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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BOAST

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“Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”–2 Corinthians 10:17

Here’s a little word study for you.  In the NIV Bible, 2nd Corinthians mentions “Church” 10 times.  It speaks of “Grace” 11 times.  “Love” is mentioned 12 times.

And the word “Boast” shows up 22 times.

Paul uses that word in all his letters, but in 2 Corinthians, it’s a major theme.  He boasts about one church or another.  He boasts about God’s power.  He even boasts about what has come about from his own suffering.

If it can point to God, he boasts about it.

That’s the point of his boasting.  Not to lift himself up or make himself look good, but to highlight the work of the Lord.  Worldly boasting is bad.  Heavenly boasting?  Very good.

So, how are you doing, boasting wise?  Have you done your share of bragging for Jesus this week?  Are you part of a church that is making a difference, reaching your neighbors, and serving those in need?  Who are you telling about it?

I think my main avenue for boasting is Facebook.  I have 1,309 friends on Facebook.  High School classmates.  Current and former church members.  Colleagues.  College friends.  Family and a lot of people I probably don’t really know.

Maybe 50% of my FB Friends are church-goers.  Another 30%, I would guess, are lapsed or disillusioned Christians.  10% are agnostics, and some atheists, and the last 10% are somehow outside these categories.

I believe I have a responsibility to those 1,309 friends (even though we don’t always see each other’s posts).  My responsibility is to boast.  Here’s why:

  • The Catholic Church’s ongoing abuse scandal “proves” to so many how dangerous religion is. (And indeed, sometimes it is)
  • Stories about hypocritical Christians who look down their noses at those who are different get a lot more traction than “healthy” Christian stories.
  • Accounts of Pastors greedily asking for money, or bookkeepers skimming off the top reinforce a negative view of the Church’s relationship with money.
  • Denominational fights over issues such as abortion and homosexuality present the Church as an anxious and contentious place where other vital ministry takes a backseat.

And so on.  There is very little above to boast about.  In fact, I’d guess the Church’s PR factor is as low as its ever been.  If that’s the public image the Church offers the world, it’s no wonder our congregations are shrinking.

So here’s what I do.  I take pictures of everything exciting, vital, or worthy that my church is doing.  Special events and services, mission opportunities, partnerships in the community, and so on.  And after every event, I post the pictures to Facebook.

(Oh, and by the way, if you TAG people in your FB photos, all of THEIR friends have a chance to see your photos.  That boosts the boast!)

I want all those Christians, disillusioned Christians, atheists, agnostics, etc. to see what the Holy Spirit is doing through my church.  I want as many people as possible to see The Church alive and thriving, living out its vision (although never perfectly), and changing lives, including our own. God forbid I ever run out of reasons to take pictures.

This is me BOASTING!  Now some folks may think I’m boasting for myself, lifting up my church or myself for bragging rights.  Others may think I’m oversharing.  I suppose that’s the risk.  I suppose that’s part of why Paul brings up boasting so many times in 2 Corinthians.  He wants them to understand his true motivations.  I try to convey that as best I can.

Facebook may not be your thing.  Instagram is an excellent alternative, and reaches a younger crowd.  And if social media is not your preferred method of boasting, feel free to share your enthusiasm with the crew that meets for coffee at the McDonalds, or the folks in your Pilates class, or in your office.

Sharing the excitement of your church reaching out and touching God’s Kingdom is nothing to be silent about.  It’s the way things ought to be.  The more we boast, the more the true nature of the Church can be revealed to the world.

By the way–I’ve got room for more friends!  Friend me at https://www.facebook.com/toddmit!

If you do friend me, be sure to check out pictures from this last Sunday. We had so much cool stuff going on…

Paul could have written a whole book about it.

 

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Grumbling Replacement Therapy

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Do everything without grumbling
–Philippians 2:14

This passage makes me sad.

Because I’m a really good grumbler.

I can grumble out loud in a meeting when things aren’t going my way.

I can grumble under my breath when someone irritates me.

I can even grumble in my head when I want people to think I’m not grumbling, but I really am.

I don’t know about you, but grumbling can be almost a way of life.

For Paul to suggest that I should do everything without grumbling, well, I’m almost at a loss.

How exactly does one do that?

Grumbling seems to occupy an entire constant track in my mind’s playlist.  How do I mute it?

How does one retrain your brain to refrain from complaining?  (Repeat that 10 times fast)

If Paul doesn’t want me grumbling, what other options do I have?

The truth is, grumbling is a hard habit to break.

So let’s start small.

Don’t just bite your tongue when the temptation for grumbling comes — use it for something healthier.

Try Grumbling Replacement Therapy:

Instead of a “Bah Humbug”, try one earnest, “Let me help you with that”, and see how it feels.

A little bit at a time, you can find yourself exchanging grumbling for humbling.

That’s my hard and fast goal.  A humbled heart.

Yes, there are sometimes I fall short…

but I suppose…

I can’t complain.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Whoa and Behold.

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Schwarzenegger had “I’ll Be Back”

Eastwood had “Make My Day”

But my favorite catchphrase comes from none other than Keanu Reeves, and it goes like this:

“Whoa”.

Can you picture him saying it?

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He’s uttered those fabulous four letters in the Bill and Ted movies, and Speed, and Point Break, and the Devil’s Advocate, and even The Matrix!

So what, exactly, does Keanu mean when he says Whoa?

Certainly he’s not slowing down a horse.

No, I think that little word means something like this:  “I am awe-inspired and/or overwhelmed by what is happening, and I need a moment.”

Sound about right?

Keanu says it a lot.  But how often do you?

Personally, I think he’s on to something.

I think it’s a perfect way to acknowledging the presence of the Holy Spirit!

Remember Paul on the road to Damascus?  Whoa.
Elijah in the cleft of the mountain? Whoa.
Hagar in the desert? Whoa.
Shepherds at the manger? Whoa.
Moses and the burning bush?  Whoa.

And of course, the biggest Woah moment of all:  Pentecost.  WHOA!!!

One doesn’t just jump and go to work when the tongues of fire appear and the mighty wind begins to rush.

No, it doesn’t mention it in scriptures, but I firmly believe

that those disciples gasped in amazement,

a reverent moment of “Whoa”

before the Spirit said “Go”.

And so we must be on the lookout, because the Spirit has not left.

In good times and bad, there is so much to “Whoa and Behold”.

It is the ever-present Power of the Holy Spirit

that reveals the extraordinary around us and in us,

on every Excellent Adventure,

(And every Bogus Journey, too.)

 

Have a great week,

Mitch

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Double Negative

Sometimes I can be so singularly negative about my life.

I look at the world and only see what’s broken.   The place on my floor that creaks. Facebook friends who won’t stop sending me game requests.  The chip fragments at the bottom of the bag.

Don’t get in my way when I’m feeling negative like that. I’m likely to growl. Or sigh.

But then there are other times, when negative doesn’t even begin to describe how warped my vision is.

At those time it’s like I’m Double Negative. Twice the suffering in the world. Twice the bad stuff to endure.

When I’m Double Negative I go big. I see democracy falling apart at the seams. I see corporations as hungry giants. I see The Church in ruins. My life in tatters.

When I’m Double Negative, stay as far away from me as you can.  That kind of negativity is doubly toxic. Doubly contagious.  Doubly dangerous.

If you’ve ever been in that place, you know what I’m talking about.

All my life I’ve been told that a Double Negative = a Positive.  Like saying,  “I don’t know nothing about the Bible” is grammatically  saying “I know something about the Bible”.

Well, that may be true in grammar, but when it comes to attitude, or outlook, or faith, there is nothing positive about being Double Negative.

And while it’s easy to bounce back from one negative day, or even the occasional Double Negative day, some folks just spiral downward until they may be doing permanent damage to their soul.

Is there any hope for those of us who suffer from Double Negativity?

Here’s an answer from Paul, that I think applies:

…we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 5)

Paul is suggesting that two wrongs can make a right.  Suffering and endurance can lead to character and hope. All it takes is a glimmer of faith and perseverance.

How about that? A double negative leading to something positive after all.

Not for nothing,

But isn’t that something?

Have a great week,

Mitch

THORN

Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given to me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. –2 Corinthians  12:7b

The debate has raged for centuries.   What was Paul’s thorn in the flesh?

In the passage above, Paul talks about an ailment of some sort, presented by Satan himself, that kept Paul from ever being too elated.

Was it a physical ailment?  Some have said Paul had a stutter, or poor eyesight, or epilepsy.  I even read someone who suggesting he had terrible B.O.!  Or was it more of a mental issue?   Could he have been homosexual? (which is also a physical “condition”)  Or depressed?  Or jumpy?  Or perhaps his thorn was a spiritual one:  An evil spirit sent by Satan to torment him?

2000 years later, and there is still no consensus.   No one has figured out what Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was.

Until now.

Last week, I was searching around on Ebay, and I found it.   An ancient artifact wrapped up and stored in an ornate wooden box, complete with full documentation.  I bought it for $30 from a lady in Pittsburgh.  I have no idea how she ended up with it.

It just came in the mail, and here’s what I discovered:  Paul’s “thorn?”  It was a thorn.

That’s right.   He wasn’t being figurative at all.  He was being literal!  Paul’s big issue was this ugly red thorn that had been stuck in his side for years and years.   Three times he prayed for God to remove it from him, but, like a stubborn sliver, the darn thing wouldn’t budge.

Eventually, he just learned to live with it.

So that’s that.   Sorry if it’s a let down.  But now that that question is settled, can we move on to the real point Paul is trying to make?

Somehow, God was able to take Paul’s thorn, and put it to use.   Incorporate it, even, into the Big Picture.   Paul makes it clear that, painful as this thorn is, he has learned that it helps him to stay on track, focussed on the Kingdom.  Miraculously, Paul has taken his “issue” and used it in service to God.  Amazing!

I don’t know what your “issues” are–maybe some of the same ones people have suspected Paul as having.   Some of those thorns are short term, and others will be with you your whole life long.  You may have years of wresting ahead of you, just like Paul.  That can seem daunting!

Okay, okay, I confess.   I didn’t really pick up Paul’s thorn on Ebay.  I have no clue what his problem was, but did you notice?  Once the mystery of Paul’s ailment was set out of the way, we were able to take a good look at the REAL mystery:   That God can use even us, thorns and all.

Life, it turns out, is thorny.   But the nature of the thorn isn’t what’s important.   What matters is that God can cause new, fragrant life to bloom, even in the most difficult of situations.

God reminds us to take heart, and to have faith, and remember:

Every Thorn Has Its Rose.

Have a great week,

Mitch

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More Lerts

More Lerts

A young man named Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead.–Acts 20.9

“Be A Lert!  The World Needs More Lerts!”

Funny stuff, no?  That was a poster in my bedroom as a kid.   It was from the back of a Mad Magazine.  And it’s amazing how little my sense of humor has developed since that age.  I still think it’s hilarious.

I feel sorry for Eutychus, though.  There was no Alfred E. Newman around back then to teach him these important concepts, and it burned him.  Twice.

The first time Eutychus failed to be alert was when Paul was speaking to those gathered there.   Paul was leaving the next morning, and he had a lot he wanted to share.  It was a lot of material, and long about midnight, Eutychus just drifted off to sleep.

Hey, it happens to the best of us.   As a pastor I’m always aware when someone in the congregation drifts off in the middle of a sermon.   Most of the time, I let them sleep, unless they’re snoring!  I do wonder what it is that’s caused them to be not-so-alert.   Did they not sleep well?  Did they have a big night last night?  Is my sermon painfully boring?  It may be a variety of things–and Lord knows I’ve drifted off at my share of sermons, lectures, and presentations as well.   I wanted to be alert, but I wasn’t up to the challenge.

The second time Eutychus failed to be alert, it almost cost him his life.   It was a crowded room where Paul was speaking, and the young man found an open spot to sit–on the ledge of a window.  He didn’t just fall asleep.   He fell three stories down.   The good news is that he didn’t die after all.   Paul ran down and checked him out and said, “There’s still life in him!”  I can picture his mom scolding him later…”what were you thinking, sitting in an open window?”

Unfortunately, that happens to the best of us, too.   We put ourselves behind the wheel of a car when what we really need is 40 winks.  We find ourselves in tense work situations we can’t navigate because we’re distracted by a thousand other things.   We want to make good choices, but we’re not clear-headed enough to do so.   When you’re not alert to the world around you, life can become a constant worry.

Being A Lert is a challenge in this world.   Too much coming at us, too much to process easily.   The truth is, God needs Lerts, for the world.  That’s not something Alfred E. Newman reminds us, but something Paul and Jesus were very clear about.    God needs people who take care of themselves and focus themselves and are prepared to give God and the world everything they’ve got.

Being A Lert means being up for the task of discipleship.  It means that if you find yourself in a precarious place — even perched on a third story window, you can say, wide awake:

“What, me worry?”

Have a great week,

Mitch