The Contented Life

contentmen

Here are some notes from my sermon on Hebrews 13:5-6.

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

The sin mentioned here is internal, not external. It is about what we love, not what we have or don’t have. This is important because we like to look at the externals. We like to draw boxes with sin in the box. Everything in this box is sin and guess who is outside the box; me. The wealthy Christian says, “Oh, God called Abraham and he was wealthy so I have nothing to worry about. Look at those poor people who worry about money all the time.” The simple and frugal say, “Oh, I don’t have a lot of stuff. I watch what I spend. I don’t buy all those luxury items. I must be free from the love of money.” Those who  have paid off their mortgage and have a large savings account say, “God tells us to be wise with our money. I have been wise with my money. Therefore I must be free from the love of money.”  Our hearts are experts at confronting sin in someone else and ignoring it in our own lives.  But the verse does not focus on how much or how little we have or how fat our paycheck or much we have saved or how much debt we have. It focuses on what we love. We can love money and be poor, rich, frugal, free of debt, in debt, live simply, etc. Is our heart gripped by the love of things and stuff? Do we find security in our possessions? Are we content?

Here are some questions to help evaluate our contentment:

  1. Are we always looking to get more stuff? This is the pretty obvious one. That stuff can vary from books to clothes to electronics to fill in the blank. Are we content with the things we have?
  2. If our financial situation never changed would we be happy? A lot of us count on God improving our financial situation. We assume it is going to happen. What if it didn’t?
  3. What if God took away some of our possessions? What if we lost our job or our pay was reduced?
  4. Do we find ourselves dreaming of ways to get money quickly outside of years of hard work? A discontented life is often a lazy life. Proverbs 13:4 says the lazy man craves and gets nothing. We love to imagine wealth coming to us outside of slow, steady labor.
  5. On the flip side do we find that our work is never done? We work and work and work, never taking a true break, not slowing down for the Lord’s Day. We have this nagging guilt that we must do more.  A discontented life can be lazy, but it can also be very active, but active for the wrong reasons. A busy person can have discontented heart.
  6. Does it bother us when God prospers someone else? When we don’t get that raise and our friend does how do we feel? When our neighbor gets a new car and we are still driving a ten year old beater does that bother us?  Are we jealous of God’s gifts to others?
  7. Do we find that when God gives us something good our joy in that good thing is short-lived? We get a new outfit, new book, new TV, or new car and we are excited for a moment, but then we move on and begin to covet something else. Our gratitude for the gifts from God is quickly overrun by our desire for more.
  8. Finally, is our gratitude for all things from God increasing?  A contented life is a thankful, grateful life. A discontented life is characterized by grumbling and complaining. Later in Hebrews 13:15 we are told to “continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to his name.” Discontent is killed by praise and thanksgiving. When we pray, is thanksgiving to the Lord a large part of our prayers? Do we thank the Lord for His daily benefits or just for the big things? Do we thank Him for his kindness in sending Christ? Do we find ways to praise Him even in the midst of hard and painful things? Whenever the Scriptures tell us not to do something it always implies the opposite virtue. We are told to not love money (ESV) or to keep our lives free from covetousness (NKJV). What is the virtue this negative command implies? It implies gratitude.

Do Not Despise the Discipline of the Lord

hebrews-3In this post I am not giving an in-depth exegesis of Hebrews 12:3-11. I am simply putting down some principles from the passage without defending them.  Here is the passage (ESV):

Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.

Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

  1. God is sovereign over all that happens to us including our suffering.  He brings suffering, hardship, persecution into our lives. It does not just happen to us. The writer of Hebrews is talking to people who have undergone some persecution (10:34) and will probably undergo more. The author puts this persecution in the context of discipline by God.
  2. God disciplines us because of indwelling sin. But there is not normally a one to one correlation. Usually we can’t say, “My tire went flat because I yelled at my kids.” But we can say, “I am a sinner. God is rooting out that sin by making my tire go flat.” Remember the goal is not to escape the hardship necessarily though you can and often should do that. I am not encouraging a refusal to take medicine or to stay in an abusive situation any more than a man would refuse to fix a flat tire. What I am saying is that in all these situations one of God’s purposes is to kill sin and cultivate holiness in us.
  3. God’s discipline includes all the things big or small he brings into our lives to point out sin and press us to holiness. Daily hardships such as marital strife, difficulties with children, conflict at work, or physical sickness are all part of God’s “training” us in righteousness.
  4. His discipline can be something as simple as a rebuke from a friend or a sermon. But it can also be more severe than that. In Hebrews 12:6 the word translated “chastises” in the ESV is translated “scourges” in the New King James. The latter is the better translation. The word is used in the crucifixion accounts of Christ being flogged. Sometimes God’s discipline can resemble a flogging.
  5. God’s discipline, the hardships, difficulties, and rebukes he brings into our lives are not a sign that he has left us, but rather that he has drawn near. Discipline is a sign of God’s love, delight, and acceptance of us.  We are sons so we are disciplined.  We must remember this truth when we face hardships.
  6. A professing Christian whom God does not discipline or rebuke is someone God has left to his own devices. He is an outcast and has been disinherited. The line here is difficult. But many apostate Christians and non-Christians seem to lead easier lives than those who follow after Christ (Psalm 73:4-12).  One reason for this is that God is not training them.
  7. God’s discipline is always perfectly suited to each of his children.  An earthly father disciplines as “seems best to him.” Sometimes he gets it right. Other times he gets it wrong. That is never the case with God. His discipline is perfect in scope, timing, method, and severity. Whatever he is doing in our lives is perfectly calculated to train us in godliness.
  8. God’s goal in disciplining us is our holiness (12:10). He does not strike us to destroy us, but rather to deliver us from the sin which remains in us. The goodness of God must remain firmly fixed in our minds if we are to profit from his discipline. His discipline brings life.
  9. Discipline is unpleasant and painful when we are receiving. However, the point of the passage is that we look beyond the immediate pain to future fruit. Much of the Christian life is learning to push through present pain in faith as we look to the future reward (c.f. 11:7, 12, 16, 26).
  10. Finally discipline is only profitable if we do not despise or become discouraged by it, but instead we are trained by it. To despise means we spit on it. We reject and hate it. This comes either from forgetting that God is good. We see him as hurting and harming us. Or it comes from our desire to cling to our sin. We don’t want to be holy so we spit on the process necessary to get us there. The other option is that we become discourage by it. We can’t see that God will sustain us as he disciplines us. Or we don’t surround ourselves with the necessary support to run the race. Discouragement is a danger in the Christian life. We will only be trained by God’s discipline if we believe God does it out of love for us, for our good, and that he will keep us in the midst of it.

Good as Dead

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God does not work the same way we do. We look at the situations and try to find the advantages we can gain. A farmer will look for the best soil, a businessman will look for a good investment opportunity, and a football coach will recruit the best players. But God looks for the situation that is least advantageous, as least by human standards. He takes the eighth son of man from Bethlehem to lead his people. He takes a former persecutor of the church and makes him into his greatest missionary. He calls fishermen and tax collectors to preach His name to the world. But perhaps no example, outside of Christ Himself, is as marvelous as Abraham. A man from the land of Ur is plucked up by God to be the father of His people. He promises this wandered land. He promises this impotent man children as numerous as the stars. Abraham and Sarah were dead. Their line would die out when they were laid in the dust. For 25 years Abraham waited for the son of promise. He even cheated by sleeping with Hagar. But God does not disappoint and:

Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. (Heb 11:12)

When John tells the Pharisees and Sadducees in Matthew 3:9 that God can raise up children of Abraham from stones he is not speaking in metaphor or giving a good illustration. He is speaking truth. God does not need all the advantages  we think of when it comes to creating followers. He makes worshipers from stones. He can bring a nation from a dead womb. He takes dead men and makes them alive. Not only can he do this. He loves to do this. That is how God works. He scours the earth and says,”Oh, look there is an Augustinian monk, let me use him to start a Reformation.” “Oh, look there is a 19 year old untrained preacher. Let me use him to turn London upside down.” “There is well-trained fornicator who dabbles in various false theologies. I will make him the greatest father in the early church.”  “There is an English atheist. I am going to make him one of the greatest apologist of the modern age”  And on and on it goes.

Why does God do it this way? Because His glory is the greatest aim. God does not often call (sometimes he does) the powerful, mighty, wise, and rich of the world. He uses the weak and foolish things of this world to confound the wise so “no flesh can glory in His presence” (I Cor. 1:26-29).  Abraham could not boast about his descendants. He was a dead man. Israel could not boast about being descended from Abraham. She came from a dead man. When God is done there is no room for man to boast.

The church in America is in a bad way. There are glimmers of light here and there. There are many faithful leaders who have led God’s people over the last 25 years. But on the whole she is empty of truth, goodness, and beauty. Compromise is a regular problem. We continue to fold on major issues or make allowances for those who do. But God loves to work in this environment. Just like Israel when Jesus showed up, we are gasping for breath. But somewhere God is preparing some unlikely men to lead his people in the next generation. Men who by His power and might will reform and revive the church he bought with his own blood.

In the meantime, what do we do? Like Sarah we consider God faithful to his promises (Hebrews 11:11). We work and wait patiently for the Lord to bring worshipers from stones, apologists from persecutors, and life from death.

A Faith That Condemns the World

noahs-ark

Here are the six main points from my sermon yesterday. The sermon was on Hebrews 11:7

By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. (Heb 11:7)

Our Faith Must Be Founded on God’s Word

Noah believed God’s Word. Faith is always rooted in God’s Word. It cannot be rooted in what we think God said or what God spoke to us in our hearts. It must be rooted in his word and only his Word. Only God’s Word can bind men’s consciences. We must be careful not to add to or take away from that Word. There is a constant temptation to add to God’s Word.  We begin to put our faith in the rules of man instead God’s Word. Continue reading

Sermon: With His Own Blood, Hebrews 9:1-14

Several people really enjoyed this sermon. One friend commented that it was one of the clearest gospel presentations she had heard. That was encouraging.  The point is pretty simple: only the blood of Jesus can cleanse our conscience, the inner man. Or to put it negatively, our works cannot make us acceptable to God.

Day of Atonement Sequence

I am getting ready to preach Hebrews 9 so I was looking at the structure of the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16. What I found most interesting is that during the process the tabernacle was empty  (Leviticus 16:17). The tabernacle is completely empty and the high priest must go in and do all of this.

  • High priest washed, put on special garments, which were more humble than normal priestly garb.
  • High priest selects five total animals: Two goats, two rams, one bull.
  • High priest casts lots for the two goats to determine which one was sacrifices and which one is sent into the wilderness.
  • High priest kills the bull.
  • High priest brings  incense into the Most Holy Place and creates a smoke covering in the Most Holy Place.
  • High priest sprinkles the blood of the bull seven times on the mercy seat.
  • High priest kills the goat, brings its blood into the Most Holy Place, and sprinkles it on the mercy seat.
  • High priest leaves the Most Holy Place, takes the blood of the bull and the goat and sprinkles it seven times on the horns of altar in the  main part of the tabernacle.
  • High priest brings out the live goat, lays his hands on the goat, confesses the sins of the people, and sends the goat out into the wilderness by the hand of another Israelite.
  • High priest removes special garments, washes, and replaces them with normal priestly garments.
  • High priest offers two burnt offerings (the rams) one for the people and one for himself/the priesthood.
  • The man who took the goat out into the wilderness must wash before returning to camp
  • The bull and the goat of the sin offerings are taken outside the camp and burned.
  • The man who takes the bull and goat outside the camp to burn must wash before returning to camp.