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In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians he writes in chapter four, “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 all this through him who gives me strength.” (12,13)

There is a progression here that could be helpful to us in our world today. That progression is Knowing, Learning and Doing.

Paul writes that he Knows what it is to be in need, and he Knows what it is to have plenty. There is the Knowing. He tells his readers of his basic experience in life. He has experienced want and abundance. He Knows what it’s like.

What does he do with those basic experiences of his life? With his knowing? Well, he Learns from them. He has Learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or want. Now that is quite a useful secret to Learn – contentedness!

As a result of learning to be content, Paul is able to write that he can Do all this through him, Jesus Christ, who gives him strength. What is “all this“?

All this” is life. Paul is telling the Philippians, and ultimately all of Christendom, that he can Do life! He can Do riches and poverty. He can Do sickness and health. He can Do being praised and being persecuted. He can Do it all because he knows the Creator of life. Jesus Christ, who created Paul, walked with Paul and loved Paul, gave him the strength to be content Doing life in all its ups and downs, good times and bad times, successes and failures, beauty and ugliness.

The word “content” is an adjective used to describe a state of peaceful happiness. It means to be satisfied with a certain level of achievement, good fortune, etc., and not wishing for more.

I think with everything that is going on in the world, we could all do with a heaping helping of contentment. There are a lot of people who have known a lifestyle of excess, and now they know what it is like to not be able to pay the rent. There are a lot of people who have known wonderful health, and are now suffering the painful effects of the virus. There are a lot of people who had close relationships with family and friends, and now they are separated from those loved ones either because of quarantine or death. There are a lot of people who know what it is like to be respected in their community, but they also know what it means to experience racism.

What if we all learned what Paul learned? The Secret to Being Content in any and every situation. What if, come hell or high water, we were able to live in a state of peaceful happiness? What a wonderful world that would be!

God wants us to have such a world. Jesus gave us a prayer to pray everyday. In that prayer, we are to ask our heavenly Father to make this life on earth like the happy kingdom in heaven where everyone does God’s will. Or, in other words, to do life, with a feeling of satisfaction that everything will work out in the end because we walk with Jesus, the creator of the universe, and the creator of us. He made us and loves us and wants us to be happy, by trusting him in every situation. We don’t know what the future holds, but we know who holds the future! Paul learned that secret. Hopefully we can too.

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What comes to mind when you think about the Kingdom of God and the Gospel of God?shalom They are connected. The Gospel is the Good News about the Kingdom of God. About the King. We constantly need to remember who is the King of the kingdom. I think the Good News about the Kingdom is that the King is also our Father! Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father in heaven … your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:9-10). I think that news blew the Jews away. We read a lot about kings in the O.T. Some good, some bad. Some who strove to be righteous and others who were very evil. Some powerful, some weak. But none of them were portrayed as a loving Father. In Jesus sermon on the mount, which is all about the Kingdom and Gospel, he uses the word Father as a title for God more times than it is used as a title for God in the whole O.T. God as Father was almost a totally new idea for the Jews of that era. God as King – of course. God as Judge – they knew that God. God as Creator – Right on. But God as Father – What a concept!


Why are Gospel and Kingdom so important?  Why is knowing God as a loving, compassionate Father something we need to embrace. Because God wants us to be happy. Because God wants Shalom. I have been thinking and reading a lot about Shalom lately. That word is generally translated as peace. It is a Hebrew word that is used throughout the Old Testament and it means so much more than what we think of when we think of peace. It is the glad result of Kingdom and Gospel. Shalom is the goal of God for everyone. Shalom is happy wholeness. Shalom is harmony and prosperity.  Shalom is all encompassing. Shalom is living in peace and right relationship with God, ourselves, our family and community. Shalom is whole, right relationships between rich and poor, powerful and weak, black and white, Jew and Gentile.


Alas, we see far too little Shalom in the world today. Why? Because human beings in and of themselves do not have the power to live in and practice Shalom. Power is defined as the ability to do something. We have no a ability in ourselves to live in right relationship with God! And as for loving our neighbor – We despise our neighbor! I think this is why Jesus and Paul talk so much about the Power of God. There is no Shalom without that power. Shalom is the Good News that that power is available. When Jesus said the Kingdom is near, I think he was saying that Shalom is available to all who come to the loving, compassionate Father in an attitude of weakness and realization that without the Fathers power, we will live sad, miserable lives full of conflict and strife. Jesus is proclaiming Shalom and telling the people the Good News that God the Father is inviting people into the Kingdom of Shalom!

It is kind of like what we do here at the Home For Needy Children in Oaxaca, Mexico.  We take in poor children who are broken and by the power of God and our love, they are made whole.  Children come who are hurt and angry, confused and abused, betrayed and shamed.  Here they experience Shalom. They grow into complete, happy people, full of smiles and laughter.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  It can be a long process.  But when the children hear about the love of God and experience the compassion of their Heavenly Father on a daily basis, and depend on His power for their wholeness, then they live in peace and contentment.  They live in Shalom.

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“How much stuff do you need to be happy?

“I don’t know.  How much stuff is there?

(From VeggieTales – Madame Blueberry)

 

I have been reading Timothy Keller’s new book, Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical.  Here are some quotes from him and others about happiness.

“Studies find a very weak correlation between wealth and contentment, and the more prosperous a society grows the more common is depression.  The things that human beings think will bring fulfillment and contentment don’t.  What should we do then, to be happy?”

 

‘Wealth, power, and security – the external goods of the world – can lead only to a momentary satisfaction, which fades away, leaving you more empty than if you had never tasted the joy.”

“Philosopher Alain de Botton says that loving relationships are fundamental to happiness.”

“People find more pleasure in working toward a goal than they experience when they actually attain it.” (Haidt – Progress Principle)

“The functional cause of our discontent is that our loves are out of order.”

“Augustine believed all sin was ultimately a lack of love.”

“The unhappiness and disorder of our lives are caused by the disorder of our loves.”

“The ultimate disordered love, however, and the ultimate source of our discontent, is failure to love the first thing first, the failure to love God supremely.  In his Confessions, Augustine prays to God: ‘For there is a joy that is not given to those who do not love you for your own sake ….This is happiness and there is no other.  Those who think that there is another kind of happiness look for joy elsewhere, but theirs is not true joy.  Nevertheless their will remains drawn towards some image of the true joy.’ ”

“We were created to know this joy by loving and glorifying God preeminently.”

“You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”  Augustine

“If you love anything more than God, you harm the object of your love, you harm yourself, you harm the world around you, and you end up deeply dissatisfied and discontent.”

“Of course, not even the strongest believers love God perfectly, nor does anyone get close to doing so  Yet to the degree you move toward loving him supremely, things begin to fall into order, into their proper places in your life.”

“What matters most for pleasure is not the simple impact on our senses but what it means in relationship to other persons who matter to us.”  Paul Bloom – How Pleasure Works

“Attachment to God amplifies and deepens enjoyment of the world.”  It does not diminish it.     Miroslav Volf

“Don’t love anything less; instead learn to love God more, and you will love other things with far more satisfaction.”

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