Category: Personal

Nothing on Earth: Finding Contentment in a World of Comparison (Week 1)

Sermon Audio: 26min

Psalm 73:

Truly God is good to Israel,
    to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
    my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
    when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

For they have no pangs until death;
    their bodies are fat and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are;
    they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
    violence covers them as a garment.
Their eyes swell out through fatness;
    their hearts overflow with follies.
They scoff and speak with malice;
    loftily they threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against the heavens,
    and their tongue struts through the earth.
10 Therefore his people turn back to them,
    and find no fault in them.
11 And they say, “How can God know?
    Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
12 Behold, these are the wicked;
    always at ease, they increase in riches.
13 All in vain have I kept my heart clean
    and washed my hands in innocence.
14 For all the day long I have been stricken
    and rebuked every morning.
15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
    I would have betrayed the generation of your children.

16 But when I thought how to understand this,
    it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
    then I discerned their end.

18 Truly you set them in slippery places;
    you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment,
    swept away utterly by terrors!
20 Like a dream when one awakes,
    O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.
21 When my soul was embittered,
    when I was pricked in heart,
22 I was brutish and ignorant;
    I was like a beast toward you.

23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
    you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
    you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God;
    I have made the Lord God my refuge,
    that I may tell of all your works.

Christ, The Greater Covenant

Sermon Audio: 20min

Hebrews 8

For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.

For he finds fault with them when he says:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
    when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
    and with the house of Judah,
not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
    on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
For they did not continue in my covenant,
    and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
    after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
    and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
    and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
    and I will remember their sins no more.”

13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

Interview About Calling and Church History

Recently a member of my congregation asked if she could interview me about pastoral ministry, calling, and Church History.  I decided to record it and include it in my podcast feed.  I hope you are edified by it.  God bless.

Story As Spiritual Revelation

Sermon Audio: 21min

2 Samuel 12:1-7a:

And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

Nathan said to David, “You are the man!

John 1:1-14:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

 

Comparison is the Enemy of Contentment

It is (in my estimation) one of the most beautiful prayers in all of Scripture:

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:25-26

It was written by a man named Asaph, who was a worship leader in David’s and Solomon’s Temples.  I am especially amazed by his statement, “There is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.”  Asaph was reflecting on the immeasurable worth of God and realized that the whole world is unable to offer anything more desirous than Him.  Asaph, a member of the priestly line and having a role inside the Temple, would have lived a luxurious life.  His job came with many expensive trappings—in fact, he lived like a king.  Even so, he was able to look at these lavish amenities and realize that their value paled in comparison with knowing God.

Earlier in the same psalm, Asaph confessed a serious sin.  Envy.  It seems that he had some friends or acquaintances who were wealthier than he was.  Not only that, but they seemed to be undeserving of their material blessings.  He wrote, “I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” (vs.3)  Asaph was confused about why some people could be blessed by God even though they were wicked.  In quite vivid detail, he described how disgusting they appear to him, concluding with this disdainful phrase, “Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.” (vs.12)

Paradoxically, Asaph was both disgusted and envious of his friends.  He hated them and he wanted to be them.

Have you ever felt this way?  Have you had a friend or relative who experienced some unexpected blessing, like a huge bonus or inheritance, and had mixed feelings about it?  Perhaps you thought, “Ugh, why did he get that blessing? He doesn’t deserve it!” while at the same thinking, “I wish I had gotten it instead.”  This is precisely how Asaph felt in the first half of Psalm 73.  It’s hard to be content when we constantly compare ourselves to others.

So how did Asaph change his heart from envy to worship?  How did he escape the downward spiral of social comparison to declare, “There is nothing on earth that I desire besides [God]”?  He was so disgusted and envious in one verse, yet so awe-struck by God’s beauty in another.  He went from comparison to contentment.  What changed?

Asaph went to church.

“When I thought how to understand this,” Asaph wrote, “it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God.” (vs.16-17a)

A simple encounter with God during worship in the sanctuary changed Asaph’s perspective.  Like a person with a dirty car driving through the tunnel at Splash Car Wash, Asaph emerged from the sanctuary with a clearer windshield and a whole new view of the world around him.  Previously, his vision was clouded by disgust and envy of his friends; he could only see the fault in them and the (false) righteousness in himself (see vs.13 and 21).  But in the sanctuary, God cleared away the grime of sinfulness and allowed Asaph to see clearly.  With clear eyes and a full heart, Asaph gazed upon his Savior and saw him for the treasure that he truly is.

What is my point in sharing this prayer with you today?  If you haven’t already figured it out, I’m encouraging you to get yourself into the sanctuary.  Go to church.  Statistics show that even devout Christians are attending church less than they used to.  It’s easy to see when our cars need washing, especially this time of year when the pollen is heavy.  But it can be less obvious to realize when our souls need a cleansing reorientation in the sanctuary of God.  Do you want to escape the cycle of social comparison?  Do you desire to be truly content?  Come, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” (Psalm 122:1)

See you in the sanctuary.
Nathan

About Nathan Hart

Rev. Dr. Nathan Hart is a pastor at Stanwich Church in Greenwich, CT.  He grew up as the youngest of four siblings in a loving household in Holland, MI.  His grandfather and great-grandfather were pastors, and his father worked for the church as a Discipleship Director.  As a young child, Nathan felt his own call to Christian ministry, telling his second-grade teacher that he was going to be a pastor when he grew up. Following that early sense of calling, Nathan graduated with a degree in Theology and Communications from Hope College and earned his Masters of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary. At Princeton, Nathan’s God-given giftedness for preaching was discovered, as he was awarded the Jagow Award in Homiletics.  During his seminary years, Nathan worked for the NY Yankees chaplain and conducted “board room Bible studies” for Wall Street men.  Through this experience, Nathan began to feel a specific calling to serve in the New York metropolitan area.  His first call after seminary was to Brookville Reformed Church on the north shore of Long Island.

Nathan earned a doctorate in preaching from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in 2017.

Nathan has served in many other arenas, including domestic and international missions, youth ministry, interfaith education, and hospital chaplaincy. Before being called to Stanwich Church, Nathan served as the NYC Director of the Fellowship of Christians in Universities and Schools (FOCUS), which ministers to families in independent schools.  This season developed in Nathan a heart for independent schools and he now serves on the Board of Trustees of two institutions: The Stony Brook School on Long Island and The Stanwich School in Greenwich, CT.  In the summer of 2017, Nathan also joined the Board of Trustees of his alma mater, Hope College.

Nathan and his wife Nancy have two children and live in Greenwich, CT.

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