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Lord's Day Liturgy

Giving Delight

We always do what we most want to do. That’s not to say we don’t have competing wants, but the strongest want wins. That means that we always sow what we most want to sow, and if we reap what we sow, then we always get the harvest we were working for.

So what do you want to reap?

This is the final exhortation for #NoDisorderedContentmentDecember. It relates, as have the others, to a common advent/Christmas activity: giving. Think of gifts as seeds, and so which kind of reward to you want for sowing presents?

There is an invisible law that governs rewards. Jesus applied it to those who give to the needy with the motivation “that they may be praised by others.” Want to be seen and have others say nice things about you? That’s easy. “Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.” (Matthew 6:2). But that’s a lesser contentment.

There is a greater reward, a better harvest, a higher level of joy available. That belongs to those who give, and in this specific case, give in secret, “and your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:4). Of course Jesus’ teaching doesn’t require anonymity all the time, it requires the heart’s highest order of contentment in pleasing the Father.

So presents can be given in pretense, a false display of feelings. Gifts can be given with strings attached, gifting that obligates rather than frees the other up to enjoy.

Give because it’s a delight, and you will know delight from beginning to end. Give as a demand, and you will find it demands more of you than anyone else.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

What Good Traditions Are For

We continue to consider #NoDisorderedContentmentDecember. There is a kind of contentment we can have, or think we should have, that is not enough. We can be satisfied at a lesser level than the right level.

Consider this example: Jesus taught that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27). In Israel, the Sabbath was law. Stopping work on the seventh-day was required. Sabbath breakers were judged, and Sabbath law required capital punishment (Exodus 32:5).

But there were Sabbath extras added in the culture over the generations, and even if we give the benefit of the doubt that they were created with the best of intentions, the best intentions became a weapon, often bringing harm not happiness. Many became content to remember the limitations, but not to remember the Lord’s blessings.

We do not have any divine laws that require certain activities of us during Advent/Christmas. We have freedom to celebrate, and there are some activities that are good, profitable, and even wise for passing on our joy to another generation. We are for good and repeated activities. But it is totally possible to act like our kids/families are for Christmas traditions rather than that traditions are for our kids/families.

When those traditions are threatened, some of the organizers act threatened. They are tempted to discontentment that the “Thing” didn’t go as arranged. Maybe that’s a problem. But were you in fellowship with your people? Did your response to the “Thing” increase fellowship, or were you content letting everyone else know how disappointed you were?

Don’t be “the sort of woman who lives for others—you can always tell the others by their hunted expression” (as C.S. Lewis described in The Screwtape Letters). Let the contentment be in love shared through events, not love of events over people. The Lord wants hearts that offer sacrifices, not those who are content with on-time but actually unthankful offerings (Psalm 50:8, 14).

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Lord's Day Liturgy

By the Plateful

This is not an exhortation about being fat. It is another #NoDisorderedContentmentDecember exhortation. But since today’s sermon is about feasting, about integrating our contentment in God through what He gives us, this reminds us that comparatively, any contentment apart from Him is out of order.

When I moved to Los Angeles for seminary in 1997 I arrived with more books in my car than dollars in the bank. I knew one guy who lived in CA already, and he regularly treated me to well-buttered sesame bagels and introduced me to Ramen noodles. I’m not talking about Cup-o-Noodles, that was out of my economic bracket. I’m talking about the (at the time) 25¢ packs. There was one week that my meals included 21 packs of Ramen, and one burger from Carl’s Jr. I was running lean.

After about eight months of that, Mo and I got engaged, I started hanging out at their house, and her mom rediscovered that her cooking was amazing, since there was a new and eager mouth. I started eating each meal at their house as if it might be my last meal ever. It was tasty, the conversation at the table was flavorful, and I measured my intake by the plateful.

Over the course of the next couple years I gained about 80 pounds, and I didn’t need at least 70 of them. My belly was full, my hunger content.

Of all God’s prophetic donkeys it was a random comment from Oprah that brought me to repentance. She said something about looking to food as a comfort. I had been content to depend on food, and proved that I had not been content to trust God for my daily bread. I missed the proverb, “give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny You” (Proverbs 30:8-9a). I was denying the Lord in practice. My contentment was disordered, and it showed.

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Lord's Day Liturgy

No Disordered-Contentment December

Five years ago our family hashtag was #NoDiscontentDecember. We decided (because we needed) to focus on our contentment, whether over the extra events or tasks or expenses, or even the lack of energy or desired gifts. A picture of contentment would be good for any month on the annual calendar, but contentment for the twelfth would be on point like the star at the top of the Christmas tree.

Today, and for the following few exhortations before Christmas, I want to give a twist on NDD and talk about No Disordered-Contentment December. What I mean is, there are some ways we might call ourselves content that are wrong, unhelpful, even sinful.

We talk about ordered loves. Some things are more lovely and excellent and beautiful, so they are to be loved more. God’s holiness is more beautiful than any sunset. Doing justice is better than tithing herbs. Neighbors should be served, but not by neglecting spouse and offspring.

To be content is to be satisfied. We accept what we have as adequate. We’re in a state of peace rather than panic or anxious pursuit.

But some so-called contentment might be complacence, which is a smug or uncritical satisfaction. Godly contentment isn’t unthinking; three beers and an all night Netflix binge and call it good; that’s not good. Godly contentment is an acquired skill. “I have learned in whatever situation I am in to be content” (Philippians 4:11). It requires the strength of Christ to be content.

So this first exhortation is against the disordered contentment of being content with a low contentment level. If your version of contentment is that you just don’t complain, that’s the floor, not the ceiling. Keep growing. Don’t be easily satisfied with barely not grumbling.