Picture of Pastor Smith

Sermon delivered November 27, 2010 by Pastor Paul Smith

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Biblical quotations are from the New International Version NIV unless otherwise noted. Divine pronouns and titles are capitalized.

Fat, Happy, & Contented

Responsive Reading

(RealAudio available)

I'd like to recount just a little bit of the history of this country. Many ships have plied the sea making their way to this continent. There were curious entrepreneurs on business ventures at sea. Explorers were looking for shorter trading routes and there were settlers hoping for a fresh new start. You can imagine the intrigue and the adventure that  these people felt in their hearts as they boarded ships, left home, and went to a new place. Most schoolchildren can finish the quote, in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue. There were three ships with a crew of 120. Recently those ships were in Chattanooga. The Nina and the Pinta. The Santa Maria was just a little too big. The Vikings of course came to this continent 500 years before Columbus. Many voyages have been made at risk and peril to come to this land and to start a new life.

Several voyages I'd just like to refer to. Sir Francis Drake, you remember, sailed, but also Sir Walter Raleigh and his expedition to Roanoke Island just in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. His colony is known as the lost colony because the trading ships weren't quite regular. The supply ships just didn't come. They were lured, it seems, by wealth that they might receive from a Spanish galleon a little north of the island. And so they weren't their brother's keeper like they might have been. Of course we have Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America. In 1607 Christopher Newport, the London Company, that was a successful voyage and settlement because the supply ships were regular. And then a few years later the Margaret came from England again in 1619 and settled the Beckley hundred. They came up the James River and 36 men got off and they read the official charter which was a pact to praise found in the ship. "We ordain that the day of our ships arrival at this place assigned for plantation in the land of Virginia, shall be yearly and perpetually kept as a day of Thanksgiving to Almighty God." The first Thanksgiving really, official Thanksgiving was probably in Virginia and they worked together to form a colony, a community where life could be sustained. Then we finally come to 1620. The Pilgrim fathers. The landing in Plymouth. 102 passenger started out.  54 of them died on board or during the first winter. They landed November 11, 1620 and within the first year only 45 were left to celebrate and to give thanks to God for their safety.

As these ships made their way, no doubt those who boarded them asked themselves, do I have what it takes to make this voyage? A better question might have been, do we have what it takes? The ships had important cargo but even more important than the cargo were the passengers. They needed each other, and represented in the passenger list were all manner of skills and professions. There were carpenter, smith, joiner, gunmaker, cooper, shingler,  cook, gardener, surgeon, tailor, shoemaker. The butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker. They were all there. These individuals, whether at sea or taming the land, were interdependent. They needed each other. The illness or loss of one was soon felt and became the reality of everyone.

The voyage usually took from 10 to 12 weeks and they were close quarters and illness quickly spread through the ship. The voyages were colorful. There were births on board. A young lad shot off a musket inside the Captain's quarters. There was the changing color of the sea. The sighting of birds and finally seeing land and then going ashore. At times only half survived the trip and it was rough.

Then and now we see in life the reality that we are not islands. That we are blessed and enriched by one another. The experience of the journey. The chores and tasks for the common good were practiced in building community. Taming the wilderness. Building homes. Forming colonies. Founding a nation. And today, as a result of those who traveled before us and sacrificed, we have our society. We have a global economy and we know that none of us are islands because we are part of a very large fabric. This illusion of independence is just that. It's an illusion.

In our community life as a church, we are practicing what God would have us be. God's ideal, his plan, his desire, is that we would blend our lives in such a way that we bless one another and honor Him. To a very large degree our country has been a blessing. We have blessed others. We are a land flowing with milk and honey. A land of opportunity. A generous people. We have been blessed and we have been a blessing to others. We are the benefactors of a gracious God who causes His sun to rise and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust alike. God is good. There is nothing we can do that can cause Him to love us any more and nothing we can do that can cause Him to love us any less. That, my friend, is a gracious, loving, and compassionate God. That's a God I can honor, praise, and worship. I want to know Him. I want to be more like Him.

It's true. Life is not about what we have, but about what we are becoming, and knowing a God like that can change us and transform us. Created in God's image, I am most fulfilled and thriving and joyful when by His grace I follow His lead and reciprocate to Him and to others. I choose to be a joyful recipient and a grateful conduit of God's grace. I want to be more aware of all that I have received and grateful as I give to others around me.  Because I've tasted His love, I will respond in love to others, because after all, we love because He first loved us.  So we receive to give. Receive to give. Our life is like a funnel; catching, gathering, and we are privileged to direct and to share and to be a conduit. Part of the circuit of beneficence.

Preaching has been said to be talking to people about themselves from the Bible. Teaching people the values, the principles, the truths of Scripture and how to live them and motivate them to try. The purpose, this morning, of this sermon is to remind you to remember how good God is and to motivate you to be a grateful recipient and conduit of His grace. To be more conscious and aware and intentional about your living and your giving. There's a Scripture, I think, that will help us remember and it's in Deuteronomy 6. Deuteronomy are the words of Moses. Moses spoke to the people from God. If we want clarity for the future, it's important to be clear about the past, and so Moses was reminding a new generation about God and His blessings and His purposes. Here is what you must do. Here's what you must follow and obey, Moses said. To the younger ones who had traveled and wandered in the wilderness for 40 years and were about to enter the promised land, Moses said, this is what you must do. These are not arbitrary commands. They are consequential guidelines to a better, fuller, more joyful life.

Scripture informs us of the most ultimate reality. Deuteronomy 6:10. Here we have the promise, finally delivered. Deuteronomy 6:10.  So it shall be when the Lord your God brings you into the land of which He swore, or promised, to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give you large and beautiful cities which you did not build. The promise is reiterated throughout Scripture. Began in Genesis 3:15, that we would not be left abandoned but the Messiah would come. That we would be pursued, rescued, cherished.

These people had been wandering. They wanted a place. A sense of place. A place to dwell. You remember they were tent dwellers, bedouins. Terah wanted to settle down and enjoy his grandchildren for a while, and so they settled in Haran and then went on. But they got stuck in Egypt 400 years. God finally led them out and they wandered in the wilderness, of course. But here they're on the verge of the promised land, and the promise is about to be fulfilled. Notice verses 11 and 12. I will give you large and beautiful cities which you did not build. Houses full of all good things which you did not fill. Hewn out wells which you did not dig. Vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant. When you have eaten and are full, then beware lest you forget the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt from the house of bondage.

At our house, or in our household, we're preparing for a baby. Not Linda and I you see, but our son who's here this morning is, and it's exciting to watch that. The planning and preparation is very interesting. All the needs of the baby have been thought of and anticipated and met. At birth each of us comes to a place which is established. Each of us gets a spoon. It may not be a silver spoon. We don't have the blueblood, probably, of royalty, but each of us is a grateful recipient of God's blessings. Our needs are met. We see in the birth of a baby our own personal reality. Do you remember being carried into the house? Well probably not. Do you remember carrying someone in? A young one in. You were brought to a home you did not build full of all manner of good things you didn't provide. There was a well that was dug. Running water. A land flowing with milk and honey. There was a city, a flourishing city, with a community hospital. Perhaps a library. There were vineyards and olive trees. Conveniences. Goods and services. There were interstate highways and railway systems to transport goods. National parks. Freedom to worship. A community of believers. We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. How indebted we are. What a country. What a God. How blessed we are.  Our blessings mirror the experience of Israel as they came into the promised land. Our blessings mirror the experience of our first parents, who on day six of creation week were the recipients, the inheritors of paradise. Of all manner of good things.

But in this passage, Deuteronomy 6, is a very haunting phrase. When your house is full of good things which you did not fill, watch yourself lest you forget the Lord. When you have eaten and are full then beware lest you forget the Lord. Watch out. Be careful. Beware. Don't forget. What do we have that we did not receive? First Corinthians 4. It is God who gives you the power to gain wealth. Deuteronomy 8. All things were made by Him and for Him. Colossians 1. Each of us has received all manner of good things. In reality, each breath we take, each day we enjoy, each year we live, is a gift. God is the creator, provider, sustainer. We must never forget this, and yet, we often forget. That's why God reminds us to remember. Over and over again in Scripture. Remember now thy creator in the days of your youth. Ecclesiastes 12. Remember your creator before the silver cord is severed, before the golden bowl is broken, the pitcher is shattered at the spring, the wheel broken at the well. Remember the Sabbath day and the creator, for in six days the Lord made heaven and earth.

We were created in God's image too, and we're creative, but we merely rearrange what God has provided. I want to be more intentional about remembering my creator. Less concerned with what I have and more concerned with who I am becoming. As we near the close of another year, we might ask ourselves, are we more like Him now than we were a year ago? Please don't forget to remember how good God is, because as we focus, as we admire, as we worship Him, His grace transforms us into His image.

Each of us in our lives as family members, as church members, as community members, we have different roles and responsibilities and we share and give just as we have been shared with and given to. Whether it's living aboard a ship as part of a crew, living in a family at home, living in our church family, doing life together as the Acts 2 church lived, it's always contributing for the common good. It's reciprocal. It's mutual. It's a life of solidarity and oneness. So welcome aboard. Welcome to life. There are times when your family, when our church, when our nation needs all hands on deck, or below deck if there's a leak in the hull. There are times when we need to focus our efforts together. Like raising a barn, or bringing in the crops, or comforting and encouraging someone who is ill. Successful relationships are mutually beneficial and our motivation always is the love that we have received. We love because we have first been loved. We give because we have received. Our loving and giving comes from the source, the provider.

But what about when the cup is half full, or half empty, however you might look at it? What if we aren't enjoying the fat of the land? What if we're not experiencing the good life? What if the greener pasture really isn't greener? What if it's turning brown and dry? What then? Can we still be content and happy? Job had it all. He had the good life and in an afternoon his life was turned around and yet, he was troubled but content. He said, I began with nothing. Naked came I from the womb. His wife said, curse God and die, but Job said, I know I will see Him. I know my heavenly Father.

You become like that which you worship. That's why it's important how you view God, because we are being transformed into the image of the God we serve and worship. Jesus' experience was one of growth. He matured from cradle, as a child, as an apprentice, as a servant, as the master. To the cross. To the throne. For the joy that was set before Him endured the cross. Paul's experience, the apostle, of noble birth, brilliant, a student of Gamaliel. He was an up-and-coming guy. He was an heir of the Sanhedrin, and all that changed. But he still served. Many of you would say it's easy to be content when life is good. When life is the easy street, but Paul's life wasn't easy. He knew what it was like to be in need and to have plenty, yet he found the secret of contentment. He worked. He was in prison. He was flogged. He endured 39 lashes. He was in the open sea overnight, but he endured and he was content.

There is a kernel of truth expressed in a book called All the Kings Men by Robert Penn Warren, and it goes like this. It's part of a journal. I was born in a log cabin in North Georgia in circumstances of poverty and if in later years I've lain soft and supped with silver, may the Lord not let die in my heart the knowledge of frost and of coarse diet, for all men come naked into the world and in prosperity man is prone to evil as sparks fly upward. There's danger in ease and prosperity and we as a nation, perhaps, are paying the price of our prosperity. We don't turn toward God until we have a need, and when life is so good, it's easy to forget our blessings.

So how do you handle the ups and downs of life? The stock portfolio? The 401(k) that now is a 201(k)? The no promotion at work, or no work? Or the mortgage that was denied, or the foreclosure? How do you adjust when the autumn years become the winter years? When the golden years become the colden years. When the shields of gold of Solomon become the shields of brass of Rehoboam? How do you deal with the feeling of being put out to pasture? Can you remember the days of glory? Can you be content even though it's a little different? A little more challenging?

Life is God's curriculum for us. Every nation, every generation, every family, every one, must learn to be happy and content in the midst of it all, regardless of circumstances. Life is good but God is better, and we don't need the good life to be content. We can be happy just knowing that a sovereign God is shaping us, growing us, fashioning us into His image. We were created in the image of God. Yes we are marred. Yes we're blemished. But God's image has not been obliterated. We are God's treasure in earthen vessels.  So embrace life. Look at each day as a chapter, as an episode, where we partner with God, the One who is our potter. Our shepherd. Our master. Our friend. Our beloved.

I am encouraged as I get to know you as a congregation. I'm encouraged as I see in you glimpses of God. Snapshots of grace. I thank God for you. May I remind us of a quote from Ellen White, Help in Daily Living. God never leads His children otherwise than they would choose to be lead if they could see the end from the beginning and discern the glory of His purpose which they are fulfilling as coworkers with Him.

What do we really need? Perhaps God really does know. Yes, he knows. He allows the fork in the road. The twists. The turns. The bumps. If we view the stuff of life as opportunities, events sanctioned by, not always caused by God, but passed through, screened as God's curriculum for our life, to grow us and to shape us into his glory. So each day really is an exciting adventure. With anticipation and curiosity we can embrace life.  So please don't forget to remember how good God is, and in response, I ask you to be a grateful recipient and conduit of His grace, living life like a funnel. I am encouraged by the glimpses of God I see. The snapshots of grace, and I thank God for you.

Hymn of Praise: #559, Now Thank We All Our God
Scripture: Responsive Reading
Hymn of Response: #560, Let All Things Now Living
Sermon Notes:  Sermon notes available as PDF

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McDonald Road Sermon transcribed by Steve Foster 12/3/10