HOW TO CULTIVATE CONTENTMENT

Many think the 10th commandment is the most difficult to obey. And for those who don’t immediately remember, it says: “You shall not covet.” The antidote to covetousness is contentment.

Don’t misunderstand this word contentment. It is not laziness, the absence of ambition, or the failure to have challenging aspirations and goals. The Apostle Paul gives us some insight into what contentment is when he writes in Philippians 4:11b and 12a: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.” Contentment is to be appropriately satisfied in your situation and with what you have.

Here are five suggestions to cultivate contentment:

Don’t compare yourself with others. Comparing seems to be at root of the 10 commandment. The complete commandment reads “You shall not covet your neighbors’ house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.” I think we would be far less likely to covet if we didn’t compare. But we do compare, don’t we?

Enjoy what you have. A vital step for contentment is to enjoy what we have. One observer wisely noted: “There is an obvious problem when our focus is more on what we do not have than on what we have.” And that focus gets in the way of enjoying what we do have. I Timothy 6:17 reminds us that what God has provided us is for our enjoyment.

Treasure what is truly valuable. Some things are more valuable than others and we need to recognize the limitation of money and stuff. What William Barclay wrote years ago is still true today: “If the possession of things brought happiness and contentment, then this would be the happiest and most contented age in history.” But it isn’t, is it? Stuff is important, but what is truly valuable are our relationships. I spent the last few days with my 5 year old and 2 year old grandsons in Texas. They have plenty of nice toys, but what I treasure, and what I think they treasured, was our time together.

Practice generosity. Being generous is both a path to contentment as well as evidence of it. Generous people seem to be content and contentment is enhanced by generosity. And while it does include money, I’m using generosity with a far greater sense than just money. Being generous with our time, our energy, our knowledge, our skills, and our resources will strengthen our state of satisfaction with what we have.

Finally, be grateful and express it. There is something attractive and compelling about gratitude. Being grateful and expressing it is an antidote not only to covetousness, but also to pride and many other attitude shortcomings. First we should be grateful and express gratitude to God. And doing that is a vital part of our worship. But we should also be grateful to others as well—family, friends, and those we do not know personally who enrich our lives by the things they say and do.

What would you add to this list? Comment below; and if you liked this post share it on social media.

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SOME THINGS TO THINK ABOUT

When I started this blog five months ago I indicated a lot of my posts would be inspired or prompted by the writing of others in articles and books. Over the past couple of weeks I have jotted down several ideas for blog posts from my reading. But instead of choosing one and expanding on it, in this post I want to share a few selections from a variety of places that grabbed my attention and caused me to think. Hopefully they will do the same for you.

From a her.meneutics article in a christianitytoday daily newsletter by Kim Gaines Eckert entitled “A Psychologist Faces Her Own Anxiety”:

“Our always connected, hyper-productive culture creates a perfect breeding ground for anxiety as a way of life, so it can be hard and humbling for us to simply take the time to pause.”

I don’t know how humbling it is to take time to pause but I do know how hard it is when we are so caught up in everything we have to do. Perhaps reading these quotes will give you the occasion to pause and think.

From an article by John Acuff at ChurchLeaders.com:

“Sometimes the frequency of divorce makes us forget the heartache of it. It’s such an ordinary thing these days that we tend to rush right by the extraordinary pain it causes.”

If you have gone through a divorce you know how painful it is. If you haven’t maybe this observation will remind you of the pain of those around you in the midst of divorce.

From How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart:

“We must be careful that we do not make any part of Scripture say what we would like it to say.”

Perhaps preachers may need to hear this more than others, but I think all of us could use the reminder.

From The Holy Spirit by Stanley Hauerwas and William H. Willimon:

“To be a holy people does not mean the church is without sin.”

Have you been too hard on some of the people who attend and/or are a part of your church? Are your expectations unrealistic?

From The Soul of Shame by Curt Thompson:

“Possibly one of the least helpful things a parent can tell his or her child is ‘We only expect you to do your best.’ No one can do his or her best at everything, for no one has that much time or energy.”

Being a parent isn’t easy but it is a great blessing. We may put pressure on our children without even knowing it.

From My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers:

“We should be so one with God that we don’t need to ask continually for guidance.”

We already know a lot about what we should do as well as what we shouldn’t do. Don’t we?

From Jesus is the Christ by Leon Morris:

“Believers [Christians] are not meant to live out the life of Christian service in their own strength, thus the gift of the Spirit if very important.”

I remember one day in a class years ago when Dr. Lewis Foster suggested “I don’t think we make enough of the indwelling gift of the Holy Spirit.” I think he was right.

Take a few minutes to read these quotes again and give them an opportunity to challenge and encourage your thinking. Let us know in the comments below which one you most appreciate. (Or if you thought this was a dumb idea!)

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JESUS, ANGER, AND US

Most people know Jesus was angry when He drove the money-changers out of the temple, but that’s not the only time the Bible tells us Jesus was angry. In a lesser known account in Mark 3:1-6 we are told about another time Jesus was angry.

On a Saturday Jesus went to the synagogue presumably to worship and there was a man there with a shriveled hand. There were also some critics of Jesus there to watch Him to see if He would heal on the Sabbath.

To make sure everyone present was on the same page so to speak, Jesus first asked the man with the shriveled hand to stand up in front of everyone. Then He asked a question, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But His critics remained silent. It was a question they could not answer. Of course it was lawful to do good on the Sabbath day! Given the opportunity, not to do good was in essence to do evil.

The primary thing I want us to see is what happened next: “He looked at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’  He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.” Some may be surprised at Jesus’ anger because they have always pictured Him as meek and gentle.  And He is, but that does not mean He could never be angry.

Jesus was angry with His critics because of their “stubborn hearts.” They didn’t care about the man with a shriveled hand.  They had no interest in him; they only saw the opportunity to accuse Jesus. Stubborn hearts can be calloused and cruel. What are we to make of Jesus anger?  Isn’t anger bad, isn’t it sinful? If Jesus was angry it is not always bad and sinful.

The Bible does teach that anger is dangerous and warns us about inappropriate anger. In Ephesians 4:26 the Apostle Paul quotes the Old Testament admonition “In your anger do not sin,” warning us that when angry we are more susceptible to sin.  And in I Corinthians the Apostle Paul tells us “Love is not easily angered.”

When we are angry usually our emotions are on edge; we are less restrained and more likely to say or do something we normally would not do or say. We know how dangerous anger can be because we have seen it in others, and more importantly–we have seen it in ourselves. Inappropriate and uncontrolled anger can hurt others and destroy our wider Christian testimony.

But anger is not always wrong. Ephesians 4:26 warns, “In your anger do not sin.”  But it does not say anger is sin. I Corinthians 13:5 says, “Love is not easily angered.”  But it does not say “love never gets angry.” The Bible warns us about anger, but it does not totally forbid anger. Jesus’ anger was appropriate and godly; and I think for two reasons.

First, because of what it was that made Him angry. There is a place for righteous anger. There are some things we should get mad about. But I find it so instructive to note all the times in Jesus’ ministry when He didn’t get angry when most of us would have. Jesus became angry at the right things.

The other reason Jesus’ anger was appropriate was because of what His anger led Him to do as well as what it did not result in. Anger is ok if we are angry for the right reason; and anger is ok as long as it results in our doing the right thing and not the wrong thing. Jesus gives us the example. Anger can motivate us and give us energy to make a positive difference.

Share this post if you think others would benefit and I welcome comments below.

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WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR IN PREACHING?

Since I stepped down after 44 years of ministry 13 months ago Jan and I have visited numerous churches and listened to a variety of preachers. I’m guest preaching again this Sunday and am working on what I will say. Putting these two together, I’ve been thinking about this matter of preaching.

From the beginning of our church plant in Moreno Valley I had a commitment to significant Bible teaching. And to use the word significant suggests at least three things. One is that the teaching would be significant in terms of time allocation. Through the years I determined that while some preachers took more time, I would limit my Sunday messages to 30-35 minutes. A second aspect of significant Bible teaching for me is that we interpret the Bible in terms of its original intent and meaning. I never was a preacher who read a verse or passage from the Bible and then left it to say whatever I wanted to say. Bible teaching means teaching what the Bible says. Finally, the third aspect of significant Bible teaching is application. To teach the Bible in a Christian context is not only to consider its content, but also to apply it to life today.  Simply stated in the words of one author, “Interpretation is sterile without application.” Some of the messages I gave were more oriented to Bible content and its original meaning, and some were more focused on application for today, but every message had both.

Significant Bible teaching for me did not mean I could only preach straight through a book of the Bible or only preach what are called “expository sermons.” An expository sermon is teaching from one passage in the Bible and basically staying with that passage and going through it. In addition to expository sermons I often also preached what are called “topical sermons.” A topical teaching does not deal with only one passage of Scripture, but refers to and draws from a variety of passages that deal with the topic. In my mind to suggest the only kind of real preaching is expository preaching is to needlessly limit the preacher from dealing with many topics that should be addressed from throughout the Bible. 

In II Timothy 4:2 the Apostle Paul instructs Timothy, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” What a powerful challenge then as well as today!  Teaching the Bible is to include correction, rebuke, and encouragement, and it is to be done with patience and care. Some preachers go overboard with correction and rebuke with little encouragement while others are heavy on encouragement with little rebuke or correction. Some are lacking in patience and some are not careful enough in preparing and presenting biblical instruction. No two preachers do it exactly the same, but this verse gives all those who regularly teach the Bible some important guidelines.

What do you look for in preaching? Let us know below.

(This article is adapted from chapter 6 of my book A Pastor and the People: An inside Look through Letters.)

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