December 6, 2009

Livin’ Large…in lean times

Part 3: The freedom of enough



          We’re talking about “Livin’ large in lean times.”  How do you live large in the midst of an economic downturn?  There are some Biblical values that make your life rich even when your bank account isn’t.  We’ve talked about the grace of gratitude, and the tranquility of trust.  Today, we’re talking about the freedom of enough. 

          You know, it’s possible to own too much. For example, a man with one watch knows what time it is; a man with two watches is never quite sure.  It’s possible to own too much!  One of the fastest growing industries in America is storage units!  We have so much stuff that we can’t hold it all at home; we have to rent space to store our stuff!  It’s possible to own too much. 

          We all know the saying, “Too much of a good thing can be…wonderful!”  I think Mae West said that.  Too much of a good thing can be bad.

Proverbs 25:16 If you find honey, eat just enough—too much of it, and you will vomit.

Have you ever eaten too much of a good thing?

ILL: I don’t go to all-you-can-eat buffets very often, because when I do, I feel obligated to eat all I can.  That’s why you go to one of those—that’s what you’re paying for!  Eat all you can!  Eat till you drop!  And I do.  Laina has had to drive home after some of these extravagances because I can’t sit upright—I can’t bend in the middle. 

When do you say, “Enough”?  Today we talk about contentment: the freedom of enough.


Offering and announcements:

          Spread the fire!  Recycle your books: drop them off at the Info Center!

Carol Sing—Wednesday night at 7 PM; wear your most festive Christmas attire and come prepared for fun!

Invites for Christmas Eve.

Christmas volunteer sign-ups (back of tear-off)!  J

          Honor police and fire fighters.





          That is Christmas shopping on steroids!  That’s taking it to a new level!  Of course, it’s actually not far from the truth for some people.  Just ten days ago, on Black Friday, shoppers lined up hundreds deep to get into stores at 4 in the morning—and it wouldn’t surprise me if some were using walkie-talkies in the store!  Last year on Black Friday, a worker at the Long Island WalMart was trampled to death by a mob of frenzied shoppers.  Do you think that’s what Jesus had in mind when He came?

          The vast majority of Americans believe Christmas is too commercialized, that our society is too materialistic, and that we focus too much on spending and shopping.  Did you know that one out of four families is still paying off their Christmas credit card debt in October? 

There is a growing backlash against this commercialization.  More and more people are looking for ways to simplify their lives, beginning with the holidays.  Some people have declared the day after Thanksgiving to be “Buy Nothing Day”.  Millions of people refuse to shop on that day—a small protest against the craziness.  Others are reducing what they spend on Christmas gifts, or are giving homemade gifts, or are focusing on the gift of presence—time spent with family and friends.  Rather than feeling overwhelmed and stressed out by Christmas, we ought to feel refreshed and reconnected with God and our families and friends.

          Don’t misunderstand me: I’m not against gift-giving; in fact I think it’s wonderful!  It’s great to give someone something they need, or even something they really want.  Giving gifts that people really need or want is a wonderful thing!  But when we have to wrack our brains to come up with an idea; or when we give because someone is giving to us, and we’ve got to keep it even; when we’re rushing out on Christmas Eve to find something—anything!—for that special someone; something has gone wrong. 

          Let’s be honest: how many of you have received a Christmas gift and wondered, “What am I going to do with this?”  I have one friend who likes to get something consumable so he won’t have to store it.  “I don’t room for any more stuff,” he told me.  When do you say, “Enough”?

          Today, I want to talk with you about the freedom of enough.  We’re going to think together about the Biblical value of contentment.  Contentment says, “I have enough.”  We’re going to look at some Scripture, and talk about the trap of more, the secret of contentment, and the freedom of enough.


1. The trap of more.

1 Timothy 6:6-10 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

Let’s break this down.

          First, Paul redefines wealth.  “Godliness with contentment is great gain” or great wealth.  Godliness + contentment = great wealth.  The wealthy person is the person who has God and is content with what he has.  Happiness for many people is always on the horizon, just one more purchase away.  If you are not happy with what you have, if you always need something more to be happy, you are not wealthy no matter how much you have.  Wealth isn’t measured by how much you have but by how content you are with it.  The truly wealthy person is the one who is content with what he has. 

ILL: This was one of the striking things we saw in Kenya.  The children in Kenya were happy without any of the gadgets we have here.  Imagine living with no toys—no Wiis, no Tickle Me Elmos, no Barbies, not even Legos!  There are also no TV’s, no computers, no video games, no iPods, no cell phones.  How do these kids live? Their toys were sticks and their imaginations.  And they were happy.

          So here’s my question: who is the rich kid?  Is it the kid with a stick and lots of imagination that’s happy with his stick; or is it the kid with a Sony PS3 who is unhappy because he doesn’t have the latest game? 

Paul redefines wealth: true wealth is godliness with contentment.

          Second, Paul reminds us that we enter and leave the world empty-handed.  “For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” You can’t take it with you.  You’ll never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul!  What’s Paul’s point?  There are more important things in life than the stuff we buy.  Have you ever thought about what you can take with you?  Relationships.  What lasts is your relationship with God, and your relationships with people.  That’s why Jesus said the most important commandment is to love God with all you’ve got and to love people—it’s most important because that’s what lasts—God and people. 

          So all this stuff: if you can’t take it with you, what happens to it? 

ILL: Have you ever been to an estate sale?  You accumulate a lifetime of stuff, and after you die, your kids pick through it and take what they want, and the rest goes to an estate sale where it is pawed through by strangers looking for bargains.  And what isn’t sold goes to Goodwill or to the dump. 

A little perspective can help you be content.  We take nothing with us…except relationships.

          Third, Paul encourages us to be content with necessities.  “But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.”  That’s quite a verse!  How many of you are content with food and clothing?  I’m not.  I’m very grateful for food and clothing, but I’m not content with it; I want lots more!  I like having the latest cell phone, the coolest computer, the biggest bike.  It’s very easy in our world to blur the line between needs and wants. 

  • I need a cell phone.  How many of you need a cell phone?  I actually have a friend who lives right here in Spokane without a cell phone!  How does he do that?  Here’s the incredible thing: I lived more than 40 years without a cell phone, and I remember it as a happy time in my life.  We blur the line between needs and wants.
  • I need a hi-def TV.  How many of you have a hi-def TV?  I need one.  You don’t expect me to watch the Zags on one of those old bulky low def TV’s?  I actually know people who don’t have a TV!  What do they do with their time? 

I could go on, but you get the point: we blur the line between needs and wants. 

          Fourth, and here’s the big one: Paul warns us about the trap of more. 

“People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

People who want to get rich fall into a trap.  I said in our last series that we are already rich.  Probably everyone in this room is in the top 10-15% of the world in terms of income and lifestyle—if you make over $50,000 a year, you’re in the top 1%.  We’re already rich.  So what does it mean to us, “if you want to get rich?”  It means if we let our desires go unchecked, if we always crave more, we fall into a trap, and it plunges people to ruin and destruction, and can even make you wander from your faith.  That’s quite a warning!  Unchecked consumerism is a trap!  Unrestrained greed—the constant desire for more—is a trap.  You will not find happiness there, and you may lose your soul.  Jesus said,

Matthew 16:26 And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?

That’s another startling warning.  You can gain the whole world, and lose your soul.  And what do you take with you?  Nothing—truly nothing.  You’ve lost your soul.  It’s a trap.  The love of money is a trap.  Why?

Ecclesiastes 5:10 Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income.

If you love money, you’ll never be satisfied.  You’ll always want more.  It’s never enough.  It’s a trap! 

          It’s the trap of more.  And right now, clever advertisers are being paid millions of dollars to make you think you need more, that you’re not happy with what you have.  It’s a trap—the trap of more.  The next time you think you need more—stop and take another look.  Maybe what you need is to learn the secret of contentment.


2. The secret of contentment.

Let’s look at two Scriptures.

Philippians 4:10-13 I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 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 everything through him who gives me strength.

Paul thanks the Philippians for their financial support that allowed him to do his ministry.  They had supported him since the beginning of his work, and then “had no opportunity” for awhile, but now had renewed their support.  So Paul says thanks.  In that context, he makes these comments about contentment.  Notice these two things.

          First, he learned contentment. “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” (11)  And in verse 12 he says, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.”  He learned contentment.  Contentment is learned; it doesn’t come naturally to us. 

ILL: I have two beautiful granddaughters, Jenna and Savanna.  Jenna, who’s two can be playing happily with her toys until she notices that Savanna has a toy.  You know what’s coming, don’t you?  Jenna takes Savanna’s toy and Savanna starts crying.  Then Nanna has a little talk with Jenna.  “Jenna, you have all these toys to play with; you shouldn’t take Savanna’s one toy away from her.  That’s not nice.  Will you give the toy back to Savanna, please?”  Jenna smiles and says, “No.” 

Who taught Jenna to not be content with her toys, but want her sister’s toy?  No one; that comes naturally to us.  Contentment has to be learned.  Just like Jenna, we have to be taught that we have enough, we have to be taught that “life doesn’t consist of the abundance of our possessions.”  We have to be taught. 

But we learn it not only by being taught, but also by experience. Paul says, “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.”  Through experience, Paul learned to be content when he had a little, and content when he had a lot.  He had lived through lean times and seen God provide; and he had lived through times of plenty and experienced God’s care; he had learned from experience that his life, his happiness was not based on what he had. 

In fact, when is it harder to be content: when you have little or a lot?  A lot.  The more we have, the more we want.  I suggest that contentment is easier for a Kenyan, or a Guatemalan, or a Bhutanese, than for an American.  We are so used to getting what we want when we want it that I think we struggle far more with being content.

ILL: Recently, Dave Beine told me about helping a Bhutanese refugee family try to rent a house here in Spokane.  They were being turned down because they’ve only been here 16 months, and so they don’t have a 2-year credit history.  After one particularly promising opportunity fell through, Dave asked Kamal, the father of the family, if he was disappointed. He said, “No. You Americans get more disappointed about these things then we do.  You are used to getting everything you want and so you get disappointed easily.”  

Isn’t that an interesting perspective?  Kamal had learned to be content with little; most of us have struggled to be content with much.  Contentment is learned; it doesn’t come naturally to us.  Which leads to the next big idea here:

          Second, the ability to be content in all circumstances came from his relationship with Jesus.  “I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”  (13)  It is one thing to learn something and another to practice it.  I have learned that I should be content; but it’s counter-intuitive; it’s not natural for me.  Where does the strength come from to truly be content?  From Jesus.  I can do everything—even be content with little or much—through Him who gives me strength.  Contentment comes from my relationship with Jesus.  It comes from knowing, as we said last week, that I have a Father who knows what I need and cares for me, and that I have a relationship with my Father.

Hebrews 13:5-6 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” 6 So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”

Be content with what you have.  Why?  Because God has said, “I will never leave you; I will never forsake you.”  Actually, in the Greek, there are two negatives in the first phrase for emphasis, and three in the second.  Literally it reads, “I will never, never leave you; I will never, never, never forsake you.”  God is driving home the point: He is with us.  And that is why we can be content with what we have, because we have the greatest treasure of all.  We have the true riches.  We have the one thing that lasts forever and matters most. 

ILL: Let me illustrate this way: let’s say you are really into touring motorcycles. (I wanted to pick something important!) And you have a brand new 2010 Harley Screaming Eagle Ultra Classic—the most expensive bike Harley makes—about $35,000.  Gorgeous! 

          Then your buddy gets a touring bike; he gets 1985 Honda Goldwing.  A very nice bike…but 25 years old, half the power, none of the latest technology, and most importantly, none of the roar.  Are you going to be green with envy?  Will you be discontent?  Probably not, because you’ve got the pick of the litter, the cream of the crop, the big dog!  

This is the reasoning here in Hebrews 13.  Be content with what you have—whatever it is—because you already have the pick of the litter, the cream of the crop, the Big Dog—the most important thing anyone can have.  In other words, it doesn’t get any better than this: a relationship with the God who never leaves you. 

          This is the secret of contentment: it’s found in a relationship with Jesus.  I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.

          When you are content with what you have, then you can enjoy the freedom of enough.


3. The freedom of enough.

          What do I mean by the freedom of enough?  I think that contentment brings liberation, freedom.  When you can honestly say, “I have enough,” and be truly content, you are free in a way that those who want more can’t even imagine.  Let me describe the freedom of enough.

Freedom from unhappiness.  As I said, for many people happiness is always one more purchase away.  “If I just had this—fill in the blank—I’d be content.  I’d be happy.”  But the reality is that if you’re not content with what you have, you won’t be content with something else either, because there is always something better, bigger, newer, shinier coming out. 

ILL: I’ll tell a story on myself; I used that motorcycle illustration a moment ago for a reason. 

For a couple weeks this summer, I was looking hard at buying a used Harley Road Glide.  It started when I spoke in Billings and my friend Stan and I visited the Harley dealer for fun.  I saw a beautiful bike there that made me start thinking: maybe I needed a new touring bike.  Besides, I was going on a week-long motorcycle trip with some buddies (here we are ready to roll—don’t we look like a bunch of mean bikers?) and wouldn’t it be nice to have stereo and cruise control?  Does this sound familiar?  So for the next two weeks, I looked at bikes online; I even called on a couple and put in a couple ridiculously low bids on ebay.  Then came the bike trip.  We had a blast!  Every man should do this!

I got home from the trip and thought about how much fun I had and realized I wouldn’t have had one ounce more fun on a new bike—I would have just been thousands of dollars poorer.  I have a great bike; I have enough.  And I am happy. 

You might think I’m shallow and selfish for even wanting a new bike, especially when I already have a beautiful bike—and you’re right!  Pray for me!  Is there anyone else who has thought, “If I just had this—fill in the blank—I’d be happy.”  You can relate.  The freedom of enough is freedom from unhappiness.  I have enough.

          Freedom to enjoy what you have.  When you are content with what you have, you are free to enjoy it, rather than constantly wishing it was something else.  When I quit wishing I had another bike, I really enjoyed the one I had!  It turns out happiness isn’t in the next purchase; happiness is found in contentment with what you have.  I have enough.

Freedom financially.  It’s amazing how much money you can save if you don’t spend it all!  I cannot even begin to tell you how happy I am that I did not buy that new bike this summer, because if I had, I would be financially strapped.  I’d have a shiny new bike in the garage and nothing in the bank; I’d be making payments that would strap my monthly cash flow.  I’d be in debt and unable to do other things that I really believe in, like helping the needy.  I’d be stressed out every time I had to pay the bills.  All because I fell into the trap of more.  But by saying, “I have enough,” I left myself financial margin to do the things I really need to do and want to do.  A lot of our financial stress is self-induced; we buy things we don’t need because we’re discontent.  Contentment can set you free financially—it’s the freedom of enough.

Freedom from stress.  This is not only the financial stress of paying for everything, but the daily stress of maintaining everything.  I remember years ago Noel encouraged me to live simply, and said, “The less you have, the less you have to maintain, store, and secure.”  Less is more—more freedom, more time for relationships, more time for God.  It’s the freedom of enough.

Freedom from keeping up.  When I’m content with what I have, when I have enough, I am free from keeping up with the Jones, or whoever is around me.  I am free from the competition to prove my worth by what I have.  I talked with two businessmen this week who each told me about the marks of success in his business, and what the company expected you to drive and to wear to show everyone you were successful.  There’s nothing wrong with driving a nice car or wearing nice clothes—unless you have to do it to prove you are somebody, to prove your worth.  Then it’s wrong.  Contentment sets me free from the rat race.  I have enough.  I don’t need more to prove I’m important or successful.  I already have the affirmation of my heavenly Father—it doesn’t get any better than that.  I have enough. 

Freedom to give.  When I’m not spending everything on myself, I have plenty to share with others.  Contentment is a key to generosity.

2 Corinthians 9:8 8 And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.

God will provide all I need.  If I believe that, I can be content with what God provides, rather than constantly wanting more.  And I can use the excess—the plenty left over—to share with others.  I have enough.  The freedom of enough is the freedom to give.

There are other freedoms I haven’t listed.  A great Life Group exercise this week would be to list all the freedoms that come from contentment.  The freedom of enough.

I have a little exercise for you as we finish.  Inside your program you’ll find this card: “What I don’t need for Christmas.”  When we were planning this series, our creative team started by filling out a card like this.  It was thought-provoking.  We usually make a list of what we want or need for Christmas; this was more a contentment list.  I have enough.  I don’t need this, or this, or this.  We’re going to give you a couple minutes to fill out your “What I don’t need for Christmas” list.

Music here.

What if this Christmas you believed that you (and your family) had enough?  What would you do with that freedom?  I’ll finish with a story.

ILL: Several months ago, I told a story about the Broetje family in the Tri Cities.  When Rich Stearns was here, he told me this story about them. 

          When the Broetje’s kids were small, they decided to teach them the real meaning of Christmas.  They explained that since it was Jesus’ birthday, He should get the biggest gift.  And the best way to give a gift to Jesus is to give it to “one of the least of these” who are in need.  So they laid out a map of the world, and picked several spots, and described the needs.  Then they gave each of the children a marker representing their share of the family’s gift to Jesus, and each child placed his or her marker on the map where they wanted the money to go.  The Broetjes used the World Vision Gift Catalog to order the gifts for each area.

          The Broejte children are all grown now, with children of their own, but the tradition lives on.  Each of them does the same with their children, explaining that it is Jesus’ birthday and we want to give Him the biggest gift of all.

Do you know what I wrote at the top of my “What I don’t need for Christmas” list?  Anything.  I don’t need anything.  I have enough.  So I’m asking my friends who would usually give me something to give it to Jesus.  I hope they’ll use the World Vision Gift Catalog and give a goat, or a chicken, or some rabbits, or a cow, or a micro-loan, or a sewing machine, or fruit trees, or clean water to someone who desperately needs it. 

Maybe you have friends like me who don’t need anything.  We have copies of the World Vision gift catalogs at three locations: one down front and two in the commons; please pick one up.  (Reference the code on the back or order form—1149161.)