#struggle - Week One: "Contentment"

This week we are launching a brand new sermon series for the month of August--a sermon series entitled "#struggle: Following Jesus in a Selfie-Centered World."  

According to the dictionary, a "selfie" is a photograph that one takes of oneself with a smartphone or webcam that is then shared through social media.  The word "selfie" did not exist until ten years ago. But then again, neither did smart phones--at least the kind of smartphones that we have today that can take high resolution, professional quality selfies.  

Most selfies aren't an individual affair, though.  More often than not when most of us take a selfie, it's of the group we happen to be hanging with in the moment.  I saw a video where Johnny Depp was obliging some young fans who were taking a selfie with him.  "Why do they call it a selfie," he asked them in his Jack Sparrow character, "when there's more than one of you in it?"    

I have here today my trusty "selfie-stick."  The selfie stick is a relatively new invention that has emerged over the past several years out of necessity. Because selfies have become such a huge part of our culture, and because it's difficult to take a selfie and get everyone in the photo, you need a way to do so from a bit of distance.  A selfie stick is kind of like having someone with you all of the time who will take your photo.  

I'm going to take a selfie of all of us right now.  And then I am going to post it on Facebook.  

I could, if I wanted to also post this photo on Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat and LinkedIn.  I have accounts in all of those.  That's how I roll.  

Did you know that as of May 2015 Facebook reported that it had 1.4 billion users worldwide?  Twitter reports that as of this year it has 288 million.  But here's the kicker--neither one of these social media platforms has been around all that long.  

Facebook launched in 2002, but you had to be a college student with a university email address to access it.  It wasn't until several years later that Facebook became available to everyone.  Twitter launched in 2006, which is less than ten years ago.  

So essentially over the past ten years these two social media platforms weren't even part of our cultural landscape.  I started Tweeting in 2007.  I can remember when there was a little over a million people using it.  When you stop to think about how quickly social media has become such a huge a part of our lives, it blows your mind. 

 It used to be that you had to be on your home or office computer to access Twitter and Facebook.  Now people walk around all day posting their daily activities, thoughts, musings, photos of their food, and all sorts of stuff.  

Which brings met to hashtags. The title of this sermon series is "#struggle: Following Jesus in A Selfie-Centered World."  So what's up with all of the hashtags?  Some of you are probably thinking to yourselves at this point, "Hashtag?  That's a number sign, young feller."  Yes, the symbol still can mean "number" but to millions upon millions of people it means one thing:  hashtag. 

A hashtag is a way of marking a word in a social media post for the purpose of being able to track the way that word is trending online.  For example, we use a hashtag on our Facebook page from time to time: #fpceweek.  We did this so that people who like our page, church members and staff could post photos of our church activities and then mark them so we could access all of them later. 

If all of this makes your head hurt, don't worry.  I get that there are probably some of you sitting here today who don't have a smartphone, have no idea how to Facebook, tweet, hashtag, post or take a selfie.  It's all good.  You are at least aware that these things exist, and perhaps you have some concerns or opinions about the effect all of these technological and social media advances on society as a whole.  

You are not alone.  

Like most things there are positive effects of social media.  Because of social media people are much more connected to one another than they were before. If it wasn't for Facebook, for example, I would never know that my cousin had a birthday party for his little boy, or my friend from eighth grade had become a grandfather.  

Social media can help us develop a sense of community by allowing us to speak to far away friends and family in ways that we probably wouldn't if we were relying on things like phone calls, letters, etc.  

Social media also helps us develop an awareness of what is happening in the world--an awareness that has a name and a face, rather than a press release or news story.  When a friend posts something about a cause that matters to them, you are more likely to read about it.  Social media also enables us to get instant feedback on our ideas, thoughts, choices, photos, or any number of things that we share.  

But there are negative implications for the ever presence of social media in our lives.  Psychologists believe that young people who are coming of age in this social media dominated culture suffer from underdeveloped communication skills.  They seldom choose to speak to each other face to face or even talk o n the phone--preferring to text or message one another online. 

Additionally, constantly peering into the lives of other people online contributes to what psychologists call the Imposter Syndrome.  Imposter Syndrome is a disorder that prohibits people from internalizing their accomplishments.  They compare themselves to others, seeing their own success as diminished---a product of dumb luck, timing or worse: the result their ability to deceive other people into thinking they are something they aren't.  

Christians aren't immune to cultural influences either.  And sometimes it's hard to figure out just how we are supposed to act in a world that is constantly changing and moving forward so quickly.  We can choose to dig our heels in and try to cling to the past, which is what a lot of us do.  But there is no idealized past, and our God is not a God who remains stuck in the past.  

So what do we do?  How do we remain faithful to our calling as Jesus-followers when there are so many competing interests around us.  How do we follow Jesus in a "selfie-centered" world?  

This is going to be the center of our conversations over the next several weeks.  We're going to be talking about how as Jesus-followers we can find contentment, real relationships, authenticity, and space to rest in a culture that seems to value the opposite of all of those things.  

Today we're going to start those conversations by focusing on contentment.  

As I mentioned earlier, one of the unintended and negative results of a culture that encourages us to live our lives online is the widespread epidemic of people suffering from Imposter Syndrome in one degree or another.  The advent of social media provided us with all new ways to see what the Joneses are up to, and what we need to do to keep up with them.  

The more we compare ourselves---the less satisfied we are.  

Far too many Christians struggle with this.  We lack contentment with our material and financial status.  Every single day we are reminded just how much we don't have, what we aren't able to buy, what we can't afford.  Many of us seek to fill that lack of contentment by overextending our credit, getting into debt and living on plastic.  

We lack contentment with our relationships.  Many Christians feel like they have to put on a front so that their friends won't judge them.  They neglect real relationships in favor of something far less shallow and threatening.  

We lack contentment with our circumstances.  I counsel a lot of folks who find themselves spinning out of control, unable to find a handle on their lives.  They bounce from one crisis to another.  

I've heard it said that life is 10% circumstance and 90% response.  

This completely makes sense when we think about it.  Our lack of contentment in one area of our life can quickly bleed into others.  When we respond negatively to the things that happen to us, or the mistakes that we make, when we allow ourselves to fall victim to self-pity, when we wander into the trap of the Imposter Syndrome...  we will soon find ourselves in an endless cycle of negative thinking, speaking and living.  

We will say things like, "This always happens to me..."  "I deserved that..."  "I think God has cursed me..."  

What I am going to say next is one of the most important things you will ever hear--especially if you find yourself in that merry-go-round of misery.  

You will always battle with discontentment until you let Christ be all you need.  

Listen, I know that sounds like a bit of cliche.  In fact, it sounds like something you would hear from a cheery television preacher wearing a two thousand dollar suit who wants you to smile though your heart is breaking and then buy his book, donate to his ministry, sign up for his newsletter. 

I don't even really own a suit that fits me.  I wrote a book, but other than church members no one else except my mom bought it. I have no other ulterior motive here.  Just the simple truth.  You will always battle with discontentment until you let Christ be all you need. 

In Philippians 4:12-13 the Apostle Paul wrote about this kind of thing.  

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. 

What we need to know about this particular letter is that it was written when Paul was under arrest, awaiting trial in Rome.  He's basically chained to a guard. The only reason why he has writing materials, extra food, money to bribe the guard to allow him visitors--is because people gave them to him.  He has nothing.  He quite literally is at death's door.  It's believed that shortly after writing letters like the one we just read from, Paul was tried and executed by Caesar.  

Some scholars believe that Paul was born into wealth and affluence.  He was also a scholar, a student of one of the most famed rabbis in all of Jewish history.  Paul had been on his way to the top in his own culture.  But he gave it all up, walked away from it to follow Jesus.  He experienced hardship, hunger, shipwreck, beatings, imprisonment... once he was stoned nearly to death by an angry mob. So when he says "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation..."  we know that he speaks from experience.  

Paul figured out that if he had Christ in his life--he had everything he needed.  His contentment didn't come from the things of this world--they came from the Savior who had given everything to redeem him.  

So how do we find this kind of contentment in a selfie-centered world?  How do we truly embrace the kind of contentment that comes from a Jesus-centered life?  

I think we find it by doing two things:  Killing Comparisons and Cultivating Gratitude.  

First, we need to kill comparisons.  In 2 Corinthians 10:12, the Apostle Paul wrote:

 12 We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.

What does this say about people who measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves?  It says they are not wise.  And yet when we log on to Facebook or take a stroll through Twitter we will see more than our fair share of people comparing themselves to themselves.  They want to appear as though they have it all together, their life is always interesting, they are cool, good looking, in shape... you name it.  

I happen to love the people who use old photos as their Facebook profile photo. You ever see a friend do that?  Listen, everyone knows what you are doing.  You don't want to post a current photo because you feel too old, too fat, too wrinkled, too whatever compared to all of your other friends.  Who are probably using old photos, too.   

So how do we kill comparisons in a selfie-centered world?  Well, we can start by taking a social media sabbath.  Shut down your Facebook and all other forms of social media for a 24-hour period.  Take a month off if you're ready.  

Or you can simply hide the newsfeed of the people who push your buttons, who make you crazy, who you find comparing yourself to all of the time.  You don't need to "unfriend" them on Facebook to stop watching and comparing yourself to them.  

And then delete all of those shopping apps on your phone or tablet.  Because its a short step from staring at someone's profile on Facebook, looking at all of the things they have, clothes they wear, places they go... and then clicking to an online store where you can buy all of those things.  

Then do this... 

Celebrate with your friends.  Don't begrudge them.  When your friend goes out for a fancy dinner, on a great vacation, gets a new job, new house, new car, new relationship... don't grumble about your lot in life---rejoice with them!  Learn to experience real joy when the people you care about are celebrating.  

The second step to finding contentment in a selfie-centered world is by cultivating gratitude.  In Proverbs 15:15 we find this bit of wisdom: All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast.

How many days of the oppressed are wretched?  All of them.  And this proverb doesn't mean people who are being oppressed by others--this means those who are oppressed by their thoughts, by their circumstances.  People, in other words, who walk around feeling sorry for themselves, miserable, ungrateful.  

But the person with a cheerful heart, it says, has a continual feast.  Everyday is a holiday for the person with a cheerful heart, the proverb is teaching us. 

Have you ever known people who simply live life for a living?  You know the type.  They never meet a stranger, they are constantly doing interesting things, they embrace the word "yes," they step into adventure, challenge and change.  They find joy in even the smallest things. No matte what is happening to them. 

My uncle has been living with leukemia for the past twenty-odd years.  He has had countless treatments, takes medication, has been dealing with side-effects of drugs... and now has to take chemotherapy--again.  In all of those years I have never heard my uncle complain.  In fact, he continues to work at a job he loves, finds joy in his family, has an incredible faith, never gives up, always has a smile and a kind word, never meets a stranger, is constantly learning new things... He lives life for a living.  

He's the kind of person who has found his true contentment in Jesus.  And nothing shakes it.  Because when you truly get this it doesn't matter what happens to you--illness, financial hardship, relationship disaster, grief and loss... you could care less because you have the One who endured far more for your sake in your life.  

You will be ready to stare down the devil armed with only a squirt gun shouting "Bring it on!"  That will be you, my friend. 

Another part of cultivating gratitude is learning to enjoy what you have rather than desiring what you don't have.  We get tired of the things we have because we've been programmed by our culture to do so.  We get tired of our car because it's not the newest model.  We decide we need a new house because the one we have isn't big enough.  We want a new job because ours is boring.  

Our friend Shawn Welcome told us this some months ago, and I repeated it in a recent sermon, but it's so good I'm going to say it again. What if you woke up today only with the things you thanked God for yesterday?  I for one would discover I didn't have a lot of things.  I take so much for granted.  We all do.  It's why I need Jesus.  

Because you and I will always battle with discontent until we let Christ be all we need.  

Imagine what it would be like to live into this.  Let's start small.  How will you live this out over the next week?  I want you to take your notes and write down at least two things you plan to do this week to kill comparisons and cultivate gratitude.  I'm going to sit here for a moment in silence while you think about it. I'm serious.  Let's just take a moment.  Write down two things that have occurred to you already--I know they have.  Then I am going to pray over you that you will have the strength to make them happen.  

And remember we will always battle with discontent until we let Christ be all we need.  


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