Publication: Pastoral Letter, November 2000
Dear Friend in Christ:
I wish that I could come to your home, church, or place of business and thank you personally for the prayers, encouragement, and financial support that you have given to us this year. I do thank you, and I thank the Lord because I know that He has led you to help us.
This is Thanksgiving time, and we here are indeed very thankful. Last January, I lay down on an operating table for what became a quadruple bypass heart surgery. God was so gracious in it all. Then, in August, I laid down again for shoulder surgery to remove a spur, a bursa, and to shave the bones in my right shoulder. Both occasions made me aware of my vulnerability and the temporal nature of this physical life. But, by God’s grace, I have been able to continue without missing or canceling engagements during the Autumn.
Our daughter, Charlyn, a missionary in Costa Rica, received nine foster children earlier this year…in a 6-week period of time! Soon after that, she and her fiancé´, Enrique, were married in Costa Rica. The children are doing very well…each one has a special story. Thousands and thousands of dollars have been spent on their housing, feeding, health, and schooling, in order to meet their material needs even as their spiritual and emotional needs are being met as well. They are receiving a good life, filled with Christ’s provisions.
Our oldest son, Stephen, his wife, Susanne, and daughter, Grace, recently celebrated their first anniversary of ministry at Christ Covenant Church in Houston. The Lord has made a good place for them with Pete and Karen Sanchez and the church there. Stephen and Susanne are continuing to work with CSM editorially and Stephen also travels in ministry. Our youngest son, Jonathan, is happy and blessed in his work with Computrex Logistics in Louisville, Kentucky. He is very active at New Life Church in Louisville, which is pastored by Carroll Parrish.
God has blessed us with a great, hard-working staff and with the provisions to pay them. They have done such a wonderful job of helping us to carry the mission forward. Again, so much of what we do has been because of people like you who have stood with us in prayer and in giving this year.
We have been able to bless others and see them established and prosper. I am so grateful for the spiritual sons and daughters that God has given to us. They have caused us to feel that our lives have counted for a good purpose.
And so we come to this special season where people in the United States celebrate Thanksgiving. This month, like many of you are reading this letter, we will be getting with our extended families. We will gather our family with my brother’s and my sister’s families to celebrate our heritage from godly parents. Thanksgiving is always a special time for us, and I hope that it will be so for you also.
How important is gratitude? Let me share a brief true story from of my life. Nearly 35 years ago, I was invited to stay in the home of some wealthy Christian friends. These friends were what we used to call “old money” people. Wealth was not new to them, nor were they ostentatious with their resources.
The evening meal was shared under candlelight with an Anglican minister from Canada and myself. I watched him for clues as to which utensil to use with each course. In the shadows around the table, the “evening maid” served unobtrusively, but with trained understanding in formal dining.
The lady of the house told me to “sleep in” the next morning and go down to breakfast whenever I was ready to eat; but I would eat alone, because she and her husband had a very early appointment. And so the next morning, I awakened refreshed and somewhat relieved to eat alone, being more comfortable with my ignorance and lack of dining etiquette.
The “morning maid” served me a fantastic seven-course breakfast_something unlike anything I had ever experienced. She was no doubt aware of my lack of knowledge. In an effort to compliment her, I made a horrible mistake; I called her by the evening maid’s name…actually thinking that she was the same person.
Now this woman immediately understood my blindness. She put her hands on her hips and looked down at me as I sat in shock. She said, “Boy, you are just like a hog under an acorn tree…you’re just eating those acorns and you ain’t even looking up to see where they are coming from!” Then the Lord spoke to me and said, “Write what she said on your heart.” Obviously, I’ve never forgotten it.
In Paul’s letter to the Roman Christians, he describes a time when people would suppress the truth, deny the Creator, fail to honor God, profess wisdom but live foolishly, worship creatures, and fall into sensuality and perversion. The turning point in this social decline seemed to be that these people were ungrateful.
Once a person or a people become ungrateful, they begin to lose those things that are taken for granted – things like truth, wisdom, honor, and God’s blessings. In the place of grace comes violence, greed, disloyalty, and a host of other destructive companions.
Here are some characteristics of ingratitude:
- Ingratitude leaves the door to our treasure house unlocked.
- Ingratitude says to the thief, “Come on in; I don’t care.”
- Ingratitude is the growing blindness that results in darkness.
- Ingratitude is the fatal disease that could have been easily cured – with thanksgiving.
Scripture provides many examples of gratitude, and ingratitude, in action. In Luke 17, Jesus encounters ten lepers…dying outcasts who stood in the distance crying for mercy. Jesus shouted back to them in mercy…. “Go show yourselves to the priests!” That was the Law’s instruction. As they went to the priests, they realized that they were being healed.
How great was God’s grace to these men: saved from death, restored to family, and friends, and vocation. But, only the Samaritan leper turned to give thanks. He fell down at Jesus’ feet thanking Him profusely, in profound realization of what he had received. Then Jesus sent him on his way, commending his faith, but asked, “Where are the other nine that were healed?”
Is one out of ten the normal ratio for gratitude? I hope not. I wonder what happened to those nine ungrateful men? What difference would gratitude have made for them? Was ingratitude a general problem in Israel, and did it play a role in their condition and destruction in 70 AD? How important is gratitude to our churches and society today?
What is gratitude? I believe these are a few characteristics of gratitude:
- Gratitude is acknowledging mercy with gladness.
- Gratitude is acknowledging our vulnerability.
- Gratitude is acknowledging someone else’s value to our lives.
- Gratitude is acknowledging that kindness made a difference.
- Gratitude is acknowledging a debt that we will always owe.
- Gratitude is evidence that we are not spiritually blind, arrogant, or foolish.
One day of thanksgiving is like a dash of salt on a meal; it should flavor the whole year. May our hearts and attitudes always be seasoned by gratitude.
DAVID, THE GRATEFUL
David can be referred to as “David, the Giant Killer,” “David, the Psalmist,” or “David, the King.” But perhaps the key to all of that is that he should be called “David, the Grateful.” No one said more about thanksgiving than David did. His songs are filled with gratitude for God’s faithful mercy. Gratitude carried him from the shepherd field to the king’s palace and from victory to victory.
With gratitude, he opened the gates of heaven and defeated the gates of hell. With gratitude, he entered the presence of God, poured forth praise, gave himself in worship, received revelation, fathered kings, and had a covenant with Messiah.
David was not the oldest in his father’s family – he was the youngest. He was not the most handsome, or the tallest, but he was the most thankful. He was not always righteous, but he was always thankful for God’s grace. So powerful, prophetic, and proper were David’s words that Jesus quoted from them on the cross. So right was David’s heart that God said David’s heart was after God’s own. So true a son was he that Jesus Himself was called “Son of David.”
GRATITUDE IS GREATER THAN CIRCUMSTANCE
This year is rapidly coming to a close. It has been a very significant year and perhaps some of the events were not as we would have planned them. But as the apostle Paul says, “We must learn to give thanks in all things” (see 1 Thessalonians 5:18 and Ephesians 5:20). The events in Paul’s life and in that period of history were far more difficult than our own. Nevertheless, he was able to say, “Whatever state I am in, I have learned to be content” (see Philippians 4:11).
Gratitude carried Paul over difficult roads and toward martyrdom. But it was his constant friend and brought a grace into his life that continues to grace ours. Gratitude made a statement that his faith was not circumstantial, but rooted in eternal things. Gratitude in our lives makes the same statement.
Many unflattering things may be said about us from time to time. Our own weaknesses and inability to completely obey God often embarrass us. However, never let it be said that we are ungrateful to God for His grace or to those around us who bring grace into our lives. I pray that our gratitude will be an incense to God, and a fragrance to our friends. And may I say again with all sincerity, “Thank you” on behalf of our family and our staff.
P.S. If the Lord puts it on your heart, please continue to remember this ministry in your prayers and in your giving. If you know of a friend or family member that we could serve, please let us know. God bless you!
Scripture References: Romans 1; Luke 17; Philippians 4:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:18; Ephesians 5:20