One of the most rewarding experiences in the course of Mark’s 35 years preaching full time, was the many faithful preachers he trained. In 2008 and 2009 we had the delight of training Derek Long, who, thanks to his photographic memory, seemed to have the Bible knowledge of a 60 year old man. In fact, humble Derek would reluctantly play along when I’d flip to any of the most remote sections of the Old Testament and about the time I’d get about six words in, he’d accommodate me by mumbling the correct book, chapter and verse. It was like a superpower, especially given his young age and certainly was one of the reasons why Derek’s sermons were exceptionally thorough. His thoroughness was not just in the pulpit. In an effort to reach the lost in our community by inviting them to have Bible studies, Derek helped Mark hang over 6,000 invitations on the front doors of Beaverton while he was with us.
Not too long after he was hired by his first congregation, my phone rang with a man on the other end of it, exuding gratitude to us for training such a fine young preacher. I had to be forthright. “Ya. We didn’t really do that. He actually came to us with a lot of that ability already.”
He’d not been preaching long when, because of his habit of attending as many gospel meetings as he could, Derek met a sweet girl named Lora and they became husband and wife. A few years later they came to Oregon for a visit, along with their little son, Silas who by then was big enough to toddle around a bit. We had great conversations during their visit and kept in touch from time to time over the 13 years before our recent visit to their friendly, faithful congregation in northern Florida called Oak Grove, near their home in Jasper, Florida.
Derek’s wife, Lora, is a songwriter and recently wrote and shared to Facebook a video of herself singing a song that caught my attention. A friend of Lora’s had recommended that she compose a song about a special subject and Lora was very glad that he did, for she had good reason to be happy about how I turned out. She posted her pretty voice singing her song on Facebook, she said, “to see who liked it and who it could help”. Here’s the link: https://www.facebook.com/lora.law.7/videos/297224862101514
Lora’s song is called the Pity Pot song and here are the lyrics:
Are you on the pity pot, little darling?
Are stuck on that wishful thinking?
Sitting there with gloomy eyes,
not even trying to disguise,
that you bought into lies.
Why are you on the pity pot, little darling,
it won't promise fame or fortune.
Counting up all your mistakes,
makes it harder to erase,
things past, and poor misfortune
Please get off the pity pot, little darling,
get on up and begin living
You might feel that you could sing,
for you got off that sorry thing.
Living what you were wishing.
Say goodbye to pity pot, little darling,
I'm so glad it will be missing.
We will put within it's space,
a little quiet, peaceful place,
a Bible, and chair for praying.
What a good use of Lora’s gifts. The opposite of the pity pot is, of course, gratitude, and since gratitude is such a beautiful thing, I’d like to join my voice with Lora’s, so to speak, and say some things about gratitude to, like Lora, “see who it will help”, if I may.
Isn’t it amazing how motivated we are to bend over backwards for someone who remembers to express appreciation? For most of us, it’s not that we want to create any feelings of indebtedness (I mean, that would be manipulative, right?), but when others recognize, acknowledge and give credit where credit is due, it warms up our relationships and makes us want to keep helping. Appreciation was important to Jesus as well. We see this when Jesus heals the ten lepers and only “One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God [and] … He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?...Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” Luke 17:11-19
You see, when we give thanks, we are no longer just a consumer of blessings. We are a GIVER --- of thanks and Psalm 50:23 explains that when we offer thanksgiving as our sacrifice, God says we honor Him, and honoring him is the most fulfilling experience a human can have because it is the very reason we were created, isn’t it?
So think about it: Every single good thing you have ever experienced has come from your Heavenly Father above. (James 1:17) Every breath. Every heartbeat. Everything. That’s the very reason we are told in Col. 3:16 to Be ye grateful and expressing that appreciation through singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs --- which naturally results in a heart thats overflowing with thankfulness.
Why praise Him? Because as the Psalmist says [ in Psalm 118:28-29; 136:1]He is your God, He is good; and His steadfast love endures forever! And since this is so absolutely true, God wants everyone on earth to make a joyful noise to Him, to serve Him with gladness, to come into His presence with singing, to know that He is God! That it is He who made us, and ...we are His people ... the sheep of his pasture. He wants us to enter His gates with thanksgiving, and His courts with praise! To give thanks to Him; and bless His name! [Psalm 100:1-5] Why? Psalm 103:1-5 further explains, because the Lord is good; His steadfast love endures forever, and His faithfulness to all generations. So let’s bless His holy name with all that is within us, to remember all the ways He has benefitted us...He forgives our iniquities time and time again … He heals us, He redeems our lives from the pit, how He crowns us with unwavering love and mercy, how He satisfies us with good so that our youth is renewed.
In what situations might we be tempted to forget how good we have gratitude? For many of us, we’d say in our most difficult situations. That leads us to 1 Chronicles 16:8 and our second good reason to be grateful to God and that is so that we can give a dying world more reasons to believe and follow God--- this is a side benefit of vocalizing all that God does for us, especially when life rains problems, we show the world how "The Lord is my strength and my shield; in Him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults." (Psalm 28:7). We thank God because of Christ's always leading us in triumph through every difficulty and by doing that, He spreads the beautiful fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere. (2 Corinthians 2:14) If we use every circumstance to "dig for treasure", that is, to learn important lessons, or grow in our compassion for others going through the same thing, or to realize how God is the only one in control, the world is watching. So whether we are low, or abounding, facing plenty or hunger, or in abundance or need. (Philippians 4:12-13) It is God's will that in each and every circumstance, we lift our eyes to His grace and mercy and find reasons to give thanks. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 ~ So let the world see you give thanks to the Lord, for His goodness, and how His unfaltering love endures forever! Set an example for us of how to “wait faithfully for His rescue” and then openly express how He has redeemed you from trouble. (Psalm 107:1-2) and that can be an inspiration for others to also turn to Him.
Hebrews 12:28 contains the final reason I’ll mention to be incredibly grateful, and that is that in this world of chaos, decay and uncertainty, He has made you and I a part of a kingdom that can never be shaken. His spiritual rule in our lives creates for each of us a life filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control that keep all the world’s self-inflicted chaos at bay.
When should we give thanks? Ephesians 5:20 says “Always.” For what should we give thanks? “Everything”. To whom do we give thanks? "The Universe"? No. According to this verse, "To God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Giving thanks for everything teaches us that no matter how blessed or difficult a day is, it is one that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24) Look for His mercy on those days. Find three “at least” to realize it could be worse and that His mercy is present and His mercy is what we can rejoice in during times of loss.
Colossians 3:15-20 promises that when we choose to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, our eyes will be opened to more reasons to be thankful. You see, Gratitude is about clarity of vision. It’s all about eyes that are opened and unhindered from the truth. I don’t know if you’ve heard the recent interview of Jordan Peterson with Yeonmi Park, the young North Korean defector, who shines a light on the atrocities still being committed in North Korea by the current Kim regime. Years ago, Andree Seu wrote a real eye-opener on this same topic that, like the interview I just mentioned, left me feeling absolutely no reason to complain. Listen to this unexaggerated contrast to a regular day in America to a regular day in the most godforsaken nation in the world, a nation where you and I, but for the grace of God, could have been born: She says, “Every day that I am making my bed, a persecuted Christian in the North Korean gulag is getting up off his rat-infested floor. Every morning that I am eating my savory yogurt with fresh fruit, he is headed out to the logging site or mine or quarry or factory on an empty stomach. Every morning that I sing to the Lord in the beautiful sycamore-tree lined cemetery, she is working her 13- to 15-hour day and forced to sing patriotic songs while doing it or incur a beating. Every noon when I stop for a sandwich, he gets his only food allotment of the day, a few ounces of corn. When I feel a chill and reach for my sweater, she is put outside for the freeze treatment. I don’t know if most Christians pray for the martyrs, but I’ll bet they pray for us. Why wouldn’t they? They see things more clearly, their vision undulled by entertainment and comfort.” -
We simply have no excuse for ingratitude when we are baptized, and just so fully immersed in spiritual and material blessings around us. No wonder John Piper notes something we see time and again in both the Old Testament and New Testament scriptures: He says, “...if you refuse to see God in His gifts, they will turn out not to be gifts but High Court evidence of ingratitude.” For the good of your soul, be ye thankful.
Of course, gratitude is not just verbal. It’s not just what we say about our blessings, but it’s how we use them that really shows the depth of our gratitude. One author noted “We don’t serve God out of guilt or fear or even duty, but out of joy, and deep gratitude for what He’s done for us. We owe Him our lives. Through salvation our past has been forgiven, our present is given meaning, and our future is secured.” [Rick Warren] What a great reminder to allow our gratitude to be the springboard to living a life that shows God we understand the cost of our redemption and let that deep thankfulness fuel our lives to bear fruit to His glory.
Of course, gratitude plays a part not just in our relationship with God, but also among one another. It’s like the Vietnamese saying that goes “When eating a fruit, think of the person who planted the tree.” Let’s often recall with appreciation the generations who have gone on before us who willingly made so many sacrifices from which we still benefit all day every day. No matter their age, have you thanked your parents lately? Or your elders? Or your preacher? Or those who make safe your community?
I’d like to get even more practical and explore what gratitude might look like this. very. day. This will not be a to-do list. It will simply be what gratitude might look like in action, which I think is always useful:
Gratitude is when one wakes up so filled with appreciation over the blessings of being a child of God that a yearning washes over you to get up and sit in your favorite cozy chair with your favorite warm beverage to spend a thoughtful hour with God.
When one has physical pain, gratitude tells God how appreciative I am to live in this era of modern medicine.
When my house is a mess, gratitude is being appreciative that I have shelter.
When a friend pours her heart out on me, I’m grateful she trusts me enough to confide.
When I’m dreading going grocery shopping or cooking dinner, gratitude remembers to be deeply appreciative that I do not live during famine.
When chaos breaks out because your husband is late from work, Gratitude thanks God for having a husband and that your husband is employed.
When I receive bad news, gratitude recalls all the times God has providentially intervened and protected me time and time again, and thus resolves to persevere with optimism instead of despair, not resisting events and circumstances God may be bringing my way for my growth.
When your children are “raising the roof”, gratitude thanks God you were not infertile.
When the electric bill comes in, gratitude thanks God for the thousand blessings around having electricity.
When you're struggling to get the family out the door for worship, Gratitude thanks God for this, the best and most refreshing day of the week.
When it’s time to clean your bathroom, gratitude thanks God for indoor plumbing.
When my car breaks down, gratitude thanks God the setback is not likely to necessitate my walking the rest of my life everywhere I need to go.
When we see the flag, gratitude recalls how blessed we are to be born when and where we were, and for all the selfless, sacrificial patriots that have made our families happy and free.
For the creatively gifted, gratitude may look like writing a psalm of praise to God.
When one is insulted for the kingdom of heaven’s sake, gratitude thanks God for being considered worthy of insults. (Acts 5:41)
Gratitude remembers during times of discouragement or depression that ultimately, it is God who comforts the depressed (2 Cor 7:6), that He is the Father of mercies and God of all comfort (1:3-4), who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. Gratitude confesses that it is He who heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Ps 147:3) and that one fine day it is He that will wipe away every tear from your eyes (Rev 21:4).
Be ye grateful.
OAK GROVE CHURCH OF CHRIST
2922 NW 76th Terrace
Jennings Florida 32053