A Picture of Contentment

What is the picture of contentment? It’s a phrase that we use to describe someone who is at peace in their current circumstances. Perhaps it’s someone lying in a hammock in their yard, or a child asleep in its mother’s arms, or someone enjoying the company of friends.

The Scripture gives us a description in Psalm 131:

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore.

What can we learn from the Psalmist?

“My heart is not lifted up…”

Contentment starts with a humble heart; the heart is not proud or conceited. The humble heart does not think more highly of itself than it ought to (Romans. 12.3).

It seeks the things that are above with Christ (Col. 3.1-2), and not the things of earth – the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and the pride of life (1 John 2.16). While others strive to get to the proverbial next level of achievement or success, the content heart seeks its fulfillment in Christ.  It doesn’t seek to build towers (Gen. 11.1-9).  Remember what happened with the tower of Babel?  The men working on that project wanted to make a name for themselves to avoid being scattered all over the world; God intervened by confusing their language and scattering them all over the world.  If your push toward greater achievement seems to be thwarted at every turn, you might want to pause and ask why.

I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t work hard and put our best efforts into the things we do. After all, all hard work brings a profit (Prov. 14.23); if we are found to be faithful with little, we will be entrusted with more (Matt. 25.14-30).  But why do we do what we do? Is it to make a name for ourselves, or is it to make God known to those around us?  The difference matters.

“I do not occupy myself with things too great…”

If we run after audacious and impossible goals, we might get praised for our ambition and determination, but we will wander from the things that God has put in front of us.  Pursuing goals that are too great can only bring anxiety and restlessness to our souls and a shift us away from our priorities. We start to distance ourselves from people and circumstances that we perceive to be standing in our way, isolating ourselves and rejecting sound advice (Prov. 18.1). Paul warns of this when it comes to the pursuit of wealth. The desire for wealth causes us to fall into temptation and harmful desires that lead to ruin, and can cause us to wander from the faith (1 Tim. 6.9-10).

The content heart knows that “we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2.10).  The content heart knows that God will complete the work that he started in us, and that he is at work in us, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil. 1.6; 2.13).

“…like a weaned child with its mother”

A nursing child is driven by instinct, needing to be attached to its mother’s breast for food. Like a nursing child, some people are driven by the need for more:  more money, more recognition, more authority, more relationships, more approval, more success, and more achievement; whatever it is they seek, they never seem to have enough of it.

A weaned child is content to be near its mother; it doesn’t need to satisfy its impulse for more milk.  We need to be satisfied with Christ, resting in the knowledge that he will never leave or forsake us, that he will supply all of our needs, that his peace will guard our hearts and minds, that we he has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, and that we have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and will be kept until the day of redemption.

Resting in this truth will calm and quiet our souls as we rest beside still waters (Psalm 23.2)

“O Israel, hope in the Lord…”

The content heart encourages others; it reminds others that God is trustworthy and that we can put and keep our hope in him forevermore.

Are you content?

The Beasts are coming to Devour

All you beasts of the field, come to devour—
all you beasts in the forest.
His watchmen are blind;
they are all without knowledge;
they are all silent dogs;
they cannot bark,
dreaming, lying down,
loving to slumber.
The dogs have a mighty appetite;
they never have enough.
But they are shepherds who have no understanding;
they have all turned to their own way,
each to his own gain, one and all.
“Come,” they say, “let me get wine;
let us fill ourselves with strong drink;
and tomorrow will be like this day,
great beyond measure.”

For some reason, this passage has really pushed a hot button with me today, and I find myself getting angry.  Why?

In this text from Isaiah 56.9-12, Israel’s leaders are being called out for their irresponsibility. How were they being irresponsible? What were they supposed to be doing?

Their leaders were supposed to teach the people; they were supposed to teach the people God’s law (Deuteronomy 17.14-20).  From the king on down, they were supposed to teach the people to fear the Lord their God by keeping all the words of the law and not turning aside from the commandments.

We know from reading through Israel’s history and the writings of the prophets that idolatry, immorality and injustice quickly made their way into the nation, and God had to punish his people.  God specifically takes the nation’s leaders to task.

“His watchmen are blind; they are all without knowledge
…they are shepherds who have no understanding”

The leaders, referred to as watchmen, were blind and without knowledge. They didn’t know the law; they didn’t know God’s ways; they became blind to the dangers facing the nation.  These leaders, who were supposed to meditate on the law day and night and speak about it always (Joshua 1.8), had become “silent dogs;” they let everyone go their own way without teaching what was right. What is even worse is that they turned to their own way, “each to his own gain,” using their status to satisfy their own appetites and teaching their people that “tomorrow will be like this day, great beyond measure.”

So why am I angry?

If we fast-forward to the present time, I see the same thing happening.  I see leaders who are not preaching the Gospel; leaders who are not teaching their people God’s ways, leaving them ignorant toward the things of God.

I see leaders who have achieved celebrity status and are living their best life now, with mansions, private jets and luxury cars – all paid for by their congregations.

I see leaders teaching their people to pursue wealth, prosperity and earthly things that will only pass away, instead of teaching their people to pursue righteousness and the things that please God.

I see leaders who have turned a blind eye toward – and even celebrate the things on which the wrath of God will eventually come.

The beasts are coming to devour and the watchmen are blind; the watchmen are silent and ignorant.

If you are a church leader, I am begging you, hold firm to Paul’s pastoral exhortation:

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” – 2 Timothy 2.15

If you are a church leader, I am begging you, hold to the trustworthy word as taught; give instruction in sound doctrine and rebuke those who contradict it (Titus 1.9).

The beasts are coming to devour.

Sinking in doubt…

Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go before him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat by this time was a long way from the land, beaten by the waves, for the wind was against them. And in the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” and they cried out in fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid.”

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God. – Matthew 14:22-33

Immediately after the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus sent his disciples off in a boat. As they were in the boat, being battered by the waves (at night, no less), Jesus came to them walking on the water. Thinking it was a ghost, the disciples cried out in fear.  Jesus responded, “Take heart, it is I. Do not be afraid.”

You would think that direct reassurance from the Lord Himself would have been enough, but it wasn’t enough for Peter. He countered with “if it is you.” Peter didn’t take Jesus at his word; Peter wanted proof.  (These days, we might call it seeking confirmation).  So Peter asked for the impossible. “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus obliged. See how far the Lord is willing to go to reassure his elect!

Remember Thomas?  When the other disciples reported seeing their resurrected Lord, Thomas responded with, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” And Jesus delivered; but he delivered with a rebuke: “Do not disbelieve, but believe.” (See John 20:19-29).

Remember Gideon? After being visited by the angel of the Lord and receiving specific instructions to save Israel from the hand of Midian, Gideon asked for sign – not once, but twice.  And the Lord obliged. (See Judges 6:11-40)

Even after being called out on the water, Peter’s bravado was not enough to cover his doubt, for he saw the wind, became afraid, and began to sink. But the Lord in is faithfulness reached out and pulled Peter up out of the water with the gentle rebuke: “O you of little faith; why did you doubt?”

What can we learn from this encounter?

  1. God’s word is sufficient.
    When Jesus said, “It is I,” it should have been enough for Peter. He needed only to take Jesus at his word. We need to take God at his word as we have it in the Scriptures.On a side note, you might be tempted to say that Peter was “exercising ‘discernment,” but that is not the case. The Jesus that Peter knew and had just seen feed over 5,000 people through the miraculous multiplication of five fish and two loaves, was standing in front of him saying, “It is I.” While Satan is able to disguise himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11.14), he cannot appear as the Lord himself.
  2. God is faithful in the midst of doubt.
    When Peter asked for confirmation, Jesus obliged. But Jesus wasn’t rewarding Peter for his boldness; he did it to expose his doubt, by letting him literally get in over his head.Our doubt can be hidden in the middle of our declarations, as Peter’s was. We hear ourselves saying, “Lord…command me,” seemingly ready to do the impossible for God, when Jesus deals with the part that says, “If it is you…”

    “If it is you”
    can quickly turn to “Lord, save me.” And he does.

The Lord is faithful to expose our areas of doubt, not so that he can shame us, but so that he can show his power in those areas where we are lacking. This is why Paul was able to boast in his weakness (2 Cor. 12:10).

Even when doubt escalates to denial, as it did in Peter’s case (see Matt. 26:33; 69-75), the Lord is faithful to expose it; in this case, Jesus told Peter before it happened. But our Lord is faithful to continue to build us up, by continuing to reveal himself to us, providing us with opportunities to affirm our love for Him.  (See John 21.15-18)

Our Lord is faithful; he will not leave us to drown in our doubt. He will call us out to a place where he can expose our doubt and then lift us up through his power and salvation. We have the promise that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Phil. 1:6)

And like the disciples in the boat, we humbly declare, “Truly you are the Son of God.”


Read previous post: Lingering in the Face of Judgment

Are you lingering in the face of judgment?

“As morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, ‘Up! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, lest you be swept away in the punishment of the city.’ But he lingered.” – Genesis 19.15-16

In this text, Lot, who was the nephew of Abraham, was visited by two angels in the city of Sodom where he lived. The angels were there to destroy the city, because “the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord” and “the outcry against its people [had] become great before the Lord.” (Gen. 13.1; 19:13)

Lot was urged by the angels to leave with his wife and daughters so they would not be destroyed with the city. This wasn’t a recommendation, or a warning about some far-off future event; this was a life and death warning that required immediate action.

But Lot lingered; he hesitated. The implication is that there was a reluctance to leave. Why? The text doesn’t say.  Lot knew the condition of the city; he knew that its inhabitants were wicked.  These wicked men showed up at Lot’s door, demanding that he turn his visitors over to them for sex, and when Lot refused, they threatened to do worse to him.

Even while living in the midst of unspeakable wickedness, and even with an angelic warning of imminent judgment, Lot hesitated.

Lot remained hesitant even after the two angels dragged him and his family out of the city. When they instructed him to keep going into the hills, Lot countered with a request to go instead to a nearby city – also marked for destruction – because it was more convenient than going all the way to the hills.

Here’s the question; are you lingering in the face of judgment? Have you heard the gospel message, that all have sinned, and that the wages of sin is death? Have you heard that Christ paid the penalty for sin through His death on the cross, and that repentance and faith in Christ is the only way to escape God’s judgment for sin? Have you heard these things and yet linger in the face of judgment?

Why do you linger?  Like Lot, you know God exists; evidence of the world’s wickedness is all around you.  Yet you hesitate when it comes to responding to the gospel.

Why do you hesitate? Are you waiting until you are older, when it is more traditionally acceptable to join a church, or are you waiting until you get your life together? Tomorrow is not promised to you.  Here is what you can be sure of:  each and every one of us will go “the way of all the earth” – that is, we will die. Each of us will stand before the Lord to be judged, and it will be too late to then become a follower of Christ.

Why do you hesitate?  Have you become so comfortable in your surroundings that you are now reluctant to leave – despite the wickedness around you?

Why do you hesitate?  Don’t you know that if you remain where you are, you will also be swept away when the time for judgment comes?

Learn the lesson of Lot. When the gospel message comes to you, remember the exhortation of the angels:  “Escape for your life. Do not look back or stop anywhere in the valley. Escape to the hills, lest you be swept away.” (Gen. 19.17)

God is calling you out; God is calling you to follow him to a place of safety.

It’s time to leave.

The time is now.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Be Strong and Courageous!

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”– Joshua 1.9


 

When Joshua was charged by God to take Israel into the Promised Land (Joshua 1.1-9), He was told several times to “be strong and courageous.

With each charge to be strong and courageous, God reminds us of why we need to draw on Him, and not ourselves, for strength and courage:

“Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.”

As Jesus ascended to heaven, His last words to the disciples were “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28.20). We can walk in confidence knowing that God has promised to be with us always.

“You shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them”.

The inheritance of the land was based on God’s promise; therefore we, too can “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” (Heb. 10.23) He has promised to complete the good work that He started in us (Phil. 1.6)

“Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you.  Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go.  This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.”

He has given us the means to guide us to success in our walk with Him – His Word.  It is how we can keep our way pure (Psalm 119.9); and with the resurrection of Christ, He also gives us His Spirit, who guides us into all truth (John 16.13).

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Our strength and courage are not fed from within. Our strength and courage come from trusting God, who is with us even to the end of the age; he is with us to complete the good work that he began in us; he is with us to guide us into all truth; he is with us because he has commanded us.

Let us follow where He leads.

My heart is no prize…

I’m sitting here listening to a worship station on Pandora and a lyric jumps out at me: “You won my heart.” The singer is talking about Jesus winning her heart.

Really? (Insert sound of needle scratching across a vinyl record here). I didn’t know that my heart was a prize to be won. I thought my heart was a diseased, sinful well of evil thoughts (Matt. 15.19) that needed to be replaced. Didn’t God say that He would give us a new heart, and a new spirit, removing the heart of stone and giving us a heart of flesh? (Ezek. 36.26)

Without Christ, the human heart is “deceitful above all things, and desperately sick (Jer. 17.9); its intentions are “evil from … youth” (Gen 8.21). Out of this very heart comes “evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.” (Matt. 15.19)

What kind of a prize is that?

Does Jesus really pursue us like some star-crossed lover, pleading with us to “accept” his love? My Bible tells me that I had to be drawn (lit. dragged) to Jesus; it tells me that I was still dead in my sins when I was made alive together with Christ (Eph. 2.5; Col. 2.13).
My conversion was not a heart-winning moment; it was a life-saving intervention by God that gave me a new heart (2 Cor. 5.17).

If anybody won anything, it was me; God showed me undeserved grace and mercy when I wasn’t even looking for it.

Leaders Beware!

Has God called you to lead? Has God used you as a leader? That’s great; we give glory to God for using His people to accomplish his purposes. But there are three things (I’m sure there are more) that leaders need to watch out for – especially after being used of God. For this illustration, we’re going to look at Gideon. His story can be found in the book of Judges, chapters 6-8.

1. Expecting “perks”

In the secular world, leaders usually get perks that come with their position: first-class treatment, a reserved parking space and an expense account, just to name a few. If we’re honest with ourselves, many of those perks have manifested themselves in the church as well.  Jesus took the Pharisees to task for loving “the best seat in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces” (Luke 11.43).

Gideon, after being used mightily of God to deliver Israel from the hand of Midian, was offered the top spot in the kingdom.

“Rule over us,” the people said.

“I will not rule over you…the Lord will rule over you.” was Gideon’s answer.

He should have stopped there, but he didn’t. He asked for tribute; he asked for a perk.  Tribute is payment that is made to a ruler.  Gideon had just declined the top spot, but he wasn’t beyond enjoying the perks. He was already enjoying the spoils of war, but he wanted more.  He asked for and received everyone’s gold earrings from their spoil. Have we sought things from others that are beyond the blessing of God?

2. Assuming authority that is not yours

Gideon took the gold – all forty pounds of it – and fashioned it into an ephod. There was only one ephod in all of Israel; it was assigned to the high priest. Gideon was not even a Levite; he had no business with anything that would seemingly connect him with the priesthood. But an ephod he made, and it became an idol to Gideon, his family, and all of Israel. Congratulations Gideon; you’ve just led your nation back down the path that God delivered them from.

As leaders, God gives us authority to accomplish the task he sets before us. Are we seeking to exercise authority in areas where we have not been called?

3. Looking to leave a legacy

The man who would not be king, named his son Abimelech, which means “My father is king.” Gideon succeeded in passing his sense of entitlement on to his son, who in turn, acted on that sense of entitlement by killing seventy of his brothers and seizing the leadership position.

Are we working to do the Father’s will and accomplish his work? Or are we working to make sure that our legacy is secure?

Let us remind ourselves of the example of Christ, who came “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20.28).

Let us remember Jesus’ teaching: “The greatest among you shall be your servant.” (Matt. 23.11)

Let us remember, “when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.”  (Luke 17.10)