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Medicine for the Discontent

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” ~Philippians 4:11-13

Discontentment is a seed of destruction that is easily stirred in the heart, even of those who have experienced overwhelming mercy and deliverance. Take, for instance, the people of Israel who were brought out of slavery from Egypt. The Lord provided for all of their needs, but grumbling and complaining were never far from their lips. The manna wasn’t good enough and water bursting forth from the rock was not sufficient to keep their gaze on the God who had been merciful to them. They focused so intensely on what they did not have that they seem to have forgotten the work done among them. Not only did they long for what they did not have, they also began to view their former slavery through rose colored glasses. “And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, ‘Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger (Ex 16:2-3).”

What’s at the root of Discontentment?

1. Ungratefulness and Entitlement 

The first and primary root of discontentment is our attitude towards God. It is rooted both in our ungratefulness for what God has graciously done, and in an attitude of entitlement regarding what we think God should be doing. In actuality, it is an anti-Christian, anti-grace state of mind, where we deceive ourselves into believing that we’ve earned what we have, yet deserve more.

2. Selfishness

I have found that when I am discontent, it is not only my attitude towards God that is perverted, but also my attitude towards others in need. Discontentment reveals our self-exalting, self-gratifying tendencies. Think about it, when you are worried or anxious about what you do not have, are you the least bit concerned with the needs of your neighbor? It appears to be impossible to display Christian love to others while also exalting the self. Paul says, “do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourself. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus… (Phil 2:4-5)” Discontentment is opposed to humility and counting others more significant than yourself.

Medicine for the Discontent

So, how are we to make war against our discontentment? The medicine for the discontent is rejoicing. I do not mean to simply cheer up, but a process of renewing the mind. Again, Paul helps us here in Philippians when he writes, “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you (4:8-9).” We rejoice and are made content by God’s grace when we think upon Christ, his person, work, and his transforming us in Spirit.

In other words, discontentment is not going to simply go away. I am not an advocate of sitting by and hoping you stop struggling with certain sins. I am a firm believer that putting to death the deeds of the flesh requires intense effort that is Spirit-filled and grace driven. I am encouraged by the words of Paul that are mentioned at the beginning of this post where he writes, “for I have learned in whatever situation to be content.” Contentment is not natural and must be learned. Yet, we are given greater hope still. We are not left to our own devices, for they only stir up more discontentment. We can do all things through him who strengthens usPaul finds his contentment in the strength that Christ gives, not in his own ability and singing “hakuna matata.”

Therefore, Christian, when thoughts of discontentment arise in your heart and mind, turn your gaze to your Redeemer who bought you with his life and who is now at work in you. This requires effort, but effort that is rooted in Spirit that works in you. Rejoice, because he who began a good work in you will carry it to completion and he will supply all of your needs according to his riches and glory in Christ Jesus.

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Communion with Christ

I’m sure we have  heard that all men naturally have an insatiable desire to search for something to satisfy their soul, which in observing the world,  appears to be true. However, not everyone goes about their search in the same way. One person might fix themselves on one certain end, such as a relationship, or even religion. Another might pursue some end without really knowing what it is they seek. They might start down one path with the aim of satisfying their soul, but then become discontent, only to take up a new object that might bring relief. Such is the argument that John Owen makes in his work Communion with God (a fascinating work wherein Owen argues that true communion with God is one that involves all three persons of the God-head, by thinking upon their distinct roles and turning our affections toward the Father, Son, and Spirit). In one particular section, Owen attempts to address both parties, those who are fixed on an end, and those who seek satisfaction without any idea of where it might be found. He writes of Christ,

Behold here a fit object for your choicest affections,—one in whom you may find rest to your souls,—one in whom there is nothing [that] will grieve and trouble you to eternity. Behold, he stands at the door of your souls, and knocks! Pray study him a little; you love him not, because you know him not. Why doth one of you spend this time in idleness and folly, and wasting of precious time,—perhaps debauchedly? Why doth another associate and assemble himself with them that scoff at religion and the things of God? Merely because you know not our dear Lord Jesus. Oh, when he shall reveal himself to you, and tell you he is Jesus whom you have slighted and refused, how will it break your hearts, and make you mourn like a dove, that you have neglected him! and if you never come to know him, it had been better had you never been. Whilst it is called To-day, then, harden not your hearts.

You that are, perhaps, seeking earnestly after a righteousness, and are religious persons, consider a little with yourselves,—hath Christ his due place in your hearts? is he your all? does he dwell in your thoughts? do you know him in his excellency and desirableness? do you indeed account all things ‘loss and dung’ for his exceeding excellency? or rather, do you prefer almost anything in the world before it?

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Don’t Waste Your Wait Pt. II

Yesterday I started this series, “Don’t Waste Your Wait,” and you can check out part one here if you so choose. An inevitable aspect of life is that there are times when things are out of our control and we simply have to wait on the Lord. As I mentioned yesterday, a little over a month ago I was a student minister and a seminary student. Now I am neither of those things. There is nothing to occupy my time and there is nothing I can do. All I can do is be…and wait. Though it sounds like an indefinite vacation, it’s not fun, or relaxing. It’s stressful, awkward, and unwanted.

Last Sunday a friend of mine reminded me of the story of David, and how he went from a shepherd boy to a king. In chapter 8 of 1 Samuel, the people of Israel, lead by the wayward sons of the prophet, grew tired of theocracy and opted for a monarchy like that of their surrounding nations. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t go well. Rather than scolding them, the Lord tries on a different style of discipline—He grants their wish. So, despite Samuel’s warning, the people proceed in their demands, and they get King Saul. For a while, life in Israel was good with their new king, but everything quickly headed south when Saul blatantly disobeyed the Lord by refusing to execute justice on the Amalekites.

Now, in chapter 16 David is anointed King of Israel, which of course means that he was the Lord’s man for the job. The standing and authority had been stripped from Saul and given to David, yet Saul remained on the throne and David didn’t truly become King until much later when Saul committed suicide during battle (1 Sam 31). What was David doing in the meantime? Well, he wasn’t wasting away. He was busy writing Psalms, growing in godliness, and trying not to die at the hands of the pseudo-King Saul. Though he was anointed and had the right to be on the throne, he waited for God to put him there. He recognized that though he was king, the Lord was doing a work in him to prepare for what was ahead.

Let us wait like David. Our eagerness for what is ahead should not blind us to what God is trying to do in us today. That doesn’t mean we pretend waiting is easy—just read Psalm 13 to get a glimpse into David’s experience. It means that we shift our gaze from where we want to be to where we are, and seek Christ in our waiting. Waiting doesn’t have to be a waste. It can be an intense and intimate time of prayer, reflection, and preparation. Let us wait well.

Hiatus

In the fall of 2011 I decided that I needed a break from the blogosphere. I had become fairly consistent in my post and even starting building a little bit of consistent readership. But something clicked in me and I simply didn’t want to do it anymore. Writing is something that I love and thoroughly enjoy doing, but trying to maintain a steady stream of topics got to be more than I could handle. It became less about me trying to work through different issues and became more about how many readers I had per post. Now, obviously you want people to read your stuff, but I lost sight of what makes me love writing.

Here are some things I learned during my hiatus:

  1. I don’t have to say something about everything. This is impossible for one thing, and another, it’s a little silly to think anyone cares—which leads to my second point.
  2. My motives for blogging can easily shift from the desire to hammer out what I believe to narcissism. The human heart is prone to self-righteousness and self-exaltation. It doesn’t need any help. If you couple that predisposition with the ability to openly and freely express opinions on any topic, at any time, and any place, you might find what I found—the internet becomes your throne and you are sovereign. The “Enter” key becomes your gavel and you are the judge. The comment box becomes an altar, where you are puffed up when praised and feel attacked when criticized.

Blogging can be beneficial, but it can also be an extreme waste of time. Last year it crossed the line. I’m giving it another go, knowing that sometimes my heart doesn’t handle praise or criticism well. I’m hoping that it serves as a place to sharpen my writing skills, specifically when it comes to being clear—presenting a thought thoroughly and concisely in a way that others can understand. And, if it serves as a helpful resource somewhere in the future that is beneficial for the body of Christ, then that would be great too.

Tomorrow I will begin a 2-3 part series entitled, “Don’t Waste Your Wait.” Somewhere in those 3 posts I will talk about the story of David, and though he was anointed King, he waited patiently until the Lord’s appointed time and he didn’t try to manipulate his situation.

Until then…

Christian Cliches

“God loves the sinner, but hates the sin.”

I have often thought about this saying and I think the intention behind it is pure. I think we say and hear this so often because we want to be a community who emphasizes the overwhelming goodness, faithfulness, and grace of God. However, like many cliches, I do not know if they are helpful when all is said and done because I think the tendency can be some sort of attempt to remove sin from us and place it outside of ourselves so that when we sin, we claim it as uncharacteristic of us. However, sin is not just something that we simply partake in, it is naturally who we are at the core. Paul clearly states this in the first several chapters of Romans. He states that men have failed to honor God (1:21), they have suppressed the truth of who He is, and they have exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images (1:23). For this, Paul says the wrath of God is on them (2:6-9).

In addition, if sin truly is something that is outside of us and rather than something we are, then why does Isaiah respond this way when he is confronted with the holiness of God: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people with unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts! (Is. 6:5)” Isaiah never claims that his sin is simply something he does, but instead recognizes that he is ruined.

Then there are passages such as these that we must wrestle with:

“For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evil doers.” Psalm 5:4, 5

“The Lord tests the righteous but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.” Psalm 11:5

“But you, O God, will cast them down into the pit of destruction; men of blood and treachery shall not live out half their days. But I will trust in you.” Psalm 55:23

Now the tendency might be for us to say, “Come on now, this is talking about really wicked people. The type of people who murder, rape, and commit horrible atrocious acts. However, apart from Christ, everyone is in league with the worst type of sinner. Apart from the redemptive work of Christ, I am a child and slave of Satan and God’s wrath rests on me just as it does on any other wicked person.

My point in bringing this up is not so I can correct people when they use the phrase, “God loves the sinner, but hates the sin.” I have no interest in being a theological nit pick. However, if we so quickly dismiss God’s hate toward us as evil doers, then we miss out on a truly beautiful aspect of the Gospel. John Calvin, citing St. Augustine, describes this in The Institutes of the Christian Religion:

“God’s love,” says [Augustine], “is incomprehensible and unchangeable. For it was not after we were reconciled to him through the blood of his Son that he began to love us. Rather, he has loved us before the world was created, that we also might be his sons along with his only-begotten Son—before we became anything at all. The fact that we were reconciled through Christ’s death must not be understood as if his Son reconciled us to him that he might now begin to love those whom he hated. Rather, we have already been reconciled to him who loves us, with whom we were enemies on account of sin. The apostle will testify whether I am speaking truth: ‘God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us’ [Rom 5:8]. Therefore, he loved us even when we practiced enmity toward him and committed wickedness. Thus in a marvelous and divine way he loved us even when he hated us. For he hated us for what we were that he had not made; yet because our wickedness and not entirely consumed his handiwork, he knew how, at the same time, to hate in each one of us what we had made, and to love what he had made (Book 2, Ch. 16, Sec. 4).”

Does God hate sin? Yes. Does God hate sinners? Yes. Does God love sinners? Yes! Do not so quickly dismiss the hatred of God toward the sinner because in his hatred we see the depth of His love. Only at the cross could God’s hatred for us and love for us meet.”He made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21).”

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Cheers to Friendship

 “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”

~C.S. Lewis

When I was five years old my family and I moved from the bombing metropolis of Shreveport, Louisiana to a small town called Pittsburg, Texas. If you don’t know anything about Pittsburg, then you’re not missing much. We have chicken… Lots and lots of chicken. But, like anyone from an uneventful town I will always say it is the people who lived in Pittsburg when I was growing up that made it great.

(from left: Adam, Kyle, Ryan, Chris, me. Adam wasn’t there for this picture so I had to improvise)

The five of us were pretty much inseparable when we were younger. What was so great is Adam lived right next door to me, and Kyle and Ryan (brothers) lived just down the street from us. Chris might as well have lived at one of our houses because we were always hanging out.

Today is Kyle’s birthday so I want to share one of my favorite stories. One Saturday when we were all high school age, we (Kyle, Adam, another friend, and myself) decided to go play golf at Shadow Lakes in Mt. Pleasant, Texas. The first 9 holes were great. It was my first time to actually play a round of golf so I was really enjoying it. Well we came somewhere around half way and there was a big pond on that hole. When we eventually got on the green near the cup, another friend of ours, Luke, tried to chip in and his ball was headed straight for the water. He was the only one of the four of us that actually played golf. He was running low on balls, so he did what every logical human being would do—he threw his club at it. So at this point he is not only missing a ball, but a club as well. Luke does what he has to, he jumps in after it.

At this point I was standing on the shore, befuddled at the overwhelming genius-ness that I have just seen Luke display. All of a sudden I hear a yell and Kyle comes flying past me with his shirt off as he pulls a gainer into the pond. Soon after, Luke and Kyle discovered they were sitting on a gold mine of golf balls, so they started throwing them up on the green. They probably collected somewhere between 150-200 golf balls! They were stuffed into every zipper of Luke’s bag and in pants pockets.

Genius move number two by Luke was when we were finished playing, he waltzed right into the clubhouse soaking wet. The manager, upon seeing him asked if he could search his bag that was bursting at the seams. Needless to say, I never went back to Shadow Lakes and I don’t think the others did either. So while the story really highlights Luke’s genius, Kyle’s full gainer into the pond is what I remember most.

Not many people can say that they still have a close relationship, or even occasionally talk to those they were friends with when they were five years old. God has richly blessed me with them. I still see Adam from time to time and the other three are currently living in Wyoming, but every time we do see each other we pick up right where we left off.

So today, on Kyle’s 25 birthday I thank God for the mercy he has shown me by giving me good friends. Happy Birthday Bro!

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Another Year

Today more than any other day of the year, I am reminded of the brevity of life. I was born 25 years ago today. That means that even if I live to be 100 years old—I have already lived 1/4 of my life. Some people may view this as morbid or that I am a “glass half empty” type of guy, but I’m really not. Even though I am reminded of my mortality, I rejoice today that my God, the Father, Son and Spirit—the fountain from whom all blessings flow—has seen it good to allow me to continue living. He doesn’t do this because I have done something to merit this love, but just because He is good. As a matter of fact, God should have killed me a long time ago, but He has been merciful to me and I am thankful.

Psalm 90

1  Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
2  Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

3  You return man to dust
and say, “Return, O children of man!”
4  For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.

5  You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning:
6  in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.

7  For we are brought to an end by your anger;
by your wrath we are dismayed.
8  You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.

9  For all our days pass away under your wrath;
we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
10  The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their spant is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
11  Who considers the power of your anger,
and your wrath according to the fear of you?

12  So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
13  Return, O Lord! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
14  Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
15  Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
16  Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
17  Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!

That the Lord would teach me to number my days is the desire of my heart. I echo Moses, “Return, Lord! How Long?” I am thankful for life today. I am thankful for a beautiful, loving wife. I am thankful that I don’t have to worry about where my next meal is coming from. I am thankful that God has made provision for me. Most of all, I am thankful that I have been redeemed by the blood of the Son. I am thankful that the Holy Spirit indwells me and enables me to cry out to the Father. I am thankful for my church family. I am thankful for my godly friends. Simply put, I am thankful for another year.