Sunday, March 27, 2022

Finding Contentment


 

Do you find yourself constantly wishing you had more? You wish you had more or better clothes, more money in the bank, a newer car, or a larger house. When we look around at other people, especially pictures we see posted to social media, it is easy to fall into the trap of wishing we had what other people have.

 

In Christianity we try to walk a delicate balance as it relates to our material possessions. We must learn to avoid the two extremes. On the one hand some say that the best way to demonstrate humility is to give up everything and live in poverty. On the other extreme are those who say that if you are really living the Christian life then God would be showering you with every blessing imaginable. Some people in poverty think that is proof that they love God more, while some in prosperity think that is proof that God loves them more. The truth is there are godly people that are both haves and have nots.

 

The goal of the Christian should be to learn contentment. In Philippians 4:11 Paul said, “I have learned in whatever state I am in how to be content.” According to the dictionary the word contentment means satisfaction or ease of mind. The Greek word that contentment translates comes from a word that means sufficiency. Contentment does not mean that we do not want anything or have dreams about having something else or something more. It just means that we realize that the things we do have are sufficient and we have peace of mind because we are not desperately wanting something else. Contentment means satisfaction.

 

When Paul learned how to be content he was writing those words from jail. Do you think Paul wished to be released from prison? Of course he did! But at the same time he had peace in his mind because he learned to be content with wherever God led him.

 

I believe the first step towards finding contentment is to realize that everything we have comes from God. He is the one who supplies our needs according to His riches in glory (Philippians 4:19), and every good gift comes down from above (James 1:17). This takes the pressure off of us. If God wanted us to have more, we would have more. If He wanted us to have less, we would have less. You have what God wants you to have.

 

The next step towards finding contentment is to realize that our stuff is not the most important thing in life. Jesus said in Luke 12:15, “Be on guard against covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in abundance of possessions.” Some people are known by their stuff. They are known as the guy with the nice boat or the lady with the fancy clothes. But that stuff is all subject to rust and dust. I would rather be known for who I am.

 

If our driving goal is to have more, even if we achieve it we will not be happy. Ecclesiastes 5:10 tells us “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.” Author Dennis Prager put it like this: “If you equate happiness with success, you will never achieve the amount of success necessary to make you happy… Identifying success with happiness is like moving the goalposts back 10 yards every time a football team has a first down—your team may be more and more successful, but the goal posts will always remain unreachable.”

 

If you think having more stuff will finally bring you happiness, you will be severely disappointed by that stuff. If a football team advances from the 40 yard line to the 50, but then the goalpost is moved back 10 yards, the team may have found success but the end zone is still 60 yards away. When we learn the art of contentment we do not need the trappings of life to make us happy. When our happiness comes from God—when the joy of the Lord is our strength—then we will have a happiness that the world cannot take away.

 

Sunday, March 20, 2022

Dealing with Anger

 


 

Anger can spread like wildfire. Hurt the wrong person’s feelings and wars can break out. This was perfectly illustrated in 1894 when the Boston Red Sox hosted the Baltimore Orioles. During the course of the baseball game one player lost his temper and started a fight with someone from the other team. Within seconds both dugouts cleared as the athletes and staffs engaged in a brawl out on the field. The violence carried over into the stands when one fan punched another, and soon the entire ballpark was one big riot. During the mayhem someone set fire to the bleachers, which were wooden in those days, and the entire venue was burned. The fire was not quickly contained, and when the smoke cleared, 107 buildings in Boston were impacted by the blaze.  

 

Anger can poison our minds and cause us to believe that we need to react in kind. This way of thinking can lead us to misery as we make wrong decisions in the heat of the moment. That is why Laydon Milton, in his book The Hostility Trap, referred to anger as “the chief saboteur of the mind.” Anger sabotages our minds, telling us we need to get even or lash out or hold a grudge. When we believe anger’s lies we end up making decisions that we can regret for a lifetime.   

 

Rather than letting anger sabotage our minds into an improper response, we should follow the teachings of Paul in Ephesians 4:26-27: “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” When we do not deal with our anger in a timely manner we give the devil an opportunity to cause the anger to turn into bitterness and hatred, which puts us in dangerous territory. We need to deal with anger right away.

 

Not letting the sun go down on our anger should not be taken so strictly; if you are angry at 7:00 in the morning, that does not mean you have twelve hours before you have to deal with it. The point is to deal with anger immediately. We deal with it by honestly telling the person how we feel, and most importantly, by forgiving the person who wronged us, whether they asked for it or not. Five verses later in Ephesians Paul wrote, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” We cannot control what other people do, but forgiveness is our responsibility.

And yet some Christians think they can choose not to forgive, but the Bible never gives us that as an option. I hear people say, “I can never forgive that person. I’m going to take this to my grave.” You’re going to take it to an early grave, because your refusal to forgive is only hurting yourself. Persistent anger can lead to headaches and ulcers, even high blood pressure and heart attacks. It also robs us of the joy that Jesus came to give us. Bitterness and joy will not coexist in our hearts. 

 

It has been rightly said that not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and then waiting for the rat to die. We act as if our refusal to forgive somehow teaches the other person a lesson, but in truth they are going right on with their lives while we are the ones who are miserable. Who really has the upper hand? When we choose to forgive we move from victim to victor and we allow the peace and joy from God to rule in our lives.    

 

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Lincoln’s Revenge

 

Before he became the sixteenth President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer in Illinois. On one occasion a man came to see Lincoln about hiring him for a lawsuit. This gentleman felt as if he had been wronged by another man, and he was determined to take him to court and seek $2.50 in damages. 

 

Lincoln felt that this man was being petty and even tried to talk him out of the suit. But the man could not be dissuaded. He wanted more than a few bucks; he wanted revenge. After thinking about it, Lincoln decided to take the case, but he raised his usual rate. For his services Lincoln was going to charge ten dollars. The client agreed and paid the money. 

 

The future President took $2.50 from his fee, gave it to the defendant, and told him to plead guilty. The plaintiff literally paid himself the money he was owed, and to Lincoln’s amazement, he was proud of himself at the trial’s conclusion. It was never about justice or getting what was rightfully his; he wanted a pound of flesh. He wanted revenge. 

 

Getting revenge is silly, but the idea drives people to do silly things themselves. In the pursuit of revenge men will ruin relationships, alienate ancestry, and even wage war. Revenge was never ours to go after. God claimed this job for Himself. Deuteronomy 32:35 says, “Vengeance is mine, and recompense.” The author of Hebrews quoted that verse and added to it, writing, “For we know him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:30-31).”

 

When we seek revenge we make ourselves judge, jury, and executioner, and Scripturally we are not called to be any of those things. Our judicial system is not without flaws; we unfortunately will convict and occasionally execute innocent people. When we exact revenge on other people we open ourselves up to the possibility of sending innocent people to the gallows of our wrath. When we leave revenge where it belongs—in the sovereign hands of the Lord—we do not have to worry than mistakes might be made. And the person receiving a sentence from Judge Jesus needs no avenue of appeal for the same reason.

 

We are not called to revenge; we are called to forgive. We should not get even, but wipe the slate clean. After all, “love keeps no record of wrongs (I Corinthians 13:5),” so let’s “forgive those who trespass against us (Mathew 6:12).” That is the best way to live. I believe that, like Lincoln’s client, getting revenge will cost us in the end.  

 

 

 

Sunday, March 6, 2022

God’s Eternal Love

 


I John 4:8 says, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” The love of God is a frequent theme in the Bible. Perhaps the most famous verse in all of Scripture begins with the words, “For God so loved the world…” We even see God’s love back in the Old Testament. Jeremiah 31:2-3 says, “Thus says the Lord…‘I have loved you with an everlasting love.’”  

 

Not only do these verses teach us the succinct truth that God is love, but they highlight the fact that God’s love is outside of time. In fact, God’s love is eternal. Love is part of God’s nature; it is not just something that He chooses to do, it is who God is. God is love. 

 

Philosophers have used this great doctrine as an attack against God. The critique goes like this: God claims to be a God of love, but before He created mankind, there was no one for Him to love. Thus, God’s love relies on humanity. God cannot be loving unless we exist, so God becomes dependent upon His creation.  

 

That argument can be applied to the god of Islam as well. Muslims refer to Allah as “The Loving,” but how can he be loving before he allegedly created people? 

 

This is a real problem for Allah, but not for Yahweh (the God of the Bible). The solution for the Christian is found in the Trinity. We believe in the three-in-one, that God exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit simultaneously. This tri-unity is unique to Christianity. Islam fiercely rejects this doctrine. 

 

Passages like Matthew 3:16-17 illustrate that the members of the godhead enjoy each other. There we read: “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” Isaiah 42:1 says the Father “delights” in His Servant, a reference to Jesus. 

 

So long before there was Adam and Eve, God was love. The warm relationship that existed among Father, Son, and Spirit is now extended to mankind, but God’s love did not originate in the Garden of Eden.

 

If God’s love existed from eternity, then it stands to reason that it will continue for eternity. Our God of love is “the same yesterday, and today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8),” so we need not worry that His loving nature will change. I Corinthians 13:8 tells us, “love never ends.”  

 

True children of God will live in His kingdom forever and ever and ever, and the God who makes that possible will be the God of love for just as long.