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

The Triumphal Entry

Sermon Audio: 23min
PDF: Old Testament Cross References to the Triumphal Entry

Luke 19:28-40:

28 And when he had said these things, he went on ahead, going up to Jerusalem. 29 When he drew near to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount that is called Olivet, he sent two of the disciples, 30 saying, “Go into the village in front of you, where on entering you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever yet sat. Untie it and bring it here. 31 If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ you shall say this: ‘The Lord has need of it.’” 32 So those who were sent went away and found it just as he had told them. 33 And as they were untying the colt, its owners said to them, “Why are you untying the colt?” 34 And they said, “The Lord has need of it.”35 And they brought it to Jesus, and throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. 36 And as he rode along, they spread their cloaks on the road. 37 As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, 38 saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39 And some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples.” 40 He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.”

Footnote: In the sermon I mention my slaveholding ancestor.  I erroneously said “Thomas James Hart,” another ancestor in the same lineage, instead of Thomas E. Hart.  Here is information on the Thomas E Hart house in South Carolina.

Garments of Shame

Sermon Audio: 22min


Genesis 3:1-13:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.  He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.  And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?” 10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” 12 The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate.” 13 Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Footnote: Some theological aspects of this sermon derive from a sermon by Dr. Timothy Keller entitled Nakedness and the Holiness of God, preached March 21, 1993, at Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.

Ordinary Work for the Glory of God

Sermon Audio: 19min
[Sorry, no video is available for this sermon]

Exodus 31:1-11:

The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, to work in every craft. And behold, I have appointed with him Oholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. And I have given to all able men ability, that they may make all that I have commanded you: the tent of meeting, and the ark of the testimony, and the mercy seat that is on it, and all the furnishings of the tent, the table and its utensils, and the pure lampstand with all its utensils, and the altar of incense, and the altar of burnt offering with all its utensils, and the basin and its stand, 10 and the finely worked garments, the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, for their service as priests, 11 and the anointing oil and the fragrant incense for the Holy Place. According to all that I have commanded you, they shall do.”

God’s Design for Work

Sermon Audio: 22min
Sermon Video:

Genesis 1:26-2:3:

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27 So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.  

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.

Accompanying Images:

Giving as Trusting God

Sermon Audio: 20min

Leviticus 23:9-14

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 10 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, When you come into the land that I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest, 11 and he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, so that you may be accepted. On the day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it. 12 And on the day when you wave the sheaf, you shall offer a male lamb a year old without blemish as a burnt offering to the Lord.13 And the grain offering with it shall be two tenths of an ephah of fine flour mixed with oil, a food offering to the Lord with a pleasing aroma, and the drink offering with it shall be of wine, a fourth of a hin. 14 And you shall eat neither bread nor grain parched or fresh until this same day, until you have brought the offering of your God: it is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.

Jesus for Outsiders

cole-angel-shepherdsSermon Audio: 17min

Text: Luke 2:8-10

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Jesus for the Covetous

Sermon Audio: 21min
Sermon Video:

Luke 12:13-21:

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 14 But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator over you?” 15 And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 16 And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, 17 and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 18 And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”