Sunday School Series: Happiness, Joy and Partners in Ministry, Philippians 1:3-11

22 01 2017

Author’s Note:  Please see the previous post to give you some of the context of this church’s founding and Paul’s relationship with it.  I made a post earlier about this, and I’m so very glad that I did so!  Thanks!

Everyone is trying to find joy and happiness.  We buy things, thinking that they will make us happy and they will fulfill us.  Our government is built upon the premise of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”  We read that it is an “unalienable right.”  We expect happiness to be lasting, and then, like a whisper, it fades away.  In my life, I can remember times when I have thought “If ________ happens, then I will be really happy.”  The happening happens and then I’m the same person, there’s no great upheaval of personal change or growth.  Eventually that happenning only becomes another page in my book of life.  For example, my college graduation.  When I was in high school, I was so focused on getting into college.  I filled out scholarship applications left and right.  I got into college, and I started focusing on that graduation date.  This dream never seemed more happiness-inducing than the nights where I was holed up in the library for another late night working on a paper.  I would get lost in my dreams of walking across the stage and shaking Chancellor Peacock’s hand.  When the day finally, arrived, my work was done, and I remember that I sat there as a friend made a speech about something, and I remember thinking “this is it.”  And it wasn’t like this great event.  It was just me, sitting in a polyester gown, shaking a hand and walking across a stage.  I was so proud that I did this, but then the next day, I woke up, and I was myself again.  Now, five years later, my graduation day is just another memory.

It doesn’t last, does it?  Happiness?  That’s the difference between happiness and joy.  Happiness is an emotion, and emotions honestly, they’re fleeting.  They change and disappear after awhile.  But joy, I think truly is more permanent, despite the present circumstances.  It’s sort of like the difference between liking someone and loving them.  You can like them all you want to, but that “like” fades at the first sign of annoyance.  Love exists regardless of how annoying the person is, or when they scream “I don’t speak chinese” in your ear as they sleep.  (True story)

Paul’s Partners in Ministry:  Philippians 1:3-6

 I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy  because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

If we use happiness to describe Paul’s emotions towards the church in Philippi, then (because we know of his previous experience in prison because of his preaching of the word) it would be odd that Paul would be thanking God for the memory of this church.  If it were me, and I had been arrested, then I would want to do anything possible to push the memory of that horrible experience out of my mind.  But Paul here was “praying with joy” each time he thought of them and was full of thanksgiving about them.  Each time he gave thanks, he remembered them in love.  It’s a wonderful thing to have such a good relationship with those that you serve in ministry with that they give thanks for you, each time that they remember you.  In that way, I identify with Paul.  In my college years, I served at the Appalachian Wesley Foundation, and as I served, I never remembered to take a moment and recognize just how blessed I was to not only be friends with those that I was serving God with, but also, to enjoy the moment with them.  Now, all of us are spread across this great state, and some are across the continent, and I miss them, and pray for them every so often.

Why am Paul and I filled with joy?  It says so here, “because of their partnership in the gospel”, a partnership that has been solid from the founding until now.  A partnership that has led to blessings and growth that has lasted, both in each other and in Christ.  Obviously, Paul and this church have had contact since Paul left, and they possibly exchanged many letters until this letter was penned.  I think that there was a certain amount of peace knowing that he had a group of people that were united, supporting him.  I think that encouraged him greatly, and I think it helped him to endure, even when he was facing a lot of difficulties ahead of him.  I think it helped him feel his load lightened because he knew that there was a group of people praying for him, and they were peacefully there, waiting his return.  The relationships that he had created while there, they were very important to Paul.  Paul’s encouragement from his relationships with Lydia and others in the church sustained him in ministry, and Paul was confident that this growth and maturity would continue until the day that Jesus came back.  I am confident that Paul knew this fact, because Christ began it!  I think it’s important for us to note that our confidence in God and what God is doing is ultimately the source of our joy!  Apart from that movement of God, relationships cannot growth or initiate, our relationships cannot encourage use.  Our interactions cannot produce fruit, without his touch.  And if he begins the partnership, he will build that partnership until the end.  He will continue to give it all blessings and growth.

Paul’s Affections towards Them:  Philippians 1:7-8

 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.

I truly think that Paul and the believers of this church felt a special bond between them, and this special bond was strengthened especially when they experienced great hardship at the beginning.  I truly think that they thought it was worth it because it brought them closer together.  The evidence that I draw this from is because Paul is never as personal as he is in these letters.  He never spent much more than a sentence proclaiming his affections towards a church other than this one.  It’s for that reason that Paul is so affectionate towards them.  From verse 7, I don’t really understand why he said “it is right”, but I imagine that he was facing some criticism because of his obvious affection towards this church.  This often happens when you find yourself in a new friendship or relationship.  I’ve experienced it, sometimes, people get jealous because of the companionship that you’ve found.  They’ll sometimes make passive aggressive statements and remarks or something to say that hints towards their disapproval.  I think this is the perspective that Paul is coming from in this particular passage.  I can imagine that he was hearing some remarks from some of his churches about his perceived favoritism.

But Paul isn’t saying that they should stop being so affectionate with each others, in fact, he’s doing the opposite, he’s affirming the value of this church in his heart.  He’s mentioning that their joy towards each other is holy and right because it is rooted in the fact that they are partners in ministry, mutually supporting each other.  More than that, they have supported him regardless of where he is or what is going on.  Whether he is in prison or enjoying ministry, he continually feels their support and their love of him.  I think this is really valuable for Paul because he probably had a few lonely evenings where he wondered if any of this was making a difference, if it was worth it.  I’m sure he felt especially isolated when he was travelling, and their encouragement helped him to continue on further.

Often, when people are partners in ministry together, they don’t get to be in the same place of service together, and they’re not able to see each other as often as they want.  But they have a sense of calling to each other, that no matter the space, we’re serving God together, and we are mutually growing each other.

Paul’s Desire for Maturity:  Philippians 1:9-11

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,  so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

Here, we get to the desires of Paul’s heart for this group.

He first prays and desires that their love will grow.  He desires not that their love will only grow for each other and for him, but also that they’ll grow in their love of God.  Through growing in their love for God, they will find knowledge and discernment.  Obviously, we know that the love for each other is already there and it is already thriving.  But now, he wants them to grow more in their knowledge of God and who God is.  By growing in the knowledge of who God is and what God wants for their lives, they will be able to better discern what the will of God is.  Discernment is a process by which a believer or a group of believers figures out how they feel and where they stand on issues.  For example, this last election.  I don’t know which way you voted, but I’ll tell you how I figured out how to vote.  I looked at the candidates, and I looked at what they said they believed.  I looked at what they stood for, and I looked at what God values.  I voted accordingly to my mindset on all of the evidence.

In the early days of the church, they were trying to figure out what they thought and believed.  They didn’t have a moral code to abide by, and they had to figure out what christian values were.  Christian lifestyles were so new, and they did not have the clear definitions that we hold so tightly to today.  So these believers had to figure it out.  Now, remember, they didn’t have written gospels, they just had each other and their relationship with God to depend on.  All of the discernment was for the purpose of appearing blameless before God.

Discernment and growing in character and knowledge of God leads to maturity, and that was what Paul wanted for their faith.  He wanted them to grow in Christ and he wanted them to produce the fruits of righteousness.  No doubt, he was having the story of Jesus teaching about the vine and fruit in his mind as he was writing this.  He no doubt remembered that Jesus told us we can recognize him through the fruit produced.  Believers should have the good fruit being produced that brings others to knowing Christ, and not chasing them away from the things of God.  If we live our lives producing fruit that is pleasing to God and enticing to others to seek God, then at the very last day, we will be declared righteous before God.  On that final day, praises will ring out for God’s faithfulness and for the gifts of love we experience through each other!


For that reason, I am glad that we are partners in ministry together!  For that reason I am glad you are a reader, and I am able to share with you the conclusions of my heart from scripture.  It is my prayer in this life/ministry that we live together, we can grow together and we can produce fruit together.  Fruit of joy and peace and love, not discord.  With God’s help, may I be that for you!

Peace and Love,

-mb

Advertisements




Watch and See

31 12 2016

Author’s Note:  The source for this reflection comes from 2 Chronicles 20:10-30.  Please feel free to peruse this scripture at your leisure, as I think an understanding of the scripture that this comes from is crucial to getting the entire meaning of this entry.  


If you know me, you know that there are a few things that I struggle with in my life.  One of those things is very personal and private.  In the age of the internet world, we often reveal so much behind this anonymous screen, and many people will feel so free to just word-vomit everything that’s going on in their lives.  If you don’t believe me, scroll through your facebook feed, twitter tweets or instagram posts.  You’ll see some pretty honest reflections of how people feel, and sometimes, they’re honest to the point of being too honest!  And if you’re like me, it’s almost eye-opening, to see what that person posts, because you do learn a lot about people.

I mention that, because this is not the case with me and this particular issue.  You’ll never see a facebook post about this content or this particular obstacle that I am facing, and the only way to actually find out about what is going on and through my head, is not to read the hashtags or scroll through my feed, it’s to have a conversation with me, to ask me, and to talk to me about it.  Which in this day and time, can seem like an extremely vulnerable thing for me to do, but I trust you, as a person sitting in front of me, than I do a computer screen.  So let’s talk!


Okay, so what’s the deal?

The deal is that in dealing with this mystery circumstance/difficulty, I have received an answer.  I have specifically received an answer for this situation, and I am so excited about it, that I surely need to tell someone!

That’s where you come in.  So that’s the purpose of this.  I guess you can already see what the answer was by the title, but let’s just humor me for a moment.  Pretend the title isn’t there, and pretend that you don’t know anything, except that I’m going to tell you all about the answer to some unknown circumstance.  Deal?

So let’s look at King Jehoshaphat, shall we?  So he took the throne at the age of 35 and would reign for 25 years.  In general, his reign is praised because the kingdom enjoyed mostly peace and prosperity during his rule.  However, he messed up once.  He pursued an alliance with another king, King Ahab, who is the king of the Northern Kingdom, and the way that he did that was to have his son marry Ahab’s daughter.  One thing we need to know is that King Ahab and his people were idolitors and they worshiped many other things beside God.  So of course, by creating an alliance with this kingdom, and because Jehoshaphat indirectly indicated that he approved of the way that the subjects of the Northern Kingdom lived their lives because he didn’t object to it, God got upset.

Meanwhile, the enemies of King Jehoshaphat assembled together to create  coalition against his kingdom.  They wanted to take over the kingdom.  So King Jehoshaphat assembled the people together, for the purpose of speaking to God and addressing him directly about what was going on.  So what did he say?  Well he first reminded of how God brought them out of Egypt and that he protected his people.  He reminded them of his faithfulness and how he helped them.  Previously, the people had a chance to take over these people and to attack them, but they didn’t, and King Jehoshaphat personally probably felt a little gyped because they had now turned on him.  So he called for God’s judgement, and he expected some sort of response because he had the faith that God would be good and he would give them strength.

So as they were waiting, this guy Jahaziel was used by God.  Now it’s important to note that this dude is never mentioned another time, so we don’t really know anything about him.  We don’t know where he was in the crowd, we don’t know if he was a trusted advisor, or a member of the poor, or an afflicted person.  We don’t know.  But I can tell you what probably did happen, and who Jahaziel was…and that was that he was an insignificant person.  God used an unknown person to speak to the King, and he told the King several things.

He told them that they don’t need to be afraid of the numbers, and that this is God’s battle, not the battle for King Jehoshaphat or his people.  He said that God was going to use this and that they were to march towards their enemies the next day.  But, God told them that the purpose for them to go was not to attack, but to observe.  They were gonna go and watch, and their eyes would see their enemy to be attacked for them.  And they were to just stand still and watch God deliver them from the threat of the enemy.

I can imagine after he was done speaking, the people just stood there, and they made plans for the next day.  They left the mountain that they talked to God and went back into their own houses.  I imagine that they were left with wonder and curiosity, and the thought of God fighting their battle for them.  What was he going to do?

The next morning, they got up and prepared to go. King Jehoshaphat, I’m sure was tempted to worry through the night.  If God didn’t come through, then the people would surely die.  Honest!  So as they were preparing to leave, King Jehoshaphat encouraged the people to be ready to watch God.  So before they left, they appointed a choir of people that would lead the group towards their enemy.  That choir was appointed the task of singing praises to God.  Which was contrary to any battle plan, because if you know the movies, they always shout out this war cry before they attack.

Now, it’s not clear as to what happened, or what went on at the battlefield, but the enemy was ambushed, and they were defeated.  I don’t know if it was angels or if it was some sort of herd of animals or what, but the clearest thing is that the people of God just stood there and watched, praising God.

The news spread throughout the area, of what they had done while their enemy had been vanquished.  The story of God protected King Jehoshaphat’s kingdom and the people of God.  Even though King Jehoshaphat had angered God, and did against him, he still protected them from the enemy, probably because his response had been a cry of help, and not a cry of “Why God?”


That was a long summary there, with a little commentary thrown in.

My point is this, when I began reading this scripture, I had previously prayed about this whole situation and circumstance, I prayed for some sort of resolution and I prayed for some kind of answer as to what I should do.  I prayed that if my heart was wrong, then that God would change me, but if it wasn’t wrong, that he would show me what I needed to do.  And then I found this scripture.  Then a few weeks later, I actually taught this scripture in my Sunday School lesson.

My answer is this, to wait and see, watch and see what will happen.  Watch and see what God will do, but in the meantime, lead in praising and praying.  Live your life in continual dedication and spend that time on God.  Don’t approach God, saying woe is me, but continue to pray for deliverance and continue to live your life just as you had before.  Wait and see.  Watch and see, what God will do.

I don’t know if any of you can relate to this issue, I don’t know if you can learn anything from this response, or if this even makes sense.  Maybe I seem crazy.  Delusional.  Whatever you might think.  That’s okay.  But here’s the thing, I’m told to wait and see.  I’m told to spend my time doing just as I’ve done and wait and see what God will do.

I don’t know what he’s going to do.  For all I know, he may be changing me!  He might leave the opposition the same and change me!  Or he might change them!

But the instruction I got was clear.  Wait and see!





Fruits of the Spirit Series: Peace

17 06 2016

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  –Galatians 5: 22-23

Welcome to the next installment of the Fruits of the Spirit series!  I am so thankful and grateful that you have come to this site!  If you’ve not been following this series thus far, please go back to the beginning and catch up!

I have a confession, first of all, I had another peace entry written, but then the shooting in the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando changed all of these things.  If given guidance, I may publish that later, but I do want to re-write this entry in light of this event.

The Peace Alliance offers a few statistics on violence, some of which are listed below:

  • Violence causes more than 1.6 million deaths worldwide every year. Violence is one of the leading causes of death in all parts of the world for persons ages 15 to 44
  • A World Heath Organization report estimates the cost of interpersonal violence in the U.S. at more than $300 billion per year.
  • 35 percent of women worldwide — more than one in three — said they had experienced violence in their lifetime, whether physical, sexual, or both. One in 10 girls under the age of 18 was forced to have sex.
  • On average, the cost of violence related only to paying for police, justice, corrections and the productivity effect of violent crime, homicide and robbery is $3,257 for each U.S. taxpayer or $460 billion for the United States economy.
  • The 20th century was one of the most violent periods in human history. An estimated 191 million people lost their lives directly or indirectly as a result of conflict, and well over half of them were civilians
  • In 2005, 5,686 young people ages 10 to 24 were murdered–an average of 16 each day.

This is not an exhaustive list.  I’ve just included some of the facts that really stirred my heart when I thought critically about this.  When I think about violence, I think wars, I think mass casualties, I think of governments and armies.  But, my thinking is skewed.  If you look at the statistics, I think it’s safe to say that the large majority of violent acts occur between individuals and not in wartime.

When I meditate upon these statistics and that conclusion, I realize something very profound.  Violence is not a problem of how, it’s a problem of why.  Gun control is a great attempt at reducing violence, but it only takes care of the HOW, and not the WHY.  Reduction in ammunition, gun buy-back problems…they all take care of the HOW we wage violence upon each other, and not curing the root of the problem.

What is the Root of Violence?

When I started to think on this topic, I decided to look back on the first violent act ever committed.  So I looked to the Bible.  I looked at the account of Cain and Abel.  I’m not going to cite the whole story or post it here, but the basic premise of the story goes that Abel was favored.  Cain got jealous because of his favor, and so he took a rock and stoned Abel to death.  The violent act there was the result of human emotion given free reign over Cain’s heart.  And what happened as a result?  He is punished by exile.

Is the rock to blame?

No.  The rock was just sitting there, minding its own business, you know…being all rock-like.  Suddenly, somebody picked it up, and did something with it.

Someone had to do something.

Therefore, the root of violence is not in the guns, it is not in the weapons, it is a disease of the heart.  And not only is it a disease of the heart, but it is the failure of that person to be intentional in allowing the emotions to not control oneself.

How do we solve the problem of the heart? Trust.

It’s not that easy.  Like most things dealing with spiritual things, it is a discipline, a choice that you have to make, in order to grow and to be more peaceful.  It is something that you have to understand what is asked of you and what is expected of you, as a believer, and as a follower of God.

When anger seeks to destroy our peace because we have been wronged against by a brother or sister, scripture is obvious, we have to trust that God will get his vengeance for us.  When we take matters into our own hands, our first impulse is violence, but scripture is clear:

  • Hebrews 10:30-For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.”

  • Romans 12:19-Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

  • Isaiah 57:21-There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.”

Scripture is clear, that it is not up to us to get even, especially through violence.  It is not my job and it is not your job to get even.  Mother Tereasa best explains this through her quote in the following image:

motherteresa

When we start dealing with issues of violence, we must realize that the idea of violence and peace is an issue that is much bigger than us.  It’s something that we all contribute a small part of, but as a whole, the problem of violence lies with a need for a world-wide change in the heart.

How do we see a change in the heart?

Well, there are several things, the first is major.  We’ve got to be intentional about keeping close to God.  That’s it.  This and this alone causes the rest of the steps to fall into place.  We must be intentional about prayer, worship, time with God, study of the scriptures.

The second is this:  Live out what you believe.  As you study in scripture, you will notice some commands, some things that God expects of us, and we must live them out, in both large ways and small.  Scripture has some really prevalent truths about living with people and pursuing peace.  But it’s not enough to just know what scripture tells us to do.  We have to live it out.

Third, make sure the things that you advocate for, also pursues peace.  If you advocate for a war to be waged, consider if that war is going to actively promote peace.  Sad to say, but war for the greater good of getting to peace is still war, and it is still something that we should avoid advocating.

But….that does not fix it on a wide-scale!

You’re correct.  Until all of human population sees the validity of controlling human emotions and trusting in a larger-scale move of the great deity….peace will not happen.  Because it is an issue we have to fix of the hearts of men and women, there’s nothing out there that we can do to force others to turn their methods to peaceful ways.  However, we can do our part in our own little worlds to bring about peace in the way we relate to each other, and by investing time in organizations and efforts to bring about change.

Some statistics from the Peace Alliance again:

  • Nonviolent resistance campaigns tend to succeed because nonviolent methods have a greater potential for eliciting mass participation — on average, they elicit about 11 times more participants than the average armed uprising — and because this is the source of major power shifts within the opponent regime. Mass participation that draws on diverse segments of society tends to empower and co-opt reformers while cutting off hard-liners from sources of support. When such participation is nonviolent, it increases the chances of pulling the regime’s support from the leadership, allowing security forces, economic elites and civilian bureaucrats to shift their loyalties with less fear of bloody retribution.
  • In West Philadephia High School, within two years of implementing a Restorative Discipline program, incidents of assault and disorderly conduct dropped more than 65%.
  • After the Longmont Community Justice Partnership (in Longmont Colorado) implemented its Community Restorative Justice Program, recidivism rates among youth dropped to less than 10% in its first three years.
  • Washington State Life Skills Training programs in schools (Social and Emotional Learning) show that for a $30 per student cost, benefits are around $1290 — a $1260 value.  At the national level, benefits are estimated to be $810 per student.
  • A study on the cost-effectiveness of early intervention to prevent serious crime in California, showed that training for parents whose children exhibited aggressive behavior was estimated to have prevented 157 serious crimes (such as homicide, rape, arson and robbery) for every $1 million spent. In fact, training in parenting skills was estimated to be about three times as cost-effective as the so-called ‘‘three-strikes’’ law in California.

There are many more statistics like this, but the big conclusion that I can come to from these statistics is that preventative efforts work.  Get involved, advocate.  Don’t just stand by.  Go ahead and participate in efforts that promote peace!

And maybe, just maybe, we will see a little change in our world.





Fruits of the Spirit: Joy

2 06 2016

Author’s Note:  This is the third installment in the Fruits of the Spirit Series.  You can find the Introduction here and the first entry on love here.  

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.  –Galatians 5: 22-23

The second topic or characteristic of the fruits of the spirit is joy.  Joy doesn’t always mean being happy.  In fact, joy as represented biblically could be defined as “Joy is a state of mind and an orientation of the heart. It is a settled state of contentment, confidence and hope. It is something or someone that provides a source of happiness.”  So joy is a source of happiness, but it is not happiness itself.  Instead of happiness, a good synonym for joy would be contentment, not happiness.  Happiness wavers, but joy doesn’t.  It’s something deeper.

For that reason, I turned to scripture and noticed several different things.  I first noticed the things that can destroy our contentment,  reasons to be content and how to be content.

Destroyers of Contentment:

  1. Insecure People. It’s so easy to allow people to have the power to destroy our contentment.  Living life with other people is just plain hard sometimes.  People don’t always have the same goals and the same aspirations as I do.  People don’t always agree with me.  People are not always so easily able to swallow their pride and move on with life.  Insecurity is an ill that plagues many people.  Insecure people put their faith and sense of identity in other people.  Unfortunately, other people are not a secure place.  As one songwriter put it once “Our hells and our heavens are a few inches apart.”  The true place of our security has to lie in the secure things.  You don’t tie a boat to a stick in the sand, where the waves reach the stick.  You tie a boat to something that can be anchored down, that cannot move.  Something that is secure.  People are like those sticks along the shoreline.  Some small bit of turbulence or pain comes, and it’s very hard to hold on to the stick.  In fact, the people we often put our security in, have their own stuff to deal with, and they can’t be the anchors for us.  We have to place our trust and our security in what God says about us, and in the love of God.  It is steady.  It doesn’t matter what is going on, but God’s love still stands, his faithfulness is an anchor upon my heart and will not be moved.  But people?  They can be moved all of the time.  In fact, they can get insecure, jealous and selfish too.  They can lash out on us, or themselves, simply because of their insecurity.  You and I cannot afford to be tossed about on the waves.  James 1:2-7 says “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”  The believers of God, they need to be secure in God.  They can’t waste their lives and their time by being unsteady and insecure.  We must be sure.
  2. People who are intentional about creating conflict. Sometimes, we don’t make the wisest choices with who we spend our time with.  Sometimes, we surround ourselves with people who just seem to have a knack for causing all of this stress and drama.  Honestly, I’m not sure why we do so!  I guess it’s to keep us from being bored or something.  Whatever the reason, we keep them around, and we often add fuel to the fire.  I’ve tried to think and contemplate why people enjoy this drama, and I looked in First Timothy 6:5-7 and found this:  “and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.”  As I thought and studied on this word from the Bible, I realized that perhaps the financial gain concept doesn’t just apply to money alone.  I think it applies also to the concept of whatever we think will happen as a result of becoming closer to God.  See, in this time period, those who had money were said to be closer to God than the poor. Of course, Jesus came along and kinda destroyed that thought, as seeing that he was homeless and all.  But anyways, the people who think that whatever they’re doing gets them closer to God, are the ones that cause “righteous friction” that is constant and never-ending.  For example, there are people that I do not agree with.  When I was actively trying to keep these people in my life, it was difficult to maintain the peace and contentment between us, because it’s hard to remember that we don’t do anything to reserve our space in heaven, and we can’t argue our way to the pearly gates.  Because in the end, we are all in the same state, barren as we came, and barren we will leave.  Don’t let yourself get wrapped into the illusion that you can gain entrance just by being right or “righting” someone who I think is wrong.  Usually, when I think I’m wrong, I push the issue until my point is made.  That is where I am in the wrong.  I’m to pursue peace and pursue contentment with things as they are.  If I do not, then it robs me of my contentment.

Reasons to be Content:

  1. The body of Christ depends on it. There are numerous joys that can occur when we are united with a body of believers.  There are so many benefits from  being in accord with believers.  I cannot stress enough, the value of belonging and associating with believers.  However, one of the temptations of being united with believers is that we often find that it is very easy to be discontent with one another.  The reason for this is that it is easy for us to not remember that we are all human, and we can’t always all exceed expectations.  Try as we might, our best will never be good enough.  Even though we are imperfect, we are still to look past the imperfections and focus on the joys.  It is easy to find discontentment.  In fact, Philippians 2:1-2 says:  “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.”  To me, that is instructing believers that if we want to enjoy the benefits of the body of Christ, then we must also be in one accord, without divisions that are so easily to pop up when there is discontentment.
  2. Because God has delivered us and he delivers us. Psalms are full of this theme.  God delivers us.  It’s not just from war, or conflicts, although those are important.  Actually, we probably experience a lot of deliverance from this, more than we realize.  But what we often do not realize, is that we can be delivered from harmful situations.  And we can find deliverance from bad things.  We can find protection.  David echoes this understanding in Psalm 43, when he says:

 Vindicate me, my God,
and plead my cause
against an unfaithful nation.
Rescue me from those who are
deceitful and wicked.
You are God my stronghold.
Why have you rejected me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?
Send me your light and your faithful care,
let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
to the place where you dwell.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the lyre,
O God, my God.

David’s understanding of this and his reflection of his understanding is that we have a place to go, a refuge to enter into, someone who is actively on our side and is working things out for us, to help us, and to deliver us from this life and into the next.  Despite how bad things get, despite how hard they may get, we have salvation, and we have ultimately, the assurance of eternity with God.  And that, it should help us to last beyond the present state of being.  More often than not, we forget that we will be delivered, and we focus on the bad parts of life, on the apparent futility of it all, such as David did in verse 2 and 3.  But after that moment of self-pity, he ends with the image of being lifted high on the holy mountain, at the alter of God, where his home is made, where he will find peace.  It’s hard to remember that.  It’s hard for us to remember to focus on the fact that in the end, when it’s all over and done, the struggle we experience now is just a momentary bruise.  That’s it.  It’s not a broken bone, it’s a bruise.  Here today, and gone tomorrow, because that’s the way that this world operates.  If we could just focus on that, if we could only focus on the fact that this is all just temporary, our problems would seem not so large anymore.

Conclusions:  How to Be Content

Joy is marked by contentment, in which the soul is at peace with the world and with the people that you live with.  Joy is something that is hard to obtain, and I, myself, have to continuously fight with myself to keep the joy there.  It’s not about happiness, because happiness is an emotion, which is as unstable as a hill on a fault line.  Instead, joy is a state of being, a decision that I’ve made.  We have to decide to be joyful and content in God.  No one else will make this decision for us.  We have to make it for ourselves.  And it’s not so easy sometimes.  But it is totally worth it.

So now that we see all of the benefits of contentment…how do we become content?

It’s both quite simple and very complicated.

We gotta grow.  We gotta be intentional about growing closer and closer to the one that made us, and the one that sustains us.  The more and more that we grow, the more and more that we’ll let go of the things and people that don’t help us be content, and the more we will chase after and find the things and people that will help us to be joyful.  I cannot express enough, how we must continually pursue the things that help us to be joyful, regardless of our circumstances.

Not a new conclusion, not a new message, and not a new object for us to do.





Trials and Drawing Closer

22 03 2014

If I were to be honest, my life has ebbed and flowed seamlessly through periods and between periods of time where I am struggling and barely scraping by, and almost drowning in the harsh realities of life.  Namely, there are periods of struggle and periods of victory.  I feel like the last year, I’ve been struggling in many different ways.  At first, I did not claim the anchor and rock that has always pulled me through these times of struggle….and then when that new anchor gave away, I then turned back to the rock that I’ve turned to time and time again, and I have re-found a sense of love and security and safety there again, where I couldn’t find in that new anchor.  In the time of struggle, I go back to that rock and anchor more fervently and faithful than I am in times of victory.

That anchor is the love of God.  That rock is the faithfulness of God.  The steadfast of my life is in the love of God. 

I’ve tried to be cool in the past.  I’ve tried to claim casual faithfulness of God, tried to rid myself of the “christian” banner.  In all senses and purposes, I do not claim to be a christian, because when you label something, it becomes associated with something that most of the time, doesn’t even fit the description.  You think “christian” today, and I think Chris Tomlin, churches that are against anything progressive, and you find alot of bitter people against the world.  I’ve tried to distance myself from that label, and in many ways I am both that label and not that label.  But you know what, it doesn’t matter.  Regardless of what I call it or claim it, or how you call it and claim it, what I am is my own personal relationship with God.

Which is weird.  When the contemporary church welcomes people into the fold, they call it a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ.”  Which honestly, is quite weird because we don’t try to teach them and disciple them into a relationship with God.  We just assume they find their way by joining a church and getting busy in that church.  Don’t get me wrong, I direct the kids’ Christmas program each year and love it, but that busy-ness does not a relationship with God make. 

I think this focus on the personal, individual relationship with God is what makes me different.  I’m not afraid to stick out of the “christian norm” and quite frankly, I find Chris Tomlin’s music to sound all the same, just different words.  Quite frankly, I think our progressing society is a sign of how all things are being made new, and different.  And quite frankly, I have no time for grudges or bitterness, and my relationship with God liberates me from all of that crap that makes your life 10x more difficult. 

But, back to the main point, I find myself coming back to the anchor that has proven me to be stable time and time again.  In the midst of a raging personal storm, I have found quietness and stillness, peace and stability, and I have found myself again.  It’s quite nice and comforting to know that I always have a place I can go, to find that love, support and acceptance, regardless of what the world thinks of me and my situations.  I’ve tried to be so cool and claim that I’m not a believer, but the reality is that I am.  I am so very much a believer, because I have myself and identity wrapped up into something else other than myself and the people I share my life with.  Many of my motives and intentions are not of my own doing, but I find myself doing things and saying things out of a deeply rooted love.  I wish that all people knew what I have found, because it is so valuable.  If you know me at all, I’m sure you know how much it means to me to be able to take a time out from the world and spend time in deep communication and friendship with God. 

So again, the faithfulness of God is a sturdy place to lean upon.  It is a sturdy place to come back to, to find peace and hope and joy.  I know it’s all going to be okay because I have been shown that in the past as well.  Thank goodness. 





When In Anger

27 10 2013

When in anger, do not shout.  Do not demand, do not ridicule.  When in anger do not beat down, because in the end you do more damage than good.  When in anger do not hurt, do not seek to hurt, even though hurting is the easiest way out.  When in anger do not bargain, do not dismay, anger is not what it’s all about.

When in anger do not fight, take a moment, step back and re-evaluate.  Do not toss low blows and do not inflict needless pain, you will have to do much more healing and mending than if you’d dealt anger alone.  When in anger do not destroy, the bonds, the covenants of love that you once wrote and wove.  When in anger do not cast away, the love inside you and the love at bay.  You will one day need that love too, so don’t end it, and it’ll see you through. 

When in anger do not stomp, do not slam doors, and do no harm.  When in anger do not cook, you will surely burn that food, and it will have been a waste. 

When in anger, do not dismay, do not entertain hate. 

Anger is a temporary emotion, that you could allow to get out of hand and trump devotion.  Do not allow it to do this for you, for you will regret and you will rue.

But when in anger, whisper.  Whisper words of love and kindness.  When in anger, choose to love anyways.  Wrap your arms tight around love and remember love.  When in anger, stay.  Do not test the bounds of love, and do not walk away.  For you could be walking away from someone whom you’re not supposed to live without.  When in anger, listen.  You may be angry for the wrong reason.  When in anger, do not use unkind words, because you may have to eat the reprecussions of them.  But, in anger, say kind things, loving things, speak of butterflies and daffodils.  And if you cannot, do not speak at all.

When in anger do not fingerpoint, it gets you nowhere.  Strive not to hurt those who love, and be careful with your speech.  When in anger, seek wisdom.  Do not seek revenge.  When in anger, look for cuddles, swings and songs. 

For when you are angry, you may tend to do something you regret.  Seek wisdom my friend.  Love instead.