Our personal struggles tend to dominate our lives, often causing us to focus on our own plights to the exclusion of the problems of others. In the midst of our pain, however, it's more important than ever to make an itemized list of the reasons we have to be thankful. An e-mail from a dear friend, Cristina, who with her husband Rudy served as the primary sponsors for Luz and me at our wedding and have served as missionaries for decades in some of the most challenging settings imaginable caused me to step back and take inventory of all I have to give thanks for.
Currently, Cristina and Rudy are serving as church planter missionaries in the "Tenderloin District" of San Francisco - a place where one can find everything from cutting edge artists, to poverty, crime, and homelessness. Because of their extensive international ministry experience, Cristina was invited to teach a series of ministry seminars for 25 church leaders and pastors in a South Asian country. Here is an excerpt from Cristina telling a little bit about the pastors and leaders who have come to receive training:
1) One leader has been pastoring a church for 40 years - the oldest amongst the 25 participants. He seems so eager to learn, and he said, he never heard of Pastoral Care before. He only knows endurance and suffering, but has never had the time to develop and care for himself or the staff under him.
2) Some of the participants traveled 10 hours by overnight bus just to be here, and very keen to learn. Again they said, they never heard of our teachings before, they were taught "just to endure hardship" and they never heard of pastoral care.
3) Another leader travelled 2000 (you heard it right, two thousand) kilometers just to attend this seminar! He is so keen to learn and hopes to bring back the resources he gathers from this seminar to teach others.
Cristina also added that the region in which these pastors serve is dominated by other faith groups and many serve in areas extremely hostile to Christianity in particular. (If you've been keeping up with International news, you know that South Asia has been experiencing numerous outbreaks of extreme violence against Christians including forced "re-conversions" or murder when victims refuse to denounce their faith as well as the destruction of church buildings and anything found to be Christian owned. When I read the accounts of what these pastors must endure, I felt convicted in my heart about my complaining about anything I think I have to deal with. The recognition of the blessings I have received also drove me to my knees in a spirit of true thanksgiving. Here's just some of what I'm thankful for:
I am thankful for personal freedoms that not only allow me to worship as I choose, but to voice my opinion in any number of different ways, not the least of which is writing this very Blog!
I am thankful for the local church it is my privilege to serve and the support this congregation provides for me and my family.
I am thankful for friends who stand by me, check up on me and who are concerned about where I am, what I'm doing and how I'm feeling from day to day.
I am thankful for the parents who raised me - a mom who is now with the Lord, and a dad who is still with us in the Land of the Living. They didn't just go through the motions of parenting, they actively modeled and demonstrated what love is and what love can be when one dedicates oneself to parenthood in the love of the Lord.
I am thankful for my own immediate family - Luz, my wife, who stands with me and stands up to me to keep my paths straight and my conviction burning hot, and my children: Coco, Maris, Joana and Victoria who encourage, support, uplift, inspire and even advise me, pushing me to heights I could not attain on my own. I am also thankful for my son-in-law Mike whose commitment to do good to others, and whose love for life, love of my daughter and love for the Lord serve as a constant encouragement that God is in control.
I am thankful for my extended family, many of whom I saw recently for the first time in years at my grandmother's funeral. These loved ones reminded me of the great heritage and family history that I share and the responsibility I have to honor that history in the way that I live.
I am thankful for having a place to call home and enough provisions to not only meet my own needs, but to give to the needs of others who are struggling more than I.
I am thankful for the availability of health care to diagnose problems I can't see or feel, but have been exposed through state of the art testing.
Most of all, I am thankful for the Heavenly father, who loved me and the whole world enough to give His Son that we wouldn't perish in our sin, but rather have eternal life. I am further thankful that He has charged me with a ministry to reach out to others in love, compassion and selfless service so that His love might be practically demonstrated in the life that he has given me to live.
This condensed list from my deeply grateful heart brings to mind a detailed list of thanks that would truly have no end. What about you? Have you taken the time to make a list of all you have to be thankful for? 1 Thessalonians 5:18 admonishes us to
give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus.
Take the time this week to give detailed thanks to the Lord. Whether it's for the little things or the big things, and even if you feel that you are in the midst of some trying times, I'll bet there is still a list that you can compile to let the Lord know that you are thankful for all you've been blessed with! Share your list with someone else and spread an attitude of gratitude to others and let it carry you through this Thanksgiving Week and beyond. Until next time...