Archive for the ‘Contentment’ Category

Woke up this mornin’ turned on my TV set
There in livin’ color was something’ I can’t forget
This man was preachin’ at me, yeah, layin’ on the charm
Asking me for 20 with 10,000 on his arm

He wore designer clothing and a big smile on his face
Selling me salvation while they sang Amazing Grace
Asking me for money when he had all the signs of wealth
Almost wrote a check out, yeah, but then I asked myself

Would He wear a pinky ring, would he drive a fancy car
Would His wife wear furs and diamonds, would his dressing room have a star
If He came back tomorrow there’s something I’d like to know
Would Jesus wear a Rolex on His television show?

A singer of satire named Ray Stevens did that song back in 1987 at a time when Christians in America were rocked by the televangelist scandals involving people like Jimmy Swaggert and Jim and Tammy Faye Baker. You would have hoped that given the damage that era did to the reputation of Christ’s church that we would have learned. Sadly we have not.

I recently returned from a conference in Nairobi, Kenya and found that the image of the preacher or evangelist as a man of wealth and fame has been transported to Africa from America. I heard from numerous godly pastors who are embarrassed by the growing numbers of preachers who have adopted an image of gold and glitter. They have an entourage around them that keeps people at bay. In some cases these preachers have men who take off their coat for them as a vale’ and then stand by holding it while another attendant stands ready to wipe his brow if he gets sweaty as he preaches. Tragically this is not an isolated thing but a growing phenomenon. Without fail they pointed to recent American preachers who visited the continent and modeled this behavior. The African pastors are picking it up as a model for having a growing church. What ever happened to preaching the Gospel?

The mindset behind the TV preachers “styling” is rooted in a cultural value of success and pride. The thinking is that if you are wealthy and sharp then you are a success and people will want to be like you. We marry that mindset with a twisting of scripture saying that if you are a financial success then God has blessed you. We transfer that into the ministry and say that if we appear to be wealthy and successful then people will want to follow Jesus. That leads back to the question posed by Ray Stevens. Would Jesus wear a Rolex on His television show? Is wearing a Rolex what following Jesus is all about? The answer is so obvious as to make the question seem ridiculous. Of course not!

Jesus never wanted people to follow Him because he was flashy or wealthy or appeared to be a human success. If anything he appeared as the polar opposite. We are told that there was nothing in His appearance that would have attracted us to Him. He was plain looking at best. He was blue-collar working class. His father wasn’t Joe the plumber he was Joe the carpenter. In fact it was his very simplicity and contentment that was part of what attracted people to Him. They wanted to be like him in character and demeanor. When we see a person with lots of material stuff we don’t want to be like them. What we really want is to have the stuff they have. There is a huge difference. Wanting to be like a person is wanting to have the character traits they exhibit. Wanting someone’s stuff is to be guilty of the sin of coveting. It leads to envy and bitterness and sometimes dishonesty in order to get “stuff”.

Such desires for “stuff” are rooted in a failure to be content with our circumstances. The Apostle Paul talked a great deal about being content.

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” Philippians 4:12

6But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. 1 Timothy 6:6-10

That kind of contentment is appealing to people. When people see that you are able to be content with what you have then you give off an aura of satisfaction and peace that people long for. The world says that life is better if you have the Rolex and the pinky ring. Even though we say we don’t believe that, too many Christians live as if it is true. But deep down inside people realize that the stuff does not really satisfy. If we really wanted to be like Jesus then we would learn to be content no matter if we are rich or poor, hungry or well fed, clothed in splendor or homespun simplicity. I suspect that people who don’t yet know Jesus also suspect in their heart of hearts that the stuff is not what matters. But they have never seen anyone live a contented life in Christ that proves that following Jesus, really following Jesus, is the only truly blessed way to live.

“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:11-13

My wife teaches at a Christian school and several years ago each teacher was asked to pick a verse from the Bible that was to be their guiding verse for the year. When this was published along with their profile, I noticed then nearly 30% of the teachers chose “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” as their verse for the year. My first thought was that I didn’t know teaching elementary students was so tough. But it also got me thinking more about that verse. Many people, not just elementary school teachers go to those words for strength in time of hardship and struggle. They are great words of hope.

But when we look carefully at the passage it is astounding to realize that we are usually only focused on half of the story. Sure Paul says that in times of hunger or struggle or suffering, he has learned to be content with God and to find strength in Christ to endure. But at the same time Paul says that he has also learned to be content when things are going great, he is well fed, and life is just cruising along. In those times he has also learned to survive by depending on the strength that Christ gives. Now you may be thinking, well anyone can learn to be content when life is good. How hard can that be? Actually it is harder than you think. One of the effects of sin is that when we have “enough”, we very quickly become dissatisfied with that and we want more. In many ways it is the same as the diminishing return a drug user gets over time. After awhile the body becomes used to the drug and the impact is felt less from the same amount. So in order to achieve a high, the user needs more and stronger doses. The same thing happens with the good times in our lives. For the moment we are content. But after awhile the effect wears thin. We find that we need the next cool thing, the next new product, the next amazing experience. We get bored and easily discontent.

Paul understood that in order to be truly content in both abundance and want, the only answer was to depend on Christ for His strength. In essence that means being content with Christ no matter what our physical and emotional circumstances are. For Paul it was ultimately all about Jesus. He said earlier in the letter that whether he lived or died really didn’t matter, as long as Jesus was glorified. Paul discovered that everything else paled in comparison to the joy of knowing Jesus. For Paul, God really was enough to make his life full and complete. If he had abundance then the goal was, how can my abundance bring Glory to Jesus and me closer to Him. If he had little then the goal was, how can my poverty bring Glory to Jesus and me closer to Him. No matter his life situation, for Paul it always came back to the Glory of God and being in closer fellowship with Him.

In that regard, God was enough for Paul. Jesus and the strength He offered, was really all Paul needed or wanted. Nothing else mattered because nothing else gave him purpose, or joy, or security, or status. Are you that content? If God suddenly made you poor, would you be just as happy as if you were rich? How often have things given you contentment that was temporary, only to discover that after awhile you wanted more. That nice house that seemed so big and wonderful. When did it become unsatisfying? Was it when your friend or sibling bought a newer, bigger house? The same can be asked of your car, new dress, cell phone or vacation experience.

In some ways it is the times of blessing that are hardest to deal with because we don’t think we need the strength of Jesus. Yet those are the most dangerous times. we get sucked into a delusion of being just fine spiritually because we are just fine physically. We need to cling to Jesus all the more in our abundance and blessing. Paul knew that for himself. We need to know that for ourselves.