That was a long intro. This is our Thanksgiving service. So to get you into the holiday spirit, we are taking a detour from our study of Matthew and today we’ll cover our Devotional Text from last week, Deut 1. And we will tackle the perennial problem of ingratitude.
I love Thanksgiving because it is the most Christian of holidays. I bet you didn’t know that. More than Christmas or Easter. Why? Because it mirrors salvation. I don’t know what your experience of Thanksgiving turkeys has been. As someone who has been eating turkeys for 30+ years, I have tasted many lousy turkeys. Dry, flavorless. And it’s not like these chefs were bad. Like my mom, she’s a great chef. But she can’t cook turkey. That should be clue. Turkeys are not easy to cook. You can’t just sprinkle some salt and pepper and pop it into an oven.
The work that goes into making a turkey taste good is like salvation. You take a dead turkey. And a Master Chef gets his hands dirty and labors for days and pours out his love into this dead turkey. And out of the oven, a mouth watering turkey is born again. Okay, I know the analogy breaks down because the cooked turkey is still a dead turkey. But taking a tasteless turkey and turning into a delicious turkey is at least as miraculous as Jesus turning flavorless water to sparkling wine. Right? Thanksgiving is a very Christian holiday.
Thanksgiving is a holiday when we count our blessings, when we deliberately focus on the myriad of ways that we ought to give thanks. From my experience, it’s really, really rare to find a person who is consistently grateful. Have you noticed that? Just look back at your own heart over this past year? What was your internal gratitude meter? Most days, did you wake up saying, man, I’m thankful. Why am I so blessed? Rather, did ingratitude rule your hearts?
Ingratitude is part of life in this world if you don’t believe in God. Why? Because everything is riding on your shoulders. Your happiness, your security, your success, it all depends on you. And if you don’t believe in God, you feel rushed. Because time is running out. You just have 70-80 years to exist and so every day is one day closer to your death. You don’t have time for setbacks. You don’t have time to mess up. You got one life and you’ve got to make it count. That’s a lot of pressure.
For most of us, life is not smooth sailing. There are waves. There are storms. There are bumps in the road. Dead ends. Circumstances happen to us beyond our control. And we grumble. Why is this happening? Why is this person in my life? Why are things not turning out the way I had hoped?
Even if there are no major problems in your life and you are doing what you always wanted to do, still, there are plenty of reasons to grumble. We grumble, why are we so busy? Why do we have to work so hard? Why am I doing another all nighter? Why am I doing overtime at work? And this is work that you signed up for or you got hired for and yet you are complaining. Even when we have a day off, we grumble, why am I bored? Why am I more tired after my day off than I was before? On good days or bad days, grumbling is who we are. It’s a part of life.
However, ingratitude for a believer, it just doesn’t make sense. Let’s read about a group of grumblers in Deut 1:19-37.
Read text: Deut 1:19-37
First point – grumbling or ingratitude is a sign that you are in the wilderness.
Why are they in the wilderness in the first place? Prince of Egypt? God used Moses to deliver his people from slavery. You had the miraculous parting of the Red Sea. Imagine walking through the Red Sea on dry land with walls of water on either side. It must have been awesome. And you are following your fearless leader and Pharaoh and his armies are in hot pursuit. And you cross over to the desert and the walls of water collapse and drown the Egyptians. And this symbolizes for the believer our freedom from the bondage of sin and we cross over to the other side. We are born again. We are a new creation.
Now that we are saved, the goal all along was to enter the Promised Land. A fruitful land. A land flowing with milk and honey. God promised it to them. And this Promised Land in the Old Testament symbolizes the Spirit-filled life where believers bear Spirit-generated fruit. Fruit like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. This is fruit of the Spirit. Only the Spirit can produce this kind of fruit in our lives. All Christians are supposed to get to the Promised Land where we thrive spiritually.
Yet, like the Israelites, many Christians never make it to the Promised Land. In Exodus 16, we read about the Israelites grumbling against Moses and Aaron. As a pastor, I am encouraged by this passage because Moses was such a godly leader. He wasn’t perfect, far from it, but God calls him friend and Moses enjoys a special relationship with God. And still, the people complain against him. I know I will hear my share of grumbling. It comes with the territory.
What were the Israelites grumbling about? They were having revisionist memories about how good they had it in Egypt. They recalled sitting around pots of meat. This is crazy. Did they forget that they were slaves in Egypt? That they were surrounded by harsh masters who whipped them and put them through hard labor every day. They might have been surrounded by pots of meat but it’s because they had to wash the pots and the dishes. If they were lucky, they got to eat the burnt scraps at the bottom of these pots. They were slaves and now they are free. How can they grumble? How can they grumble against Moses? Ultimately, they were grumbling against the God who delivered them from slavery. How could they?
Sadly, isn’t this true of many of us who profess Christ as our Lord and Savior? We’re saved, we’ve been freed, but we long for Egypt? Grumbling is a sign that we are in the desert. They were supposed to march straight into the Promised Land. Yet, they were in the wilderness for 40 years. Why were they in the wilderness so long? Because when they got to Kadesh Barnea in Numbers 14, Moses sent out 12 spies into the Promised Land and 10 of them gave a bad report, saying we can’t take the land even though God had promised it to them. There are people there and they are too powerful. There are too many of them. We are like mere grasshoppers before these giants.
Only Joshua and Caleb gave a good report because they trusted that God would help them defeat the foreigners in the land. And God judges the Israelites and forbids them to enter the Promised Land and they are forced to kick sand for the next 40 years. 40 years was the time period during which everyone from that generation would pass away and then the next generation would have a fresh start to take the land.
Grumbling is a sign that you are in a spiritual wilderness. Point number one. And second, one reason we often stay in the wilderness and keep grumbling is fear.
There are only 2 choices. One choice is going back to Egypt. But if God has spoken to you and you’ve been saved genuinely and you’ve experienced his faithfulness, then going back is not really an option. The only other choice is to go into the Promised Land. But that is not an easy choice either. Because we are moving into enemy territory. Slavery in Egypt or facing the giants in the Promised Land. Neither one sounds good. So people end up not choosing. But not choosing is a choice. It’s a choice to remain in the wilderness.
Fear often keeps us in the wilderness. It paralyzes. It causes indecision. But like it or not, we are indeed making a choice to remain as we are.
Depending on your Bible translation, the command, “do not fear,” or “fear not,” or “do not be afraid,” occurs between 66-137 times, making it one of the most frequent commands in Scripture.
What are we afraid of? We’re afraid of rejection. We’re afraid of being ridiculed. We’re afraid of being singled out. We’re afraid of persecution. On a deeper level, we’re afraid of losing out. What if I give my life to Jesus and the mission to make disciples to the ends of the earth and I end up not making as much money? What if I lose out on the next promotion? What if I sacrifice my time to help someone and my grade suffers on my midterm? What if I end up suffering and I lose some comfort? Our fears are largely a fear of losing out.
34 …“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. 36 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?
Christianity is all about losing in the short term, but winning in the end. If you save yourself in this life, you will lose it eternally. But if you lose your life for Jesus here and now, you will save it eternally. Don’t be afraid to lose out. Christianity is all about denying ourselves, taking up our cross, losing out. If you are afraid to lose out for Jesus, you might be saved, barely, but you will remain in a spiritual wilderness.