Contentment? Is it Possible?

Posted by on Aug 31, 2015 in Academic Work, Featured, The Gospel and the Christian Life

Contentment? Is it Possible?

cross_sunset.4.lrDiscontentment may be the greatest trap in our culture–greater than lust, greed, and even lying, because discontentment can lead to all these other sins. I have never met an individual who had an affair without first being discontent. I have never spoken with a drunkard, a gossiper, a liar, or an idolater of body or rest or recreation without them alluding to discontentment. And it feels like the entire world is colluding to stir discontentment within us. Every billboard, every commercial, every brochure tends to communicate, “You deserve more” and “You need more.”

Contentment is a slippery thing. As soon as we think we are content it wiggles away, due to something we see on television, some stray thought, or some small comment another person makes. Is contentment even possible?

Paul asserts that it is. In fact, he says that he has learned to be content in whatever situation (Philippians 4:11). He goes on to tell us the secret to contentment. He says, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13). He isn’t saying he can do all things in Christ as a kind of blanket statement. Paul doesn’t think he can fly, become Emperor of Rome, or create a rainbow in the sky. Too many yank this verse out of context. Rather, Paul is speaking about contentment and that in all circumstances he is able to be content in Christ who strengthens him. The is the secret! It is not ignoring circumstances, it is not rising above them, and it is not resigning one’s self to them–it is rather living in them in Christ.

Paul’s statement is an echo of an earlier statement in the book when he comments, “For to me to live is Christ” (Philippians 1:21). How is this helpful? Because he knows that in Christ he has everything. And this allows him to be content. The Christian finds Christ to be sufficient. We are the richest and most secure people in the universe. So the storms may beat the walls of our lives and contentment can lie safe within. It isn’t touched, because it is wrapped up in Him, who is our All in all.

Name it Christian. And you have it in Christ. Whatever it is that you desire, the root of it is found in Christ. The boat you desire, what is it, but a desire for freedom and rest? Which is ultimately found in Christ (Matthew 11:28-30; Romans 8:2). That promotion? At its root it is simply security and respect (Psalm 62:6-8). Ultimately, these are found in Christ. Friendship? What a friend we have in Jesus. One who never abandons or forsakes (Deuteronomy 31:6; Matthew 28:20). Family? We have a older brother who leads the way (Hebrews 2:11). Who grants to us a Father, who ever loves us (Galatians 4:4-7). Justice? He is a Judge who forever upholds righteousness (2 Timothy 4:8). Comfort? We have a priest who forever intercedes (Hebrews 7:25). Wisdom? We have a prophet who always proclaims (Hebrews 3:3). A counselor who is ever ready with comfort (Matthew 11:28-30). A provider who ever supplies (Philippians 4:19). A Savior who pays the price for our sins (Hebrews 10:12). A Defender who will guard and keep us (Psalm 23).

If we desire love it is found in His spread arms on the cross (Romans 8; Ephesians 3). If we want hope it is found in his resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:19). If we seek peace it is found in his blood shed for us (Colossians 1:20). If we seek joy it is given in His Spirit (Galatians 5). Happiness, in knowing what awaits us (Revelation 21). Power, you will rule with Him forever (Revelation 3:20-21).

Are you hungry? He is the bread of life (John 6:3). Thirsty, He is the living water (John 7:37). Naked, he covers you with His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). Health, He is the Great Physician (Psalm 147:3). Wisdom, He is the fount (Colossians 2:3). Knowledge, He holds it in His hand (Colossians 2:3). Rest? He says come to me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give your rest (Matthew 11:28-30). Compassion, it flows from Him (James 5:11). Comfort, He never crushes a bruised reed (Isaiah 42:3). Riches? We are made co-heirs with Him (Galatians 3:29).

We can be content, because our life’s circumstances do not dictate to us. We live in Him. Christian contentment is based upon dependence not independence. Paul is no Stoic. He is not acting as though he is above his circumstances. As if they have no effect upon him. Rather, in the midst of the difficult circumstances, he is trusting in God, he is looking to Christ in whom He has all things. He is not independent, he is Christ-dependent. For me to live is Christ. It is not being self-satisfied, self-fulfilled. It is being Christ-satisfied. Christ-fulfilled.

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Adonai: Lord and Master in and over All

Posted by on Aug 29, 2015 in Featured, The Character of God

Adonai: Lord and Master in and over All

Editor’s note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers think through what the character of God is and it’s importance to the Christian faith.

CharacterGod_website-960x350-300x109One way to learn about God is to study what names He is known by. Different names can describe different aspects or characteristics of God. Today we will look at the Hebrew word adonai which means “lord” or “master”. When this specific word refers to God, it is a proper noun and is capitalized as Lord.

Adonai is the plural form of the word adon and can literally be translated as “my lords.” RC Sproul comments that the suffix ai intensifies the meaning of adon so that adonai means the ultimate Lord, the Lord of all. The plural form is used primarily in reference to God but sometimes refers to men as well. It occurs over 400 times in the Old Testament, is used heavily in Isaiah and Ezekiel, and first appears in Genesis 15:2. Sometimes adonai is used in place of the personal name for God, YHWH, in the Old Testament to prevent violation of the Third Commandment.

In the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament, adonai and YHWH, are translated kurios or lord. The New Testament uses the same word, and when the Apostles and Gospel writers quote from the Old Testament, they are usually quoting from the Septuagint, although not always. Jesus is referred to as “lord” over 700 times in the New Testament. This does not mean that those who called Him “lord” were always referring to Him with a proper noun, but usually were using a polite form of address, such as we use the word “sir” today.

When we realize that adonai is speaking of God and Jesus as Lord and Master, we need to recognize a few things. The word Adonai speaks to God’s right to rule us as our Master. Since God is our master, we are His slaves. The slave is to be in complete submission to the master. As mentioned before, adonai denotes Lord over all, even for those who refuse to submit. This little word speaks strongly against the self-centered mindset of today’s culture, where everyone wishes to be his or her own master. The word adonai shows us that such thinking is futile and irrational, because one day, every knee will bow to the Lord Jesus and every tongue will confess that He is Lord, (Phil. 2:10-11) whether they like it or not.

Submit to Him today and receive His loving embrace, for Jesus is not a harsh Lord, but a wonderful benevolent Master. Adonai speaks to the power of God and His willingness to supply for all of our needs (Ps 68:19). It denotes a relationship, for God has total possession of us. His people must gladly submit and obey to Him, not with just our lips, but with our entire life. James Montgomery Boice helpfully points out that the early church would have understood Adonai in the way I’ve described it in this article:

The Greek word for Lord is kurios, the word used by citizens of the Roman empire to acknowledge the divinity of Caesar. This title was never used of the emperors until they were thought to be deified through a religious ceremony; therefore, it was used as a divine title. Within the empire there was a test phrase used to check the loyalty of the people. It was Kyrios Kaiser, and it meant “Caesar is Lord.” Christians who would not say these words were later singled out from pagans and executed. In those days when a Christian insisted that Jesus is Lord he meant that Jesus, not Caesar, is divine. The same meaning is present when the word occurs in Hebrew, only more so. The Hebrew word is Adonai. It is a title somewhat like our “sir,” but it assumed an extraordinary importance in Hebrew speech because in practice it replaced the personal name of God, Jehovah. No Jew pronounced the word “Jehovah,” even when reading the Bible. Instead he said, “Adonai.”[i]

[i] (Boice, J. M.. Philippians : An Expositional Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books)



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Assistance for the Life of Holiness

Posted by on Aug 29, 2015 in Featured, Holiness

Assistance for the Life of Holiness

holiness1There have been many difficult times in my life, times where looking back I thought for sure that I wasn’t going to make it through them. Through these times, God has always shown Himself faithful to His Word. Thomas Paine, one of the founding fathers of our country said, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” Every single one of us has had these times—times that have tried us.

We are living in difficult times, but through them God promises to use these situations for His glory (Genesis 50:20). The Apostle Paul went through many, many trials (2 Cor. 11). In 2 Corinthians 1:1-11, Paul relates to his audience by showing that he is an afflicted leader (2 Cor. 1:8-9; 11:23-33), who is writing to a congregation that is experiencing affliction. His response to their trials is to direct them to the “God of all comfort” (1:3). This understanding of God’s nature is grounded in the person and work of Jesus, who experienced ultimate suffering and affliction on the cross, and who, in his resurrected rule, abundantly comforts his people.

By knowing this and experiencing the comfort that he provides, we are able to understand our own afflictions as evidence of our solidarity with Christ. We can never suffer for the purpose of redemption, for we cannot add to the atoning work of Christ. However, our afflictions can serve as windows to the reality and benefits of our union with Christ. If we experience affliction as Christ did, we can expect to be comforted as Christ was (v.5). If we undergo suffering, we can anticipate consolation. Even if we experience deadly peril, our hope has been set on a God who delivers us from death (v.10).

The reason for our afflictions is “to make us rely not on ourselves but on God” (v.9). This reliance translates into a life of patience (v.6) and prayer (v.11). As we experience the deep comforts of the gospel, which transcend circumstance and self-centeredness, we become comforters of the afflicted (v.4; 2:7). Those who share in the comforts of the gospel are those who actively share the comforts of the gospel with those in need.

Today you might be going through a lot of difficulties, and life may be coming at you a million miles an hour. Know that your Redeemer—Jesus Christ—lives to make intercession for you, and that, as John Flavel once said, “The more afflictions you have been under, the more assistance you have had for this life of holiness.”

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Exercising the Sense of Hearing

Posted by on Aug 29, 2015 in Featured, The Gospel and the Christian Life

Exercising the Sense of Hearing

quotescover-JPG-19-300x300-22611_300x200I recently had a bout with laryngitis, that fun little inflammation of the vocal chords that renders a person unable to speak above a whisper. Those who know me well, in particular, my close family, know that I like to talk. This means that being struck with laryngitis has forced me to have to utilize some of my other senses while I partake of some very interesting home remedy concoctions to try and help my throat speed up the healing process.

One particular sense that has been forced to become more acute during this period of time is that of listening. Now we all hear things all day long, but I am not quite sure we take the time to listen to what enters into our ear canal. Perhaps too much ear wax stops the noise from being processed by our brains or maybe it is just our inability or unwillingness to take the needed time to listen.

How many of us have just sat out on the porch without the television on, with the radio off, and with all other electronic forms of entertainment unplugged. I mean sitting there long enough to soak in all the sounds one might hear – birds singing, cars driving, dogs barking, the wind whistling through the trees, or during this time of year, all those air conditioners trying to keep the homes cool. For that matter, how many of us take the time to really hear what our children or spouse is saying before we provide our super-fast and ill thought out response.

There are a multitude of Scriptures that speak of the need to listen. The Shema begins with “Hear O Israel” implying the need for the people to listen carefully to what is about to be stated. John 10:27 states, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” noting the reality that as followers of Jesus listen and know the voice of the Great Shepherd they are able to hear and identify His voice over all the others. The Proverbs are replete with the command to listen. For example, Proverbs 19:27 says, ”Cease listening, my son, to discipline, and you will stray from the words of knowledge.”

As I noted, there are numerous verses all throughout Scripture that speak of the necessity of hearing and listening with the express purpose of moving to a place of understanding. Hearing is more than noise entering your eardrum. Listening is more than nodding your heard and murmuring an “Uh-huh” when someone is talking to you. Both activities require the hearer to process and understand what is being stated and, of course, that will require effort. It seems the real effort is rooted in keeping our mouth closed long enough to process and understand what we are hearing. For most of use, it takes a rather herculean effort to keep those lips from moving.

So as this bout of laryngitis has ended now, I am being challenged to listen and understand. It is quite honestly something I am not well-versed in doing, but it is high time I begin to exercise some spiritual muscles in this area of my life and in turn take heed to God’s repeated commands in His Word to listen. I need to listen to Him more. I need to listen to those around me more. I need to take time and enjoy the sounds of God’s creation a bit more which will require turning off technology and turning on my ears.

I encourage you to join me in exercising your hearing. God has noted that those who listen will be on the path to knowledge and maturity. Those who fail to listen will stray from the words of knowledge. This means keeping on the path God has outlined requires us to listen. Will you be willing to close your mouth, open your ears, and actually listen? Let’s all give it a try, shall we?

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Three Ways to Handle Disappointment and Discouragement

Posted by on Aug 28, 2015 in Featured, The Gospel and the Christian Life

Three Ways to Handle Disappointment and Discouragement

Recently I went through a period of time where I really struggled. By struggle, I mean I went through what the Psalter calls, “The valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4). When I examined this brief season of life, it seemed like everywhere I looked I found situations that required constant attention or times when I felt helpless to effect change. During this, I fell into the deep pit of despair, discouragement, and disappointment. What brought me out of this season was recognizing one day as I was praying, that God was teaching me through this time. He was showing me He was going to use all of these difficult situations I was experiencing in my life for my good and for His glory.

Maybe today you’re facing a similar situation and you find yourself discouraged. Perhaps you’ve had a friendship go cold or your marriage is at the breaking point. If I’ve learned anything in my Christian life it’s that I need to remind myself of what I already know. I desperately need to go back to the essential truth of who I am in Christ as an adopted son of the King of Kings. In other words, I need to daily rehearse the gospel.

Imagine Joseph in the Bible. It would have been easy for him to get discouraged or disappointed after getting thrown into prison. King David in the Psalms is known for being down in the dumps and a few verses later lifting high the praises of God. David recognized who his God was and how great God is, and that changed his perspective. One of my mentors in high school once stated that life is all about perspective. For King David that perspective meant not only subscribing to a right view of God as Creator and sustainer of all life, it also meant implementing that view into all of life. While he faced discouraging and difficult situations, King David loved the Lord and his love for God compelled him to move forward in life to the glory of God.

In order to have a God-ward perspective in life, we need to first have a right view of God. This comes by regularly reading the Bible, whereby, we fill our mind with God’s Words by meditating on it and putting it into practice.

As a junior in high school, I remember sitting on the floor in my room at my middle brother’s house in Monroe, Washington. There I was challenged during my daily Bible reading as I read Matthew 6:14-15. The Holy Spirit challenged me to forgive my dad and if I refused to forgive, the text says that I in turn wouldn’t be forgiven. The next day my dad came over to my place and he and I went for a walk. I told my dad what the Lord had done the day before and asked if he would please forgive me for holding onto anger, bitterness, and resentment against him from my childhood. There has been multiple times over my Christian life where this experience has happened again and again.

Second, how we face disappointment and discouragement says a lot about what our heart truly treasure — God or ourselves.

When self is on the throne instead of God, our bitterness towards people who hurt us will only grow. This is why we need to forgive. It’s easy to hold a grudge or be angry with someone, but it’s much harder to truly forgive. To truly forgive is to have the sting of pain you feel towards that person removed. In my case, when I forgave my dad I no longer had anger or bitterness towards him. The Lord completely restored our relationship. You may have a certain relationship in your family, or perhaps with your spouse or a friend from church, that needs to be repaired and restored. By understanding what true forgiveness is you can extend the forgiveness of God to others. It’s been said many times—and will continue to be said in the future—that forgiven people forgive. Since you’ve been forgiven by God for your sin, you must forgive people when they sin against you. That may take time to process, and I understand, but you need to actively pray for the person and ask the Lord to help you forgive the person or people who have hurt you.

Lastly, handling disappointment and discouragement is difficult. It’s far easier to stay mad at someone or even to dwell way too much on a situation. As I look back at the sentence I just typed, I want you to understand that I’m pointing the finger at myself and I am pleading guilty as well. The key to handling disappointment and discouragement is to apply who you are in Christ into every sphere of your life. It’s one thing to say you believe the right things about God, the Bible, Jesus, etc., but it’s quite another to practice them. The book of James says that to those of us who know the right answers but don’t do them, to us it is sin (James 4:17).

As you face disappointment and discouragement I don’t want you to run away from it. Instead, I want you to run towards it and face it head-on by God’s ferocious grace. This will mean dealing with that awkward situation or difficult person(s). It will mean finally resolving conflicts in your life.

By forgiving others of their sins, Jesus says He will forgive you of yours (Matthew 6:14-15). Not only that, but you won’t carry around the baggage of unforgiveness any longer, but will instead by God’s grace become the agent of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:17-20) that God has called you to be as His disciple. So go now and make amends with whomever it is you need to make amends with, forgiving those who have hurt you because you yourself have been forgiven by Jesus, who has removed your sin from his sight as far as the east is to the west (Psalm 103:12).

Facing disappointment and discouragement is possible but only because of Christ. It is through Christ who was rejected by men yet approved by God that our salvation is secured. Through the death and resurrection of Christ, Christians can face discouragement and disappointment knowing that Christ experienced this in His sinless life. By looking to Jesus, and running the race towards the face of Jesus Christ, you can grow through discouragement and disappointment by learning to see them as opportunities not to run away from God but to Him by pressing on towards Christ.

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Five Words Which Could Change Your Bible Study

Posted by on Aug 27, 2015 in Bible, Featured

Five Words Which Could Change Your Bible Study

Bible-Reading1I’m not sure what toy it was now. Or maybe it was a set of baseball cards. I bet it was something epic like Castle Grayskull. Either way, it was a toy that I had to have.

So, I put together a terrific case for why my parents should buy this toy. They informed me that at this particular time we did not have quite enough money to spend on a new toy. Of course, I knew this was nonsense. I had just recently looked in my mother’s purse and noted one of those magic slips of paper—known to us pre-debit card children as a “check”. I had watched many times before as my parents filled their grocery cart and then simply written a check to pay for it. In my childish brain, I simply assumed that all one had to do was be a possessor of one of these checks and the sky was the limit.

I politely informed my mother that all she needed to do to buy this Castle Grayskull (or whatever) was to simply write a check. I knew she had one. I knew she hadn’t lost function in her arm. And I’d even supply the pen. So just go get my toy. Even throw in something nice for yourself. Write the check. Done deal.

The solution to me seemed so simple. I didn’t understand how my parents couldn’t see this. And then they explained to me how checks work. I was devastated.

I was reminded about this bit from my childhood the other day when I had a similar conversation with one of my own children. And I realized that I haven’t really grown much. And I’m confident I’m not alone. We have a tendency to assume that if we know about something, then we must know that thing completely. How many passages in the Scriptures do you assume that you have mostly exhausted?

Five New Words

About ten years ago I typed out four words which changed my life: I COULD BE WRONG. I put those four words in bold face at about 72 font and stuck them on a sheet of paper next to my desk. It was a reminder to be passionate about truth but also to be humble because as a finite sinful human being I can be absolutely confident about something and still be wrong. I think I need to write four new words. I COULD BE MISSING SOMETHING.

I’m convinced that these five words could really assist us in our study of the Scriptures. As a seminary student, a pastor, and one on a fifteen-year love affair with the Bible, I can walk into a text pretty confident that I know what it is saying. I interact often with people who are struggling through a passage. If I’m not careful I’ll take their consternation as ignorance on their part. But really it is ignorance on my part (“just write a check, mom!”). They are seeing something that I’m not and working through it. But I cannot see what they are seeing because I’m too confident that I fully grasp the passage.

I’m not saying that we study the Scriptures as if they are simply a wax nose and we can shape how we want. Neither am I saying our study of the Scriptures is always filled with mystery and at the end of the day we will all just be scratching our heads clueless to its meaning. Not at all. What I am saying is that the God revealed in Scripture is inexhaustible and as finite human beings we’ll never plumb the depths. As such it would do us well to remember: I COULD BE MISSING SOMETHING.

You might not be missing something. You might really have mastered a text. So this isn’t some quest to constantly try to find some hidden meaning. It is simply a call to say come into the text without humility and you’ll likely leave as one who not only is mastering the Scriptures but one who is being mastered by the God of the Scriptures.

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