Eugene Cho

A theology, praxis, and lifestyle of enough.

Couple years ago, Minhee and I made one of the hardest decisions we’ve made thus far in our marriage and in our calling as parents.

In our hope to honor a conviction of the Holy Spirit to give up a year’s salary, we had begun the two year process of saving, selling, and simplifying in 2007. Our goal was to come up with our then year’s wages of $68,000 – in order to launch a movement called One Day’s Wages. With only a few months left to come up with the total sum, we were a bit short and decided to sublet our home for couple months and asked some friends if we could stay with them on their couches or their guest room.

“One Bag”

Needless to say, it was a very humbling time.

Our instruction for ourselves and our children were very simple:

Each person gets one carry-on bag for their belongings.

I still remember crying the night I told our kids of our plans. This wasn’t what I had signed up for; This was by far more difficult that I had imagined; I felt I had failed my wife and children. I felt like a deadbeat. A failure.

Had I known, there is no way in Hades I would have agreed to this conviction.

But as I look back now, I’m incredibly grateful for this experience. We simplified our lives; Sold off belongings we didn’t need. For about 2 years, we agreed as a family not to buy anything beyond our necessities.  When we stayed with friends, we were reminded what was most essential in our lives:

It was right in front of us:

Our Faith and Hope in Christ.
My marriage.
My children.
My community.

In our 2500+ square feet home, it’s so easy to get lost in our stuff, our possessions, our rooms, our floors, our gadgets, our TV sets, our personal music listening devices, our tablets, our books, our whatevers, etc.

We can get so lost in our stuff that we forget – or take for granted – the most important things: relationships.

Now in our present day, I worry that the invaluable lessons we learned during our season of simplicity may be getting lost on us – again. As most of my readers know, I was on sabbatical recently. It’s something I treasure every three years and during my sabbatical, we usually leave Seattle and during our time away, we try to sublet our home – if we can find renters we trust. While it’s not something we particularly want to do, it’s an important source of income that allows us to travel without financial worries. But in order to sublet the home, we have to minimize and clean up the home…

Couple months ago (before we left for our 7000+ mile road trip), we couldn’t believe how much stuff we’ve accumulated since we gave up our fast of  “not buying anything beyond essentials.” We couldn’t believe the stuff we’ve accumulated in our closets, our garage, our toyboxes, our offices, etc. And to be honest, the stuff we’ve accumulated in…our hearts.

And this is from a family that takes great “pride” in simple living!

The Story of Jesus

Again, I’m reminded of the great power in the story of Jesus. There are so many things that compel me about Jesus but one of them is what I call the story of “downward mobility.”

It completely contradicts the movement of upward mobility that is pervasive in our culture. We want to upgrade everything at every opportunity:

We want the bestest, the fastest, the  strongest, the mightiest, the largest, the mostest, the most horse powerful-est, the beautiful-est, the most blazing CPU processer-est, and the list goes on and on…

Even as I’m typing this on my lethargically slow netbook, I want…I need…I lust…for the latest Macbook, ultrabook, superbook…

But I digress.

Upward mobility never stops. Because we go through this cycle constantly. And the powers to be know this.

The incarnation is the story of how Jesus humbled himself and chose not to exercise his divine rights and, instead, took on flesh and bone and to simultaneously assume full humanity– being fully God but also fully man. Born in a manger to simple commoners, he assumed a simple lifestyle as a carpenter and throughout his life, he owned nothing except the stuff he traveled with

It’s the story of downward mobility.

This is a lesson and a story we have to all get behind. This is the Jesus we have to get behind – not the Jesus of bling bling, the Jesus of total prosperity theology; a a Jesus of exclusivity and elitism; a Jesus of total health and prosperity, or the Jesus of “send $49 and we’ll mail you this special anointed cloth.”

It’s not to suggest that we have to adopt a lifestyle of poverty but rather…

A theology, praxis, and lifestyle of enough.

We have enough.
We are blessed and blessed immensely.
God has given us enough.
God is our enough.

I’m reminded of the wise words of G. K. Chesterton:

There are two ways to get enough: one is to continue to accumulate more & more. The other is to desire less.

So true. So true.

Perhaps, an easy and one (more) step we can take to grow in “our lifestyle of enough” is to simply give away our birthdays or to consider how we can creatively celebrate the Christmas season in parallel to Jesus’ model of downward mobility.

* originally posted on 8/24/11

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36 Responses

  1. Cliff Tam says:

    Hi Eugene,

    Thanks for sharing…we tend to think that the stuff we own, we are in control of it…when more often than not, they are in control of us.

    When it comes to giving up things, I am always reminded that the rich should help the poor. One of Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees was that the spiritual elites never lift up a finger to help those in need. The character of God is that He protects the poor and takes care of the needy.

    Living in a North American lifestyle, we have all that we need at the tip of our fingertips. This is very abnormal as most of the world live with less than a dollar a day. To have running water and electricity is already a luxury that many people have no access to.

    Thanks for the reminder. I too, have to learn to live a simpler lifestyle.

  2. The second way of getting enough is so much cheaper!🙂

    Funny how much I enjoy the free things when I allow myself to thank God for them. Cool breeze on a hot day, a walk around the neighborhood, goofing around with my wife and daughter. I suspect God likes giving us these things to enjoy, and is disappointed when we chase after the expensive stuff.

    Downward mobility. I like that.

  3. chad m says:

    remind me of a forced 100 Thing Challenge. thank you for sharing your story and thought, Eugene! love to get together with you in Seattle sometime for Pho and chat about life and ministry. you’re an inspiring dude!

  4. Steven Kim says:

    Nice!

    I’ve been going through something similar, but more in giving up my secular desires and worldly successes all the while having a foot in the door at a seminary. As an attorney and product designer with an insatiable desire to create things I started up a few businesses in the past 14 years. I’ve tasted morsels of succes, but also utter failures. Thank God for the failures. Besides, there are way too many things in this world; the world does not need another designer to develop things, at least not me. Now, that I’ve been humbled by God in so many ways I’ve recently made a commitment to attend seminary full-time, and focus on God and His work completely. I’ve no idea what kind of ministry He has planned for me, but I am excited and not worried at all. Full submission to God is liberating.

    Eugene, I commend your (and your family’s) conviction and action!

  5. Thanks for posting Eugene. Blessing on you and your family.

  6. Marge Carter says:

    I thank you for your story. It has given me hope for us. When my dad died I cherished many things and received them. I am now at the point of selling or giving them away as we don’t need them.I would rather live in our home with the bare essentials and beable to help others in their needs instead of wanting for self. My husband babysit our two grandchildren 5 days a week for 10 hrs a day and by looking around we will beable to show them that is better to give to others you don’t have anything and trust Jesus for or needs. God Bless

  7. I am working toward desiring less, thank you for this post.

  8. Al Doyle says:

    Twice in my adult life I moved from a large house to a work-in- progress. The first time a family health battle kept us from collecting our belongings right away. When the truck finally arrived five years later, I couldn’t even remember where some of the “stuff” that was so important came from. This time I’m going on three years (new marriage and new place to live) and wonder what on earth that monthly storage check is actually paying for!

    (Not that we’re living simple…I wish it was that spiritual.)

    Thanks for helping us think about this important issues…our income, health, wealth, wardrobe, etc that gets between us and recognizing our need for God in every way.

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  10. marlborough says:

    We were lead to a very conscious decision some years ago to make seeking fulfillment/service our journey. We then had a bigger house (and mortgage) than we needed so we downsized, smaller house smaller mortgage and less ‘stuff’. Then downsized once again, then no mortgage and we now we rent, two bedrooms and what our landlord calls a cottage. Big yard and we grow some of our own veg. But it is all we need. We own very little actually but are able to help some people along the way.

    I don’t suggest everyone should be the same but I can say we feel a lot happier to be out of the consumer driven rat race. We still probably have more than we need but we work at it. We are on a very fixed income…actually I have never made less money in my life but I got very fed up with the myth of upward mobility. How much is enough, we have to figure that out for ourselves but I am more convinced than ever that less contributes to so much more.

  11. Eugene,
    This summer I lived in Central America for three months through an internship with Duke Divinity School and the Evangelical Methodist Church of El Salvador. After living out of a suitcase during that time with local families, growing daily in relationships with the people around me, and coming home to all my “stuff” this post echos all of my thoughts exactly – except you put it alot more elegantly.

    Thank you for sharing your heart.

  12. Justin says:

    Mr. Cho,

    I enjoyed your article. I find it hard to strike the balance between enjoying what God has blessed us with whether it be material things, promotion, progress, etc. and with living humbly. I know God wants us to enjoy these things but he also wants all of our heart.

    Sometimes things like this sound frustrating, complicated, and unfulfilling.

    Do you think God calls certain people to live like this in certain seasons of life, and then gives them the grace to do it, or that this is the way we should all live out our commitment to Christ?

    • Eugene Cho says:

      Thanks Justin.

      As to your question, I don’t know. But I would hope that this and other stories would be more normative rather than the stories of opulence, extravagance, and living beyond our means.

      Just look at the shows we have portrayed in the media. When was the last time there were consistent show about living in simplicity?

  13. This is really touching and reminds me that we can go overboard in spending and what we really need to do is just the essentials and balance out basic needs compare to what we want. thanks for sharing your story blessings

  14. Jay says:

    It’s been more than two weeks since I read this stroy about ur family and I can’t stop thinking about it… it’s so easy to rationalize our way out of following Jesus through the hard times.

  15. Brian Hui says:

    thanks for this post, eugene. i quoted you in my message this past sunday — thoughtful stuff.

  16. […] Because one of my life philosophies is to never ask people to do something I’m not willing to do, my wife and I are donating $4,100 towards this campaign. There’s a lot of toys and stuff we’d like to have but honestly, we don’t really need them. Instead, we’re trying to live a lifestyle of enough. […]

  17. Eugene Cho says:

    […] Let’s live lifestyles of enough. Email […]

  18. Erick says:

    Thanks for re-posting this truth.

    Proverbs 30:7-9
    “Two things I ask of you, LORD; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.

  19. Bob says:

    What? Man you’re fleecing the flock making $68000 per year and living in lavish luxury with a 2500 sq. ft home. Lord have mercy on your soul. The Old testament prophets would have something to say to you.

  20. I love this. What we think is a sacrifice in the beginning usually ends up as a blessing. God knows.
    What a wonderful heart you have.

    I saw a Facebook status a few days ago that said something like this ” Should I pay my bills or go shopping?” Of course out of all the responses only I mentioned that he should pay his bills, who in the world neglects bills to go shopping. Talk about messed up priorities in this material world..

  21. Jesse Sudirgo says:

    Good word.

    Merry Christmas!

  22. Freedomborn says:

    This Statement is not as many understand it …The incarnation is the story of Jesus who gave up the glory of heaven to descend upon this world; He gave up total divinity to be consumed by flesh and bone and to simultaneously assume full humanity.

    Jesus as He walked on this earth did indeed wear the clock of humanity with all it’s limitations but He was not of the seed of man which He confirmed Himself in saying that John the Baptist was the greatest man born of a woman, if Jesus had been born with the seed of mankind He would not have been able to say this as He himself would have been the greatest. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit and from the time He was conceived was in close fellowship with The Father unlike Adam who was separated from God after the fall, it was on the cross that The Holy Spirit left Jesus when He took upon himself all our sin and so He was separated from the Father for the first time in His earthly life and He called out to The Father why have thou forsaken me.

    Christian Love Anne

  23. […] Eugene Cho reflects on giving up a years wage – holy awesome. […]

  24. M says:

    Followed your blog for a while. You’re a big show-off. Never really suffered that much. Way more people have sacrificed and served more without drawing so much attention to themselves.

    • KC says:

      From the comments above, it seems like this post was useful to many (and it was useful to me).

      If only the single top sacrificer/sufferer/worker was allowed to say anything on the topic, the body would not be edified; we should all be contributing our small bits of learning and growth if we can, whether or not they’re the biggest/best/most-impressive.

      (and those other two things, level-of-suffering and state-of-heart, really can’t be externally determined and judged based on blog posts. We know only the small shreds of the outside that we’ve personally seen. God knows, inside and out, and we will all be judged by him, and that is enough.)

    • Eugene Cho says:

      Hi M,

      Thanks for following my blog for so long. I appreciate that.

      You are probably right. I am vain and pray for humility and steadfastness in my walk with God. And you are absolutely right that “way more people have sacrificed much and served more without drawing so much attention to themselves.” Praise God for these folks that do so much to build the Kingdom of God.

  25. Trine Smith says:

    WOW! I am in absolute awe of our GOD & KING, He is so worthty of all our praise and offerings. I make it a habit to say to Him, “Never let me lose my awe of you Lord, may I always be in awe of You Lord”, and he hasn’t failed me yet. You my Brother are a trophy of Gods grace and I am honored to be an heir of His grace together with you. May the God Lord continue to graciously order thy steps and bless your efforts. I appreciate Rev.

  26. Trine Smith says:

    And for the part about Hollywood Rev… I’m telling you, Lord we the anointed of God had better get to interceding for Hollywood, and that with fervency. As a matter of fact there was a recent panel discussion titled “monitoring Hollywood”, of which I as a fledgling writer had the fortunate oppurtunity to learn of while at a journalist meeting, this subsequent my article on gentrification being published in the Phila. Tribune, there were only three of us who showed, I was able to add few ideas of imput, unfortunately I was unable to make the panel meet, however, it is another issue that I regulary keep before the Lord which is what I expressed to the other two in attendence.

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One Day’s Wages

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It appears I brought a little Seattle to the NYC. Drizzle fest. 24 hour gathering with a small group of leaders from around the country. Learning. Listening. Asking hard questions. Head exploding. Heart trying to have hope. As I soaked in this breathtaking sunrise this morning above the clouds, I felt compelled to pray for so my places in America and around the world that are experiencing such pain, heartache, injustice, and violence. At times, it feels so overwhelming but in prayer, I was reminded of these words from John 16:33. As we keep striving, working, hoping, preaching, loving, truthtelling, reconciling, repenting, forgiving, dismantling, peacemaking, Kingdom building...may we fix our eyes on Christ: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” - John 16:33 Grateful for a very full weekend of ministry and preaching in Toronto, Canada (GTA). Such a privilege to partner with @worldvisioncan @wvcollective to advocate for the most vulnerable around the world. God is so gracious. A true honor to meet and encourage local pastors, lecture at Tyndale University & Seminary (photo), and preach at Richmond Hills Community Church, Compass Point Bible Church, and New City Church. Thank you, Lord, that you use broken and imperfect people like me to speak of Your love. Today, Minhee and I dropped off our eldest child at her college. We have been thinking and praying about this day for many years. On some days, we hoped it would never come. On other days, we couldn't wait for it to come. On some days, we prayed for time to stop and other days, we prayed with anticipation. 
After an entire summer of laughing it off, it hit us...hard...this week. Seeing all of her stuff laid out on the basement floor was the catalyst to a load of emotions.

After unloading the car and taking her stuff to her new home for this year and mindful that she might never live with us again; helping sort out her stuff, saying hello to her roommates...I wasn't sure what to do or say.

A flood of thoughts rushed my mind.

Is she ready?
Have we done enough?
Have we taught her enough? 
What if this? What if that?

And so we shared what we have shared with her the moment she began to understand words: "Remember who you are. Remember WHO you belong to. Remember what you're about. God loves you so much. Please hold God's Word and His promises close and dear to your heart. We love you so much and we are so proud of you." And with that, we said goodbye. Even if she may not be thousands of miles away, this is a new chapter for her and even for us. I kept it composed. Her roommate was staring at me. I didn't want to be that father. I have street cred to uphold. Another final hug. 
And I came home.
And I wept.
Forget my street cred.
I miss her. I love her.
She will always be my little baby.

I'm no parenting guru. I just laughed as I wrote that line. No, I'm stumbling and bumbling along but I'd love to share an ephiphany I learned not that long ago. Coming to this realization was incredibly painful but simultaneously, liberating. To be honest, it was the ultimate game-changer in my understanding as a parent seeking after the heart of God.

While there are many methods, tools, philosophies, and biblical principles to parenting, there is – in my opinion – only one purpose or destination.

Our purpose as parents is to eventually…release them. Send forth. For His glory. Met a friend and fellow pastor who I haven't seen in over 20 years. In him, I saw a glimpse of my future. While only 10 years older, his kids are married and he's now a grandfather of 3. His love for his wife and family were so evident and his passion for the Gospel has not wavered. It was so good to see someone a bit older still passionately serving the Lord with such joy and faithfulness. Lord, help me to keep running the race for your Glory. Happy wife.
Happy life. - Eugenius 3:16

I still remember that time, many years ago, when Minhee was pregnant with our first child. She had left her family and friends in Korea just two years before. Her morning sickness was horrible and when she finally had an appetite, she craved her favorite Korean food from certain restaurants in her neighborhood in Seoul, Korea. I had no way of getting that food from those restaurants so I actually said, "How about a Whopper? Big Mac?" Sorry honey. Eat away. You deserve it.

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