Publication:Pastoral Letter, October 2020
Dear Friend in Christ,
In 1986, our friend Don Moen recorded a beautiful song that was released by Integrity’s Hosanna Music entitled, “Give Thanks.” That song has been heard and appreciated by millions of people worldwide. King David wrote in Psalm 100, “I will enter His gates with thanksgiving.” Is thanksgiving simply a courteous gesture or is there more to it?
There is a story in Luke 17:11-19, about Jesus healing ten lepers as He passed through Samaria. Samaria was a place that most Jews avoided because the Samaritans were of “mixed race” that had resulted from former occupying forces. The Samaritan religion and culture were also a mixture, but Jesus did not avoid Samaria, and He loved the Samaritans.
As Jesus passed through the area, ten lepers stood far off and cried out for mercy. Jesus told them to go show themselves to the priest who could declare them cleansed. They all began the journey to see the priest, and as they went they were healed. It is impossible to imagine what healing would mean to a leper who, because of the fear of that contagious disease, would be separated from all he knew and lived to become a roaming homeless beggar.
The Bible says that nine of these lepers continued their journey as they were being healed, but one returned to Jesus to glorify God and fall on his face and thank Jesus! That man was a Samaritan. Jesus declared that the Samaritan’s faith had healed him. So, even a leper could have faith and receive mercy. Then Jesus asked this question, “Where are the other nine?” Good question! I want to be with the one and not the other nine. Maybe being a Samaritan had something to do with his going back to give thanks. Perhaps he was more aware of his outcast condition, but I don’t know. In any case, he made the decision to give thanks, and that pleased Jesus. Thanksgiving is our decision.
9 OUT OF 10
Is it possible that this story indicates a ratio of those who are thankful as opposed to those who are not? I don’t know, but I believe that far too many are not thankful deep down. To say, “Thank you,” is a courtesy, but does real thanksgiving come from a realization, or an awakening to what really happened? Is revival an awakening to Who God is and what He has done for us? I think so. And who sees that most clearly? I think it is the “Samaritan,” the most outcast. Those of us who are forgiven least are often least thankful.
When I was a young man, I was ministering to some home groups and was privileged to stay with a family in a beautiful old stately home. This family was very wealthy and had evening and morning servants. I was very awed and somewhat intimidated by all of this, and lost as to the etiquette, having grown up in the country. The dinner served by the evening maid was exquisite! But, the next morning, I made a terrible mistake; in an effort to thank the morning maid, I called her by the evening maid’s name. But this woman was very secure in her role in the family.
She put her hands on her hips, looked sternly at me, and said, “Boy, you are just like a hog under an acorn tree. You are just eating the acorns and not even looking up to see where they come from!”
Then the Lord spoke to me and said, “Write that on your heart!” That morning I was like “one of the nine.” How many times have I been one of the nine, I wonder? Since then I have tried, but I am one who is always thinking about what is ahead and often failed to see what is right before me.
Some of you know that we lost a very dear friend recently, Gary Browning. Gary and I had been very close since the mid-1960s. He was our worship leader at age 16 and for several years after. He and his sister, Sandra, often sang in our church services. Both had excellent voices. I watched Gary go to universities and take a strong stand for his faith and then become a pastor. In the course of ministry, Gary had a moral failure, and also became an alcoholic. We worked through his problem together for five years. Then Gary’s life turned around and he began again to minister to others who had suffered failure. In the last 25 years, Gary has helped many thousands of people to recover, find the Lord, and to bless others. He turned his experience into mission: redemption of alcoholics and addicts, and healing for the broken!
Before passing on from liver failure, he wrote a letter to his family and to me expressing thanks to Linda his dear wife and companion in the ministry, and to his children. It is a touching letter which I will keep and treasure. There is something about deep gratitude that touches hearts and lives. Most of all, it touches God’s heart, just as the thankful leper touched Jesus’ heart.
We know that leprosy is contagious, but do we know that gratitude is contagious? We live at an extremely busy pace and go on our way, often forgetting where our healings, deliverances, and provisions come from. When gratitude diminishes, so do our blessings. Of course, our blessings come from God, but He uses people to distribute blessings to us. When we thank them, we thank Him. Those who protect us, serve us, care for us, grow food for us, lead us, and do so many other things for us are blessing distributors.
I love the Bible for many reasons, and teaching it has been my life. I truly believe it is the Word of God. While I believe the book is complete, perfect, and indeed holy, all those mentioned in it are often flawed and unholy. The Bible is honest about the lives of those included in it. David is a most studied and quoted writer, yet, his imperfections are included. Peter is another example. He preached at the Day of Pentecost, and 3000 people received Jesus. But his boasting and denials are also included.
We must get used to the truth that God uses “Samaritans,” or people who struggle, or even outcasts. People who think otherwise are self-righteous and get in the way of God’s purpose to redeem, rather than condemn. It was those kinds of people who killed the prophets, apostles, martyrs, and even our Lord who was perfect.
True gratitude expresses our own humility, need for others, and positions us for mercy from God, which we all need. My own great regret is that I often failed to recognize those who distributed God’s goodness to me. I thanked God but did not see his “hands” that blessed me. I owe so many debts that I can never repay; I can only pass on the blessings and gratitude.
When we say “Thank You” from our heart, it strengthens the heart of the ones to whom we speak. “Encourage” literally means to “put heart into someone.” Encouragement produces endurance; it enables someone to continue. I have worked at publishing since 1969, with magazines, books, and ministry letters. I have no idea how many articles or letters we have published—free of charge. We have been able to continue because some friends find benefit and give back to our work. I always try to send a thank you letter to those who give.
Often, I receive a note or letter from someone who expresses gratitude for what we have said or done. This month, I received several notes and several very kind letters. One such letter expressed how long they had been part of the ministry—since the 1960s! Another gave testimony to how a message brought him to Christ many years ago. I cannot tell you how encouraging those notes and letters were. It has been that way for more than 50 years! Our endurance has been enabled by gratitude.
At CSM, we have a small, but dedicated staff. Stephen, Susanne, Christina, Betty, Steven, and Grace have given their lives to serving me and you. I am so grateful for each of them and others who have served in years past. Jack Wood was our accountant and dear friend for many years and is now with the Lord. There are many others over the years who have stood with us; we are thankful.
I am not writing this to impress, but to show that behind the scenes and known personalities, there are those who truly make things work. We meet them every day but often don’t see who they really are. Some of them are not believers in Jesus, and some may be “Samaritans.” Some may think of Christians as self-righteous, and sometimes we are. A heartfelt “Thank You” can get past that barrier. Sometimes a nice tip can help in saying “Thank You!” I used to work for tips while I was in college and I know the value of a nice tip—it encourages!
You may be surprised who needs a “Thank You,” because people often cover up their need. They do not want to slow their vulnerability. So, we have to listen and be sensitive to the Holy Spirit.
Here is an example: Pastors and Preachers feel the need to be strong. They likely will only tell their wife or perhaps a very close friend about a struggle. Many, if not most pastors, do not actually have a pastor, yet pastors need pastors as much as anyone else. That is especially true now. Much of what they hear daily is problems, and problems can discourage any of us.
So, what do we do? We cannot presume to pastor the pastor or preacher. If they don’t tell us, we should not pry or be presumptuous. Of course, we can pray for them, but sometimes a heartfelt and specific “Thank You” will encourage them to keep on. This needs to go beyond “Thank you for that good Sunday message.” It should be more like, “Thank you for caring for me and giving your life to God and His people.”
We live in a critical culture. One wrong word can get someone fired and ruined for life. That is nowhere more true than in the ministry. I watched Mom and Dad weep over church problems or hurtful comments. Dad pastored for more than 60 years. Growing up, I NEVER wanted to be a pastor, though I loved and respected my parents. But I am now a pastor and I love my work. I am blessed to pastor committed individuals who show real gratitude.
My purpose in this pastoral letter is to encourage us to show deep gratitude to those who serve us. Gratitude is the antidote to criticism and this “Cancel Culture.” Giving thanks is godly. Now, I am not talking down to you. I was a “fundamentalist,” which may sometimes be good if the focus is on the fundamentals of the Apostolic faith, but it can also lead to a very bad attitude.
I cringe when I think about times when I’ve been critical or ungrateful. I cringe when I remember the day my beautiful and kind wife said, “I need a hug.” I should have been giving her hugs that day without her having to ask for them. A lot of people need a hug in this season of “social distancing.” If you cannot hug, you can still look them in the eye, or call, or text, and say, “Thank you for what you do!” It will help, I promise. And beyond that, I believe Jesus will be pleased as He was with that one Samaritan who gave thanks. If giving thanks to God opens His heart to us, then giving thanks to those who serve us might open their hearts also. It will at least encourage them.
P.S. Would you please continue to remember us in your prayers and in your giving this month? When you do, you strengthen us as we encourage people all over the world with the Good News of Christ’s Kingdom.
Scriptures: Psalm 100; Luke 17:11-19