That Big Piece of Leftover Cheesecake

I want to address a subject where angels fear to tread: dieting. I could give an amount of qualifiers named Legion. Gluttony is a sin out of the shrink-wrapped box; maybe I’ll try to tighten a belt around that later. I’m also aware that we should be good stewards of the temple of the Holy Spirit, that nourishment and activity are important. To be disciplined is not a sin. To diet itself is not to sin, but there is a certain sin that threatens dieters more than that big piece of leftover cheesecake in the fridge. The threat is discontent.

In Genesis 1:29 we read that God told Adam and Eve to behold all the fruits and vegetables for food. After the flood He includes meat on the menu for man. And the New Testament is full of warnings about those who require abstinence from certain foods, who say do not taste, and who define righteousness by foods eaten or rejected. Those who do that are in danger of denying what God says is good.

Maybe you need to discipline your intake. Maybe. But why? Who says? Was it an afternoon television doctor? And how do you think about food during the day? How are you thinking about the One who created and provided that food? It is possible for a person to be counting calories out of contentment, but it is very difficult. To be in this ample position, we have probably not needed to pray too often, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Perhaps we’ve eaten bread from five days in the future, and there are plenty more carbs where that came from. This provision, and the need to be disciplined rather than desperate, is a blessing. This is God’s gift. Our ability to give thanks is likely to give out before our waistline.

If we are giving thanks in want and in plenty, content in all our circumstances, joyful in feasting and dieting, then we are likely living in fellowship with God. If we are grumbling (or feeling guilty) because we’ve got too much, or grumbling because we’ve have so much we must forgo, then we are likely not in fellowship with Him and good chances are that we’re not in fellowship with each other either. How we eat or drink or don’t is an opportunity to glorify God.

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.

Thanksgrabbing

Ah, the winter holiday season is upon us and it starts this coming Thursday with Thanksgiving. We are learning that God is honored when we feast and not only when we fast. We are also learning that feasting is a whole lot of work.

Fasting takes a lot of discipline. We could even call it work. But it is mostly mental and spiritual work. In order to honor the Lord with a fast, no one needs to compile a shopping list, or vacuum the floors, brine the bird, roll the dough, mash the potatoes, fold the napkins, whip the cream, uncork the wine bottle, or wash all the dishes. Denying the flesh requires effort but a lot less clean up.

That said, those who do a lot of work to feed bodies have a different need to deny their flesh. Prepping a great meal is an example of something that can happen anytime, but the Thanksgiving holiday sets the table for what we could call Thanksgrabbing, a tradition some of us may already be observing.

Thanksgrabbing occurs when we expect to be seen and praised for all our work. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t be thanked; of course you should. But if bitterness grows every hour you’re on your feet because no one seems to notice, let alone offers to help, or if your leftover casserole cooks in a broth of hurt feelings because guests didn’t acknowledge all your effort, then you may be grabbing for thanks.

Again, attitudes can sour in a cornucopia of ways and it isn’t particularly a matriarchal sin. It’s the kind of sin that happens when one trades a monk outfit for a lightweight martyr outfit, serving and sacrificing in order to obligate thanks from others. Deliverance from dualism involves new difficulties, but they are difficulties worth fighting. Don’t let resentment make you the biggest turkey at the table. Remember, “The liberal soul shall be made fat,” and those who gladly share gravy will be gravied themselves (see the KJV of Proverbs 11:25).

The Lard from a Nickel

My dad’s dad and mom lived during the depression. My granddad (who I never met) used to say about my dad’s mom that she was so tight with money that she’d “skin a nickel to get the lard out of it.” In a similar way we ought to squeeze thankfulness out of any and every situation, even when the situation seems anything but fat for gratitude.

In what circumstances did the Lord institute His supper of communion? The night before He was betrayed (1 Corinthians 11:23). Yet when Jesus took the bread and the cup, what did He do? He gave thanks.

I’ve mentioned before that the Lord’s Supper is sometimes called the Eucharist. In our day, usually only the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox refer to this ordinance by that name. That’s too bad we have so much vocabulary baggage to carry around with us. The word eucharist comes from the Greek word eucharisteo which means, “I give thanks,” the word found in Matthew 26:26-27, Mark 14:23, Luke 22:19-20, and the passage from 1 Corinthians mentioned above. The noun form, eucharistia, means “thanksgiving.” Eucharist is a great word; communion is a thanks-meal.

I’m thankful that God has grown our congregation into giving thanks at communion rather than giving up, that we eat and drink with more gratitude than guilt. In fact, guilt makes the focus wrong. Gratitude is the only way to have Christ as the centerpiece. We come to this table not so that we can be more fastidious in finding sin but rather so that we can be more faithful in giving thanks to our Savior.

Full of It

Our God is special. He does things hardly anyone expects though He expects everyone will notice. Paul told the Romans that all men know God but they won’t honor Him or give thanks to Him (Romans 1:21). It strikes me that gospel, the power of God to salvation, goes after the ungrateful. The good news that causes us to be most thankful addresses sinners who are the least thankful.

Salvation, analyzed in one way, is deliverance from ungratefulness. God justifies unthankful men, forgiving them and declaring them innocent of all their thanklessness. God sanctifies men by the gracious work of His Word and Spirit to make a man more thankful. Even the word itself expresses a great measure: thankFUL, or grateFUL. A saved man is full of it, in the right way.

So there are two parts to this exhortation. First, is your thank tank full? If not, you should confess it as sin.

Second, are you faithfully reflecting God to the unthankful around you? Jesus told His disciples,

love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. (Luke 6:35, ESV)

Using unthankfulness to fix an unthankful neighbor works as well as using a Brillo pad to fix a scratch on his eyeball. If we obey the command to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thesslalonians 5:18), we may find that thanks is potent to overcome complaints. We won’t overcome evil with grouchiness because God doesn’t.

Thick Gratitude

Every Christian in clay pot ministry1 should desire God’s glory above all else. According to Paul, abounding glory for God comes from abounding thanksgiving from men, and abounding thanksgiving from men comes from abounding grace poured out as pots endure affliction for men’s sake. But not only is God glorified when bumped pots slosh gospel grace onto others, He is also honored when the pots themselves express gospel gratitude.

We must be examples of abounding thankfulness. We cannot carry pettiness, bitterness, or reluctance and think that we will spread thanksgiving. Our gratitude should be viscous like lava flowing from a volcanic eruption, carrying away small-minded criticisms and negative attitudes and petty squabbles. Our gratitude should be thick and sticky like a snowball gathering speed and size as it sweeps down the mountainside, uprooting every problem tree planted in the path. We need a gooey gratitude, well-nigh impossible to wipe off. If our thanksgiving is runny and thin, it will slip through the cracks and be easily ignored. But gluey, gloppy gratitude restricts how much negativity a neighbor can exercise. We won’t cause gratitude to abound by improving our criticisms of critical spirits; criticizing a criticizer usually doesn’t deter them. Criticism ebbs as tides of gratitude surge. That brand of gratitude will change a culture.2


  1. I’ve recently preached a few sermons from the first three paragraphs in 2 Corinthians 4, and verse seven likens those doing the work of the ministry to jars of clay.
  2. By “culture,” I’m thinking first about the characteristic attitudes of a family, or of a local body. I’m not ready to grant that abounding Christian gratitude will usher in the Kingdom.

The Ugliness of Unthankfulness

I thought that I might be able to skip over this thought in my head, but providence apparently had another idea. The thought came up yesterday while Mo and Maggie and I were out driving around, doing a little shopping for our remodeling efforts at the house. And we were, of course, all packed into the little cab of our truck so that we would have room in the bed of the truck for all of our large purchases. Needless to say, we were in close quarters, and we were in those close quarters all afternoon.

So far what I’ve described is probably not that awful for a person who can have fun no matter the situation, and there were a lot of reasons for me to be having fun with the family, but I wasn’t! I was cramped. I was uncomfortable. I was tired. I was thinking of all the other things I needed to be doing.

As the afternoon passed into early evening Mo and I became aware that Maggie had not taken advantage of our many miles on the road to take a nap. We noticed this, not because little kids come with a digital display of their sleep tank, nor because they are given the gift to communicate the state of their situation with verbal clarity and completeness, but rather because God has given them another avenue of announcing their displeasure with their world: whining.

And you know, whining is ugly. There is no beauty, no attractiveness, no charm, and no grace in whining. Whining is repulsive and uninviting. Whining is an expression of self-centeredness, selfishness, and unthankfulness. That makes whining ugly.

So Maggie and I had a little father-daughter chat about the attractiveness of happiness and the beauty of joy. I told her that we wanted her to grow up and be a pretty young lady and that she would be most appealing in proportion to her being most thankful.

That was great. I had taken responsibility to direct my little girl’s heart in the way it should go. And as my sense of fatherly pride welled up within me, I realized that I had failed to direct my own heart in the way it should go: the way of thankfulness.

I am better (perhaps some would disagree with this!) at concealing my lack of thankfulness than perhaps a 20 month old is but, even if my outside is not ugly, my heart is. I thought about it all last night and I thought about how ridiculous it is for me, or for anyone, to be unthankful.

As providence has planned it, this morning when I took my copy of God’s Word to pick up my reading from yesterday, I began in Psalm 136. And Psalm 136 verse one says, “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever.” Then verse two begins, “Give thanks to the God of gods.” And then verse three, “Give thanks to the Lord of lords.” And not to be outdone, Psalm 138 verse one starts out, “I give thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart.”

I started singing the song in my heart: “Give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good. Give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good. And His love endures, forever. Call upon His holy name. And rejoice in the Lord; Rejoice in the Lord. Let the hearts of those who seek the Lord, rejoice.” And while I was singing in my heart I thought of the numerous times that we are commanded to be thankful throughout Scripture. Specifically I thought of Colossians 3:15, “And be thankful.” And 1 Thessalonians 5:18, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” We know that those who are filled with the Spirit will be “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20).

So whatever is happening you today, be thankful. And pray for me that I will increase in my thankfulness…because being unthankful is ugly.