Thursday, November 20, 2014

Contentment Produces Gratitude

"But godliness actually is a means of great gain 
when accompanied by contentment. 
For we have brought nothing into the world, 
so we cannot take anything out of it either. 
If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content."
I Timothy 6:6-8

How quickly does the weather steal our contentment?  

What are you talking about, Kristen?  It might steal our joy temporarily, but not our contentment…we're not that shallow!

Hmmmm…perhaps I am wrong, but from the response to our local weather both written and verbal, I might have a case.   In addition to weather, there are many other things that steal our contentment, right?  People can steal it, situations can steal it, illness can steal it, and even a well-placed accident by a beloved pet can make us long for the days when we didn't have to worry about well-placed accidents. 

And now we have a holiday approaching - one where we're supposed to be thankful, but thankfulness is really hard when everyone is stealing your contentment.  It's hard to be thankful when people are lying to you, your boss is grumpy, the bridge is under construction, you've already got the Michigan crud, your kids won't stop fighting and in general you really don't like yourself very much.  What you need is new friends, a new job, a new town, a new set of lungs, different kids and a new personality.  Then you'd be content which would make you thankful for what you have.

If you find yourself struggling with contentment today, I want to push you a bit and assert that contentment is not something that can be stolen.  If it was a possession that could be taken from you, then that would make you a victim of theft.  But it is not a possession, it is a choice.  Let's let Paul lay this out for us:

"Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!  Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong."  II Corinthians 12:7-10

(Paul chose to be content, even during difficult times, because he set his eyes on Christ and in his weakness, Christ's strength was sufficient - Jesus was his treasure and Jesus was his strength.)

"But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.  I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me."  Philippians 4:10-13

(Paul chose to be content in whatever circumstance he was in because in all things Christ again was His focus and His strength - Jesus was his treasure and Jesus was his strength.)

"But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentmentFor we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will bring about at the proper time—He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen."  I Timothy 6:6-16
Paul needed very little to be content - he knew that longing for things he didn't have was only a snare that would lead to harm and grief.  But what I love about this last passage was where Paul placed his mind - Jesus truly was his treasure and his strength.
This year, especially with all the snow we've gotten, we all have a great opportunity to choose contentment.  Rather than believe we are victims in this life, let's choose to set our eyes on Jesus and trust that wherever we are and whatever we're doing, He's right there with us.  Let's put on contentment and not long for what we don't possess.
Rather than have a spirit of complaining, let's be thankful for our jobs, our town, our friends, our children and the life God has given us.  Let's praise the Lord for such a great salvation and for His Spirit who comforts us in need, explains the Word to us when we don't understand, prays for us when we're struggling and produces life-giving fruit in us when we walk close to Him.  Let's be content with our homes and our children, stewarding what God has placed in our care with His strength and for His glory.
If Jesus is your treasure and if Jesus is your strength, then contentment will be an easy choice for you - you already have the BEST thing!  And once you are content, gratitude will freely flow…I pray that this Thanksgiving will be one filled with true gratitude and contentment for you.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Harvest University Nuggets


Hello, Friends!

This is going to be a different kind of blog than I usually post.  I am going to toss some nuggets to you - tiny, theological treats for you to munch on.  I am not going to expound on them, except for one (I can't help myself), but rather, I'd prefer that you just ingest it, ponder it, maybe even look up the scripture with it if applicable and enjoy an afternoon snack.  Sound like a plan?

This past week several of us went down to Chicago for the 2014 Harvest University.  HU is really a church planting conference, with main speakers, the Vertical Church Band and then lots of electives on church systems - elder formation and responsibilities, worship leaders track, children's ministries, soul care, women's ministries, assimilation tracks…etc.  Our whole staff was there, minus one who had a precious baby boy this week (welcome, Anderson!).  So I thought I would share some of the nuggets I gleaned from the few days down there. This is by no means exhaustive, but rather just a little snack for you to enjoy! So…here goes!

1.  Waiting for God to Move (keynote speaker, James MacDonald, from John 5)

  • God wants to work IN you (first) and THROUGH you (second) - in that order
  • Life expectancy in Jesus' time was 40 years (wowsers!)
  • The hardest part of a trial is not the depth of the valley or the darkness of total uncertainty, it's the duration
  • as pastors, we need to focus less on historical uncertainties and more on "It is written…"  (be sure to think about that one for a while…)
  • Application:
    • Take your eyes off the clock and get them on Jesus
      • dismiss the lie that there is a connection between time and relief
      • determine to wait
      • devote yourself to prayer
    • Take your mind off the obstacles and get it on Jesus
      • Three reasons why we stop hoping:
        • It's a hassle to hope
        • It's hard to hope
        • It hurts to hope
    • Take your faith off the formula and get it on Jesus
2.  Some nuggets from the Soul Care Electives
  • Every day that the sun rises is a day that God is being gracious to those who don't know Him
***This is the one I want to just throw a comment at - read it again and ponder this truth.  The sun does not rise for the righteous - life on this earth does not continue for us.  Our destiny is sure and this earth is broken. But God extends grace to the unbelievers as each day is an opportunity to repent and turn to Him. He is not late in bringing His judgment - He is patient so that all who will come to know Him actually do come to know Him.  I think we spend so much time thinking that every day is a day for God to do incredible things in our lives, forgetting that He uses us to bring the lost to Himself.  Isn't it a better perspective to see each day as an opportunity to point others to our Savior?  So every morning when the sun rises and we get another day, be reminded of God's grace on the lost…it is a powerful perspective!
  • Guilt is a judicial term - if you are guilty, then repent. But if you feel guilty, then re-inform your conscience
  • Psychology offers description, the Bible provides prescription
  • You before Me, except after C (Christ) - nice, huh?
  • Don't wait for perfection to do ministry
  • Just as prayer is a universal language, so is brokenness
  • The person who refuses to go to small group is rejecting God's care for them through the local church
  • What we believe about God is exposed during the valleys and crises of life
  • You know it's time to graduate a counselee when they are talking to others about the gospel
  • Whatever is in your heart, when it is squeezed, it will come out
  • Our enemy goes after the weak, the wounded and the isolated
  • Anything that captures our hearts, minds and affections more than God is idolatry
3.  Final Session (James MacDonald)
  • 5 wisdoms James has learned from the past 5 years
    • Friends are important but family is forever
    • Hurt held hinders happiness (Some of his biggest regrets were actions taken which were motivated by hurt)
    • Love above truth (this is not a theological statement, but well explained that basically love is greater than holding to a truth that breaks a relationship - don't get too worked up on this point.  Just remember that choosing love instead of a bludgeoning with truth is always preferable)
    • If you're wrong in the way that you're right, then you're wrong (Don't let the manner of your discipline disqualify your message)
    • Grace is never wasted
Okay, friends - that should be plenty to get you through the weekend!  

Enjoy!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Phone Challenge



"Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, 
whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, 
whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence 
and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things." 
Philippians 4:8

I love to tell the stories to my children of me, sitting in front of the television with my hand on the knob, turning the stations every time my father said, "Next."  I can see the look in their eyes as the reality sets in that I, their mother, was the first television remote my family owned.  

Or the stories of driving all over town - to school, to the grocery store, to the gas station, to church - even across country - without a…wait for it…phone.  Wow.  How did we ever survive?  

But times change and because of that technology has greatly improved our lives.  Enter the lifeline of the modern phone.  It not only allows you to talk to someone, but you can text them, Skype with them, check your FaceBook, tweet a snarky comment, video a cop beating up a civilian, get directions, check the weather, surf the web and oh, yes, let's not forget play Words with Friends till the cows come home.  And all this is made possible by a thin cord we call the battery charger.

Yes, without the battery charger, life as we know it comes to a halt.  For some reason in our house, for every phone we own, we have about 5 charging cords - one for our car, one for the wall, one for the computer, and two because someone in the house is inevitably going to steal the one plugged into your computer and the wall charger.  

So the key to using this phenomenal, life-changing technology of the phone is keeping the phone charged.  Why?, you ask.  Because without power, the phone is dead.  It is useless and suddenly you become void of contact with the world. Simple things like knowing what time it is suddenly become a black hole of lost information.  How can anyone be expected to be on time without a phone? So every night, before you go to bed, you religiously plug in the phone, so that you can have enough power to make it through the next day.  You might even plug it in for a little extra umph here and there, to guarantee you survive while on the go.

Okay, let's switch gears.  What empowers your walk with Christ? Believe it or not, it's time in the Word.  Let me explain how that works.  As a child of God, we have the Holy Spirit who indwells us, convicts us, leads us, brings our prayers to God and even produces fruit in us when we are walking in obedience to the Word.  So time in the Word is that time where we are seeking the things of the Lord, we are striving to see Him more clearly and the Spirit uses that time to grow us in Christ.  When we neglect the Word, we limit the resources that the Spirit will use to sanctify us.  Don't get me wrong - the Spirit is never truly "limited" but He also doesn't magically make us like Christ when we ignore spiritual disciplines - He works through those disciplines. 

Our verse above talks about dwelling on whatever is pure, lovely, honorable, right and excellent.  All those things are found in the Word and "dwelling" in the Word means it's where your mind lives.  If you start your day in the Word, your mind will think all day on these things because the Spirit will use that scripture to enlighten you throughout the day.  It is a power source to get you through the day.  If you read romance or mystery novels, then your mind is going to be bent in that direction as you go throughout the day.  If you start your day with Sports Center or arguing with your spouse, or if you fill your mind with to-do lists and worries, then all day long your thoughts will be used up by worldly concerns.

As followers of Christ, we are called to set our minds on Him. Do it the first thing when you wake up so that you are headed in the right direction for the day or do it as you close out your day, to have that time with your Savior.  The problem is that few of us actually do this and we wonder why we struggle day after day.  Could it be that our battery is low?  Could it be that we are not taking the time to recharge in the Word?  We would not go a day without charging our phone battery but will go day after day, week after week, month after month with only a Sunday morning service to charge our batteries.  Isn't there something wrong with this picture?

So here is my Phone Challenge.  Each night when you plug in that phone to charge, grab your Bible and start reading it.  Or when you unplug it each morning, stop and take some time in the Word.  Read through the life of Christ in the gospels, or through the creation of the world in Genesis, check out the Psalms or soak up some great doctrine in the epistles - whatever you choose to do, search the scriptures to see Jesus more clearly.  Look for the heart and character of God.  Let the charger cord be the reminder to you that you need to recharge spiritually as well, and see how this transforms your life.

Remember, you wouldn't go a day with out charging your phone.  Isn't your walk with Christ more important?



Thursday, October 9, 2014

Snowflake Propaganda


"Behold, I go forward but He is not there, 
And backward, but I cannot perceive Him; 
When He acts on the left, I cannot behold Him; 
He turns on the right, I cannot see Him. 
But He knows the way I take
When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold
My foot has held fast to His path
I have kept His way and not turned aside
I have not departed from the command of His lips
I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food
But He is unique and who can turn Him? 
And what His soul desires, that He does."
Job 23:8-13

I think you might need to take a seat for this blog today because I have some bad news, and here it is: the Bible doesn't say you're a snowflake.

Now, for those of you who attend HBCSL most likely you know what I am talking about because David talks about snowflakes all the time.  But for those of you who have no idea what I am referencing, let me explain.  Snowflakes are supposedly unique - no two snowflakes are identical. (In researching this claim, I came upon a thought provoking question - if there were two identical, who would know?) So living life believing you are a snowflake - and heaven forbid, raising your children to believe they are snowflakes - means you believe you are truly special, unique - there's no one like you, which makes you even more wonderful.

Unfortunately this mindset is not just a worldly mindset - it is a big part of the church, as well.  Haven't you ever heard someone say, "His testimony is so powerful - God has big things in store for him!" Or, "That guy?  Oh, he's a rockstar!  You should hear him sing!"  Or, "She's a genius!  Three years old and can already recite the Gettysburg address!"  Praise, praise, praise - we praise ourselves and believe the lie that there is something new under the sun and it's…ME!  Ta-da!

Okay, friends, how about a dose of truth.  What does God's word actually say about us?  Ecclesiastes 1:9 says, "That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done, is that which will be done.  So there is nothing new under the sun."  So not much new.  Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, who can know it?"  And Isaiah 64:6 calls our righteousness filthy rags.  So deep down we're pretty normal and normal means rotten to the core.

But there is good news -  I Peter 2:9 says, "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light."  Hmmm. I think I like that better. It makes me feel better about myself, right?

Well, friends, I just got to the heart of the problem - we spend too much time trying to feel better about ourselves and no where near enough time proclaiming the excellencies of the One who called us out of the darkness and into the light.  As John the Baptist so humbly declared, "He must increase, I must decrease."  Instead of looking for our uniqueness in a world full of snowflake wannabes, we should look to the One who was truly unique - the One who created with the sound of His voice, who holds the universe in place, who tells the waters how high to wash onto the shore and who gives sustenance to the birds of the air. The One who left His throne in heaven to put on flesh, endured the mocking and accusations of a completely rotten to the core society, hung on a cross and bore the wrath of His Father in our place so that He could claim us as His own.  The One who uses the earth as His footstool, always sees the big picture, understands the big picture and is operating within the big picture, is preparing a place for us and is coming with an army of angels to get us. He alone is unlike anyone else and He alone deserves our praise.

Jesus. (Just stop and take a breath, then say His name again - it's refreshing.)

As Job reminds us above, let us remember the uniqueness of our God and spend much less time proclaiming our own personal uniqueness to a world who couldn't care less ("own" and "personal" were purposefully redundant).  Let's stop competing for the attention which Jesus alone deserves and demands.  Let's put an end to snowflake propaganda and start proclaiming loudly the excellencies of the One who called us out of the darkness and into the light.