Have you read the letter of Jude lately? It’s a short letter with a bold message, and it’s for all believers everywhere. Jude brings attention to a danger to the faith, and he doesn’t beat around the bush when he writes about it. His passionate appeal is as relevant for us today as it was for first and second generation believers. Are you willing to receive his timeless call to contend for the faith?
Recognizing God’s Blessings
How many blessings have you been given? Our first reaction to that question might be to think, “Compared to whom?” But regardless of our circumstances, we are the recipients of more blessings than we could possibly imagine. God’s goodness to us never ends. He continuously blesses us with countless physical and spiritual blessings in every area of our lives. If we would just open our eyes, we would see that we truly are blessed beyond belief!
Series: Blessed Beyond Belief
Sermon 1: Recognizing God’s Blessings
I want to ask you to take your Bibles and turn to Psalm 103. We’re going to look at a couple of verses from there in just a few minutes, and then one in Ephesians chapter 1. And then we’re going to look at about 800 other verses that I’m not even going to ask you to turn to. Somebody here loves God’s Word, I wonder who that might be. I am excited today. I’m so excited to start with you a brand new series that we’re calling Blessed Beyond Belief. For the next three Sundays, I want to take us through this series as we make our way towards Thanksgiving. I want us to spend some time looking at and appreciating the blessings that are ours. Today, I want us to consider the fact that we need to “recognize” God’s blessings.
Many years ago, American heritage magazine compiled a list of the 40 wealthiest Americans, there was a woman on that list named Hetty Green. She died in 1916 at the age of 81, with an estate worth over $100 million. And in today’s terms, they tell me that would be a little over $2 billion. She was the wealthiest American woman ever at that time, but she was also the most miserly and miserable (those come from the same word, interestingly enough,) woman that anyone ever recalled knowing. They said that she lived in a small, rundown, filthy dilapidated house. She ate cold oatmeal because she didn’t want to spend the money to heat it. Her son broke his leg and she refused to spend the money for medical treatment. And after a long time, his leg became infected and had to be amputated. Here’s a woman who had unimaginable resources available to her, which if they had been used right, could have blessed and benefited her life; and they could have blessed and benefited the lives of so many other people. But she refused to use the resources that she had.
We hear that story and we shake our heads and say, “What a waste. What a shame.” And yet, I think that is a picture of how we often live in regard to our spiritual resources that God has so richly given to us. We live as if we have no available power or riches or blessings whatsoever. And we miss out on all the opportunities and blessings that those bring. The Bible reminds us again and again and again, of all the riches and all the blessings that God has and that God continues to shower down upon us. But if we don’t recognize those blessings, if we don’t constantly remember those blessings, and if we don’t respond to those blessings, our spiritual lives will be live exactly the same as Hetty Green’s life was lived. We’ll live in spiritual poverty, with ungrateful hearts, while God’s abundant blessings pile up all around us — unnoticed, unappreciated and unused.
So for these next three weeks, I want us to focus on and give thanks for God’s incredible blessings to us all. You may be here this morning, not feeling very blessed. Maybe you’ve got some real struggles in your life, maybe relational struggles, maybe health struggles, maybe financial struggles. And you may be thinking, “Well, I guess I picked the wrong time to show up at church because I’m not a real blessed person.” Well, I’m not going to argue with you, but I hope that by the time you leave here this morning, you will have a very different perspective from God’s Word, not from my opinion, on whether or not you really are blessed.
Psalm 103, verse one says, Bless the Lord, oh my soul and all that is within me, bless His holy name. Bless the Lord, oh my soul and forget not all His benefits.
I wonder if anyone would like to stand up real quick and name all of God’s benefits. Just real quick, name all all the blessings that are ours from God. I mean, where do we even start? And where would we end in trying to “forget not all His benefits.” And as I was sharing with Jon this past week, where does one even begin to write a sermon on this, and try to organize this? I can tell you, I threw out so many outlines on this, because all of them were pathetic when compared to the grandeur of God’s enormous blessings to us. It felt a little bit like trying to count the raindrops during a thunderstorm. And then trying to take all those raindrops and organize them in such a way that they come down in the order I want them to come down. And that sort of feels like trying to write a sermon outline around the issue of God’s endless blessings.
So I want to just divide this up into two groups this morning. I want us first to just consider a few of the physical material blessings that are ours from God. And then I want to wrap up by considering some of the spiritual blessings that are ours. I’ll tell you, it becomes overwhelming just trying to list all the material physical blessings that are ours, that we do not deserve, that have been given to us so abundantly from God. Yet we miss most of them. We miss them. We never pause long enough, or look deep enough, or look far enough to see all the ways that God blesses us 24 hours a day. And as I list some of these, I promise you that for every one I list, you’ll be able to think of 10 more.
Let’s begin closest to us — the blessings that God has given to us physically and materially. What about our bodies? The fact that we have a body that functions so miraculously, that it’s still—even after hundreds and hundreds… well, thousands of years that doctors and scientists and researchers have been studying the human body—they still walk away completely puzzled by it. What about our health? We woke up this morning, we got out of bed, we were able to come here. You say, “Well, I’ve got some aches and pains.” Well, join the club! Who cares? We have health. We’ve been given another day. This is a blessing from God. This is not something we’ve earned. This is not something due us. It’s a blessing. When’s the last time you stopped and thought about your heart, and thanked God that you have a heart that is still beating after all these years, when every electric appliance I’ve ever bought in my life quits after a while? This old thing just keeps going. The human heart beats an average of 80 times per minute. That’s 4,800 times an hour. (Sorry, I’m a bit of a nerd on stuff like this, so just bear with me.) It beats 115,200 times a day, 42,048,000 times a year. And if you live to about 80 years old, your heart will beat 3,363,840,000 times, give or take a couple 100,000. Can we thank God for that? What about the blood pulsing through our system constantly that performs so many functions within us. Our blood vessels, if they were stretched end-to-end would be 60,000 miles long—enough to wrap around the earth more than twice. What about our breath? We don’t even think about breathing. When’s the last time you were sitting there thinking in such deep thought that you forgot to breathe? My goodness. It’s never happened. We had a dog that would do that. Sweet, sweet, old Rusty. God bless that boy. He was a special dog. He would sit there in the middle of the room and just all of a sudden start coughing and choking. He forgot to breathe, I guess. For us this is automatic. Our lungs, they tell us (I don’t know who the guy was you actually tested this—it’s a bit weird to me, and I don’t know where he got the tennis court to do this,) but they tell us that if you stretch out the human lungs it would cover the surface of half the size of a tennis court.
What about sight and smell and sound and touch and taste? All of those senses God has given to us to enjoy His creation. And speaking of creation, what about “that” as another category of blessings under these material and physical blessings? just the sheer beauty of the world around us — trees and flowers and mountains and oceans and lakes, rivers and waterfalls and stars and planets and galaxies. What about clouds that bring shade on a hot day? cool breezes, rainbows, snowfall sunrises, sunsets, colors—the billions of colors that are all around us that bring beauty to this world. And don’t even get me started on the whole animal kingdom animals and birds, and fish, and all of the miraculous things that God has created in this world that he’s blessed our world with. What about the resources that God has blessed us with? What bout fresh water that just falls out of the sky? We think nothing of it—that we can use it for drinking, for watering our crops, for washing things? What about the soil that produces food? And what about the wide variety of food and fruits that we have available to us that just dance on our tastebuds? What about the blessing of Krispy Kreme Doughnuts? Praise God, boy that makes me want to shout right there. It’s one of His best inventions. What about all the metal and minerals that God has deposited into the earth that we dig out and we use for fuel, that we use to make buildings and cars and electronics? And on and on we could go.
What about the category of people? We have family, we have friends. We get to experience both the joy and the pain of relationships. And we get to know what that’s all about. What a blessing that is that we don’t live isolated. What about the blessing of our homes—that we have a place to live that provides us with shelter from the heat and the cold and the rain and the snow?
You want to drill down a little bit deeper? Seriously, you can go almost forever. Think of this—when’s the last time you thanked God for the blessing of a bed to sleep in, and blankets on the bed, and a pillow to lay your head on? Keep going. It just goes on and on and on. The blessings of God. What about electricity that provides heat and air conditioning and lights? What about indoor bathrooms? There’s one to think about! I was talking with someone just a few weeks ago here, one of our ladies who said she remembered when she was a little girl having to get up in the middle of the night and walk out through the backyard to go to a dark outhouse back there. I’m like, “Thank you, Jesus that I was born when I was, because I don’t think I would have gone to the bathroom in the middle of the night.” Do we think about these things? Have we thanked God that our homes have running water? When’s the last time you turned on a faucet to get a drink or wash your hands? And you just stood there and said, “God, thank you for this blessing. There’s water pouring out of this faucet. I can get it any time I want. Thank you for this blessing!” For hot water in the winter to shower with and for cold water in the summer to refresh ourselves with and swim in.
What about clothes and all of our other possessions? What about our car, our job, our money? You say, “Money? I get up and go to work and provide money. That has nothing to do with God!” Well, Deuteronomy 8:17-18 says, “You say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth.” Have you ever thought about that? We all get up every day — we go to work, we work hard, (I hope we work hard to earn our money.) But folks, the very ability to do that is a blessing from God. What about music? Oh my word, the joy of music. I can’t sing a lick. I can’t play a single thing except the radio. That’s it for me. But man, I have an ear for music! Play me a seventh chord and I’m happy all day. I don’t know why just playing me a seventh chord makes me happy.
What about books? What about art? It just goes on and on and on. These physical and material blessings God has given to us. But as wonderful as all of those things are, they pale in comparison to the “Spiritual” blessings that God has given to us—and continues to give to us. In Ephesians 3:1 Paul tried to sort of crack into this topic a little bit. Here in Ephesians—if I said Ephesians 3, I meant Ephesians 1:3. Paul begins here in Ephesians 1:3, trying to express his thanks for the spiritual blessings we’ve been given by God. And he said this, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” Paul, in fact, got so excited about this, that from verse 3 to verse 14 in the original Greek is one long run-on sentence. You English teachers are cringing as I say that to you. I know, I know, my English up here kills you sometimes, because English is my second language, but I’m doing the best I can with it. But Paul just got so fired up over just writing that sentence. It’s like it sparked something in him, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus…” that he just he couldn’t stop. And he went on and on from verse 3 to verse 14. And thankfully, in the English, they’ve broken it up a bit to help us make sense of it. But in these verses, (and we don’t have time to unpack all of those today,) but in those verses 3 through 14, Paul divides it up into three categories. And he reminds us that God the Father, God, the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, are all involved in these amazing spiritual blessings that are ours, as believers—amazing spiritual blessings that have been given to us. I don’t know if you caught it there — it said, we’ve been blessed with “every” spiritual blessing. How many church? I don’t think you believe that. How many? How many? every spiritual blessing. James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights.” Second Peter 1:3 says, “His divine power has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness.” Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare His own Son, but gave him up for us all, how will he not also along with Him freely give us all things?” Incredible! First Corinthians 4:7 says, “What do you have that you did not receive?” John 3:27 says a person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given to him from heaven.
So I want to take a few minutes in the closing part of this message to consider just a few—a few—of the ways that you and I have been and continue to be spiritually blessed by God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit, I really want you to just take this in. And I’m telling you, you’re not going to be able to turn to all these references, so don’t even try. I just want you to soak it in. Just absorb this, and I pray that by the end of these just few minutes here, we will be absolutely overwhelmed and on our knees in worship at the spiritual blessings that are ours.
What about God? We begin there. Spiritual blessings from God. Here are just a few:
• The Bible says God gives life (Genesis 2:7)
• He gives breath (Isaiah 42:5)
• God gives strength (Psalm 28:7)
• God gives joy and pleasure (Psalm 16:11)
• God gives us His word (Psalm 119:105)
• God gives repentance (Acts 11:18)
• God gives faith (Ephesians 2:8)
• God gives righteousness (Romans 5:17)
• God gives a new heart (Ezekiel 11:19)
• God gives peace (John 14:27)
• God gives rest (Matthew 11:28)
• God gives eternal life (Romans 6:23)
• God gives food and clothing (Matthew 6:25 and following)
• God gives rain (Matthew 5:45)
• God gives money (Deuteronomy 8:17-18)
• The Bible says God is merciful (Deuteronomy 4:31 and Lamentations 3:22-23)
• God is kind (Romans 2:4 and Ephesians 2:7)
• God is compassionate (Psalm 145:8 and Psalm 147:3)
• God is sovereign (Isaiah 46:10 and Daniel 4:35)
• God is powerful (2 Chronicles 20:6 and Revelation 5:13)
• God is love (John 3:16 and 1 John 4:16)
• God is patient (Romans 2:4 and 2 Peter 3:9)
• God is good (Psalm 34:8 and Psalm 136:1)
• God is faithful (Psalm 100:5)
• God is our deliverer (Psalm 18:48 and Proverbs 18:10)
• God’s promises are true (Deuteronomy 7:9 and 2 Timothy 2:13)
Are you starting to pick up the cadence of this; the rhythm of this? We could go on and on and on listing the blessings that come to us from God—just the spiritual blessings alone. It seems to be endless.
What about the blessings that are ours through Christ? Oh my word. I had to just keep whittling, whittling, whittling this down for time’s sake. What are some of the blessings that we have received through Christ?
• We’ve received salvation (Acts 4:12 and Romans 10:13)
• We’ve received redemption. That means that we have been bought from our slave owner, Satan. We’ve been redeemed, the price has been paid. We’ve been bought back (Ephesians 1:7 and Colossians 1:14)
• We’ve received forgiveness (Colossians 2:13 and Hebrews 8:12) By the way, there are dozens of verses for these. I just didn’t want to bore you with them all. We’ve received forgiveness in Christ. Do we even have the capacity to comprehend the depth of that? We’ve been forgiven. I’ve done nothing to God to earn His love, His salvation—the redemption and the forgiveness that have been given to me—I’ve done nothing. It is a blessing through Christ.
• We’ve been given the righteousness of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:30 and 2 Corinthians 5:21)
• We’ve been made complete in Christ—we lack nothing (Colossians 2:10 and 1 Corinthians 1:7)
• We’ve gone from being enemies of God to becoming the friends of God, and having peace with God (Romans 5:10 and Colossians 1:21)
• Through Christ, we’ve received the blessing of knowing that we will never be judged for our sin (Romans 5:9 and Romans 8:1). Have you paused at all ever in your life to thank God for that blessing? That despite your rottenness and mine, if we are in Christ, we will never be judged for our sin. What a blessing.
• Through Christ we’ve been given eternal life (Matthew 25:46 and John 3:36)
• Our names have been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Luke 10:20 and Revelation 21:27)
• We’ve been adopted into God’s family (Ephesians 1:5 and Romans 8:14-17)
• And that means we are now children of God and brothers and sisters with Christ (John 3:1 and Hebrews 2:11)
• Not only that, we’ve been given eternal citizenship in heaven (Philippians 3:20 and Ephesians 2:19)
• And as if that wasn’t good enough, we’ve also been given an inheritance in heaven. We’ve been made co-heirs with Christ. All that is His is ours (Romans 8:14-17 and Ephesians 1:14)
• And in the meantime, between now and heaven, we’ve also been blessed in Christ by having been given victory over sin (Romans 6:14 and Romans 8:2)
• We’ve been given power over Satan (1 John 4:4 and James 4:7) And by the way that’s not on your own. That’s not in your own strength. Through Christ we have power over Satan.
• Our every need will be supplied (Philippians 4:19 and 2 Corinthians 9:8)
• We’ve been given strength to accomplish all that God has for us to do (Philippians 4:13 and Colossians 1:11)
• We’ve been given supernatural power in Christ (Ephesians 3:20 and Romans 15:13)
• We’ve been given power even when we are weak (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
• All our trials and hardships will work out for good because of Christ (Romans 8:28 and 1 Peter 1:6-7)
• Because of Christ, we’ve been given fellowship with God (1 Corinthians 1:9 and 1 John 1:3) This one still blows my mind. I was looking this past week just to set the context for me in my own mind of just this one blessing. You go back and you look through the Old Testament and how those Israelites lived in literally holy terror of God. God came down as a pillar of fire at night. Can you just picture this in your mind? Imagine standing there on the hillside and looking down at the camp. And they’re in the middle above the Holy of Holies is this flaming pillar of fire lighting up the countryside at night. Approach God? You’ve got to be kidding me. They were terrified to get anywhere near God because of His sheer holiness and power. They couldn’t even come near the Ark of the Covenant. And if you touched it, you died. This is the kind of God we’re talking about—the God who Isaiah and Ezekiel and John described as having eyes as a flaming fire, from whose presence Heaven and Earth flee. “That” God. We now have access to His presence directly because of Christ. It is a blessing of Christ. Oh my word, we could go on for an hour about that.
• We can enter His presence with confidence (Hebrews 10:19-22 and Ephesians 3:12)
• And if all of that isn’t enough, we’ve also been blessed by being delivered from the fear of death (Hebrews 2:15 and John 11:25-26)
• And if that’s not enough, we’ve been given victory over death itself (1 Corinthians 15:54 and Philippians 1:21) On and on, and on that list goes of the blessings that are ours in Christ.
I wrap it up with a few of the blessings that are ours from the Holy Spirit.
• We’ve been given spiritual gifts (1 Corinthians 12 and Romans 12)
• The Holy Spirit gives us power (Acts 1:8 and Romans 8:11)
• The Holy Spirit regenerates us and makes us new (John 3:5-8 and Titus 3:5)
• The Holy Spirit teaches us (John 14:26)
• Do we think that when we open the Bible and read, and then we go and tell somebody like, “Hey, let me tell you all the stuff I know about the Bible because I’m so brilliant.” No, a little child can understand that if the Holy Spirit is in them. The Spirit teaches us. What a blessing! What a blessing that is.
• The Spirit reveals truth to us (John 16:13 and 1 Corinthians 2:10)
• The Spirit enables us to obey the truth (1 Peter 1:22) We can’t even do that on our own.
• The Holy Spirit leads us (Romans 8:14 and Galatians 5:18)
• The Spirit teaches us to pray (Romans 8:26-27 and Jude 1:20)
• The Holy Spirit dispenses God’s love in our hearts (Romans 5:5)
• The Spirit produces spiritual fruit in us that gives evidence that we are saved and that we belong to Christ (Galatians 5:22-23)
• The Holy Spirit brings us into unity and oneness (Ephesians 2:14-18 and Ephesians 4:3)
• The Holy Spirit comforts us (Acts 9:31)
• The Holy Spirit gives us joy (1 Thessalonians 1:6)
• The Holy Spirit glorifies and testifies of Christ (John 15:26 and John 16:14)
• The spirit is not just “with” us; He’s “in” us. He’s taken up residence in us. Wow, there’s another sermon. Does that ever give you pause? You’re about to go somewhere; about to do something; about to say something?… You know, one of the greatest things you can do, (and I say this reverently, respectfully,) — people talk about sin, and we all struggle with different things — but I’ll tell you, you want something that will just jolt you out of the moment that you’re about to enter into and you know you shouldn’t? Just pause for just a moment and pray and say, “Holy Spirit. I invite you into what I’m about to do right now” and tell me how comfortable you are proceeding with what you are about to do. Even if it’s just a word you’re about to speak to someone. God is really working on me on this because I’m very strong-headed. For me, it’s black or white. Gray doesn’t exist. It’s like, “You’re wrong. Why are you doing this? You’re wrong.” “Yeah, but no, no…” “No, this is wrong.” And God is helping to temper that in me. Before I say something, pause and say, “Holy Spirit, I want to invite you into these words I’m about to speak. Can you bless what I’m about to say?” You might want to think about that. About to run off and do something you know is sinful? Say, “Holy Spirit, I invite you into this sinful moment with me.” Ever tried to pray that prayer? It’ll rattle you up pretty bad. The spirit is not just with us. He’s not just floating around somewhere. He has taken up residence in these jars of clay. First Corinthians 3:16 and 1 Corinthians 6:19)
• And not only is He in us, but He has promised that He will never leave us (John 14:16 and 2 John 1:12)
• And just to finish things off, right up to the very end, when we’re at home with the Father, the Holy Spirit has promised to seal us and to guarantee our salvation (Ephesians 1:13 and Ephesians 4:30)
Folks, that is a short list of some of the material and spiritual blessings that are ours every moment of every day. I’m telling you, church, we are blessed beyond belief. We’re so blessed! Yes, you can live like Hetty Green. You can ignore God’s blessings and live life on your own. Or you can live like many people I’ve met who spend their life complaining about what they “don’t” have. Boy, it just irks me. I’m sorry, I have a very short fuse for that. We should never fall into that category; that trap. In light of what we’ve just looked at, (which is a fraction of the ways that God has blessed us,) how dare we say, “They’ve got more than I do! They’re more blessed than me.” Oh, stop for a moment and consider the blessings that God gives to us every day. We are blessed beyond belief! But what good will those blessings do if we don’t “recognize” them or we’re not even aware of them?
Imagine for a moment living your entire life in poverty; I mean barely just skimping and scraping by — eating food out of dumpsters. And then moments before you die, you discover that there has been a bank account in your name, for your entire life, with $500 million in it. Imagine how that could’ve changed the way you live your life! Imagine how that could’ve changed the way you could have blessed the lives of others with resources like that. Friends, I’m telling you, that is exactly how most of us live our entire Christian lives. We live all the way through, unaware, failing to recognize the abundant blessings that are ours, and we miss out on the opportunities to give God thanks for that our whole life; and we miss out on all the opportunities that it could have brought to us to bless the lives of others, and to advance the kingdom of God.
I want to challenge you this week to start taking notice. Just start paying attention to all the ways that you are blessed. Listen, they’re all around you every day. I challenge you—in your worst moment this coming week, when you think things cannot get any worse than they are now—I challenge you to stop right then and begin recalling the blessings that are yours. You say, “I’ve got nothing to be thankful for.” Are you still breathing? Is your heart still pumping? Do you have a place to sleep tonight? Have you got at least one person you know? “Oh, the whole world is against me, Phil. You don’t understand how bad it is!” Count your blessings. They are as numerous as the sand on the seashore; as numerous as the stars in the sky.
If any one of you can succeed in listing every single blessing that is yours, and you can list them all down, please bring it to me. If you’ve exhausted the list, please bring it to me and I’ll add about 100 more. We are blessed beyond belief! And it’s only when we recognize how blessed we are, that that awareness will begin to spill over into praise for God for all His goodness to us, and it will reveal itself in a life of thanksgiving and generosity for others. I trust that, regardless of your circumstances today, that you’ll begin rejoicing in knowing just how blessed you are — that you really are blessed beyond belief!