God is good—this truth never changes. Whether I was diligently seeking to serve others, or wasting His time away by going through YouTube videos for hours… despite my fluctuation, God is always good. On the one hand, I see God’s goodness more because He has chosen to take some things away from my life. I miss my brothers and sisters in Christ. I miss people. I miss going out to eat. It would have been great to go to Japan for my internship this summer. I would have loved visiting my parents with my girlfriend for the first time. Whether it be a daily routine or a special event, I realized there were many things which I have been passively enjoying without actively glorifying God by giving thanks to Him. On the other hand, I see God’s goodness more because now I have more time to appreciate His blessings. I am thankful for having a phone to stay connected with others; for my friends who are so willing to give me a ride to a grocery store; for my fridge, microwave, and stove; for my couch; for the protection I have in my apartment; for the hot shower I get to take every morning… the list goes on. Everything I enjoy cries out, “… gaze upon the beauty of the LORD” (Ps. 27:4). So what can I say? I echo the psalmist: “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes” (Ps. 119:71). My God is good. -Moses
As a millennial American, life has always been fast-paced. Greenville is a growing city and with that comes unending possibilities to fill my schedule. As a lay-pastor, I have found that weekends are often busier than the work week. So, as I entered 2020, I decided this needed to be a year of “no.” I was beginning to recognize that being busy did not make me more spiritual. In fact, it was wearing me down and making me less patient with others and more hurried in my personal time in the Word. But 2020 was shaping up to quite the busy start.
Like many of you, I felt the initial sting of moving away from in-person community to virtual communities. Emails rolled in day after day of cancelled events and meetings. Then came the scramble to move our church online. Then, after the scramble, came the blessing.
Through the frenzy, our Church leadership landed on a study through Psalm 23 for our virtual small groups. It only took a couple of weeks before I realize what the Lord was doing in my life through this season. As Covid-19 cleared out my calendar, the Lord was using it to “make me lie down in green pastures.” I don’t like to “be still,” “to lie down,” or “to wait.” Maybe some of you out there are just like me!
As it turns out, God stepped in and said “no” to almost everything on my calendar. The Lord has given many of us an unusual time to rest! So tonight, I will enjoy Jeopardy with my family. And tomorrow, I will have another unhurried time in the Word! - J
A lot of plans have changed in the past month. As a graduating senior, most of what I was hoping for has fallen through or has been put on hold. It was very easy to feel discouraged, confused, and hopeless amid so much uncertainties. This past month I have been studying 2 Corinthians, and the unshakable truth of the presence of the Holy Spirit has been a great encouragement to me. I have been rebuked that I do not always realize the weight of the truth that God lives in me, and because of the Gospel I get to directly experience His glory. This should cause us to have hope and not give up amid uncertainties and trials. The Gospel can encourage us because it gives us the power to overcome pressure, confusion, abandonment, and despair—Christ carries us from victory to victory. Because the Holy Spirit lives in us, we have everything we need to overcome every situation—including discouragement, illness, chaos, and even death. So instead of thinking about all what could have happened, I am thankful I get to witness God’s glory--which is far better. And I know that experiencing His glory will cause me to trust in His plans. For further encouragement, read 2 Corinthians 3-4. -Patricia
This time of relative isolation has been very instructive to me on a number of levels. Primarily it has reminded me of the frailty of life. If I cough or feel a little under the weather, I wonder, “Oh no, do I have the virus?” I have felt anxious at times about how a tiny, invisible bug could alter or end our lives.
All of this has reminded me that the Lord is unchanging. He is not susceptible to the things that can cause me harm, either physically or emotionally. So He is the Anchor on which I must depend. He is stabilizing and strong. The reality of His immutability has been impressed on me through this quarantine period.
Like everyone else, I am learning how to engage with others over digital media in new ways. During these weeks I have mostly served my students through online interactions. I have tried to think of ways to enhance interaction with students without adding to their overall workload. I really enjoy chatting with students and learning how they are weathering this season.
Because of the enhanced emphasis on internet communication, I have been interacting lately with Christians from around the world through prayer meetings and webinars. It really reminds me just how big the church of Jesus Christ is and shows me that I don’t have to travel to have serious conversations or to serve people in helpful ways. I am also being reminded that the things that unite us in Christ are far greater and far more important than the things that can so easily divide us. Sharing a common experience reduces the sense of difference that often becomes an obstacle to genuine Christian unity. -Mr. Vowels
Thanksgiving in a Different Season
Katie Hickey, CGO Office Administrator
South America, 80-degree weather, Australians, pumpkin pie—these things meant Thanksgiving to me. Growing up on the mission field in Brazil, our Thanksgiving traditions were a little bit different from the average American household. We didn’t necessarily get together with family because they were far away. Fall decorations and changing leaves didn’t color the neighborhood because it was almost summer. Football games weren’t being watched unless they were what some may argue to be real “futebol” games. We didn’t really get together with our churches for praise services because Thanksgiving is not a Brazilian holiday.
My family was blessed to have met other missionary families in our city and surrounding area who were also far from home, family, and regular traditions. Desiring to still celebrate Thanksgiving and reflect on God’s goodness, we created our own traditions. We would get together late morning, usually at a camp belonging to one of the missionaries. One of the ladies organized a Thanksgiving program asking all the kids to contribute. We kids participated by playing instruments, singing specials, and reciting poems. We all sang hymns together. One of the men would bring a short devotional and close us in prayer. Then, came the food! As I remember it, the meal typically had traditional Thanksgiving dishes, including pumpkin pie (Back in the day, college missionary kids were given the thrilling task of stuffing cans of pumpkin, jars of peanut butter, and American baking goods like chocolate chips in their luggage when they came home on breaks. Surprisingly, pumpkin everything is not an international phenomenon.). After the meal, the women would talk while cleaning up, the men would discuss theology and current events, the college students would hang out together, and the kids would run all over the campground, playing soccer or other games or riding the little cable swing zip-line. We’d end up staying all day and having our evening meal from the leftovers before going home.
These missionary families and our family were all very different. We had different backgrounds and different life stories. One of the families wasn’t even American. They were Australian missionaries to Brazil, yet they loved celebrating Thanksgiving with us. We were also all from different denominations. Our churches worshipped differently. However, we all worshipped the same God, and we all believed that Christ died to save us from our sins. We were all brothers and sisters in Christ. Our God was the common denominator. Our God was the reason we could be thankful. Our God was the only constant.
As I’ve grown up and left home, I’ve realized there always has been and always will be only this constant: God and His gracious salvation through Christ. I have since celebrated Thanksgiving in a more “traditional” fashion over the years with extended family, the dreary cold, and pumpkin pie from cans which anyone can actually buy from a Walmart just down the street. But I’ve also celebrated it completely apart from my family. I’ve celebrated it with friends from Chile, Mexico, Honduras, Peru, and Chicago, developing a greater appreciation for the caring brothers and sisters in Christ God has given me. I’ve celebrated it with my grandparents during college when they lived in town and opened their home to me. And I’ve celebrated it in an assisted living facility only days after Grandma had her stroke, as I and other family members were simply thankful that we could be together for the holiday. Nothing else is sure.
Last year, around this time, I boarded a plane with my family for what was probably my last ever Thanksgiving in Brazil. Excitement and expectations were high. It would be the first time in years my whole family – my parents, my siblings, their spouses, and kids – was going to be together. We would be having a Thanksgiving “just like the ones I used to know.” That’s just it, though. It wasn’t. My favorite Aussies weren’t there (They’re now serving in Portugal.). My parents weren’t living in the house I grew up in. Our family had doubled in size; it now included five very energetic kids under the age of ten. We didn’t have our traditional dinner at the camp but at one of the missionary families’ houses instead. Yes, we still ate pie; the kids, or grandkids now, still ran around; the men still discussed important topics; and the weather was hot like it should be. Even so, it was all different. Looking around the room, I realized so many changes had taken place in the lives of those around me. Only one thing was the same: we worshipped and expressed gratitude to the same God. He never changed.
End of the year holidays breed times of great reflection. Thanksgiving prompts us to count our blessings. No matter what season you find yourself in life right now—nestled in the comfortable consistency of family traditions or lost in a sea of change and new beginning—thank God for His presence and His gift of salvation.
For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him. He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken. On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God. Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah (Psalm 62:5-8 ESV)
Jeremy Wray, Senior Cross-Cultural Service Major
I recently spoke to a couple thousand college students about the hope we have in Jesus. I emphasized that the hope we have is one that is alive, and its life is found in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave. I also encouraged the oft forgotten reality of our inheritance as saints. To those who are alive in Christ, there is an inheritance kept for us that can't fade, refuses to decay, and does not perish—its eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The sermon I preached was based off the first chapter of Peter's first letter to the exiles of the Dispersion. It is in this section that Peter reminds these believers to remember their hope and their inheritance, and to join him in exuberant praise to God. Truly, the entire passage echoes back to the third verse: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!
Peter suggests that it is God's mercy, full and powerful, that has caused us to be born again to a living hope and to an eternal inheritance. He says that it is in these we rejoice (v. 6), even though we are being grieved by various, tenacious, and ferocious trials. Peter, like many other writers of Scripture, says that we are to rejoice even when life gets hard. He says that our faith is not yet complete, or genuine. The purpose of these trials, struggles, and pressures in our lives is to make us nothing less than praising, glorifying, and honoring to Jesus.
He does not shy away from the struggles of our lives with pithy words of endearment. He does not tell these exiles that they must toughen out their Christian lives and be stronger than the persecution of their day. Peter insisted, rather, that they must rejoice! I insist today that we as God's people must rejoice. We must see the mercy of God in Jesus, we must enjoy the hope of life we hold, and anticipate the joys of eternal life we will have. And we must rejoice in the tough stuff. It is the same God that is sovereign over our salvation that is sovereign over suffering.
By this I mean that the trials in our lives are designed to make us genuine, and that God is sovereign over trials that stretch and transform us to be more like Christ. This sunk into my heart deeply when I contracted strep throat the week after preaching. I had tonsils the size of golf balls and blisters to boot. My entire week was described by attempting to swallow air, food, drink, and meds without excruciating pain accompanying it.
It was last week (and not two weeks ago when I was preaching) when I realized what it actually means to thank God for all things. I had to take to heart the truths I had expounded for many others to hear. I realized at heart level that we truly do have every reason to give thanks in Christ Jesus.
There are many aspects to prayer. It is when we sin and are convicted, we know we must confess. It is when we see the struggle and hurt of others, we choose to intercede. When the Word dwells in us richly and we understand the presence of God through faith, we commune with Him. The aspect of prayer that I am attempting to highlight with this post is adoration and thanksgiving towards God.
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thes. 5:16-18)
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Col. 3: 17)
Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord in your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Eph 5:19-20)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places! (Eph 1:3)
These verses are not mere Christian literature designed to give us proper distinction as a religion and add to our tenets of religious practice. These verses are aimed and charged directly at the people of God, so they might rejoice, thank, and praise God for all their spiritual blessings! This is the God of all our words and deeds. The God of all our circumstances. The God of our songs and melodies. The God of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The God of heaven and blessing.
You cannot truly teach someone to be thankful. You cannot tell them to say "thank you" and it be adequate gratitude. Words are not enough to show reality, for they are temporary and often masqueraded. True thankfulness arises from a heart that has tasted and seen that the Lord is good. It is the heart that has been washed with the blood of Calvary that sings to the Savior. It is the heart that has seen the glory of God that is transformed and overflowed.
It is also only in thanksgiving and adoration that that the heart realizes how great God is. Have you ever gone up to a speaker, performer, chef, or teacher and thanked them for what they had done? It is in the act of showing gratitude that you truly realize how overwhelmed your heart is. It’s when you go out of your way to thank someone that heart has gone full circle on the roundabout of gratitude. It is the same with God.
This is why Peter would invite the exiles to rejoice in the God whose mercy has given salvation. Paul knows that for the heart to be fully blessed, it must bless the One who has blessed it! Thanksgiving is the natural response of someone who has been touched by the grace of God. The sad part is that many have become too accustomed to grace and its flavors, colors, and marvel. Many forget the depths of Jesus' service to us. Many cloud the grace of God with classes, meetings, agendas, and people.
May we be the people of God that are truly and exuberantly thankful to our God, because such is the joy of living. We taste the joy of eternity when we rejoice in God and his gifts today. I find 1 Peter 1:8-9 a tremendous chorus and conclusion to the song of praise we started with at the beginning of the chapter.
Though you have not seen Jesus, you love him. Though you do not now see Jesus, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
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The CGO Blog
Written by the CGO staff, with guest posts from students and other faculty/staff at BJU to provide thought leadership for missions in a new millennium.