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Archive for the ‘Contentment’ Category

From my sermon yesterday on Luke 12:13-21

18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. There it is. There’s our world. “I’ve made more money. Of course, I’ll go bigger and better. I’ve made more and so I will live with more.” See, here’s the thing. For the covetous person and our culture, the getting of more and the increase of wealth and the increase of comfort is a no-brainer. Did you notice that? It’s just obvious. Of course that’s what you do. Given a choice between bigger and better or not (whether it means cutting back or just staying the same), you always choose bigger and better. Given the choice between more money or less, you always choose more. Given the opportunity to increase your standard of living or keep it the same … of course. Job Promotion? Sure you take it. Career? Whichever pays the most. Job relocation? Absolutely, if it pays lots more, why wouldn’t you? It’s a no-brainer.

Now here’s the thing. Is it wrong to take a job promotion? No. Is it wrong to relocate your family for a different job? No. Is it wrong to choose a career that will pay well? No. Is it wrong to do those things without asking God what he wants? Yes. Is it wrong to do those things simply because it will give you more possessions and you are going to use those possessions on yourself? Yes. Is it wrong to do those things without thinking about eternity and whether this will push you closer to Jesus or further away? Yes.

Do you see? The whole thing is tricky. I don’t think God says you have to live a life of poverty. I don’t think God prohibits you from going on a vacation. I don’t think God prohibits nice things. I don’t think God would prohibit improving your life at all. I do think we ought to ask the question though: how much is enough? I do think the question is always, “How much or will this make you closer to Jesus or not, and will it keep you from spreading the kingdom of God? What will maximize my and other’s joy in eternity?”

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The problem is for most of us or really all of us we can’t count that high (I’ll explain later). For now, the point is, according to Stephen Altrogge’s book The Greener Grass Conspiracy, counting our blessings is a helpful way to instill contentment into our heart. Of course, it’s not the primary way. The gospel is the main way and the gospel makes it possible for anyone, anywhere, though they be in the most dire of circumstances, if they are in Christ, to be content because, as the gospel math suggests, if they are on their way to heaven, they are getting far better than they deserve. But it does help for us to count our temporal and earthly blessings as well. He writes in chapter 10 that “discontentment happens when I don’t have what I want. Contentment happens when I realize that I have so much more than I deserve.” (112). And so, the author takes a look at the fact that most of us have our life, health, food, shelter and possessions, and more, especially if you live in the USA. He notes:

“Do you get the picture? Compared to most of the world, I’m a king living in a palace. I’m surrounded by luxury. I have more than I need, more than anyone needs. And I still can’t figure out why God has blessed me. WHy do I have these blessings and most people don’t? Why is my little girl healthy when many little girls are so weak from malnutrition that they can’t even stand? Why do I have clean water that isn’t full of horrible parasites? Why is a broken bone a minor inconvenience for me and a catastrophe for someone living in Africa? I can only come to one conclusion: God has been very kind to me. And I can only see one appropriate response: gratefulness to God. … I want gratefulness to God that shuts my complaining mouth.” (116)

“The great puritan Matthew Henry was once robbed of his wallet. After pondering the incident, he wrote the following words in his diary: ‘I thank Thee first because I was never robbed before; second, because although they too my purse then did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth because it was I who was robbed and not I who robbed.” (116-117)

“While preaching a sermon, Charles Spurgeon said, ‘I have heard of some good old woman in a cottage, who had nothing but a piece of bread and little water. Lifting up her hands, she said as a blessing, “What! All this, and Christ too?”‘” (117)

Amen. If we have Christ we have everything. We have as much as the person who has Christ and owns a million acres. And every time we enjoy a hot bath or a tasty meal, may our hearts sing, “What! All this, and Christ too!”

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Who can relate to the above cartoon? Unfortunately I can, all too well. I struggle with complaining. But, as Stephen Altrogge puts it in chapter 9 of his book The Greener Grass Conspiracy, to do so is to sin. Here’s some food for thought from the book:

“Complaining is one of those sins that doesn’t get much airtime in our churches. We talk about big sins like lust, greed, selfishness, anger, adultery, and violence. These are sins that populate our sermons and accountability meetings. … But God takes complaining very seriously. It’s not a little sin in his eyes. … Complaining is like smoke. Smoke proves there’s a fire somewhere, and complaining proves that discontentment is nearby.” (102-103)

“Complaining isn’t just an insignificant, minor, everyday sin. It’s a slap in the face of God. When we complain, we’re saying that God hasn’t been good to us. We’re making a loud statement to ourselves and to the rest of the world that GOd hasn’t been a good master. … Complaining is blindness. Blindness to all that God has done for us. … We’re surrounded by mercies, enjoying more than we could have ever asked for or imagined, and we’re complaining because we’re stuck in traffic.” The truth is, as Thomas Watson says, “our base hearts are more discontented at one loss than thankful for a hundred mercies. God has plucked one branch of grapes from you, but how many precious clusters are left behind?” (104-105)

“When I complain, I’m preaching to myself and everyone else that GOd is helpless. I’m saying that God doesn’t know what he ‘s doing when it comes to my life, that God is a new driver behind the wheel of the universe. … When I complain, I’m declaring that I serve a helpless, bumbling God. … I’m telling a lie about God.” (105-106)

“Complaining turns us into prosecuting attorneys” and “blasphemers.” (107-108)

“Complaining sucks the joy out life. The complainer can’t even enjoy the good things he has. Again quoting Thomas Watson, ‘Discontent is a fretting humor which dries the brain, wastes the spirits, and corrodes and eats out the comfort of life. Discontent makes a man so that he does not enjoy what he possesses.” (109)

Straight talk about complaining. So, let’s not be complainers. We believe God is good and we believe God is sovereign. We believe he withholds no good thing that we need and he works all things for our good and his glory. We believe these things. We don’t believe God is a cosmic miser or scrooge. So let’s not act like we do. Let’s not belittle our Lord. Let’s tell the truth about him in the way we live and things we say.

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Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”

I guess by now you are aware of Tebowmania. Not quite as strong as Beatlemania and probably more controversial. One thing you often notice about Tebow is the Bible verses he has written on his eye-black, under his eyes. One of the popular choices is the verse quoted above – Philippians 4:13. Like Tebow others often use that verse as an amulet for athletic success or academic success or whatever success. This is not to jab Tim Tebow, but in the words of Stephen Altrogge: “I don’t think, however, that God ever intended to teach us principles of athletic success through Philippians 4:13. God has something much bigger and glorious and God-glorifying in mind. He wants us to find lasting joy and contentment in Jesus Christ. True contentment is found in a Person. It’s not found in getting what we want or in having difficulty removed from our lives.” (87)

And that’s the big idea behind chapter eight of The Greener Grass Conspiracy. True contentment is found in Jesus and “if Jesus is the cure for discontentment, then it’s crucial for us to cultivate a deep relationship with Jesus.” So, the author advocates that we “find” Christ through the promises of God, prayer, and God’s people. Those promises are essentially rooted in Christ and the gospel. Promises like Romans 8:28 and 32 come to mind. These promises remind us that “we don’t have to pry open God’s clutched, clammy fingers to persuade him to meet our needs. God isn’t like a dad who looks like he’s passing a kidney stone every time his kids ask him for a few dollars.” Quoting Thomas Watson, “God has engaged Himself under hand and seal for our necessary provisions. If a king should say to one of his subjects, ‘I will take care of you … if you are in danger, I will secure you; if in want I will supply you,’ would not that subject be content?” The truth is “there is nothing that can happen to us that God won’t use for our good. In fact, the very things that tempt us to be discontent are being used by God for our good. … Good will blossom from bankruptcy. Good will spring forth from a broken friendship. Good will bloom in the desert of depression. We may not see it, and we probably don’t feel it, but we must believe it and stake our lives upon it. … When we’re discontent, we believe that God is holding back good from us.” [Contra Psalm 84:11 which says, “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.”] Indeed, what the Bible teaches is that “God won’t withhold a single good thing from his children. If a thing is good for us, God will give it to us. If it’s not good, he’ll withhold it. And in God’s kindness, he doesn’t allow us to pick and choose what we would like in our lives. … In the words of Thomas Watson, ‘We fancy such a condition of life good for us, whereas, if we were our own carvers, we should often cut the worst piece.'” (92-94)

And that is a great word for prone-to-be-discontented people like me.

By the way, I am a Tim Tebow fan.

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From the title of this blog post you can guess what aspect of contentment Altrogge deals with in chapter 7 of his book The Greener Grass Conspiracy. He makes two basic points. Here’s the first one:

“We too must learn the skill of divine contentment. We are by nature discontent. … Joyful contentment is the result of hard-fought, blood-sweat-and-tears battle. God is eager for us to have the same joyful, peaceful, circumstance-free contentment that Paul had, but it’s something we must learn. Charles Spurgeon says, ‘Now, contentment is one of the flowers of heaven, and, if we would have it, it must be cultivated. It will not grow in us by nature; it is the new nature alone that can produce it, and even then we must be especially careful and watchful that we maintain and cultivate the grace which God has sown in us.'” (79)

But how do we learn contentment? Obviously, the gospel teaches us (see my last post). And there are other instructors of contentment, but one that is often overlooked and misunderstood is adversity; and that’s the second main point of the chapter. We learn contentment by adversity, or should I say, responding to adversity in the right way.

“How do we see our current circumstances? Do we see them as divine training grounds, forcing us to press and strain toward the wonderful goal of contentment? How do we see our angry, disrespectful children who don’t yet know the Lord? Do we see them as endless sources of frustration or as instructors from God in the school of contentment? How do we think about the limitations that God has placed upon us? In his wisdom God has given many men and women more talents and abilities than us. Do we chafe against our limitations or embrace them as means of learning contentment? Or what about our razor-thin budget that barely as room for the things we need, let alone the things we want? Every pain and every prosperity is an opportunity from God to learn the priceless art of contentment. Thomas Watson says, ‘If God dams up our outward comfort, it is so the stream of our love may run faster in another way.'” (79-80)

The aim of adversity? Altrogge writes:

“It’s not enough for us to just take our circumstances, like we’re taking a punch in the face. We won’t learn true, blessed contentment if we grit our teeth and kick our way through life. Life isn’t an Iron Man competition. Instead our circumstances should drive us to God and cause us to cry out for the strength to be content. … insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities drove [Paul] deep into the living God, and there he found soul-sustaining grace. The unbearable weight of Paul’s circumstances forced him to find strength and contentment in God. Paul could be content in all things because he went to God in all things.” (80-81)

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“Bloody contentment.” That’s an interesting title to a chapter but that’s exactly how chapter six of The Greener Grass Conspiracy is so named. In this chapter (which makes the book worthy buying all by itself) the author seeks to show how the gospel is the key to cultivating contentment in the Christian. After explaining how our world, satan, and our flesh, seek to foster discontentment in our hearts, now the book addresses the work of the gospel in our hearts to create satisfaction. Essentially, the chapter is an explanation of the gospel … and a good one at that. This is helpful because Altrogge has already shown how idolatry is the root of our discontent. And yet, the gospel is the good news of how God rescues sinners from their idolatry; and that rescue means not only forgiveness for our idolatry, but also freedom from our idols. But think about how God rescues us:

“Forgiveness of sins and power to change is possible only because of an exchange far greater than our idolatrous exchange of God’s glory for created things. … The Father heaped the idolatry of millions upon Jesus and then punished Jesus as if he was the idol worshiper. It was as if Jesus was the pornography worshiper, job worshiper, and vacation worshiper. [or whatever worshiper]” (60)

He quotes Joni Eareckson Tada and Steve Estes from their book When God Weeps: “Son of Man! Why have you behaved so? You have cheated, lusted, stolen, gossiped—murdered, envied, hated, lied. You have cursed, robbed, overspent, overeaten—fornicated, disobeyed, embezzled, and blasphemed. Oh, the duties you have shirked, the children you have abandoned! Who has ever so ignored the poor, so played the coward, so belittled my name? Have you ever held your razor tongue? What a self-righteous, pitiful drunk—you, who molested young boys, peddle killer drugs, travel in cliques, and mock your parents. Who gave you the boldness to rig elections, foment revolutions, torture animals, and worship demons? Does the list never end! Splitting families, raping virgins, acting smugly, playing the pimp—buying politicians, practicing extortion, filming pornography, accepting bribes. You have burned down buildings, perfected terrorist tactics, founded false religions, traded in slaves—relishing each morsel and bragging about it all. I hate, loathe these things in you! Disgust for everything about you consumes me! Can you not feel my wrath?” (62)

But of course, Christ did not merely get our sin and idolatry on him. He heaped on us his righteousness. What a glorious exchange! Altrogge writes: “Christ became our filth; we become his righteousness. He was crushed for our sins; we are wrapped in his righteousness. He was forsaken by God; we’re welcomed into the presence of God. Our wicked exchange is swallowed up in the greatness of the divine exchange.” (63)

The Bible teaches that this is the finished work of Christ on the cross. But, God applies that work by changing our hearts, indeed, giving us new hearts. And this is where the power to fight idolatry comes from. “Thankfully, the gospel doesn’t leave us floundering in our sin but always delivers a payload of heart-changing power. True salvation is always followed by a dramatic heart change.” (65) Amen, and so often such an emphasis and good news is left out.

With this salvation comes the blessings of fellowship with God, being his adopted children, and eternal life. Quoting Thomas Watson, “Whatever change or trouble a child of God meets with, it all the hell he shall have.” (69)

So a good question to ask is this: “Does the gospel cause us to pulse with gratefulness? Are we able to chuckle in a light, condescending manner at all the treasures of the world and then say, ‘I have Christ – I don’t need them?’ Do we ever stop and happily scream at the heavens, ‘Why, O God, would you be so kind to a sinner like me?‘ … I need to stop and stare and wonder and laugh at the goodness of God in the gospel. I need to spend time working on my gospel math, calculating the infinite distance between what I deserve and what I’ve received. … Complaining is almost always rooted in a faulty sense of rights and privileges…. But the gospel makes it very clear that the only thing we truly deserve is hell…. On our worst days we’re always doing infinitely better than we deserve. If I want to overcome discontentment, I need to spend time wallowing in the gospel.” (70-71)

“When we complain, we’re loudly saying that the blessings of the gospel aren’t enough. We’re saying that the death of Christ isn’t enough. We’re saying that eternal fellowship, purchased at great cost to God, isn’t enough to satisfy our souls. We’re saying that forgiveness of sins and peace with God is nice, but not that nice. … We’re saying that GOd himself, who is the very definition of goodness, isn’t good enough. We would like a little something more, if you don’t mind. God plus [insert desire of choice] should do the trick. When we complain, we accuse God of being stingy, of not giving us enough. Do you see the utter sinfulness of complaining? It tramples the gospel in the mud and paints God as a cosmic Scrooge.” (72)

He closes the chapter with this poem from the Valley of Vision:

O Lord, I am astonished at the difference…

Between my receivings and my deservings,
Between the bounty I am now in and my past gracelessness,
Between the heaven I am bound for and the hell I merit.
O that such a crown, should fit the head of such a sinner!
Such high advancement, for such an unfruitful person!
Such joys, for so vile a rebel

Are we astonished at the difference between our “deservings” and “receivings,” astonished to the point where gratefulness crowds out discontentment?

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Hebrews 3:13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

Sin is a liar. That’s pretty much the point of chapter 6 in The Greener Grass Conspiracy. The author writes, “Sin is an expert in propaganda. It skillfully crafts lies, and your heart is doing the same. Discontentment starts when we believe sinful lies – lies about God, ourselves, the world, and about others. If we’re going to defeat the sin of discontentment, we need to be able to spot its lies.” And that’s what chapter 6 is all about … spotting the lies of sin that lead to discontent. So, Altrogge points a few out to us.

Lie #1: God is withholding from me. This is the lie Eve believed straight from the pit of Satan’s belly. But “the truth is, God will never withhold [good] from us. The greatest irrefutable proof of God’s generosity is Calvary. … God gave up what was most precious to him so that he could save sinners who hated him. If God was willing to do that, won’t he give us every good thing we need? In Romans 8:32 Paul puts it this way: ‘He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?’ Puritan pastor John Flavel says: ‘Surely if he would not spare this own Son one stroke, one tear, one groan, one sigh, one circumstance of misery, it can never be imagined that ever he should, after this, deny or withhold from his people, for whose sakes all this was suffered, any mercies, any comforts, any privilege, spiritual or temporal, which is good for them.'”

Lie #2: God owes me. This is the lie that Job’s friends believed. It’s a form of legalism because it’s the idea that my good works and life have earned God’s favor and now that I’ve backed him in a corner he must give me what I want. I hear this from others and my own heart. Maybe not in those words but subconsciously or subliminally. When something bad happens, we can’t believe it because we’ve been so good. That’s what we tell ourselves. Or, here’s how we say it: “How come bad things happen to good people?” That’s usually a hidden complaint. What we are often saying is, “How come this bad thing has happened to me, a good person?” It overlooks the truth that “no one is good but God” as Jesus said to the rich young ruler. It overlooks the truth that God owes us nothing but judgement as Romans 6:23 says – “The wages of sin is death.” [Not a popular ticket item here.] “Does our obedience to God put the Almighty in debt to us? Not at all. That’s a lie from our discontented hearts. But here’s where things start to become baffling. Though God owes us nothing [but judgment], he rewards us for our service to him. … He blesses us for doing the things we’re supposed to do anyway.”

Lie #3: If I Get it, I’ll Be Happy. This is the classic lie of the world and our hearts. And it’s been proven a lie countless times by our own lives. We always want more. Enough is never enough. Only God can satisfy. “We won’t be fully satisfied when we get what we want. Because God loves us and wants us to find our satisfaction in him, he won’t allow us to be satisfied.” That’s an awesome thought. If you are a child of the Kings, an adopted Son, a believer, God will not let you be satisfied with anything but him. He will cause your heart to ache and hurt for him until you have him. That’s encouraging and discouraging. It’s discouraging because I know that I am in for some heartache – God will use pain. It’s encouraging because I know that I am in for ultimate joy.

Lie #4: I Know What’s Best for Me. The problem is that the Bible warns over and over that the way that seems right in our own eyes leads to death (just read the book of Proverbs). But according to Psalm 23 we have a good shepherd who knows what’s best for us. “But we really don’t know what’s best for our souls. If God allowed us to follow our own plans, we wouldn’t end up on paths of righteousness that lead to still waters. We would end up in empty, barren wastelands of sin and destruction. God is the one who restores our soul. Sometimes he restores us by giving us what we desire, and sometimes he restores us by withholding it. In either case we can be assured that God knows the best path for us and that he’ll lead us on that path.”

May the Lord bless you in trying to spot the many manifestations of these lies. I say it like that because you will probably never actually hear these lies spoken to your heart in those terms. It becomes to obvious and our enemy is often anything but conspicuous. Those lies come in different forms. Be on guard and know that you are in the hands of a good King.

 

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