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.
Bob Jones University Family
"I am thankful for...
"for opportunities to serve at a local church and faithful ministry partners." -Jordan Baun
"for being able to go home for Christmas (God’s providence)." -Ana Sofia
"for how God sanctifies us in specific areas by allowing a situation to recur." -Natalie Dunphy
"for God’s loving me so much that He takes the time to refine me." -Hannah Harlacher
"for people who love me enough to confront me in areas of sin that I am blind to." -Janice Driscoll
"for God’s using wretched people for His glory." -Aline Zimmer
"for IFace ministry and the real joy I have in Christ." -Jessica Huffman
"for His gracious leading in bringing the Benson family to BJU, and for the incredible work that He is doing in our student body. We are so thankful for love and kindness that has been extended to us in welcoming us to campus!" -Mr. Alan Benson
"for a good pastor." -Micah Mortensen
"for stretching that God enables through ministry." -Anna DeMott
"for the opportunity to teach, and daily sufficient grace." -Mr. Mark Vowels
"for God’s rich mercy and amazing grace extended to me in so many ways, not the least of which is a wonderful family with whom to do life and ministry." -Dr. Sam Horn
"that God reveals himself through his word. Even if I’ve read a passage 50 times before, I learn new things every time!" -Regan Smith
"for grace—not only saving us from sin but also pushes us towards Christlikeness." -Glen Calica
"for God’s humbling us and using us." -Elaina Lehner
"for God’s sovereignty that is present in my life, daily reminding who He is." -Daniel Kim
"for the way God ordained me to pursue a master’s degree while being able to work in an environment and position that I love." -Andrew Carter
"for God’s patience with my imperfections." -Tori Conover
"for God’s grace specifically in giving me opportunities to be used of Him to impact lives." -Drew Williquette
"despite a lack of trust in myself, I can be confident in God’s grace. I don’t have to fear being abandoned in sin because of His faithfulness toward me. He started a good work in me and is going to finish it." -Garrett Martin
"for comfort from God in seemingly impossible times." -Erin Knight
"for God’s direction and working in my life despite my failures, which is a huge testament to His love and sovereignty. I’m also thankful for my parent and being able to grow up in a church plant and experience ministry first hand." -Brian Jacquot
"for a long line of pastors and teachers who have faithfully transferred the Gospel to the next generation. I’m also grateful that God graciously dwells with needy people who trust in Him." -Dr. Eric Newton
"for being able to depend on him, and for the frequent opportunities he gives me to serve the Indian church with the musical talent He has blessed me with." -Darshan Pappu
"for God’s patience and grace with me. I mess up a lot, but He just continues to pour grace into my life and that’s a huge blessing." -Bethany Ferrari
"that his strength is made perfect in my weakness… because I’m really weak (2 Cor. 12:9)." -Tim Betancourt
"for friends I gained from doing outreaches, and my parents." -Thian Thang
"for life and for the faithful people in my life after my grandfather passed away on Friday. I’m also thankful for being able to start leading music this semester." -Ethan Hansen
"that Christ has the power to save men from sin." -Ben Brewer
"that I can serve an amazing student body and the next generation of ministry leaders." -Dr. Kevin Oberlin
"for God’s walking beside me so that when I fall or go astray, He is there to pick me back up and set me back on the path." -Brady Johnson
"for the Urban Evangelism outreach opportunities and how God has grown my desire to share the Gospel to those outside my comfort." -Chantel Tapp
"for my College Pastor at Palmetto, Bill Eisaman. He has not only given me lots of opportunity to minister but also ministered greatly to me." -Chris Harmony
"for God’s immense patience in teaching me some of the same lessons (patience, contentment, joy) over and over again! He’s such a steady rock in the storms of life, and I’m very thankful for his consistent faithfulness to me." -Katarina Shafer
"for opportunities God has put in my life to serve; that help me really grow in the ministry, stretch my faith, and be ready to give an answer regarding the hope within me." -Jon Allen
"for the opportunity to become a chaplain in the U.S. Army." -Caleb Davis
"that God is long-suffering, faithful, and that He died in order to give His people the amazing promise of the Gospel." -Jarod Hill
"for the consistent ways that God has shown me that He is in control. Through my devos, my church family, my hall and so many others, God has shown Himself working and directing in so many ways." -Katrina Holly
"that I’ve gotten a solid group of guys who keep me accountable to my actions and testimony!" -AJ Steenhoek
"that I do not have to live in guilt over my sin and defeat—I can live in freedom and security, because God’s love is not dependent on my actions!" -Jenna Moore
"that God keeps me patient and peaceful this semester and it was surprising how my Sunday electives were called 'Peace in Conflict.' Without His help, I definitely would not have been able to care for my roommate!" -Julian Tse
"for His great faithfulness. -Angelina Zimmer
"to see so many students who want to grow in their faith, seeking help from God’s Word. I am thankful for the opportunity to be a part of their lives!" -Dr. Pearson Johnson
"that God has stretched me in ways that were painful yet necessary. Making sacrifices that I have never made before has become a common occurrence in the last few months. The Lord has been so good and patient with me and has helped me through this semester in ways that I never thought was possible." -Jonathan Houtz
"for God’s faithfulness in taking care of us and meeting all our needs even when we forget about him sometimes. I’m also thankful for the friends God has put in my life, experiencing Christ’s love and showing it to others." -Stewart Ramakuri
"that God uses broken people to bring himself glory. He could have asked for perfection—instead, he asks for holiness. I’m thankful that God is a merciful God who comforts and aids us in our distress and gives us the greatest hope through Jesus Christ." -Natalie Larsen
"that God continues to open my eyes to the truth from His Word. He brings Scripture to my mind when I need it, and when those I counsel need it. It truly is profitable for every aspect of life." -Josh Ortiz
"for God’s patience. I’m so stubborn, yet God is there in patient love yet in complete justice." -Mike Haynes
"that we are given fulfilling purpose in life, and that God gives us something so incredible to live to for! (Titus 2:12-13)." -Mackenzie Graham
"that Jesus helps me hear His voice and know it and come back to him no matter how many times I wander (John 10:27). I’m also thankful that the struggles and sorrows of ministry are worth the triumph of seeing people drawn to Christ." -Kaylah Smith
"to live a quiet and peaceable life in a world of noise and arguing." -Judson Greene
"for God’s continual loving kindness and daily tender mercies." -Dr. Jim Berg
"that God lets me recognize my sin, so that I know what to pray for in my spiritual walk. I’m also thankful that He always gives me opportunities to pray for others." -Steve Choi
"that the Lord has not dealt with me after my sins nor rewarded me according to my iniquities, but as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward me. I’m also thankful for the men and women who are here training at BJU to go out and reach the world for Christ, and I’m thankful to get to have a part in their lives." -Andrew Minnick
"for forgiveness. Every day I realize how badly I need it. But God has already forgiven me. I don’t have to hold on to it. In turn, that changes my perspective toward those I’m serving. I forgive more easily because I’m forgiven." -Katie Albert
"for the accountability I am able to have with solid friends. We aren’t always perfect, and I’m thankful for friends who will shoot straight with me." -Philip Arcuri
"for the hope that God gives through His promises, using situations to make me more like Christ, and security for eternity." -Carlos Herrera
"that I have the eternal relationship with the Lord, and for brothers and sisters who grow together spiritually and encourage one another." -Shinhye Lee
"that God gives me the grace every day to tackle things that I don’t think I am able to. He is always there for me." -Ethan Case
"for the peace I can find in in the truth of Scripture regardless of how stressed I am." -Todd Kazlauskas
"for my salvation. I have been learning so much about Him lately. Whenever I see my sinful nature, I see more of God’s love and mercy. It is such a wonderful life that He has given to us." -Henry Wu
"for a church here that feels like actual family and builds me up and edifies me in Christ. I’m also thankful that he’s shown me I need to swallow my pride and forgive those who have wronged me." -Olivia Mulder
"for Godly Christian friends who encourage me and keep me accountable." -Ethan Alger
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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.