Contentment – Week 3 Sermon Notes

By November 15, 2020Sermon Notes

Building update: 

-We began the discussion of improving our physical property many years ago…I’ve lost track.

-We started serious planning several years ago and our build@River program 2 years ago kicked off this May.

-the Initial estimate was 1.5 million for both phases

-Final number for the project is 1.75 million for both phases

-1.35 for phase 1…which is underway.

400K for phase 2 (flipping the sanctuary)

-We will continue to see how God provides and pray for his leadership as to whether to start on phase 2 straight away…or wait.

-Approx 450,000 has been given specifically to the building project

-As of end of the October between money given to the project and other available funds we have approx. 900,000 to be used for the building.

-Phase 1 is projected to be complete by June 2021.

-So we will need about 450,000 more to fully fund phase I.

-We have the opportunity to borrow money to finish the project if need be through a ministry partner organization that uses the interest paid for missions. 

-So interest paid would be ministry investment not just a pure cost.

-Look on our website/facebook to see videos of the progress and updates of where we are in regards to funding the project.

 

11.15.20          The Wisdom of Contentment: Living with an open hand

  1. INTRO:

A Monkey trap is a hollowed-out gourd or coconut (I saw a video of a man using what looked like a large termite mound) where a hole is made just large enough for a monkey to get it’s hand in and the hole is filled with rice or some food.

If it is a coconut it is chained to a tree or stake.

Then when monKey reaches in to grab the rice and cannot get its fist out…there it sits, trapped, ready to be captured for use as a pet or dinner.

A monkey trap is also a figure of speech…it is used figuratively to describe any kind of trap that owes its success to the foolishness or gullibility of the victim.

The monkey is trapped because it won’t let go…the trap is in its mind.

It’s not like a cage, where it physically cannot get out…all it has to do is release the food, pull out it’s hand…and it’s free.

We all are prone to being caught in monkey traps.

We have a propensity to live life with a closed fist rather than an open hand.

A fist closed around what we believe we must have, or keep, or gain…in order to be happy, or safe, or free, or successful.

So, we close our hands around our health, or a dream of certain health…or wealth, or relationships, or…you fill in the blank.

These are not things that are wrong in themselves to desire and in appropriate ways to work towards having.

But when we try to live life with a closed fist…we are not free.

The longer this goes on…the longer we clinch that fist…the more desperate we can become.

The  more freedom we relinquish…because what we think we have, now has us.

I think the history of humanity is that of freedom lost because we just will not live with hands open to God.

The freedom that is lost includes…freedom from guilt, from fear, from destructive relationships, from addictions, freedom from discontent, freedom from coveting what others have.

Living with an open hand before God is clearly the path to freedom.

I am of course using the idea of an open hand as a symbol for an open heart…a heart free to God’s will.

Here is how Paul said it.

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  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. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.  Phil. 4:11-13

When my hand/heart  is clinched around what I want or think I must have…I am not free.

I live in fear (of losing something), I live in discontent (for not having something)…that’s not freedom.

I may even have a lot in my fist, but I will live as if I am a slave…without freedom.

You see this played all around you if you pay attention.

People so afraid of losing physical appearances…so they become slaves to that fear and the foolish choices that can follow that fear.

People so afraid of illness or death that they lose their freedom to live their lives.

People so afraid of not having the security or significance that comes (we think) with money…so they live without security and live for what is not, in the end, of any real significance.

This month we are looking at the wisdom of contentment.

Today…we want to look honestly at our hands…are they open to God?

Or are they clinched in a fist around what we believe is necessary for us to truly have the good life?

Are we free or are we trapped?

If you are trapped…the way out is…open your heart to God.

This is not about inspirational, touchy feely thoughts for the day.

Hallmark card about “open hands and hearts”

I am moved by emotion…but normally they are emotions tied to courage, sacrifice, honor…those scenes in shows can move me to tears.

In fact,  I watched a moving scene of courage while watching a show at the Y last Sunday…got a little choked up…looked around to see if anyone noticed.

They didn’t.

But when touchy feely, inspirational dialogues show up in shows Christy and I are watching my response is …“snore…”

She will say “stop, I like this part.”

So, I am not “anti-emotion”….but again this “open hand/heart” is not about a catchy saying…not trying to give motivational slogans.

I’m using word pictures to describe what in the real world…translates into misery, and pain, and loss and want.

Or…joy, freedom, faith…a good life as God intends it be lived.

*We must actually DO something about this not just FEEL something about it.

I am also not advocating for the “contentment” of passivity or of not caring…that is not what I mean by “open hand”

The four Noble truths of Buddhism are:

-Life is suffering

-Suffering is caused by desire

-Eliminate suffering by eliminating desire

-Eliminate desire by the 8-fold path.

This is not actually contentment…but reaching a state of “not caring”

I don’t believe contentment is the loss of desire but rather it is a reorientation of desire.

“Why am I holding onto this little thing…that keeps me trapped here when I could open my hand and experience God using me as pipeline of his power and blessing?” 

Last week we look at the difference between “feeling legs” and “faith legs”

Habakkuk looked at what God was going to do…and it caused him physical, and mental distress…but he trusted God and he made the great confession of faith.

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.

In chapter 2 as God was answering Habakkuk’s difficult questions with difficult answers, we find this… “The righteous will live by his faith.”

There constantly a fork in the road for us…two paths are continually presenting themselves to us as we move through out days…

“Will I judge what I see and feel by what I know of God?”

OR

“Will I judge God by what I see and feel?”

Today…I’ll frame this idea of an ongoing choice to trust God or not…a bit differently…rather than two paths…two hands…an open hand or a closed fist.

Will I trust what I feel I must have and hold on to it with clinched fist?

OR

Will I trust God with what I have and hold out an open hand to him?

There is a paradox at play here…a paradox is a seeming/apparent contradiction…

“If I open my hand, I will lose what I have.”

“No, if you open your hand you will experience even more.”

“If you live with a clinched fist, you will lose…not gain the good life.”

To live with an open hand, rather than a closed fist…requires looking at your life, your desires, your feelings…and believing that God knows what the good life is.

Objective… “That we would gain a compelling vision for living with hands/hearts open to God…that contentment would be seen as something that is within our reach to have and enjoy…but we grasp contentment, with open hands not closed fists.

Let’s go to Proverbs 11:23-27.

This passage demonstrates this “open hand/closed hand” paradox very well.

23         The desire of the righteous ends only in good,

but the hope of the wicked only in wrath.

24         One man gives freely, yet gains even more;

another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.

25         A generous man will prosper;

he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.

26         People curse the man who hoards grain,

but blessing crowns him who is willing to sell.

27         He who seeks good finds goodwill,

but evil comes to him who searches for it.   

Verses 23 and 27 form a frame around this picture of open hand paradox.

The paradox is this…open your hand you will have more, close your hand you will have less.

What makes it a paradox is that we intuitively believe that if we give things way…money, time, effort…we will have less for ourselves, less to keep.

Thus…to have more we must close our fists on what we have.

This would be true if God were not involved in the details of our lives…he adds blessings to generosity…a life of faith leads to increase not decrease.

Generosity leads to abundance both for you and others.

The key word in the frame is…“good”.

This is how to frame the good life…this is how good will come to your life.

Verse 23…“The righteous desire only the good of others…even at their own expense…and they obtain only good both for others and themselves.”

Meanwhile. “What the wicked hope to inflict on others comes on them…they hoped for prosperity at the expense of others but instead receive God’s judgment.”

The tight-fisted person ends up poorer and the open-handed person richer .

Verse 24 “One man gives freely and gains even more”.

Freely here…means literally to “scatter or throw about widely.”

This is a word that indicates generous, joyful…giving.

What the NT calls… “hilarious” giving, from the Greek Word “Hilarion”

What are they giving?

Whatever is needed…it is serving others not self…with time, talents, treasure.

The paradox is that this person who freely and generously gives away is not depleted but rather increases.

By contrast the one who withholds…who lives with a closed fist…who does not give what needs to be given…experiences want, loss.

By keeping a closed fist…they lose.

Verse 25,26…a more literal translation is…

“A life bestowing blessing will be fattened, and as for the one who drenches, he in turn will be soaked.”

This is a double image of the certainly of benefiting from generosity.

A life of blessing others…will be a life that is fully satisfied.

“To be fattened” is not a positive thing in our culture…but in places where people have little to eat this equals wealth, abundance, full satisfaction and health.

The idea of “One who drenches will be soaked”….

Is a picture of a dry parched land…producing no harvest…

Until the rain cloud of your generosity “soaks” it and it becomes living and thriving.

This person who is like a generous rain cloud on the people in droughts…will find himself or herself…likewise “soaked”…abundantly satisfied.

Verse 26 is picture of a person hoarding grain…afraid of famine, or maybe in the midst of one trying to drive up prices…in either case they are self-serving.

“As for the one who withholds grain, people curse him, but blessing is on the head of the one who sells it.”

The result for the hoarder is that they cursed.

This doesn’t just mean people say “What a selfish so and so”

God, for the Hebrew, brings blessings and curses…this person experiences God’s judgment…they are cursed of God…this is not the good life.

Good does not come to those who put themselves first at the expense of others.

However, God does bless the one who is generous with others.

This passage about the blessing of generosity is framed on the backside by verse 27…

He who seeks good finds goodwill, but evil comes to him who searches for it.

Here are two contrasting seekers…both looking diligently for something.

Imagine them as treasure hunters…both searching for the treasure of a “good life”

Two different words are used for seeking here…both indicate a heart-driven desire to obtain something important/valuable.

The generous are searching for the good life in their generous service to others

So, they have a heart that is seeking God’s favor…and the result is that they win human applause as well.

The selfish seek only what is best for themselves…this is how they think the good life will cone.

And that selfish search leaves them empty, lacking…the opposite of the good life.

This paradox of generosity and selfishness speaks to the path of contentment.

We looked two weeks ago at how any attempt to satisfy human discontent by feeding it only serves to make it grow more demanding…there is no satisfaction in feeding discontent.

Last week we looked at how taking the path of judging circumstances by what we know of God rather than judging God by circumstances…is critical to a life of contentment.

Because gratitude, thanksgiving for what God provides is critical to contentment.

Here, today, we see the biblical paradox…to hold on to what God has given is to become empty…to move away from the good life.

To live with a closed fist is to live in perpetual discontent…it is to surrender freedom.

To open our hands and to hold all that God puts there at his disposal is to live free and to move further into contentment.

ANALOGY:  Galilee/Dead Sea

-Dead sea about ¼ below sea level.

Another picture of how we are to live our lives as conduits of blessings…what God pours in…time, talents, treasure…there must be an output…this is God’s design for the good life.

Let’s look at some similar passages from the New Testament.

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.

2 Cor. 9:6-11

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.

1 Tim. 6:17-19

Nothing wrong with wealth…but everything wrong with having a fist closed around it.

The blessings of generosity are much more than money…look again at verse 19.

In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

All this is, again about our hearts…from our hearts, Proverbs says…flow all the issues of life.

From hearts that are fully his…we live with open hands…time, talents, treasures.

To escape the monkey trap we have to open up our hands from whatever they have formed a fist around.

Do you hold selfishly to your time, to your efforts and energy, to your money?

Then you are not free…but you can be.

Open hands: This is the path to growing contentment

Closed hands: This is the path to continual discontent.

If you are “Great, another message on give more…do more…I am such a terrible person…you have confirmed it again, thank you for that Terry.”

Stop…derail that train of thought.

That is not the point…the point is “let’s be free, since we can free.”

You may go out and do more, give more…all with a fist closed around what you really should be paying attention to.

Don’t just have a knee jerk reaction to this

Look honestly at whether your hands are clenched around something.

Are you are stuck there in a monkey trap…do want you be free of that?

I do…I know what my hand most often closes in a fist around.

I know what happens in my heart, mind, life…when I am stuck in a monkey trap.

I know I am not living in the freedom Christ has for me.

The paradox of contentment is that it can only be held in an open hand…as soon as you close your fist around something…you don’t have it.

Let’s finish with a look at biblical balance related to giving and receiving…generosity and contentment.

There is a fairly common kind of teaching that says that if you have enough faith, and if you just give enough money, then God will make you prosperous and protect you from sickness.

This teaching claims that it is God’s will for every believer in this lifetime to have good health and material prosperity…

and our role is simply to believe it (to have enough faith) and to make a “positive confession” of that faith with our spoken words.

You give money in order to get more money.

One of the most prominent leaders in this movement, writes

“You must realize that it is God’s will for you to prosper. (By prosper he means have lots of money) This is available to you, and frankly, it would be stupid of you not to partake of it! . . . You must realize that prosperity is the will of God for you.”

There are several key verses used by the movement…one is Luke 6:38.

Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.

Clearly this verse teaches that God will reward our generous giving, but the verse does not promise that we will become wealthy in terms of earthly possessions.

It does affirm that, when we give generously to his work, he will generously supply our needs in return. (Grudem)

We need to find biblical balance in regards to giving, generosity, faith and prosperity.

The health and wealth prosperity gospel is one imbalance…but on the other side, in another form of imbalance are Christians who live as if God does not see our choices, or care about our generosity.

The health and prosperity gospel is an overreaction to a lack of faith by many Christians…faith that God does bless those who obey him.

First of all…as to whether God wants everyone healthy and wealthy…

There are whole books on this…but just briefly…

Jesus was poor (Matt. 8:20)…he is, as God the Son…enormously wealthy…but as a man walking among us…he had no home, lived very simply.

The widow he praised for her faith gave from her poverty…her faith did not make her wealthy.

James wrote…

Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom…James 2:5

And Paul told Timothy…

But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. (1 Tim. 6:8–11)

It is not God’s will for everyone to be rich in possessions…and again, there is nothing wrong with being rich either.

It is God’s will for everyone to be rich in faith…and to prosper within the boundaries he has set for our lives.

Regarding physical health…it is not God’s will for all to have the same level of health…or to have health for the same length of time…some die young, some old.

Death is the ultimate “unhealth”…even Lazarus who was healed of death…died again.

Many in Scriptures, like in the book of Hebrews…were commended for their faith…a faith that allowed them to endure great suffering and hardship…even death…not a faith that demanded God take it from them.

The Prosperity Gospel is an over correction to a problem.

Like a pendulum that swings past center from one imbalance to another.

The problem that it over corrects is a lack of biblical faith in the church. 

A loss of expectation that God is involved in our lives…that he does reward faith and faithfulness.

That generosity brings the blessing of God in tangible ways.

So, let’s compare and contrast the two imbalances and look at a Biblically balanced position.

One side of the imbalance is:

-God has little to do with our financial status

– If we give, we should give what we think we can afford, maybe.  It need not require any faith or sacrifice.

-Giving has no positive effect on our financial status. (if we give, then we have less not more)

God is distant, not involved…perhaps he made the world, but it is running largely on its own now…so am I.

I must hold, in clinched fists…my resources…because it is a nice idea “A generous person will prosper…give and it will be given to you…but it’s not realistic.”

“Because there is no direct consequence in my life of generosity…I must hold my time, talents, treasures…give only what I think I can afford to give.

Self-protection, not sacrifice is the good path.

Live by sight not by faith…is the motto.

This is to be caught in the monkey trap…closed fist…there is little faith or freedom in this way of life.

The other side of the imbalance:

-Prosperity is a sign of spiritual maturity and strong faith

-We should give far beyond what we can afford, even in ways that are foolish. Because if we do God will make us prosperous.

-If you give enough, then you are sure to become rich and have whatever you want

God can be coerced…forced to “keep his promise”…if you name it and claim it…he is obligated.

Life becomes only or mostly about health and wealth.

Biblical balance:

-Spiritually mature people might experience poverty, adequacy, or prosperity. (Phil. 4:12-13)

-God does move in our lives in tangible ways in response to our acts of faith, courage, sacrifice…a generous man or woman, does prosper…

…In ways that they would not have had they closed their fists around their time and treasure.

-We live with open hands because we actually believe God is alive and involved…we love him and we want to enjoy seeing him move in and around us.

-We want to seek the good of others, we want to experience God’s blessing in tangible ways.

Look at your hands…are they open or clinched in fists?

Do you want to be free?

Do you want to move towards contentment?

Open them…this will be a day by day…moment by moment decision. 

Just like we will continually come to that contentment fork in the road:

-Judge Circumstances by what I know of God

-Judge God by circumstances

We will likewise continually have to examine our hands…closed in a fist?…open them again.

This is a life of faith…that shows up in tangible fashion.

This is a life where you are positioned to experience God more fully…which is a definition of “the good life.”

SUMMARY:

Clearly God blesses generosity and “cheerful” giving.  Clearly God wants us to live with faith and generosity in the way we use out time and money.

There is a tension in Scripture.

Blessings of health and prosperity (within the boundaries God has set for our lives) do follow faith and generosity.  However as soon as health and prosperity become our primary objectives, we have lost our way.

Do you want to see God move in “faith-building” fashion?  Then you must trust Him through “faith-filled” actions.

You can see God at work in your finances, your time, your health, your life as a whole if you take specific steps to demonstrate faith in those areas.

But watch your heart…as soon as God becomes the means to your own greater ends you have gotten off the good path.

Get back on…open your hand and heart…confess again that God alone is our greater end.

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