DashHouse.com

The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

The Ultimate Lifestyle: Living Joyfully (Philippians 1:12-26)

Most people don't enjoy life; they just endure it. They think that they can't be happy because of all the problems in their life. Their life has to be perfect before they're happy. But there's not such thing as a problem-free life. If you wait to be problem-free, you'll never be joyful. If you're going to learn to be joyful, you've got to do it in the middle of the problems of life.

Who do you think lives the ultimate lifestyle? Millionaires? Celebrities? Executives? Retired people? I'll tell you who is living the ultimate lifestyle: joyful people. The people who are really living the ultimate lifestyle are those people who have joy in their lives. The sad thing is - most of us aren't joyful. If we did a joy audit, we would find most of us simply existing from day to day, and trying to get by. The motto of many of our lives would be TGIF, "Thank God it's Friday." We live for the weekends. We simply exist the rest of the time. We're not joyful.

Now, all of us once were joyful. If you go to a schoolyard, I think you will find that about 90% of the children there are joyful. Do they have problems? Absolutely. Are they joyful? Absolutely. Joy is not the absence of problems; joy is the attitude that you carry regardless of your problems.

"Happiness" comes from the word "happenstance" from which we get the word "circumstance". It depends on happenings. Joy is internal. Happiness is external. You have a happy time at Disneyland, you leave and you lose your happiness. Joy is constant. How do you have happiness in spite of what is going on in your life?

We're going to look this morning at one of the most joyful people who ever lived. His name was Paul. Let me give you some background to his story today. Paul was in miserable circumstances. He was under house arrest on trumped up charges awaiting a trail whose outcome could result in his execution. We don't know exactly where he was, but he was facing a trail before Nero, who was not exactly known for his niceties towards Christians. On the way to Rome, he would have faced shipwreck, being stranded on an island, bitten by a poisonous snake, all before arriving to Rome and spending another two years there. In Rome, he would have no privacy. Every four hours he would get a new guard. He would be chained up 24 hours a day. I think you could say that Paul was in miserable circumstances.

But what does Paul say? In Philippians 1:18 he says, "I rejoice. And I will continue to rejoice." What's Paul's secret? How can he be so joyful in prison? Paul gives us four essentials to living a joy-filled life:

1. I NEED THE RIGHT PERSPECTIVE

We all have problems. You brought them here with you this morning. They may be health problems, work problems, family problems, or money problems. It's easy to get discouraged about personal circumstances, or to take unimportant events too seriously. But Paul teaches us that our problems aren't as important as our perspective towards these problems. What is perspective? Perspective is a right evaluation of your circumstances. You need the right perspective in your life.

If you go to the doctor, one of the skills that you're looking for is that the doctor knows how to diagnose your problem. If you have a sprained ankle, you don't want them checking your wrist. You need someone who is able to properly evaluate your condition. If you're going to have a joy-filled life, you need the right perspective.

In Philippians 1:12, Paul says:

And I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News. For everyone here, including all the soldiers in the palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ.

Why could Paul rejoice? Paul had always wanted to go to Rome to do an evangelistic crusade, but he was never able to make it there. Now he's probably in Rome, and he's chained to the palace guard - possibly the most elite troops of the Roman Empire. If these guards indeed were the elite troops, then there could not be a more strategic group for Paul to reach with the Gospel. When they retired after 12 years they were made leaders in Rome. God puts Paul in Rome, Nero pays the bill and chains a future leader of Rome to him every four hours. These guards had an inside route to the emperor. Eventually Paul himself would speak before Nero. Paul was held captive, but as a result, Paul had a captive audience with whom he could share the gospel. They tried to shut him up, but instead they gave him a pulpit.

Not only this, but listen to verse 14: "And because of my imprisonment, many of the Christians here have gained confidence and become more bold in telling others about Christ." Others were emboldened by Paul's example. They saw what he was doing and decided that they could do it as well. If Paul had become depressed by his circumstances, it would have depressed the others. Instead, Paul saw that his attitude was affecting the attitudes of other believers around him. Other believers became bold because Paul was bold.

WHAT'S THE LESSON HERE FOR US? God has a purpose in each of my problems. God never wastes a hurt. God has a higher purpose in every problem that you have. Romans 8:28 tells us, "And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them." Every detail of our lives is worked into something good. God has a purpose in everything that we go through. Many times we don't see the purpose until later, but we can be assured that God has a purpose in every single one of my problems.

You need this perspective. You need to know that God has a purpose in what you're going through. No matter what it is, God has a purpose for you. God never wastes a hurt. I need a perspective to live from.

Rate yourself on this from 1 to 5. Do you see life from the right perspective? Do you recognize that God has a purpose in everything that you're going through? Rate yourself from 1 to 5 on this.

Here's the second essential for joy-filled living:

2. I NEED THE RIGHT PRIORITIES

When life gets tough, you need your priorities to be clear. A lot of people aren't joyful because their priorities in life are mixed up. They are focused on themselves and their happiness. They are focused on what other people expect from them. They even make their priorities the problems that other people give to them. What was Paul's priority?

In Philippians 1:15, Paul writes:

Some are preaching out of jealousy and rivalry. But others preach about Christ with pure motives. They preach because they love me, for they know the Lord brought me here to defend the Good News. Those others do not have pure motives as they preach about Christ. They preach with selfish ambition, not sincerely, intending to make my chains more painful to me.

In essence, he's saying, "These guys are kicking me when I'm down. They're taking advantage of the fact that I'm in prison to build their own reputations." This group was delighting in Paul's difficulties, thinking that the worse it got for Paul, the better it would get for them.

How did Paul react? He tells us in verse 18, "But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice."

Paul said that he wasn't going to let anyone - critics included - steal his joy. Their motives might be wrong, their style may be wrong, but so what? They're preaching the Gospel. Paul had a priority to live by. He lived to see good news about Jesus preached, and as long as that was happening, Paul didn't care about anything else. I need a priority to live by.

Listen to what Paul said in Acts 20:22:

"And now I am going to Jerusalem, drawn there irresistibly by the Holy Spirit, not knowing what awaits me, except that the Holy Spirit has told me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead. But my l ife is worth nothing unless I use it for doing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about God's wonderful kindness and love.

Talk about priority! Paul had his priorities in place so much that even death was secondary. If you have nothing you're prepared to die for, then you have nothing to live for. Paul had something to die for. He had a priority.

The problem in life is that we let unimportant things crowd out the important things. We tend to forget what's important and live for what's urgent. How many times do you have a fight in your marriage and you realize that it's over something trivial? Or how many times do you examine a year of your life at your birthday and realize that it's been a year wasted?

Jesus said of God in Matthew 6:33, "He will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern." What's your primary concern? What's your priority in life? Is it your work? Is it your family? Is it your career? Your marriage? Jesus said, "He will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern."

There's a word for putting anything else first in our lives: idolatry. The minute that we make anything else first in our lives, we're idol worshipers. When we have our priorities right - when our priority is God - nothing can take our joy away. Proverbs 3:6 says, "Seek his will in all you do, and he will direct your paths." I need a priority to live by.

HERE'S THE LESSON FOR US: I need to focus on what's really important. I need to focus on God's priorities in my life. I need to start living according to God's priorities rather than my own priorities.

Now, I want you to rate yourself from 1 to 5. If you sense that your priorities have been a little mixed up lately, give yourself a 1 or a 2. If you have really been focusing on what's important - on living for God and making the Kingdom of God your primary concern - then give yourself a 4 or a 5. You need the right priority.

Here's the third essential for joy-filled living:

3. I NEED GOD'S POWER

Life has a way of wearing you down. When you're young you're invincible. You think you can take on anything and anyone. As you age, you realize your limitations more. If you're not a little bit tired - if you haven't yet hit your limitations - then either you're not old enough, or you're not hanging around enough young people.

We need a power to live on. Paul did. In verse 19, Paul says, "For I know that as you pray for me and as the Spirit of Jesus Christ helps me, this will all turn out for my deliverance." Paul says that there are two things that keep him hanging in - the prayers of God's people, and the help of the Holy Spirit. You need a power to live by.

What can you do with God's power? Without God's power, it's all up to you. I mentioned last week that when we think it's all up to us, we become stressed out and joyless. When we think that everything is up to us, we lose our joy because we're not sure what is about to happen in our lives. We're not sure if we have enough energy to face tomorrow.

But with God's power, you can know that you will have anything you need to face whatever happens in your life. Paul wrote in Philippians 4:13: "For I can do everything with the help of Christ who gives me the strength I need." You don't have enough strength to face your life on your own. You don't have the resources within you. But you don't need to. Your strength lies with the one who can continually empower you for everything that you will face in life.

Listen to God's promise in 2 Corinthians 9:8: "God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others."

God has the power to take care of all your needs. As Paul writes this, he's talking about financial needs. His point is that if we honor God with our finances by being generous, God will show his power by taking care of our mortgage, our credit cards, our bills. God takes care of his people.

In the Old Testament, the nation of Israel wandered around for forty years. It wasn't long before the people began to complain about the lack of food. They accused God of abandoning them - of not providing their needs. God responded by saying, "In the evening you will have meat to eat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God." But God only gave them enough for each day. If they tried to take more than they needed, then the bread went rotten.

That's what God is like. God provides what we need when we need it. Jesus taught his disciples to pray, "Give us our food for today" (Matthew 6:11). We don't need tomorrow's food. We don't need tomorrow's strength. God is an expert at providing just what we need, when we need it. You don't need tomorrow's strength. You need God to provide enough strength for today. God has promised to do that.

HERE'S THE LESSON FOR US: With God's power, I have everything that I need. With God's power you can maintain your joy, because you know that God will provide everything that you need, just when you need it.

Rate yourself from 1 to 5. If you're trying to live on your own power, give yourself a 1 or a 2. You're waking up everyday and trying to plow through on your own strength. You've probably realized by now that it's not enough. If you are living under God's strength - praying everyday that God would provide everything you need for that day's living - then give yourself a 4 or a 5. I need God's power in my life.

4. I NEED A RIGHT PURPOSE

Paul was in prison. He was facing possible death. They had taken away many of his freedoms. But they couldn't take one thing away from Paul. They couldn't take away his purpose.

Listen to what he wrote: "For to me, living is for..." (Philippians 1:21). Now, stop there and ask yourself what you would fill in. Living is for what? Fill in the blank here honestly. We all know what we're supposed to answer. But what is your life for?

If you look around you, you'll find that most people would answer like this:

  • "For me, living is for POSSESSIONS." Get all you can. Spend all you can. Living is for possessions. If you live for possessions, your worth is only as good as your net worth. If you live for possessions, you'll never experience true joy.
  • Some people say, "For me, living is for PLEASURE." If it feels good, do it. Go for the gusto. Do whatever you can do to get pleasure, because pleasure doesn't last. Many people are living for pleasure, but pleasure never lasts. Pleasure isn't enough.
  • Others say, "For me, living is for PRESTIGE." It's about power, influence, position, popularity. Image is everything. It's about the right car, the right job, the right clothes. It's about impressing the right people. Some will do anything to impress others.

The problem with possessions, pleasure, and prestige is that they don't last. They don't even last for a lifetime, let alone an eternity. You know that the people with the most possessions aren't the most joyful people. Those who have had the most pleasure aren't the most joyful people. Those who have the most prestige aren't the most joyful people.

What's the secret to joy? It's found in having the right purpose. Paul says, "For me, living is for Christ." That's the only purpose that makes any sense. If you're living for anything else, it's not a good enough reason for living.

The best use of your life is to invest it in something that will outlast it. If your purpose is to live fo r Christ, then he gives you a purpose for living that will outlast your life. He gives you significance. He plants within you the ability to accomplish eternally significant. He wipes out all the mistakes and sins of your past. And he gives you the assurance that your life will last for all of eternity. Paul knew that death would mean the beginning of eternity.

If you're living for any other purpose than Christ, you're living an empty life. You're living a very temporary life. You don't have any lasting joy. But there's an answer. Stop being preoccupied with yourself. Commit your life to Christ. And you will find true joy.

HERE'S THE LESSON FOR US: Joy comes from putting Jesus at the center of my life.

Rate yourself from 1 to 5. If you're living for possessions, pleasure, or prestige, then give yourself a 1. If you're not perfect, but you're consistently working at putting Jesus at the center of your life, then give yourself a 4 or a 5.

Let's pray.

The ultimate lifestyle isn't what the world says it is. People say that the ultimate lifestyle is about possessions, pleasure, and prestige. It isn't about any of that. It's about being grateful and joyful. It's about living with the power of God.

Some of you have been living without that power. You've got the wrong perspective. Your priorities are out of whack. You're living without enough power. You need a new purpose.

This morning you can come to God and say, "God, I've messed up. I've been trying to live my life my way, but this morning I realize that I can't go on. I need new management. I need you to become the Lord, the director, the boss of my life."

"Today I acknowledge that I have sinned and let you down. I thank you for the forgiveness that Jesus offers through his death. I today ask you to become the Lord, the director of my life. And I thank you for your forgiveness. In Jesus' name, Amen."

The Ultimate Lifestyle: Living Gratefully

This week and next, we're looking at the ultimate lifestyle. It's a good time to talk about the ultimate lifestyle, because Toronto Life just released its annual list of who makes what. For instance, we learned that Conrad Black's butler makes sixty thousand pounds, not including his apartment and living expenses. That works out to about $140,000 Canadian a year. Or that the chair of the TD Bank raked in $8.4 million in salary, bonus, and stock options. Or of the woman who went to her boss and said, "I'm having a nervous breakdown and you have to pay for it." I guess a lot of us have been having nervous breakdowns for free. In any case, it appears that there are a lot of people who are living the ultimate lifestyle.

No matter what you make, I can guarantee that no one here this morning believes that they are living the ultimate lifestyle. Today is the first long weekend of the summer - the official kickoff of summer. This morning, if I took you two hours north of here, you would discover people living in bigger cottages than the home that you own. You would find people having a more relaxed time than you - partying more than you. They have better toys than you have. This morning, I could take you to downtown Toronto to one of the office towers and show you somebody who is working at their desk. It's a long weekend but they're too busy. They're too important. No matter where you turn, you can find someone who is richer than you, more relaxed than you, having more fun than you, or is more important than you. There's always someone that we think is living the ultimate lifestyle.

What is the ultimate lifestyle? It has nothing to do with how much you make or what you own. It has nothing to do with how retired you are or how much fun you have on weekends. The ultimate lifestyle can be defined by two words: gratitude and joy. If you have these two qualities, it doesn't matter what is happening in your life. You will be living the ultimate lifestyle.

Now, most people aren't grateful automatically. An older fellow who had a post card in his hand approached a man writing at the post office desk. The old man said, "Sir, could you please address this post card for me?" The man gladly did so, and he agreed to write a short message on the post card, and he even signed it for the man, too.

Finally the man doing the writing said to the older man, "Now, is there anything else I can do for you?" The old fellow thought about it for a minute, and he said, "Yes, at the end could you just put, ‘P.S. Please excuse the sloppy handwriting.'" People aren't naturally grateful.

One of the reasons we struggle with gratitude is the pace of life. We're too hurried to be thankful. We're so accustomed to being on the run that we never stop long enough to recognize how blessed we are. We're also too consumer oriented. We begin to approach life as if it's a big shopping trip, in which the name of the game is acquiring more. We're so busy and given to consumerism that we take everything for granted. We forget to show gratitude to God for all that he has given us.

Why should we be grateful? Three reasons.

1. UNGRATEFUL PEOPLE ARE NEVER SATISFIED

No matter what happens in life, ungrateful people are never satisfied. It's never good enough for them. People who live without gratitude are always waiting for something bigger and better before they'll be thankful. In Isaiah 1:3, God says, "Even the animals-the donkey and the ox-know their owner and appreciate his care, but not my people Israel. No matter what I do for them, they still do not understand." Ungrateful people are never satisfied, no matter what they receive from God.

The truth is - if you're never satisfied with the little things in life, you won't be satisfied with the big things either. Ungrateful people are never satisfied.

2. UNGRATEFUL PEOPLE ARE STRESSED OUT

I found a can that said, "Warning: Contents Under Pressure." I thought that should be a warning label I put on people that I meet often. We are a stressed out generation. And one of the reasons that we are so stressed out is that we are ungrateful.

Here's how it works. People who lack gratitude believe that they have done it all themselves. Now, if you believe that you have done it all for yourself in the past, you probably believe that it's up to you as well in the future. You don't need people. You don't need God. You end up carrying the load yourself. And the result is a stressed-out life.

What's the antidote to stress? Gratitude. Grateful people realize that everything comes from God. 1 Chronicles 29:16 says, "O LORD our God, as for all this abundance...it comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you." If you don't realize that everything comes from God, then you start feeling responsible. Ungrateful people lead stressed out lives.

3. UNGRATEFUL PEOPLE ARE JOYLESS

Most people don't enjoy life; they just endure it. They don't enjoy happiness. We think that life must be perfect for us to be happy. Ungrateful people are never satisfied and always stressed out. As a result they miss out on the joy that God wants them to experience.

I'll put it this way. The healthiest human emotion is not love but the healthiest human emotion is gratitude. It actually increases your immunities. It makes you more resistant to stress and less susceptible to illness. It's the healthiest emotion. It's an attitude of gratitude. People who are grateful are happy. But people who are ungrateful are miserable because nothing makes them happy. They're never satisfied. It's never good enough. So if you cultivate the attitude of gratitude, of being thankful in everything, it reduces stress in your life.

How do you be thankful in tough times? When the economy is not good; when things aren't going your way. How do you be thankful in tough times? The Bible gives us three keys to developing thankful hearts:

1. RECOGNIZE THAT EVERYTHING IS A GIFT OF GOD

The first key to being thankful is to remember who gave us what we have in the first place. We're very good at getting. But the problem is that we very quickly forget who gave us all that we have in the first place.

Here's an experiment for you. Go to a McDonalds one day and buy a coffee. Sit close to the cash and watch parents buy things for their kids. Then watch as they sit down and the parents try to eat one of those french fries. Who gave the kids those french fries? We have a tendency to forget that everything that we have isn't ours - it's God's. We just get to use it. Everything that we have is a gift from God.

A lot of us are falling into the trap that God warned about a long time ago. Listen to what God said to Israel in Deuteronomy 8:

When you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold multiplied along with everything else, that is the time to be careful. Do not become proud at that time...Always remember that it is the LORD your God who gives you power to become rich. (Deuteronomy 8:12-18)

1 Chronicles 29:16 says, "O LORD our God, as for all this abundance...it comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you." Acts 17:28 says, "In him we live and move and exist." Every breath that we take is a gift from God.

If God never did another single thing in your life, you owe him everything. We say, "I've worked for what I have. I deserve it." Where did you get your talent? God. Where did you get your health? God. Your mind? God. The opportunity? God. Freedom? God. Everything you have is a gift of God.

How can we do this? How can we remember that God is the source of everything? The best way is to establish a relationship with him. Romans 1:21 says talks of wicked people this way: "Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn't wors hip him as God or even give him thanks." One of the signs that you don't have a relationship with God is when you don't thank him. The first step to thanking God - to living the way that he designed - is to come to have a relationship with him. You do this by coming to him and asking for this relationship to be established.

This morning we celebrated communion. One word that churches have used to describe communion is the Eucharist - which means give thanks. Give thanks for what? For the fact that Jesus came to this earth to pay for our sins - all the things that we have ever done wrong against God. Jesus came to take care of the mistakes of your past, to give you a purpose for the present, and to give you a hope to the future. The most important way to develop a grateful mindset is to come to know God through his son Jesus.

Another way to remember that God is the source of everything is simply to pray. Jesus taught us to pray, "Give us this day our daily bread" (Matthew 6:11). When we pray like this, we begin to realize that we really are dependent on God for everything that we have and do.

Another way to remember that God is the source of all things is to give back to God. Giving back to God reminds us that God owns everything in the first place. We're just the managers of what he gives us. We're not the owners. Giving reminds us that everything that we have is a gift from God.

I'll tell you something. What you give is an indication of how grateful you are. Giving is a sign of gratefulness. Deuteronomy 16:10 says, "Bring him a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings you have received from him."

We also need to make time to give thanks. That's what today is. We came to worship God. Why? Because he's worthy of our worship. But another reason is that we want to thank him for all that he's done. God deserves our worship because of how good he is to us. Recognize that everything that we have is a gift of God.

There's a second key to developing a thankful heart:

2. RECALL ALL THAT GOD HAS DONE

There used to be an old song, "Count Your Blessing, Name Them One By One." I think that's a good thing for you to do. Go make a list. I did the other day. I sat down and made a list of things I was grateful for - my heritage, my wife, my kids, and the wonderful staff that God has brought to serve with me here. I began to think of the privilege of living in Canada; the wealth that God has given me. I never have to worry about where I'm going to sleep or what I'm going to eat. I'm grateful for my friends - those who are praying for me, who let me know in small ways that they're committed to me. Yesterday I got to spend an entire day with my family. What are you grateful for? Make a list.

One thing that you notice in the Bible is how many times thankful people recall all that God has done for them. Psalm 103:2 says, "Praise the LORD, I tell myself, and never forget the good things he does for me." What kind of things? For one thing, for God's grace. David writes, "Who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases...he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us." (Psalm 103:3.10-12).

Aren't you glad that God doesn't give you what you deserve? Aren't you glad instead that God gives you what you need? If you don't understand grace, and if your heart doesn't explode with gratitude when you understand the grace of God, you have no idea of what bad shape you were in before you met Christ. Let me summarize it in one word - hopeless. You had no meaning, no purpose in your life, guilt, fear, bitterness, worry, regrets. You had nothing you could do to get rid of them. You had no hope for the future. You were headed for hell not heaven. There was nothing you could do about it. You would never be good enough to earn your salvation. But God came along in his wonderful love and said, "I'm just going to show you grace." I am thankful to God for the grace that he has shown me.

Bud David is also thankful for everything else that he has received from God. "He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle's" (Psalm 103:5). I love that. Someone translated this verse, "He wraps you in goodness-beauty eternal. He renews your youth-you're always young in his presence." Psalm 68:19 says, "Praise the Lord; praise God our savior! For each day he carries us in his arms."

What has God done for you? Make a list. Recall all that God has done.

There's one more key to developing a grateful heart:

3. RESOLVE TO GIVE THANKS IN EVERY CIRCUMSTANCE

Many of us are waiting for ideal circumstances before we're thankful. If you're like me, you're always waiting for things to get better. For our health to improve. For our relationships to improve. For the bills to be paid. For the time when we can sit back in our lazy chair and say, "Life is good. I'm finally thankful."

But that's not what the Bible says. We're to give thanks in every circumstance - even when life isn't going well. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, "Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." Now, circle the word "in". That's one of the most important words to keep you from misinterpreting this verse. It does not say "Give thanks for every circumstance." That's often a misinterpretation you hear with TV preachers. They'll say things like, "You should give thanks for everything." The Bible doesn't teach that. It says give thanks in every circumstance. You have a flat tire. Do you say, "Thank God"? You just had a car wreck ... "Praise the Lord!" Be serious. That's loony Christianity, not biblical Christianity.

You don't have to give thanks for evil in the world. If my children were murdered I would not be thankful. If my wife came down with cancer, I would not be thankful. When there is a war with one country against the other, I'm not thankful for the war. The Bible does not say be thankful for evil. It says, "In every circumstance give thanks." Not for every circumstance. What's the difference?

Even out of bad God can bring good. In every circumstance, no matter how bad it is, you can give thanks to God because (a) I know He has a purpose bigger than the problem and (b) He will give me the power to overcome the problem, and (c) I will grow through the experience if I allow it to help me grow. In every circumstance. Even in the evil that happens in the world I can be thankful because I know God is greater than the problem.

A lot of people ask, "What is God's will is for my life?" It's right there. "Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will." You want to know God's will for your life? "In everything give thanks." In fact, if you're not experiencing the attitude of gratitude you're out of God's will. If you are experiencing this attitude of gratitude, I'll make you a promise: it doesn't matter what circumstances you're under. You're experiencing the healthiest emotion. You have a grateful heart. You have the greatest stress reliever known to man.

How can I be grateful when I've lost so much? I've lost my job, I've lost my health, I've lost my husband or wife. How can I be thankful in that situation? You look not at what you've lost. You look at what you have left. And you have an awful lot left. You're still alive. You look at what you have left.

A friend of mine lost his wife. In the hospital waiting room one night, someone asked him, "How can you say you still love God? God is taking away your wife. How can you say you love him?" My friend said, "God gave me my wife. He allowed me to be married to her for decades. Why do I love God? I love him for giving me my wife in the first place."

So the question is: What are you taking for granted? Your health? Your freedom? Your relationships? In everything give thanks. Gratitude is a stress reliever because it gets your eyes off the problem and puts it on the positive things in your life.

Colossians 3:17 says, "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." Whatever you do, give thanks.

Mother Theresa told this story in an address to the National Prayer Breakfast in 1994:

One evening we went out, and we picked up four people from the street. And one of them was in a most terrible condition. I told the sisters, "You take care of the other three; I will take care of the one who looks worst."

So I did for her all that my love could do. I put her in bed, and there was such a beautiful smile on her face. She took hold of my hand as she said two words only: "Thank you." Then she died. I could not help but examine my conscience before her. And I asked: What would I say if I were in her place? And my answer was very simple. I would have tried to draw a little attention to myself. I would have said, "I am hungry, I am dying, I am in pain," or something. But she gave me much more; she gave me her grateful love. And she died with a smile on her face. Gratitude brings a smile and becomes a gift.

I don't know what you are going through this morning, but I will tell you one thing. You can be grateful. You can give thanks to God no matter what circumstance you're in. Recognize that everything that you have is a gift from God. Recall all that God has done. And resolve to give thanks no matter what circumstance you're in.

Let's pray.

The attitude of gratitude can do a miracle in your life. It releases the power of God when we thank Him, when we praise Him. It frees you from being dissatisfied, stressed out, and joyless.

Today, instead of complaining about your problems, start counting your blessings. Instead of looking at what you've lost, start looking at all you have left. Say today, "Dear Jesus Christ, today I realize how everything I have is a gift from you. I thank you for the peace that you offer me through prayer. I thank you, Lord for the list of things I can write down that you have given me as I count my blessings. I acknowledge that you have been at work in my life, even in the difficult circumstances.

I pray, Lord, that you would help me to show my gratitude by singing, and serving and giving and telling others. I pray this in Jesus' name. Amen."

How to Protect Your Church

This morning we're wrapping up our series called "Get Connected" with a message on how to protect your church. This morning when you left your house, you locked the door. When you came to your car, you unlocked the car. Some of you have security systems that you had to disarm. Others of you not only unlocked your car and disarmed your security system, but you had to take the Club off your steering wheel. Now, others of you left your door unlocked and your keys in the ignition and a sign on your dashboard saying, "Please steal me. I need the insurance." But you know the basic rule:

If it's valuable, it's worth protecting.

Psalm 133:1 reads, "How wonderful it is, how pleasant, when brothers live together in harmony!" Many of you have experienced how wonderful church can be when you're unified. You've experienced the camaraderie and health that comes when a church is truly unified.

But others of you have seen the flip side of unity. You've seen church fights. You've even seen church splits. As a student pastor, one of my first deacon's meetings was underway when a fight between the pastor and one of the deacons broke out. Now, it wasn't a fistfight. But in a matter of minutes, angry words were exchanged and both the deacon and the pastor went storming out. The rest of us sat there staring at each other, unsure of what to do. But I've seen the flip side of church unity.

Unity is absolutely essential if the church is going to go anywhere. In a family, you need more than the same last name in order to be healthy. In a baseball team, you need more than the same uniform in order to function as a team. And in the church, you need more than attending the same service in order to be unified.

Unity is a key theme in the Bible. The Bible talks more about unity in the church than it does about heaven or hell. It's that important. Churches are made up of people. And there are no perfect people. So, people get into conflict with each other. We need to learn how to deal with it.

Why is unity important in the church? Five reasons:

1. JESUS PRAYED FOR IT. In John 17:21, Jesus prayed, "My prayer for all of them is that they will be one." Jesus prayed for unity. The world will be won when they find a church that is one. When you find a church in which the people really love each other, you'll have to lock the doors to keep people out. They're looking for a place where there can be love, warmth, acceptance, and healing. Jesus prayed for the unity of the church.

2. THE CHURCH IS A FELLOWSHIP. Acts 2:42 says, "They joined with the other believers and devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, sharing in the Lord's Supper and in prayer." In the Bible, the church is called a fellowship. If you destroy the unity and harmony of the church, you destroy the fellowship. If you destroy the fellowship, then there is no church. The church is a fellowship.

3. UNITY IS OUR TOP PRIORITY. Ephesians 4:3 tells us, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." One of your primary concerns has to be promoting unity within the church. The Holy Spirit has given us unity. Our job is to promote that unity within the church. 1 Corinthians 1:10 says, "Let there be real harmony so there won't be divisions in the church."

4. UNITY IS A WITNESS TO THE WORLD. In John 13:34-35, Jesus said, "So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples." When a church is loving, there is harmony and unity. When people walk in, they say, "There is something going on here." They don't know what it is, but it's like the air is electric. People who don't have anything in common and who come from backgrounds love one another. What draws us together is not our common background or common intelligence, or our economic status, race, or whatever. It's the Holy Spirit in our hearts. That's what produces unity, and it's a witness to the world.

5. GOD BLESSES THE UNIFIED CHURCH. Listen to Acts 2:46-47: "They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord's Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity—all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved." When God wants to put a bunch of new believers into a church, it's as if God looks for the warmest incubator he can find. He looks for a church that he can trust with baby believers. Ten times in the first five chapters of Acts, it says things like, "They met together continually... All the believers were of one heart and mind." Ten times it talks about unity in the first five chapters of Acts. When a church develops the unity of the book of Acts, along with it comes the power of the church of Acts and the growth of the church of Acts. You can't stop a unified church. Snowflakes are frail, but if enough of them stick together you can stop traffic. Individually, we can't do a lot on our own, but together we can make an impact in Toronto.

We need church unity.

I thought that this would be a good time to deal with this since there was no major problem going on right now. It's important to talk about this because if there's one tool that the evil one is going to use against our church, it is disunity.

Churches are famous for being disunified. One church had a business meeting. When the vote was counted, the moderator reported to the meeting, "Officially, the results of the vote are forty ‘yes,' seven ‘no,' and one ‘over my dead body.'" There are some "over my dead body" churches.

One of the factors that attracted me to Richview is the fact that you have never had a church split. As newcomers have come to Richview, they have told me that they feel warmth and a love here. Do we have our challenges? Of course. I was thinking of the differences between Pastor Ed and me the other day. One of us was born in Canada; one of us was born in Angola. One of us likes hair on his head but not his face; the other likes hair on his face but not on his head. One is a golfer; the other is a duffer. We went to different schools. We like different foods. Unity can be challenging when diversity is present. But, as I said at the beginning, "If it's valuable, it's worth protecting."

When a church doesn't protect its unity, it becomes unhealthy. It begins to disintegrate. People begin to leave the church. Now, people can leave the church in healthy ways. They may leave the church due to illness, job transfers, or because they're sent out to minister. But people may also leave the church due to divisiveness and unresolved personal conflict. Some people say that unresolved personal conflict is the number one reason why people leave the church.

How can I protect my church? By following God's commands in three areas:

1. I WILL PROTECT MY RELATIONSHIPS

When I used to go to church, I thought that I came to hear a sermon. I knew that I had friends at church, but I thought that was beside the point. I thought that worship was beside the point. I thought that the main reason I went to church was to hear a sermon every week.

It was a long time before I realized that Christianity is about one thing: relationships. I told you last week that if you don't have a relationship with Jesus Christ, you've missed the whole point of what the Bible is about. Christianity isn't about theology or Bible knowledge. It's not about going to church. It's about only one thing: knowing Jesus Christ. Jesus said in John 17:3, "And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth." The whole point of the Bible is that you would know Jesus Christ and have a relationship with him. That's the purpose for which Jesus came to this earth. You can have a relationship with God beginning today. All you have to do is come to him, admit your need for him, turn away from your sins, and fo llow him. You can do this today.

Once you've done this, you need to realize that Christianity is about loving others. Galatians 5:14 says, "The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'" You can't please God unless you keep this command. Love is the summary of what God expects from you.

The Bible calls the church the "family of God." 1 Timothy 3:15 says, "I want you to know how people who are members of God's family must live. God's family is the church." Ephesians 2:20 says, "So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God's holy people. You are members of God's family." It doesn't say that we are like a family. It says that we are a family.

We are commanded to protect our relationships by taking two actions:

BY ACCEPTING ONE ANOTHER - Romans 15:7 says, "So accept each other just as Christ has accepted you; then God will be glorified." We need to accept others. This means that we need to accept people where they are and not where we want them to be. It means separating our preferences from right and wrong. It means refusing to major on minors.
Colossians 3:11 says, "Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all." I never knew what a Scythian was until I did a bit of research. The Greek historian Herodotus writes this about Scythians:

In what concerns war, their customs are the following: The Scythian soldier drinks the blood of the first man he overthrows in battle. Whatever number he slays, he cuts off all their heads, and carries them to the king...He scrapes the scalp clean of flesh, and softening it by rubbing between the hands, uses it thenceforth as a napkin...The skull is used as a drinking cup. They do the same with the skulls of their own kith and kin if they have been at feud with them, and have vanquished them in the presence of the king.

When Paul says that there is no difference between a Scythian and a believer, Paul is saying that our acceptance must go beyond national privilege, religious background, culture, and social class. We need to accept others no matter if we would have chosen to or not.

This sounds great because we don't have too many Scythians around today. But think of a group that really bothers you, and substitute it for the word "Scythians." This could be the group that dresses down to church. It could be those who don't. It could be those who like a different type of music or have different hair. These are our Scythians.

Whenever we get into a dispute, we need to stop and say, "Time out! Let's look at this. Is this a disputable matter or is it really essential?" If it's essential, then we need to deal with it. If it's not an essential, the Bible says accept. "Accept each other just as Christ has accepted you; then God will be glorified."

A second way to protect our relationships is by...

WATCHING OUR TONGUES - Someone told me the other week that they were out golfing with some friends. Her friend hit a birdie, and someone in the group said, "What an expert shot!" Then, without thinking, this individual said, "Golf is a game that involves a lot of luck." It's easy to say words and then wish we could take them back! Words hold great power.

Ephesians 4:29 says, "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen." The word unwholesome means rotten. It's not only rotten and putrid, but it also spreads rottenness. In connection with talk, it's referring to malicious gossip and slander. Anything that injures others and sparks dissension is covered by the expression.

Your tongue can either spread contamination, or it can spread health. The alternative to speaking rotten words is to speak words that will benefit others.

The Bible says to control your tongue. The Bible says in James 3 that's a mark of maturity. I don't care how much doctrine I may know, but if I gossip, I'm immature. Gossip is a sign of immaturity.

When we have a problem with someone, what should we do? The Bible gives us the answer in Matthew 18:15-17. It's God's method of conflict resolution. Listen to it from the Message paraphrase:

If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you've made a friend. If he won't listen, take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he still won't listen, tell the church. If he won't listen to the church, you'll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God's forgiving love.

The guideline is this: if you have a problem with a person, then talk to that person. Gossip is when you're sharing a problem or criticism with someone who's neither part of the problem, nor part of the solution. If you have a problem with someone, talk to them. Watch your tongue.

This is the first area in which we can protect our church: by protecting our relationships. The second area is this:

2. I WILL FOCUS ON OUR COMMON PURPOSE

Twice in my life, I have made the same mistake. I arranged a babysitter, but forgot to arrange the place. Usually, when someone baby-sits, they come to your place. But both times, I bundled up my baby and took them to the babysitter's home. They weren't there. They were at my house.

Have you ever thought you agreed with someone, but ended up in different directions? 1 Corinthians 1:10 says, "Now, dear brothers and sisters, I appeal to you by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ to stop arguing among yourselves. Let there be real harmony so there won't be divisions in the church. I plead with you to be of one mind, united in thought and purpose." I wouldn't join a church if I didn't know where it was going. You wouldn't get in a vehicle if you didn't know the destination.

The problem with organizations (and people) is this: they tend to lose focus on their mission and become stagnant over time. Churches need to regularly consult the Bible and to listen to what God says about our church.

How should we be unified? Paul mentions three ways:

  • In what we say - He says, "stop arguing." When you're arguing, you can't listen. The rhetoric is flying so fast that you don't have time to hear what the other person has to say. When disagreements come up, watch what you say.
  • In what we join - "Let there be real harmony so there won't be divisions in the church." Many times, factions begin to form within the church. We begin to seek out others who think the way that we do, and agree with us on the issues that are important to us. Pretty soon we're not around those who disagree with us. We become divided. Guard against divisions. Don't join groups in the church on the basis of disagreements.
  • In what we think - "I plead with you to be of one mind, united in thought and purpose." We need to be united around God's purpose.

What is the mission of Richview? It's one that we share with every other church in the world. We may express it differently, but the mission is the same. It's to lead all people to become fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. This is God's eternal purpose for the church - the reason why the church was established.

What's our vision? In other words, what is God's specific call for our congregation? We're in the process of discovering that. It's "a clear, shared, compelling picture of the preferred future to which God is calling the congregation" (Leading Congregationa l Change, p.51). It's the process of discovering what God is doing in our church, and joining him. We're in the exciting process of discovering what God has in store for Richview.

We have a responsibility to follow God in this process - to choose God's purpose for our church over our preferences or our comfort. In politics, unity comes from compromise. But in the church, unity comes from seeking the will of God. We don't have the right to compromise on the will of God.

God has called us to be obedient to the Great Commission (to make disciples) and the Great Commandment (to love one another). He's called us, as Pastor Ed said, to be a hospital for sinners, not a hotel for saints. I need to protect my church by focusing together on our common purpose.

There's one more way that we can protect our church:

3. I WILL SUPPORT MY PASTORS AND LEADERS

Hebrews 13:17 says, "Obey your spiritual leaders and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they know they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this joyfully and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit."

This verse tells us the pastor's job. What's the pastor's job? To watch over your souls. The word has the connotation of staying awake at night - of being spiritually alert. The pastor's job is to care for the deep issues of your life - to watch over your souls.

This verse also tells us the pastor's boss. "They know they are accountable to God." This verse says that one day I will stand before God and give account for how I watched over your souls. God is going to hold the pastors of this church accountable for the spiritual direction and the maturity of those he has brought under my care. We are going to be accountable for the direction of this church.

This verse also tells us your job. "Obey...and do what they say." The words go against our culture today. They have the meaning of yielding and submitting. It seems that this wasn't happening among the Hebrews. Your pastors will have to give an account to God for how they watched over you. You will have to give an account to God for how you followed your pastors.

You don't have to get carried away with praising him. A woman leaving the worship service said to the minister, "I enjoyed the sermon." "Don't thank me. Thank the Lord," said the minister. "It wasn't that good," the lady replied.

Another young pastor was making farewell visits to his congregation before moving to another church. Visiting a homebound member, whom he had called on regularly, the pastor carefully explained why he was leaving. The woman sighed deeply and said, "Well, we'll never have another minister as good as you've been."

The young man blushed, scuffing his feet along the floor. "Oh, I'm sure your next pastor will be excellent." The woman shook her head with determination. "You don't understand," she said. "I've been here through five pastors and each one has been worse than the last."

You don't have to get carried away in praising your pastor. But you do need to follow and support him. You need to pray for him. You need to learn the art of followership.

God has blessed us at Richview. How can we protect what God has given us? By protecting our relationships. By focusing on our common purpose. By supporting our pastors and leaders. Because if it's valuable, it's worth protecting.

Let's pray.

If you haven't yet become part of God's family, you can join it today. The Bible says, "But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12). All you have to do is to believe in him and accept him - to come to him and admit turn away from your sins. He paid the punishment for all that you've done wrong, and he wants you to be part of his family. Pray, "Lord, I come to you and accept you as the Lord of my life. I turn away from all that I've done, and pledge to follow you with the rest of my life."

If you've done that, congratulations! You're part of God's family.

It may be that you've been part of God's family, but you've never taken the step of being baptized or of joining this church. If you're a follower of Jesus, then you need to be baptized. It's a command of God. You can be baptized next week. You can join this church; become part of this family. Pray, "Lord, thank you for Richview. Help me as I take the next step in following you."

Heavenly Father, I thank you for our church family and for the fellowship and the unity that we do have. Thank you that we've never had a split in our church, that the fellowship and the harmony have always been maintained and there's been great joy and your hand has been on our church and you've blessed it.

Today we commit ourselves to being agents for unity in the church, to squelch dissention by showing love, by showing an attitude of acceptance, by teaching people the difference between disputable matters and essentials. Help us to model an attitude that shows no gossip in our lives, that shows respect for leadership, that shows willingness to confront individuals when there's been a problem, but to do it speaking the truth in love. Thank you for our family. Thank you for our fellowship. In Jesus' name. Amen.