Monday, October 26, 2009

An Act of Worship: Sermon Thoughts, 10/25/09 (a day late!)

This weekend proved busier than I expected, in a number of ways, not least in working on my current secret project. That should be unveiled in all its glory sometime in the next two weeks. Keep your eyes open. I think you'll enjoy it. Between that and an extra long work day today - a surprising training opportunity that stretches my days out to nine and a half hours! - I simply haven't had a chance to sit down and type until now. A day late it may be, but I'm determined not to slack off on sermon summaries after only one week.


October 25, 2008 - Bruce Hess, "Right Choices: Choose Contentment Daily"
Sermon text: Philippians 4:10-13, NASB:
But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.
This was an excellent sermon, and one that Jaimie and I found very timely.

Bruce opened by noting how powerful and how pervasive advertising is in America - it's everywhere, and it performs entirely on the basis of discontent. "If you don't have this," it says, "you're nothing." But this discontent, far from satisfying us, will rob us of the joy that God longs to give us.

The two-point sermon (thank you, Bruce, for sticking to the text's outline instead of substituting your own for a convenient three points!) focused on our struggle with contentment and Paul's secret for contentment.

We struggle with contentment for two basic reasons. First, we have a bad case of what Bruce called the "if only" syndrome - "If only I had ____, I would be content." This is simply not true... it's nonsense, in fact. The discontent never ends, and as soon as we have that ____, we're questing on for something else. The important question to ask, then, is whether there is anything we would put in that blank. Do we find anything but Christ ultimately satisfying? Second, we fall prey to discontent because we don't trust God. We forget and underestimate the power of Christ that now dwells in us. If we remembered that, we would know that God supplies all our needs just as faithfully as He has given us salvation. (More on this later in the sermon!)

It's striking that in verse 10, Paul notes that he had "rejoiced in the Lord greatly" - while in prison! He was glad for a financial gift the Philippians had given, but he rejoiced in Christ;. A brief moment of application: we have an opportunity to similarly encourage people in ministry, especially those who we have let fall by the wayside, whether in prayer or financially. More, by contrast with most of us, Paul proclaims in verse 11 that he had "learned to be content." What was his secret? First, contentment is learned. It's not instinctive for us; our fallen selves tend in exactly the opposite direction. Second, it was not his financial circumstances. Paul was content in good circumstances and bad. Bruce's comment here was dead on: "Just because someone has a lot does not mean they will be content... Prosperity can feed discontent." He pointed us to a very helpful prayer: Proverbs 30:8.

Paul's secret was "all about attitude... there [was] an active reliance on the reality of his relationship with Christ." As Paul himself pointed out elsewhere, he had learned not to boast in anything but knowing God. Bruce pointed us to a fabulous passage in Jeremiah that's worth memorizing:
Jeremiah 9:23-24:
Thus says the LORD, "Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things," declares the LORD.
Similarly, Hebrews 13:5-6 reminds us that our contentment is grounded in God's promise: He will not leave us, and He will not forsake us. We can rest in the confidence that we are His. In particular, we are assured by all of Scripture that we may rely on God's providence, and that His provision is perfectly sufficient (see Philippians 4:13). We rely on God's indwelling power - the same power that raised Christ Jesus from the dead! - for our provision. We can rest assured that we will have all that we need. Remember: that means that rich or poor, God has met our needs according to His perfect wisdom. As Bruce said, our attitude toward God should be, "Whatever you call me to experience, you will provide for, and I will rely on that."

I think the best moment in the sermon was Bruce's closing. He spoke to the issue dearest to my heart, reminding us that all of these things ultimately come down to whether or not we are glorifying God. "Contentment at its core," he said," is an act of worship: worshipping God for the sufficiency of His power, for the reality of his provision." God owes us nothing; we owe him thanks for everything, because every part of our life is a free gift.

Our response can be summed up in three parts. First, rejoice in your relationship with Jesus Christ above any other person or thing in this world, for He is our great treasure (Habakkuk 3:17-19). Second, keep your eyes on eternity (2 Corinthians 4:17). Finally, count your blessings: don't lose sight of all that God has done, blinded by the greed of this world.

I appreciated how saturated with Scripture this sermon was. Bruce didn't make it more than about two minutes at a stretch without reading or quoting Scripture, and doing it well and accurately. That sort of sermon is too rare in many churches, and it's always a joy to hear.

I challenge you, as I was challenged, to walk this week in contentment, remembering that contentment is an act of worship.

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