Escaping Discontent

Scripture: Philippians 4:12
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.

Reflection: Escaping Discontent
By Jon Polk

A commercial pilot flying over the Tennessee mountains pointed out a lake to his co-pilot. “See that lake down there? When I was a boy, I used to sit in a rowboat and fish for hours. Whenever a plane flew overhead, I pretended I was piloting the jet.”

The co-pilot responded, “You must be proud that you have achieved your boyhood dreams.” The pilot replied, “Not exactly. Now when I fly over that lake, I wish I was down there fishing.”

Contentment is an elusive pursuit. We want to believe there is something out there that we can find or achieve or buy that will finally make us happy.

It is difficult to find contentment in a culture that works hard to foster discontent. Consumer economies are designed to ensure we are never satisfied, in essence, monetizing our discontent. Businesses do their best to keep us constantly longing for the latest and greatest “Shiny Objects.” Enough is never enough.

If we are never satisfied, we are not fully able to enjoy the life that God has given us.

Notice that Paul didn’t write, “I’m so glad that it is easy to be content in every situation.” No, he says, “I had to learn to be content whatever the circumstances.”

First, Paul learned we should rejoice in the Lord. Even in the midst of difficulty we can rejoice that God sustains and cares for us. Second, be known for gentleness, not insisting on our own rights, but instead striving for the welfare of others. Third, don’t be anxious about anything. Recall the words of Jesus, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Finally, pray with thanksgiving. When we give thanks to God, we acknowledge that everything we have is a gift, a result of His goodness and generosity.

If we are pursuing these things, what are we not doing?

We’re not congratulating ourselves for how great we are. We’re not being proud or selfish or stingy with our resources. We’re not complaining or comparing ourselves to others. We’re not consumed by the insatiable quest for more.

Instead, we are free to focus on the only one who can provide for us, God himself, and when we find joy in the Lord, we can let go of our discontent and find contentment in his love and grace.

The Call to Prayer
Sing praise to the Lord who dwells in Zion; proclaim to the peoples the things he has done. — Psalm 9:11

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 13 (Listen – 5:14)
Philippians 4 (Listen – 3:20)

Gospel Faith or Garbage Faith

Scripture: Philippians 3:8-9
I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.

Reflection: Gospel Faith or Garbage Faith
By Jon Polk

Before the Damascus road, Paul had all that we expect would make a person successful: respect, reputation, power, influence. He had the pedigree of his nationality and family. He had the résumé of an impeccable Pharisee, a leader in the community.

And yet, even with all that he had achieved, once he met Christ, Paul realized everything prior was waste, rubbish, by comparison.

The word that Paul uses in Philippians 3:8, often translated “garbage,” is Greek for dung or excrement. Paul makes an extreme point by stating that all that he has built up in his life—all that we consider to be of value—is completely worthless when compared to faith in Christ. By using this particular word, he is saying that it is all, quite frankly, disgusting and repulsive.

So what does Paul consider worthwhile? What should we strive for? Knowing Christ through faith. We should pursue a righteousness that is not found in accomplishments, or in keeping the law or rules, or in being a “good person.” The only worthy thing is knowing Christ in the power of his resurrection and in participation in his suffering. This kind of faith is our foundation.

A story is told of a wealthy man on his deathbed visited by an angel. Upon hearing the angel remind him that “you can’t take it with you,” the man pleads, “Please, I have so much that I have worked hard all my life to acquire. May I bring just one suitcase?” The man begs until the angel grants his request.

Thinking he was clever, the wealthy man converted his riches and filled the suitcase with gold bars. When death came for the man and he arrived at the Pearly Gates, St. Peter insisted on inspecting his luggage.

Opening the heavy suitcase to examine its contents, Peter looked at the man, puzzled, and asked, “Why did you bring a suitcase full of pavement?”

The “streets of gold” metaphor in Revelation reminds us that the very things we find valuable in this life will be most ordinary in our eternal life. The stuff we value here will be under our feet in eternity.

Faith in Christ, the foundation of our righteousness, is the only thing that lasts. In the end, it won’t matter how much money we made, what country we were born in, what our family pedigree is, or how successful, powerful or prestigious we became. Only faith sustains and only faith remains.

A Reading
Jesus taught us, saying: “How blessed are the poor in spirit: the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” — Matthew 5:3

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 12 (Listen – 7:05)
Philippians 3 (Listen – 3:21)

Inward Battles

Scripture: Ephesians 6.11
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.

Praying and sinning will never live together in the same heart. Prayer will consume sin, or sin will choke prayer. ― J.C. Ryle

Reflection: Inward Battles
By Steven Dilla

One of the Fruit of the Spirit is peace — a gift which we receive from God. Yet here, in Ephesians, the focus of scripture turns to war. Timothy Keller, in a sermon on spiritual warfare, quotes the 19th century Anglican bishop of Liverpool J.C. Ryle on the way spiritual war and peace exist in the life of healthy followers of Christ:

Let me talk to you about true Christianity. There’s a vast quantity of religion currently in the world that is not true, genuine Christianity. It passes muster, it satisfies sleepy consciences; but it is not good money. It is not the real thing…

There are thousands of men and women who go to chapels and churches every Sunday and call themselves Christians… But you never see any ‘fight’ about their religion! Of spiritual strife, and exertion, and conflict, and self-denial, and watching, and warring they know literally nothing at all.

Let us consider these propositions.…The saddest symptom about many so-called Christians is the utter absence of anything like conflict or fight. They eat, they drink, they dress, they work, they amuse themselves, they get money, they spend money, they go through a scanty round of formal religious services once or even twice a week, but the great spiritual warfare … its watchings and strugglings, its agonies and anxieties, its battles and contests … of all this they appear to know nothing at all.

Do you find in your heart of hearts a spiritual struggle? Are you conscious of two principles within you, contending for the mastery? Do you feel anything of war in your inward man? Well, let us thank God for it! It is a good sign. It is strongly probable evidence of the great work of sanctification.All true saints are soldiers. A real Christian can be known as much by his inward warfare as by his inward peace.

May the peace of Christ be in you as you fight the good fight necessary to cultivate the fruit of heaven on earth.

The Refrain
For God, who commended the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

– From 
The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

Full prayer available online and in print.

Today’s Readings
1 Kings 9 (Listen – 4.16)
Ephesians 6 (Listen – 3:17)

This Weekend’s Readings
1 Kings 10 (Listen – 4.27) Philippians 1 (Listen – 4:03)
1 Kings 11 (Listen – 7.05) Philippians 2 (Listen – 3:45)

Work Out Your Own Salvation

It costs five rupee to enter the Gulshan-e-Iqbal fairground in Lahore, Pakistan—slightly less than a US nickel—though the families who gathered this past weekend to celebrate Easter in the park would pay far more.

“A spokesman for the Taliban splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar said Christians were deliberately targeted,” reports the Guardian. As of this morning the death count is over 70 with hundreds more injured. I cannot recall an Easter season when my longing for resurrection has been greater.

But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. — Philippians 3.20-21

Paul’s presentation of Christ as the hope of resurrection comes on the heels of his call to abandon salvation attempts through earthly means. The Church in Philippi would have known well the Roman slogan, “Caesar is Lord.” As citizens of a global superpower they didn’t have to, as Paul put it in Philippians 2.12, “work out” their salvation—at the first sign of trouble their political leader would swoop to defend them.

Not much has changed in modern times, though the current sentiment is something like: this party will save America, the other one will destroy it. Hours after the attacks in Lahore Donald Trump tweeted, with usual bombast, “Another radical Islamic attack… I alone can solve”.

Jesus presents himself as a binary to worldly saviors—even efficacious leaders like Caesar. Looking to political leaders, or parties, as a source of hope goes against the very call and pathway of Christ. Working out our salvation is not about earning faith, but about abandoning other saviors. N.T. Wright explains:

It is Jesus, not Caesar, who has been a ‘servant’, and has now been given ‘the name above every name’, so that at his name every knee should bend and every tongue confess, ‘Jesus Messiah is Lord’. He has come to that place of universal acclamation, not by self-aggrandizement after the manner of Hellenistic or Roman potentates, but by the self-abnegation of incarnation and cross.

“The government has proved it cannot keep people safe,” reflected a Pakistani pastor after the attacks. Though in deep need of the global Church’s prayers and action, in this statement the pastor reveals he is free to possess something that is unreachable for those of us still seeking salvation through national strength, political leaders, or partisan victories: Christ alone.

 
Today’s Reading
Proverbs 17 (Listen – 2:58)
Philippians 4 (Listen – 3:20)

The Unlucky Tree

“It is difficult, after sixteen centuries and more during which the cross has been a sacred symbol, to realize the unspeakable horror and loathing which the very mention or thought of the cross provoked in Paul’s day,” reflects British theologian F.F. Bruce.

The word “crucifixion” was nearly unspeakable among Rome’s cultural elite. Most Romans, like Cicero, avoided the term all-together, opting for the euphemism arbori infelici suspendito—hang him on the unlucky tree. In the ancient Jewish tradition, and therefore early Christian culture, to hang on a tree was to fall under the curse of God.

For the first Christians, Christ’s cursed death would have been just as arresting as the thought of his resurrection. Yet how the apostle Paul—a Jewish-elite Roman Christian—responded to the scorn and humiliation of Christ on the cross set a tuning-pitch for the early church.

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others,” the apostle wrote. His reasoning wasn’t moralism or civility, but a direct application of what it meant to follow a crucified savior. He continued with the words to one of the first Christian hymns:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

In other words: sacrifice your pursuits, comfort, and status just as Christ sacrificed his for you. This is the pathway to resurrection. Selfish ambition fractures relationships. Vein-conceit leverages success in an attempt to exact revenge on those who have hurt us in the past. The cruciform lifestyle lays all this down—we follow Christ to the cross because grace has invited us to the resurrection.

Of the first Christians, F.F. Bruce concludes:

One could have understood it if the early Christians, knowing that the crucifixion of Jesus was an undeniable fact, had admitted it reluctantly when they were compelled to do so. But Paul, Roman citizen by birth and religious Jew by upbringing, not only dismisses as the merest refuse those things in which he had once taken a proper pride, but embraces—as the most worth-while goal in life—the knowledge of the crucified Christ and boasts in his cross.

Today’s Reading
Proverbs 16 (Listen – 3:15)
Philippians 3 (Listen – 3:21)

 

 

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