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  • Writer's pictureBob Brown, Pastor

I want to talk about one of the most commonly tolerated sins among those professing to know God. It is a serious sin, and yet I encounter it often and find that it’s often excused or shrugged off as no big deal. In fact, many Christians aren’t even aware that it’s sin! I struggle with it myself. This sin rears its head in different forms: self-pity, grumbling, complaining, worry, anger, and defiance. Often, at the root of all these symptoms is the sin of ingratitude toward our gracious, sovereign God.

Ingratitude is a characteristic of those in rebellion against God. It was because of grumbling and ingratitude toward God that Israel was laid low in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:10; Ps. 95:8-11). In Paul’s treatment of human depravity, ingratitude is one of the sins which plunged the race further into sin: Rom. 1:21, 24.

On the other hand, believers are commanded to give thanks in everything (1 Thess. 5:18). As those delivered from Satan’s domain of darkness, we are to be “joyously giving thanks to the Father…” (Col. 1:12). A spirit of joyous, continual thankfulness ought to characterize us as Christians.

A thankful heart is focused on God, not on self.

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One reason we wrestle with ungratefulness is that we’re self-focused. We pursue our own fulfillment, comfort, and happiness. The dominant theology in American Christianity puts man and his happiness at the center instead of God and His glory. It teaches that God exists to meet our needs. We’re even being told that Christ died for us because we’re worthy! So we have people, who by nature are self-centered, coming to Christ to get an “abundant life” which they think is their right and which they assume will fulfill all their needs. But they’ve never repented of their self-centeredness. Then they’re disappointed when God doesn’t do what they think He promised.

Churches are filled with people who expect God to solve their problems and make them happy. They want their problems solved so that they can enjoy a happy life. They’re focused on trying to get God to meet their needs for their gratification. They’re focused on self.

Jesus didn’t say, If anyone wants to follow Me, I’ll meet his every need so that he can live a happy, comfortable life. He said, “If anyone wishes to follow Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s shall save it” (Mark 8:34-35). If you want to be a thankful person, get your focus off yourself and your happiness and put your focus on God. If we focus on God, He graciously meets our needs. If we focus on self, we come up empty.

A thankful heart is submissive to God’s purpose.

I think of the time that David wanted to build the temple; God said, “No.” That answer would have been especially difficult to accept because David’s desire was good. He didn’t want something for himself. He didn’t want a new addition onto the palace or a higher salary. He wanted to build a house for God. His motives were pure. But God said no.

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What was David’s response? He could have allowed his disappointment to grow into depression. He could have sulked and felt sorry for himself. He could have angrily thought, “See if I ever try to do anything again for the Lord!” He could have turned to self-indulgence to soothe his hurt feelings.

Instead, he worshiped God. He was overwhelmed with gratitude for all that God had done. He submitted to God’s purpose and was willing to be used however God wanted.

Because David saw God as the Sovereign of the universe and himself simply as God’s servant, he could submit and be thankful when God’s plans were contrary to his plans.

How about you? What do you do when God’s plans run counter to your plans? The test of thankfulness is not when God does what you want. That’s easy! The test is when God says no to your plans and to be thankful then you’ve got to see God as the Sovereign and yourself as His servant.

Thus, a thankful heart is focused on God, not on self. A thankful heart submits to God’s sovereign purpose.

A thankful heart is overwhelmed by God’s sovereign grace.

I realize that you may be so mired in personal problems that it’s difficult, if not impossible, for you to lift your eyes to notice what God has done. Maybe like David when he was running from Saul, you’re in survival mode. But remember that even when he was in survival mode, David was learning to trust God’s promises.

There is a promise of God for every need in your life! What is your need?

Do you need freedom from guilt? He promises to forgive if you confess your sins (1 John 1:9)

Do you feel lonely? (Matt. 28:20)

Do you need assurance? (John 10:27-28)

Are you troubled? (John 14:27)

Are you worried about financial pressures? (Matt. 6:31-33)

Do you struggle with powerful temptations? (1 Cor. 10:13)

Whatever our need, it is covered by a promise of God! No matter how overwhelming our circumstances, we can have hope and be filled with thanksgiving because our God is the sovereign God.

You may be thinking, “That’s great! But why don’t I see those promises fulfilled?” I don’t know. But maybe ask yourself, “Why do I want to see these problems solved? Why do I want to see these needs met? Is it so that I will be comfortable and happy? Or is it so that God will be glorified and His name magnified through me?” The Lord isn’t interested in meeting all of our needs so that we can live happy, self-centered lives. He wants us to be focused on Him, not on ourselves. From a thankful heart, He wants us to magnify His name.

May we all deal with the sin of ingratitude and become a thankful people to the praise of the glory of His grace!

  • Writer's pictureBob Brown, Pastor

This week our family faced a very difficult time with the loss of a loved one, a young man in his twenties with life ahead of him. I'm sure we thought what the rest of his family and friends were thinking: why? Why this young man? Why not someone who is old or sick or evil? Why Lord?

I don't write today with any glib answers. Let's face it. This is tough stuff. We're stunned. We're hurting. We don't understand.

Perhaps you also have had something similar happen to you. A son, daughter, husband, or wife. We search for answers. It's OK to ask those questions. It's natural to wonder why.

There's really only one place to go: God's Word. There's a story that addresses some of what many of us are feeling. It's found in John's Gospel, the 11th chapter. Here we read of a funeral that involved hard questions, deep feelings, and budding hope.

The deceased is a man named Lazarus. He comes from a very close family. Among them are two sisters, Mary and Martha. Like our family member, he came from a good family and had a bunch of friends -- and one of his best friends was Jesus.

Jesus arrives four days after Lazarus dies, and as he approaches the house full of people crying, both sisters run out to him at separate times and say: Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.

Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.

I suspect some of you have made "If" statements as well.

"If only I had spent more time with him."

"If only I had been nicer."

"If only I had done this -- or that."

These kinds of "If" questions are normal.

Don't blame yourself. It's not healthy and it's not right.

So, if we're not supposed to blame ourselves, then maybe God is to blame for this. That's precisely the implication both sisters make when they are grieving over the death of their brother:

Lord, if YOU had been here, my brother would not have died.

I've learned that it's senseless to either accuse God or to try to defend Him. But neither is it sinful to question Him. We wonder, why would God allow this to happen? It's OK to ask these kinds of questions. Jesus does not scold these sisters for suggesting that perhaps he could have prevented their brother's death and because he wasn't there it was somehow his fault.

Don't feel guilty for wondering if there was something God could have done. God could have kept death at bay, but for some reason, He didn't.

As we continue the story, surrounded by family and friends, Jesus is deeply moved and asks where the body of Lazarus is. When he views Lazarus' grave, he could have said something extremely profound. Instead, scripture tells us simply that "he wept."

Here is Jesus, fully man, fully God, attending the funeral of a friend and openly weeping, without embarrassment and without apology. In fact, those watching him said, "See how much he loved him!"

God wants to help you work through everything you're feeling. God knows what it's like to hurt. One day, He lost a family member too, His one and only son.

Jesus said to Mary and Martha in verses 25-26: "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?"

Jesus didn't merely say that there is a resurrection. He claimed that HE is the resurrection. The fact that he would rise from the dead was the guarantee that others would too.

We often think that this is the land of the living and that when we die, we go to the land of the dead. The opposite is really true. This land is the land of the dying. When our life here is over, we are transferred into the land of the living -- either to a place of eternal joy or to a place of eternal torment. There are only two possible destinations. Where will you go when it's your time to die?

James 4:14 says, "For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away."

This young man was not planning to die when he did, but since life is like a vapor that appears for a little while and then passes away, it was his time to go. None of us know what will happen to us either. Our lives are very fragile, aren't they?

Proverbs 27:1 reminds us not to boast about tomorrow because we don't know what a day will bring forth. Some people are always talking about what they're going to do and then they never do anything.

"One of these days, I'm going to do this."

"I'll tackle this later." But, later may never come.

This passage gives us two very significant reasons why we should never presume upon the future.

First: life is unpredictable. We don't even know what will happen tonight, much less next week or next year.

Second: life is brief. Our lives are like a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. The Greek word here is atmos, from which we get the word "atmosphere," which is the invisible layer of water vapor encircling our planet. Our lives are like a mist int he grand scheme of things.

Life is too unpredictable and brief to live without God at the center. We count our lives in years, but God tells us in Psalm 90:12 to number our days. All of us are just one heartbeat away from eternity.

In 1 Samuel 20:3, David said, "Yet as surely as the Lord lives and as you live, there is only a step between me and death." Our lives are like a vapor -- here one minute and gone the next.

On this earth, the vapor fades, the step between life and death is taken. But that is not the end; it's not all there is. As I mentioned above, we exist in the land of the dying, and if we know Christ as our savior when we die, we enter the eternal land of the living.

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