Results tagged “gratitude” from Reformation21 Blog

A Different Kind of Profanity

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What would you do if one of your children walked in your house and spoke a string of four-letter words? What would you do if one of your children walked in your house grumbling? I fear that most of us would drop everything and confront their intolerable use of four-letter words (and rightly so) but would say nothing about the grumbling or maybe say something like, "I am sorry you are having a bad day." You may say, "Yes, but the four-letter words are profanities." So is grumbling.

We tend to reason that grumbling is not a big deal because it is not actually doing anything it is simply talk. In contemporary American culture grumbling is often ingrained as a way of life and many treat it as harmless personal therapy. We tend to rename it as something like venting in order to remove the stigma. Grumbling is so habitual that we often miss the irony of our words when we stand in front of closets full of clothes and murmur that we do not have anything to wear. Or when we stand before refrigerators packed with food and say we don't have anything to eat.

In the Bible, grumbling is described as corrosive. A grumbling spirit never stays self-contained but begins to infect all aspects of life and thought with an entitlement worldview. Parents who model grumbling or treat it as acceptable when their children grumble are placing their kids in character quicksand. Grumbling and thankfulness cannot coexist. One always vanquishes the other. A grumbler becomes immune to gratitude because no matter what happens circumstances will always bump up against our personal desires.

In Exodus, the Israelites leave Egypt walking between sovereignly walled up water; then, within one month of that event the awe-inspired gratitude is erased. Why? They are thirsty (Ex 15:22-17:7). The irony that they saw the power of a God who can control the Red Sea and now a bit of thirst has them complaining should not be lost on us. Moses had courageously been used by God to confront Pharoah and lead the nation out of bondage in Egypt but now they get a bit hungry and ask him, "Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger" (Ex 16:3).

God had provided them water and he now provides them bread and quail. They are instructed to gather only as much bread as they need for each day, but not everyone obeys (Ex 16:20). When they get thirsty again and say, "Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?" (Ex 17:3). You get the point. Grumbling vanquishes awe-inspired gratitude. Moses rightly asserts, "Your grumbling is not against us but against the LORD" (Ex 16:8). The same is still true. Parents who grumble and permit their children to grumble are catechizing them in discontent with the Lord.

In the New Testament, John 6:25-59, Jesus asserts himself as the "bread of life" after his miraculous feeding of the five thousand (John 6:1-15). Jesus, like Moses, provides bread and meat for the people. Jesus tells them that they are to believe in him (John 6:29). Ironically, the people who just saw an amazing sign say they require a sign to believe. Jesus said, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst (John 6:35). How do they respond? "So the Jews grumbled about him" (John 6:41, see also, 43, 61). The Greek word for "grumble" is "gonguzoĢ„," which actually sounds like murmuring.

Paul tells the church at Corinth not to grumble as Israel did in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:5-11). He says, "these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come" (1 Cor 10:11). James admonishes his readers not to "grumble" against each other' (James 5:9). Likewise, Peter tells his readers to "show hospitality to one another without grumbling" (1 Pet 4:9). In Philippians, Paul exhorts the church to have the mind of Christ and reflect his self-sacrificial example on display in his incarnation and crucifixion (Phil 2:5-11). Then, one of the first applications of how to do so is, "Do all things without grumbling or disputing" (Phil 2:14).

There seems to be a vast discrepancy between the way most of us think about grumbling and how the Bible speaks of it. We are wrong, the Bible is right. Parents often fixate on grades, success, and achievement in the lives of their children. However important these things are, they are far less significant than whether or not our children become grumblers with an entitlement worldview. To profane is to treat that which is holy as common. In Christ, our very lives are holy and our words are sacred. That reality is why grumbling in the Bible is profanity.

Grumbling is doing something, something profane and corrosive. Grumbling vanquishes thankfulness and makes us insensibly immune to awe. In other words, when we grumble, we are using our words to preach hellish sermons, not holy ones--sermons for which Satan would gladly say, "Amen." May we see grumbling as profanity against God, and correct it in our lives and in the lives of our children.


David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky and assistant professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of In the Arena and Church: The Promise of Sports for Christian Discipleship and Church with Jesus as the Hero. He blogs at Prince on Preaching and frequently writes for The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, For the Church, and Preaching Today.

Scarcity and Abundance

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In recent decades, Western culture has developed what the business analysts might call a 'scarcity mindset'. 

There are good reasons for this of course. For a long time, we've been behaving like a teenager in a bedroom, consuming non-renewable energy sources, polluting the planet, and degrading the soil from which we then expect another bumper crop. Now we notice that the Chinese and the Indian economies are industrializing, too, and that they see the privilege of prosperity as being able to be as reckless as the West always has been. 

There has been an assumption that growth would always come, that nature would always bounce back, and that the future would take care of itself.

Despite readily available contraception and abortion on demand in many countries, the human race is breeding very successfully, and population growth is rising at an exponential rate. With growth in population has come, not unsurprisingly, a series of wars in which ideology and religion have provided the rhetoric for what is in many ways a struggle for the finite resources of the earth. This has meant, as we have seen in recent weeks, the catastrophic uprooting of millions of people who now seek shelter, food, and security. 

The national anthem of my country, Australia, has a rarely sung second verse which says 'for those who come across the seas, we've boundless plains to share'. But we don't have them, and we won't share them. Those plains are dry as dust. And successive governments have made it clear, we are defending our limited resources of water and our harbor views and our great weather to the hilt, against all comers. 

A scarcity mindset is what you must have if you believe that nature is a closed system, with a renewing power of course, but only a limited one. 

However, a theistic worldview, and in particular the Christian one, has at the heart of reality the three-personed God of Love, whose creative energy made everything from nothing at all by his Word, and who makes a great nation out of the fruitless loins of Abraham, and who gives life even to the dead. His grace abounds; his abundance overflows. He enters into, blesses, and renews the earth. The Old Testament testifies again and again to the renewing power of the divine breath upon the earth. 

The emblematic episode was the Exodus: a feeding in the wilderness, in which God reminded Israel of the title that Abraham had given him when he provided a ram to substitute for Isaac: yhwh yrh, the God who provides. The manna from heaven was not a natural co-incidence. It was miraculous. It wasn't supposed to be there - it exceeded nature's fruitfulness, and enabled survival in the wilderness, where nature was in fact barren. 

The feeding of the five thousand is the New Testament counterpart to the feeding in the Exodus. The 5000 who gathered in the desert ate from two fish and five loaves, and were satisfied. And, in excess of the Exodus miracle, there were twelve baskets of left overs! The miracle was a provision beyond necessity, to excess. 

Of course, as with all the miracles, it's an object lesson. This is a great extraordinary picture of what the world, when God rules it once for all, will look like. And it isn't a world in which things will run out. It's a world in which things overflow, because that's the character of the God who made it. This is the God who made everything from nothing, not with any strain, but by a word; and the God who gives life to dead. This is the God whose artistry fills the heavens at night, and who has filled the earth with so many creatures that we haven't counted them all yet. And this is the God, who, despite our willingness to believe that he has our good in mind, gives us even his own Son to supply what we need. 

There is then, an abundance mentality rather than a scarcity mindset with the God of Jesus Christ. And yet, this is different to the abundance mentality that has got us into this mess. That was a faith not in the God who supplies our need but in the endless bounty of nature. That was not the right response to the gracious abundance of God in the overflow and beauty of the natural order. It was a squandering of the gift, like the prodigal son, being prodigal with the inheritance he demanded from the Father. We now choke on the fumes of that prodigality.

Rather, as the sacrament of the Lord's Supper teaches us, the right human response to the divine graciousness displayed in creation is gratitude - as we hear in Romans 1:18ff, it is lack of gratitude that marred humanity, and set us on our self-destructive path.

A former politician and public commentator who attends my parish, queried me as to whether this mentality of abundance could have any real world application. Could it help a government make policies? Surely the scarcity mindset is at least a sensible one? 

But if we understand the humanizing possibilities of gratitude, then we can see how a Christian witness to governments and policy makers in the face of diminishing resources, and growing populations, might proceed. Thanksgiving honors the gift, and the giver. It cannot be destructive or reckless. It does not presume on more, but it knows that the world as we see it is open to the creative and transformative power of the Lord God. And we know that that includes the hope for the New Heaven and the New Earth, in which God's abundance will flow.


Michael P Jensen is the rector of St Mark's Anglican Church, Darling Point, Sydney, and the author of Martyrdom and Identity: the Self on Trial and Sydney Anglicanism: An Apology