WORDS THAT CAN CHANGE YOUR LIFE
NOVEMBER 23, 1997
Dear Heavenly Father, your faithfulness is so great and so awesome. I ask right now that as we open up Your book that You would open up our hearts. As You penetrate our lives, Lord, may we feel Your presence and respond to it. And right now I thank You in advance for what You are going to do in all of our lives during this time of teaching. For Christ’s sake we pray. Amen.
The Old Testament records one of the most graphic accounts of human behavior imaginable when it records Israel’s trek from Egypt to the Promised Land. The Israelites had just watched God part an ocean, allowing them to run from their pursuing enemies on dry land. They had just watched God put a cloud in the sky by day and a fire there by night to guide them in a compass-like fashion through their wilderness-wondering. To top that off, they had watched God cater their every meal with a bread-like substance called manna. So here we have God’s chosen people standing in the midst of their blessings, in the midst of their manna saying….. What do you think they were saying? Do you think they were saying, great is Thy faithfulness? Don’t hold your breath. The Israelites standing ankle deep in manna were whining and complaining and portraying an attitude of ungratefulness.
They said, “God we miss Egypt. We miss the fish and the garlic and the onions and the melons.” How quickly they forgot the brutal sting of the whips of the Egyptian guards. Now before we dog the Israelites too much, I think it would serve us well to put the spotlight on our own lives because so often we concentrate and focus on what we don’t have as opposed to what we have. And we, like the Israelites, stand in the midst of manna moaning and groaning and whining and complaining and not being appreciative for all that God has done in our lives.
In the Gospel of Luke, the writer records that Jesus was walking on the outskirts of a town. While he was on the edge of the city, ten lepers stood at a distance and called to Him. They asked Jesus to have mercy on them, to heal them. Now leprosy was a horrible, highly contagious, disfiguring disease. Lepers lived in colonies. They had to wear bells on their garments. If someone got within 50 yards of them, they could possibly catch this dreaded disease. They walked around saying unclean, unclean. Jesus told them, “Go to the priest and the priest will tell you that you are clean, healed.” I always wondered why Jesus asked them to run to the priest. Why did He want the priests to tell them they were cleansed? Well I will tell you why. For a leper to be considered healed, he first had to get clearance from a priest.
The Bible says that while these ten men were running to the priest, they looked down and to their amazement their leprosy was gone. The stench was gone. The limbs had returned to wholeness. One, that’s right, one out of ten made a 180 and began to run back toward Christ. Now just for a second let’s put ourselves in His sandals. You have lived in a leper colony for years. You have had no contact with your spouse, with your children, with your friends. And suddenly you are healed and you are running toward the one who healed you. I am sure he would have hesitated at about 50 yards from Christ but then he would have remembered that he was clean, a new person. The Bible says he fell at His feet and he said…. Well what do you think he said? Do you think he said, “Jesus, why did You wait so long to heal me?” No, he didn’t say that. He said the two words that catapulted him above the crowd and moved the heart of our Lord. He said, “Thank you.” Those are two words, a couple of words, that can change your life and mine as well.
Now before we dog the other nine lepers, like we almost dogged the Israelites, lets put the spotlight on our lives. You have been in a situation like this and so have I. You have received a gift; someone has done something nice for you. Instead of showing appreciation, instead of saying thank you to them, you reason to yourself that they know how you feel. Besides you don’t want to track them down. And you might not know what to say. I am sure that the other nine lepers went through this whole drill. After the healed leper had worshipped Christ and showed his appreciation to Him, He lifted him up and asked him a couple of questions. “Weren’t there ten? Where are the other nine? You are the only one who came back and you are a Samaritan.” Thank you. Two powerful and life changing words.
Jesus wants you and me in the midst of our manna to be one out of ten. He wants us to be one out of ten, to express our thankfulness thoughtfully, lovingly and consistently to others. You see the Holy Spirit who invades our lives the moment we receive Christ is totally committed to cultivating within our lives an attitude of gratitude, an attitude of appreciation. Are you a one out of ten person who expressed thanks thoughtfully, lovingly and consistently?
In about four days most of us will gather around a table and celebrate Thanksgiving. You know the drill. We will have turkey and all the trimmings. We will go into that feeding frenzy. We will eat and eat and watch football and eat again. Then for the next month we will live off turkey sandwiches. And this happens year after year. We always set aside a couple of days and say a couple of token prayers and feel feelings of thankfulness for others and to God for all His blessings. God does not want us to stop with just a couple of days and a couple of token prayers. He wants us to portray His lifestyle of thankfulness. God is looking at you and he is looking at me and he is saying, “Be a one-out-of-ten person who expresses thankfulness thoughtfully, lovingly and consistently.”
For the few moments that remain, I want to show you how to do that. I want to warn you, this is a difficult, demanding process but it is well worth it. First, ask forgiveness for your forgetfulness. If you are going to be a man or a woman, boy or girl, who really expresses thankfulness thoughtfully, lovingly and consistently, you have got to ask forgiveness for your forgetfulness. If the truth were known, I am ashamed at how much I am like the Israelites in the midst of manna or the nine lepers who did not show appreciation. So many times in my life I have not said the words, expressed my love. I have been strangely silent instead of coming out and saying thank you. It amazes me how we will walk into our closets and say that we have nothing to wear. Oh, really! You should meet some people who live about 15 miles from here and literally have nothing to wear. People make comments like, “I don’t like my hair.” Walk the halls of Presbyterian Hospital and communicate with those going through chemotherapy who don’t have any hair and who are dying. “My thighs are just too big.” Tell that to someone confined to a wheelchair. It is so easy to forget what we have to be thankful for and just to brush it aside.
This past Friday I went to one of my favorite eating establishments, Subway. Subway is a great place because you can get healthy sandwiches there. However, Subway does make me nervous. I call it “a food handler’s restaurant”. That afternoon it was packed, just jammed. There was one girl making all the sandwiches. I watched her making the vegetarian sandwich I had requested. She asked what I would like on the sandwich. I requested tomato and lettuce. I prayed, “God, I hope her hands are clean.” Anyway, I looked at her and said, “You are doing a great job. This restaurant is packed. You are by yourself. I applaud you.” She asked, “Do you want chips or pretzels with this?” I thought OK, I would try one more time. “Subway is very fortunate to have you working for their corporation. You are something else. To handle this store in a solo fashion with all these people, you are great.” “Do you want Diet Coke, water?” She couldn’t say thank you. She forgot. Do you forget? If you do, ask for God’s forgiveness.
In I John 1:9 it says, “If we confess our sins He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” So the moment that we hit our knees, and begin this forgiveness and confession process, we move one step closer to being a one out of ten person who expresses thankfulness thoughtfully, lovingly and consistently.
The second thing we are to do is, we are to take a thank you safari. I have been to the jungle twice in my life. When you are in the jungle your senses are really heightened, you are on point. You see things that you normally wouldn’t see. You see the army ants, the butterflies, the snakes, the monkeys. You hear sounds that you don’t hear around the Metroplex. If you have never been to the jungle, just go to the Rain Forest Café, it is pretty much the same thing except that it is air-conditioned. Our lives should be a thank you safari.
As a kid my family would make a trek to Laurel, Mississippi for the holidays. So many times we would sit around those old tables and Aunt Ida would serve one of her famous Velvetta, Spam and Jello salads. My parents would watch me and whisper, “Eat it!” Then they would say, “Ed, what do you say to Aunt Ida? What do you say?” I would softly say, “Thank you.” “We can’t hear you, Ed, what did you say?” “Thank you.”
What do you say when you wake up in the morning and see all of the beautiful sights of this world? What do you say when your taste buds enjoy that hot tea or coffee in the morning? What do you say when your eyes are able to comprehend words on the computer screen? What do you say when your vocal chords make sounds that others interpret as words? What do you say?
I believe God is looking at you and me and saying, “What do you say?” He wants us to say thank you. Not for some Spam, Velvetta and Jello salad. Thank you for the true blessings that surround us. God wants our lives to be a thank you safari. Psalm 100:4, “I will enter His gates with thanksgiving in my heart.” The word thank comes from the word think. Thus when we think, we should thank. Ephesians 5:20, “We should always give thanks for all things.” When I see life as a thank you safari and when every snapshot I take in my mind causes me to thank God, I am moving one step closer to becoming that one-out-of- ten person who expressed thankfulness thoughtfully, lovingly and consistently.
Thirdly, I am to express my gratitude creatively. How? How do we do this? Psalm 92:1 tells us. “It is good to give thanks to the Lord and to sing praises to His name.” One of the ways we express our gratitude to God is through something we refer to as worship. Worship is expressing gratitude and love to God.
Recently I had a conversation with a friend of mine who is a professional athlete. He was describing to me his college town and how people there loved his team and cheered him on. He thought they were really into the sport until he moved to Dallas. He said that in Dallas, people take it to another level. He said they bow to the altar of athletics. And he is right. We worship sports around here. You shout “Cowboys” and people will respond “Yea”. “Rangers” “Yea” “Mavericks” “a quiet yea”. But if you shout “Jesus”, people will only whisper, “great is thy faithfulness…. I wonder if she is dating anybody… great is thy faithfulness, morning by morning…I wonder where everybody is going for brunch…His mercies I see.” We need to come to church with our game faces on, ready to express our love to God. Now I am talking to those of us who are in the family of God. If you are not a Christ-follower, listen but this is not for you, this is for me and others who know the Lord personally. Are you ready for worship?
A great exercise would be for you to take the Bible and go through the book of Psalms. Many of the Psalms have a notation preceding them which says “psalms of ascent”. There were psalms that the worshippers reciting as they were moving up the mountain to go to the temple to worship God. I challenge you to be ready to express your love to God.
For example this morning we heard a song entitled I Want To Thank You, Lord. Did you really think about those words, or did you just kind of go through the motions? Powerful words. “I want to thank You, Lord, for loving me. I will remember Your goodness, Lord, I will remember Your kindness. I will remember Your power, Lord, I will remember Your mercy. I will remember You rescued me.” How many of us need to thank God for rescuing us?
We also did a song called Give Thanks. “Give thanks with a grateful heart, give thanks to the Holy One, give thanks because He has given Jesus Christ, His Son.” Then we did My Tribute. “To God be the glory for the things that He has done. With His blood He saved me, with His power He reached down and raised me. Oh, to God be the glory for the things that He has done.” Are you more wired for the next football game, for the next hockey game than you are to worship God and go to church? Worship Him creatively.
Another way that we can creatively express our appreciation to others is through writing. It is fine to leave voice mail. It is fine to verbally thank someone. It is fine to give someone a little toy or gift. But there is nothing like words of appreciation and thank you. I believe that this is a Biblically driven concept. The Bible is a book that God wrote and He tells us throughout this book how much we matter to him. The book of Philippians penned by the Apostle Paul is basically a four-chapter thank you letter. If you have been gripped by grace, you need to be the most appreciative person around. You need to be writing note after note after note to others telling them how much you appreciate them, telling them how much they matter to you. When you do it, it will help you. It will improve your self-esteem. It will help you be more like God. Plus, it will turn the tide in the other lives and they will look at you and see you in a different light because you took enough time to go on record to write the words thank you down on paper.
A while back I was going through a very difficult season in my life. And a couple of people wrote me thank you notes. They didn’t know what was going on but those notes turned the tide in my spirit. I still read them often because the words inspired me, they changed me. Someone took enough time to write to me a letter of encouragement and thank you.
We are so serious about this concept around here that, if you look in your bulletin, you will see a thank you note. See it there? Right now, we are going to bolt the doors, batten down the hatches and we are going to sit back and write a thank you note. Check out your pen or pencil. Now we have a lot of singles in this service and guys, it is a great way to meet girls. Women carry incredible things in their purses, certainly pens. So make sure you have a pen.
And think about who you should write this letter to. It could be a parent. It could be a spouse. It could be a child. It could be a friend. We have to learn to thank God for imperfect gifts. We are imperfect people. How many of you are sitting next to your spouse? Will you lift your hands? Now look at your spouse for a second. You are looking at somebody who is not perfect. Now don’t get cocky about it. And if you are waiting to write him or her until they get perfect, it will never happen. If you are waiting for your son to clean the room perfectly, it will never happen. So sit back and write a thank you note to someone right now. This is my third one of the weekend. …(Long Pause)…How do you spell sincerely?
Now after you have written this out, just fold it and mail it this afternoon. If you do this it will turn the tide in your life and in the others as well.
Another creative way that we can show our appreciation to God and others is to share Him with those around us. When you have those opportunities, do you give people a word about Christ? Not in a preachy, gospel-oozy type presentation, but do you tell them what Jesus means to you? You know Jesus commands us to share Him with others. And God has strategically placed people in your life and in my life. He wants us to invite them to church. He wants us to pray for them. And He wants us to engage them in conversation about His claim. Are you doing that? That is another way of expressing your appreciation. If we have been serious about being a one-out-of-ten person who in the midst of our manna expresses thankfulness thoughtfully, lovingly and consistently, one day in heaven scores of people will walk up to you and to me and say thank you. Thank you for sharing Christ with me. Thank you for living such an incredible example. Thank you for giving your resources to this church or to that church. Thank you.
I want to end today’s message by doing something a little bit different. I want to express my thankfulness as the leader of our team to you. Because of your generosity, lives are being changed. Because of your appreciation, fragmented families are being put back together. And many people’s eternal destinies are being secured. I am going to ask our sound and lighting crew to dim the lights. And while they dim the lights we are going to sing a song. This song is to you. While we sing it you will see some pictures on the screen behind me and those pictures are of people whose current and eternal lives have been changed due to your appreciation and gifts of thankfulness.