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Lord's Day Liturgy

A Bellyaching Bucket

I’ve mentioned it a few times recently, but I keep thinking about it, I keep having opportunities to try it, and I keep thinking that it could really work.

What I’m about to say connects with the image used in Revelation 1 for the churches. The image that Jesus uses for the churches is a lampstand, a light giver. Jesus told His disciples that they were the light of the world, and collectively our light should shine brighter.

How do we give off light? I suppose it is somewhat verbal, especially when we have opportunity to name names for why we do what we do. We believe in and love and live for Jesus Christ the Lord. But the light is also behavior; the light of life should be visible. Look at the light.

In Philippians Paul exhorted the Christians to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, reminding them that God was working in them, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (2:12-13). What does His good pleasure look like in conduct?

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world. (2:14-15)

If you want to live straight among the crooked, don’t bicker about everything. If you want to be pure, give thanks. That’s the opposite of “grumbling,” which is a muttering (in Greek goggusmos, an onomatopoetic word that sounds like what it refers to) of disappointment and dissatisfaction. Paul identifies the no-complaint zone: this “twisted generation.” So your context for complaining is covered.

Do people grumble about their spouse? Their kids? Their job? Their government? Their president? Their age? Their future? They do, and we should not. We are the light of the world, so don’t put a bellyaching bucket over your light.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Envy Kills

Envy kills. It kills the taste buds of one’s own soul, making sweet things seem dull and unsatisfying. It kills contentment, making those who have not wish that they were someone else. Envy has killed entire classes of people, as with the manifesto of communism to overthrow those with property and make sure that everyone has an equal amount.

Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors. (Proverbs 1:19)

Envy corrupts politics, ruins the use of money, undermines education, divides neighbors, flattens genders, and embitters siblings. More than of all of that, it is a spiritual problem. Sure, some laws protect against envious theft, some systems of government promote personal responsibility, but only freedom from our envy and covetousness in Christ can replace a worldview of envy with a worldview of thanks.

We want and don’t have so we fight and quarrel and kill (James 4:1-2). The current world way of thinking is littered with self-centered comment cards. So Paul told the Philippians that they would shine as lights in the midst of a crooked generation simply by not complaining.

Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world (Philippians 2:14–15)

All we need to do to be lights in the darkness is to stop whining. Thankfulness is a political statement, an economic principle, a worldview that changes our influence.

Don’t grumble, be grateful. We should learn to see all of our possessions as things that were given to us by God (because they are, 1 Corinthians 4:7), and see the things others have as their gifts from God and be thankful for that, too. We should submit gladly and gratefully for all that God enables us to enjoy. If we see the seeds of bitterness or discontentment or envy or grumbling starting to take root in our soul, we need to confess it before it chokes out our life.

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Every Thumb's Width

All Poor Devils

In light of all the reasons God gives us to be grateful–as a society, a church, in our families, and on the nitty-gritty of our dinner tables–why do so many grumble? We whine because we want to be God. Here’s a dependable observation from a dubious source, Friedrich Nietzsche.

There is a powerful causal drive within [man]: someone must be to blame for feeling bad…And waxing indignant makes him feel better, too: all poor devils take pleasure in cursing, it gives them a little rush of power. (Twilight of the Idols)

In other words, complaining is the closest we get to being God. We know that we can’t actually control anything but if we complain about it, then we can at least make ourselves feel like we are above the problems. Only those who aren’t trying to be God can thank God for whatever He gives. Otherwise we’ll just be fussy devils.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Again I Will Say, Grumble

Listening to many of us talk, you’d swear that Philippians 4:4 said, “Grumble always before the Lord, again I will say, Grumble.” Church people don’t have a monopoly on whining, but that’s largely because we like to whine so much that we just give it away for free.

Grumbling kicks humility in the shins. The two don’t like each other, though grumbling usually does most of the smack talk. Grumbling prefers to perch above the situation, to take the judges chair, and to pronounce all his unfulfilled expectations about schedules and traffic and disobedient kids and work hours and weather and Bible teachers. Humility doesn’t deny bad things, but humility also knows that bad things aren’t as bad as he deserves.

Grumbling drives away and leaves hope standing alone. Grumbling partners with his pal Unbelief and they love to predict how bad it probably will be. Grumbling pleads the law of uniformity: the same laws and processes that operate in the universe have always operated in the past and will continue to apply everywhere now and in the future. It has been bad, it won’t get any better. Hope sees past the fray by remembering the gospel and the promises of a sovereign God who loves to tell redemption stories.

We cannot fight grumbling with indifference. God does not aim to make us uncomplaining but lethargic onlookers, He aims to make us rejoicers. He implores us to rejoice, not mainly because happy people will live a few more years, but mainly because eternal life is sharing God’s life. He is glad and so He calls us to quit our complaining.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

Complaining Like Americans

If you’re like me, as you’ve read the Old Testament, you’ve probably wondered why the Israelites blew it so often. How did they miss the point that obedience brought God’s gracious blessing and that disobedience brought God’s gracious, usually painful discipline? What kept them from trusting God? Take just one instance: their deliverance from Egypt by miraculous plagues and the Passover and crossing the Red Sea. Within months they were complaining like Americans. What was the problem?

It’s an easy answer. They didn’t have the Holy Spirit living in them like we do. Certainly, even in the wilderness, spiritual people wouldn’t have acted entitled to better provisions and conditions. We would never act like them, we would never harden our hearts like them.

Or we would.

The author of Hebrews states that we “who share in the heavenly calling” (Hebrews 3:1), we who have Jesus as our High Priest, should look to the Israelites as an object lesson. He argues that their problem may become our problem, not that we can’t have their problem. Hardheartedness is on the table.

So, “as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.'” (Hebrews 3:7, quoted again in 3:15 and 4:7) “Take care, brothers, lest their be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:12-13).

There are a number of issues at work in Hebrews three and four, but if the goal is the promised rest of God, the threat is unbelieving, hardness of heart among us. The threat is disobeying God and doing what we desire like Israel did. The blessing of God’s Word is that it confronts us, it cuts up our hearts and exposes them, and makes them tender (see Hebrews 4:12-13). We also have a sympathetic High Priest who was without sin and who invites us to draw near to the throne of grace for help in time of need (4:14-16), even against the threat of entitlement and hardheartedness.