Monday, May 1, 2017

Discerning the Body

  Discerning the Body

1 Cor. 11:17-34 (ESV)
“For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body
eats and drinks judgment on himself” (v. 29)

In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul addresses how the Lord’s Supper was observed. Also called Communion or the Eucharist, this ceremony memorializes Jesus’ death on the cross.

It is ironic that this, the original Christian feast, is called Communion, because it has become an issue of discommunion. Most of this centers on “discerning the body,” meaning the Body of Christ.

Paul addressed abuses of the Lord’s Supper in Corinth. In verse 17 he writes, “But in the following instructions I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse.” He goes on to say, “When you come together, it is not the Lord's supper that you eat. For in eating, each one goes ahead with his own meal. One goes hungry, another gets drunk” (vv. 20-21). 
The practice of the church in the First and Second Centuries was to come together on the first day of the week to worship together (1 Cor. 16:2). This was followed by the Agape Feast (Love Feast). The Lord’s Supper was observed some time during this church dinner, most likely at the beginning or at the end. 

This church dinner was not conducted like our modern potlucks, with the food set out for serving on a common table. Some of the families in Corinth brought a lot of food, then kept it to themselves. In the same room or courtyard were others who struggled to get enough to eat. 

Frankly, it defies common courtesy to feast in the presence of a hungry person, as the rich man did with Lazarus watching through the gate (Luke 16:19-21). Some of the believers in Corinth were not sharing what they had with those in need, even when they were at the next table. 

Since Communion was part of this dinner, Paul explained to the Corinthians what the Lord’s Supper really meant (vv. 23-26). He told them what Jesus did and said, just as would be written in the Gospels (Matt. 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:17-19) [by the way, this is called the Eucharist (giving thanks), because Jesus “gave thanks” with the bread and the cup]. Jesus said the bread was His body and the cup was His blood. 

It is at this point where the Eucharist has divided the church: What is meant by the elements of Communion being the body and blood of Christ?  Some (such as Roman Catholics) call it Trans-substantiation, which means the bread and the wine become the body and blood of Jesus. Others (such as Lutherans) call it Con-substantiation, which means the body and blood of Christ are present with the bread and wine. Most Protestants believe it is Representation: the elements of Communion represent Jesus’ body and blood. 

This is why Christians from several groups won’t celebrate Communion with members of another group. They believe that “discerning the body” means discerning what the elements of the Eucharist are. 

However, I believe that this is not what Paul meant by “discerning the body.”  From verse 17 to the end of the chapter, he addresses abuses associated with the Lord’s Supper. When he says, “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord” (v. 27), the “unworthy manner” refers to how they are treating each other. By their actions the “body” they are not discerning (recognizing) is not the actual bread and wine, but the body of believers. This is what Paul means by “an unworthy manner.” Most of this letter concerns disunity in the local church.

In the next chapter, Paul describes the church as the Body of Christ. Christians are members of the Body of Christ the way hands, feet, eyes and ears are members of a human body. Each has its own abilities and roles. Each is honored in a different way. The least noticed, least appreciated member of the body is still vitally important to the body as a whole. The body hurts together and rejoices together. 

So it is–or should be–in the Body of Christ, the church. Members should care for, respect and honor each other. They should mourn and celebrate together. The 12th chapter is not a separate document, but a continuation of what Paul is saying in Chapter 11, and is part of the letter as a whole. Dishonor, disrespect and abuse of each other are dishonor, disrespect and abuse of the Body of Christ. This is a symptom of not “discerning the body.”

With members dishing up from a common table at church dinners, we don’t see the specific abuse cited by the Apostle Paul in the 11th chapter of 1 Corinthians. But there are other ways of dishonoring the Body of Christ described in the New Testament. James points out partiality based on wealth and employers withholding wages (Jas. 2:1-13). In their letters, both James and John denounce refusing to help those in need (Jas. 1:27; 2:14-17; 1 John 3:17). Peter warns leaders about “domineering over those in your charge” (1 Pet. 5:3). Paul lists things like extortion, fraud, lying, theft, adultery and other violations of relationships. He also adds those who can work expecting handouts (2 Thess. 3:6-12). The implication is that these things are evidence of not discerning the body.

On the positive side, there are many things recognizing each other as members of the Body of Christ will lead us to do, for instance loving, forbearing and forgiving each other (Eph. 4:15-16, 25-32).
This applies not only to a local congregation, not only to a fellowship or a denomination, not only to a doctrinal tradition, but to the church as a whole. When Christians refuse to fellowship each other, they are not “discerning the body.” 

Unity is not possible without recognizing and believing that everyone who is born again is a member of the church, then acting like it with love and respect for our brothers and sisters in Christ:

We reach our hands in fellowship to every blood-washed one,
While love entwines about each heart in which God’s will is done.*
This is discerning the body.

~ Wesley G. Vaughn
 Dover, Ohio
*Charles W. Naylor, “The Church’s Jubilee” (1923), set to music by A. L. Beyers (1923) and published in Hymns and Spiritual Songs (Gospel Trumpet Company: Anderson, IN), #155, and subsequent hymnals.

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Personal Impact of Pearl Harbor (re-post from 12-7-2011)

   This article was first published in the December 2011 issue of The Outreacher, a local Christian paper. It was also produced as an audio blog, broadcast on WCRF the morning of Dec. 7, 2011.                                                                                                                    

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Home for Christmas

Home for Christmas


Earlier this year, we celebrated the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. A Christmas song which became popular during that conflict is the familiar “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” It speaks of the longing of someone who wants to be home for this very special holiday, but knows he probably won’t: I’ll be home for Christmas, / If only in my dreams.

Most of us, when we are away working for a company, at school, or in the military, want to go home for special occasions. We want to be with family and friends. This is only natural. Sometimes someone might say, “What’s the matter? Don’t you like it here?” But that’s the wrong question. Home is home, or as an older song says, “There’s no place like home.” Or, as the saying goes, “Home is where the heart is.”

Abraham left his home in Ur with his father and brothers and moved to Paran. Later he left them there for Canaan, which became his earthly home for the rest of his life. But to him it was not really home. The writer of Hebrews says, “By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (11:9-10).

It is this outlook which is reflected in another song, “This World Is Not My Home.” For those of us who are the spiritual heirs of Abraham, who have placed our trust in Jesus Christ as our Savior, our real home is not here, but in Heaven, in the New Jerusalem, the city made by God. When a Christian, a believer in Christ, dies, we may say, “He (or she) has gone home.”  Psalm 116:15 says, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints.” One way to interpret this is to see God as welcoming His children home.

Several people we know, relatives and friends, and friends and relatives of those we know, have passed on so far this year. Some of them have gone on during the past month or so. Most of them were Christians. So as we celebrate the holiday here, they are home for Christmas.

Wesley Vaughn
Dover, OH

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Fruitful Labor - A Blessing from God

Fruitful Labor - A Blessing from God

                               Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord,
                        who walks in his ways!
                              You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands;
                        you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.
                                      ~ Psalm 128:1-2 (ESV)

    The first Monday in September is Labor Day.  It was established, at the urging of labor unions,  to honor industrial workers and miners.  Today it honors all who work for a living, not just those in unions.  For Christians, this ought to be a special day, since it was God who made us to do useful work.
    A common misconception is that labor is a curse, the result of sin.  Work itself is not the curse, but difficulty, fruitlessness, dissatisfaction and frustration in our labor.  First of all, God said that the ground itself was cursed and would not be cooperative with human labor.
Since the Flood and the following climate changes, some areas of the earth have been more easily productive than others.  This includes animal life (such as fish), pastureland, plant life and mineral resources.  God-given human intelligence has been used to make our labor more productive.  This includes inventions, both ancient and modern. People have been able to make a living in just about any place on this planet, and someday may be able to do so on other planets as well.
    The problems with our labor is related to the aim of our work, our attitudes toward work, and the attribution for our work. In other words, Why do we work?  How do we see our work?  Who gets credit for our work?
    First, what is work?  Work can be defined as effort, exertion. It can also be defined as the product of that effort. In other words, our work is what we do and what we produce.



    What is our motive, our purpose for our work? Of course we work for the material benefits: wages or salary, commission, bonuses, royalties, net profits. We must be responsible and support us and those who depend on us.  Jesus said, “The laborer deserves his wages” (Luke 10:7; 1 Tim. 5:18). And Paul said, “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8).
    We can work to help others:  Our work is a service to those we work for, whether employers, customers and clients, or (in the case of appointed and elected officials or those in non-governmental service agencies) the public and the needy.
    We can work to serve and honor God. This is the highest motive, leading to wanting to serve others.
    But there are lesser motives for work. There are people who just do what they like to do for work.  Some are just trying to prove themselves to those who doubt their ability, etc.  Some work for fame or recognition. Some persons work lead, supervision or management jobs because they want to be above others, to exercise authority. There are people who work excessively to compensate for an inferiority complex or guilt (a type of workaholism).



    How do we see our work?  How do we feel about our work? Or about work in general?  Many people do not like their jobs. Do not like they people they work with. Some do not like responsibility. Many do not like working for others, and are itching to be their own bosses. There are people who want to get everything without having to work for it.
    I know people who see work as a necessary evil. They say things like, “I’ll work as long as I have to, then I’ll just do what I want to do.”
    According to the Bible, we should be co-workers with God. Obviously not His equals, but working alongside Him, following His direction, His lead.  The writer of Ecclesiastes sees work as a gift from God (Eccl. 5:12, 18-20). Proverbs places great value on work and diligence. When we go all the way back to Genesis, we see that God gave the man and the woman work to do in the Garden of Eden.
    In the New Testament, Paul tells his readers to work as though they were working for God, no matter what the job was, no matter who their employers were. Employer and employee, master and slave, apostle and menial laborer, they all work for God.



    We all like to get credit for what we do.  We all like to be appreciated.  It is right to acknowledge the efforts and accomplishments of others, especially those who serve us. In fact, Paul says we ought to honor those who labor among us, including those who preach and teach the Gospel. 
    On the other hand, we need to be careful to not take all the credit for ourselves, either for our efforts or for the outcome.  For example, in evangelism Paul say that one plants, another waters, but God gives the increase. This language refers to farming, where the farmer and his crew plow, plant and irrigate. But God controls the weather and the fertility of the seed. God can hold back or detour the locusts. The farmer can stand guard against thieves and robbers, but who turns back an invading army?
    As far as our own efforts are concerned, who gives us the strength we need to do the job? Who provides the opportunities?  We did not choose where we were born, who our parents were, etc. We did not choose the era we live in. Most of us have little, if any, say in the course of work events. In reality, most of the credit for what we do goes to others, especially to God.  In Luke 12:16-21, Jesus tell the story of a rich man who took all the credit for his bounty and was unwilling to share it.  God said to him, “Fool!”
    Work itself is not a curse. Fruitful labor is honorable. It is a gift from God. It should be a service to our families, to our community, and to God.  Honorable work should by done honorably. And God deserves the first credit and the first fruits of our labor.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Day of Victory

A Day of Victory

(Scripture Quotes from the English Standard Version)

"Shigemitsu-signs-surrender" by Army Signal Corps - Naval Historical Center Photo # SC 213700. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons -
August 14 is Victory in Japan (VJ) Day. This year (2015), it is the 70th anniversary of the day the government of the Empire of Japan signed the surrender on the deck of the USS Missouri. This marked the end of over three-and-a-half years of war since Pearl Harbor was bombed (“The Personal Impact of Pearl Harbor” was printed in the December 2011 issue of The Outreacher). Finally, for the Allies this was a day of victory. Now it was time to rebuild devastated countries and restore societies. Now was the time for reconciliation, for establishing peaceful relationships with former enemies. Just look at Japan and Germany today!

I was alive then, but don’t remember it, since I was a week shy of eleven months old. It was Mom’s birthday, but she did not hear of it for more than a day, because the ship we were on was under radio blackout in case there were enemy subs along the route.  We can imagine the celebration aboard when they stopped at Ketchikan and received the news!

Victory was a time of celebration for America and her allies. For Japan, the only nation to suffer a nuclear attack, it was a time of relief, the end of the devastation. For their citizens it was the end of tyranny.

Victory is great, whether in war, sports, a contest, or an election. Victory over a deadly disease or serious injuries is wonderful. But greater still is victory over the enemy of our souls. Over sin. Over death itself. This is not a victory won on our own, by our own power and resources.  Just as Great Britain, France, Canada, the United States and others needed allies, we need an ally to win over sin. And there is only one ally capable of winning this victory.

Our foes in this war are not physical. They are spiritual, Satan himself and his horde of demons. Our great ally in this battle is God.  As Jesus Christ, the Son, he defeated sin in his life on earth. He defeated Satan in the wilderness and on the Cross. He defeated death itself in the Resurrection. Jesus told his disciples, "I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

In the rebuilding and reconciliation, Germany and Japan shared in the victory. They did this by total, unconditional surrender.  We have to recognize that we are participants in the sin which oppresses us, just as many Germans and Japanese willingly supported their governments as long as it appeared they would win the war. Just as they surrendered, so do we. Admit that we are in the wrong (we call this confession). Tell God, “I give up. I’m through fighting You.” In effect, we switch sides in the longest-running war in history; we move from the losing side to the winning side.

As the Holy Spirit, God helps us defeat sin in our lives. He gives us power against Satan: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Our faith (total trust) in God is our defense against Satan’s attacks: “In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16).

The recent war in Iraq was criticized by those who said we “won the war but lost the peace.”  In our Christian lives we have to careful that we do not “lose the peace.” How can this happen? We are still tempted to sin, to do what is wrong or to not do what is right. As long as we live on Earth, we are on the battlefield. But as Christians, our Ally (and Commander-in-Chief) promises help and support in the battle. God’s “covering fire” keeps the enemy from being too much for us. As Paul wrote, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13). What this means is that, with God’s help, we can successfully resist temptation.

Satan wins when a Christian sins, but it does not have to be a permanent win. He may win a skirmish, but we don’t have to let him win the battle nor the war. What if we fail and sin? That is not the end. There is hope: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

In the end, we can win the war for our souls. For us it can be a Day of Victory!


Here are selections from a few songs and hymns about victory

Hallelujah, what a thought!
Jesus full salvation brought,
Victory, victory.
Let the pow’rs of sin assail,
Heaven’s grace can never fail,
Victory, victory.

Victory, yes, victory.
Hallelujah! I am free,
Jesus gives me victory.
Glory, glory, hallelujah!
He is all in all to me.

~ Victory by Barney E, Warren (1897)

Oh, victory in Jesus,
My Saviour forever;
He sought me, and he bought me
With his redeeming blood;
He loved me ‘ere I knew him,
And all my love is due him;
He plunged me to victory
Beneath the cleansing blood.

~ Victory in Jesus by Eugene M. Bartlett (1939)

Encamped along the hills of light,
Ye Christian soldiers, rise.
And press the battle ere the night
Shall veil the glowing skies.
Against the foe in vales below
Let all our strength be hurled.
Faith is the victory, we know,
That overcomes the world.

Faith is the victory! Faith is the victory!
O glorious victory, that overcomes the world.

~ Faith Is the Victory by  John H. Yates (1891)

Friday, November 14, 2014

Why is Orthodox Christmas on January 7?

Why is the Orthodox Christmas on January 7, almost two weeks after ours?

A few decades before Jesus was born, Julius Caesar reformed the Roman calendar by adding one day every four years.  This worked well for a long time, keeping the calendar in line with the seasons.  

But in the 1600s, after the Reformation, the calendar was noticeably off, so Pope Gregory  refined the Julian calendar by making century years not leap years unless they were divisible by 400 and resetting the calendar to put it back in line with the seasons. 

Julian Calendar
4 years x 365 days/year
Add 1 day for leap year
No. of days per year
Changes made by Gregorian Calendar
No. of days in 400 years
Minus 1 day for each century year not divisible by 400
Average # of days per year for 400 years

Every century year, except when the century year is divisible by 400, the Julian calendar differs from the Gregorian calendar by one more day. For instance, when England adopted the Gregorian Calendar, they were off by 11 days.  Now the difference is 13 days, so December 25 on the Julian Calendar is January 7 on ours.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Threescore Years and Ten

Threescore Years and Ten

Psalm 90 (KJV)

Last year was the 150th anniversary of a well-known speech which begins, "Fourscore and seven years ago. . ." Except in quotes or at certain formal occasions, we rarely use "score" as a number. Two hundred years ago it was one of the common terms of numerical quantity: pair = 2, dozen = 12, gross = 144 (12 dozen), decade = 10, and score = 20.

In Psalm 90:10, Moses said, "The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away." This, he says, is the normal life span of most people, 70 to 80 years. Stating ages by scores of years is not in the original Hebrew, but comes from the Elizabethan English of the Authorized Version. Nevertheless, there is a certain logic in expressing age this way.

A score of years (20) is about the time it takes for a person to reach full adulthood. In the Old Testament, 20 or 21 was the threshold for the privileges and responsibilities of an adult. Someone younger than 20 is regarded as a youth (infant, then child, then adolescent). After two decades, we are expected to act "grown up," to provide for ourselves then others.

The next score of years is young adulthood. There is a biblical basis for this, too. Anyone under age 40 was considered young, for instance Joshua at the time of the Exodus. One may be grown up at 20, but maturity awaits further growth.

Even today, the period from twoscore to threescore years is considered "middle age." We should be more mentally and emotionally mature than we were before 40, applying this maturity in our lives. Most of us begin this time at the peak of our physical strength.

By the time we reach threescore years, our strength has begun to fade, more slowly for some, more quickly for others. Now we are considered elders, senior citizens. During the next decade most people retire from full-time employment (whether working for others or operating their own businesses). Avocations become vocations. Our roles shift more to that of mentors and role models. Many of us are grandparents and great grandparents. Silver and snow replace the ebony, chocolate, tan, and gold.

According to Moses, this fourth score of life is the last for most of us. Even today, with modern healthcare, nutritional supplements, exercise facilities, etc., most people die between threescore and fourscore years, most of these after age 70. Some of us live longer than this, past 80, even into our 90s. A few even live past 100.

This psalm begins with a description of God’s eternal presence: "Even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God." By contrast, our lives are short. Compared to God’s timeless existence, our lives are no more than an overnight experience—if even that (verses 5-6). In light of this stark reality, Moses prays to God, "So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom" (verse 12), and closes the psalm by asking the Lord to make our work fruitful and lasting (verse 17).

Just a personal note: Psalm 90 has a special significance for me now. This month I reach my "threescore years and ten."


Friday, December 6, 2013

The Real Christmas Tree (RCT)


“The Real Christmas Tree” is a wooden cross adorned to signify Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. The intent is to show publicly the real purpose of Jesus’ birth and life here on Earth, his sacrificial death for our sins. Hopefully, the idea will spread throughout the Christian community.

The idea comes from the closing lines of the poem “Nobody Knew It Was Christmas” —

For the Son of God came to be
The Light of the World
To hang on a tree.

The RCT begins with a sizeable cross, made of 4"x4" or larger posts, notched and fitted to form a cross. This is then “decorated” as follows:
•          A holly wreath centered where the post and beam cross
•          Giant nails where the hands and feet would have been
•          Red ribbons or cords hanging from the nails and the wreath
•          Title board on the top piece saying: “Born a King” or “Lamb of God” or “Light of the World”
•          Evergreen garland draped over arms of cross
•          Box at foot of the cross, painted to look like a wrapped gift
•          “Gift card” reading: To Whosoever from God with Love ... John 3:16
•          Sign next to the cross: THE REAL CHRISTMAS TREE

Ideally, the RCT will be placed next to the road or street.

            Nobody Knew It Was Christmas

It was the first Christmas
But nobody knew it was Christmas:
No lights on the tree,
Or candy canes,
Or wreath on the door,
No choir cantatas,
Or carolers singing door-to-door,
No paper-wrapped boxes with ribbons and bows,
No snowman with a carrot for a nose,
No Caribbean cruise,
Or holiday flight,
No cider or cocoa to warm the night.

But the inns were crowded,
With more on the way,
By folks who would visit
Their hometowns that day;
And choirs of angels came down to sing
Of a child in a stable
Who was born a king;
And gifts were brought by shepherds poor,
And wealthy strangers who came to the door;
King Herod would issue a proclamation
Which would bring sorrow, not celebration;
So a family of three would take their flight
To a foreign land under cover of night,
For the Son of God had come to be
The Light of the World,
To hang on a tree.
--Wesley G. Vaughn
© 2002

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Merry Christmas?

Merry Christmas?                                                                                                     
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
What do we mean by "Merry Christmas"? What does "merry" mean? What people mean today is not exactly what was meant when the greeting "Merry Christmas" was coined. It was more like in the  carol: "God rest you merry, gentlemen," where the term is closer to the Old English, meaning "pleasant" or "pleasing." In today's English, this would be, "May God find you pleasant (or pleasing),  gentlemen." We can take this as pleasant to each other and pleasing to Him.
* * * * * *                                                                
How about those who replace "Merry Christmas" with "Happy Holidays"? (This greeting was  originally intended to also include New Year's and Hanukkah.) Don't they know that "holiday" means  "holy day"? The irony is that so many persons' celebration of Christmas is anything but holy. Also,  "happy," like "merry," does not mean today exactly what it used to. Today it usually merely means  "feeling good." In the Declaration of Independence, the meaning of "happiness" included "fulfillment of purpose" and "virtue," and "meaningfulness." About 400 years ago, "Happy Holiday" could just as well have  meant "Blessed Holy Day."
* * * * * *                                                                
Perhaps it is good that our traditional, habitual greeting has become such a controversial issue. It  causes us to not take it for granted, but consider what it means. For some time, "Merry Christmas" and "Happy Holidays" have been said carelessly without regard for their real meanings. Hopefully, we will now say "Merry Christmas" like we know what it means - and really mean it.                                         
* * * * * *                                                                
From my heart to yours, 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Context of Genuine Thankfulness

An Attitude of Gratitude
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; Ephesians 5:4, 18-21; Philippians 4:6; Colossians 3:17  (all Scriptures ESV)

Giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:21).
You’ve seen it, heard it, been there. Mr. A finishes something for Mr. B, who nonchalantly says, "Yeah, thanx," and walks off. Or a child dutifully thanks her aunt for the gift, but later tells her sister, "This is not what I wanted!" Or some other scenario of thankless thanks.

What constitutes the context of genuine thanksgiving? Is it the giver? Is it the circumstance, the occasion, time or place? Is it the gift? These things may be part of the context, but the key ingredient is the heart and mind of the recipient. Genuine thanks comes from genuine thankfulness, which comes from an attitude of gratitude.

For example, God rescued the Israelites from oppressive slavery and genocide in Egypt. Their thankfulness was short-lived, even after crossing the Red Sea on dry land. They mumbled and grumbled their way through the wilderness, even as God miraculously led them and fed them along the way. For forty years they dined and whined. Psalm 78 recalls this account; here is a portion:

Yet they sinned still more against him, rebelling against the Most High in the desert.
They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved.
They spoke against God, saying, "Can God spread a table in the wilderness?
He struck the rock so that water gushed out and streams overflowed.
Can he also give bread or provide meat for his people?"
Therefore, when the Lord heard, he was full of wrath; a fire was kindled against Jacob; his anger rose against Israel, because they did not believe in God and did not trust his saving power.
         Psalm 78: 17-22
In the Old Testament God’s people are urged several times to "give thanks" to God (1 Chron. 16; 2 Chron 20 & 31; Neh. 12; and many of the Psalms). The Law does not command thanksgiving, but makes provision for the person who wants to make an offering of thanksgiving (Lev. 7:11-18; 22:29-30). This offering was to come from the heart, not from duty.

In the New Testament thanksgiving flows from thankful hearts. In Luke 17:11-19, thankfulness is linked with thoughtfulness. Ten lepers ask Jesus to heal them. He told them to show themselves to the priests. On the way they are healed, but only one turns back and thanks him. Only one out of ten was thankful enough to think about thanking the healer.

Paul expresses his thanks many times in his letters, mostly for the salvation and spiritual growth of his readers (for example, Eph. 1:15-16). There are times when the apostle interrupts his message with an outburst of joy and praise:

"Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen" (Eph. 4:20-21).

If we find it hard to be genuinely thankful, how do we get this attitude of gratitude? First of all, we need a change of heart. The original heart transplant was planned, promised and provided by God: "And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh" (Ezek. 11:19). Many, if not most, of the readers of this paper already have this new heart, which comes through the new birth. If you do not yet have this new heart, ask God to change your heart. Ask him to forgive your sins and accept Jesus as your Savior and you will become a child of God with a new heart and a new nature. "But to all who did receive him [Jesus], who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12). "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come" (2 Cor. 5:17).

Even when we have the new heart, the attitude of gratitude has to be cultivated. It is there, but we need to feed it and exercise it. One way is by considering and following the example of others. In the Gospels, Jesus expressed thanks when he fed the crowds (Matt. 15:36; Mark 8:6; John 6:11) and at the Last Supper (Matt. 26:27; Mark 14:23; Luke 22: 17,19). Paul thanked God on a ship during a long, terrible storm (Acts 27:35) and when he met other Christians in Italy (Acts 28:15).

Then there are Paul’s admonitions and advice:

Thankfulness ought to be characteristic of our speech. "Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving" (Eph. 5:4). Certainly, thankful speech rules out grumbling and complaining. This is not to say we cannot be truthful about things as they really are, but if we speak of difficulties, temper it with thankfulness to God, because he is in charge and in the end will right all wrongs.

Thanksgiving is in contrast with anxiety: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplications with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God." (Phil. 4:6). God already knows what we need. He causes all things to work for our ultimate good by shaping our character (Rom. 8:28-29). Jesus said that if we put God’s righteousness first, then he will take care of the real needs (Matt. 6:33).

We are to be thankful in all situations, whether our skies are blue or gray. "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you" (1 Thess. 5:16-18). I admit it, this is not always easy. How many times do we have to catch ourselves and say, "There has to be something to be thankful for in this"? This calls for feeding our minds with God’s goodness, then exercising our attitude of gratitude when in God’s weight room. Habakkuk learned to be thankful because of God’s righteousness, even when facing a national disaster. "Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength" (Hab. 3:17-19a).

Thankfulness characterizes a Spirit-filled life. "And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ" (Eph. 5:18-21). Uh oh! There it is: being thankful for everything!" Thankfully we have the Holy Spirit to help us with this.

Finally, our attitude of gratitude is to be part of every activity. "And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him" (Col. 3:17).

The fourth Thursday of this month is Thanksgiving Day. The harvests are in, so we thank God for his provision. This is the anniversary of the Pilgrim’s landing, so we are thankful for national independence and our freedoms. There are many other reasons to be thankful. One of our songs says, "Count your many blessings, see what God has done." Our country is known to the world as the land of freedom and plenty. It is easy for us who have much to lose sight of our blessings and begin complaining and grumbling about what we don’t have or don’t like. It is also easy for our thankfulness to become casual, offhanded, insincere, meaningless. In the spirit of this holiday, let’s thank God in the context of genuine thankfulness with an attitude of gratitude.