Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Fragrant Feasts

Holidays are hard. This is because sin is grabby and humans are sinners. One other way we sin is by believing lies about how holidays can save us. This is a Hallmark gospel, the not-even-so subtle story we’re sold during this season. Just get the food offering prepared and the gifts secured and the table cleaned off and all brokenness can be healed!

Even Christians can tend to see these times through Precious Moments tinsel. I like to remind you that you know better, that these feasting times are spiritual war, and that the same behavior that blesses some will antagonize others.

Paul used a parade picture to encourage the Corinthians. “Thanks be to God who always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere” (2 Corinthians 2:14). The triumph was a Roman victory spectacle, with music and dancing and food and prisoners of war and the conquering general. Paul puts believers in such a festival, celebrating the victory of Christ.

But “we are the aroma of Christ to God…to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Corinthians 2:16). When you live from faith to faith, some will join in thanking God, others will blame you and criticize you for not feeling more guilty about all the people you’ve hurt as you thoughtlessly celebrate this “triumph.”

The communion feast shows us the way. It demands that we recognize Christ’s sacrifice as the only gospel, a gospel that heals, that reconciles, that humbles, and that lifts up our faces.

Gird up the loins of your mind, and your gravy bowls. Be full of thanks. Be a blessing. Be a joyful sacrifice spreading the knowledge of God everywhere.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Godliness and Gratitude

It is godly to be thankful, though God Himself is not said to be thankful.

There is no description of God giving thanks or of the Lord giving thanks in Scripture. Jesus gave thanks to His Father for a few things (Matthew 11:25; John 6:11; John 11:41; Matthew 26:26-28), but this was the Son of God in flesh on earth.

For what it’s worth, I could not find any example of angels giving thanks either.

God is always the object, never the subject, of giving thanks. He is always the sun, never the moon, always the engine, never the wheels.

So gratitude is not an attribute of God. But gratitude was created by God as a uniquely human way to honor God. We become like who or what we worship, and in many ways we, as those who bear God’s image, take on His likeness as we see what He is like. We are transformed from one degree of glory to another as we behold Him (2 Corinthians 3:18), but in this case, as we behold Him we have more reasons to be thankful for His independent and good nature.

Paul wrote to Timothy that in the last days men would be, among other things, ungrateful (2 Timothy 3:2). Some would even have the appearance of godliness but be denying its power (3:5). Let the people of God be godly, not only in appearance, but in strong appreciation for the riches of His kindness to us.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Can’t Help It

As often as you watch the Tube, as often as you check the news or seek entertainment, as often as you drive past stores, you are being invited to consider how discontent you probably should be. Propaganda tells you how everything around you is bad, advertisements tell you about everything you don’t have. Those who suppress the truth about God can’t help but be agitated.

There is a place of peace, in but not of this world. It’s the Table before us.

In 1 Corinthians 11:24, Jesus took bread and “when He had given thanks” (εὐχαριστέω), then “in the same way also He took the cup,” which we know from Matthew 26:27 included “when He had given thanks” (εὐχαριστέω). This is why communion is called the eucharist, the meal of thanks.

It is the Supper of God’s glory. It is not a table focused on our guilt but for our gratitude. Giving God glory and thanks is what the world will not do (Romans 1:21). Those who believe the gospel of God can’t help but praise Him.

Let Him be glorified for His righteousness, His love, His grace, His sacrifice. Let Him be thanked for gifts of repentance, faith, and fellowship. Let Him be glorified for His eternal nature and divine power, let Him be thanked for giving us eternal life by the power of the gospel. Let the Son of God be glorified for His obedience, let us give thanks for the Son of God who spent His body and shed His blood for us. Let us glorify the Spirit who points to the Son, let us give thanks for the Spirit who dwells in us as the guarantee of our inheritance. Let us glorify God who created grain and grapes, let us give thanks for the bread and the wine that remind us of our Savior.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

A Feast of Promise

The two essential elements of an assembly’s worship are the Word and sacrament, especially the Lord’s Supper. We receive from the Lord light and bread, including truth about the food. The thing that connects them both is faith, and I’d like to brine that subject a bit longer.

Consider our upcoming national holiday. There are many who will sit at a table, masked and in their worried mind, who will eat some turkey stuffed with anxiousness. The word thankfulness will be on their lips but their hearts will nag them about the fraud of it all. Their joys are all in temporal things, and it is hard in 2020 to pretend that temporal things are dependable things. It will not be sufficient to reread about the pilgrims and the founding fathers because we have shot their wad. Theirs is a story of freedom, and there is some sense of possibility in the story, but the fear is that their story (was racist and/or) is finished.

When we come to the feast of the Lord’s Supper we have a different story to remember. The story does have history of struggle and sacrifice, but the commemoration meal includes news of how what happened guarantees what will happen. It is a story, along with a meal, of promise. The prophets who anticipated the coming and suffering of the Messiah were joined by apostles who anticipated the re-coming and conquering of the Messiah, along with the called and chosen and faithful.

We do not eat the bread of anxious toil, but the bread of quiet trust. The Lord builds the church, the Lord watches over His people, and He gives joy to His beloved. We know it because of the Word, and we know that all the words of God will be fulfilled (Revelation 17:17). That’s a promise, and so we feast.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Quotidian Coveting and Emotional Control

True emotional control is only possible for a Calvinist. And, sure, she doesn’t have to know that she’s a Calvinist, but she certainly has to deal with her desires like one.

Quotidian emotional control issues typically concern not being happy what we have, or what we don’t have, or what we see that someone else has. Another way to say it is that those who can’t control their every-day feelings of discontent are guilty of breaking the 10th commandment: You shall not covet.

Moses recorded God’s prohibition which included some examples:

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house, you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, of his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:17)

The preceding commands are also about one’s neighbor: don’t murder, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, and don’t bear false witness, all of which behaviors directly affect your neighbor. But who does it hurt if the problem is just unfulfilled longing in your heart? It offends God.

The problem here is not simple disobedience, it is idolatry. The idol could be the “thing,” as in, you want the car (that’s just a modernized tangible example, it could be “anything” material or abstract or perceived) more than you want God, but it’s often more like the kind of idol of a different god than the one who didn’t give you the car. Of course you’d be guilty if you stole the car, but that would break the 8th commandment. You’re guilty of the 10th commandment if you won’t give thanks to God for not giving it to you.

In Ephesians Paul said that the countermeasure to sexual immorality and impurity and covetousness, which is idolatry, is to “let there be thanksgiving” (Ephesians 5:3-5). Giving thanks is perhaps the ultimate act of submission, not just accepting God’s sovereignty but appreciating it (like a Calvinist). We will not be ready for higher level lessons of emotional control without accepting the results of God’s elections–His election of your house, your relationships, your productivity, your wealth–by honoring God and giving Him thanks.

Our gratitude is not just the result of emotional control, it is the reins of it.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

The Point Where We Can Really Get Going

There is a similarity between our worship liturgy and the holiday liturgy many families will follow this week.

Each Lord’s Day our service drives toward the communion table. The call to worship, our confession of sin, and the Word’s work of consecration prepare us to share together in the communion of Christ. Unlike many services that prepare for and respond to the centerpiece of the sermon, we think the sermon centers our hearts for sake of the Lord’s Supper. The Savior brings us together, unites us, and we give thanks.

On big holidays, such as Thanksgiving, there is usually a lot of prep work, all of which points to a shared table. There is shopping and cooking, there is traveling and decorating, but it all aims to bring people together to share food, and especially this week, to express thanksgiving.

But both the Lord’s Supper and your holiday supper are subordinate ends. They are ends, we’re trying to get there, but we’re not trying to stay there.

Communion is a uniting in fellowship, to the end of the glory of God, and also as we continue to glorify God in our thankfulness for Christ and fellowship one another beyond Sunday. The Thanksgiving table isn’t intended to be a tall rug that covers all bitterness and hurts and offenses until the leftovers get put in the fridge when we can go back to being grumpy with one another. No, it is a time to renew thanks for sake of prolonging thanks.

Communion makes communion better. Thanksgiving makes thanksgiving longer, if we do it right. Even the marriage supper of the Lamb will be a feast that kicks off eternal feasting. So we drive to the point where we can really get going.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

He Gives Gratitude-Power

The wise Preacher once observed a heavy and hideous scene.

“There is an evil that I have seen under the sun, and it lies heavy on mankind: a man to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that he lacks nothing of all that he desires, yet God does not give him power to enjoy them, but a stranger enjoys them. This is vanity; it is a grievous evil.” (Ecclesiastes 6:1–2, ESV)

Here is an illustration I’ve always appreciated. “God is the One who gives things, and God is the one who gives the power to enjoy things. These are distinct gifts…just as a can of peaches and a can-opener are distinct gifts” (Wilson, Joy at the End of the Tether). God could give a man a warehouse full of canned peaches, and get that man on the talk show circuit about his terrific warehouse management techniques, and it wouldn’t be enough.

Who knows how many things he has to be thankful for? Sounds, Scripture, salvation; food, family, friendship; life, liturgy, literature; ice cream, the Internet, ibuprofen; butter, bread, beauty; kids, congratulations, compassion; potatoes, promises, pies. These are all wondrous gifts, with whip cream on top, to mankind.

But there is one more gift that puts all of those gifts in place. One other gift that keeps us from serving the gifts as gods or from fearing that we will. The great gift is the power to give thanks. Gratitude itself is a grace. Not letting us think that we have gotten all these things by our own power (see Deuteronomy 8:17), but turning us to the God of generosity and abundant blessings is His own work in our hearts.

Give thanks to God who works and wills thankfulness in your hearts.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Thanks in Advance

The timing of the Lord’s thanks stands out at the Lord’s Table. According to Paul, Jesus gave thanks before He broke the bread and “in the same way also” before He shared the cup (1 Corinthians 11:24-25). What really stands out about the timing, though, isn’t only that He gave thanks before both of the elements, but that He gave thanks “on the night when he was betrayed,” before the cross.

Wouldn’t it have been better to wait, to inaugurate the communion meal after the torture was over, the blood cleaned up, the tombstone rolled away? Jesus knew what was coming. He knew His work wasn’t finished, and He taught the disciples to give thanks in advance.

From our historical perspective, Christ has completed His sacrificial work but He has not finished His sanctifying work of His Bride. He is still at work to purify and unite all of us, and we can give thanks before He’s finished.

When you look two pews in front of you, when you stand behind that person getting the bread and cup, are you only noticing all the ways that they fail? Are you thinking about how much more they need to grow? Or are you giving thanks, believing that He who began a good work in them will be faithful to complete it?

Jesus gave thanks on the night He was betrayed. The betrayal lead to His being mocked, beaten, and crucified. But His death lead to His resurrection, and His resurrection leads to our life. He gave thanks because He knew everything that was coming. Give thanks. He’s both done and not done yet.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Thankful for the Body

When we combine this season of thanksgiving with the communion we share at the Lord’s Supper with the diversity of Spirit-gifted members in the body, we have reason to get specific in gratitude for the different gifts we see.

When I look around the Table on Sunday morning, or, after everyone has come to the Table and is back in their spot ready to eat and drink together, I am very thankful.

I am thankful for the plurality of pastors who love and lead with sacrifices. I am thankful for the deacons who have different ideas on how to go about fulfilling their united commitment to help those in need.

I am thankful for those who lead us in our worship in song, who love the Lord and love each other and have fun together, even when they are off the stage. I am thankful for the men who care for the sound and the video, who set up early and tear down late, and who stream the service for those who can’t come.

I am thankful for the men who are growing in leading their wives and kids, I am thankful for the ladies who are growing in following their husbands and loving their kids. I am thankful for the energy of the young adults, for the joyfulness of the kids, and for the chorus of babies that sometime make a lot of noise at unplanned times.

I am thankful for those who are suffering, who are sick, who are weak, or who are in sorrow, and who are also displaying great patience and trust in God for us. I am thankful for those who arrange meals, make meals, make visits, watch kids, weed lawns, and show care to those who are hurting and grieving.

I am thankful for the ones among us who are quick to question, for the ones who are regularly critical; they help keep us sharp. I am thankful for the perpetually encouraging; they always lift up. God has arranged the body as He chose, and what good the Spirit is working among us.

Categories
Lord's Day Liturgy

Make It Perfect

There are two ways to make your Thanksgiving holiday family time together perfect this week. One way to make it perfect is to have your family not spend any time together. Really. Where two or three are gathered together, there is disagreement in their midst. This is merely “perfect” in the sense of free from strife, though that is probably an imperfect definition of perfect. When we as Christians think about perfect we usually think about what is as good as it could possibly be.

So if not getting together is not an option, and if getting together necessarily leads to some level of relational strife, how could there possibly be a way to make it “perfect”?

Paul wrote this:

bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other, as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:13-14)

There are no perfect holidays that are free from strife, from stress, from criticisms, from sin. But there can be perfect harmony, even when sin snaps at the kids, the kids keep needling each other, the in-laws complain about the one dish that isn’t on the table of seventeen other things you made. The harmony happens when Christians absorb the heat.

You have two ways to respond when the steaming gravy gets spilled on you. You can be like a pile of fluffy mashed potatoes, soaking up the gravy from making an even bigger mess, or you can be like a dried out piece of turkey with crisp skin because it was cooked five hours too long. You can blame everyone else and leave the mess for them, or you can absorb it, as God’s chosen ones.

Be the person for whom others eagerly give thanks.