing.” And they said, “And he walked out.” Suddenly, I said—
Dave: He walked out; why?
Ann: He walked out; why did he walk out?” He said, “You know, this is a bad use of my time. I can go home, and read the Bible, and experience the real truth of it.”
I felt like the biggest loser and lack of faith. I thought, every time I'd go to a movie, I’m thinking, “Bill Bright would have walked out of this movie; and here I am, enjoying it.”
Dave: And the thing that you think—I don't remember talking about this—but you think, “If I really love Jesus, I'm not going to love things in this earth like a movie.”
Ann: —“that are enjoyable.”
Dave: Yes. “I'm just/I'm going to be so in love with Jesus, the things of this world are just going to be not that important anymore: a movie, a football game.” We're getting/we're getting near my love now.
Ann: Yes; now, we’re getting in your area.
Dave: I mean, this is a really interesting topic. We have a guy sitting in the studio with us today, Joe Rigney. You've written about this; this is something you're passionate about. I could see it in your face: you're looking over at us like you've had this same dilemma as well.
Dave: Anyway, Joe, let me first say this: “Welcome back to FamilyLife Today.” We were in your city last time we interviewed, Minnesota—
Joe: That's right.
Dave: —Minneapolis—but now, you're in Orlando, Florida, where it's really, really cold here; isn't it?
Joe: Yes; it's super cold, all of 70 degrees. [Laughter] I just came—it was -5 when I got on the plane—I get here; and they're like, “Sorry it's so cold.” “Oh, sure; it's really cold.”
Dave: We're glad you're here.
I know you've had a pretty interesting couple few months, where you were just named the second ever president of Bethlehem College and Seminary.
Joe: That's right.
Dave: That's an esteemed honor: “Way to go; congratulations.”
Joe: Thanks; I'm very excited.
Dave: We feel honored to have somebody so distinguished in our studio today.
Ann: Should people go there?
Joe: People should absolutely go there. [Laughter] Thanks for asking.
Ann: You're welcome for that plug.
Joe: I would love—
Dave: You're wearing a shirt that says “Bethlehem College and Seminary” on it.
Joe: I've got all the gear ready to go. Yes, I'm very excited. I am the second president of Bethlehem College and Seminary—intentionally small Christian liberal arts school—we teach great books in light of the greatest Book for the sake of the Great Commission. We really want students to grow up into maturity. We're with the idea that that's the—joy in Jesus—is the ballast in their boat that helps them to weather the storms and trials of life, because they're going to come. We want our students to be ready for life, not just ready to make a living, but ready/ready for life.
Ann: Gee, I want to go to school there.
Dave: I need/I’m working on a doctorate; can I get one there?
Joe: That's right; well, we offer Master of Theology.
Dave: But here's what we're talking about today, and I thought it'd be fun to sing it.
Joe: Okay; here we go.
Dave: Because your book, Strangely Bright—
Dave: —is based on a line of this song—right?—
Joe: Yes, it is.
Dave: —you know, Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus. So let me sing it.
Joe: Do it.
Dave: I'm not going to sing it perfectly, but—
Ann: Are you a singer? Can you sing it?
Dave: —better than Eleanor—
Joe: I'll sing it.
Dave: You’re going to sing it?
Ann: Okay; good.
Dave: I'm going to do a little. [Dave and Joe sing a chorus of Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus] I noticed you changed a word in there.
Joe: I did change a word. I have been known to change words to songs sometimes, as apparently, you do too.
Dave: Yes, I do that a little bit; right?
Joe: But I did.
Dave: Let's talk about that concept though, because I've never heard anybody write or even think the way you have approached this whole idea. I think it's ingenious to think: “Okay, the song says, you know, when I look full in his wonderful face, the things of this earth will grow strangely dim.”
Dave: And you ask the question: “Why? Is that really true?” So tell us why that's a discussion.
Joe: Yes; good. So the song is a great way into it because—I think the gal's name is Helen Lemmel who wrote that song—I'm almost positive that, in her head, was the passage in Colossians: “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.” She's thinking of a biblical passage and she—don't set your mind on things of the earth, which in that context, is sinful things—you know, sexual immorality, and covetousness, and idolatry, and things like that.
But I know that just growing up in church, singing songs like that, you kind of begin to transition—it's not just sinful things that you're supposed/that grow dim when Jesus shows up—but it's just the normal stuff/the good things. There becomes a tension; because you begin to think, “Well, if Jesus shows up, all of these other things are worthless.” There's a kernel of truth there, which I have/we have to wrestle with. There's language in the Bible that gets us there, but that's not the whole picture.
So this tension—there's a real tension both in the Bible—a tension I think that then flows over into our experience of: “How do I—if I want to love and honor God/if I want to treasure Him above everything”—that's the way we talk about/we treasure Jesus—"if I want that to be my life, what do I do with all of these things that surround me on every side, every day that I live and move, and they're all there. They're so potent, and powerful, and delightful; how do we do that?” So that's the tension.
I spent a lot of time thinking about this over the last, I don't know, 10/15 years. This book is my best effort to make as accessible as possible how I have tried to wrestle with the Bible over that problem.
Dave: Yes; you end up taking a word out—tongue in cheek—you changed it even in the song from “strangely dim” to “strangely bright.”
Joe: Yes; that's something that's coming out my own experience. I notice that, whenever I'm most full of Jesus/whenever the Holy Spirit is alive and kicking, I find that my wife and my kids are more delightful. I enjoy them more; they're more what they ought to be. I'm seeing them rightly, because I'm seeing them in the light of His face. Jesus shows I'm seeing them in the light of His face, and they're not dim; they're brighter and more glorious because He's more glorious. That was my experience and that was where kind of the little spin on the song came from: was the things of earth grow strangely bright, when Jesus shows up, because they're in their proper place.
Dave: Yes; I mean, I love this dilemma/this tension because I think there really is a question in our mind: “If I'm full of Jesus/if I'm fully obsessed and surrendered”—what did you call?—“treasured.”
Dave: “He's my treasure, 100 percent.”
I think what Ann experienced is: sometimes, we feel guilt if we have any enjoyment of anything—not sinful things but beautiful things—even of like a movie, or a song, or you mentioned baseball. I say football is much more important, but either way. [Laughter] I mean, there's parts of us/it's like: “Well, wait; I feel almost guilty, or almost maybe even sinful, to enjoy a pleasure of the world.”
Joe: Right; I'm trying to put my finger on this low-grade guilt that people have, simply because they're creatures in God's world, enjoying the things that He's made. It's there; it's a real thing. There's reasons for it, because we are sinners, too; we’re not just creatures. We’re sinners; and we're prone to make things be more valuable than they are, and exchange the glory of God for images—and like that—idolatry is a real thing, so I get into that. That's part of the/what we have to wrestle with if we're going to be whole-Bible people.
But we start from this notion of God made everything, and it's good. Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it's received with thanksgiving; that's what Paul says in 1 Timothy 4. There's this need to really get into: “How do we take the passages on the one hand that say things like—‘…whom have I in heaven but You?’ and ‘On earth, there's nothing I desire besides You,’—and then if you say that/you're in church; you sing a song that expresses that, and then you look down the row and there's your family—and you're going: “Did I mean what I just said?” or “What about them?” and “How do we bring those together?”
That was the tension; it's a real one in my heart/was for a long time. I think I don't live it out perfectly, by any stretch of the imagination; but in terms of knowing what I'm aiming for, I think God is/has helped me to see, in the Bible, the way forward.
Dave: What are the things that Joe Rigney looks—you said down the aisle and look at your family—are there things in life that you're like, “You know, I just really love—
Dave: —“this; and there's nothing wrong with loving this.”
Joe: So you write a book like this, and you're always trying to think of examples. After/at some point, I started going back through all my examples; and it was: “Well, apparently, I really like my family and food,” [Laughter] because all of the things were that. Now, that's not true; there was others—I'm a sports fan—I like baseball; there’s a whole chapter in this book on baseball and how baseball is a special thing for me. But a lot of it is food and relationships. Some of that's because I think that those are universal for everybody.
Ann: Yes! Most listeners are like, “Yes!”
Joe: Not everybody’s going to love baseball; not everybody's going to love football, and not everybody's going to love The Beatles; but everybody's going to love food—some food or other—
Dave: Any kind of food you really, really like?
Joe: —and everybody is going to have people that they deeply value and care about.
Joe: So it's like those are the ones you really got to deal with.
Ann: Okay, what's your food?
Joe: My food?
Dave: I threw it in the song, that I’ve heard.
Joe: You did; you did. So the one that came up—there's actually a really funny story here—is pumpkin crunch cake. It's this dessert that my wife makes. It's a fall/it sounds/it sounds like a fall dessert, and it is. It's pumpkin filling with kind of cake mix over the top with lots and lots of butter and walnuts thrown in there, and it's fantastic. It's my favorite deal. She'll make a whole thing of it for me. I will eat it for like multiple meals. [Laughter] It's like dessert, and then it's like breakfast.
Ann: You will have it for breakfast.
Joe: It's just like a donut; it's the equivalent of a donut. We eat cake all the time for breakfast; we just call them donuts, so it's that. Then I'll have it for lunch. I love this thing.
In my first attempt at a book like this—called The Things of Earth; t’s a bigger book than the one we're talking about—I talked about this all the time. Then the most common thing—I'd go speak at a church on this—the most common thing: people will be lining up afterward. I think they're going to want to come up and say, “Oh, we really appreciated what you just said,”—which they typically did—but they always had a question; and it was always: “How do we get the recipe for pumpkin crunch Cake?” [Laughter] I kept getting asked this question; I was like, “Oh, what a missed opportunity.”
Then I get to do the second book, the little cousin, Strangely Bright. I got to rectify the error and include the recipe in the Appendix, which is also a great way to sell books. Because people, [Laughter] you know, where’s—
Dave: You got a cookbook out.
Joe: Yes, that's right. There's a little/it's a little cookbook at the back. Pumpkin crunch cake is the quintessential example.
Dave: When you put a recipe in a book—
Joe: That's right.
Dave: —some people actually go make it.
Joe: That's right.
Dave: We have somebody that made your pumpkin crunch cake—
Joe: Did they?
Dave: —right here.
Ann: Here it is!
Dave: Rebecca Markham made your cake.
Joe: Rebecca, that’s amazing. I will—
Ann: Have you ever done an interview, and you’re eating pumpkin crunch cake at the table at the same time?
Joe: No; but man, I got songs; and I got pumpkin crunch cake—
Dave: Thank you, Rebecca!
Joe: —and man, what a good cake.
Ann: —and ice cream with it.
Joe: Ice cream; this is the way you do it.
Dave: I don't think I ever had this.
Ann: I've never had this.
Joe: Oh, my goodness, are you serious?
Ann: Rebecca, did you follow the recipe?
Joe: She did.
Ann: She did; you can tell! [Laughter]
Dave: Joe knows.
Joe: And it’s a great example.
Ann: You're saying that this shouldn't grow strangely dim. [Laughter]
Joe: That's right.
Dave: It's to be strangely bright.
Joe: So I think/I think this is actually a really good example. The Bible actually gives us an equivalent example. In the Bible they didn't have pumpkin crunch cake—“Sorry/sorry, King David.”
Ann: But they could have manna.
Joe: But well, what they had was honey.
Joe: And in the Scriptures, honey is a regular image that the Bible uses for good things—you know: “The Scriptures are sweeter than honey/the drippings of the honeycomb” “May Your Word be sweeter than honey.” There's a proverb—it’s in Proverbs 24—that says: “My son, eat honey, because it's good,” and “The dripping of the honeycomb are sweet to your taste. Know that wisdom is such to your soul.”
This was a paradigm verse for me, when this is the one that I say, “Okay, if we get this about honey, and then just go out from there, we get it.” So you can substitute pumpkin crunch cake. The idea is: “Your soul has taste buds, just like your tongue does. And you can, according to that passage, train your soul buds by exercising your tongue buds.” Does that make sense? You're training the soul—
Dave: I'm doing that right now.
Joe: You're doing it right now; that's right. But you can't just do it—because if you just eat it, and you don't think about it—but what's happening on my tongue right now with the pumpkin crunch cake is something like what my soul should feel when it encounters God's wisdom. That experience/that experiential reality of: “My son, eat honey,”—he's saying to his son—“Go eat some pumpkin crunch cake, and then meditate on that/think about that experience, and say ‘know.’ Then having: ‘Okay, now I got it,’—experiential knowledge—now, know wisdom is like that to your soul, which means you can't know what wisdom is like unless you go through honey,”—like—“The path to understanding God's wisdom is through honey/through pumpkin crunch cake.”
Dave: So something of creation reveals—
Joe: —what God is like.
Ann: —which is interesting, because I don’t know—
Dave: That's a good thing;—
Joe: It's a wonderful thing.
Dave: —it's not a thing to feel guilty about;—
Joe: No, no; it's what—
Dave: —celebrate it.
Joe: God designed the world; this is the reason the world exists.
Ann: I don't know if you guys know this; but many rabbis in Israel will go to an elementary school with five-year-olds. They'll put wax paper down in front of every five-year-old, and they'll put honey on it. Then they'll have the kids taste the honey with their tongues; and then they'll go to Scripture and say, “God's Word is like this.”
Joe: That's right.
Ann: So it's that same connection.
Joe: —100 percent. My wife was a preschool teacher for a number of years. When they would do Bible time, she would have Skittles® or something like that.
Joe: She'd be like: “Here's a Skittle,” and then “We're going to do our Bible verse.” The goal was to make that exact connection, because that's how the/that's what the Bible wants us to do. It's how God reveals Himself to creatures like us that He made to receive Him in that way.
Dave: It's interesting, as I'm listening to you, Joe—and when I read Strangely Bright—this is critical to understand. Here's why—there's a lot of reasons—and I'm telling the author that this matters, but you've written about it—but when I was finishing college, I had a choice to make: “What am I going to do with my life?” Everybody's trying to figure that out; right? One of my options was to play in the NFL. As a college quarterback, I was going to get an offer; and I got it. I didn't get drafted; but I got a free agent offer from Cincinnati Bengals, who—
Ann: You're not bragging.
Dave: —almost won the Super Bowl, this close. Oh, I'm not bragging at all; I'm just saying.
Here I am, a 22-year-old young man, trying to figure out the future. I'm probably 18—18 months to 2 years now—a brand-new Christian, growing like crazy in my faith, I go to my spiritual mentor on the campus and say, “How do I think about this decision? Should I go try and play in the NFL?” You know what he said? “Absolutely not, that would be sin.” I'm quoting him; I go, “Sin?” He goes “God’s called you to full-time ministry—you know that; I know that—the NFL is a waste of time. That has nothing to do with ministry.”
I'm sort of paraphrasing; but I walked away, like, “Okay, that's not an option; because I have to do one thing, and it looks just like this.”
Dave: I realize now—now, you're looking at a guy; you could tell this guy is not going to play ten years in NFL. If I would have made it, I would have been a backup for a couple years and then out but—and I maybe wouldn't have made it, who knows—but I didn't even consider it an option, because I thought it was things of this world. And things of this world, like football and playing football, and I never considered: “Well, maybe God wants to use that as ministry.”
And by the way, NFL is not a long-term decision; it's a short-term decision. But I thought, “Man, that's a critical understanding; because I bought into what I would say now is not really—I wouldn’t say a lie—but a distortion of truth, like, “No, there's a lot of ways you can do ministry, based on who you are and what God could do.” And because it may not look a certain way doesn't mean it's second best to God; right?
Joe: Right; the idea there is just God has many different vocations; there's different ways. We want to honor him in whatever you do: “Whether you eat, whether you drink, whatever you do, do everything to the glory of God,” “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart.” There's a/there is a broadness in the biblical call to say all kinds of vocations, all kinds of locations, all kinds of any of that—the goal is—“How do you know God through it, and help others to know God through it?” Like that's the overarching category, which means then that it's as wide as the world is that He's made; so that's right.
Dave: So apply it this way—you know we're a marriage and family ministry; we're trying to help our listeners pursue the relationships that matter most, which is your family—“How does this apply in your home?”
Joe: There's a lot of ways that it applies in my home. Well, let me back up here and say: “To the fundamental thing we get with pumpkin crunch cake, which we then take and say, ‘That's our honey’; and then we say: “That's everything/everything that God made is designed to reveal what He is like,”—that's the baseline—that's: “Why the heavens declare the glory of God,”—it's that principle—and then you just run it. It's not just the heavens that do that; everything does that—honey does that; pumpkin crunch cake does that—which means, “Made things make invisible realities visible.” So in Romans—
Ann: —general revelation.
Joe: General revelation—that's exactly—see, you could/you’re like,—
Joe: —“I want to come to college.” She's like/she's already got the seminary.
The idea there is that God has revealed Himself in the things that He's made—His invisible attributes, His eternal power, His divine nature—clearly perceived in the things that are made. Now, so made things make invisible realities visible; that’s step one.
Step two: “You’re a made thing.” You’re a made thing; you're made. Well, okay, so follow the logic; therefore, you make invisible attributes visible. That's why God made you, which means, now then, you go: “Okay, now, we're back to the home,” which means “What's my role in the home as a dad? I want to tell the truth about what God is like.”
So the way that we've kind of summarized this in our church is: “I want to be the smile of God to my children.”
Dave: Say that again; that's good.
Joe: “I want to be the smile of God to my children.” God is a happy God; this is Christianity 101. Within the fellowship of the Trinity, the Father loves the Son, and the Son loves the Father; and then there's an explosion of joy that is the Holy Spirit. So there's this: “God is a happy God.” We see window pictures of that when Jesus is on earth, at His baptism—where He comes up out of the water—and the Spirit descends like a dove: “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” That's like the deepest realities there is—like there it/you don't get deeper than that—there's nothing behind that that's more fundamental than: “God loves His Son.”
And then, gospel: “God loves us in Jesus. The same love that He has for His Son is extended to us; because we are united to Christ by faith, and Christ is ours.” So that's fundamental theology/fundamental gospel. Now, bring it into your home; and it's: “I want that to have experiential weight for my family.” It's unbelievable to feel that kind of gravity there, but I want—just like with the we do with the cake here—when I read the Bible and it says that “Your Word is sweeter than honey,”/”Your word is sweeter than pumpkin crunch cake,”—if I’ve never tasted the sweetness of the pumpkin crunch cake, that verse doesn’t mean anything.
Similarly, when my kids grow up—and they read: “Your Father loves you,”—will that have any weight to it? Will they go: “Well, I know what that’s like; because my dad did tickle fights with me, all growing up”? [Laughter] In other words, “Will there be a kind of resonance and experiential-like sensitivity that they have, because they grew up my home?”—or this is the scary thing—“Will they grow up, and I will have taught them falsely?”—in other words: “Dad’s grumpy,” “Dad’s distant”; “Dad”/fathers are grumpy, distant—
Dave: You’re not the smile of God; you’re the frown.
Joe: —the frown of God; that's right. Is that what they'll grow up [with]?
One of the things this does for me is like—again, it puts just the weightiness on—that's true everywhere you go—it's not just in your home, but everywhere you go—but it means: “When I come home from work, I'm thinking I want to come into my house with that kind of communication happening, because I'm showing them what God is like or I'm not. I'm showing them what God is really like or I'm lying about God.” Those are the two options—I’m going to speak; I'm going to reveal—it's either going to be truth, or it's going to be lies.
Dave: Yes; one other thing I heard—I'm not putting words in your mouth—but if I'm having a tickle fight with my boys on the family room carpet,—
Dave: —I'm worshipping God.
Joe: That's right.
Dave: That's a worship God moment, as a husband and a dad.
Joe: Yes; the soundtrack playing in the back of your head, when you're doing the wrestle fight with the kids, is: “This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased.” That's the soundtrack that God is saying: “I'm bringing that into the room”; and it's something that's sort of offered to all, but you have to actually receive it. You have to have eyes to see that's what this is, and the point of the book is to help people have those kinds of eyes.
Shelby: That was Dave and Ann Wilson talking with Joe Rigney on FamilyLife Today. If you'd like a copy of Joe's book, Strangely Bright, you can grab it at FamilyLifeToday.com. Or you can give us a call at 1-800-358-6329; that's 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.”
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