November 22, 2009

Livin’ Large…in lean times

Part 1: The grace of gratitude



          Today, we start a new series, “Livin’ Large…in lean times.” 

What do you think of when someone says, “I’m livin’ large”?  Usually, that phrase means that we are able to afford and enjoy a very expensive style of living.  Cruise vacations, expensive new cars, lots of new toys—we’re “living large.”

But we’re living in lean times—we’re in a serious and sustained economic downturn.  And lots of us aren’t thinking about cruises, cars and toys; we’re thinking about putting bread on the table and paying the bills.  We’re thinking about how to find a job, or hoping to keep the one we have.   We’re thinking lean.

So what does it look like to “live large in lean times”?  I want to talk with you over the next few weeks about values that make your life large even when your bank account isn’t!  These values produce joy that makes life large whether you have lots or little, whether you’re in fat or lean times.

And the first value is the grace of gratitude.  Grateful people live large in lean times.


Offering and announcements:

          I’m talking about gratitude today, and I want to start by saying a huge THANK YOU to all of you for your incredible generosity last week!  I want to take a few minutes to celebrate.

          First, last Sunday we sponsored over 1500 kids! We’re still waiting for an exact count from World Vision, but we sponsored every child they brought, and could have done more!  I was so inspired by seeing you rush to the walls and sweep them clean— all the kids were snatched in the first couple minutes after each service.  If you didn’t get to the walls in time and you want to sponsor a child, particularly from the Maseyisini ADP in Swaziland, go to our website, and add your name to the list.  You’ll be matched with a child as soon as he or she becomes available. 

          I’ve heard so many great stories; here’s one.  Michele is young mom with three kids under four!  Prior to Sunday, she already sponsored six kids: three with World Vision and three with Compassion International.  On Sunday, she decided to sponsor four more kids—just round up to ten!  To pay for it, Michele is going to cut out her “drive thru’s”—drive thru coffees and lunches.  She wrote: “I only wish I would have known at a younger age how much better it is to help others than buy myself a bunch of junk that I don’t really need.” 

          The World Vision folks were just blown away.  They told me that they’ve never had a church respond like this.  Rich sent me an email on Tuesday titled, “What a weekend!”  Here’s an excerpt:

Joe, I am just now back from my weekend in Eastern Washington and wanted to drop you a quick note to thank you for everything.  Most of all I came away encouraged by the church of Jesus Christ in Spokane.  What a rare spirit I found in your church – not at all typical I’m afraid of most churches.  They ‘get it’.  We are also grateful for the incredible support of our sponsorship program – 1500 kids sponsored and probably more to come.  I so look forward to a growing and deepening relationship with your church.

…I would also like to invite you to our chapel here when you and some of your team could fit it in…I think my folks would love to hear your heart and maybe the music/drama piece you did for THIOG.  So, brother, thanks for an uplifting and encouraging weekend.  I had my coffee this morning from a Life Center travel mug – much higher quality than the typical travel mug I must say – just like everything else at Life Center.

Your partner in the gospel, Rich

Rich is so right: we do have a rare spirit in our church.  I’m so proud of you!

          To put what we did in perspective, consider this.  1500 kids sponsored at $35 a month totals $52,500 a month that we’re giving to help the poorest of the poor!  That’s $630,000 in the next year, $1,890,000 in the next three years.  That is more than we gave in our 3 year campaign to build this building!  Last Sunday, you gave the largest ongoing offering in the history of our church.  Imagine the difference that is going to make!  Thank you!

          Those are big and exciting numbers; let me make it personal again.  You sponsored a child, and you have the opportunity to get acquainted with that child and his or her family.  Write letters; send pictures; build a relationship.  You heard Rich tell about the lady whose most treasured possession was the letters from her kids’ sponsor.  I talked with two other people this week who have met their sponsored kids; they told me the same thing: the kids keep and treasure these letters.  Write them; get to know your child.

          Thank you everyone for being so generous!

          And that was only the start.  Last Sunday was the final drop off day for Operation Christmas Child.  We brought 744 shoeboxes filled with gifts for needy children around the world.  (picture of boxes)  Thank you—more incredible generosity!  Thank you! 

          And remember the minutes campaign?  What are you doing with your minutes?  We asked you to volunteer your time here in our own community.  Our goal was one year’s worth of minutes—525,600 minutes, or 8760 hours of service.  We pledged almost double that!  1,003,245 minutes, or 16,721 hours of service!  If we all follow through, we’ll do some great things in our community.  To follow through, go to our website, click on the minutes link and pick one of our community partners, contact them and go to work.  Thank you for being so generous with your time!

          And finally, we drilled a well in Kenya, and David Opap is with us today.  Q&A with David.



          Tom’s Turkey Drive Offering here.  $15 buys a Thanksgiving dinner for a family of four.  This is not a matter of life or death—no one is going to starve.  So why is this a good thing to do?  Would you rather eat Thanksgiving with your family at home, or in a shelter or soup kitchen?  Watch this: video.  Let me remind you that we give you lots of opportunities to help others; we don’t expect everyone to do everything.  If you can help and you want to—thank you.  If you can’t, that’s ok too.  Please write your checks to Second Harvest.

          It’s Thanksgiving week.  This Thursday, we’ll gather with friends and family and stuff ourselves with turkey and all the trimmings.  The men will watch football while the women clean up.  OK, the men will clean up while the women watch HGTV.  Some people call it “Turkey Day”, and that’s fine, but I like to call it Thanksgiving—a day to give thanks, to remember all my blessings and thank God.  I need to give thanks!  Especially in lean times—it’s easy to get focused on what we don’t have instead of what we do have.

ILL: An irate husband wrote Dear Abby complaining about his wife’s lousy housekeeping, but then he admitted she had one positive trait he liked: “she’ll go to bed with me whenever I want.”  A few days later, a second husband responded; he asked Abby to tell the first man to be grateful for his marital blessings.  “If I had a wife like that, I’d hire a maid to clean the house!”  

Focus on what you have!  At the top of your outline, I wrote: “Rather than complaining about what we don’t have, let’s be grateful for what we do have. Grateful people live large in lean times.”

          So how can we be grateful in lean times? 


1. Grateful or grumbling: what are you focused on?

          I think that the key to gratitude is perspective.  If you focus on what you have, you’ll be grateful.  If you focus on what you don’t have, you’ll grumble.  And I think it really helps when you focus on what you have, to remember that so many have so much less. 

ILL: Last week, when Rich Stearns was with us, Rich told me a story about taking his then 16 year old daughter to Africa.  They were getting ready to leave their comfortable hotel and go work in the slums for the day.  His daughter was upset because she couldn’t get her electric hair straightener to work.  She was complaining about it, and Rich told her, “Honey, we’re going to the slums, not the prom.  I don’t think anyone is going to care about your hair.” 

          She gave him a look, and said, “You don’t get it, Dad.”  (Does this sound familiar?)

          But at the end of the day, guess who did get it?  Guess who realized that it really didn’t matter whether her hair was straight or not?  Faced with destitution and poverty, her hair wasn’t a big deal anymore.  Perspective.

The key to gratitude is perspective.  When we focus on what we don’t have, we get unhappy, and we grumble and complain.  When we focus on our blessings—and we have so many—we get happy and grateful.

          You can really see this in the story of the Israelites being delivered from Egypt, found in both Exodus and Numbers in the Old Testament.  The Israelites had suffered for 400 years as slaves in Egypt.  Then God intervened and through a series of miracles, brought them out of Egypt to take them into the Promised Land.  However, no sooner were they freed than they began to complain.  They complained about the food, they complained about the water, they complained about their leaders, and they complained about the land God was giving them.  Over and over they grumbled against God—the God who had just miraculously delivered them!  They lost their perspective.  One story illustrates this well; it’s found in Numbers 11.

          The journey from Egypt to the Promised Land was through the Sinai desert.  There were no Rosauers or Safeways along the way; not even a 7-11.  (Personally, I don’t know how they made it without Slurpies!)  And they couldn’t forage or live off the land—it was a barren, rocky desert.  Plus, there were hundreds of thousands of them.  What would they eat?  How would they get food?  God provided.  The same God who delivered them from slavery provided food and water on the journey.  And doesn’t that make sense?  Would God deliver them from the greatest military power on earth and then leave them to starve in the desert?  I don’t think so. 

          The food God provided was called “manna”, which means “what is it?”  Each morning, the ground would be covered with “what is it” and they gathered enough for that day, and before the Sabbath, enough for two days.  Think about it: God provided this delicious food (it tasted like wafers made with honey and olive oil); and it was free, delivered fresh every day to their doorsteps in the middle of nowhere.  How many of you would be grateful for that?  Me too…but they started complaining.

Numbers 11:4-6 The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, “If only we had meat to eat! 5 We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. 6 But now we have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!”

“Nothing but manna,” they wailed.  “Manna pancakes for breakfast, manna burgers for lunch, manna casserole for dinner, and bamanna bread for dessert.  We’re sick of manna!”  Notice that they began to reminisce about all the fine food they ate in Egypt “at no cost.”  At no cost?  They were slaves!  The meager meals they ate cost them their lives!  They had completely lost their perspective, and the key to gratitude is perspective.  They had forgotten all the good God had done for them; they focused on what they didn’t have, rather than what they had. 

          Does this ever happen to you?  Do you ever lose your perspective?  Do you ever complain about your food?  “I’m so sick of Thanksgiving.  It’s the same thing every year: turkey, turkey, turkey.  Why can’t we have prime rib, or even a nice honey-glazed ham, or some delicious tofu?  Anything but turkey.” 

ILL: When you were kids and you complained about your food, did your mom ever say, “There are starving children in Africa who would love to eat that”?  My mom did.  And I said, “Great, send it to them.”  That didn’t go over well. 

Mom was right.  I had lost my perspective. The key to gratitude is perspective: focus on what you have, not on what you don’t have. 

          Maybe you’re not complaining about your food.  Maybe it’s your car.  I hate spending money on car repairs.  I remember thinking awhile back that every time I earned a little extra money, my car broke down, and sucked up the extra!  I grumbled.  Hey; 93% of the world doesn’t own a car.  The key to gratitude is perspective. 

Maybe it’s not your food or your car; maybe it’s your house, or your job, or your family.  What are you complaining about?

ILL: Alice Johnson writes:

When I was a young mother with two preschoolers, I was often overwhelmed. One night I fell into bed, exhausted. I poured out my frustrations to God. “The kids won’t mind, the house is a mess, my husband doesn’t seem to care …”.

          Suddenly, a voice said to my heart, “Which one do you want me to take away?” The kids?  The house?  The husband?  Everything I was complaining about was precious to me. Immediately, I began to thank God for everything on my list.

What are you complaining about?  What if God took it away?  The key to gratitude is perspective.  Focus on what you have, not what you don’t have.

Inside your program, you’ll find a thank you card to God.  We’re going to take the next few minutes, and I’d like you to write a thank you note to God.  You can make a list of all your blessings; or you can write it as a note—whatever you want.  But I want you to think about what you have.

Thank You Cards: music playing 3 minutes.

I hope you’ll take this home, post it on your refrigerator or bathroom mirror as a reminder of all God has done for you and given you.  Focus on what you have!  It might be fun on Thanksgiving when we gather around the table to read our cards to God together.

The key to gratitude is perspective.  It starts with focusing on what we have, not what we don’t have; and then we need to take the active step of saying thanks.


2. One in ten: don’t forget to say thanks!

          There’s a terrific story in the gospel of Luke about ten lepers who meet Jesus.

Luke 17:11-19 Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. 12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

14 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. 16 He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

17 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.”

Ten lepers get healed, only one returns to say thanks.  One in ten.  Don’t you wonder about the other nine?  Jesus did.  “Where are the other nine?” he asked. 

  • Perhaps they were so focused on doing what Jesus said, going to the priests, that they didn’t think about going back, or thought they shouldn’t.  “He said, ‘Go to the priests,’ so we better keep going!”
  • Maybe they were so excited about being healed that they just forgot to say thanks.  I can understand this.

ILL: When we were in Kenya in May, we drove by a field where a couple dozen high school boys were playing soccer.  Don’t think of a soccer pitch with mowed grass, chalked lines and goals.  This was just a field.  And their soccer ball was held together with duct tape.  Our driver, Sam, said, “You should give them your soccer ball.”  We had one left that we had brought with us.  Sam stopped the van, and Craig Shafer held the new soccer ball out the window—didn’t say a word, just held the ball out. 

          That group of boys started shouting and running at our van so fast that the whole group crashed into the side of the van.  They took the ball and went running back onto the field, shouting and laughing and jumping and waving their arms.  It was awesome—I’d never seen anything like it—the sheer joy of the moment was breath-taking.  But what happened next was even better.

          As Sam started to drive away, one boy from the group started to chase us.  Sam stopped the van, and this boy opened the door and personally thanked every one of us.  “Thank you.  Thank you.  Thank you.”  His face was beaming.  And then he ran back to join his buddies.  It was a moment I’ll never forget.

          We drove into Homa Bay, and went to the only store, and bought every soccer ball they had: seven of them!

          Only one boy returned to say thanks.  I don’t think the other boys were ungrateful.  I think they were just so excited, so caught up in the moment, that it didn’t occur to them. 

Maybe that’s how these nine lepers were too—just caught up in the moment and it didn’t occur to them.

  • Or maybe all nine were raised by bad mothers who never taught them to say thanks.  My mom always asked me, “What do you say?”  “Thank you.”  Maybe these nine guys had derelict moms!

For whatever reason, only one of the ten returned to say thanks, and Jesus comments on it.  “Were not ten healed?  Where are the other nine?”

          It makes me wonder if God often feels this way about me.  I confess that I go through whole days without ever saying thanks to God.  I may ask Him for things, and I certainly enjoy His blessings every day, but I often fail to say thanks. 

          There is something gracious, something beautiful and winsome about gratitude.  Did you know that the words “grace” and “gratitude” come from the same Latin root, gratia?  The same is true in the Greek language of the New Testament; the root for both words is charis.  What do we call it when we give thanks before a meal?  Saying grace.  What if we said grace over everything in our lives: over our work, our play, our friendships, our whole day?  The grace of gratitude.  When we begin to appreciate all we have, and start giving thanks, our lives become grace-filled.  Who would you rather be around: a grateful person or a grumbler?  Grateful people have a winsome grace about them; grumbling people sour the room.    

ILL:  Inspirational speaker and writer Barbara Johnson tells this story:

          A certain woman had a bad day.  She had overslept and was late for work, and things happened at work that only made her mood worse.  By the time she got on the bus to go home, she was grumbling, and to top it off, the bus was packed and she had to stand. 

          Then she heard a man’s voice up front proclaim, “Beautiful day, isn’t it?”

          Because of the crowd she couldn’t see the man, but he continued to comment on everything the bus passed that added to his joy: a church here, an ice cream store there, a baseball diamond here, a library there. The atmosphere in the bus became more carefree as did the woman’s heart. The man’s enthusiasm was so winsome that the woman found herself smiling. When the bus reached the woman’s stop, she worked her way through the crowd to the door. As she did so, she glanced at the “tour guide”—a plump man, wearing dark glasses, and carrying a white cane. He was blind. 

          As she stepped off the bus, she realized the day’s tensions had disappeared. God had sent a blind man to help her see!  Life looks better through lenses of gratitude. 

She had experienced the grace of gratitude. 

          Be one of those one in ten people who remember to say thanks.  Your thanksgiving will bring grace to your life, and to everyone in the room or on the bus.

          One more thing…


3. Give thanks always and for everything!

In all the verses listed here, we are told to give thanks, but there is one idea that really stands out, and it is found in the first verse.

Ephesians 5:20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

When are we to give thanks?  Always!  For what should we give thanks?  For everything.  Always and for everything. 

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Give thanks in all circumstances.  Always and for everything.  He can’t be serious!  Does God really expect us to give thanks always and for everything?  What about the bad things?  We can apply some common sense here; I don’t think God wants us to be grateful for evil or injustice.  We don’t thank God that children are dying of hunger or being sold as sex slaves; in fact, we pray and work against that!  But if we use a little common sense, I think we can see how giving thanks always and for everything might apply to us.

ILL: One of my best friends was diagnosed with prostate cancer in his 30’s.  This is extremely rare.  He was treated and has fully recovered and is healthy, and we thank God for that.  But he thanks God for the cancer!  You heard me right!  Of course, he thanks God for his healing.  But he told me that he thanks God for the cancer, because God used that to wake him up to what was really important and to change his life for the better! 

Always and for everything.  Let me tell you a story that isn’t quite so extreme.

ILL: It was Thanksgiving morning, about 25 years ago, and I was looking forward to a relaxing day with family.  Laina and I and our two infant sons were going over to Rod and Lori’s (Laina’s sister and brother-in-law); it was going to be fun!  Then the phone rang.  A stranger told me that he was a trucker on a long haul run, and his truck had broken down the night before in Spokane.  No one could work on it today—it was Thanksgiving—so he was stuck until tomorrow.  He and his 8 year old son were staying at a cheap motel, but had no money for a meal.  He asked me if I could help. 

You’ll love this.  Can you guess what was the first thing I said to this guy?  “How did you get my number?”  Mr. Compassion.  He explained that he had looked in the yellow pages under churches, and called a pastor listed there.  That pastor gave him my home phone number and told him to call me and said I’d help him! 

Happy Thanksgiving!  I wasn’t giving thanks; I wasn’t happy.  I wanted to throttle that pastor!  What was he thinking?   Well, I asked the guy a few more questions, just to make sure he was legit.  I checked with Laina and with Rod and Lori—who all said “sure”—they’re better than me.  And then I got in my car, drove to the motel and picked him and his son up and brought them home for Thanksgiving.  But I wasn’t giving thanks.

It turned out that this guy was a wonderful guy, a follower of Jesus, and we had a delightful time together.  He added a lot to that Thanksgiving—he told a lot of great stories—and all of us enjoyed them.  And at the end of the day, Rod and I drove them back to their motel, paid for the night, and gave him some cash for breakfast.  And on the way back home, we thanked God for the unexpected blessing He had added to our day. 

Always and for everything.  Now I know you’re waiting for me to say that I called up that pastor and thanked him for sending the guy our way…and I did.  I thanked him and told him what a great time we had.  But I also told him never to give out my home phone again!

          Always and for everything.  You know, it occurs to me that there might be someone in this room like that trucker—with no place to go on Thanksgiving.  And I’d hate to see that happen.  So could we do something really wild and crazy?  Would you turn to the people around you and ask them, “What are you doing for Thanksgiving?”  Most of us are going to say, “I’m going to be with family or friends.”  Cool.  But if someone says, “Nothing,” would you invite that person to join you?

          I know, you’re thinking, “This is crazy; I don’t even know this person!”  You know, I think God directed that trucker to call that pastor who passed him on to me.  And I think God seated you by just the right people today.  So ask them, “What are you doing for Thanksgiving?”  I’ll give you a minute.  Go!

          Thanksgiving Invites!

          Give thanks always and for everything—even for a crazy pastor that puts you in really uncomfortable spots!  The grace of gratitude—it’s one of the ways we live large in lean times.