I am so ungrateful.
I read a story the other day of a young man with a bandaged hand that walked into a post office. As he approached the clerk at the desk the young man asked, “Excuse me, sir, could you please address this post card for me?” The clerk, after noticing the boys bandaged hand, obliged his request and even wrote a message on the card.
The clerk then asked, “Is there anything else I can do for you?” The young man looked at the card for a moment and then said, “Yes, add a P.S.: ‘Please excuse the handwriting.’”
If there is one thing I love about the Thanksgiving holiday it’s that life tends to slow down just enough for me to consider the many blessings that I have been given. It is the one time a year where I am forced to stop and think hard about all the things that I am thankful for—and I find that my life is very long.
Sadly, this reveals something about me, and how I live my life the rest of the year. Like the young man in the story, I realize that I have a propensity to live everyday as an ungrateful person. It takes a single holiday every year to force me to into thinking hard about the things I am thankful for. Which only shows how ungrateful I tend to be.
The good news is God knows how stubbornly ungrateful I am and all of his people tend to be, and he wants to help us learn how to be thankful. He does this by giving us reminders of his many blessings and promises. All throughout Scripture, God has provided his people with unique reminders that help them to never forget the things he has done.
Most people in our generation live everyday by a calendar or alarm on their phone that reminds them of something important. These are wonderful tools that enable us to be efficient and not miss out on the things we are supposed to do. Events like birthdays, holidays, meetings, phone calls, dates, and even prayer times all tend to make it into our phones to help us remember. God has done something similar.
When Joshua crossed over the river into the land of Canaan, the children of Israel were to set up large stones in the water to remind them of God’s protection and guidance. God gave them festivals and holidays to remind them of how he delivered, saved, and chose them as his special people. All these and more were simple reminders to cause the nation of Israel to worship the Lord and Him alone.
In the New Testament, Jesus instituted communion (The Lord’s Supper) as a sacred act, which was to be done often so that his disciples would remember what he did for them—and the response was to be gratitude for his grace.
Our propensity to forget is a mark of our brokenness. Because of this, we should view remembering and gratitude as a discipline, a daily and intentional act, a conscious choice. I love the Thanksgiving holiday and I use it as a means of remembering God’s acts and promises of grace in my life. However,
if you and I limit the discipline of gratitude to just a few moments in the calendar year, we will gradually neglect the work of God in our lives and never truly live in the grace he has abundantly provided.
Here are three things to remember this thanksgiving in order to cultivate a regular discipline of gratitude:
First, remember what God has done in the past. Think about all the things that he has done for you. The things he has protected you from or allowed in your life to bring you closer to him. Of course, remember the gospel: that Christ came and died and rose again; that he bore your shame and guilt and punishment on the cross; that he was forsaken so that you can be forgiven. Remember that by faith in the gospel you are now a child of God, brought into a royal family, and you will never again be alone or rejected.
Second, remember the present. Take a moment to look around (yeah, right now, look around) and think of how blessed you are, both materially and spiritually. There are people who love and care about you.
Along with being ungrateful people, we can also be complainers. It is hard to be grateful on the present when all we do is complain about our circumstances. Choose in this very moment to be grateful and be content with what God has provided.
Third, remember our future. I know it sounds like an oxymoron, to remember the future, but God has given us in his word a glimpse into our future as believers. We can look at our world and the moral climate of our country and be fearful and complain. But the Bible tells us that our citizenship is not here; it is in heaven, an eternal resting place prepared by Christ for his people. Therefore, like Moses, we look for a city whose builder and maker is God. That is my future, and it is yours, too!
Don’t let Thanksgiving be the only time of the year that you decide to be grateful. Instead, cultivate a discipline of thankfulness everyday for all that the Lord has done.
“Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” (Genesis 2:18 ESV)
Maybe you know the feeling. Your eyes accidentally connect with theirs; your heart skips a beat; the world pauses, and nothing else matters for one moment; you feel those loud soundtracks of excitement and passion singing in your soul as you imagine your lives being forever bound together. Romantic relationships are some of the most exciting things that happen in our lives, but they can also be some of the most devastating. Many people spend wasted years in romantic relationships that only leave them with heartache at the end. Why do we do this over and over?
The main thing that we are searching for in a romantic relationship is to be both fully known and fully loved. We want to absolutely adore the person we are with, but we also want to know them in a genuine way. In the same way, we want someone who will see all of our faults and still accept us and love us unconditionally. Each of us has this desire to be loved and known. We look for it in friendships and family, but mostly in romantic relationships. Most people believe that if they can find that person who fulfills them, they will be happy, satisfied, and completed because they’ve found true love.
Of course, we were never meant to find complete satisfaction in anyone except God, but so many still try to find it in a broken person. We are seeking to be saved by someone other than the Savior, and that will always lead to failure. Often, we put so much of our heart and soul into a dating relationship, only to find that it doesn’t go in the direction we wanted it to.
Even though we will never find complete satisfaction in another person, we can experience some level of fulfillment in the relationship that most mirrors our relationship with God: marriage.
When you’re dating someone, you’re trying to fulfill this desire to be fully known and fully loved in a relationship that doesn’t have any real commitment. As much as you may believe or say that you are committed to the other person, it can end at any time. Because of that fact, you are unable to fully know and fully love or be fully known and fully loved. Solomon warned to “not stir up nor awaken love until it pleases” (Song of Solomon 3:5) because he knew the pain of beginning relationships before the right time.
In marriage, the Lord says to husbands, “Love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Just as Christ sees all of our faults and sacrificed everything for our good, husbands must do the same for their wives. As a result, wives are called to love and respect their husbands even in their faults. The gospel is the model for marriage.
Christ left the Father to be joined to His bride, the church, and this is the blueprint for marriage. Genesis 2 explains that “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (verse 24). Just as Christ sought us and was united with us, spouses are united to each other. It is in this uniting that we are able to fully know our spouses, which is a picture of Christ and the church—something Paul calls “a great mystery.” This happens by having every aspect of our lives intertwined and being entirely acquainted with every failure, weakness, strength, and triumph we have. But even with this intimate knowledge, a godly marriage that is modeled on the gospel will choose to fully love. It is this commitment to love, no matter what happens, that makes marriage the only place that true fulfillment can occur in romantic relationships.
We want a true love that will last forever. We want to be loved in our faults and love someone in theirs, and that will never happen outside of genuine, deep, lasting commitment. So we should stop wasting time in relationships that will never lead to marriage. And we should do everything to grow in our understanding of the gospel to prepare us for the person we will eventually marry. If we can profoundly know and apply the gospel, we will be ready to enter into marriage, where we can know the love of God in a deeper way through the love of another person.
Search the Scriptures:
- Genesis 2:18
- Ephesians 5:22–33
- Hebrews 13:4
- Matthew 19:6
Questions to Consider:
- If marriage is the goal, when is the right time to start pursuing romantic relationship?
- How is the gospel the model for relationships?
- What does it mean to be fully known and fully loved? Why is marriage the only relationship that will allow this to happen?
- Have you tried to find satisfaction in dating relationships? How has that worked out?
- What can you do to prepare yourself for marriage?
One of the major difficulties in preaching sermons is not trying to figure out what to say, instead, it’s knowing what not to say because of time constraints. This gets really hard when the things that are left out are so good you wish you had more time to add it in. Fortunately, blog sites like this [activatehighschool.com], and other forms of social media, provide the extra time and space for the conversation to continue.
Last week, we learned about Friendship in our Fleet series. In the sermon we learned about the uniqueness of friendship in comparison to the other human connections we encounter. We also looked at four different forms of friendships that are common to our experience in life. The concluding thought forced all of us to come to grips with the sobering truth that no one is a perfect friend. However, fortunate for us, we have a Savior who calls us friends and loves us like no one ever could. We invite you to click on the media tab and listen to the podcast of the sermon titled “Friendship” and continue to follow along in this Fleet series.
Below is a bullet point list of thoughts on friendship that were not explicitly put in the sermon because time didn’t allow. I hope that as you read over them you will be both challenged and encouraged in this amazing gift of friendship. These quotes were taken from: Conformed to His Image by K. Boa, Pg. 235-236.
- Relatively few of us experience true friendship. There is a spectrum of intimacy that ranges from acquaintances to companionship to untested friendship to the intimacy of established friendship (tested by time and fire). What many people call friends are more likely to be acquaintances or companions.
- It requires and intentional investment of valuable time and energy to cultivate and maintain special friendships.
- C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves observes that friendship is the least natural of human loves, since it is not driven by instinct, necessity, or survival value. In addition, true friendship is the least jealous of the loves, and it is essentially free from the need to be needed.
- Quality friendships are characterized by trust, openness, mutual respect, honesty, and self-disclosure. There is no need for pretense in a real friendship; you can dare to be yourself. A friend accepts and understands you, and this includes your faults as well as your strengths.
- Friendship is founded on sharing a basic consensus of beliefs; it is built on caring about the same truth.
- True friendship is revealed in times of crisis. Times of adversity and distress test the reality of friendship (Prov. 27:10; 17:17).
- The highest level of friendship includes the dynamic of covenant and commitment. In this covenant relationship, two people agree to walk together for life in trust and loyalty (Prov. 18:24; Eccl. 4:9-12)
- Spiritual friends believe in each other, build into one another’s lives, and encourage each other to grow in their relationship with God. They are faithful, and they are willing to ask tough questions to keep one another honest. They sharpen (Prov. 27:17), counsel (Prov. 27:9), and encourage one another (Heb. 3:13).
- A real friend rebukes when necessary and is candid and truthful (Prov. 17:10; 18:24; 27:6).
- Lasting friendships keep confidences (Prov. 17:9), listen attentively and empathetically (Prov. 18:13), and do not seek to control or manipulate
“A man of too many friends comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Proverbs 18:24, NASB)
Of all the topics in this Fleet series, friendship is one of the most unique and wonderful of all human connections. Often friendships begin by a mutual interest (going to the same school, having the same hobbies, playing on the same team, growing up in the same neighborhood, etc.). These common interests help to establish a foundation, and from there they can grow into meaningful friendships that add a special joy and unique benefits to life. The benefits of having a true friend are incredibly valuable and the wise person seeks them out and cultivates genuine connections.
One unique aspect of friendship is that people have the power to choose their friends. We don’t have a choice in our family but we do choose the people we hang out with. This is important because a wise person chooses his friends carefully knowing that friendships tend to define you; as the cliché goes, “you are who you hang out with.” It is good to know that the two most important influences in people’s lives are their parents and their peers. Various seasons and situations in life determine which of these two influences will have the most weight; nevertheless, they tend to define us. Fortunately, we have a choice in friendships and a wise person chooses carefully.
Friendships are also not based upon emotion or physical attraction. When a guy starts a friendship with a girl, nine times out of ten it is because he is interested in her romantically, or vice versa. While romantic relationships are highly emotional and require a lot of effort, time, and cultivation, friendships are different. They are not forced or even started from a biologically human desire for intimate connection from someone of the opposite sex. As C.S. Lewis described it, “there is nothing throaty about it; nothing that quickens the pulse or turns you red and pale.” When your friend walks into the room, it is doubtful your heart rate increases or your palms get sweaty. Friendships are unique because there isn’t the added drama of emotional stress or romantic pressure. They allow us to simply enjoy another person’s company.
Friendships are not based upon what can be gained but instead on what can be given.
A true friend is not someone who is looking to suck the life out of you and then leave the empty carcass. A true friend adds to your life and even makes sacrifices for you. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Friends go the extra mile with you. They are secret keepers and they cover up your mistakes. Friends will tell you when you have a booger in your nose or when you have something in your teeth. A friend will tell you the truth even when it hurts because they have nothing to lose (see Proverbs 27:6). A friend answers when you call or quickly calls you back. True friendships are based upon what you can give, not gain.
Lastly, friendships are unique because few people genuinely experience it in their lives. Sure, we all know people and people know us. But to have a friend that is closer to you than a sibling (see Proverbs 18:24)—that is a rare thing. Friendships like these have a foundation thicker than blood. This is often experienced in the body of Christ. The faith that connects you to a brother or sister in Christ should be far greater than any earthly human connection. A friend in the faith is an eternal friend. What makes this difficult is that few want to exercise the honesty and transparency this type of friendship requires. Only those people who know what unconditional love is can experience true friendship.
With that in mind, here is a sobering thought: no one is a perfect friend and all earthly friendships will fall short of our human need for connection and community—only Jesus is a perfect friend. Jesus is a friend of sinners. He is the perfect model of what it means to be a friend. He laid down His life for us. He accepted us when we didn’t deserve it. He associates Himself with us at the risk of His own reputation. He not only covers up our mistakes but also takes the consequences of them on Himself and receives our guilt and shame. Jesus is the greatest friend anyone could ever have. Jesus said in John 15, “I have called you friends,” which is wonderfully unique.
Search the Scriptures:
- Proverbs 16:28; 17:9, 17; 18:24; 27:5–10
- John 15; 13:15
- James 4:4
Questions to Consider:
- How would you define a friend?
- Why do you think it is important to choose godly friends?
- How does being a friend of Jesus shape your current friendships?
- How can you be friends with non-Christians but not love the world? What purposes do you have in these types of friendships and what boundaries should you have?
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” — Acts 2:42
Christians often throw around the word fellowship in the church. But what does fellowship mean? What does it look like? And what is its purpose? Fellowship is defined as a group of people meeting to pursue a shared interest or aim. It is opposed to isolation, solitude, and confinement. Fellowship can also mean having a relationship that involves working together and caring for one another like a family member. With this understanding, Christians are called to come together for the ultimate goal and purpose, which to pursue God and to encourage one another.
If you go back to the beginning of creation and look at how God designed the Garden of Eden, you’ll see that Adam and Eve were created to enjoy fellowship with God and also each other. But when they rebelled against God and took of the forbidden fruit, the fellowship between God and man was compromised. Adam and Eve hid themselves from the presence of God as He was walking in the garden. However, God immediately sought them out and revealed His plan for the ultimate restoration of sinners through the work of the Redeemer. Jesus paid the sacrifice for our sins and reconciled us back to the father, restoring the relationship we once had with God.
Fellowship has two components: vertical (with God) and horizontal (with other believers).
Fellowship with God is simply having an ongoing relationship with Him in daily reading, prayer, and worshiping Him. To have true fellowship with God, we are called to walk in the light, as Christ is in the light. 1 John 1:6 says, “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” This passage tells us that if we are trying to live our lives apart from God, we prove that we do not have a real relationship with Him. So to have vertical fellowship with God means to turn from sin and trust fully in Him.
As a result of our vertical fellowship with God, we are able to have horizontal relationships with others. It goes on to say in 1 John 1:7, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another . . .” For Christians to have horizontal fellowship we need to be encouraging one another to put off sin and to walk in the freedom that Jesus has called us to live in. This means that if we don’t practice sin, we are able to have true meaningful fellowship with one another.
Fellowship is much deeper than mere social activity. It involves coming together for spiritual purposes, such as prayer, discussion, and sharing God’s Word to encourage, comfort, and edify one another. Therefore, fellowship is not limited to any building or place, but it can happen anywhere God’s people are.
One of the main reasons we come to church is to have fellowship with God and with one another. Some of us tend to take church for granted, viewing it as a social gathering and nothing more. We miss out on remarkable opportunities to encourage, love, and pray for each other if we are not actively seeking fellowship with other believers. God did not make us to be alone; we need each other. Hebrews 10:24–25 tells us, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another . . .” God’s great design for fellowship is for us to motivate, encourage, and love one another as we run the race of faith, looking unto Jesus together.
Search the Scriptures:
- Acts 2:42
- Hebrews 10:24–25
- Romans 15:1–7
- 1 John 1:3
Questions to Consider:
- Why do you think that fellowship is such an important aspect when it comes to our personal relationship with God?
- Hebrews 10:24 tells us to stir up one another to “love and good works.” How can we practically do that with other believers?
- Look at your life right now. Do you have consistent godly fellowship? If not, what can you do to change that?
Fleet: A group of ships sailing together, engaged in the same activity, under the same ownership.
There are a lot of metaphors in Scripture that are used to describe what it means to be united to Christ and to one another (e.g., body, temple, vine, etc.). The metaphor of a fleet is helpful because it takes common words and connects them simply by their ending: ship. The six topics that will be discussed in this new series at Activate on Wednesday nights are: Fellow·ship, Friend·ship, Relation·ship, Leader·ship, Disciple·ship, Steward·ship.
Therefore, the Fleet series is a study of a group of ships. As you think about these words, one thing you should notice is that none of them are possible without multiple people involved. So, in taking the metaphor a little further, we learn: as disciples of Christ, we are like a fleet of ships sailing together (community), engaged in the same activity (love), and are under the same ownership (Christ’s).
Are you ready to sail the open seas and take an adventure exploring the wonders of Christian community? As Jack Sparrow once said, “Bring me that horizon.”
We will also discuss these topics in our small groups with our Fleet Study Guide. Make sure you download it, read it, and use it to take notes on Wednesday nights at Activate!
We just finished our “One Thing” series at Activate, where we looked at all of the “one thing” statements in the Bible. We learned how there are tons of things that call for our attention and dedication in this life, things that are really important, totally trivial, and things that are somewhere in between. But in the midst of everything we do, we should have our focus on one thing. We illustrated this point about us staying focused on what matters most by using Post-it notes. There are Post-it notes all around us reminding us of things we need to do, but there should be one that sticks out among the rest.
Ironically, we looked at five things in our One Thing series:
- To have true faith (Mark 10:17-22)
- To be amazed by grace (John 9:25)
- To sit with Jesus (Luke 10:38-42)
- To be in God’s presence (Psalm 27:4)
- To pursue the goal of God’s call (Philippians 3:13-14)
All of these “one thing” statements come from different people, at different times in their lives, because of different needs that they had. It was the one thing they needed from the Lord at that time, in that moment.
- A rich young ruler, who valued possessions over Jesus, and who needed true faith.
- A blind man, who received physical sight, which allowed him to truly see spiritually and to receive grace.
- Mary and Martha, who were both serving Jesus, yet in totally different ways—one which was most needed.
- David, who was fearful for his life, but wanted to be in the presence of God.
- Paul, who ran from the past to the present goal of his life: to live for Jesus and focus on eternity.
These may be different needs and aspirations, but all of them have one thing in common: they are focused upon the Lord. They all had a type of tunnel vision on how they needed God to show up. Our ultimate goal is to know God and to make Him known, and that will look different for each of us at different times in life. So, what does that look like in your life?
What is the one thing that you need in your life right now? How do you need God to show up and to meet you right where you’re at? And, what is the thing(s) that you need to remove from your life—the Post-it notes you need to throw away—so that you can focus on the One Thing that matters most?
During the final sermon of this series, about 100 students came forward to “throw away” Post-it notes of things they want to remove from their lives, in order to run the race of faith, based on Philippians 3:13-14, “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”
Let’s remove all of the Post-it notes that hinder us from the One whom I lives should truly be centered on! Living for Jesus is the one thing that will impact every other thing in this life!
To listen to the sermons, you can go to our Podcast.