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Thanksgiving is the time of year we get intentional about counting our blessings and expressing our gratitude. But Todd suggests that it's not only God's desire that we cultivate a heart of thankfulness, it's essential to our growth as followers of Christ, gives us opportunities to glorify Him, and offers an added benefit few of us are even aware of. It's not just important. It's critical.
A God-Sized Dream, a Servant's Heart and a Warrior's Passion: The Pursuit of a Heroic and Humble Life
The Grateful Heart: A Real Simple Way to Avoid Being Seduced
The Gift of Community: An Artery of Grace that Must Never Get Clogged
Serving all Men without Shorting any Truth: The Gift of Relevance
A Passion for Prayer: It's Not What You Think
The Gift of Authenticity: The Freedom to Show Our Scars
The Gift of Grace: Believe it, Receive it, Respond to it, and Pass it On
We Must Work it Out: Learning to Deal with Conflict
A Love for Those Who do not Love God: Commitment to the Uncommitted
God's Authoritative Word: A Product That Can't be Beat
Living a Life of Full Devotion to Christ: Out of the "Limbo Line" and into the Party
Todd Wagner: We have a special opportunity this morning. I want to introduce you to a friend of mine, Kami Stroope. Kami has been been a part of our little circle of friends here at Watermark for some time, but there is just a great thing that Kami did recently that I'm grateful for that really fits in well with what we're doing today. I wanted to share it with you.
There's a little magazine out there called Real Simple. It looks a little bit like this. I know some of y'all have it laying on coffee tables around your houses and in different places you go in offices while you're waiting to see somebody. A couple of months ago, I guess, Kami, you were flipping through that magazine, and you saw them asking for people to share stories about…
Kami Stroope: Yeah. Actually, one of my friends works in PR here in Dallas, and she is not a believer but knew that I was. Real Simple had sent out a casting call that they were going to do this story in December on women who had reconnected with their faith. So she forwarded it on to me, and I sent in my story of grace. About six months later, it ended up in the magazine.
Todd: What's so great about this is this is a simple way out of a heart that is overflowing with gratitude to impact a lot of folks. The reason we want to share with you this morning is because we're talking about that. We're talking about how having a heart that is aware of the grace and the goodness of what it's received will make it easy for you to tell other people about how your relationship with God has brought about transformation and hope in your life.
We know this is a magazine that a lot of folks are going to see. When you see it, we hope you can use this as an opportunity to share an encouragement with your friends. You go, "Let me tell you something really cool. I have a friend of mine who's in there who shared her story. Kami, why don't you share a little bit about your story with us?
Kami: Yeah. I grew up in a small town in Oklahoma. We went to church on Sundays, but that was about all there was to it. It never impacted how I lived my life from Monday to Saturday. So once I got into high school, I didn't have a strong foundation in faith and bought into the lie that there was life elsewhere. For me, that was finding life in relationships and partying.
Todd: Yeah. One of the things I want to talk about a little bit later is when you don't really have an awareness of the goodness of God and what it means to have a relationship with him, it makes you vulnerable to the seduction that there's life somewhere else. Kami, you just said that was part of your story for a while. That because you didn't know the goodness of God, you thought maybe there was goodness somewhere else.
Kami: Mm-hmm, and I surrounded myself by people who told me that this is where life was. I didn't have anyone in my life speaking truth into my life who told me, "No, this is only going to lead to destruction and disappointment, time after time."
Todd: So you then, just the way life worked out, found yourself in Dallas, and you bumped into a friend who started to tell you something else.
Kami: Yeah. Actually, one of my friends from college lived down here. I got a job, moved down here. She had been attending Watermark and she was like, "You have to go. You have to hear the pastor speak. He's amazing." I was like, "Whatever. I'll just go," thinking that…
Todd: That's what my wife says.
Kami: …it's just going to be another Sunday.
Kami: I went the first time, and I was blown away by how real it was here. From my experience back in Oklahoma going to church, I just had never seen anything like this where people were really honest about what they were struggling with. I felt like I wasn't alone in my hurts and the things that I was dealing with. I felt like I could talk to people about it and just really connected with the message of Christ's unconditional love for the first time.
Todd: In the midst of that, you really, like you said, came into a relationship with Christ. When you saw and heard this friend of yours who knew you and had seen the change in your life, and she said, "They're looking for folks who are telling stories about how they've reconnected with God…" There are folks in that magazine who have reconnected with God in a lot of different ways, and the not the way the Scripture says you really reconnect with God. So you go, "I'd love to tell them that God became man." That's what this season is all about. So you sent your little story in. They really wanted to make your story fit in their little box, didn't they?
Kami: They did. It was a phone interview that I did for the story, and so it was a one hour and fifteen minute interview. I'm thinking, "What are they going to pull out of this to put in such a short story. The lady who wrote it emailed it to me to fact check. I'm so glad she did because once I got it, I thought, "This is not my story."
If I wasn't a person who was seeking Christ, this is probably what I would think. It was very much, "I lived a certain life, and then I started going to church. That's when everything turned around. I stopped doing everything that I was doing and went to church every Sunday and was all of a sudden this perfect person."
It took a lot of going back and forth and fighting for what I really wanted to be in there. That it wasn't church, and it wasn't religion. It was the fact that I had a relationship with Christ, and that's how my life was transformed.
Todd: Wow. Even when you got that across, they still then even visually wanted to represent you in a way that wasn't authentic to you. They said, "We want to come do a shoot." Tell them about that experience.
Kami: Yeah. The photographer wanted to know if there were any rituals that my husband and I did, any traditions that we had. Did we kneel when we pray? Was it only at a certain time? It was kind of silly that she asked those questions. It was great because I got the opportunity to tell her, "No. It doesn't matter where we pray or when we pray. It's just the fact that we do pray. I don't have to have my quiet time a certain way or a certain place or anything. It's just the fact that I'm in relationship with God is all that matters."
Todd: What was so unbelievable about this and incredibly simple, but it took a person whose heart was ready to tell their story of grace because they were really in touch with the fact that, "God has done something to me that I'm really thankful for. Any chance I get to tell people about this love that's coming into my life, I want to. When they want to remake this story into this wonderful little religious fairytale, I want to go, 'No, you would expect,' like you said, 'nonbelievers to think you these are things you do at certain times because that's really what defines religion.'"
In the midst of sharing about the relationship, I want to put the picture up there. Kami, tell them what this picture represents. You said, "You want to come take my picture in my ritual? Come take a picture of this."
Kami: Yeah. They wanted my Bible to be in there because there were other women in the story who were Catholic or Mormon or Buddhist, so they had certain rituals that they had in there. The only thing that is, I guess, if you want to call it a ritual, is the fact that I have my Bible, and this is where life comes from, and this is where I seek truth.
Todd: Yep. I love what Kami said, "You want to see when I pray? I pray when I do dishes. I pray when I'm cleaning my house. I pray when I'm on my way to work. I pray when I'm sitting there on my little couch in my home reading my Bible." So that's what they took a picture of. I thought it was a great opportunity for you to see when you're an individual whose heart is aware of where God has brought you from and what he's brought you into (a relationship with him). You're looking for every opportunity and chance you have to share your faith.
Through Kami's faithfulness and boldness, we thought with this magazine being out there this season, it might be an opportunity for you to pick that thing up and go, "Let me show you something really cool in there. There are five different stories, and one of these things is not like the other."
I'll give you a great chance for you talk about what this season really is all about and how Christmas is about the opportunity to accept God's grace. Let me pray for you, pray for Kami, and thank the Lord that he works in our lives in such a way that is a simple, powerful, transforming truth.
Lord, I think you for the ways you give us to tell your story when we're in touch with how amazing our story is. Each of us, Father, in all our insecurities, in fact, imperfections, has a sense that maybe our story is not that great, but Lord, anytime somebody who is far away has been brought back near, somebody who was cold and complacent or just trapped in dead religion and specific practices without a heart that's engaged with you, whose heart reconnected, that is a powerful story.
I thank you that Kami's life was such that when a friend heard about a magazine wanting people to share their story as transformation, she thought immediately of Kami, and how that gives glory to you. I thank you how there are hundreds and thousands of people in this room with us right now who have a very similar story that people would say, "Your life has changed," or, "Your life is different."
I pray we take advantage of the simple opportunities to talk about how good you are and what it means to talk with you and what Christmas is about. How you simply became man, and to identify with us, lived a life, Lord, that did not deserve judgment. Yet you endured judgment. So those of us who deserve wrath would have a means through which that wrath could be paid without our life being vanquished before you. We thank you for grace. As Kami shared that little story, receiving grace, how simple and powerful that story is.
We pray that there be a lot of folks in reading that magazine and engaging stories over that magazine, or, frankly, just sharing our story with friends in the weeks ahead, could have the opportunity to see the simple truth, the powerful, eternal truth of Christmas all over again. I thank you for Kami. I pray her life continues to resound more and more with the transforming evidence of your presence in her life. May each of us follow in her steps of faithfulness to not be ashamed of the gospel.
Lord, we thank you that you're a God who makes it easy to sing about. You're a God who makes it easy to have a consistent attitude of thankfulness towards, and we pray you'd use today, the words shared and the songs sung, toward that end. Amen.
That's who we are. If you're here again as a guest, if you're a friend in from out of town who is visiting, I want to let you know we're not doing this because we have to. We're not punching a clock. God is not looking for us to fulfill some task so we can call ourselves religious people. We are a group of folks who are increasingly aware of who we were and who God is and what he's done to bridge that gap. It makes us want to sing and just say, "Here is our God. This is who he is."
When you know him, it changes everything. That is true. When you know him, and you respond. I should complete that, though, by saying when you know him and respond fully to who he is, it changes everything. One of the things I want to talk to you about today and adding a gift to this little series we've been in called Gifts I'd Give My Children.
It's really a series that I'd share with you when I look as a dad into the things I want to shape into the life of my kids when I'm done with that 18-year intensive discipleship program called "Growing up with Todd and Alex Wagner," and my kids leave to go out and hit the world on their own. If these attributes are in their life, I will feel like I have served them well. If they've received these gifts, if they embrace these gifts, if they count these things sacred and precious to them, I'll have done a decent job as a dad and really set them up for some success.
Likewise, I'll feel the same way about us as a community of faith that I get the privilege of exhorting and encouraging a lot week after week and throughout the days. If we embrace these different attributes and these characteristics, these values as a body, I think we're going to really be set up to be the kind of people who very simply give our God some glory, so we're working our way through that.
The one I want to talk to you about today is the one that the first time I did this years ago, I really didn't have in there, and it needs to be in there. It is the one attribute that if you have a relationship with God that you're responding fully to, if you're living, in fact, in relationship with God, this is what the Scripture says is the first thing that will be evident in your life if you're a spiritual person.
There's a great quote by a guy who lived a long time ago who we never really hear about unless we had a chance to meditate on some of his thoughts and moments like this. The guy's name was William Law. In the 1700s he encouraged folks about spiritual things. He said, "Would you know who is the greatest saint in the world?" He responded in a fascinating way.
He said, "It is not he who prays most or fasts most; it is not he who gives most alms or is most eminent for temperance, chastity or justice; but it is he who is always thankful to God, who wills everything that God wills, who receives everything as an instance of God's goodness and has a heart always ready to praise God for it."
Let me set you up in this way for what we're going to talk about this morning. I don't want to just do it because it's Thanksgiving week. This is something that really needs to be in the very fabric of who we are. In fact, the Scripture says when you come into God's presence, you, "Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise."
What he means by that is, "If you understand who you are and who I am, you'll always walk into a conversation with me by saying, 'I am so glad I have a relationship with you because you are nothing like me. If I am left to myself, I'll think you're incompetent. I'll think you're out of touch. I'll think you're derelict in your duties. I'll be bitter. I'll be angry, and I will enthrone myself as god.
But I know better who are you, so when I come into your presence, I expect to be comforted, I expect to have my perspectives realigned and my heart informed. So thank you that you're going to give to me what I otherwise could not have. I praise you that your ways are not my ways.'" That really is what the idea is.
In fact, Jesus said this same thing as we mentioned a couple of weeks ago when we talked about prayer. Jesus was asked, "How do we pray?" He said, "When you pray, pray like this. He didn't say, "Pray this prayer." He didn't say, "Pray these magic words." But he said, "When you pray, pray this way. You start by acknowledging your relationship with God that you have by faith."
"Our Father…" It is an intimate child/parental relationship. "…who art in heaven…" Whose name is holy. In other words, the word holy is the word which means separate, altogether different. What Jesus is saying is when you go talk to God, remember that God loves you, and he's very near. That's what Christmas is all about. God came near. The immanence of God is right here, but the transcendence of God is something we can never forget. He is altogether different than we are.
When you come into God's presence, take advantage of the grace that Jesus has accomplished for you to live in. Come boldly into your Dad's presence, but remember your Dad is a whole separate class of being than you. He is perfect; you are not. He is infinite; you are finite. He is good; you're not so good. You just say, "Dad, as I come to get my perspective realigned, I want to start by just thanking you that your ways are not my ways and that all your ways are good."
This is what the Scripture says when it talks about spiritual people. We all know that the Bible tells us that we are to give thanks in everything, and I go, "Wow. What's that mean?" I want to unpack that for you this morning. I said the first mark of an individual who is spiritual is that you have a heart of gratitude and thankfulness.
In fact, the Scripture says, "Don't be somebody who deals with the craziness of this world." You need to know this. This world is crazy and broken. It isn't as it should be. So you have to figure out how you're going to deal with it. Are you going to get bitter? Are you going to get angry? Are you going to try and control it on your own, or are you going to try and escape from it through some fantasy since you can't have real relationships with people that work? Are you going to run off into some fantasy world?
Or are you going to somehow medicate yourself away from the pain with alcohol, with drugs? This is what the Scripture says. Don't be like that. The world is broken, but there is a way to deal with a broken world. What is it? With a heart that is thankful that there is a loving Father over it. Ephesians 5:18-20 says, "And do not get drunk with wine…"
In other words, don't run away and become less of a man. Don't create a fantasy world that will expire when you get sobered up and you come back to reality, " …for that is dissipation…" Whenever you run away to medicate yourself and escape from problems, you become less of a man or a woman that God intended you to be.
There are very few people who we say, "Can you go get drunk, because when you're drunk you think better, drive better, run the family better, and work through conflict better." We don't think that about anybody. Some folks, we're glad when they drink so much they pass out so we don't have to deal with them anymore, but how awful is that that the only real value you bring to a family is when you are passed out. Who wants to live that way?
This is what the Scripture says. "…but be filled with the Spirit…" I want to unpack it for you very quickly. Many of us traveled. I just drove up to St. Louis and back in the last couple of days. I had to fill my gas tank up so I could have the ability to move from one location to another. Our default definition of the word filled is to put something that is lacking into a container. That's not the idea here.
There is another use of the word filled in the English language. It is the translation we want to use from the Greek word plēróō,which is the word that's used right here. Let me explain it to you. One way you fill something is to put in it what was lacking. Another way you use the word filled is like this. "That dude was filled with anger. That guy is filled with lust. That person is filled with fear and dread. That person is filled with despair."
What do we mean when we say that? They didn't go to the despair tank and fill up with it. They didn't go to the anger closet and take a pill. What that means is, and you can see the context of it implied even in the idea of not being drunk with wine. Don't let alcohol control the way you think. That makes you less of a man. Instead, let the reality of who God is, who Jesus is, and what has happened since you've come back into relationship with him, control who you are.
Now, watch this. "…but be filled with the Spirit…" Think of it this way. "All of you…" it's a command. "…be continually being filled by the reality of who God is and the relationship with you have with Jesus." When that happens, this is what it says you will do. When you think rightly about God, you will communicate to others rightly about God.
You will speak to one another in songs of truth. You will speak to each other in hymns of truth. You will say spiritual things that will be sweet to people's ears. You will sing and make melody in your heart to the Lord. A person who is filled with the Spirit always gives thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
One of the marks of a Christian is love. What happens is when you have a perspective of who God is and what he's done for you, it transforms your heart. It makes you go, "Lord, you've been so kind to me. I'm so thankful to you. How do I express my thanks to you that somebody who is as unlovable as I am would be loved by somebody as perfect as you?"
He said, "The way you do that is by responding with all that you have back towards me. It's not going to make me love you more." Frankly, until you realize there's nothing you could do to make God love you more or nothing you could do to make God love you less, you don't understand grace. But when you get your arms around that, it'll make you go, "How do I respond to that?" Answer, with everything you have. So he says, "Because you're thankful, love the ones I love. Love the people I died for. Speak to them about the reality of who I am in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs."
Here's what I want to do. I want to give you a chance to do that right now. I want us just to read Scripture together. We're going to read an entire chapter. I'd love for you to read it with me out loud. If it would bless you just to listen and hear us read it to you, so be it. Let's read Psalm 103 together.
Psalm 103 is a little section of Scripture that's written by a guy called David. I want you to know this about David. David knew how essential it was for him to continually remind himself who God was. You think about David's life, we think that David was king. David was the man. He could do whatever he wanted to do, but that wasn't always David's story.
David's story started with him being rejected. David's story started with him being the kind of kid that whenever there was an important person coming into his community to gather with his family, his dad would gather everybody but him and have him hang out with the animals in the pasture and would leave him there he was such an insignificant part of the family. That can make you bitter.
David was the kind of guy who, when his brothers got to go off and do something significant for their country and go to war, was left behind to tend again the sheep as the youngest. Then, one day, when he went to deliver a care package, if you will, to his brothers who were at war, he got there, and he saw that these brothers weren't even effectively doing what they were supposed to do.
He said, "How come somebody doesn't do something about that?" His brothers mocked him and said, "Would you shut up, David? Don't embarrass us and embarrass yourself." Then David stepped up and said, "All I want to do is stand up against this guy who must not know who our God is." So David went, and he defeated this enemy of the people who he was living amongst.
When he did that, the king, whose nation he preserved, became so jealous of him that he started to throw spears at him every chance he got. That will make you bitter. It'll make you wonder, "Hey, God. What's up with this? All I'm trying to do is be faithful, and every time I go and be faithful, I'm left out, I'm forgotten, I'm spoken ill against, my motives are questioned, and people in ultimate power attack me." On and on David went throughout his life with heartache and heartbreak, some of which came as a result of a hand he dealt himself.
Many times in the midst of all that, David had to sit there and go, "Even when I've been the one who has messed up the recipe, there is a God who can redeem the ingredients that I've built into my life. So in the midst of this life, with circumstances outside his control and with circumstances that he himself has wormed up, this is what he wrote. Read it with me if you want. Ready?
"Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget none of His benefits; who pardons all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases; who redeems your life from the pit; who crowns you with lovingkindness and compassion; who satisfies your years with good things, so that your youth is renewed like the eagle.
The LORD performs righteous deeds and judgments for all who are oppressed. He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the sons of Israel. The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. Just as a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear Him. For He Himself knows our frame; He is mindful that we are but dust.
As for man, his days are like grass; as a flower of the field, so he flourishes. When the wind has passed over it, it is no more, and its place acknowledges it no longer. But the lovingkindness of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children's children, to those who keep His covenant and remember His precepts to do them.
The LORD has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all. Bless the LORD, you His angels, mighty in strength, who perform His word, obeying the voice of His word! Bless the LORD, all you His hosts, you who serve Him, doing His will. Bless the LORD, all you works of His, in all places of His dominion; bless the LORD, O my soul!"
In other words, David said, "I have to continually remind myself who God is because if I reject who God is, I'm going to find something else to be God. Me or some fleeting promise of the world. This world doesn't last very long, and all the things in it that offer themselves as ultimate things worthy of being worshiped and trusted in prove themselves to be unfaithful. So I'd better remember who God is." When you remember who God is, it changes your perspective on everything, and it gives you that sense of gratitude.
This is very important. There's a little verse in 1 Thessalonians 5:18. It says, "…in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." There are only two places in the Bible where it specifically says that you are to do something because it's God's will. We know that everything that Jesus did is an example for us to follow. Therefore, it's God's will. We know that everything Jesus said is what God wants us to understand, so in a sense, it's God's will, but twice, the specific words, "this is God's will for you," show up.
How can you want to give somebody every gift necessary to them if you didn't give them the one gift that God said is God's will if they do this one thing, which is to have a heart that is thankful? I want you to get your arms around this. This verse doesn't say, "For everything that happens, be thankful."
That little preposition makes a huge difference. It says, "In the midst of everything, gift thanks." Why? God is in control, God is sovereign, and God is good. It's okay that you stumbled into his presence saying, "Dad, I'm thankful you're here. I'm thankful you can straighten this out. I'm thankful you can give me a little insight into what's going on. Because if you ask me, you have thoroughly screwed this thing up.
I know that you're sovereign. I know you're in control. I know you're everywhere. That's what you say you are. That's who you must be if you, by definition, are God. This doesn't look right to me. So I'm not thanking you for what's going on, but I want to thank you in the midst of it for being who I know you are, Dad. I just need your help."
Here's one the deals. Can I tell you why it's so important to be thankful and to enter his gates with praise and thanksgiving? I know so many believers who are in such desperate need for a little bit of confidence, a little bit of strength, a little bit of peace that passes understanding, but they spend so much time accusing God in bitterness and anger that they don't ever listen to receive the grace they need in that moment. Without a thankful heart, without a heart that says, "I am thankful to have a relationship with God" and that God is good, you can't even receive what he wants to give you to get you through the very thing that he himself would agree isn't good.
Many of you know we just buried sweet little 8-year-old Sydney after 18 months of a valiant effort against the brutal disease. I haven't seen mom and dad here this morning. That family just loved her and loved those who were in their midst. At the closing days of Syd's life, and as I talked to her dad, he said, "Let me just tell you something. Please don't tell me this good and it's all going to be okay. Please don't tell me that, somehow, in this, it's good."
I'm going to say, "Hey, James, not only am I not going to tell you that, I would tell if you told me it's good, that you're wrong. This isn't good. Sydney's death is not good. It is terrible. God himself would tell you that it's wrong. In fact, he was so offended by it that he decided to do something about disease and death and separation.
When Jesus stood where you stood, he wept. When Jesus faced what Sydney faced, he said, 'My God, my God, have you forgotten what you're doing? Have you forgotten me? This isn't right.' But what Jesus did is he said, "I know who you are, and I'm thankful that we're not going to consult me as I've become a man and lived in my finite understanding in my finite world.
Even though I'm very God of very God, I don't regard equality with God a thing to be grasped so I can identify with fleeting man. As God, I choose to live as man; therefore, I have to trust you. I'm thankful God that we're not trusting me right now because I would not go to a cross. I would not let these men live in their injustice in this way. I would do something now that might give relief to me now but would mess up the perfect plan that you have in place that even I, God in the form of Jesus, can't see at this moment. So I'm trusting you.'"
Do you see that? When Jesus was in the garden, he said, "God, listen. I know you love me. It doesn't feel like it, but I'm thankful that you're still in the heavens. So not my will, but thankfully, your perfect omniscient will will be done." In that greatest moment in world history, in that most awful of moments in world history, the greatest human good that could ever be accomplished was accomplished.
But if you and I had been there, we'd have done what Peter did, and we would've stopped it. We'd have said, "Not only am I not thankful for what God's doing here. I have to save God from himself. Let me walk you through as I thought about this some. Four different reasons why we have to have a grateful heart and what happens if we do. We'll do it very quickly.
1 . When you have a heart that is not thankful for all things, but that remains steadfast in your confidence that God is good in all things, it gives you an opportunity to glorify God in a way that the world will marvel at, in a way that will draw them into relationship with a God of a person who, even though the world does not go as it should be, still says, "Blessed be his name."
You see, everybody understands why the good looking, the rich and the famous would tell you that God is good. They have the hand that everybody wants. People who think the only reason God is worshiped is because God is somehow feathering their bed more than others have a very small view of God.
God is not a sugar daddy. He's not some insecure alumni who needs to be pay athletes to like him. He is a loving Father who has such a secure relationship with his Son that he'll let his Son sometimes go through things that his Son would think that he must hate him to let him go through, but he has so thoroughly communicated his character to his Son that the Son says, "Even though, Dad, I don't know what you're doing, I know you're good."
We laughed this weekend about several splinter episodes in the Wagner household. My kids, when they were little, would get some splinters. We were laughing, just yesterday, about a time that my wife had one of my kids pinned on the bed, her body laying on top of this little 5-year-old boy who was screaming, "You are so mean," while I took a little needle to his foot to dig out a splinter.
As soon as it came out, he went, "Oh, thank you so much for getting rid of that." He was convinced in that moment that mom was mean, dad was mean, and he kept yelling, "You're mean." See, the Accuser (that's what Satan means) accuses God of only having people worship him who are healthy, wealthy, and wise.
This, by the way, is why, if you want to get me going, you put me around folks who are teaching people that if they serve God, they will be healthy, wealthy, and wise. It just isn't in the Scripture. It isn't there. It's a racket. It's a lie. It is a pyramid scheme where people are exploiting the name of God to make themselves wealthy, and it's an abhorrence to the Lord.
In Job 1:8-11, this is what God says. "Have you considered My servant Job? For there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil." Then the Accuser said to him, "Of course he does. Who wouldn't if you had the kind of life that he has. He's the richest guy in his entire region. He has a fine wife. He has an entire barrage full of kids. Who wouldn't love you if they were Job?" He says,
"Does Job fear God for nothing? Have You not made a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face."
God says, "That's not true. My relationship with Job is based on far more than circumstances. My relationship with Job is based on his intimate knowledge of who I am. That I am good. So have your way with him." Do you understand this? Sometimes when trials come into your life, it's not evidence that you don't have a relationship with God.
Sometimes, it's evidence that God trusts you so much that he's going to know that you're going to sing about him in the midst of horrors that the world would go, "I can't even imagine walking through that." When they see people walk through the valley of the shadow of death…that doesn't mean when you're coming close to the grave; it means when you're walking through a valley of despair where there are horrors all around you, you still walk securely and with hope…they go, "Who are you?"
The answer is, "I'm somebody who has a firm grip on who God is. So no matter what happens in this world, I am just passing through. Do I like what I'm passing through right now? No. I would rather be on the beaches of Cabo. Not in the valley of Baca dying and dehydrating and watching those who I love dehydrate. But my God is good. If I die here, he'll deal with my death. Until that day, you will not get me to betray him."
It causes people to really see God for who he is. Not some sugar daddy but for a God who is glorious and kind and right and true in all that he does. He says, "This world isn't right, but be thankful that I'm doing something about it. Even the way I let you pass through troubles is an evidence of how much I love the world because I leave you here to go through troubles in the way you still sing of me that will draw others to me that they might have something more valuable than a fleeting good 80 years, but a right relationship with me, the God who makes all things right."
See, when you have an attitude of thankfulness in the midst of incredible pain, it's an opportunity for you to glorify God like no other time in your life. I marvel at my friends who have lost children. I marvel at my friends who live with handicaps. I marvel at my friends who suffer themselves with debilitating diseases.
I marvel at my friends who have been betrayed by lovers. I marvel at my friends who have never really experienced intimate human relationships in love in the way many others of us have. Yet, to still see them faithfully pursue God, I go, "Whoa, O saint of God. That you would sing to him despite what he has entrusted you with."
2 . It gives you an opportunity to grow. You don't have to be thankful for what you're in, but you can be thankful for where you're going. James 1:2-4 says, "Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials…" You don't have to thank God for the trials, but you have to thank God for the perspective of, "I know what he's doing right now in the midst of this trial. He's making me a different man."
"…knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing." You can be thankful, not for what you're doing in that moment but for where you're going and what God is creating in you: a heart that knows that it can endure things that people didn't think they could otherwise endure so you can face whatever God trusts you with tomorrow with greater confidence.
People have asked me before, "Todd, how in the world do you get to a place where you can do something like that?" The answer is, "Because, over the last 15 years, I've done little things. So trusting God with this isn't as scary as it would've been had I needed to trust God for this 15 years ago."
Every day, as I began to walk with God, and he showed himself faithful in circumstances where I didn't think there was any way he could get this trailer out of a ditch. I could trust him with the ditch was bigger and the trailer was further sunk or when it was totaled or when the trailer was stolen and gone. It gave my heart greater strength for greater trials.
So even though I'm not thankful there's a trial that comes, I go, "Lord, I know that my story that you're weaving through this life is making you more of the man that you want me to be as you conform into the image of your Son. So one day I might face a cross or watch those I love face a cross, and be able to say, "Not my will Lord, but your will be done. Produce that in me."
3 . It gives you greater compassion and sensitivity towards others when you're in the midst of circumstances. I can remember the times that I've broken my leg and my ankle and torn ligaments, and I've had severe cuts where I had arms in bandages for a while and couldn't use them, and how it made me so sensitive to other people.
As I walked with a limp and on crutches for 8 and 12 weeks at a time, I thought, "I will never again forget what it would be like to be encumbered to a wheelchair like my friend. I will never again bemoan the fact that I have to park way away from the mall and not get one of those blue spots up close. It will give me compassion towards those people."
When I get a little thing in my eye and my eyes water, I can't see for a moment, it makes think of my friends in this body who are blind. When I hear a sweet song or something like that, it makes me remember the folks who can't hear. When you go through things, it makes you more sensitive and compassionate for those who don't have what you have. We should be thankful for that because I want to be a more compassionate, sensitive person. Next, and this is where I start to cut to the chase…
4 . It's better than the alternative. This is what I mean. Let me show you the goodness of your Father. When you are living in life and see you can't control your circumstances but you can control what you do with your circumstances, there are really only two options. In every option where you have to be thankful, you have the opportunity to be bitter, complacent, ungrateful.
Where has being bitter and ungrateful and discouraged and filled with despair ever gotten you or made anything better? So God says, "Be thankful in the midst of this. Not for this, specifically, because maybe this isn't the way it should be, but be thankful towards me that I am with you and that I am a God who is good. Have an attitude towards me of faith and not bitterness and accusation."
When has bitterness ever healed a child? When has despair ever filled a bank account? When has anger ever healed a relationship? That's why God is saying, "Live this way." If you live the other way, it's not going to make it better. The reason God calls you to be thankful in heart is that's where life is, over here with this perspective. I'll read you this. We all could write stories like this, but I just found this, and it's easy to read, so I want to read it to you.
"A number of years ago, I returned from a trip late at night. I was tired from the stress of being on the road, but as soon as I got home, my wife met me at the door with a recital of about four or five things that had broken while I was gone: a closet door was off its track, a toilet wouldn't stop leaking, a refrigerator shelf had broken loose.
'Stop,' I wanted to yell. 'Just tell me what isn't broken, so I can leave it alone.' The next morning, I struggled as I hugged the toilet, trying to fit a wrench around a nut in the back. I began to grow bitter. I was tired. I wanted a day off. No, I deserved a day off. I could use a walk in the open air. I could be playing with my kids. Instead, I was hugging a smelly porcelain bowl.
The 'I' statements poured out of me as fast as the water poured out of the back of the toilet. Then I remembered how my wife and I had prayed for God to provide for us a house, this house. I remembered how cold I had been outside, how nice it was to come into a place that was warm, although I must admit, I cast a worried glance at the aging heat pump. I began thanking God for the benefit of space, protection from the weather, and a living room that my wife could decorate in a way that she loves doing.
I remember we used to live in an apartment with just one small child and a neighborhood girl visited, her eyes bulging when she saw the small plastic kitchen set that belonged to our daughter. This little girl lived in a townhouse with three families. She couldn't believe how much space our daughter had to play in. In short, instead of complaining, I found things to thank God for, and my heart was drawn to God."
Now, this is not living like Pollyanna. This is acknowledging that some things are not like they should be. But ask yourself again, what's the other alternative? When has an attitude of bitterness ever made things better? That's why God calls you over here. This is the deal I read the first hour. I want to share it with you. This is just a different little change in perspective.
"Lord, I'm thankful for the teenager who's not doing dishes but is watching TV because that means they're not out on the streets getting drunk and giving themselves away and damaging relationships. Lord, I'm thankful for the taxes I pay because it means I have a job. Lord, I'm thankful for the mess to clean up after this party because it means I have friends who I'm surrounded by.
Lord, I'm thankful for the clothes that fit a little bit too snug (seasonally appropriate comment right there) because that means I have food to eat. I'm thankful, Lord, for the lawn that needs mowing, windows that need cleansing, and gutters that need fixing because it means I have a home.
I'm thankful, Lord, for all the complaining I hear about our government because it means we have freedom of speech. I'm thankful Lord for the parking spot I find at the far end of the parking lot because it means I'm capable of walking and that I'm blessed with transportation that I have to park.
I'm thankful for the significant heating bill I'm facing because it means I'm warm. I'm thankful for the lady behind me in my place of worship when she sings off key because that means I can hear. I'm thankful for the pile of laundry and ironing because it means I have clothes to wear. I'm thankful for weariness and aching muscles at the end of the day because it means I'm capable of working hard. Lord, I'm thankful that the alarm goes off every morning because it means I'm alive."
You see how that little simple change in attitude… You don't curse. Do you know how many folks would love to get to park away from the mall? Do you know how many people would love to get to park in the parking garage over there and walk all the way here with a healthy body? You have a lot to be thankful for. Let every step be a step of worship.
I want to close with this one. I think this is the most important one. This is the reason I'm teaching on this, this morning, to get to this one point. I have a good friend that for years served God faithfully. I mean, he was a great communicator of God's Word. He was significantly used. He shaped lives of individuals sitting in this room.
Yet, in the midst of his serving God, he had issues with his children. They had significant health issues. He had some other issues in his life that were not as he really wanted them to be. His heart grew a little frustrated. He stopped having a sense of thanksgiving to the Lord. Over a period of time, my friend became a little callous towards the goodness of God.
He started to look for other places to find what he felt like was his just and right reward: a more pleasant life, a sweeter feeling, a happier day. His heart grew cold. He made some decisions that hurt a lot of people, and as a result of these decisions, he lost the opportunity to serve friends the way I get to serve friends. As a result of these decisions that grew from a cold heart, he lost the respect and relationship he had with his sons. He lost the respect and relationship he had with his wife, and he lost the opportunity to give God glory with the way he was living his life.
By the grace and goodness of God, and through a series of friends who have reached out to him and much prayer, and just, I think, the goodness of God continuing to reach out after this prodigal son, my friend has begun to make incredibly good decisions and come back and to own the destruction that he has caused.
As I listened to him speak, and we asked him questions about what he learned from this, he bulleted out three quick lessons that he learned in this journey. One of them has marked me more than any of them, the rest of the day since then. I keep thinking about how true it is, but he said,
"Here's the deal. When you think about God, if you stop having a heart of gratitude towards God, you are setting yourself up for destruction." His specific words were this. "To have a heart of thanksgiving is not simply important to the Christian faith. It is critical." I want to say it this way. The reason I want my kids to know God and have a thankful heart towards him is because it what keeps you from being seduced by a lesser God.
When you forget the Lord and all of his benefits, when you start to think that God is shorting you, when you start to think there's a better deal somewhere else, then when somebody whispers out of the tree, "Hiss, over here. Do you know why you're not happy? Because you're not eating this. This is where life is. If your God was good, he'd offer you this. Your God doesn't offer you this. Come on over here. Experience this pleasure. Come over here. Experience this joy…"
When you stop remembering the goodness of God and who he is and what he's accomplished and where he's taking you and what he's done for you, it set you up to trust something else. My friend said, "I trusted that something else because I forgot to be thankful for all that God had given me. Yes, there were some things that were not as they should be in the life and the health of my sons. Yes, there were some things that should be in the life of others who were around me, but at the end of the day, I left God. I left goodness."
Psalm 16 says, "In Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever." He said, "That is true." I had another friend who never knew God. He looked at me one day over lunch, and he said this to me. "Todd, let me tell you something. I want what you have, but I don't get what you have."
Here's his exact words. I'll never forget it. This is a guy who's made millions. This is a guy who has dipped his tongue into all the sweet honeys that this world has to offer. He said, "I walked through the finest kitchens in life, and I keep going out the back door hungry. Why?" The answer is because there's only one thing that can fill his heart. It's a relationship with God, the good God. When you forget to meditate on his benefits, you are setting yourself up for the hiss of destruction.
Can I give you a gift today? Get your arms around God. Meditate on his goodness. Remember his benefits. He knows you. He trusts you. He's going to heal this broken thing. Until then, there is life nowhere else.
Father, I thank you for a chance to sit up here and for us, just a bunch of people who are so, so, stinking easily persuaded… We look at something new and think it must be better all the time. We look at something that gives us pleasure immediately, and we want to run towards it, even when we realize that it's just poison with sugar on the top.
We are prone to wander. Lord, we feel it. Prone to leave the God we love because we forget how good we are. You're not playing tricks on us. You're not the kind of God who gives us a stone when we ask for bread. You're the kind of God who came on this earth and walked with us, who has experienced all the frailties that we experience. You've been tempted in every way as we have been tempted. Yet, you've done all that without sin.
What kind of good God is that? That he would lay aside the comfort of eternity in heaven where there is nothing but good to come and walk in our midst that we, who are experiencing the fruits of our rebellion against you, could all of a sudden be restored back into relationship with the one who is the author and giver of life. What a good God you've been to me. Your goodness and your grace, may we every day see. Amen.
Great gifts. Great truth. We want to share that great truth with you. If you're here this morning and you just don't know a God who's worth being thankful of, I want to apologize to you. There are people all around this world who say they know that God and just haven't done a good enough job of explaining who he is to you. We wanted to try and do that today.
You don't have to be thankful for everything, but I'm telling you, we need to learn to be thankful in everything. If you've never been thankful before for Jesus Christ, we can help you understand that. My friends and I will stand here until no one else wants to talk to us when the service is over. We'd love for you to come.
You can write in that little perforated section. "Talk to me. I want to know more about this God. I can't be thankful right now. I need help. I want to listen so God can give me strength." We'd love to serve you that way. I hope that you know the people who are about to sing this last song, their lives aren't perfect.
We're not thankful for a lot that's in our lives right now, but we're thankful for what God is doing in our lives, where he's taking us. That gives us compassion, sensitivity to maybe how you're hurting. We can give you the hope and share with you the comfort with which we have been comforted. We have a great God. We invite you to sing with us in the midst of the pain until he heals this broken world. Let us know how we can serve you. Let's stand and sing together.
What's the best gift you've ever received? What present is so special that you'll never forget the moment or the person who shared it with you?In this series, Todd Wagner overviews 11 gifts that the Lord desires for us to have. This collection of gifts forms the foundation that any pastor would want for a church and any parent would want for their child. In short, these gifts represent 11 non-negotiables in a life that is committed to full devotion to Christ.