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My Big Fat Mouth: Complaining

This is the first in a series of posts providing the manuscripts for the “My Big Fat Mouth” sermon series. Throughout this series, we will explore how our mouths can sometimes (or more often than not for some of us) get us into trouble:

  • Our words carry weight
  • Our words have power
  • Our words can build up or tear down
  • Our words can bring joy or pain
  • Our words can encourage or discourage

Throughout this series, I believe it will be important for us to remember the words of Jesus from Luke 6:45, “The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.”

Throughout this series, we will talk about criticism, lying and gossip. But, for this post, we will focus on complaining.

I know many of you are thinking, “Complaining? Why would we need to talk about complaining? This is probably the worst topic of all time. We are good Christians and we would never complain about anything. This pastor is ridiculous. The pastor down the street is so much better than this hack. Who does this guy think he is? He’s probably going to write about skateboarding again…or coffee…or drinking coffee while skateboarding. And, if I see one more lame reference to the Cubs…”

Or maybe you’re thinking, “I’m glad we’re focusing on complaining. I know plenty of people that need to hear this message. They are always complaining when they should be grateful. If they only knew how hard life could be. It’s like my grandfather used to say, ‘If you want to whine and complain, well, I’ll give you something to whine and complain about. Or it’s like I always say, ‘If all you are going to do is complain about the way I fold your shirts, you can do it yourself.’”

Or maybe once I typed, “complaining” you began to get overwhelmed with feelings of guilt because you’ve already spent time complaining this morning:
“This breakfast is terrible. Why don’t you buy anything good for breakfast? The drive to church is too long. The service at the drive thru is too slow. Why are you watching this show? Do we really have to watch this? Someone doesn’t know how to park. Those lines are NOT suggestions! My kids made me late.

One of the things I spend a lot of time complaining about is waiting rooms. I have high standards for waiting rooms.
– All waiting rooms should play the music I want to hear at any given moment.
– All waiting rooms should have TV’s tuned to the channels I want to watch at any given moment.
– All waiting rooms should serve freshly roasted, freshly ground, fairly-traded, organic pour-over or French pressed coffee.
– All others in the waiting room should understand and practice appropriate waiting room etiquette…which means one should not have loud phone conversations…or place their nasty dirty feet on the coffee table…and if you are going to enjoy a snack while in the waiting room, you should bring enough to share.

Complaining is nothing new. The Bible is full of stories of people complaining. For a moment, I want us to think about the story of the Israelites…think about how God delivered them from slavery. If you aren’t familiar with the story, I’ll give you a quick.

The Israelites are enslaved in Egypt. Moses, their leader, goes before Pharaoh and pleads their case. Pharaoh wasn’t having it, showing that his heart was hardened to the suffering of God’s people. God sends plagues to influence Pharaoh’s decision. In fact, it took ten plagues before Pharaoh finally tells the Israelites to get out. God delivers them. He parts the sea so they can safely cross and flee Pharaoh’s army – because after Pharaoh agreed to let the people go, he had a change of heart and sent his army to chase and capture the Israelites. While they are wandering in the wilderness, God provides for them.

What do they do? Complain. They complained about the menu. They complained about the accommodations. They complained about everything. It gets to the point that they regret ever fleeing captivity.

Exodus 14:11-12, “They said to Moses, ‘Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”

God miraculously delivers them from their oppressors and they complain. God is leading them to the Promised Land and they complain. “Oh, we were so happy as slaves. We had it so good when we were being mistreated.” Are you kidding me?

They were complaining to Moses about the dinner menu. They didn’t particularly enjoy their options. In Exodus 16:3, they once again declare that “they wish the Lord had just put them to death while they were still in Egypt. At least in Egypt we had meat and bread. But, here in the wilderness, God’s starving us to death.”

I love the way Moses responds. In Exodus 16:8, “Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.”

Did you catch that?

Moses says, “Hey, look…this is not about me. You aren’t really complaining about me. I’m not the chef. I’m not the owner. I’m just the host leading you to the table. When you are complaining about the menu and the accommodations, you are complaining about God. Who do you think led us here? Who do you think is in the kitchen cooking up our meal? Who do you think the executive chef is? It’s not me. It’s God!” BOOM! Take that you whiny complainers!

Complaining is not a new problem! I want us all to consider what we complain about the most? If you aren’t sure, ask those who know you best. They will know!

In addition to waiting rooms, I have a great talent for complaining about coffee. Coffee is one of the most wonderful parts of God’s creation and it should be treated with great care, awe and respect. Companies that over-roast their beans should be fined. People who don’t grind their own beans should not tell others, nor should they proclaim that the “love coffee.” People who put additives in their coffee – like cream, sugar or flavoring – that’s just a tragic sin, and though not listed in the Bible, it should be. I mean, if Jesus wanted us to drink coffee with cream and sugar – or add maple bourbon bacon chocolate truffle sprinkle syrup – well, he would have created it that way.

So, last week, our family went out for breakfast. A featured item on the menu was the “bottomless cup of coffee.” So, after I finished my first cup of coffee – I discovered that I had located the bottom of the bottomless cup of coffee. It took over 25 minutes to refill the bottomless cup of coffee. Not only that, it was terrible coffee…So, it’s not like I was missing out on anything. But, if an establishment is going to boast about their bottomless cup of coffee, well, they should be quick with the refills.

The reality is that our problems don’t really lie in whatever we’re complaining about…whether it’s the weather, the traffic, that Netflix removed our favorite show, that the Wi-Fi is slow or that the bottomless cup of coffee indeed has a bottom…

The problem behind our complaints is that we’ve been distracted. We have taken our eyes and thoughts off God’s goodness and have focused on ourselves.

One of the greatest tools of the enemy is distraction. The enemy knows that if we can be distracted, we will be rendered ineffective.

All of this makes me think of Paul. If anyone had the right to complain, well, Paul would qualify. Paul has a desire to go to Rome and share the Good News of Jesus Christ. He’s following God’s lead. Paul, who had persecuted the Christians, had a life-transforming encounter with God and became an incredible missionary for Christ. He gets to Rome and is arrested, sent to jail, chained up…often to a Roman guard to ensure that he didn’t mysteriously disappear.

Paul goes on a journey from preacher to prisoner. This may come as a surprise to you, but prison time is not exactly the goal of those who head into ministry. It does happen from time to time when we stand up for truth, justice and equality. However, most ministry leaders don’t set out with the goal of going to prison. So, yeah, I’d say the guy would have a right to complain.

What does Paul do? Well, he writes letters. Specifically, he writes a letter to the Christians in Philippi. Let’s look at Philippians 2:14-15. Paul encourages his audience, “Do all things without murmuring and arguing, so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world.”

Do all things without grumbling (complaining).

For example…Stand in the line at the grocery without complaining; sit in the waiting room with terrible…or no coffee…without complaining; drive down Clinton or Jefferson or Washington without complaining; do all things without complaining, so that we might shine like stars – in order that others will see Jesus in and through us.

While there are spiritual reasons to avoid complaining, there are also practical reasons.

In the book, “Emotional Intelligence 2.0”, Dr. Travis Bradberry talks about confirmation bias. He shares that repeated complaining hardwires the brain to do more complaining.

The more negative we are, the more likely it is that we will continue to be negative. When we have preconceived expectations, we will get what we expect. If we expect something to be bad, well, it’s probably going to be bad. Too often, we train ourselves to see and focus on the bad. There are times when we are pleasantly surprised. But, more often than not, we get what we expect.

If we come to worship expecting it to be boring, we shouldn’t be surprised when it’s boring.

If we come to worship expecting to encounter the goodness of God, we shouldn’t be surprised when we encounter the goodness of God.

The Israelites had a negative mindset (which, in many ways is understandable. I mean, they are God’s chosen people and they are held in captivity. It’s really difficult to see the positive in forced captivity). They carried that negativity into their freedom.

We need to train our minds to find the good! (Isn’t it great that God is allowing me to find a way to function as a decent human being with less coffee permeating through my bloodstream?)

When facing negative circumstances and situations, if we can change our circumstances, well, we should do something about it!

If we can’t change our circumstances, we should change our perspective. Can we look for the good? Can we find the silver lining? Can we focus on hope…even in the midst of turmoil?

Maybe you are reading this and your job is terrible – but, like so many, you need the cash flow your job provides. Can you begin to look for the glimmers of hope? Can you look for the opportunities to shine like a star, to be a light? Can you say, “God, thank you for a terrible work situation that allows me to be a witness for your Kingdom?” Then, while you’re doing these things to change your perspective, dust off that resume and look for a way to change your circumstances!

Instead of complaining, instead of filling your social media feed with negativity, get out there and do something!

If there is a situation out there that bothers you and you can do something about…Well, get off your backside and do something!

If we can’t do something about it, we must change our perspective. Paul continues in Philippians 2:17-18, “even if I am being poured out as a libation over the sacrifice and the offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you— and in the same way you also must be glad and rejoice with me.”

Here’s Paul – in prison, chained to a guard, most likely facing execution – and he proclaims, “even if…I’ll be glad and rejoice.”

In the midst of our mess – in the midst of our trying circumstances – instead of complaining, can we find a way to be glad and rejoice? (it could be worse).

Paul had some extreme perspective. In Philippians 1:12-13, he writes, “I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ.”

So, even if the challenges we face are overwhelming…
– Don’t focus on what we don’t have, focus on what we do possess
– Don’t focus on our problems, focus on the possibilities
– Don’t focus on our obstacles, focus on our opportunities

Even if my back is up against the wall, even if my world is crumbling, I’ll be glad and rejoice and give God my best!

When Jesus is our focus, it changes our story, it changes our perspective, it gives us the strength to endure and be a light in the darkness.

Dr. Brian King, in his book “The Art of Taking it Easy”, writes, “We have a tendency to focus on negativity; we can reduce this by redirecting our thoughts are putting things into perspective.” He suggests keeping a gratitude journal. The idea is that we would take some time each day to write down 3 things we are grateful for on that particular day. By focusing on the positive things we appreciate each day, we just might find ourselves happier.

When we are tempted to complain, find a way to compliment. It’s all about shifting our perspective. Instead of complaining, compliment.