Give me one thing more, a grateful heart.
by Kyle Crager
I am very excited to be here this morning. When I reflect on the many sermons I heard from godly men such as Glenn Courts, Harold Tatman, and David Hilton I am very humbled to be here. The lessons they taught from the pulpit and with their lives still bless us today.
As you can imagine the terrorist attacks of September 11 have dramatically impacted my life. I made a request of Reverend Gardner to be granted a few moments to share my experiences and say thank you this morning.
I want to publicly thank Reverend Gardner for not only allowing me this opportunity, but for the fact that since September 11 he has been by my parent’s side. He prayed with them when my whereabouts were unknown, and he prayed with them in thanksgiving when it was discovered I was safe. It seems that God has always blessed this church with the best ministers to lead, preach, shepherd, and serve. I pray that this blessing continues and that you recognize how blessed this church has always been.
My message for today can best be summarized by the quote of 17th Century English Poet, George Herbert….Thou has given me so much… Give me one thing more, a grateful heart.
At this time of Thanksgiving we are reminded to be thankful, but for me September 11 was a wake up call to just how blessed I am, and my need to have a grateful heart.
With that said I need to step back and state that I am completely aware of the fact that while my story has a happy ending; that this is not the case for many others. I did not lose family members, but I did lose friends and co-workers. I am not finished grieving for them, their families, and the thousands of other heroes, but I want to honor their lives by improving my own and in some small way make this a better world. Over the last two months I have also come to the realization that God is going to use this tragedy to bring blessings in lives whether we just want to grieve or not.
A quote by C.S. Lewis has come to life for me:
God whispers to us in our pleasures,
Speaks to us in our conscience,
But shouts in our pain;
It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
On the morning of September 11, as I headed down the 71 flights of stairs, I received a page from my parents phone number. I commented to a peer that there were more people on the stairs than the population of my hometown. It was at that moment that a calm overcame me, somehow I knew I was being lifted up in prayer. Since then I have learned that it was not only persons from this church, and my church in New Jersey, but literally hundreds of persons across the nation were praying specifically for me. It is totally uplifting to realize that the terrorists tried to knock us to our knees only to have us kneel before God.
I not only want to thank you for your prayers that day and since, but I came this morning to thank you for being my church family as I grew up here in Morehead.
- I attended nursery school here because the church opened its doors for that purpose long before it was a popular thing for churches to do.
- I remember vacation bible school learning songs and stories of Jesus. In fact as I walked down those 71 flights of stairs it was one of those songs that I sang. God is so good, he is so good to me.
- Whenever I smell fresh donuts today I am transported to the fellowship hall and the prayer breakfasts of my youth.
- I remember planting trees in the back parking area with Mr. Mahaney’s Sunday school class. The lessons we learned built a foundation of faith that is very strong, just like that tree that has continued to grow over the years.
- I remember playing Tiny Tim in the church’s production of “A Christmas Carol”, and standing center stage to say, “God Bless us, God Bless us Everyone.” On the night of September 11, I did not know what to pray so I simply prayed “God Bless us, God Bless us Everyone”.
- I stood right there, proclaimed my faith in Jesus as my Savior, and was baptized.
- When I traveled as a missionary with Athletes in Action you prayed for me and supported me financially.
- This is the church where I met my earthly love, Kimberly Calvert. We pledged our love to each other five years later in this church. As with everything else He promised God has abundantly blessed our marriage.
As I stated, I have become very aware of how blessed I am, and I count this church body as an incredible blessing.
This morning we sang a song entitled, “Open the Eyes of my Heart Lord”. While this is not a traditional “Thanksgiving” song, I made a special request to Drew that we sing it today.
You see, I believe that if the eyes of our hearts are truly open we will see God’s holiness and we will have a grateful heart.
Consider these words of one of our nation’s leaders:
We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties in heaven; we have grown in numbers, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand, which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.
It is obvious that many in this nation have turned to God as a result of the September 11 events and acknowledged our vanity and His holiness, but these words were written by President Abraham Lincoln 137 years ago upon the establishment of Thanksgiving as a national holiday.
How long will it be before we forget God’s blessings again?
Can we be followers of Christ without a grateful heart?
At my church in New Jersey we sang this same song to close the service on September 9. I recently read something on the internet by an anonymous author about September 10 and 11.
I have adapted it to my personal experience of September 9, 10, and 11. I am no poet, but I share this in an effort to underscore our human tendency to take blessings for granted:
On Sunday, we sang “Open the Eyes of my heart Lord”
Monday went by and the tune played in my head.
Tuesday came and my eyes were opened.
On Monday people fought about prayer in school
On Tuesday no school could be found where someone was not praying.
On Monday I worked until 10:00 PM and spent the night in a hotel to get some sleep
On Tuesday I did not sleep but watched my wife and children rest. I prayed only God Bless us Everyone.
On Monday I argued with my sons about homework, practicing piano, and work ethic
On Tuesday I could not get home fast enough to give them a hug.
On Monday people fought to get the 10 Commandments removed
On Tuesday they asked “Where is God”, or they said “God help us” but all thought “Thou shalt not kill”.
On Monday I worked at the World Trade Center….a self-made man.
On Tuesday I wanted to hug my parents and say, “Thanks for making me who I am.”
On Monday I checked my 401k and Stock Portfolio
On Tuesday I kissed the lips of my beautiful wife...I am the richest man in the world
On Monday I worried about how to get “More”
On Tuesday, I realized more will never be enough, and I could never receive more than what was given on the cross.
Open the eyes of my heart Lord
Everyday give me a thankful heart
so that I will pray,
count my blessings,
and sing your praises in joy.
The second chapter of Jonah, which was read for us this morning is a great story about what happens when we let the eyes of our heart be turned from God.
Everyone is familiar with the story….
God tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach repentance, but Jonah runs from the Lord.
A storm comes up and sailors throw Jonah overboard to save themselves from his God. God provides a great fish to swallow up Jonah. Jonah is in the great fish and gives praise and thanksgiving to God. He promises to go to Nineveh, and is released from the great fish.
Chapter three is my favorite chapter of the book, because I visualize Jonah as white as a ghost with seaweed sticking out of his ears walking through Nineveh and saying “Repent or 40 more days and Nineveh will be overturned.”
The Ninevites repented, but is it any wonder after seeing Jonah and hearing his story?
The fourth chapter often gets left out when this book is discussed. For us today it is key. Jonah, in today’s terms, needs an attitude adjustment. He whines that he didn’t want to save the Ninevites (he despised them), and wishes he could just die. God asks, “Have you any right to be angry?” Jonah goes out of the city where God produces a vine to provide him shade, which Jonah was happy about. The next day God produced a worm to kill the vine, and Jonah again says it would be better to die than to live. God again asks, “Have you any right to be angry?” God scolds Jonah saying that he is more worried about the vine than the 120,000 people in Nineveh.
What happened to Jonah’s grateful heart?
Like Jonah, something dramatic has happened to us. Maybe not as a nation, but as Christians we have turned to God and are giving thanks.
How many times have you heard recently that we have a lot to give thanks for this year, or that this will be a thanksgiving to remember?
Let us end the similarity with the story of Jonah here. Let our prayer this thanksgiving be to have a thankful heart everyday.
Another consideration from this story is that God doesn’t mind Jonah’s whining or complaining.
Today over Five Thousand people are dead, children are orphans, and the nation grieves. We have heard the questions and accusations against God since September 11:
- Where was God?
- If God is all-powerful, and all-love, why would he allow all of this death and pain?
In fact if we are honest; each of us has probably had these same thoughts.
A week ago I went back to what is being called ‘Ground Zero’. As I looked around, I was totally lost. I could not get my bearings at all. I had worked there for two years, and yet I felt I had never been there. The thought kept running through my head, “It doesn’t make any sense.” A friend used those same words to describe his confusion, and I replied, “None of it makes sense, including why this ever happened.” As I left the site I realized I would never be given an answer to my question of ‘Why’.
So I don’t have the answer to the Why question, but I do know the Answerer.
As He said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you.”
I am also reminded of a cartoon of two turtles. One turtle says, “I would like to ask God why he allows suffering, poverty, and injustice when he could do something about it.” The second turtle says, “I am afraid he would ask me the same question.”
Finally, I would like to share the details of my experience on September 11 that allowed me to see that the eyes of my heart were not opened and that I did not have a grateful heart.
The scripture read from the New Testament this morning was 1 John 1:5-7:
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you; God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.
The morning of the 11th I had made it out of the building, and instantly started trying to manage the situation. I started trying to find my team, and actually doubled back toward the buildings in search of them.
A few minutes of unsuccessful searching passed, and then the most horrific sound I have ever heard rang through the air. The South tower was coming down! I was only about a block away. In a matter of seconds I was enveloped in total darkness. I wish I could describe this darkness, but all I can say is that it was the blackest black I can imagine and then it was darker than that.
I couldn’t breathe, people were screaming, and debris was hitting me. At this point I said to myself, I am going to suffocate and die.
On the way out of the building I had already answered the question, “If I die now will I go to heaven?” My answer was a resounding, ‘YES!’ Jesus’ blood was shed for me, and through him I am redeemed.
At that moment some debris struck me in the back of the head, and I thought “I’m not going to suffocate I am going to be covered in debris and starve to death.”
My next thought was, “Good thing you are on a diet, why didn’t you have desert last night?”
One person screamed, “I can’t breathe”, and another yelled out instructions about staying low until the debris cleared. Then someone yelled, “Where is the light?” At that moment I thought of the verse in 1 John and began to concentrate on the fact that Jesus is the light. I asked him for peace, and asked that he let me in the light with him.
In my mind’s eye I saw my wife singing praises to God in our church choir. I had not even considered what a blessing it is to have a woman of God, who so loved to use her gifts for God’s glory.
I saw myself reading ‘A Christmas Carol’ to my wife and children as they sat bundled up on one of our big family room couches. At this point I was convinced I was dying and going to heaven, because Sasha, our dog, was actually on the floor and not on the couch with them.
I saw my parents at the beach looking out at their grandchildren playing in the ocean.
None of these things would have been on my top ten list of blessings prior to that day and yet they were my thoughts when I was sure death was upon me.
Why had I taken so many of my blessings for granted?
It seemed like I was in that cloud, unable to breathe for about 5 minutes but I have been told that it was at least 20 and more like 30 minutes.
The light started to pierce the darkness, and I was struck by the irony of the situation. Jesus the light had opened the eyes of my heart to pierce the darkness within me.
To close today we are going to sing a song named “Into the Light”. It is a song that our whole family sings at the top of our voices every time it comes on our CD player. This is a very contemporary song, and if you do not like it please just write it off to the fact that I have lived in New Jersey for two years.
The song is basically a prayer to be in the light because Jesus is in the light. A few of the verses are:
I keep trying to find a life on my own, apart from you.
I am the king of excuses, I’ve got one for every selfish thing I do.
What’s going on inside of me? I despise my own behavior.
This only serves to confirm my suspicion, that I’m still a man in need of a savior.
Sometime this week, close your eyes and put yourself in that dark cloud I was in. Imagine you are going to die. Are you going to heaven? What are the blessings that you are taking for granted? What excuses are keeping you from doing what needs to be done?
Then pray with joy:
Oh Lord, be my light and my salvation
thank you for everything
give me one thing more, a grateful heart
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