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Gary Stroupe speaks on contentment, an issue that we all face in life. Looking at Philippians 4:10-13, Paul shares with us the "secret of being content" in any circumstance. It's found in Christ. As we come to know Him, be with Him, and believe that what He gives us is good, we understand contentment. Then, we don't have to base our well-being on the circumstances of our lives.
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This morning, I want to talk to you about a topic that I don't have to worry about whether it applies to us. I'm speaking this summer at a family camp that is primarily populated by believers. There are some non-believers there, but for the most part, it's folks who at the very least were part of cultural Christianity. I knew this day was coming up. I was just looking for what we would teach on today.
The thought that came to my mind even before I looked at a specific passage was that I wanted to talk about contentment and the lack thereof and what we can do about discontentment and how we can live with a sense of contentment in the world we're living in. It's really easy to think, "I'm a Christian. I'm supposed to be content." It's not that easy. That's too simple of an answer. I think it leads to a lot of false guilt and lot of confusion.
I just wrote down some of the things I've heard in the last couple of weeks in my life, just people I bump into. Some are friends. Some are acquaintances. Some are church members. See if you hear your story in there rather than me telling you sociologically why we're discontent. I do think there is a group of people who suffer with entitlement issues. There is some of that in here, but there are also real things in this world.
Entitlement simply means, "I deserve everything to go my way." We can drift into that. I think it's a real common issue. I can get into entitlement if I'm not careful. "I'm entitled to respect. I'm entitled to…" Blah, blah, blah. These are things I've heard in this world that we live in that are common to most of us. See if these don't hit home with you.
"I'm discontent because my friends just don't get me. I'm discontent because my spouse is a disappointment." That didn't come from my house, by the way. "I'm discontent because my job is not fulfilling. I don't make enough money. I'm discontent because I'm lonely. Debt seems to me to be so great that it seems totally unsolvable, and I'm just dealing with it all the time.
I'm discontent because I cant get rid of my desire for the things I'm addicted to like pornography and alcohol and drugs, whatever. I'm discontent because God seems far away from me. I'm discontent because I'm never satisfied with what I have. It seems like when I get what I want, that's still not good enough. I'm discontent because…" Fill in the blank. It's your life. You know better than I do what you're discontent about.
What is it that causes you discontentment? You see, all of these things are not… These are bothersome things. If you don't feel like your spouse is for you or loves you or has drifted away, that's a problem. We're not saying, "These aren't problems. Get over it." That would be wrong to say that. That would be denying reality.
How do we become content in the middle of that? Even as Christ-followers, we at times have reasons to be discontent. I grew up in a season of America during which we at least had the illusion that the world at least winked at Christians and kind of patted us on the head. Now, everywhere I go, I feel like as a Christ-follower…
I remember speaking at high schools at graduation. I would go fly to some part of the country and do what they would call a religious service. Back then, they called it baccalaureate. They may call it that now, but it's not a religious service. It's words of wisdom. From those early days, I could just stand up and talk about how great Jesus was. As days went by, they said, "Hey, you can talk about anything but God."
I always think, "I don't even know why we're bothering to do this. You asked me not to talk about God. You can unbook me because that's what I do. I'm not going to quote Benjamin Franklin because he will not change your life." I'm not against Ben, but the world seems to be turning against Christians, doesn't it? Let me just break it to you generally. It has. If you believe what the Bible believes, you're a bigot, you're intolerant.
Now, you should be called a bigot or intolerant if you're hateful and mean and nasty, but if you're kind and loving and yet believe differently… I thought that was kind of the American way. The world is turning against Christianity in the news. Media misrepresents our believes. They find the craziest person in the crowd who has a cross around his neck and put that person on camera, as if he represents what the gospel is about.
If there's a fictional account of the Christian, he's always intolerant. He's mean-spirited. He's a hypocrite. I think, "Well, those certainly belong, there certainly are those, but there is a whole sea of people who are kind and generous and loving and sacrificial, like their Savior." Our public policy has become crazy. Our kids' sexual identity is now a question mark. Later on, we'll discover what they really are, even though they were born with sexual organs that clearly indicate what they are.
If you're a Christian and say, "He's a boy. He was born a boy," you're somehow a crazy person. I used to be sort of like, "It's important." I would kind of rock along. I've gotten to the point now where I go, "Hey, I'm trying to protect my grandkids. I'm trying to protect your kids from growing up in a world that is confusing and is going to leave them very, very angry because of the confusion that we're raising."
When I was younger, in an earlier time in our world, we would have called the things we're saying to our kids now abusive and unhealthy at the very least. All of this to say that it's easy. I get really crazy about this sexual identity issue. It's not the only issue, but I get crazy about it because I just think it's so wrong. I don't care about where people go to the bathroom. I care, but that's not the issue. The issue is we're telling our kids that they can't trust their biology.
I can get angry and get frustrated and become very, very discontent. I would say that in a weird sort of way, this is where we are, whether it's public policy or whether it's our own lives, and it's kind of good thing in a weird way because it has removed the veil and the veneer that we live in a Christian world. It has shown us what the Bible has always said, that man loves darkness rather than light. He's confused and needs a Savior.
I don't know why we ever believed that we live in a "Christian nation." Because of that, those values, the church has kind of been asleep. Believers have been asleep to what is happening in our world. In a strange way, there's a benefit to all of this because we have woken up to say, "Hey. Wow. This is not all good." Whether your discontentment comes from that, both column A and column B…
We have some choices here. The first one is to retreat and become nasty. That's where the word monastery comes from. We're all going to get over here and holds hands, put the walls up, and we're going to go in here and cloister, and we're going to protect our belief systems. In a personal sense, we're going to push out anything that gets in the way of our contentment.
That's option A. Option B is to win. We're going to fight. That has never gone well for us. When I say fight, I don't mean standing up for your beliefs and living them out and being active in the Christian marketplace and speaking up and voting for people who get policy done. The third choice is what the apostle Paul did, and that's going to be our backdrop.
He dealt with all of this by advancing the gospel. He said, "I'm not going to play defense; I'm going to play offense. I'm going to be a part of the mission which God called me to. I'm going to fight the good fight. I'm going to speak up for who he is, not the decision of the day." I'm going to read to you Philippians 4:10-13, give you a little background so it makes sense. We'll talk about it briefly. Then we'll go to that buffet I mentioned earlier. I'm not paying.
Let's look at this together. It says, "I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity." Let me stop right there. The church at Philippi was started by Paul, by his missionary efforts to explain who God was to this part of the world. There were hardly any God-lovers in this part of the world.
He comes to this very secular, crazy culture that believed in all sorts of gods, and he says, "There is one God. He's the true God." People begin to gather, and there is this little cloister of believers. They become the core of the church that you and I experience now. Then Paul moved on from there. He believed that God was calling him to go to all of these different places. The epistles are pictures of what he did and where he went.
These guys still loved him for what he brought them. He brought them God. From time to time, they would look for him and say, "I wonder what Paul is up to." At one point, they took up some money because he lived an itinerate life, and they brought him money. He took the money and paid some bills or got food or whatever, got shelter. Other times, they came to him, and he would say, "I'm good. You keep the money."
In fact, in other parts of Scripture, you see him sending the money back to these churches and saying, "You keep that and reinvest it because I'm good. I'm taken care of." What you have here is… The guy is not a charlatan. He has this itinerate life. He comes to this place where they have lost track with him. They don't know where he is. Somebody comes across him. They find him. Lo and behold, he's in prison.
He's awaiting judgment by the ruler. This is not a good story at this point. They come to them, and they send a messenger and say, "We have heard of your condition. Here is some money to get food, to buy coal or firewood, or to get any of the necessities to survive that you need. We still love you. We're still for you. You have blessed us." What he basically says is, "Thank you for not forgetting me." It's the picture of the heart of God's church that minister to each other.
Let's go on. He says, "Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content." The key word there is the word learned. We're going to come back to it. "I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me."
When I grew up, I knew that verse because Christian youth groups quote that a lot. I didn't know it came from this story. I didn't know it was Paul who was in prison. You would go out to a track meet, and you would go out to do a pole vault, and you're trying to clear five and a half feet, and you go, "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength." You go do that. "Praise Jesus." You do that.
It was kind of our personal empowerment verse, which is not what it's talking about. Christian stuff like that drives me a little bit crazy. We do these little things and say, "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength." It's really about us. It's about our win. It's about our lucky Bible verse rabbit's foot. That's not what's going on here when he coins that.
His friends at Philippi send him money, and he is grateful. He's saying, "Guys, thank you for remembering me. I'm encouraged by that." Then he goes on to say, "But I really don't need it." He obviously needs it. What he's not saying is that he doesn't physically need it. He's saying, "This is not what's going to sustain me."
He has to be really careful because he loves these people. He has been a part of their story, of them understanding God's love. There is this great relationship. He's saying, "Thank you. You've encouraged me. This will go to your credit." Do you know what he's talking about? He's talking about someday when they stand before God the judge, he will look at this and say, "Well done. Way to go for loving Paul. Well done that you didn't live for yourself but thought about your brother. That is to your account." That is what he's saying. "I'm so glad."
There is this other part of Paul where he is excited that the guys who he saw come to know the living God are still living for him, and he sees evidence of that by the way they're loving him. He says, "Way to go, but I don't really need it." He's not saying, "What are you giving me money for? I don't really need it." He needs it. What he's saying is, "This is not the cure. This is not what is going on."
Maybe you've heard the saying that some people are thermometers and some are thermostats. Have you ever heard that? People who are thermometers reflect the environment around them. When things are good, they're good. Economy is up. Health is up. Girlfriend isn't breaking up with them. Spouse is being sweet to them. Temperature is up. Things are bad. The economy is down. Everything is bad. It doesn't mean there is evil in their heart, but they are more a reflection of what is happening to them.
Then there are thermostats. Thermostats are not affected by the environment around them; they regulate it. Whatever is happening around them, all of these factors that we mentioned earlier that are things that cause us to be discouraged… They are real things. Paul is in prison, for crying out loud. He awaits the possibility of death. This is not some cute little story that is in the Bible. This was an actual man.
He is a thermostat. He is less affected by the things around him, and he's more a regulator of what is happening around him, not because he can control it but because there is something different that is happening in his heart and in his life. He has found the secret to contentment. That's what the Scripture says. "I have found the secret to contentment."
We had no girls in our family other than my wife. I grew up in a household of three brothers. I had two sons. All of a sudden, God, in his mercy, gave me a granddaughter. I said, "Woohoo! We've hit the jackpot here." She's 4-3/4. She's going to be 5 here in a month or so. It's real fun to be with her. I love to be with her. She is the apple of my eye, so to speak, and I love her.
She's real independent and really strong, but she's really fun to be with. She'll be playing, and I'll say, "Hey Poppy has something he wants to say to you." She'll just go along her way. She doesn't really need me. I have found that the way to get to her is I'll say, "Hey, I have a secret." She will stop. She'll come to my chair and go, "What is it?"
Then I'm like, I'm really on the spot. I have to come up with something good here. I'll say, "Well, it's a big secret. Tomorrow, we may go to Bearcat Snocones." I'll try to come up with something. She knows that when there is a secret, "There is something that is bigger than what I'm doing. It is magical. It is the promise of payoff. There is something good about to happen. He has the power to pull off stuff. I'm going to come to his chair, and I'm going to listen."
What I want to tell you today is I want us to capture the secret of contentment. I don't want you to come to my chair; I want you to come to his chair. I want you to come to the throne of grace and hear this secret, because it will mean everything to you. I think most of us cannot escape discontentment. No matter how much we try to escape it, it comes to our door.
To live a life with contentment is probably one of the most attractive things and one of the greatest gifts we can receive. There are guys who pull up. I don't mean this in a negative way at all. I really don't. Business is going good. "It's going great. I have tickets to this. I have resources. It's good to see you." They have all of this stuff going on. If you take away all of that, can you be content? "Of course I can."
I'm telling you I've lived long enough that I've seen the economy do this and this. I ran into a sweet friend this morning at Starbucks, and I said, "What do you do?" He said, "I'm in the oil industry." I was silent. That was not the time to joke. "How's it going?" "I'm not going to lie to you. It has been tough."
Then he said, "I have come to the conclusion that why I'm there is not to be a great employee necessarily or even to make money or to be a part of making money. There's nothing wrong with that. I am there because I have been called by God to make disciples." I'm giving away the punch line here. She gets it. I told her, "Today is your message, because that's exactly what we're talking about."
Contentment is not complacency or positive thinking. I grew up in a era where… I could name… It's not necessarily an evil thing, but it sort of is because it gets in the way of truth sometimes. There were positive motivational speakers. If you have lived long enough, you know their names. A lot of them are in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. I won't use anybody's name, because they weren't all bad guys.
They would come to your business and say, "Today is the first day of the rest of your life." I go, "Maybe. I don't know." They would give you all of these little axioms that were supposed to cheer you up. It would last about 40 seconds, and then they would run out of steam, because we were all living actual lives.
Contentment is not positive thinking. I've said this, and the saying is true, but how it is said is usually not very thoughtful. "God is good all the time." We don't know what that means. Even Scripture… "If God be for us, who can be against us?" We say it. Or, "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. Close the deal." We haven't really thought through what our faith says to us.
Contentment. Paul says, "I have found the secret to contentment, and contentment is not complacency or positive thinking." It's also not living in denial. It's not saying, "It's not really happening. I'm not really hungry. I haven't eaten recently, but I'm not really hungry." No. It's saying, "I am hungry." He says, "I have been in need. I have been brought low." One translation says, "I have been hungry, and I have been well fed, and I am okay in both of those places."
For some of us, the most dangerous place we can be in is in the well-fed category and not be content. Some of us in this room this morning, all of us, there are things in our lives that are real that breed discontentment. He said, "I have found that you don't have to live in a state in denial. You don't have to positive think it. You don't have to act like it's not happening."
I went to Chuck E. Cheese's for my 6-year-old grandson's birthday. I wanted to go to the birthday party; I did not want to go there, just to be real. When my kids were young, we went to Chuck E. Cheese's, and you needed to go outside and spray your body with disinfectant. Don't ever go in the ball pit. I'm just telling you. They have now found out that that's where some of our bigger uncured diseases began: in the ball pit of Chuck E. Cheese's.
I went to this Chuck E. Cheese's in Dallas. I walked in and went, "Wow. They have cleaned this place up." Then I ate a piece of the pizza and said, "Wow. It's not from damaged freight anymore. This is good pizza." Then I started getting real excited. I got up, and everything was clean. I didn't feel like I needed to put on rubber gloves to play the games. They had really… I would buy stock if I were you. If you have the money, think about Chuck E. Cheese's stock. They have really turned this franchise around.
There is one thing that has not changed. When you play the games, they give you these little tickets. Do you know what I'm talking about? You're playing a little electronic game, and at the end of it, little tickets come out. You play Skee-Ball, and the little tickets come out. All the kids get all in a frenzy because they're getting these tickets. They get to go to the Chuck E. Cheese's store inside the building there, and they get to buy something.
Let me tell you what you get. For about 40,000 tickets, you get a temporary tattoo of a pirate. Or you can get a little deal of sweet tarts about this long. My favorite… I was trying to coach my grandkids about which are the good items. You could also get a plastic spider. You could get one of those. I thought, "Hey, you can get Chinese handcuffs. These Chinese handcuffs are from China. How special is that?"
When we talk about getting the secret, he says, "I have discovered the secret. We think it's Chinese handcuffs. It's not really that useful. It sounds great on a poster or underlined with a highlighter in your Bible." He says, "I've learned the secret. I've learned how. I'm hungry, and yet I am content." It's an oxymoron. Hungry and content. Those don't go together.
It's crazy that he says that. He says, "I've learned, and I've walked in it. I know this, and it's not Chinese handcuffs. It's real. It's not some cheap knockoff. It's the prize you can't buy with the tickets. It's beyond what we can ever get. I've found the secret. It's magical. It's mysterious, and it's not available, and it comes from a good God."
He says, "I've learned the secret of contentment." Here it is. It's Jesus himself. Some of you just thought, "Sounds like Chinese handcuffs." No. Then you haven't met him. You need to taste and see that he is good. The word content means contain. That's where that word comes from. The word content means it's contained. He says, "I've learned the secret to the containment that I possess. It lives in me."
Not him. The philosophers of his day had all knowledge. They said, "I have learned it. I have aspired to it. It's me. I have accelerated my intellect and my belief. I am now content. I'm in another state. What Paul says is, "I possess it. It's in me. It's inside of me. It is not me. I've learned the secret. It's in him. It's a part of me. I'm not it."
When I look at my discontentment. I think to myself that what I want is not the cure. See, there are good things that happen. Basically, what Paul is saying is, "You brought me a check. Thank you. I feel loved by that, but that's not the cure. That's not what's going to make me content. I'll eat today, but I'll starve tomorrow again."
For some of us, it would be if someone dated you. For some others, which I think is a little bit of a joke, someone dates you or marries you, and in five years, I go to see you, and you want to get rid of the person who you wanted to date you and marry you. That's kind of this weird cycle that tells me that's not where contentment comes from. "It's a good thing. I'm for it." Some of us would say, "Man, if somebody could write me a check for $1,000 to get rid of bad debt…"
That would be a good thing. That's a real problem. That's not the cure for the contentment piece. There is debt coming from other places. Life happens. For some of you, there are real issues in your life. You would say, "Hey, if I could get this health issue taken care of…" I would want that for you, but even that would not bring you contentment.
He says, "I have found the secret to contentment." We keep looking for the gift that it is. I'm going to read you a couple of Bible verses that prove this out. Psalm 145:18 says, "God is near to all who call upon his name." We read that, and we're like, "Okay. That's beautiful. Thank you for that verse, John. Thank you for that verse, Gary." I'm giving you God's presence. "God is near to those who call upon his name."
Guys, I can't… My parents are getting older, so I'm doing the math. I'm not trying to be morbid, but I'm looking at their health. Although it is good health, I know that one day something is going to happen, and there will be a series of events and they'll have a decline just because of age itself. I don't want that. That's going to happen. I will say, "God is near to all who call upon his name."
The only thing that will make that a sweet moment is because God has been near to them because they called upon his name. I can be content. Even as I face death sometimes… Every time I go into a hospital emergency room and I'm there with a family, I always think to myself, "Some day, I'll be there with my parents." Then very quickly I go, "Some day, my kids will be here, and I'll be the guy lying on the gurney." God is near to all those who call upon his name, and I trust him.
Isaiah 26:3 says, "I will keep you in perfect peace whose mind is fixed upon me." That is one of my favorite verses. It just simply means, "When you don't know what to do, just stay connected to me. Just keep thinking about me, because I'm good." That brings incredible peace to my life, no matter what I'm going through. "I will keep you in perfect peace. Just think about me. Focus on me, because I am your Dad. I'm your Father."
Paul is full of joy, and he has peace, and his circumstances are the worst possible. He enjoys the love and attention of his friends from Philippi. He's thankful for the gift, but what he's saying is, "That's not what puts me over the edge, guys. Thank you, but I'm more encouraged even for you that that is where your heart is." He says, "The reason I have peace right now is because I have a reason for living that is bigger than prison."
He has a reason for living. He says, "My purpose is that I might tell other people that there is a God that loves them, and that's what gets me out of bed in the morning when there is nothing else to get me out of bed. It's even greater than my fear." I'm going to ask you a question today. Do you have a reason bigger than your dilemma that you live in that you're living your life?
I could stand here almost the rest of the afternoon and tell you stories of friends of mine who have been in the absolute worst health situations. As I observe them, it almost brought fear to my heart to think, "God, some day I may have to face that and live through that." I'm saying, "God, am I courageous enough to trust you through that?"
I see them loving nurses and being very honest, not denying the fact of where they are, being very in touch with and looking death (not philosophically but in reality) right in the eyes and saying, "I want to leave this legacy. The legacy is not that I was brave, but the legacy is that I trusted God with my eternity. Even as I'm standing on the edge of it." They just have a reason bigger than themselves for why their life was created.
God will not let them live a day longer or a day shorter than he wants to, and they trust him for that. Paul is saying, "I'm not living for the check, and I'm not even living to get out of jail. I'm living so that I might point people to this loving God of mine." If you don't believe me, read Romans 8:28, which he wrote. He says, "All things work to the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose." Says the man sitting on a cot in a prison. Think about that.
He says, "All things work to the good…" He didn't say, "These are really good situations, and I'm really thankful that I didn't eat this morning." What he's saying is, "All things are going to work to the good of those who love God and are called to this life and this reason for living." Let me show you this in a better sense.
When I started writing this message, I went, "I have to find an illustration that will point this out." It's easy for me to read books and even recap stories from other places, but I'm always a lot more attracted to people who live right here in Fort Worth, Texas, and are hanging out with us. Jenny and Andy Marsh, come join me.
I met these guys a couple of years ago. They called and said, "Hey, we're hanging out in Fort Worth. We used to be in Dallas. We would love to serve in the re|engage ministry." They began to tell me their story. I said, "Let's just come hang out together and get to know each other." The rest is history. I've fallen in love with them; I've fallen in love with their story. Guys, Andy and Jenny, just tell me how God kind of got you to this place.
Jenny Marsh: I am from a small town in Pennsylvania. I grew up with one brother, and my parents divorced after they had been married for 11 years. It was infidelity in their marriage. Right after my parents' divorce, the Lord just really got ahold of my dad's life and really changed him around. That change in my dad really affected my relationship with the Lord and my ability to understand the gospel.
Kind of fast forward. I am making some really bad choices, and my dad asks me to meet him for lunch one day. I just couldn't take it anymore. When we get together for lunch, I kind of confess everything. I'm like, "Hey, I'm living with this guy. I'm not who you think I am." I just kind of word vomit all over him.
I totally expected him to be furious and to get mad at me, and he didn't. He just looked at me and said, "I love you." He wanted to give me money for school, and he handed me the money. That was the first real tangible experience I had with grace. In that moment, God used my dad to show me what God's grace really looked like so I could have that outward expression myself. Fast forward. I meet an amazing hunk of a man. We fall in love. He becomes my best friend. I move here, and we get married.
Andy Marsh: My family dynamic was a little bit different. I was born the youngest of four. I have three older sisters. Whether my dad came home every night was kind of dicey. It was a 50‑50 chance. That went on for quite a long time. When I was 8, my parents finally divorced. At 8 years old, my dad leaves me in this household full of women and leaves me feeling very abandoned.
At that point, I began to pursue him desperately because he was no longer in the household, and I felt that. He was very easily going to just completely slip out of my life. For the next 8 to 10 years, I pursued him as if it were my next breath. Every time, I was met with some sort of rejection. That rejection I sort of equate to a gunshot to the belly. It's a slow bleed, and it's kind of the worst way to die.
I bled out for nearly a decade until finally I was done. I was dead. At that point, I was addicted to drugs, saturated in just alcoholism and a lifestyle that was out of control, out of my control. I didn't have any want or desire for God because my relationship with my dad directly affected every relationship that I had with a man. From that point forward, I knew there was no trust to be had with men. Going forward, I met my beautiful wife, and that continued the turmoil.
I'm 23 years old now. We're married. I'm still dealing with these insecurities. I've never really healed from any of my past hurts, but I've gotten really good at masking them and kind of learning how to talk the talk and walk the walk. Some of those insecurities manifested in my need for or my pursuit of material things, money, and attention, which eventually led to pursuing the attention of another woman.
That led, obviously, to an affair that lasted for about a year. Once that all came out, I was completely brought to my knees. God humbled me in a big, big way, as God tells us in his Word that he will. For the first time in my life, I was forced to deal with myself, my sin, my lack of faith, and my disbelief of the gospel, which was an incredible thing for me long-term.
I have some Scriptures I want to read. I had spent so many years just trying to be enough and trying to be the man that I never was taught how to be, and that just crushed me. It says in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10,
"But he said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
When we constantly try to live by our own selfish desires, life is full of disappointment. Understanding my depravity helped relieve some of the pressure and the anxiety that I lived in for so, so many years. All of the masks that I felt forced to wear no longer had a place in my life. I understood for the first time that all I really deserved in this life was his wrath.
Ephesians 2:4-5 says, "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…" Verses 8-10 say, "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them."
Jenny: You can imagine my shock and devastation when this information was brought to light. Not only was Andy my husband, but he was my best friend. I immediately was just completely devastated. Two different things happened. First, I was reminded of that time with my dad when he extended all of that grace and mercy to me, and it helped me to be able to extend that grace and mercy to Andy as well.
Then immediately, God broke me and allowed me to see my sin and what I had done to bring Andy to this point as well. It is never just one person. It is both people working together. My lack of submission to him in our marriage and my own insecurities and my self-righteousness really just kind of pounded him and brought all of it together. It was like the perfect storm.
A long time ago, when we were dating, I made this picture frame for Andy, and I put around the edge of the picture frame 1 Peter 4:8, and it says, "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins." That Scripture was just so true of loving Andy through this season of life. It was hard.
I had to make a minute-by-minute choice to get in God's Word daily and to pray daily. I reached out to other believers who were not just going to tell me what I wanted to hear, but they were for me. They were for Andy, and they were for our marriage. They told me the hard things I didn't want to hear but knew I needed to hear.
That helped me to get over the moments whenever I was feeling bad for myself and thinking, "I don't deserve this." Whenever I wanted to just sink into a deep depression, the Lord used all of those resources to help me see my sin in our situation and to love Andy the way God had called me to through all of it.
As hard as that was, I can honestly stand here and tell you that I am so grateful that we went through that affair. If it weren't for that time, I don't know if we would have the marriage that we have today. It's incredible, because that foundation of my best friend has been built on tenfold, and God has been just right in the center of all of that. I could not be more in love with Andy or more proud of him for the choices he has made through walking in God's Word on a daily basis.
Andy: We know we are perfectly and wonderfully made, and we can now boast in the weaknesses that we brought into this marriage, knowing that it is by God's rich mercy that we are saved through grace. It is easy to hear a story like this and feel as if maybe you're unique, whatever your story might be, that it's far beyond repair.
I can promise you that we were those same people. I was that person for 20-plus years of my life. To say that this is perfect now would be ridiculous. We have more good days than we do bad days. Outside of his mercy and his grace and the gift of faith he has given us, all of this we've said would make us a fraud because it would no longer be true. It's only by his mercy that we can stand here today and speak of such a great work and the story he's given us. Thank you.
Gary Stroope: Let's thank these guys. Just so you know, we were talking in between services. We were talking about how they have full memory of the past but none of the pain. They're not living in this painful reality, hoping they're going to make it. Just the opposite.
These are guys who we have asked to be here every Wednesday night and help other couples, not because they're experts but because they no longer live in guilt and shame, evidenced by the fact that when I called them, they said, "We cannot ever wait to tell what God has done for us because he has made this change in our hearts and our lives," which is a sign of health, quite frankly.
They're also guys who, when I have counseling and I need somebody, Andy and I have said together numerous times… I know that when Andy is there, he's going to say, "Hey, let's go to the cross. Let's look at what you have to be forgiven of. Are you going to turn right back around and say, 'God, you did that for me. It cost you your life. Now, I'm not going to forgive you"?
He spends a lot of time just pointing back to the fact that we are all broken, and we sit at the foot of the cross, and we get forgiveness. Marshall Treadaway, who was their Foundation Group leader when they were first married, when this was all going on, quite frankly, came to my house to pick up a ladder that JP had bought and asked me to pick up over here, which I am still bitter about.
I picked up the ladder, and Marshall and JP show up at my house to get this ladder, and Marshall says to my wife, "Hey, are Jenny and Andy coming to Fort Worth?" Just to have the joy of saying, "They're not only just here. They are a picture of God's grace. They are a blessing. They're a gift, because they have learned the secret of contentment."
The word learned is really important, guys. They were there, but they learned. They didn't fight it. They eventually laid down their arms and said, "God, we're going to trust you with this." From this day forward, they have a record of what God has done that will apply to every situation for the rest of their lives.
Can they get fuzzy on that? Absolutely. That's the reason why God gave them the body. Can I get fuzzy on that? Yes. They have learned. Paul said, "I have learned." Paul went through all kinds of crazy stuff. What he's saying is, "I know God is going to do his thing. Whether I'm hungry or not, I'm going to live in contentment."
The Living Bible does a really good job of saying, "I can do all things through Christ." It says it like this. "…I can do everything God asks me to with the help of Christ who gives me the strength and power.""I can do everything he asks me to because he's going to give me the strength and the power to do it."
When you read God's Scripture and say, "Well, nobody really does that," well, yes, they do. There are two people right there who did that. This room is full of people who are doing that, imperfectly, and yet they're saying, "I have found the secret of contentment." The other part of the secret I need to tell you is…I want you to lean in close, because I want you to hear…he loves you.
If your picture of God is that he's trying to get you to behave, you've missed the gospel of Jesus Christ. He knows you're a screw-up. He knows I'm a screw-up. He doesn't wink and say, "Ah, Christians will be Christians." He calls you to live for him, but he knows it's not about performance. He says, "Come and follow me, and I'll give you a life worth living."
I have found the secret, and the secret is that he loves you. The world has problems, but he's here. Deuteronomy 31:6 says, "Don't be terrified; be courageous." Why should you not be terrified, and why should you be courageous? Because he says to us, "I'll never leave you or forsake you."
At my house, when my kids were growing up, there would be monsters in the closet. You could always say, "Hey, son, if you think there are monsters in the closet, it's hard to get rid of them." My youngest said to me one time, "You don't know what it's like to be inside of my head." I said, "I sort of do."
You can't get rid of the monsters in the closet, but what you can say is, "It's okay, because I'm here. Let me lie down beside you." I would tell you that he's here. He's here in death. He's here when you can't save your marriage, although you've tried. He's here in the midst of financial difficulty. He's here in the midst of being misunderstood.
He doesn't say any of that is all right. What he says is, "I'm here." The question is, "Will you learn?" James 1 is one of the very first Scriptures I ever memorized. It says, "Count it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials and temptations, knowing this: that the trying of your faith produces endurance. Let endurance have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing."
The phrase "wanting nothing" is the key ending to that. What it simply says is, "Count it as a joy when you encounter these trials, because I'm giving you the chance to learn to be content the rest of your life rather than saying, 'If I don't get the wife I want, if I don't get the situation I want, if everybody doesn't treat me okay, if life doesn't go perfectly…'"
He says, "No, so you can be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." Then you can proclaim to the world that he is enough when you get past that veneer, and you can say with integrity… I had a pastor who, when I told him what I was doing today, said to me, "How are you going to teach chapter 4?" I said, "Well, the biggest part of it is I'm going to ask Andy and Jenny to come up and share this."
He doesn't know them. I shared their story. He says, "Wow. It's really good that you could talk somebody into doing that. That's pretty tough." I said, "No, it's not." They're chomping at the bit because they've learned, and they want you to have it, and they're no longer living in guilt and shame, which is the proof of their health.
Somebody told me one time, "Why do y'all always keep talking about what God has done in people's lives?" I said, "Yeah, let's just keep pretending like Jesus had nothing to do with it." Let's proclaim of his greatness so that we might learn. I don't know about you, but when I hear that, it reminds me that God is who he says he is, and we ought to be saying that to each other.
Let me tell you what re:gen, our recovery ministry, is about. It is a ministry that is full of people who are saying, "Help me to trust him. Help me to trust him with my bad parenting." That has happened to me. "Help me to trust him with my same-sex attraction. Help me to trust him with my overt heterosexual thinking that is going to somehow meet my need and keeps me from acting out and doing crazy things.
Help me to trust him with my self-loathing. Help me to trust him with my controlling that causes me to do crazy things like mistreat my body by cutting it or not eating, thinking I'll be somehow more worthy if I don't, if I get skinnier. Help me to trust him that I can not be obsessive‑compulsive. Help me to trust him that I'm not always thinking about myself all the stinking time and living my life for myself."
It's a group of people who get together to say, "Help me to trust him." Then they also say, "Will you teach me?" Then they also end up saying, "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength," and the world marvels at it, and they tell their friends, and their friends go, "When do they meet? I would like some of that."
We had graduation last week or commencement or whatever you want to call it. People share their stories. There are mentors who are people who are not in re:gen but who are just encouragers on the outside. They come, and they get more a view of it than they did before it.
The mentors are all people who have been around the church for a long time, for the most part, and the mentors kind of stood in the back next to me, and almost one at a time, they said, "Wow. I think I might want to do this." That's the mentor saying that. I just said, "First of all, you picked a good mentor." You want a mentor who is a fellow pilgrim, not an expert. We don't need anymore experts.
I think to myself, "They have learned the secret." Here's the secret, in case you missed it: He's enough. He's all you need. I can't remove hunger from this world completely. I'm glad when you get a meal, I'm glad when you get a check in the mail, I'm glad when business situations get better, I'm glad when conflict gets resolved, I'm glad when the economy gets better, but the secret to contentment is him and that you learn from him.
Lastly, the secret is that you have a reason to live that is bigger than just trying to be happy all the time. You have a purpose. You have a mission for your life, that your life is about something. It is bigger than you. How can he be enough? He can be enough when you live for another reason, and he can be enough when he's near. If you don't believe that, if you just think this is Chinese handcuffs, you need to get to know him, because he's everything you need. Let's pray.
Dear God, I want to thank you for this privilege today to proclaim how good you are and that we can do everything you want us to because you'll give us the strength to do it. God, in the real world where there is disappointment, I pray that you would meet the deepest needs of our hearts.
God, I thank you for your Word. I thank you for these people who make up this body who encourage each other. I thank you for those who boldly tell their stories of how good you are. God, just be with us. Be with us in good days and bad days. We know you're in both places. In your name I pray, amen.