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Choose to be Thankful

Nov 15, 2020 | Dave Gustavsen

The Poison of Ingratitude

Numbers 11:4-34

There was a monastery where all the monks had to take a vow of silence. And they were only permitted to speak once every year, when they appeared before the bishop. And even then, they were only allowed to say two words. So a man named Peter entered the monastery; he took his vow of silence, and after a year he appeared before the bishop. The bishop said, “You may speak.” And Peter said, “Bed hard.” He went back to the monastery; a year later he appeared before the bishop; the bishop said, “You may speak.” And Peter said, “Room cold.” Another year went by; he appeared before the bishop again; the bishop said, “You may speak.” And Peter said, “Food bad.” A year later he came in again; bishop said, “You may speak.” And Peter the monk said, “I quit.” And the bishop said, “You know, it doesn’t surprise me. Ever since you got here, all you’ve done is complain.” I have a question for you eleven days before Thanksgiving: How many of your words are you using up by complaining? Because let’s be honest: there’s a lot we can complain about. Right? I won’t start listing things off, but we all know that, eight months into the pandemic, there are all kinds of things that are inconvenient and painful and annoying. So if you’re looking for good material for complaining, you’ve got plenty of it. But here’s the thing—here’s what you need to know: if you choose to go down that road, there will be a price to pay. I’m calling this message “The Poison of Ingratitude.” Because when we are ungrateful, complaining people, it poisons our hearts, it poisons the atmosphere in our homes, it poisons the people around us. Lack of gratitude is toxic. I predict that this holiday season, there will be a lot of homes that are miserable to be in, because of the complaining. I can just picture the scene right now, and it makes me sad just thinking about it. But here’s the exciting thing: you have the opportunity to create something totally different in your home. Do you realize you have that kind of power? By God’s grace, you have the power to give yourself and the people around you the gift of gratitude. It’s an awesome gift. So it’s your choice! And that’s the choice we’re going to talk about these next two weeks, just in time for Thanksgiving. So…let me set the scene: the people of Israel had been serving as slaves in Egypt for about 400 years, and finally God raised up Moses to break them free. So they got out of Egypt; they miraculously crossed the Red Sea, and they were traveling through the wilderness on their way to their own land. And today we’re going to look at one scene from that journey. Numbers chapter 11, starting in verse 4. Hear the Word of God… 4 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!” 7 The manna was like coriander seed and looked like resin. 8 The people went around gathering it, and then ground it in a hand mill or crushed it in a mortar. They cooked it in a pot or made it into loaves. And it tasted like something made with olive oil. 9 When the dew settled on the camp at night, the manna also came down. Skip down to verse 18…18 “Tell the people: ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow, when you will eat meat. The Lord heard you when you wailed, “If only we had meat to eat! We were better off in Egypt!” Now the Lord will give you meat, and you will eat it. 19 You will not eat it for just one day, or two days, or five, ten or twenty days, 20 but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and you loathe it—because you have rejected the Lord, who is among you, and have wailed before him, saying, “Why did we ever leave Egypt?”’” And now go to verse 31…31 Now a wind went out from the Lord and drove quail in from the sea. It scattered them up to two cubits deep all around the camp, as far as a day’s walk in any direction. 32 All that day and night and all the next day the people went out and gathered quail. No one gathered less than ten homers. Then they spread them out all around the camp. 33 But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the Lord burned against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague. 34 Therefore the place was named Kibroth Hattaavah, because there they buried the people who had craved other food. This is the Word of the Lord. Isn’t that a nice Thanksgiving story? Today I want to talk about three things: What Ingratitude Looks Like, What Ingratitude Does to Us, and How to Overcome Ingratitude. What it is, what it does to us, and how to overcome it. So, first: What Ingratitude Looks Like. Two different things that we see it. First, Blessings are Minimized. Blessings are minimized. The people of Israel were experiencing an amazing blessing, weren’t they? Food was dropping from the sky!The first time that happened, they looked at this stuff, and do you remember what they said? “What is it?” You know what the Hebrew word “manna” means? It literally means, “what is it?” And then they tasted it, and it says it tasted like coriander seed and olive oil. In another place, it says manna tasted like wafers with honey. Man, those are good flavors. And they could make it into all kinds of dishes and recipes; it was nutritious; it sustained their lives. It was probably even gluten-free. So when they first started receiving manna, they were blown away! “You mean we don’t have to hunt it or skin it or gut it or cure it? And we don’t need to store it or carry it, because God will provide more the next day?” This was a time in history when finding food could take up a big part of your day, and that concern was completely taken away from them. They must have thought, “How could life possibly get any better?”   And then some time went by. And they went out to get the manna, and they sat down to eat it. And they said, “You know, God, you could spice this up a little bit. A little meat wouldn’t hurt.” The novelty had worn off. The blessing was minimized. Emerson said this: "If the stars should appear but one night every thousand years how man would marvel and stare." Think about that: if the stars only came out once every thousand years, how do you think we’d respond? We’d stay up all night! We’d have star-watching parties. We’d all buy telescopes! We’d lie on our backs, in stunned silence. But the reality is, the stars come out all the time. So most of us don’t even notice. The miracle becomes routine. And it wasn’t just the manna. Think of what these people had experienced: a miraculous release from slavery; the Red Sea parting right in front of them; they’d seen water coming out of rocks. And how did they respond? We’re tired of the food. We never do that, right? Minimize the blessings in our lives? Norma Jean and I are both working from home most of the time. Usually I’m out in the backyard shed, and she works from a little office upstairs in the house. But one day last week I set up in her office, so we were working in the same room. And I can’t remember what was happening, but we were both complaining about the frustrations of our day. So the mood in that room was kind of sour. And all of a sudden, it was like the Holy Spirit smacked me. And I said, “Honey, wait a minute. Look at this. Look at us! We have jobs. And we’re sitting here in our house, doing our jobs. And we actually like each other. And we’re reasonably healthy. Can you believe how much we’ve been blessed?” And my wife said, “Thank you. I needed that.” Man, I don’t know about you, but I am blind to God’s blessings, probably most of the time! But God is opening my eyes. Maybe we can all let him open our eyes a little more this Thanksgiving. Here’s the other way to recognize ingratitude: The past is idolized. Look at verse 5: We remember the fish we ate in Egypt at no cost—also the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions and garlic. Here they were, out in the wilderness, sitting around the campfire. And they started to reminisce. “Do you guys remember what dinner was like back in Egypt? I can just smell the onions and the garlic sautéing in the pan. Oh, I miss that smell. And you remember the crunch of those cucumbers? And then for dessert, that sweet, juicy melon.” And everybody’s just going, “Oh, yeah! Egypt was amazing!” You know what they were conveniently forgetting? They were slaves! They were whipped; they were forced to make bricks; they were basically treated like animals. But they don’t bring any of that up. “Man—those were the good old days.” That’s what I mean by “idolizing the past.” You romanticize it. Your remember only the good things. And here’s the insidious part: it prevents you from being thankful in the present. A few years ago, one of my kids said, “You know Dad, Christmas in our family is just not like it used to be.” And I looked at my son, and I said, “You’re eight. How far back in the past are you thinking? Last year?” But it struck me that even an eight-year-old had learned to reminisce about the good old days. There was something in his psyche—in all of our psyches—that glosses over the difficulties of the past—right?—we kind of filter out the pain and the heartache, and we convince ourselves that it was so much better than today. So you forget about the whips and the bricks, and you just go, “Man, those onions though!” Why do we do that? Look at this—Ecclesiastes 7:10. The wisdom of King Solomon: Do not say, “Why were the old days better than these?” For it is not wise to ask such questions. Isn’t that profound? In other words, “Stop romanticizing the past!” Because, first of all, your memories are probably way off. But also, isn’t it just a form of coveting? Isn’t it just a form of ingratitude? Isn’t it a lack of faith? Because you’re saying, “God, I don’t really trust that you’re going to be here for me and provide for me. So instead of being grateful for now, and instead of believing that you have good plans for my future, I’m going to live in the past.” “Back when I was in elementary school—before I had all these exams—that’s when life was good.” “Back when I was dating her, that’s when life was good.” “Back when the kids were young, now that’s when life was good.” “Back when I still had all my teeth, that’s when life was good.” “Back when my wife was still alive, that’s when life was good.” And I don’t want to take anything away from how God might have blessed you in the past. But listen: if you stay there, you will live in perpetual discontentment. So let’s just pause for a minute. And ask yourself: how am I minimizing God’s blessings? And, am I a person who tends to idolize the past? And maybe you’re thinking, yeah—I do some of that that, but it’s not really a big deal. Oh, but it is. Point number two: What Ingratitude Does to Us. Here’s what we learn from this scene in the life of Israel: lack of gratitude affects us both socially and spiritually. First: it affects us Socially. Verse 4 says The rabble with them began to crave other food… There was a group of non-Israelite people who accompanied the Israelites out of Egypt. The old King James Bible calls them the “mixt multitude.” Newer translations call them “the rabble.” So when Israel was being delivered from the Egyptians, these folks basically jumped on the bandwagon. This was their ticket to, hopefully, a better life. And it says they were the ones who first started whining about the monotony of the menu. But then look what quickly happens: The rabble with them began to crave other food,  and…the Israelites started wailing. You know what that teaches us? Complaining is contagious. Complaining is an infection that easily spreads. It goes viral. And when it does, it brings out the worst in other people. Have you ever been out to eat with a complainer? I don’t really like this table they gave us—there’s a draft here. What is this music they’re playing? I’m not sure those people are six feet away from us. Are they ever going to bring us water? Have you ever been out with someone like that? And that’s just before the food comes. When the food shows up there’s so much more to complain about. This is not medium-rare. Didn’t I say medium-rare? Does this butter taste a little off to you? You know, this lettuce is kind of wilted—I think it’s old. Ooh, this is way too salty! This place has not been the same since they hired that new chef. I’m going to give them a 2-star review on Yelp—it’s for the best. Do you ever find yourself with a complainer? And not just about food; they complain about the government, and the media and the police. They whine about masks and social distancing rules. They complain about their boss or their teachers or their pastors. No one is safe from their critique. Ever been with a person like that? And here’s a much more personal question: are you a person like that? It’s pretty easy to go down that road. But when we do, it’s really bad for community. It will be bad for your home at the holidays. Sometimes it just depresses the people around us; sometimes we drag them down to our level and they join us in complaining. Either way, it’s toxic. But here’s the scariest part: it also affects us Spiritually. The story takes an ominous turn in verse 18. Because God basically says, “You want meat? Okay. Get ready; you’re going to get some meat. You’re going to get so much meat, it’s going to be coming out of your nostrils.” Why is God so angry? Well, he says, Because you actually think you were better off in Egypt—under slavery—which was such a crazy thought, and such an ungrateful thought. But much more personally, look what God says in verse 20: you have rejected the Lord, who is among you. You actually have the presence of God with you—guiding you with the pillar of fire by night and the cloud by day. You have the presence of God providing for you. So you’re not just complaining about limited menu options; you’re rejecting me. And because of that rejection of God, judgment came. The next day the air was filled with quail, flying low to the ground, and the people excitedly gathered up the birds. But then verse 33: But while the meat was still between their teeth and before it could be consumed, the anger of the Lord burned against the people, and he struck them with a severe plague. 34 Therefore the place was named Kibroth Hattaavah…which means “graves of craving.” Now, mercifully, it doesn’t seem like the plague hit everyone. It says they buried the people who had craved other food. So it seems like judgment fell specifically on the loudest complainers. But God’s judgment was swift, and it was severe. So what do we do with this? Well, if you have kids that complain about the food on Thanksgiving, read them this passage. Just to scare them. No, I’m just kidding. Thankfully, you and I are living at a different point in redemptive history. In other words, God deals with people differently now, because we’re on this side of the cross. But God’s character never changes. So here’s the enduring lesson that we learn from this: when we have hearts that are ungrateful and complaining, it hurts us spiritually. It damages our relationship with God. Because when we complain, here’s what we’re saying to God: “If this is the way you’re going to arrange my life, it’s not acceptable. I know better than you how things should be, and what you have provided for me is not good enough, and I reject it.” And God says, “You’re actually rejecting me.” Now, I have to say this quickly: there is a time when God welcomes our complaints. When we experience loss or tragedy, and we’re feeling the pain of that loss, God says, “Pour out your heart to me! Bring your pain; bring your grievances—I can handle it.” The Bible calls that lament, and lamenting is a healthy thing to do. So what’s the difference between healthy lamenting and unhealthy complaining? It’s all about your heart. In lament, even though we’re in pain, we have an attitude of trusting God and waiting on him. Like, “Lord, I don’t understand this, but I know you’re good.” In complaining, we’ve lost that humble trust toward God, and we’re just cynical and cranky. So, bottom line: complaining hurts us spiritually. And when we’re in a bad place spiritually, it affects everything else in our lives, doesn’t it? There’s no joy, there’s no peace, there’s no patience...arguments break out around the Thanksgiving table, and eventually someone turns on the football game so nobody has to talk to each other anymore. Complaining is an ugly way to live. And that’s why this last point is so important: How to Overcome Ingratitude. How do we not be this kind of person? This is the place where most Thanksgiving sermons go wrong. You know why? Because most Thanksgiving sermons rely on…guilt. Hmmm. You’ve heard sermons like that, right? I think I’ve actually preached some sermons like that! Where the motivation to change is just to make you feel as guilty as possible. For example… Can’t you see that we Americans are spoiled, entitled people? If you took the amount of money we spend on one Thanksgiving Dinner, and you sent it to Bangladesh, you could feed an entire village for a month! Don’t you feel terrible about yourself? And here you are, complaining that your wife brought home ShopRite brand crescent rolls, instead of Pillsbury brand. Seriously? You should be so thankful for what you have! You’re lucky God gives you anything. Now go home and be more grateful. Happy Thanksgiving. Let’s close in prayer. That’s what I mean by a guilt-based sermon. There’s some truth to it, right? I mean, most of us are pretty spoiled. I know I am. So I can hear a sermon like that, and it works…sort of. I feel a little guilty. Yes, I do demand the Pillsbury crescent rolls; I know that’s not good, and I feel bad about that now. So I’ll try to change my ways. But it never lasts. You know why? Because guilt does not have the power to change us deeply. It just doesn’t! It makes us feel bad for a while, but it doesn’t get to our hearts. So pretty soon, we’re just back to our old ways. See, there is actually only one force that’s powerful enough to change us deeply, and it’s called… grace. Guilt ultimately leads to resentment; grace leads to repentance. Guilt makes us feel like we gotta change; grace makes us feel like we want to change. Guilt says, “I’ll do it because it’s my obligation;” grace says, “I’ll do it because it’s my joy!” Grace is so much better than guilt! So if we’re going to stop our habit of complaining and be genuinely grateful people, it’s going to be because we’ve encountered grace. And the only way to truly encounter grace is to encounter the gospel—the good news—of Christ. Let me illustrate it like this… In Charles Dickens’ famous novel, A Tale of Two Cities, there are two men who fall in love with the same woman. A guy named Sydney and a guy named Charles, who both fall in love with Lucy. Lucy picks Charles. So she gets married to Charles, but then Charles gets thrown in prison during the French Revolution, and he’s scheduled to go to the guillotine and be executed. Sydney—the guy who was rejected by Lucy—happens to look a lot like Charles. So he arranges for Charles to escape, and Sydney takes his place. He goes to the guillotine in Charles’ place. So Charles is able to go back to his wife, and live out his life in freedom. That is grace. Charles deserved to die; Sydney stepped in and died in his place. Can you imagine the gratitude Charles must have felt for the rest of his life? And that is exactly what Jesus did for us. See, when we read about the Israelites grumbling in the desert, it’s so easy for us to say, “I would never do that. I would never be so ungrateful.” You know what? I probably would! If I’m really honest, I have to admit that I can be cranky and demanding and prideful and angry and greedy and all kinds of other ugly stuff. I probably would have been right there with them, “Manna, again??” So when God brought that plague—that righteous judgment on the complainers—that’s what I deserve. That would be justice! But then Jesus showed up. And he arranged for my release, and he went to the cross in my place. That’s the message of the gospel. And that is grace. And when we have encountered that grace—and not just encountered it once; when that’s the air we breathe—when this becomes the story of our life—rescued by the grace of God—we will find ourselves complaining less and thanking more. Are you with me? Grace just has that effect. The New Testament Greek word for “grace” is charis; the Greek word for “gratitude” is eucharistia. In other words, grace is literally embedded in gratitude. When we understand grace, we become grateful. Grace just does that to you. It changes your heart. It melts your pride. It demolishes your sense of entitlement. And therefore, everything you receive from God—from the big stuff, like forgiveness and the breath in your lungs, all the way down to the little stuff, like the ShopRite crescent rolls on your Thanksgiving plate, you just go, “Man, God is good to me.” And you become a deeply thankful person. And your gratitude becomes contagious to the people around you. And that’s when you truly have a happy Thanksgiving. PRAY

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