Archive for May, 2014

Contentment

How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty. As you know, you Philippians were the only ones who gave me financial help when I first brought you the Good News and then traveled on from Macedonia. No other church did this. Even when I was in Thessalonica you sent help more than once. I don’t say this because I want a gift from you. Rather, I want you to receive a reward for your kindness. At the moment I have all I need—and more! I am generously supplied with the gifts you sent me with Epaphroditus. They are a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God. And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. Now all glory to God our Father forever and ever! Amen. (Philippians 4:10-20, NLT)

Paul not only claimed to be content, he argued in this passage that he learned how to be content. And it would stand to reason that if he could learn it, so can we. It has been said that experience is the best teacher. Contentment isn’t learned in the lecture hall, but in the laboratory of life. Our youth director calls them, “perspective driven experiences.” So what did Paul’s experiences reveal to him?

First, his experiences taught him that contentment does not come from external circumstances. For example, Paul penned the letter to the Philippian congregation from prison. Even though he is incarcerated, he referenced joy and rejoicing some 14 times in this very epistle.

Second, Paul’s experiences taught him that contentment does not come from material things. Everyone loves a good “rags to riches” story. Paul’s experience was in the reverse. In Philippians 3 he talks about his stellar beginning in life as a Pharisee. His resume was quite impressive. He had the right pedigree, the best education, and even went so far as to claim that he never violated the Old Testament law. Then he met Christ. His experience with Christ led him through shipwrecks, beatings, privation and poverty, as well as prison. Through all of that he learned that what he possessed was not his source of contentment. If that was true, those who have the most should be the most content. And I think we can agree, that simply isn’t true.

Finally, Paul’s experiences taught him that contentment cannot be based upon human relationships. First century prison was not like our modern day prison systems, where prisoners are provided clothing, medical care, recreation, and three square meals. Prison in the first century was simply confinement. If a prisoner was to eat, someone from the outside had to provide the food. If a prisoner needed clothing, again, someone on the outside would have to deliver the clothes. The book of Philippians is a thank you note that Paul wrote to the Church for their provision for his personal needs. But he didn’t base his contentment on their gift or their reliable support. In fact, he refused to even give them credit for their gifts. He encouraged them by telling them that their support was a critical part of their Christian growth and maturity.

Like Paul, we find contentment in and through the experiences of everyday life. May we have the grace to see it as clearly as Paul did!

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May
28

The Pathway to Contentment

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Contentment

Are you content?

Before you answer that question, you have to interpret the meaning of contentment. Generally that question falls on our ears as “Are you happy?” or “Are you satisfied?” Any dictionary from your bookshelf will confirm that hunch, affirming that contentment is “the state of being happy or satisfied.” But in my opinion, the Bible takes a different approach to the meaning of the word content.

When the Bible speaks of being content, its referring to being “self contained, self sustained, and freely independent.” The clearest example is God himself. In Exodus 3 we read of Moses’ familiar conversation with God at the burning bush. During the course of the talk, Moses asked God to reveal his name, to which God replied, “I AM THAT I AM.” When God referenced himself as the “I AM,” he was explaining that he existed in and of himself; that he needed nothing outside of himself to exist. God is the ultimate contented being. He is self contained, self sustained, and freely independent. He is who he is within himself.

So let me ask again, are you content?

In the book of Philippians, the apostle Paul claimed that he had found contentment. The most helpful thing he offers in that confession is that he had learned to be content. Being content, for Paul and all of us for that matter, doesn’t just magically happen to us. It’s not a gift nor is it a personality trait. If we are going to find contentment in life, we have to learn it.

Tomorrow I’ll share some specific things that Paul learned about how he learned to be content.

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Barna Research has published a new study on the television viewing habits of Americans, including their favorite television programs. If the study piques your interest, find it HERE.

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Contentment

Before we can get a grip on managing our desires we have to first understand how desire works. The reformers gave some consideration to this and proposed the following helpful framework.

First, we become aware of a desire. I won’t spend any time on discussing where the desire originates because I’m not sure its cut and dried. The desire may come from an external place, or it may be something that has been aroused from some deep seeded place in our hearts. Whether its one or the other or a combination of both, we become aware of a desire.

Second, you nurture the desire by adding value to it. The problem is not the look, its the second look. When we become aware of a desire, we either add value to it or devalue it.

Third, after you add value to the desire your will becomes engaged and becomes surrendered to the desire. Instead of managing your desires, your desire begins to manage you.

Fourth, you begin to develop a plan to gratify the desire. You look for opportunities that will fulfill the desire. In addition to this, you justify the desire in your own mind, and maybe to those around you.

Finally, you act on the plan. Your desire is fulfilled in deed.

This pattern is seen over and over in the Bible. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden; Achan who stole the plunder following the battle of Jericho; David’s adulterous sin with Bathsehba; Judas betrayal of Jesus…the examples are numerous.

So how do we get a handle on our desires?

1. Fill your life with God. Any emptiness we have longs to be filled, and that emptiness sees significance and security. When the empty place in our life is filled with God, unhealthy desire is pushed aside because we have found satisfaction in Christ.

2. Cultivate thankfulness for what you have and for the people around you. The discontented heart believes that God isn’t good and that God isn’t fair. The discontented heart believes that God is withholding blessings and benefits. Thankfulness humbly acknowledges that what we have comes from another source. And you’ll know that you’re truly thankful when you can sincerely rejoice when others are blessed.

3. Keep an eternal perspective.
An eternal perspective is convinced that God is owner and we are mere stewards or managers of all that has been entrusted to us. Alongside this basic stewardship principle is the conviction that all things are transient. Nothing we possess is permanent.

4. Nothing will help keep desire in check like serving and sharing.
When we serve others and share our possessions with others, we loosen our grip. Its not possible to have clenched fists and contented hearts.

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May
14

The Problem with Contentment

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Contentment

Why is it that we have more of everything than we’ve ever had, yet are relatively less content than former generations? Why is it that we are more bored with life and all of its accessories than children in third world countries who only have rocks and sticks to play with? We know that the grass is not really greener on the other side of the fence, yet our behaviors betray that confession. I believe we all want to be content, but why is it so elusive?

Advertising is an easy target for blame. After all, its the job of marketing and advertising directors to create desire that will lead to a sale. Advertising has become seductive, leading us to believe that the things we may want are actually needs that we have, and if we don’t have our needs met through the item that is offered, our lives will be incomplete. We won’t be able to keep up with the Jones family and our grass will lack that deep emerald hue.

Our inability to find contentment lies in our inability to understand and govern our desires. And that’s an age old problem that was addressed all the way back to the tenth commandment in Exodus. “You must not covet your neighbor’s house. You must not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17, NLT).

The essence of this commandment is not to prohibit desire. We have been created to desire and its a God given part of our nature. In fact, the word translated covet in this verse is neutral and is translated as the word desire in other parts of the Old Testament. For example, Psalm 37:4 states, “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires.”
In the Hebrew language, covet and desire are the exact same word. So the issue isn’t desire, per se. The tenth commandment has to do with desire that becomes obsession. It has to do with too much desire. When you’re hungry you desire to eat food. But if that desire is not managed, the desire for food can lead you to obesity.

But its not just desire for objects. The tenth commandment has a relational component. If you think about it, the people of Israel who heard these words didn’t have malls or car lots to see things that would foster desire. All they had to look at was their stuff and their neighbor’s stuff. So we may not be as prone to want our neighbor’s car or boat, because we can go get one exactly like it if we have the means. What seems to be the issue today is wanting our neighbor’s lifestyle. We compare ourselves to those around us as a point of reference and that becomes the standard of measurement to determine if we’re “winning” or “losing.”

Ultimately, the concern with desire is this: unchecked desire will be acted upon. If we do not govern our desires, we will, sooner or later, align our behaviors with our desires, whatever they are. Our appetites only know two things, more and now. That’s why we need to learn how to manage them. If we don’t, we’ll never find contentment.

Tomorrow I’ll post how desire works in our lives and will offer some helpful advice on what to do about it.

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Excellent post on vision by Will Mancini. Find it HERE.

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I am married to the greatest woman I have ever known. She also happens to be your mother. For years I have taught people about the grace of God, but I understand God’s grace most clearly when I see you mom and realize that I don’t deserve her, for she is far greater than anyone I deserve. Your mom is beautiful, both inside and out, and is easily the best person I know. I suspect that is your belief as well.

I am thankful that your mom showed you the importance of having a relationship with Christ. I may have been the one who baptized you, but your mom is the one who led you to faith in Christ. She is the one that was committed to teach you all of those Bible stories and she taught you the value of knowing and loving Jesus.

I am grateful for your mom because she was always more interested in your character than your accomplishments. I was the one who was concerned about awards, achievements and accolades. Your mom was always more interested in your character. She wanted and continues to want you to be a person of good character.

I also appreciate that your mom was the one who was committed to making sure that you served and valued others. Remember all of those things you did to serve at church when you were younger? Unloading and loading tubs? Backyard Bible Clubs? Mission trips? She knew that it was important that you didn’t just say you loved your neighbor. She wanted you to experience ways that you could tangibly love your neighbor through actively serving them, regardless of who they were or where they were in life.

She also encouraged you to pursue your passions. When you were young, she exposed you to countless opportunities from soccer to karate. She took you to all kinds of places to broaden your learning and experiences. If you showed an interest in something, she encouraged you to explore it. And when you discovered your talents and developed your gifts she riotously cheered you on. She continues to be your greatest cheerleader and advocate.

Your mom has been and continues to be the glue that keeps us all together. She’s the one who keeps us on the rails when we want to leave the tracks. She’s the one that has helped us know what matters and what counts. Any values we have that are worthwhile have been established by her steady, loving hand.

I’m most grateful that your mother has loved me. Everyone in every church I have served has esteemed me in ways that are beyond who I really am. You have seen me on good days and bad. You know the unvarnished me, the me I am when I am at home out of the spotlight. Your mom knows me even more than you, and she unconditionally and sacrificially loves me in the midst of who I am and what I am. If you love me, and I know you do, its because your mom has has shown you how to do it.

Our family isn’t perfect. None are, I suppose. But deep down I know we wouldn’t trade each other for anyone else in the world. And we can all thank your mom for that.

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May
08

Jesus on Worry

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Contentment

On Sunday I tried a pulpit experiment. I asked our congregation to take out their cell phones and to text me in one or two words what they were worried about. Within one minute my phone “blew up,” and I received about 50 texts from our members. Their list of worries could be categorized as follows: retirement, money, health, and family.

What we see we desire and those desires shape our hearts. Our hearts become inclined to treasures that we in turn serve. And when we have treasures to serve, it stands to reason that we will worry about how to please our treasure and we worry if our exalted treasures will be there for us in our time of need. No wonder Jesus addressed worry in the next paragraph of the Sermon on the Mount.

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be. Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is! No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith? So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs” (Matthew 6:25-32, NLT).

Jesus described the futility of worry in the verses you just read. His counsel is that we can be free from worry by trusting God who already knows our needs.

Years ago I went to my dentist for my six month check up. During the check up he swabbed “cavity indicator” on my teeth. He explained that the cavity indicator would reveal tooth decay that was not visible to the naked eye. This cavity indicator is called a reagent. A reagent is a chemical compound applied to a system to determine whether or not something is present. Worry, according to Jesus, is a reagent. It indicates when I lack trust in God. When I worry, I am not just worrying about my needs, I am, how ever unintentional it may be, confessing that I do not trust God to care for me.

Jesus concludes this thought with this challenge. “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today” (Matthew 6:33-34, NLT).

Jesus said that its God’s job to care for me and my needs. My job is to focus on the Kingdom of God and to live righteously. Believe it or not, God cares about our lives more than we do. Whatever you are worried about today, God cares about it more than you do. Will you have enough money to retire? Will you have enough income to meet your monthly obligations? Will your marriage survive? Will you kids turn out ok? Are you going to have to face a major health issue? God cares about those things more than you do. And if you can trust him to do it, he’ll provide for your needs. Our job is to seek the Kingdom and to live righteously.

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American mothers are stressed and work and home, exhausted and generally overcommitted. Yet Barna Research reports that American moms are generally more satisfied than you might suspect. Check out their findings HERE.

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Contentment

I think Jesus’ most helpful words concerning contentment are found in the Sermon on the Mount. Upon examination of these verses, it would appear that Jesus is giving three independent thoughts. But something larger is at work. I want to break down the three thoughts and then help synthesize them into Jesus’ point.

1. Your heart will follow your treasures.
“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be”. (Matthew 6:19-21, NLT)

We can easily understand that treasures are things of great value. The word conjures up images like jewelry, gems or gold that people pursue like pirates with a treasure map. But there’s something deeper going on than valuables. We value treasures, but then make them our identity and find security in them. Your heart will follow your treasure, whatever it is.

2. Your desires and wants will influence your heart.
“Your eye is a lamp that provides light for your body. When your eye is good, your whole body is filled with light. But when your eye is bad, your whole body is filled with darkness. And if the light you think you have is actually darkness, how deep that darkness is!” (Matthew 6:22-23, NLT)

Jesus understood culture then and he understands it now. We want what we see. As I think about it, I don’t ever think about buying new clothes until I go to the mall. Then I want all kinds of shirts, slacks and shoes. I don’t ever think about buying a new car, but if I start hanging around car lots, look out! Whatever we take in through our eyes informs our hearts and shapes our wants and desires.

3. You will serve your treasures.
“No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Matthew 6:24, NLT)

Whatever we treasure will become the object of our worship and service. While we think we can have it both ways, serving God and serving our treasures, Jesus plainly said its just not possible. He didn’t say we shouldn’t serve both. He said we can’t.

So how does all of this fit together? Whatever we give our attention to will shape the desires of our hearts, which will establish the treasures that we value and will ultimately serve. And when our treasures are established as the object of our worship and service, we will worry. That’s tomorrow’s post.

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