NOVEMBER 18, 2001
The Old Testament records some incredible acts of divine intervention, specifically, when it talks about Israel’s trek out of Egyptian slavery and ultimately into the Promise Land. The Israelites had seen God do some amazing things. For example, they saw God part a sea. They witnessed God’s cosmic GPS system as he guided them with a cloud by day and fire by night. They also received God’s heavenly catering as he fed them a bread-like substance from heaven called “manna.”
The Israelites had some phenomenal blessings. So, we find the Israelites standing ankle deep in manna, being bountifully blessed by God. But take a wild guess at what they were saying. Do you think they were saying, “Thank you, God. God, you are awesome. God, incredible. Let me try to give you high five?” Do you think they were saying that? Don’t hold your breath.
Do you know what they were saying? They were in the moan zone. They were negative, pessimistic, ungrateful, unappreciative. They were saying, “God, I wish we could go back to Egypt. I wish we could go back to slavery.” They forgot the sting of the whip. They forgot the sorry food. They forgot the blessings of God in delivering them from the hands of their oppressors.
Now, before we dog the Israelites too much, let’s put the spotlight on our lives as well. What occupies our thoughts? What occupies our focus? Is it what we have, or maybe what we don’t have?
In the Gospel of Luke, specifically Chapter 17, the writer records Jesus walking on the outskirts of a town. Some lepers were a distance away. Leprosy today is known as Hanson’s disease. It’s a horribly disfiguring illness in which nerve endings die, causing severe damage to the extremities. People with leprosy often lose their fingers and toes, and their hands, arms, and feet are disfigured as well. Skin hangs lose from their faces and their eye sockets are exposed. It is not a pretty sight. Modern research (Paul Brand) has shown that most of this damage is due to the lack of pain response. Without the benefit of feeling pain, due to the death of their nerve endings, they are susceptible to all sorts of injuries to their extremities and face.
Someone who is stricken with leprosy also has a horrible stench about him, because the person has rotting flesh. Back in biblical times, they had to stay a certain distance away from people who were healthy. Lepers were considered unclean. From a distance, ten lepers cried out to Jesus. They said, “Hey, Jesus, have pity on us. Have pity on us.”
Christ turned and said something unusual to the lepers. He said, “Go and show yourselves to the priest and you will be clean.” Back in biblical times, for a leper to be considered clean, a priest had to give him the okay. As these ten lepers were cruising to the priest, they looked down and their fingers were back on, their limbs were working, their flesh was not rotting anymore. I am sure they were just freaking out. They were saying, “Man, we are healed. We are healed. We are healed.”
The writer said that one out of the ten did a 180. He stopped and he rushed all the way back to Jesus. Just for a second, put yourself in his place, in his sandals. As he was running back to Jesus, I am sure he hesitated a moment, from force of habit, when he got a certain distance from him. He was used to having to keep his distance. But when he realized he was healed, he ran and he fell face down in front of our Lord.
What do you think he said? Do you think he said, “Hey, Jesus, why did you allow this leprosy? Why did you allow me to live like this for so long?” That’s not what he said. Do you know what he said? He said two words that catapulted him above his other nine friends. He said the two words that moved the heart of Jesus. He said, “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”
As you read the Gospel of Luke, you can feel the hurt in Christ’s heart, because Jesus looked down at him and said, “Where are the other nine?” Now, again, before we dog the nine unappreciative lepers too much, let’s put the spotlight on our own lives. How many times do we take things for granted? How many times when God blesses us, or when God does something phenomenal, do we just say, “Well, everything is fine.”
How many times should we thank a family member or thank a friend or show appreciation to someone at work, and we say to ourselves, “Well, it won’t matter that much. They know how I feel. It’s no big deal. They hear it all the time.” Being ungrateful and unappreciative: it’s something that we all struggle with.
What’s going to happen in a couple of days? In a couple of days, we are going to go through this feeding frenzy called Thanksgiving. We will set aside a couple of days, toss a couple of prayers God’s way, we will feel feelings of gratitude, we will eat all this food, watch football, and over the next several days, we will live on turkey sandwiches. It’s called Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is a great holiday, yet for the majority here, we will sort of leave the feelings of gratitude, this attitude of thankfulness in the exhaust of Thanksgiving. We’ll just kind of keep it there in that two-day window, where we toss a couple of prayers God’s way and say, “Hi,” and give hugs and kisses to family members and friends. That’s pretty much where it ends. God says it shouldn’t end there. God says throughout the Bible that he wants each of us to be a one-out-of-ten-person. He wants us, people who have been blessed by him, people who are standing ankle-deep in manna, to say, “God, thank you.” He wants us to live with an attitude of gratitude.
I have to tell you something up front that this is not a smoke and mirrors type deal. I can’t lie to you. This is not an easy thing, and we cannot do it on our own. If you expect to muster up enough courage, enough discipline on your own to live with an attitude of gratitude, it’s a pipe dream. You can’t do it and I can’t do it.
However, if we are Christ-followers, if we have received Jesus, if we have said a “Thank You” to him, the Holy Spirit, as we defer to him, will give us that ability and that octane and those RPM’s to live a life with an attitude of gratitude. Yes, each of us can become a one-out-of-ten person. We can become people standing ankle deep in manna who live with this “Thank You” always on our lips. It can change our lives and it can change the lives of others as well.
How do you do it? Because that is where the rubber meets the road. How do you have this attitude of gratitude? It starts with God. We need to ask God’s forgiveness for our forgetfulness. So often, we forget the blessings. We forget what God has done for us. We walk into our packed closets and say, “I don’t have a thing to wear.” Is that true? I mean, if you want to see some people who don’t have a thing to wear, just travel with our Missions Pastor, Owen Goff, to Brazil or Mexico and he will show you people who don’t have a thing to wear.
We walk into our houses and say, “My house is just too small. I wish the kitchen and the family room were bigger and they were decorated differently. I don’t like my house. It’s not big enough.” Well, just drive around the Dallas/Ft. Worth area and look at people who are living under bridges and living in cardboard boxes. That will kind of put everything into perspective.
Some of us look in the mirror and say, “Oh, my hair. I’m just having a bad hair day.” Some of us actually get weepy over having bad hair. Well, if you want to see bad hair, go to Presbyterian or Baylor and talk to people who are going through chemo treatment.
We are going to meet Jesus face to face, the Bible says. When we meet him face to face, we are all going to say, “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you.” We’ll have an attitude of gratitude. For a lot of us, Christ will look back into our eyes and say, “Why did you wait until now to thank me? What happened on planet Earth? What happened?”
Maybe today you need to go home and hit your knees and say, “God, please forgive me for my forgetfulness.” It begins with being repentant.
There is a singing group that was really popular a long time ago, over twenty years ago, called Lakeside. Lakeside did this song known as the “Fantastic Voyage.” If you have heard of Lakeside, and specifically the song “Fantastic Voyage,” lift your hands. Amazingly, Lakeside is in concert this weekend in Dallas.
Lakeside, in this song, “Fantastic Voyage,” speaks about living in the land of funk. Do you know what funk is, f-u-n-k? I’ll tell you what it is, because I discovered the definition when I surfed the Worldwide Web. I found what funk is really about.
Here is an article, “Old Miss Students Grapple With Definition Of Funk.” One person writes, “Funk is probably anything that doesn’t fit normal standards.” Another one writes, “It’s the thing in the groove that makes you move.” I want to play an excerpt from this song, “Fantastic Voyage.” Listen very carefully as they talk about living in the land of funk.
I love that, don’t you? Sometimes when our kids are being selfish, when they are thinking about just themselves, my lovely wife, Lisa, will look at them and she will say, “In the Land of Me, in the Land of Me, in the Land of.…” We don’t live in the land of funk. Most of us live in the Land of Me. We slide, slide, slippery slide all the way down to the Land of Me. It’s all about me, what makes me look good, what gives me pleasure. I’ll focus everything on me. It’s not about others; it’s about me.
We hit our knees and say, “God, forgive me for my forgetfulness. I’m unappreciative. I’m ungrateful. I’m like the children of Israel. I’m like the nine lepers more than I care to verbalize to my friends.” But after we do this, we have got to say, “God, I am ready to leave the Land of Me. I’m ready to leave it, God. And I want to book a trip (I know the travel industry is down, but this travel industry should be soaring), and I want to go on a Thank You Safari for the rest of my life. I want to leave the Land of Me, and I want to book a Thank You Safari.”
I’ve been in the jungle about twice in my life. I’m talking about the real jungle, army ants, quicksand, monkeys, the whole nine yards. When you are in the jungle, your senses are really keen, like, “What was that sound, that bug, that branch, what is that?” You are thinking about and aware of everything all the time.
As a Christ-follower, we should always be on a Thank You Safari, just thanking God for his blessings, just noticing everything around us. And the Holy Spirit will bring these things to our minds. For example, when you sip your morning coffee or hot tea or ice-cold Coca-Cola in the morning, do you ever say, “God, thank you that I can taste. Thanks for my taste buds, God.” When you hit the office in the morning and start hammering on your laptop, do you ever say, “God, thank you, I can read. I can understand this stuff. This is phenomenal. Thank you for my mind, God.” When you feel that brisk humid fall air of Texas, do you ever say, “God, I thank you for being able to feel things.”
You show me a negative person, and I will show you someone who is ungrateful. We have this natural tendency to be negative, to complain, to whine, to always look at what we don’t have instead of what we have. We need to leave the Land of Me and go on a Thank You Safari.
The Psalmist talked about this in Psalm 92 (NASB), an incredible Psalm. Let me read the first two verses and then I will read the last two verses. “It is good to give thanks to the Lord.” Did you realize that the word “thank” comes from the word “think?” Thus, when I think, I should thank. “It is good to give thanks to the Lord and to sing praises to your name, O Most High, to declare your loving kindness in the morning and your faithfulness by night.”
When I go on a Thank You Safari, when I do that 24/7, that’s what the Psalmist says the result will be: life-change. It will change my life and others as well. It will move the heart of God.
Now, the Psalmist in Verses 14-15 talks about people who live on this Thank You Safari. Then he talks about people who are old. Have you ever met old people who are just mean? Some old people are mean as pit vipers. Do you know why they are mean? Because that is who they really are. The older we get, the more we become like we really are. What is inside comes out. Garbage in, garbage out. If we breathe in the spirit of God, if we are constantly living with this attitude of gratitude, if we are a one-out-of-ten person, if we are someone who stands in the midst of manna, thanking God when we are older, we can have some serious leverage and we can leave a serious legacy.
Check out the Psalmist, in Verses 14-15, as he writes about older people with this kind of gratitude: “They will still yield fruit in old age; They shall be full of sap and very green.” I want people to look at my life when I am about 70 or 80 and say, “Man, you are full of sap, Ed. You are very green. You put wind in my sails. You are a positive person.”
Continuing in Verse 15, “To declare that the Lord is upright; He is my rock and there is no unrighteousness in him.” Some of us who whine, moan, complain, bellyache, need to get a life. I am talking about the life of Jesus. We need to receive Christ, to say “thank you” to him and from this day forward, we need to say, “God, I am going to do this Thank You Safari thing. I’m not going to live in the Land of Me. I’m going to live for you.”
So, we ask God’s forgiveness for our forgetfulness. That’s huge. We leave the Land of Me. There is something else we need to do. We need to develop 3-D gratitude. The first D is devotion. I am talking, specifically, about devotion to God. This attitude of gratitude, this living on a Thank You Safari, begins with devotion, worship to God. Regarding worship, the Bible says in Psalm 100:4, “Enter his gates, (enter his presence, his church, enter prayer) with thanksgiving.” It starts with God.
I encourage people to journal and, especially, to journal you prayers. Write your prayers down. There is something powerful about that. I don’t know about you, but basically my natural nature tells me to whine, to complain, and to be negative. You show me a negative person and I will show you someone who is ungrateful. My natural tendency is to do that. However, when I pray everyday, when I sync up with what God wants me to do, I always enter God’s gates, God’s presence, with thanksgiving. So I have a time in my journal where I just write down what I am thankful for.
Once you start thanking God for things, you will start putting thank you on top of thank you and suddenly, it will change your entire perspective and outlook on life because you are entering his gates with thanksgiving in your heart. Thanksgiving is a sign of spiritual maturity. Very important.
Think about your kids, Moms. Kids are not naturally grateful. Let’s be honest. When was the last time your kid walked up to you and said, “Mom, thank you for carrying me around in your womb for nine months.” “Hey, Dad, thanks for affording me the opportunity to play select soccer.” That is not going to happen. Now and then it does, but not very much. The same is true spiritually. People go around saying they are spiritually mature and most people who say they are spiritually mature are really immature. Because those people who are spiritually immature are people, normally, who are negative, who are whining, who are complaining. Those people who are mature spiritually always have a grateful heart. They say, “Yeah, God!” It begins with God.
For the life of me, this is something I can’t figure out. This makes this old pastor scratch his head. I watch people sometimes, people I know who are Christ-followers, during the time of worship like we just had here at Fellowship Church, and you are standing like in this comatose-like state kind of mumbling the words, trying to sing. Let’s take you and place you at the American Airlines Center when the Dallas Stars are playing. What are you doing then? “Yeah! Slide, slide, slippidy slide. In the land of funk. Yeah, Dallas Stars.” “Yeah, Jesus!” What is up with that? Explain that one to me. It’s about devotion. It’s about being unappreciative. It’s about being ungrateful. It’s about being a whiner. It’s about being negative.
I love to be around positive people. Show me a believer who is positive. We should be the most positive people around and I will show you someone who understands those powerful words that will catapult you above the rest—“Thank you.” They say it to God and they say it to others. They are passionate about it. They are attractive and people are drawn to them. We love it.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving. That’s devotion. The next D is display it. We have got to display our appreciation. What did God do? God displayed it, didn’t he? We are going to study a verse in a couple of minutes, Ephesians, Chapter 2, Verses 8-9. It says that God sent us this gift. What is the gift? Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. God displayed it.
We have this desire intrinsically woven into our spirit that wants to give gifts. I don’t know why I have it. It’s from God. I just want to give people gifts sometimes. Guess what? I also have this desire. I want to receive gifts. You have it too. You want to give gifts and receive gifts. It’s from God because salvation is about the gift of God.
Are you a gift giver? That’s one of the ways that we should display our appreciation. Do you give gifts to others? I don’t mean Neiman Marcus stuff. I mean gifts that matter, maybe a picture, maybe a CD, maybe something from Fellowship Bookstore or some other gift that means something. But you display it. You say, “Here it is.” You show it. It’s something tangible. We need to become great gift-givers. God did it. We need to do it as well—devotion and display.
There is another one, description. It doesn’t stop with just devotion and displaying it, we have got to describe it. We have got to write it down. “Well, Ed, I know what I’ll do. I’ll just call them.” That’s weak. Who can’t pick up the phone and say, “Thank you. You mean a lot to me.” That’s alright but that doesn’t do it, that doesn’t bring it. “Well, I’ll just display it. Give them a gift.” Well, that’s good too, but write it. Something powerful happens when we write. “I’ll just email it.” No, no, no. Take a pen and a piece of paper and write it.
What if God would have said, “I don’t need to write down how I feel about people. They will just know it.” If he would have said that, we wouldn’t have the Bible, would we? Write it.
Let me talk straight now to the children and teenagers among us, the Junior High and High School students. Some of you are dissing your parents. Some of you are rebelling against your parents. Some of you are talking back to your parents, and it is a sin before God. You have never taken the time to leave the Land of Me. You have never taken the time to hit your knees and say, “Jesus Christ, I am sorry. I am wrong for my forgetfulness.” Pick up a pen or pencil and write your parents a thank you letter. You want to put wind in their sail? You want to change your life? You want to move the heart of God? Young person, do it.
“Well, they know how I feel. You know, it’s not cool.” Man, you are a fool if you think that, based on scripture. Because in the Old Testament, thank God that we don’t live under the Old Testament, if a child was rebellious against their parents, they would be taken out and stoned. I don’t mean smoking weed; I mean killed. I made up a rap a long time ago. I didn’t mean to say it, but maybe the spirit gave it to me to say it. Parents, if your child ever jams you or disses you, just start rapping.
Say this, parents, just rap back to your child, “I’m the parent. I’m legit. There’s no use arguing. You might as well quit. You can roll your eyes and say it’s not fair. You’re telling God you really don’t care. So, do what I say, all the time, then your life will have serious rhyme, all the time, yours and mine, every time.” Thank you very much.
A lot of you are taking advantage of your boss, advantage of your co-workers, advantage of your neighbors, and you are being ungrateful and unappreciative. So am I. We need to sit down and write them a letter.
The Bible says to thank the spiritual leaders in the local church. Have you ever thanked all the volunteers who are not paid, who park, who greet, who work in hospitality, who tweak the dials, who run a lot of these screens? I’m not talking about staff now. How about it?
Hey, spouse, when was the last time you thanked your wife, or you thanked your husband? I don’t know. It should be a regular thing, a strategic thing, a creative thing, a thoughtful thing. I am so passionate about it, I’ll tell you what I have done. I have given all of you a blank thank you note. If you will look under your seat there, because we are going to write a thank you note right here in church. Is this going to be cool or what? Everybody get a thank you note.
This is a biblical thing. Don’t think it’s not because God went on record to tell me how much I am appreciated by him. Right now, in your minds, say, “God, who should I write this letter to?” It could be to anyone. But if God is putting it on your heart, write it. Write it down. When I am devoted to God, and I understand how great God has been in every way to me, then that will transcend everything I am about. I will display it and I will describe it. I will write back to God and I will write it and describe it and display it to others as well. It’s a lifestyle.
If you don’t think a letter matters that much, I think it was this Thursday, I received a letter from a pastor, kind of a famous pastor, he is about 70 years old. I didn’t realize it, but he was in town for a couple of weekends and he has been attending Fellowship Church. He is getting ready to go back to California. He wrote me the nicest letter. That just really jazzed me. It put some serious RPMs into me. I felt so good to receive that. So, if a letter like that can help me, just think how much a letter you write will help someone else. This is the biblical value. It’s a sign of spiritual maturity.
Now, I promised you that I was going to go back to Ephesians 2:8-9, and let me read it for you: “For it is by grace you have been saved through faith. This is not from yourselves. It is the gift of God, not by works so that no one can boast.” God wants us to say a big “thank you” for his gift. “Thank you, God. You sent Christ to die on the cross for my sins. Thank you.”
Now here is the cool thing about Jesus. Jesus came along and he challenged the church to do several things in a symbolic manner so that we can remember and say “thank you” for his death, burial and resurrection. One, is baptism. We go under the water, that’s the old life, out of the water, the new life. We identify with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. The second is communion, or the Lord’s supper. When we drink the juice and we take the bread, that juice or in some churches, wine, that represents the blood of Jesus. The bread represents the body.
We in a tangible way as we partake in the elements are saying a big “thank you” to Jesus. Remember God wants us to live life in a think thank tank because when we do that, we will be a one-out-of-ten person, a person who stands in ankle-deep manna, who knows how to appreciate God and others.