Contented In Jesus

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Beaten with rods, stoned, shipwrecked, starved. These are only a few of the many difficulties that the apostle Paul faced and yet this is the same man who wrote in Philippians that he had learned to be content everywhere and in all things.

Although Paul lived an extremely difficult life, he stated that he was content repeatedly throughout Philippians. Most of us are not content. We live in comparative ease. We have houses, cars, food, clothing, and freedom and yet we are discontented. Why? How is it that the apostle Paul who lived a life of pain and difficulty could be content and we who live lives of ease and comfort are not?

Conventional wisdom would say that contentment comes through having everything that you want but as we look at the life of Paul it becomes clear that that is not the case. How then, do we become content?

I would argue that contentment, at least the kind of contentment that Paul had, contentment that is absolutely independent of circumstances, actually begins with discontentment but it must be the right form of discontentment.

Most of us look to the world and everything in it as our source of contentment. We look to material things for peace, fulfillment, and happiness.

In order for contentment to be constant and unchanging, however, it must be based upon something that is constant and unchanging. The only thing that is constant and unchanging and always will be so, is Christ.

This is why I said that true contentment begins with discontentment. In order to gain the source of true contentment—Jesus, a person must first become discontent with the world and all that it has to offer.

It is only when a person becomes discontent with the world that they will look to Christ.

In order to become truly content a person must be wholly wrapped up in and satisfied with Christ.

Paul was content in every circumstance he faced because his contentment was not based upon circumstances. Paul suffered through extremely difficult circumstances. While writing the book of Philippians, where he speaks of his contentment, he was actually in prison.

No. Paul did not base his contentment upon his circumstances. Paul’s contentment was based upon Christ. While circumstances may change, Jesus does not. Although everything else may be stripped from you no one can separate you from Jesus. Thus because Paul was content in Christ no matter what happened to him he was able to remain content.

So back to the question that I asked at the beginning of this article. How is it that the apostle Paul who lived a life of pain and difficulty could be content and we who live lives of ease and comfort are not?

Paul’s contentment was based upon Christ whereas our contentment or lack thereof is based upon our circumstances. This is why Paul, who lived a far more difficult life than most of us, could be content while we are not.

How can we become content?

We must become discontent with the world counting it all loss and recognizing that it is all truly worthless in light of eternity. Casting all the pursuits of the world aside, we must instead embrace Christ as our all in all.

If Christ is truly everything to you and you are completely and totally satisfied in Him it will not matter what difficulties trial or blessings come your way. If everything you have is stripped away you will have joy, peace, and contentment because you will still have Jesus.

Romans 8:35-39 says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?  As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Too many of us call ourselves Christians and yet are not content in Christ. If you are a Christian, Christ should be everything to you. You should be totally wrapped up and content in Him. Paul was. Are you?

 

Embracing Weakness

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Recently I have been struggling with extreme exhaustion. I have been tired constantly. And I must admit I have done a good bit of complaining about it.

But as I was laying in bed at 5:55 PM because I was so tired that I could barely hold up my own head it hit me that this is an opportunity to embrace dependence.

I like to feel strong, capable and in control. Being exhausted strips you of those feelings but the reality is we are not really any of those things anyway. As Christians, we are called to recognize our weakness in order to embrace God’s strength.

We live in a society that glorifies independence. Believers, however, are called to live lives of dependence upon Jesus.

We must recognize that we can’t but He can.

Dependence is one of those ideas that is much more fun to philosophize about than to actually experience. No one likes to come to the end of themselves. Dependence demands that we recognize that we have nothing, that we cannot do it, that we need help.

And yet there is a beauty and excitement when you do come to the end of yourself and realize that God’s grace is sufficient.

It is only when we come to the end of ourselves that we tap into the power of God that has no end.

It is easy for me to complain. I have even thought, “Lord why did you make me like this. I could serve You so much better if you had made my body to run on less sleep.” And yet I am discovering that it is in this very weakness that I experience God’s strength.

2 Corinthians 12:9 tells us that God’s strength is made perfect in weakness.

In this passage, Paul is talking about a personal struggle that he actually pleaded with God to remove. God responds to Paul by saying, “My grace is sufficient.” Paul’s conclusion is that he will boast in his infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon him.

Our weaknesses force us into dependence upon Jesus.

We often think that we could serve God better without our weaknesses but God desires that we would depend upon Him even as we serve Him. Our weaknesses force us to depend on Him. They remind us of our need for Him.

Just like Paul, we should learn to rejoice in our weaknesses because God’s power is perfected in them. Therefore it is when we are weak that we are truly strong.

Annie J Smith wrote a beautiful poem that sums this up wonderfully.

He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater, He sendeth more strength when the labors increase; To added afflictions He addeth His mercy, To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance, When our strength has failed ere the day is half done, When we reach the end of our hoarded resources Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision, Our God ever yearns His resources to share; Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing; The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure, His power no boundary known unto men; For out of His infinite riches in Jesus He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.

 

Facts or Feelings?

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Widespread oppression, unimaginable suffering, innumerable deaths. This is often what we think of when we think of Nazism. Reading about the horrors that occurred at the hands of the Nazis, many of us are heartbroken or even angry. How could something so evil be allowed to happen we wonder.

The Germans were a broken people. The First World War devastated their country. No longer was there pride in being German.

When Adolf Hitler rose to power and began rebuilding Germany he restored dignity to the German people. Rebuilding their roads and their economy, he became a hero in the eyes of German people everywhere. They wanted to believe whatever he said because he was accomplishing so much good on their behalf.

Wisely, Hitler did not begin his conquest of the world with armies or weapons but rather with endless propaganda backed up by his rebuilding of a war-torn Germany.

Adolf Hitler himself said, “if you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” Hitler proclaimed his lies long and loud and many people believed him. What he was saying sounded good. It felt right.

Had they compared it to Scripture they would have seen that it did not measure up but far too few people did that. It was a deadly mistake. How many millions of lives lost? How many millions of families torn apart? How many millions of people deeply scarred?

It is terrifying to realize that so many people were so easily taken in by lies. It is even more frightening to realize that many of them were Christians.

If it happened once it could happen again.

How can we prevent it?

Lies always sound like the truth or else no one would believe them. They always feel good or else no one would accept them.

We cannot assume that we will recognize a lie. It is dangerous to believe that a lie will feel wrong.

The only way we can know that something is true is by comparing it to the standard of truth—the word of God. This is what far too many German people failed to do. What Hitler proclaimed sounded good so they chose to believe it.

Many of the people in Germany at that time were Christians. But they were Christians who just once chose to believe something because it felt good rather than because the Word of God taught it.

What about you? What is your source of truth?

Many people look to their heart or to their feelings to determine truth but Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?”

We cannot look to our hearts or to our feelings for truth. We must look to the Word of God. We must bring every new idea back to Scripture and test it against the source of truth.

Believing a lie is dangerous. It is costly. As Christians, we have the source of truth. It may be uncomfortable and at times painful to test our ideas against Scripture but it is our greatest safeguard.

In Germany at that time, there was a small remnant of people who did not fall for the lies. There were many who believed and fought for truth although it was incredibly costly. They did not follow their feelings. They followed the word of God and we now consider them heroes for it.

What about you? In a culture where it is normal to make decisions based upon feelings and emotions are you going to choose truth? Do you follow your feelings or do you follow the Word of God?

 

Run to win

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If you were going to compete in a foot race how much extra weight would you want to strap to your back?

Without taking time to think about it your immediate response was probably “None!” and rightly so. We understand that extra weight would make it difficult to compete in a race in the physical realm. It would slow us down and cause us to tire faster.

If you are really trying to win a race, you are not going to load yourself down with a lot of extra weight. That would be foolish. You would be setting yourself up for defeat.

How often do we do that in the Christian life though?

Repeatedly throughout the New Testament, the Christian life is compared to a race.

Hebrews 12:1-2 says, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

In this passage, we are encouraged to lay aside two things so that we may run this race. We must lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us.

Far too often we focus on laying aside sin and forget to lay aside weights.

We go through our lives asking, “is this a sin?” Rather than just addressing sin, however, this passage encourages us to throw off everything that might hinder us in our pursuit of Christ.

As Christians, we should not be asking is this a sin. Instead, we should be asking does this hinder me from running? Is this weighing me down? Is this helping me to run?

We only have one life to live. Jesus died for us. Our only reasonable response is to live for Him and yet too often our lives are so weighed down and distracted by trivial things that we never discover what it means to live for Him.

This passage is saying that as Christians we definitely need to get rid of sin but we must also get rid of a whole lot of other stuff in addition because nothing is as important as running this race well.

Amy Carmichael was a missionary to India. She rescued and cared for hundreds of temple slaves and abandoned children while spreading the gospel all over India. During her teenage years, Amy made radical choices because she wanted to run well. As a girl from a wealthy upper-class family, it would have been normal for her to be obsessed with clothes and parties. Instead, she chose to throw those things off in order to work in the slums of her community.

Amy made 1st Corinthians 3:11-14 the theme and goal of her life. It says:For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.  If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work.  If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward.” 

Amy’s desire was to run her race well and build upon the foundation with gold silver and costly stones rather than with wood, hay, and straw.

How about you? Are you living a life that matters in eternity? Are you building with silver or with straw?

When asked what is the secret to great living Amy replied: “Entire separation to Crist and devotion to Him. Thus speaks every man and woman whose life has made more than a passing flicker in the spiritual realm. It is the life that has no time for trifling that counts.”

Elizabeth Elliot said of Amy Carmichael “The preoccupations of young [people] don’t seem to change much from generation to generation. But in every generation there seem to be a few who make other choices.”

The question for us today is are we living to run well? Are we running at all or has sin entangled us and stopped us? Do we spend our time trifling? Are we going to be among the few who make other choices?

 

But Lord—The Ultimate Oxymoron

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Someone once said that Christ is either Lord of all or He isn’t Lord at all.

For most of us, that statement brings a lot of conviction because we have areas of our lives that we have not fully surrendered to Jesus. Far too many of us are still clinging to control of portions of our lives.

The reality is however that the term Lord is an all-inclusive one. When you choose to make Jesus Christ Lord of your life it is all or nothing. If Jesus is truly your Lord and your Master whatever you have belongs to Him. If He is truly your King when He asks you to do something you will do it.

We live in a society of freedom and independence. We do not seem to understand the concepts of slavery or submission. If Jesus is Lord we are His slaves and a slave does his master’s bidding.

In our churches today we tend to glaze over this concept of slavery far too often. We like the idea that Christ has set us free from the bondage of sin. This is true and wonderful but there is another side that we must not forget or ignore. In Romans 6 we are told that we are either slaves to sin or to righteousness.

Romans 6:15-19 says, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!  Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?  But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered.  And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.  I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.”

Romans 6 makes it clear that we cannot choose whether or not we will be a slave, we can only choose the master to whom we will be enslaved.

Either Jesus is Lord of your life or sin is Lord of your life. You will be enslaved to sin or to Christ.

Lord, Master, these are all-encompassing terms.

Is Jesus truly Lord of your life?

If you are still saying things like, “But Lord” you should ask yourself this question and seriously examine yourself to see. Far too many people claim Jesus as their Lord and master and yet still live lives ruled by their own selfish desires and whims, which are sin.

If this is you, repent.

In the church today we have tried to make Christianity as easy to swallow as possible. But the reality is that Christianity is not an easy calling. It is a call to come and die. It is all or nothing. Jesus is either Lord of all or He isn’t Lord at all.

 

 

A Time to Fear

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Over and over in Sunday School and church growing up, I heard sermons and lessons teaching that we should not fear. As I have matured in my faith I have come to the conclusion that there is a time when we should fear, a time when it would be utterly foolish not to fear.

David wrote in Psalm 23:4 “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me;”

David describes a frightening situation and says that even then he will fear no evil.

Often we stop here. We reason that David said that he would fear no evil so we should not fear any evil either. But the next phrase is the key to the whole concept. David says I will fear no evil for You are with me.

If God is with us we do not need to fear anything. He is the Lord of Hosts, the creator of everything. If however, God is not with us we ought to fear.

Deuteronomy 32:30 says, “How could one chase a thousand, And two put ten thousand to flight, Unless their Rock had sold them, And the Lord had surrendered them?”

If God is not with us it does not matter how strong we think we are we ought to fear. Even if one man is coming against our army of ten thousand we ought to fear. If God is not with us we are helpless and destitute.

However, if God is with us it does not matter how weak we think we are we should not fear. Even if an army of ten thousand were to come against us we should not fear. God is our strength, our defense, and our victory.

Joshua 23:10 says, “One man of you shall chase a thousand, for the Lord your God is He who fights for you, as He promised you.”

Recorded in 2 Kings chapter 6, the story of Elisha is an incredible picture of this reality. It tells us that the king of Syria wanted to kill Elisha the prophet of Israel. He sent a great army to find and destroy Elisha.

2 Kings 6:15-17 says, “And when the servant of the man of God arose early and went out, there was an army, surrounding the city with horses and chariots. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?”  So he answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.”  And Elisha prayed, and said, “Lord, I pray, open his eyes that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw. And behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”

If the Lord is with us we do not need to fear.

All throughout Numbers and Deuteronomy God tells Israel not to fear those nations that are bigger and stronger than them because the Lord is with them but God also tells them that if they disobey they should fear because He will not be with them.

If God is with us it is foolish to fear. If God is not with us it is actually foolish not to fear.

Abraham Lincoln said, “My concern is not whether God is on my side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side.” This should be our concern as well.

We are often told not to fear but there is a very real need for fear. Unless we are on God’s side we ought to fear.

Therefore examine yourself. Determine whose side you are on and then fear or do not fear accordingly!

Audacious Living for the Glory of God

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Throughout History, the great men and women of God have been marked by one thing—audacity. From the prophets, judges, and kings of the Old Testament to our heroes of the faith who lived more recently, those who really made a mark for the Lord were audacious.

They were willing to risk everything to bring glory to their God. They were willing to step out in faith and do impossible things because they trusted their God.

One of my favorite examples of this is David.

We all know the story. Israel was fighting against the Philistines who had a champion named Goliath. Not only had Goliath been trained for war from his youth but he was also a giant.

Only a little shepherd boy, David was not a trained warrior. Regardless when he heard that Goliath was challenging the Israelite army to send a champion to fight against him David volunteered. David took his shepherds sling and headed off to fight Goliath. Before he faced his enemy David picked up five smooth stones from a brook.

Wait! Stop the story right there.

Why did David choose five stones? Why didn’t he just pick up one?

Immediately most people would jump to the conclusion that David picked up the four extra stones as backup in case his first stone missed Goliath. I would argue however that that cannot be the case.

We are told in 1 Samuel 17:48 that David hurried and ran toward the Philistine. The Hebrew word that is translated hurried means to sprint. If David had any inclination of missing Goliath when he threw that first stone he would not have been sprinting toward him.

David did not gather four extra stones in case he missed. Instead as if going against Goliath was not audacious enough, David picked up four extra stones, one for each of Goliath’s four brothers.

David knew that his God could save by many or by few. Unconcerned that the odds were stacked against him, David’s only desire was the glory of his God.

Goliath defied the army of Israel, the very people through whom God had chosen to display His might and glorify His name.

David’s was not concerned about the size or strength of his enemy rather he was concerned about the glory of his God.

This is what audacity is born out of. We are audacious when our focus is not upon the obstacle to be overcome but rather upon the great God that we serve.

It is this focus on God that turns mere shepherd boys into giant slaying kings.

How about you? Are you audaciously going after the glory of God in your life? If you are a Christian you are God’s chosen instrument to reveal His glory and power on this earth.

Is your God too small to overcome the giants in your life or do you recognize like David did that not only can God overpower the giant standing directly in front of you, He can also overcome the four brothers of that giant?

We serve a mighty God! Do you believe it?

 

Authors note:  Scripture does not say that the four extra stones that David picked up were intended for Goliath’s brothers, however, it seems probable that this was his purpose in picking them up.