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Written By Dr. Richard Mouw
Today, I want to say a longer word about Dr. Richard Mouw than we do about most of our guests. Dr. Mouw has been a good friend of mine for a number of years. I first met him when I started seminary, almost ten years ago. I heard a sermon, a Reformed sermon, and it was the first Reformed sermon that I had heard that wasn't boring. It was something that got into my bones and I remember thinking this man is special. He met with me, as he does with so many of his students, and I was able to get to know him better. I was so surprised how Dr. Mouw was and is so involved in the lives of his students.
Fuller Seminary in Pasadena is an hour or so drive from here. Nonetheless, he would spontaneously visit our little worship services at the Gathering on Sundays when we only had 40 to 50 people. He would come unannounced, and he would encourage everybody, and give me a big hug. With his busy schedule, he would come to see what his students were doing in ministry. He has been such an important part of the Fuller community.
Not long ago, I was with a friend of mine, Evelyn, who's been on the board, I believe, at Fuller, and I said, "Dr. Mouw is resigning. He's finishing his last year in his tenure. How can we ever replace Dr. Mouw? He truly is one of those leaders and special people, and the entire Fuller community does not know how we can find someone as special, as gifted, as intelligent, and someone that loves his students as much as he does. Please welcome with me, this morning, Dr. Richard Mouw.
Intro by Bobby Schuller
It's just a delight for me personally to be back here in the pulpit of the Crystal Cathedral to share some thoughts about God's word with you and with the folks who watch the Hour of Power.
This morning, Bobby read from Psalm 37, which is a wonderful Psalm that expresses the Psalmist's deep confidence in the presence of God, in the protecting power of God, of the kind of security and contentment that he experiences because his life is in the hands of the living God. He writes, "Trust in the Lord and do good, and you will live in the land and enjoy security. Take delight in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart."
In the epistle to the Philippians, the Apostle Paul expresses the same kind of confidence. He does this in the context of thanking the Philippian people, the members of the church there, for coming to his aid in a time of great need. He says to them, "You were very concerned for me but you had no opportunity to show it. But then when I was in need, you came to my aid." And he says, "I'm not saying this because I am in need." Then he makes this amazing statement: "For I have learned to be content, whatever the circumstances." I have learned, the Apostle Paul says, to be content, whatever situation I'm in.
That's not exactly the way I would put it if I were talking about my own life. I get irritated quite a bit, and I'm sure you do, too. There are things that we wish we had, and there are people who we wish would treat us differently. With all of the ordinary circumstances of life, and then the bigger stuff, it's very hard to say that we're really content surrounded by tensions in society, trends that we don't really like. There are rising gas prices, terrorist threats, kids committing suicide because of Internet bullying, leaders whom we trusted but who have failed us in significant ways, starving people in North Korean villages. With all of that going on, it's very hard to say that I am content simply to trust in God whatever the circumstances.
But the Apostle Paul does it, and I'm not sure how I can be like that. In fact, sometimes I'm even inclined towards sarcasm when I read Paul saying this kind of thing. Well congratulations, Paul, you're better than the rest of us. Whatever the circumstances, you are able to be content. But we can't get away with that attitude because this is the word of God and it's speaking something important to us, and we need to learn. In fact, just before the Apostle Paul says this, in the fourth chapter of Philippians, he says, "Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me, put that into practice." Then he goes on to say, "And whatever circumstances I'm in, I've learned to be content." Well, we have to try to put that into practice, as well.
How do we do that? Paul himself says that it isn't easy. He himself says that he had to struggle with this teaching. He even says it in this sentence: "I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances." It doesn't come naturally to him.
So let's us try to do some learning, today, from the Apostle Paul. The main thing here is that we mustn't misunderstand why he is saying that he can be content, whatever the circumstances in which he finds himself. He's not saying the equivalent of something that we hear these days, much from the younger generation: "Oh, whatever." He's not saying that. He's not saying he's not affected by the things that happen outside of his inner life.
I won't give you a philosophy lecture this morning, but I do need to mention that during the time that the Apostle Paul engaged in his ministry, there was a philosophical school of thought in the ancient world called stoicism. We even hear that word today: "Oh, he's being very stoic about it." And the stoics had this notion of an inner contentment no matter what's happening outside of you, that somehow you need to engage in various meditative practices, various exercises and contemplation so that somehow your soul, your spirit could be connected with the basic rhythms of the universe. Then, whatever bad things happen, they would not affect you. Just get in tune with the universe and you won't worry about what's going on around you. Try to eliminate desire. Try to eliminate passion. Cultivate inner serenity, and all the external stuff will not bother you. That's not what Paul was saying.
Once again, earlier in this chapter, he says to us, "Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable, if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think about such things."
Well, suppose we do think about those things. You think about what is pure and you're going to be worried about impure things happening around you. You think about what's right and you're going to be worried about all of the wrong things going around about you. If you think about excellence, you're going to be worried about all the bad stuff that happens in life. So, if we see stuff that isn't right, isn't true, isn't noble, isn't lovely, we will be discontented.
Here's another lesson that we can learn about what Paul is saying - that it's not just about finding some inner harmony that you can cultivate just by going inside of yourself. It's about getting connected to Jesus. That's such an important part of what we need to hear when we come to church. We get this from what Paul says right after talking about contentment.
He goes on to say, "You want to know why I feel contentment? It's because I can do all things through Him who gives me strength." The Apostle Paul is talking about Jesus here. And not just the Jesus who's a teacher of inner peace, but also the Jesus who came to show us how to live in the world. He's talking about the Jesus who did what He needed to do in order to give us the power to live in a Christ-like way so that we, too, can say with the Psalmist, "My strength and my security is found only in the Lord."
That is the foundation of the Christian life that Paul's already talked about back in chapter two of the epistle to the Philippians. It's where he talks about Jesus, Jesus who was fully God. But He did not see taking advantage of being fully God something to be pursued. Rather, when He saw the conditions that needed to be addressed in the world, He emptied himself. He took upon himself the form of a servant, He went to the cross, He was raised from the dead, and He is now ascended to heaven. Because He has been given a name that is above every name, He did that so that some day, at the name of Jesus, "every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord to the glory of God the Father." He's been given a name above every name. We can find the kind of contentment that the Apostle Paul tells us we need to learn because of what Jesus Christ has done for us, especially in shedding His blood on the cross of Calvary.
One very important thing He's done is to take our nature upon Himself. In the epistle to the Hebrews, the writer says we have agreed that we have a high priest who has passed through the heavens, and He has suffered, He's been tempted, and He's been tested in all the ways that we've been tested, but without sin.
I preached a sermon on that once and, in the course of the sermon, I said this, "There's nothing that you have experienced during this past week that Jesus Christ does not understand."
As I was greeting people at the door afterward, a woman came up to me and said, "I'm very upset with you." She said "I just don't believe what you just said. That there's nothing that I have experienced during this past week that Jesus doesn't understand. I've had a terrible week with my teenage daughter, and Jesus doesn't know what it's like to be the mother of that teenage daughter."
Well, we had a chance to talk a little bit, and I said, "He literally was not a mother with a teenage daughter, but when you think about what you're concerned about when you say that, and you think about what Jesus went through in bringing about His atoning work, He knew what it was to be ridiculed. He knew what it was to be accused falsely. He knew what it was to have somebody who you thought loved you betray you. He understood there's nothing that you experienced with your teenage daughter this past week that Jesus does not understand."
Finally, she conceded the case and thanked me. I was glad that I was able to say that to her. I would have also liked to have met her teenage daughter and told her that there was nothing that she had experienced with that mother that Jesus doesn't understand, but that's a whole different story.
It's very important for us to think, especially as we enter the Christmas season, of what went on when Jesus emptied Himself as a great high priest who had been God, passed through the heavens, and took on our own humanity. Then, He went through all the terrible stuff that we experience as human beings.
I love the Christmas carols. They have such wonderful, wonderful theology in them. You think about the line in "O Little Town of Bethlehem." I think about this a lot: "The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight," and so many other lines in the Christmas carols. But there is one that I really think is not true. It's heretical, actually, but you can sing it anyway. Just sort of cross your fingers as you sing this one line because we have to keep singing the whole carol and it's not the time to change the words. But in that wonderful carol, "Away in a Manger," it says this: "The little Lord Jesus, no crying He makes." I got to tell you, that baby cried. If He did not cry in the manger, we're in big trouble. Because He emptied Himself and He experienced what it was like to become a helpless baby on our behalf. When He was lying in that manger, there was no little Superman suit underneath those swaddling clothes. It wasn't as if the baby lay there in the manger with a checklist in His mind, thinking, "Well, there are the shepherds coming in now. I had better stay awake for maybe the magi are going to come soon. And, by the way, that camel, I wish I had created that one a little differently." It didn't turn out the way. He wasn't doing any of that. He was a helpless baby, totally dependent upon the security and the protection provided by His parents.
The little Lord Jesus, oh, the crying He did make in that manger. That's because He emptied Himself. He entered into our condition and He understands the stuff that we bring with us this morning to this time of worship. A helpless baby, He understands. By lying in that manger, and by finally going to the cross, He made it possible for us to handle the difficult things in life. He made it possible for us, even though we may be irritated and upset about many of the things that have been going on in our lives, to come to church and draw on the resources that can give us a deeper contentment.
And that leads yet to a final lesson - that we can find that deeper contentment that can only be realized in our relationship to Jesus Christ by then trusting in God's sovereign purposes in the world because God will make it right in the end. And that doesn't mean that it's going to be right in our daily lives at any given point.
When I've been working too hard and I want to find some way of really relaxing, I read a thriller novel. Some of you will know the kind of thing - Tom Clancy, or Robert Ludlum, or David Baldacci. I like those kinds of novels. They're not intellectually demanding, but they're a kind of a nice escape from the tensions of life. And you know how those novels go. Here's a novel, 450 pages long, and you get up to page 225 and the hero is in big trouble. He's in a house that's surrounded by the enemy and it isn't clear how he's going to get out alive. And the woman he loves is being held captive someplace. As you're reading it, you get somewhat tense with the story, am I right? How is this all going to turn out? We're only on page 225. What's going to happen?
So I tell you what I do. I go to the last page. Now I don't want to read it very carefully because I still want to be surprised by how the details work out in the end. But I skim the last page to ascertain two things: One, is he's still alive? Two, are they back together again? Then I can go back to page 225 and go slowly and tensely through the kinds of agonies that you go through in reading a novel like that. I can slowly work my way through the plot up to page 450 because I've seen the last page and I know that it will work out in the end.
I have very good news for you today. Whatever the stuff, whatever the discontentment, whatever the worries, the fears, the pains that you have brought with you to this time of worship together, I have good news for you: I've seen the last page. This is what the last page tells us: That Jesus is going to come again. And that someday, at the name of Jesus, "Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that He is Lord to the glory of God the Father." And that when Jesus returns, He's going to say, "Behold, I make all things new." And all tears will be wiped away from our eyes. There will be no more drive-by shootings, terrorist bombings, no more HIV AIDS, no more cancer or heart attacks, no more marital discord, no more distrust between parent and child. Those of us who know the name of Jesus here and now can look forward to the day when He will, indeed, make all things new, and it will be well, not only with us, but with the whole creation.
We're still on page 225. We still have to work our way through, and I don't have easy answers for you this morning. Maybe you've come to this time together with worries about something in your family, something in a relationship, something happening in your body, about your economic future, about employment. Whatever you bring as a concern to our time of worship today, I have no assurance that there are easy answers, but I can tell you this: We're headed to the last page. And we have to work our way slowly through the plot. There are going to be times of anxiety and worries, and a kind of surface discontent, but if we put our trust in Jesus Christ, we can make our way confidently toward the last page, toward the day when He comes again.
And we can sing with those wonderful words that the choir sang for us this morning, "Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. O what a foretaste of glory divine." And we can say with the Apostle Paul toward the beginning of this epistle to the Philippians, early on in the first chapter, that "We can be confident of this," Paul says, "that the one who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." We can be confident; we can have a deep contentment because of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.
So, this is the good news this morning: Jesus is coming again. We know what it's going to be like on the last page, and we can go forth from this time of worship together, saying, "Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine." That's true contentment.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.