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- The Story: The Threshing Floor
- A Theological Interpretation of The Greatest Showman: "From Now On"
- The Story: Elijah and Elisha
- A Covenant and a Contract: Twenty Years of Marriage and Ministry
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- Thoughts on Proverbs: Wisdom vs. Folly
- A Confession of Idolatry
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Preach the Gospel, die, and be forgotten.
Many people think that contentment is something you find, but that’s not what the Bible says. In fact, the Bible never says contentment is something that you “find” like it’s some undiscovered land hidden away in your heart.
- Contentment isn’t something we find; it’s something we learn.
Saying that you’re trying to find contentment is like saying you’re trying to find algebra. That’s not the way it works. It’s something we learn.
Listen to what Paul says about contentment in Philippians.
Philippians 4:10-13, I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 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.
Paul says that contentment is something he has learned. He didn’t find it through some kind of zen practice or self-help seminar. He learned contentment the same way you learn anything — over time, through lots of hard work. That’s the secret of contentment: it’s not something we find, but it’s something we learn. It’s an attitude, a perspective that we take adopt. Contentment is a discipline, something to be learned.
Verse 13 is one of the most misunderstood and misapplied verses in the Bible. It’s become kind of a “bumper sticker” verse — “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” Tim Tebow used to put this verse on his eye black before football games. Jon Jones, the current UFC Heavyweight Champion, has “Philippians 4:13” tattooed on the right side of his chest. When you take this verse out of its context, it sounds like Paul is saying, “I can do anything because Jesus gives me strength.” I can run a marathon; I can win this football game; I can be victorious because Jesus gives me strength.
But as we read the context, we see that Paul isn’t talking about any of that. In the verses just before this, Paul is talking about dealing with both riches and poverty, both victory and defeat, success and failure. Paul is saying that he’s learned of God’s unfailing sufficiency in every season of life. He is able to do all of this — i.e., endure times of need as well as abundance, times of plenty as well as times of hunger — because he has Jesus giving him strength. He’s saying, “Because I’ve learned contentment, I can face anything — it’s Jesus who gives me strength, not my circumstances.”
That’s someone who knows about contentment. But this is something we have to learn. It doesn’t come naturally to us.
Ecclesiastes 6:7, All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied. This is why we need to learn contentment — it doesn’t come naturally to us. We have appetites that are not easily satisfied. But even so, contentment is not beyond our reach; it CAN be learned.
In order to learn contentment, we have to practice contentment.
- Contentment isn’t something we find; it’s something we practice.
In order to learn anything, you have to practice. Learning a foreign language, learning how to drive, learning to play an instrument….learning always requires practice. And in order to learn contentment, we have to practice gratitude.
Contentment and gratitude go hand in hand. In fact, I think you could say that contentment is the result of gratitude. When we practice gratitude, we are practicing contentment.
Paul talks about thankfulness more than anyone in the New Testament. He clearly practices gratitude:
- He’s always giving thanks to God. 1 Cor. 15:57, But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
- He teaches the Corinthians that their financial gift to the saints in Jerusalem is overflowing in many thanksgivings to God (2 Cor. 9:12).
- To the Ephesians, Paul says, I do not cease to give thanks for you (Eph. 1:16). To the Thessalonians, he says, Give thanks in all circumstances (1Thess. 5:18). Apparently gratitude was a regular part of Paul’s life and teaching.
It’s no accident, then, that Paul understands the secret of contentment. He experiences contentment because he regularly practices gratitude. Gratitude fuels contentment.
Gratitude can be practiced even in circumstances that are less than ideal. That’s because there is always something to be grateful for, always something to praise God for. In Acts 16, we read about Paul and Silas being imprisoned in Philippi. Verse 25 says, About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God…
Their worship was an act of spiritual warfare, it was an act of holy resistance to the work of the powers who had them incarcerated in an attempt to mute the gospel message. Even in jail, Paul and Silas are finding reason to give thanks.
This year, Sunny started a new tradition in our home. Before Halloween we had this pumpkin on our front porch. On November 1st, she brought the pumpkin in the house and gave us a Sharpie and made us write down something we were grateful for. Every day, we go to the “pumpkin of gratitude” and write down something that we’re thankful for. Here are some of the things we’ve written on our pumpkin:
- Our church family
- Disney Plus
- “Ant traps” is on there twice — a couple of days into this exercise, we found some ants in the house
- My teachers
- Veterans — probably on Veteran’s Day
- Mexican food
- Biscuits — pretty sure Dad wrote that one
- Someone to thank
- The Bible
- A merciful God
Having a “pumpkin of gratitude” has been a great little project for us as a family. It’s our act of holy resistance against the powers who preach dissatisfaction and discontentment. It’s made us more grateful and — in turn — more content. It’s forced us to practice gratitude by looking even to the “little things” in life we often overlook.
The author Mark Batterson points out that the average person takes somewhere in the neighborhood of 23,000 breaths every day. And then he says, “When was the last time you thanked God for one of them?” Batterson goes on to say, “We tend to thank God for the things that take our breath away. And that’s fine. But maybe we should thank him for every other breath too!”
Contentment comes from practicing gratitude.
- Contentment isn’t something we find; it’s something we choose.
Over the next few weeks, we’re going to be told a lot of lies. We’re going to be told repeatedly that our lives are incomplete without the latest smartphone or luxury sedan or gaming console. There’s a whole lot of advertising coming our way to tell us that we’re nothing more than consumers. That advertising plays on our discontent and focuses on what we don’t have.
But all that stuff won’t lead to true contentment. Have you ever longed for something but then when you finally bought it, you felt sort of empty? Hollow? That’s because true contentment is not found in the latest and greatest gadget.
The writer of Ecclesiastes points this out. He says all the stuff we buy just goes to somebody else when we die:
Ecclesiastes 2:18-19, I hated all my toil in which I toil under the sun, seeing that I must leave it to the man who will come after me, and who knows whether he will be wise or a fool? Yet he will be master of all for which I toiled and used my wisdom under the sun. This also is vanity.
But listen to what Paul says to his young apprentice, Timothy:
1 Timothy 6:6, But godliness with contentment is great gain…
Godliness with contentment is great gain. What is godliness? It is simply directing your life toward God. Paul talks about these false teachers who have depraved minds. They don’t hold to the truth and they think their supposed acts of godliness will benefit them financially. But Paul says godliness with contentment is great gain. Being content with what we have received in Christ — Paul says that is the greatest gain. As Paul says to the Ephesians, we preach the unsearchable riches of Christ (Eph. 3:8). When we choose godliness, we are choosing contentment — true contentment which flows from the riches of Christ!
What we have in Jesus is enough for true contentment. Jesus means it when he says, My grace is sufficient for you.
The ultimate statement of godly contentment is found in Philippians 1:21, For me to live is Christ, to die is gain. Paul is so content with what he has in Jesus that he is able to say, basically, “If I have one more day of life, I’ll live it for Jesus. But the day I die, I know that’s the day I gain everything.”
Sounds like someone who has learned the secret of true contentment.
True contentment won’t be found on your plate at Thanksgiving this Thursday. It won’t be found in anything you buy on Black Friday. Contentment that leads to the continual feast is found only in Jesus — the one who presides over the eternal table.
I love Thanksgiving – it is far and away my favorite holiday. The anticipation starts building a couple of days earlier as Sunny begins her food prep. We always have turkey and dressing, ham, cheesey potatoes, corn, sweet potatoes and homemade bread. And that’s not even mentioning all the desserts! And I love Thanksgiving leftovers almost as much as the Thursday meal itself. I’ll be eating on those leftovers for days and days — stretching it out as long as possible.
Thursday is definitely a feast day around our house. I’m always a little sad when it ends. The Bible talks about a continual feast in Proverbs 15.
All the days of the afflicted are evil, but the cheerful of heart has a continual feast.Proverbs 15:15
Most English translations of this verse read this way: “the cheerful heart has a continual feast.” But “cheerful” might not be the best way to translate this word. When we think of “cheerfulness”, I picture someone who is smiling, someone who is happy and positive all the time. But that’s not really what this proverb is about.
The New American Standard Bible has a footnote that says this word literally means “good.” So the idea here is that the good-hearted person experiences a continual feast. The writer of the Proverbs has already defined “good” as desiring the righteousness of God. So the good-hearted person — the person who desires the things of God — experiences a feast that never ends. Jesus says something similar when he says, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (Matt. 5:6).
According to the Hebrew scholars with the Jewish Publication Society, there is yet another way of translating this proverb: “Contentment is a feast without end.” It is describing the heart of one who has found ultimate purpose in his / her life. The Contemporary English Version is the only English translation I could find that comes anywhere close to that meaning: Being content is as good as an endless feast (Prov. 15:15).
Let’s think about this for a minute. There is a contentment that comes when we desire the righteousness of God. I like the way author Erik Raymond defines contentment: as the “gracious, quiet spirit that joyfully rests in God’s providence.” That kind of contentment is compared to a continual, perpetual feast. There is a daily communion that satisfies — a daily feast with God. That’s the payout of contentment. Doesn’t that sound appealing? It’s like Thanksgiving every day, only this is the one feast that truly satisfies.
Godly contentment is the feast without end.
Beautiful Desoto Falls
When I first wrote about my favorite music of the 00s ten years ago, I had determined that my three favorite albums of the decade were:
- A Collision by David Crowder Band
- No Line on the Horizon by U2
- Emotionalism by The Avett Brothers
While my appreciation for No Line has waned somewhat, I still love the other two albums. But I’ve also developed an appreciation for a lot of the other sounds from this tumultuous decade in music. The early aughts began with The Strokes being hailed as the saviors of modern rock and ended with the realization that the entire genre seems irrevocably beyond salvation, surpassed in cultural relevancy by ubiquity of pop music and the seismic embrace of rap/R&B by the mainstream. For proof, you need look no further than the arc of Radiohead and Wilco, alternative darlings of the 90s who deconstructed the entire concept of rock with experimental albums such as Kid A and Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
By the end of the decade, the very idea of mainstream rock had evolved to include the jangly, acoustic sounds of bands such as Mumford & Sons and The Avett Brothers, who were filling arenas with bearded, flannel-clad millennials jamming out to frenetic banjo solos. And although such “old-timey” sounds proved to be more fad than trend — evidenced by both bands distancing themselves (and alienating their fan bases) by moving further away from their original aesthetic — it sure was fun while it lasted. “Go To Sleep” still gets me every time.
In the 00s, we said goodbye to Johnny Cash, his final American Recordings releases providing a fitting denouement for the Man in Black. American IV: The Man Comes Around is simply apocalytptic. There’s scarcely a Sunday morning goes by that I’m not listening to My Mother’s Hymn Book as a prelude to my own time of worship. But the decade also brought great music from new acts like Josh Ritter, whose Animal Years was a Dylan-esque powerhouse from the jump, and that Strokes record, which still holds up after nearly 20 years.
If I had to select a favorite album from among these, I might go with In Rainbows; it’s just gorgeous music and I still give Radiohead cool points for bypassing the whole commercial enterprise (basically) with its pay-what-you-want release. Conceptually, I still love the interpretation I ascribed to A Collision — humanity seeks the divine in ways as diverse as these varied genres (bluegrass, rock, balladry) assembled here. And Emotionalism will always be one of my favorites, even as The Avett Brothers drift further away from its ragged sounds in favor of more commercially viable adult contemporary terrain. But I love all of these albums on this playlist.
I’ve been listening to a lot of music lately as I prep for my end-of-the-year music list. (And a lot of great music has been released this year.) But I’ve also been looking back on some of the best music from the past decade given that the 2010s are about to draw to a close. (I know that, strictly speaking, the decade ends with the “tenth” year — so 2010 or 2020 actually closes out the decade — but, come on. Who thinks this way?)
To that end, I give you my best albums of the 90s playlist. So many of these albums still hold up. To wit, my 15 year old son LOVES What’s the Story (Morning Glory) by Oasis. It’s probably his favorite album. And I listened to a LOT of Cracked Rear View leading up to seeing Hootie in concert back in September. It’s tremendous.
90s music is pretty nostalgic for me. It takes me back to when I first fell in love with rock music and when I developed my own musical sensibilities. For instance, when I listen to “Black” by Pearl Jam, I immediately go back to quiet evenings shooting basketball outside my house, ruminating on things menial (homework, friendships) and morose (my father’s death, my mother’s remarriage and my subsequent interior retreat into my head). If you want to know what 90s teen angst sounded like, look no further than Pearl Jam’s debut album.
Or take The Bends and OK Computer by Radiohead, the pinnacle of artful, “message” guitar rock. I love Radiohead’s avant-garde stuff as much as the next guy, but before they were rock innovators playing with form and structure and the concepts of songs, they were perfecters of the ubiquitous post-grunge alt sound. “Let Down” and “No Surprises” are some of the most beautiful guitar songs ever. Listening to OK Computer is both joyous and depressing; you appreciate the elegant craftsmanship while simultaneously bemoaning the fact that nothing else could ever top it.
If I had to select my favorite album of the 90s — at this point, 20+ years later — I would probably select OK Computer. It’s just beautiful music and it perfectly captures the particular late decade ethos. Morning Glory would be in the discussion as well; as I said, it holds up big time. And Ten is on this Mount Rushmore, too; it was truly a gamechanger.
This is some of my favorite music. Love these albums from the 90s.