Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year: Smile on, my friends...

Philippians 3:12-14
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.

Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Today my husband and I were discussing the blessings of 2010 month by month.  It was amazing to relive some of the greatest moments of our lives- from the small blessings of an incredible concert, to the miraculous gift of our baby girl.  

I don't take it lightly that there are so many blessings to count.  I don't take for granted the ability to look ahead at the future with anticipation.  But today, a little old lady changed my perspective.

I was making a quick Walmart run with my baby today, when I ran into an elderly woman.  I, of course, was in a hurry.  She, of course, wanted to chat.  "That's a beautiful coat you got on there" she said.  I politely said thank you, and made my way into the store.  Getting into line at customer service, guess who I see standing in front of me?

"Why hello again" she says.  "Look at that beautiful bundle of joy you have!"

And there began our 15 minute conversation, as we waited in line to make our returns. 

She told me about her family, her children and her grandchildren.  She shared about her journey as a mother, her struggles with almost losing one of her children, and her joys.  She wished us a Happy New Year....and told me to make sure I enjoy every moment with my little one, because they go by so fast. 

Everyone seems to say that, don't they?  But coming from this woman, it made all the difference.  You see, in our conversation today she also shared that she had just lost her precious husband just two few short months ago.  She told me of her grief and how some days were harder than others.  But all the while as she shared, she had an un-erasable smile on her face, and overflowing joy in her heart...

She blessed me.  And in her blessing me today, she challenged me.  

Just a few short hours ago my husband and I were counting our blessings, but what we SHOULD have been counting is HOW WE BLESSED OTHERS in 2010.

That, my friends, is really the question.  God's blessings on his children are inevitable...there will always be blessings to count, and we should always count them.  But that should not be the end of it.  There must be a response, on our part, to the blessings that we receive.  How did we give back?

How did we reach out to those around us?  How did we spread our smiles and our joy?  How did we invest in people's lives- our neighbors, our friends, the person standing behind us in the Walmart customer service line.  Who did we love and how well did we love them?  Did we reach out to the poor, the broken, and the needy?  Did we give to those who couldn't repay us?  Did we love those who didn't deserve it?  Did we bless others to the proportion that our Lord has blessed us? 

May God grant us new perspective as we enter into this new year.  May He challenge us to take our eyes off of ourselves as we make our way into 2011.  May we learn to go beyond counting our blessings, and begin to become accountable to how we have blessed others. 

I'm grateful for this perspective as I enter the New Year.  I am grateful for a sweet old woman, who even in her grief, took the time to smile on me.  My prayer is that her smiles will also bless you.  

May this be the year of spiritual change.  May it be the year of giving, and loving, and blessing.  Happy New Year Everyone.  Smile on, my friends. 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Contentment Day 12: Christ.

Philippians 4:12-13
12 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. 13 I can do all this through him [Christ] who gives me strength. 

Maybe some of you have noticed...Bible Gateway, along with other companies, have updated the NIV to the 2010 translation.  Essentially, you'll find the same messages at the root of every passage, with slight elaborations on some of the content. 

I chose to use the 2010 version in today's passage, because I think it describes so beautifully the foundational ingredient of reaching true contentment.

Paul is explaining all the things he has been through in his life.  And if you know anything about Paul's life- you know his struggles and challenges can be compared to some of the greatest in history.  He was a man who saw the bitter sting of imprisonment, hatred, and an early death- all for the name of the one He loved, all for the sake of the One who had changed his life. 

But at the end of it all- Paul was able to achieve true contentment.  He was wholly satisfied in his life, and no one could take that away from him.  And at the end of it all, his secret to contentment boiled down to one thing and one thing alone: Christ. 

It was Christ that saved this man from the pit of materialism, arrogance, hatred, and selfishness.  It was Christ who gave him purpose, a calling, and a reason to live.  It was Christ who filled him with compassion, love, and mercy.  It was Christ who took the nagging hole at the pit of his heart and filled it with His love. 

Paul found the secret to contentment that he had been searching for all his life...because Christ found him.  

Maybe you, too, have an aching void in your life.  A hole that you have long tried to silence with the things of this world only to find yourself frustrated and empty.  A hole that reminds you with each and every passing thought that your life is not as it should be.  Maybe you too, like Paul, have reached a point in your life where you are realizing that the only thing left to try is Jesus.  It's true, as the songwriter wrote: There's a God shaped hole in all of us.  And that's a hole that only He can fill. 

And I am so thankful He did.  I am so thankful that we serve a God who is gracious enough to find us, knowing that we aren't always able to find Him.  A God who humbled himself to the point of becoming one of us in order to help us know Him, in order to give us the chance to be loved by Him.  A God who gave His life so that we could fill the void in our life...and finally find the secret to contentment.  Finally find Him. 

This Christmas, may we understand the gift of Christ.  A God who became a man just to chase after those He loved.  Just to remind us that the hole in our heart is really perfectly made for Him. 

Let us allow Him to fill our hearts and our lives with that love...and truly find what it means to be content. 

Merry Christmas everyone.  May God grant each of you with the gift of contentment...the gift of Christ. 

Friday, December 24, 2010

Contentment Day 11: Cognitive Therapy at its Finest...

Philippians 4:8
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

2010 (Part I): As the year 2010 comes to a close I realize that it's brought with it many challenges.  After finding out I was pregnant early in January, we soon found out we would also be moving as my due date approached.  My husband would be starting a new job half way across the country.  That meant one transition after another...and if you know anything about me, you know I hate change.  Not only were we expecting a little one, but we had to uproot our entire lives.  New job, new city, new baby...and a lot of boxes to pack.  I hate packing up.  All the boxes, and disarray...and try moving while you're entering your 3rd trimester of pregnancy.  So we make it to the big move and start our new life in a new state...only to find out that due to some state-to-state complications with my license...I can't start working!  Now I'm stuck with day upon day to just sit around and wait for the birth of my baby...with absolutely nothing to do.  And just when I finally get used to being unemployed...the baby decides to come along.  So then I go from having nothing to do, to having something to do every second of every day....with no breaks!  Being a mom has been quite a challenge...with little appreciation.   I've gone through some of my lowest points this past year.  What a year it has been.

2010 (Part II): As the year 2010 comes to a close I realize that it's brought with it many challenges...but those challenges have also ushered in some of the greatest joys I've ever experienced.  We were so blessed to find out we were expecting a baby at the start of the year.  And not only that, a baby girl...I had always dreamed of having a little baby girl.  Not only that, we found out we were moving half way across the country...closer to my family!  God was setting us up for the support he knew we would need when our little one came along.  Although moving can be a tough process, we were glad to watch it go smoothly.  John even ended up having some extra time off to help with all the packing.  Everything just fell into place, and thankfully a very-pregnant Deb was able to safely make the trek cross-country!  One blessing in disguise was when I found out I wouldn't be able to work right away.  I was stressed out at first, but soon I was able to see and appreciate that I really needed the time to rest.  There was a little bundle on the way and I needed to save up all my energy!  And God provided miraculously financially...we were thankful for that.  Right now I'm the mother of a beautiful, amazing, steal-your-breath-away baby girl who is the joy of our lives.  Watching her grow up has been a miracle to me, and has made me appreciate life in a greater way.  Being a mom has been a challenge, but every challenge is worth the joys that follow.  This has been a a year full of blessings undeserved.

Let me explain.  Today's post on contentment is centered around one topic: how we think.  

I read a book once in which the author was talking about the power of our thoughts.  She wrote two entries about her life, both of which were 100% true.  One positive, one negative.  She then challenged the reader to take a look at both entries and ask themselves the question in their own lives: Which entry do you spend the most time thinking about?

What a much needed slap in the face for most of us.  The reality is, each of us could come up with two separate stories in our lives...each story being 100% true.  One story- the list of positives.  The other- negatives.  Each story meshes together in a beautiful way to make up the threads of the canvas of our lives.  But for some reason...most of us have a tendency to really zoom in on one side and neglect the other.  The unfortunate thing is, the side we magnify is almost always the negative.

This bible passage, my friends, is cognitive therapy at it's finest: the challenge to take a look at our lives from the vantage point of the positive.  The call to totally rearrange the way that we think so that we can also transform the way that we live.

This mental renewal of the mind doesn't always come easy.  Our minds are like computers...and we program them to think a certain way.  We teach them.  And slowly these thoughts and patterns of thinking make their way into habits of thinking...sometimes permanently.

Changing these patterns takes work.  It's not easy to wake up everyday and "look at the bright side of things"...and that's not the point.  We aren't called to be optimists who forget reality, we are called to be optimists who create reality.  We get to pick the ending to our story.  You see, we're all offered the same plots in life- with joys and struggles, with sorrows and triumphs...but the ending is up to us.  And the ending is always created by the thoughts that rule our minds.

For me, I want the ending to be good.  I want to be able to look back at my life and see the mountain tops rather than linger in the valleys.  I want to learn how to take my thoughts captive and really hone in on whatever is true, noble, right,  pure, lovely, admirable and praiseworthy.  I want to train myself to think the way God calls me to think.  The way He thinks.

This is the way to contentment, my friends.  No matter what your story, no matter what you've been through or how you've lived your life, it's not too late- you can't go wrong if you follow that rule.  God can take your story and allow you to see it from His a masterpiece.

May He give us to wisdom to live our lives in truth, in righteousness, and in purity.  May God give us the strength to see our lives as beautiful. And may we respond with a heart of contentment. 

**Response: I'd love to hear from you.  Take some time to share your stories with me- your positive and your negative one...and then ask yourself, which one do you make your home in?  Comment below!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Contentment Day 10: Connect With God (The Meaning of Weak Prayers)

Philippians 4:6-7
6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 

I'm reading a book about prayer right now called "Too Busy Not To Pray".   In this book, Bill Hybels confronts the reader with the idea that prayer isn't a problem of time, it's a problem of theology.  I mean, if you think about it, anyone who TRULY believed in the power of God and connecting with Him through prayer would either be ignorant or arrogant in their prayer failures.

If you think about it, this makes a lot of sense.  I mean, If we really believed in who God was, and really knew what He could do...imagine how that would change our prayer lives.  The funny thing is, most of us actually think we believe.  "I know God can do these things" we may say with our mouths, but our lives tell a whole different story, don't they?

And I guess this is why I believe this scripture is most important when we're looking at the topic of contentment, because it is when we CONNECT with God through prayer, that we give Him the authority to have His way in our lives.  

God has power over nature.  He has power over our hearts, our emotions, our minds.  He has power over our situations and our dilemmas.  And He even has power over our perspectives.  God takes the lame and makes them walk.  He brings joy to the depressed.  He gives direction to the lost.  He brings hope to the hopeless and peace to the restless. 

You say you believe this, but does your prayer life speak the same?

Praise God that He is faithful.  Praise Him that He hears us though our prayers are weak, selfish, scattered, and few and far between.  May He grant us the faith to believe in Him with our words and with our actions.  May He give us unwavering belief in who He is and what He can do in our lives.  May He teach us how to pray. 

The Lord's Prayer:
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy Kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Contentment Day 9: Citizineship (Appetizers Aren't supposed to Fill You Up!)

Philippians 3:18-21
18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. 

A few months ago I wrote about "The Gift of Unhappiness".  The post was a discussion of Max Lucado's idea that we will never be TRULY happy here on earth because we weren't made for this earth.  He eloquently reminds us that because this world is not our home, we can't get too comfortable here.  Our hearts should always be longing for more.

I have always loved this concept, because it has truly helped me get through some difficult moments in my life.  I love this concept so much that I thought it was worth re-posting about in this series on contentment.  The reality is, to reach contentment in our lives we have to remember that this world is not our home.  Like Paul explains, our citizenship is in heaven. 

Max Lucado puts it best in his book Heaven, God's Highest Hope:

"Unhappiness on earth cultivates a hunger for heaven. By gracing us with a deep dissatisfaction, God holds our attention. The only tragedy, then, is to be satisfied prematurely. To settle for earth. To be content in a strange land...We are not happy here because we are not at home here. We are not happy here because we are not supposed to be happy here. We are “like foreigners and strangers in this world” (1 Pet.

Take a fish and place him on the beach.2 Watch his gills gasp and scales dry. Is he happy? No! How do you make him happy? Do you cover him with a mountain of cash? Do you get him a beach chair and sunglasses? Do you bring him a Playfish magazine and martini? Do you wardrobe him in double-breasted fins and people-skinned shoes? Of course not. Then how do you make him happy? You put him back in his element. You put him back in the water. He will never be happy on the beach simply because he was not made for the beach.

And you will never be completely happy on earth simply because you were not made for earth. 

Oh, you will have your moments of joy. You will catch glimpses of light. You will know moments or even days of peace. But they simply do not compare with the happiness that lies ahead....

Those moments are appetizers for the dish that is to come."

And that is the key to contentment.  Remembering that this world is but an appetizer for what is to come.  It is not supposed to fill us up because it can't.  Too many of us put our highest hopes and expectations into this world, only to be let down time and time again.  Contentment is found when we let go of our expectations of what this world can offer us, and remember that the best is yet to come.  Our citizenship is in heaven.  

Thank you Father that the best is yet to come.  May we never be so satisfied with this world that we cease to long for more.  Give us contentment in our lives as we journey toward greater and greater things. 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Contentment Day 8: Compared to Knowing Christ: (On Spiritual ADD)

Philippians 3:7-11
7 But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in[a] Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. 10 I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Day 8 of contentment.  I don't know about you...but the road to contentment hasn't been as easy as it sounds.  There are so many components of selflessness and trust on this journey- and our flesh rages against those things. 

Today's lesson is no less difficult.  Today's lesson challenges us to take a look at our life from the bigger picture.  Paul challenges us to consider what really matters in this world and turn our backs on all other things.  

Paul starts off by discussing all the things that he can boast in...all the amazing things in his life, all that he had earned, all that he hadachieved.  He lists these things and then he says that compared to knowing Christ- all that stuff is just garbage.  What a perspective.  To him, knowing Jesus was so much greater than all of that "stuff".  He had learned not to get caught up in the things this world had to offer- and look up and something even greater: his God. 

I don't know about you, but for me that is a hard perspective to graspIt's hard to wake up everyday and remember that this life is just the background.  All this stuff get's in the way.  All the things we have and all the things we want.  All the things we strive for in this life.  And not just the good things, but even the bad.  I might even be able to say, especially the bad.  It seems as though that when I am going through something difficult, it's even easier to let that thing take up my entire vision. 

You see, I'm easily distracted.  At times, it feels as though I have a form of spiritual ADD.  It's not natural for me to live my life remembering that nothing matters more than knowing Jesus.  And not just to remember it, but to live that out. 

Paul had learned a contentment that could never be taken away from him, because he had learned to compare everything he went to in his life to that which was even better.  He didn't settle to live for that which was good, he lived for the greater things.  He lived to know God each and every single day.  In the triumphs and in the suffering- he allowed God to take center stage in his life. And from this he was never distracted. 

That perspective will bring us to true contentment.  When God is magnified in our life, all of a sudden things don't seem so bad.  

May God grant us the the gift of whole-hearted focus on who He is.  May He give us the desire to know Him more, and may that desire supersede any other thing that may distract us from this calling.  May we learn to consider everything in our life as garbage, compared to knowing Christ Jesus our Lord. 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Contentment Day 7: Company- Stay Away from Grumpy...

Philippians 3:2
Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh...

In yesterday's post about complaining, I was talking about a friend I have who never seems to be happy.  He's always complaining about something.  In fact, it kind of reminds me of a funny comedy bit from one of Conan O'brien's shows.  The discussion was about how everything around us is truly miraculous, from cell phones, to flight....yet we always have something to complain about. 

Today, we pick up where we left off...but on a whole new level.  The reality is, one way to purge ourselves from the trap of discontent is to check out the company that we keep.  Hang around complainers and you will find yourself molding into one. 

In today's text Paul is giving a warning about the kind of company we keep.  He was giving warning regarding the Judaizers of that day- people who were so stuck in religion and wrong beliefs about the faith.  They were always bringing down the people around them, making them feel as though their relationship with God was not enough, as though they needed to add to grace by "doing" rather than just "being".  Spending enough time with them was sure to be devastating to the life of the believer- and Paul warned them to watch out!

What a contrast from the company he was discussing in the previous chapter...people who lifted him up in encouragement and love.  People who came along side of him and of others with genuine affection and concern. 

But that is the sad truth of the matter...the people we spend the most time with will eventually infiltrate our lives with their attitudes and their beliefs.  Time and time again scripture discusses this concept:
Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character;
Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. 

This is serious stuff here.  God knows how impressionable we are.  He knows that our flesh is naturally drawn to that which is negative.  He knows the power of personal relationships and the effect they can have on our spirits.

So take a look at your life today.  Take a look at who you are spending time with, and what you are allowing your ears to hear.  At the end of the day, you are the one who is responsible for the kind of things you allow to fill your heart and your mind.  Learn to keep good company.  Learn to be content.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Contentment Day 6: Are you still Complaining??

Philippians 2:14-16
Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God, without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars int he universe...

If you are joining us for the first time- you're catching us on day 6 of a 12 days series on contentment.  Each day we have uncovered one step toward achieving a content life.  Day by day we've seen the secrets to contentment that Paul learned in his journey of faith.

Today we look at a difficult passage.  It's a difficult passage because it's something that each one of us struggles with on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis.  Complaining.

I have a friend who truly complains about everything.  He has a beautiful house, wonderful wife and child, a steady job and is in good health...but you'd never believe it by talking to him.  Every conversation we have seems like a list of all the terrible things that are going on in his life.  So much so, that he's started actually believing that list.  His negative attitude has made it's way into his heart...and frankly, he's not much fun to be around.  

I read a book on contentment by Linda Dillow.  In her book she talks about a missionary woman who passed away after many fruitful years of ministry in Africa.  She had lived a full life, serving God in the hundred-degree, no air-condition, jungles wih very miserable living conditions.  After she died her daughter found hidden deep in her journal what she called the "Prescription to Contentment":

-Never allow yourself to complain about anything-not even the weather.
-Never picture yourself in any other circumstances or someplace else.
-Never compare your lot with another's.
-Never allow yourself to wish this or that had been otherwise.
-Never dwell on tomorrow-remember that tomorrow is God's, not ours.
I love this list because it perfectly describes all the things that tend to drag us into the pit of discontent.  Just like my friend, the reality is, that which we fill our minds with will eventually seep into our hearts.  The toxic seeds of complaining will eventually take root in our lives and we will find ourselves living in a forest of despair, misery, and depression.  

Another reason I appreciate this prescription to contentment is because it points out some of the things we as believers do so innocently sometimes.  I mean, who of us hasn't complained about the weather?  The list could go on and on.  
The truth of the matter is, each one of our lives are filled with both positives and negatives.... complaining is simply the habit of choosing to spot-light those negatives, magnifying them to ourselves and to those around us.  In other words, it's the prescription for pain. 

Not only are we left in a state of misery, when we allow our mouths to complain we are portraying our God in a misleading way.  We are failing to shine like starts in a depraved world, but rather, conforming to it. 

Take inventory.  Out of all the words you speak in a day: what is coming out of your mouth these days?  What are you sharing with the world around you?  It it something that will lift up and encourage others?  Or is it something that will plant the seeds of bitterness and discontent in your heart and the hearts of those around you? 

I'll be the first to's time for a major change. 


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Contentment Day 5: Considering Others (Hyu-mi-le-te)

Philippians 2:3-4
"...but in humility consider others better than yourselves.  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of other.  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant..."

Yesterday we took a look at the Messiah complex, and the dangers of conceit which robs us of our ability to love and serve and strips us of our contentment.  The thing is, it doesn't end there.  Once we are free of conceit we are able to move into the next step of contentment: considering others.

Paul takes it one step further as he talks to the church in Philippi about joy and contentment.  He challenges them to put some walk to their talk by not just saying they are selfless- but by showing it.  The thing about true humility is that it is only proved in a persons life by their actions.  You can't proclaim that you are a humble person.  That doesn't work.  In fact, the ironic thing about humility is that by proclaiming it, you are acting out the very antithesis of humility.  *"One of the hardest things in the world is to stop being the prodigal son without turning into the elder brother"

And Paul calls us to do just that.  To live a life of love, service, and compassion as we exist with those around us.  Considering others.  In my opinion, this is the fifth step to contentment. 

There is truly something about considering the needs of others that draws us miraculously outside of ourselves.  There is something freeing about stepping out of our selfishness and stepping into the role of a servant.  Just like our Lord, who made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant...just for the sake of love.  *"When Jesus came in the form of a servant, He was not disguising who God is....He was REVEALING Him...."

And this is what we are called to do.  To reveal God to the world around us. 

Paul is calling us to this kind of life because he knows that it is only through service that we will truly find the way to contentment.  Only by stepping out of ourselves will we be able to find the joy that we were looking for.  *"The reason we help others is not because we are strong and they need us; it is because if we don't help them, we will end up a hopeless relic".  We will end up selfish, cold-hearted, and blind to those around us.  Spiritually, we will end up dead. 

May God give us the strength to take our eyes off of ourselves for just a second, and look around to the needs of those around us.  May He free us from the addictions of self and usher us into the humility of our Lord.  

*Appropriate Smallness: The Practice of Servanthood.  The Life You've Always Wanted, by John Ortberg.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Day 4 of Contentment: Conceit- The Messiah Complex

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit…

One of my favorite stories is cited by John Ortberg in his book “The Life You’ve Always Wanted”.  In this book he exposes the story of three chronic psychiatric patients at a hospital in Ypsilanti, Michigan
Each one of these men had the steadfast belief that they were truly the reincarnation of Jesus Christ.  They all maintained the fact that this world revolved around them.  

Ortberg discusses the research and treatment that went into these men, with a so called “Messiah Complex” .  In an attempt to bring them back to reality, Dr. Rokeach confined them all within the limits of the same walls and watched them as they ate together, slept together, and communed together.  These findings were recorded in his book “The Three Christs of Ypsilanti”.

Crazy, isn’t it?  To think that humans could live with such a delusion.  To think that people could actually believe that the world revolves around them.  To think that there could be someone who actually carries selfishness and conceit everywhere they go.  To think that the bitter root of pride could find its way into their hearts and slowly begin to seep into their lives.  

Well…when you put it that way, it doesn’t sound so crazy after all, does it?  I think that’s one of the reasons I love this story, and the commentary by John Ortberg.  It is an incredible reminder that we are all victims at some level of The Messiah Complex.  

God knows this about His people…and this issue is addressed time and time again in Scriptures.  We are challenged as children of God to run from pride and conceit, to consider others better than ourselves, and to put others first in our lives.  Paul reiterates in Chapter 2 of Philippians by calling us to do NOTHING out of selfish ambition or vain conceit.  Nothing…

And this is why I believe that the fourth step to contentment is truly that: striving to live a life free of conceit.  A life where, as Ortberg puts it, we learn to be “appropriately small”:

“The bitter irony is, the very delusion they clung to so tenaciously is what cut them off from life.  To stop being the messiah sounded terrifying, but it would have been their salvation if they had only tried.  If Leon, Joseph, and Clyde could have stopped competing to see who gets to be the messiah, they could have become Leon, and Joseph, and Clyde…

Your world could grow infinitely bigger if you were only willing to become ‘appropriately small’”.  

The danger of pride is that it inhibits our ability to love, to serve, and to give.  It sets us up as “greater than” and eventually sets us apart from both God and man.  We find ourselves alone…isolated…and inaccessible to those around us.  And at the end of that lonely road we find that we are starved of contentment.  

"God's great, holy joke about the Messiah complex is this: Every human being who has ever lived has suffered from it- except one.  And He was the Messiah"

May God save us from the prison of conceit.  May He open our eyes to the pride in our hearts and teach us to live a life of humility.  May He show us Himself in such a powerful way that we cannot be confused as to who the true Messiah really is.  

Lord, save us from ourselves. 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Day 3 to Contentment: Courage (Why Paul was NOT a Scaredy Cat)

Philippians 1:20
20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.

Courage.  That is the definite theme of day three of contentment: because it is courage that gives us the strength and power to move forward in times where the temptation is to cease, and it is courage that allows us to look ahead even when this moment is all that can be seen.

Paul was a man of courage.  Courage in his life, but even more so, courage in his death.  Courage that stemmed from the fact that this life was not the end of the road, but only just the beginning.  Courage that understood that though this world may fail him, there was a God who never would.  Courage that believed that the joys of this world were nothing in comparison to what was to come.  And that the suffering of this day would soon be drowned out by the beauty of the days to come. 

Because he always knew there was more to this life, Paul was able to really live.  Ironic, isn't it?  When you can see this life as just the journey toward the final destination, all of a sudden things look brighter.  All of a sudden you feel stronger.  All of a sudden the glimpse of the eternal erases the woes and worries of the temporal.  And you find yourself filled with an unexplainable strength.  Unfathomable joy.  Unexpected contentment.  

This is true courage.  The ability to live this life, content in the face of whatever comes our way...content because we see this life as but a moment in the scope of forever. 

May God grant us the ability to see past that which is temporal and look toward the eternal.  May He give us the grace to remember that this world really is not out home.  And may He give us the courage to live this life to its fullest- realizing that death is only the door to our final destination.

“Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee” -St. Augustine

Follow along on our journey to contentment: 
Day 1:  Confidence

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Contentment Day 2: The Sting of Competition

15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

Welcome to Day 2 of our study.  We’re studying the book of Philippians for the next 10 days toward Christmas, in an attempt to grasp the lessons learned by Paul on his journey toward living a content life.  Through this study may God grant us the ability to see past society’s obsession with commercialism and materialism.  From wanting more of things, to wanting more of Him. 

Our first day took a look at the confidence Paul had in Jesus Christ and how his life was founded in that stability.  Today, we look at something a little different- something we need to purge from our hearts and from our lives: Competition. 

This passage has always struck me as peculiar.  Paul is discussing those who preach the gospel out of rivalry rather than love- the very opposite of what the gospel stands for.  I never understood why anyone would share God’s word with others out of a selfish heart…until I grew up into a woman, and began to see the twinges of competition and selfishness in my own life.

It’s true, like it or not, you at some point in your life have struggled with the idea of competition and comparison with those around you.  We are all chronic victims of this terrible disease.  And it is this disease that will lead us directly into the pit of unhappiness. 

Whether competing toward “winning souls” and preaching the gospel like those Paul mentioned in this chapter, or competing for the highest scores, best physique, or popularity…comparing yourself with those around you will either lead to destruction & misery or vanity & pride.  There is always someone greater, wiser, and more beautiful than you - and there is always someone less than. 

The sting of competition is so deadly because it causes us to live our lives passively: out of reactions rather than actions.  And, ironic though it may be, reaction (by the very nature of the word) always comes in second.

God calls us to live our lives proactively, based on the individual calling He has given each one of us and the deliberate way He has made us.  He calls us to revel in who we are rather than rival at the lives of others. 

May you have the strength to close your eyes to the lives of others, and open your eyes to live the life God has given to you, to be present in it, and to be thankful for it.  Amen. 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Contentment Day 1: The Gift of Confidence

…being confident of this: that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ.

Intro: [The book of Philippians is a beautiful letter written by the apostle Paul during his arrest in Rome as he awaited his trial.  The ironic thing about this book is that though he is in chains while writing, and after beatings and humiliation, the ongoing theme of this book can be summed up by one word: Joy.  

Paul was a man who had learned how to live a life of contentment- no matter the circumstances. 
As we dig into these words, I pray that his spirit of joy and peace will also saturate our lives, allowing us to take in our lives with contentment and satisfaction.]

In reading the book of Philippians, I’m struck by the many things Paul learned on his journey to contentment.  The reality of contentment is that it is just that: a journey.  It isn’t a magic potion or a miraculous gift.  Like Paul points out, it is a learned trait.  It’s a habit…and a habit of unhappiness in a person’s life can only be overcome by a habit of contentment.  

It seems to me that one step toward learning contentment is found in the concept of confidence.  Paul had an unwavering confidence that stemmed from outside of his-self.  He stood on the solid ground of what Christ could do in his life and in the life of others and nothing could shake that belief.  

No matter what he went through, or what others around him went through, Paul was sure that Christ would carry him through…He would finish what He began, there was no doubt about that in Paul’s mind.  And it makes sense.

I mean, after such a miraculous interaction with the power of Jesus Christ, Paul was changed in an instant.  That powerful moment ingrained in him a confidence that could not be moved.  

I want that kind of confidence.  I want to believe that no matter what is going on in my life, that I serve a God who will carry it to completion…and not just any kind of completion, but something that ends in good- because that is who God is.  

I want to believe with all my heart that God is able to complete even the most difficult of situations and bring me through to the end.  I want a confidence that stems outside of my own power and will- but that is grounded firmly in the knowledge of who Jesus is and what He has done and will do in my life.  

And why not?  Paul’s transformation is not any more miraculous than my own.  A blind woman who now can see.  A lost soul who was compassionately found.  A dying spirit that was rescued from the grave.  I have seen that God is good, and I have seen what He can do…so why is it so difficult some days to have confidence in what He WILL do in my life and in my situation?  

When our eyes our fixed on Him, when we are confident in what He can do…no situation or circumstance can take away our joy.   

This is why I believe that the first key to contentment is found in confidence in Christ.  Because in this, we lay down our power and our pride, we lay down our trust in ourselves, we lay down what we know to be true and what we can see with our eyes in the moment- and proclaim that Christ can and will complete all that is good in our lives. 

Be confident.  He who began a good work in your life WILL carry it to completion…so step out of the way, and let Him.  

May God grant you the gift of confidence in who He is this Christmas season. 

Monday, December 6, 2010

Praying to Moe, Curly, and Larry:

Philippians 4:6
Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.

A few months ago, I was having a chat with my cousin CharleneWe were discussing some issues that were going on in each of our lives, sharing our struggles and our concerns.  In the middle of our conversation, she stopped mid-sentence and said something that really challenged me and has caused me to be more deliberate in my life.  

"Debs, I want to stop praying to people"....

It was such a profound thought that it actually caught me off guard.  

I want to stop praying to people.  What she meant by that is something that we are all guilty of.  How many times do we take our needs and pour our hearts out to others...neglecting at the end of the line to pour these things out to God, the only one who can really do anything about them.  

Don't get me wrong, I believe there is something powerful about connecting with others in an intimate way, sharing struggles and allowing others to walk by our side through them.  But so often, we allow our venting to others to take the need of speaking to our Lord. 

We are so "talked out" by the end of the day.  And many times, all that talking actually makes us feel better....temporarily, of course.  Because when the line of people comes to it's end, we find that our problem is still lingering...

I was challenged that day to take my words more seriously, sharing them with a few selected friends...but more importantly, I was challenged to be deliberate in bringing my needs to Jesus.  I want to learn to vent to Him more than I vent to others.  I want it to become a natural and even necessary part of my life.  Because at the end of the day, He is the only one who holds the keys to healing, power, and change.