Is It Okay To Be Content?

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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 who gives me strength.  –Philippians 4:12-13

I had one thing on my list yesterday afternoon. I had a precious 5 hours set aside to relax and be content.

And I just couldn’t do it.

There were too many big pressing issues taking up space in my brain.  Not enough professions of faith at my church this year. The future of my denomination. The constant creep of scary political times.  The busy week ahead.

Not only did I feel plagued by these issues and more, I started feeling like it would be irresponsible to push them aside.  There are, for me, some pretty serious issues on that list.  Big problems.  Disturbances in the Force.  Valid reasons for feeling discontent.

Maybe it was wrong for me to want to be content in the first place.  To take a big sigh and forget my problems for a while.  Maybe that was a mistake.

Maybe my role as a disciple is to carry my cross, shoulder my burdens, keeping my eyes on the prize of the Kingdom come.  As long as things are broken in this world, my job is to be discontent.  Or even a malcontent–fighting the man, even if that turns out to be me.

So, no bingeing on Netflix.  No Burger King Impossible Burger.  No Lazy Boy Recliner.  And NO peace of mind.

That is the dangerous path my brain was headed down.  So many Christians have chosen to live that way .  I didn’t fully rest.  I couldn’t relax.  I went to bed exhausted.

Today, I read the scripture above, from Philippians, where Paul talks about being content.  He has figured out the secret–so much so that he can feel at peace when life is producing either a bounty or a scarcity.

The key, it seems, is what gives you contentment.  Paul finds peace in good times and bad.  There is no earthly item on his list that can sway him–because his strength comes from God.  His ongoing connection with God is the most real thing in his life, and holding tightly to that allows him to be content, even when things on earth feel dicey.

I happen to know several times where Paul declares himself to be distressed, so it’s not like he’s unaffected by the problems he’s up against.  It must be that the hope and joy of a life in God simply matters more.

I wish I could go back and live those 5 hours of downtime over again.  I would have leaned on God more.  I would have rested in the sure and certain knowledge that God wants more for me than to fret without ceasing.  Perhaps praying without ceasing would have framed things better.

That kind of bingeing…

is even better than Netflix.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Athazagoraphobia

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‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’  –Exodus 33:12b

I was listening to a podcast the other day, and Ted Danson was the guest being interviewed.  He mentioned about his struggle to remember people’s names, and how he has to “load-in” the names of people he’s about to see.

My first thought was, “Wow!  I have the same problem!”

My second thought was to laugh, realizing that the theme song for his most famous television show describes a place “where everybody knows your name.”

I desperately wish I could remember the name of every person in my church.  I envy people who can do it.  I would be so much more hospitable with second time visitors.  I would greet everybody at the door by name.  I would serve communion by name.  Every phone call, every committee meeting, I’d be throwing out names, left and right.

I’m not sure why I have such a problem, but I do.  Even with people I’ve known well for half a decade, sometimes the name just escapes me.

I looked on WebMD for some help.  They listed 36 conditions that contribute to the loss of names.  Naturally, I gravitated to the more severe ones:  Stroke, Alzheimer’s, Mad Cow Disease.

Probably not.

Then I thought, maybe I just have a phobia about it.  I looked it up:  It’s called Athazagoraphobia, the fear of forgetting or being forgotten.  Kind of funny that its name is something I will NEVER be able to remember!

Maybe I do have Althazha….Athazagrapi….nevermind.  Whatever you call it, I suppose it describes me.  Scared of forgetting people by name.

There are 35 times the NIV Bible uses the phrase “by name”.  Many are census listings in Numbers or Chronicles, or conversations between God and Moses in Exodus, but in Isaiah 43, God says this to God’s people:

“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. –Isaiah 43:1b

God knows me.  By name.  Not just me.  Every person who walks through the doors of the church.  Every person who fears forgetting–or being forgotten. No need to fear.

That doesn’t allow me to abdicate my job to “load in” as many names as I can, but truth is, there are few places where “everybody knows your name”.  It’s just not the Norm. (Get it?) Names are tricky sometimes, slippery.  Some people are better at it than others.

But in God’s redeeming of our lives, we are known, by name.  God claims us. God knows us, and wants us to know God, too.

God is the master of name-knowing.  You and I are just apprentices.  Disciples.

So as we continue the hard work of getting to know those around us, we can rejoice that God has long been on the job.

For that, we must be eternally grateful…

So say it with me…

Cheers!

Mitch

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“You’re Wrong”

I wrote a post on the Mulvane Voice.

The Mulvane Voice is a Facebook page where people can comment on community happenings, invite people to events, but mostly, tell everybody if they find a stray dog.

Oh yeah…one more use of the Mulvane Voice:  To tell other people they’re wrong.

Someone will complain about something, somebody else will tell them their wrong, and complain about the other person’s complaining.  This goes back and forth several times, until a third person tells the other two that they’re both wrong, and lamenting how the message board has become one big place for telling others they’re wrong.

My post was an invitation to this year’s blessing of the animals.  We set up right next to the city pool on the evening when they have a special doggie swim.  Lots of people love the idea of thanking God for their precious puppies.  It’s a great time of outreach, and a lot of fun.

And I was looking forward to it, until somebody replied to the post to tell me I was wrong.  That animals have no souls.  They quoted Ecclesiastes 3:1, which says, “Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?”

And then, lots of people chimed in, on both sides.  The whole thing was a big mess until my wife diffused the whole thing by pointing out this was simply thanking God for our pets, and nothing more.

I think those words, “You’re wrong”, should be used sparingly. They are potent words, creating division, polarizing people, and staking a claim to the truth that might not be one’s to stake.

This online argument, about the presence or absence of a soul in animals reeks of an inner desire to be disagreeable.  Or to be right.  Really, isn’t that what we are saying when we claim “You’re wrong”?  We’re declaring ourselves to be right.  There may subjects and situations where that kind of confidence is warranted, but most of the time? Being right is just not that important.

Far more important is to be loving.  Remember this?

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  –1 Corinthians 13:4-5

Remember, Paul did not write these words for a marriage ceremony, but for a church community that had taken to seeing the “wrong” in each other.  Love here is not some gushy, uninformed sentiment.  It is a truth-focussed, other-centered declaration   A better way to act and behave.   It is a way that has slipped away from so much of our world.

I never give advice in these devotions, but I feel compelled to today:  When you are conversing with someone, in person, over the phone, even on a message board, avoid, as much and as long as possible those two words:  You’re wrong.  The moment’s flash of superiority they may gain you will so quickly be replaced by an empty void where love might have been.

As for me, I realized that if I could bless a bunch of strange dogs, I could struggle to offer a blessing for all us strange folks on the Mulvane Voice.  Call that what you will, but if you call it love…

you wouldn’t be wrong.
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My dog, Tom Petty, getting ready to help bless the animals.